Audio Shows give industry professionals the chance to check out products they have read about in magazines. Here, Wilson's Peter McGrath (right) talks to Bricasti's Brian Zolner (The "Bri" in Bricasti) about the latter's M1 D/A processor that so impressed me in the February issue. Feeding data to the M1 was Rega's super- sexy Apollo CD player, which Sam Tellig will be reviewing in the July issue of Stereophile.
Also on hand in the Ultra Systems/Cable Company room was the HiFiMan EF6 ($1599), seen here atop an Oppo BDP-83 modified by Exemplar Audio ($2500). We first saw the EF6 at CES. The 5W, solid-state, class-A design is HiFiMan's answer to the most difficult-to-drive headphones. The Exemplar Audio-modded Oppo has a new linear power supply, upgraded op-amps, and high-quality polypropylene capacitors.
And here’s Well Rounded Sound’s designer, Jerry Cmehil, holding a couple of his company’s smaller offeringsin his right hand, a little Yorkie ($249/pair), and in his right hand, a Jack Terrier 2 ($299/pair). These speakers are identical in size, but the Jack Terrier is slightly more sensitive (88dB vs the Yorkie’s 87dB rating) and has a larger specified frequency range (100Hz24kHz vs 100Hz21kHz).
There’s been lots of excitement slash praise over the Bricasti M1 DAC ($7,995) here at Stereophile from the two Johns (that’s Atkinson and Marks for the kids at home), so I made sure to take my chance to hear this DAC. I was struck by the DAC’s analog sensibilities, committing warmth and space to the music, and enjoyed how the minimum phase filters showcased options for gentler roll-offs at higher frequencies, allowing listeners to choose just how much bite and space surrounding each leading edge they care for. Since the supplied speaker stands were not tall enough for seated listeners, Brian Zolner had to stand his Harbeths on dresser drawers. Check out our reviews of the Bricasti M1 here and here
Also on display in the Red Wine Audio room was the company’s Audez’e Edition headphone amplifier, optimized for use with the popular Audez’e LCD-2 headphones. The complete system ($4900) includes the amplifier, a set of LCD-2 headphones, and ALO Audio’s new Audez’e headphone cable. If you already own the headphones, however, you can purchase the amp and cable for ($3950). Price includes a very nice carrying case. This happy listener said the system sounded wonderful.
Even at low volumes, the sound coming from the Red Wine Audio/Fidelis AV room was detailed, engaging, and easy to enjoy. The system I heard was made of Red Wine’s Isabella vacuum tube preamp/DAC ($4000) and Liliana monoblock power amplifiers ($6000/pair), an MSB transport, Tellurium Q cabling, and a relative newcomer to the Fidelis line, England’s Kudos C20 loudspeakers. While all Red Wine products are battery-powered, the Liliana is especially interesting because it is the first Red Wine amplifier to employ a class-A tube input stage and a class-A/B MOSFET output stage.
My first stop for my very first hi-fi show ever was the Woo Audio room, appropriate as most of my listening is done through headphones. Their stalwart Woo Audio 234 MONO monoblock amplifiers, a prototype built to amplify both headphones and loudspeakers, facilitate simple tube switching via a “tube switching key” or TSK. The WA-234 MONO accepts 2A3, 300B, and 45 power tubes, and by the simple twist of the key, you can change your power tube. With some Audeze LCD2 headphones, this system recreated the gentle and sweet reverberations of David Russell’s guitar with ample air surrounding each fingerpick. Also enjoyable was listening through their electrostatic headphone amp, the WES ($7,790), which allowed me to distinguish between Izzy and Slash’s snake-tangled guitars on “Welcome to the Jungle”. Consider me woo-ed.
Wes Bender Studio NYC clearly cares about the way things look and sound. The components here shared a clean appearance and worked together for a big, bold sound. Making their NYC debut were the Hansen Audio Prince E loudspeakers ($39,000/pair) and Viola Audio Labs Crescendo preamplifier/DAC ($19,000, including Apple iPod Touch).
The mad rush to check out the first available rooms at zero hour at a hi-fi show can be a harrowing experience. Even though everyone has a map of the exhibits within their program guide, sometimes just meandering and finding the room that calls out to you is the best way to choose. Well the bowl of Reese’s Cups and mini-packets of Whoppers outside the Veloce room sure did speak to me, as did the sound. Paired with YG Kipod 2 Signature speakers and powered by two class-D monoblocks from Veloce, the V-6s ($15,000/pair), sound was clear with a deep black backdrop, probably because these amps run on batteries, which managing director Mark Conti said was “more complicated than simply putting a battery in a box.” This system accurately simulated the live attack of a hi-hat and the sharp snap of a rim-shot on the edge of snare. Conti then happily played This Is Right Now, an EP by my band Heroes of the Open End cut at a home studio in Brooklyn. The system revealed many of the flaws in this recording, including poor bass equalization, unrealistic drum sound, and balance issues between the guitars. Doh! Next time we’re going to a real studio!
On Day 1 of the New York Audio & AV show, I let the exhibitors play their demo tracks in hopes to hear some cool, new music, but I just ended up hearing Stevie Ray Vaughan, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries or ZZ Top’s “La Grange” over and over and over again, so on Day 2, I brought my own records.
At the Audio Doctor in Jersey City, NJ, you’ll find stereo systems set up along just about every wall of the beautiful, old Victorian house. Apparently, the Audio Doctor’s Dave Lalin decided to bring a bit of home to the Waldorf=Astoria, setting up not one, not two, but three fine systems in one of his two large demo suites. Here we see one of those three systemsmy favorite, comprising KEF R900 loudspeakers ($5000/pair), and a trio of Abbingdon Music Research products: the DP-777 D/A processor, used as a preamp/DAC ($5000); AM-777 integrated amplifier, used as a power amp ($5000); and the CD-777 disc player, used as a transport. Contributing to the fine sound were Acoustic System International cables, footers, and resonators. Even standing off to the side of the room, the music was engaging and easy to enjoy. Sitting down in the sweet spot was a greater treat: Ella and Louis sounded divine, their voices rich in texture, tone, and feeling.
The Music First Audio room was getting a lot of buzz around the show for its sound: delicate and detailed, a sound which emphasized Chet Atkins’ nimble shredding on “Snowbird” perfectly. Like his fast-fingered attacks, the playback from a Revox reel-to-reel A77 fed to the passive Music First Baby Reference Preamp ($7900) into Rogers LS35A speakers powered by a Bel Canto S300 was nuanced and swift. Sam Tellig reviews a similar Music First Audio Classic Magnetic Preamplifier ($4185) in our upcoming June issue. Also appealing in this room were gorgeous and compact stands from Hi-Fi Racks.
In a previous post, I talk about the cliché track selections one experiences at a hi-fi show (see “Hotel California”), so I was happy to hear one of my favorite groups, Rodrigo y Gabriela, in the Red Wine Audio Room. Their cover of Metallica’s “Orion” sounded crisp yet subtly refined and represented the true tonality of an acoustic guitar. Playback through Red Wine Audio amplification and Kudos C20 loudspeakers created a wide soundstage.
After years of exchanging e-mails with Music First’s Harry O’Sullivan, seen here holding his Baby Reference Preamp ($7900), it was a pleasure to finally meet him. My instincts were right: Harry is a cool dude. We chatted about music, gear, New York City, and, of course, beer. As Ariel mentioned, at refreshingly low volumes, the sound in this room was particularly relaxed and inviting, marked by good rhythmic snap and lovely detail and tone. It’s shocking how big a soundstage can be thrown by the little Rogers LS3/5A loudspeakers! We listened to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” which seemed somewhat appropriate, as this was Harry’s first time visiting Manhattan.
Sony’s Motoyuki (Yuki) Sugiura adjusts the volume on the Pass Labs preamp. Although the room was a bit too big for the SS-AR2s, the top-octave balance of the 1" soft-dome tweeter being optimized for a smaller acoustic space, these $20,000/pair speakers, derived from the SS-AR1 that so impressed Kalman Rubinson last July, produced one of the best sounds I heard at the 2012 NY Show. Despite the mellow balance, there was a wealth of recorded detail to be heard, with a huge, stable soundstage. Commendably for a speaker with a modest footprint, the sound didn't appreciably harden at high levels. I will be reviewing the SS-AR2 in the November issue of Stereophile.