As an unabashed fan of amplifiers that use EL34 output tubes in Ultralinear circuitsan output architecture that, to my ears, almost always sounds colorful, well-textured, and believably lushI was delighted that, in the VPI suite, a trio (!) of Joseph Audio Pearl loudspeakers were powered by a trio (!) of Citation 2 monoblock amplifiers from VAS Audio ($3000/pairwhich, I guess, translates into $4500 for three). The Citation 2, which offers 50Wpc in Ultralinear but can also be switched to triode mode for 25Wpc, also uses 12AX7 and 12AU7 small-signal tubes, plus a 5AR4 rectifier, and its specially wound output transformers are said to be vacuum-potted.
From left: Dan D’Agostino, Vince Galbo of MSB, and Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio Specialties.
In association with Innovative Audio, these gentleman put together a high-performance system made of Wilson Alexia loudspeakers ($48,500/pair); D’Agostino Momentum monoblocks ($55,000/pair) and Ultra-Analog preamplifier ($32,000 with power base); MSB Diamond DAC IV Plus ($27,995) with FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock ($4995), Diamond Stepped Attenuator ($2995), USB2 Signature 384kHz input option ($1395), Pro IS input option ($995), Diamond ($5995) and Signature ($4995) power bases, and Platinum Data CD IV disc player ($3995); and Transparent Reference XL speaker cables ($13,160/pair), balanced interconnects ($9270/pair), and digital interconnects ($3195 each). Power conditioning was also from Transparent, while the equipment was supported by Finite Element Pagode racks.
A second, smaller Innovative Audio room held a system made of Wilson Audio’s Sasha W/P loudspeakers ($27,900/pair); Lamm M1.2 Reference hybrid monoblocks ($24, 190/pair); VTL TL-7.5 Series III Reference preamplifier ($20,000) and TP-6.5 Signature phono preamp ($10,500 with moving-coil step-up transformer); Spiral Groove SG2 turntable ($21,000, with Centroid tonearm) and Lyra Kleos MC cartridge ($3000); Transparent cables, power conditioning, and AC cords; and Finite Element Pagode racks and supports.
While there were many exciting cost-no-object systems on display, the New York Audio Show was also home to refreshingly small and simple systems that nevertheless offered exceptional performance.
KEF’s beautiful LS50 loudspeakers ($1500/pair) were partnered with Audio Electronics’ Constellation tube preamp ($1495), Hercules power amp ($1895), and Lightning DAC ($1295). Wireworld provided the cabling. The music, which came from a laptop, sounded forceful, dynamic, colorful, and present.
If I could have taken home any system from the New York Audio Show, it would have been this one.
I got to hear KEF’s X300A powered desktop speaker ($800/pair) when I visited the company late last year. Now the system has found its way to the States. KEF's animated brand ambassador, Johan Coorg, gave a characteristically colorful demo.
The X300A uses KEF's Uni-Q point-source driver array and places twin class-A/B amplifiers and a high-quality toroidal transformer in each cabinet. Further, each speaker has an internal 24-bit/96kHz asynchronous DAC. The signal flows not through standard speaker wire, but via a "digital inter-speaker connection," or USB link. According to Coorg, this is to ensure that high-quality sound is carried through the entire signal chain.
The intriguing sonics and gorgeous décor of Gideon Schwartz’s Audio Arts room were easily noticed by anyone who entered. Just in front of me, a little boy took pictures with his iPhone of the imposing yet luxurious Zellaton Studio Reference One loudspeakers ($52,750/pair). Schwartz’s room, the Chairman’s Office as indicated by New York Palace signs, used to be the office for hotel inheritor and tyrant manager Leona Helmsley. Dusty multi-colored hard-bound books lined the dark mahogany shelves next to daintily painted ceramic pots centered by the wonderfully symmetrical American-crafted Audio Strata racks.
This year, the surprising lack of SRV (and overabundance of easy listening) made me glad to hear his perennial cover of “Little Wing” through Sony’s new and more “affordable” SS-NA2ES floorstanding loudspeakers ($10,000/pair) through Pass Labs amplification. Last year’s system impressed me thoroughly, striking a balance between romance and detail. This year’s system favored speed and attack accenting flourishes I had never heard before in SRV’s Hendrix cover but sounding a bit cool on “Breaking Silence” by Janice Ian.
Dupuy Acoustique, a brand relatively new to me, gave an effective demonstration of its Daisy Reflector ($995; patent pending), first seen at SSI in Montreala “phase-restoration device,” whose internal cabinetry and foam have been computer-modeled and CNC-machined for optimal performance.
Mat Weisfield was ultra-stoked to tell me about VPI's new 3D-printed tonearm. I'll let Art do the explaining, but when I heard the VPI room, images were rock solid and full-bodied through the 3D printed tonearm and nascent VPI Classic Direct. A turntable created out of happenstance, when the chassis for the planned direct-drive Vanquish was not ready for the show, they stuck the Vanquish parts into a Classic chassis and the VPI Classic Direct (approximately $20-25k) was born. Resourceful, those VPI fellas.
Because I know Wes Bender and E.A.R.’s Dan Meinwald are always open to new sounds, I took the opportunity in the Wes Bender Studio room to play the title cut from Aidan Baker’s latest release, Already Drowning.
Music Hall’s Roy Hall was excited about his new a15.3 integrated amplifier and matching c-dac15.3 CD player/DAC combo. Just as any good integrated amplifier should, the 50Wpc a15.3 includes a headphone output, front-panel mini-jack input, moving-magnet phono stage, and remote control. The one-box c-dac15.3 combines a three-input (optical, coax, USB-B) Wolfson DAC section with a CD player, itself based around a Burr-Brown 24-bit/192kHz-capable DAC. Build quality seemed excellent. Each unit will sell for $549. Music Hall just keeps churning out interesting, affordable products. I’ll look forward to learning more about these units later this year.