Long lines flooded out of the MBL room on the 18th Floor of the Waldorf=Astoria all weekend long, so I arrived at 9:30am on Sunday morning to see if I could get a good listen to the MBL system by myself. Upon arrival, MBL North America’s representative, Jeremy Bryan, was still setting up his smaller speakers, the mbl 120 Radialstrahler ($21,400/pair, without stands) along with their mbl C21 stereo power amplifier ($9200), mbl C11 preamplifier ($8,800), and mbl C31 CD player ($9,200), all members of their Corona line of electronics.
I sat to the side of the room while Bryan finished his set-up, centered in his listening position, tilting his head back and forth. After the first ten seconds of four to five different demo tracks, Jeremy blurted, “Alright! I think we’re set. Come sit down.”
The MBL room was the last room I visited at the NY Audio & AV Show. I sat down in the sweet spot, on the couch midway between the MBL 101E Mk.2 "radialstrahler" speakers, each driven by a 9011 monoblock; Jeremy Bryan cued up a hi-rez file of Peter Gabriel singing "Wallflower," from his New Blood album; and OMG. This was true virtual reality! Then Jeremy explained what he had to do to tame the room's acousticssee Ariel Bitran's blog following this one. All I can say is that it was worth the effort!
Prior to the onset of the Chester Group’s New York Audio & AV Show, there had been some controversy in regards to big-time local dealers Stereo Exchange and Lyric hosting their own events the weekend of the show. These events brought in big brands such as Totem, McIntosh, B&W, and Audio Research, who would be presenting exclusively at their stores. Would these dealer events keep participants away from the New York Audio & AV Show? How would these coinciding events affect one another? Were these signs that the show organizers had not done the work necessary to motivate exhibitors to participate in the New York show?
Was how this Stereophile-sponsored event Saturday and Sunday afternoons was billed. Mikey demonstrated to a packed house how straightforward it is to optimize the performance of an LP player. Close-ups of his work on a VPI turntable fitted with a Soundsmith cartridge were projected on to a screen so all could see what he was doing and why.
"I Want to Take You Higherthe Present and Future of Digital Music Delivery and Playback" was the title of a workshop chaired by Michael Lavorgna (right), editor of Stereophile's sister site AudioStream.com. Michael's panel included (from left to right), Andreas Koch (Playback Designs), Larry Ho (Light Harmonic), Rob Robinson (Channel D/Pure Vinyl/Pure Music), and David Chesky (HDTracks). The hour-long session dispelled much of the technofear surrounding the subject of how to turn a PC or Mac into a true high-end music source.
I moderated two "Ask the Editors" sessions at the NY Show, where reviewers and editors were put on the spot by probing questions from the audience. My thanks to (from left to right): Alan Sircom (HiFi+, not visible), Stephen Mejias (Stereophile), Jeff Dorgay (ToneAudio), Alan Taffel (The Absolute Sound), Michael Fremer (Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com), Grant Clauser (Electronic House), and Art Dudley (Stereophile and Fretboard Journal) for their often frank and always informative answers.
With a sly smile and a little wink, Bill Leebens suggested that I check out Amber Rubarth’s Saturday afternoon set. “She’s stunning,” he said, or something like that. When Bill makes a suggestion, it’s a good idea to follow it, so there I was at 4pm, listening as Rubarth joked that she can only write when she’s sad, and then made us all smile as she sang about happiness and love.
The relaxed and crystal-clear sound of the Legacy Whisper XDs tempted my entire CD collection, but I knew what I really wanted to hear: Phish’s Lawn Boy. Both Page McConnel’s and Trey Anastasio’s nuanced phrasing and John Fishman’s tasteful drumming would shimmer in the clean layout projected by these speakers. Legacy’s Bill Duddleston put on my CD. An audiophile in front of me turns around...
In the LessLoss Audio room, a gorgeous couple of Kaiser Vivace loudspeakers painted in a Lamborghini Orange finish ($42,500 in painted semi-gloss, add $2500 for the Lambo paint job) paired with electronics from Beyond Frontiers Audio, including their Tulip Tube DAC converter, which runs in a dual mono state with 2 Burr Brown chips, and the Tulip Stereo Integrated amplifier. Tulip, in the designer’s former country of Yugoslavia, is a friendly name for a “good old guy”. Cabling and “ambient field conditioning” in this room were provided by LessLoss, who offered their Anchorwave cables and Blackbody ambient field conditioner. The Blackbody claims to “enhance audio playback quality by modifying the interaction of your gear’s circuitry with the ambient electromagnetic field.”
The Soundsmith room featured a hot and clean vinyl sound as played back with the Hyperion cartridge ($7500), which uses a cactus spine cantilever, routed to their affordable MCP2 phono preamp ($699), reviewed by Michael Fremer in our October 2011 issue and March 2012 issue. Pricing on the Hyperion includes a 10 year warranty and re-tipping. Playback came out of Soundsmith’s potent Dragonfly speakers ($2,000). While I certainly heard enough Stevie Ray Vaughan at this audio show to make me wish I had crashed that helicopter myself, the blues master’s slides exhibited a natural attack and decay that brought the man and his dirty Stratocaster to that very room in the Waldorf, a more than welcome revival.
I got to know Steve, head of VAS Audio over in New Jersey, after he picked up the Cayin SP-10a that Bob Reina reviewed in our April 2012 issue from the Stereophile Manhattan office. Steve invited me to the back of the VPI/VAS Audio Room to share a cocktail and a cookie where we discussed the hi-fi show business and our audiophile neighbors in Brooklyn and New Jersey. Steve's original home, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, places him in close proximity to some Stereophile staff, past and present, and his co-exhibitor VPI, led by the Weisfeld family, lives next door to him in Jersey. Hi-fi, like cookies, is more fun when shared with neighbors.
The Sony SS-AR2 loudspeakers, described here by JA, were one of my many favorites at the show. Their soundstage extended deep, all the way to 42nd street, and they performed with warmth and polite resolution of high-end frequencies. Some said it was too mellow, but to me it sounded just right. Pictured above are Jonathan Lin and Carlos Giraldo from Sony posing with the SS-AR1 enclosure, reviewed in Stereophile last July.
Manhattan retailer Innovative Audio had two rooms at the Show, one active, featuring Wilson Sasha speakers driven by VTL amplification and a dCS digital front-end, the other passive, featuring displays of equipment from companies handled by Innovative, like Dynaudio, Meridian, and, as can be seen in the photo, Dan D'Agostino. Dan, resting his elbow on a Wilson Duette speaker, which will be reviewed in our June issue, took showgoers through the design of his jewel-like Momentum monoblock power amplifier ($50,000/pair), as well as the new stereo amplifier derived from it and the Dan D'Agostino preamplifier, to be launched at next month's Munich Show. One of the joys of high-end audio shows is the accessibility audiophiles can enjoy to superstar engineers like Dan.