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?
The dipolar Gradient speakers from Finland being demmed in the SimpliFi suite had an advantage over conventional speakers at the NY Show, in that they better coped with the Waldorf=Astoria's often-problematic room acoustics. Partnered with Bladelius electronics and DNM cabling, the Revolution speakers (right) were paired with the matching Radiant subwoofer (center), which features two 12" drivers to produce uncolored, full-range low frequencies. Stephen Mejias was sufficiently impressed to look up from his notebook. The white speaker is Gradient's Helsinki 1.5, which Art Dudley reviewed in August 2010
High Water Sound, the New York City-based retailer and distributor, created one of my favorite demonstrations at the show, as much for proprietor Jeffrey Catalano's choice of musicGabor Szabo's instrumental version of Donovan's "Three King Fishers" was playing when I came inas for the exotic and unassailably musical system on display: TW Acustic Raven Black Night turntable ($40,000) and 10.5 tonearm ($5500), Tron Seven GT line-level preamp and phono preamp ($18,000 each), Tron Telstar 211 SET amplifier ($40,000), and the striking Affascinate loudspeaker ($62,000) from Cessaro Horn Acoustics, the latter using an 11" woofer in a back-loaded horn, a proprietary compression driver for the spherical midrange horn, and a modified horn-loaded TAD beryllium tweeter. The sound was tactile, impactful, and thoroughly involving on every recording I heard.
From an email’s distance, Jeff Catalano and his dealership High Water Sound seemed an enigmatic business in my mind, selling esoteric hi-fi from a downtown NYC loft. So, I was a little intimidated to visit his room, but to my surprise, Catalano is as non-elusive as you can get, beaming with joy about hi-fi and music and even wearing a Triumph shirt(!), the true sign of an everyman. He tells me he is committed to selling gear that brings the most emotion out the music.
Andy Singer, the retailer whose name and likeness have come to epitomize the high-end audio scene in New York City, brought two complete systems to the New York Audio Show, the more ambitious of which was built around the Verity Amadis loudspeaker ($30,000/pair). This three-way design uses a separate enclosure for its reflex-loaded woofer, which is then separated from the midrange/high frequency enclosure by means of a specially damped aluminum platform. Fed by a Playback Designs MPS-5 D/A converter with CD/SACD drive ($17,000) and driven by the VAC Statement Mk.IIA preamp ($19,000 including phono section) and VAC Statement 450S stereo amp ($39,000), and with Nordost cabling throughout, the Verity Amadis sounded open, clear, and nicely textured.
I had seen and heard a prototype of the Light Harmonic's Da Vinci DAC at the 2011 Axpona Show, but the 2012 NY Show saw the debut of the production version of this unique $20,000 DAC, which handle data with sample rates up to 384kHz over an asynchronous USB 2.0 link. Demmed in a system comprising Wilson Sasha W/P speakers, driven by a Pass Labs X100.5 amplifier and XP20 preamp, with all-MIT cabling, wit data sourced from an iPad-controlled Mac mini, the Da Vinci produced a sound that thrilled. A 384k-sampled recording of voice and acoustic guitar by Cookie Marenco sounded palpably real. I am planning on reviewing the Da Vinci in the late fall.
As well as providing the sound for the seminar room, which was where a recorded music concert, titled "Euphoria at the Waldorf," was presented Friday and Saturday evenings, The Tweak Studio's exhibit room also featured components from the premium German manufacturer Burmester: a pair of 380 Mk.2 speakers driven by a 911 power amplifier and an 088 preamp. Source was a Walker turntable and arm fitted with a Soundsmith Sussuro Hyperion cartridge. There was much to admire in this system's reproduction of Louis Armstrong singing "St. James Infirmary," but as was the case with so many of the rooms at the Waldorf, the presentation was marred by over-ripe room acoustics.
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!
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.”
I had visited the Legacy room at the NY Show hoping to hear the Whisper XD, which had been one of my best sounds at the 2010 Axpona Show. Though I have auditioned this speaker at other shows since then, they had never been set up in rooms that did them justice. However, when I visited the Legacy room, the relatively affordable Focus SE speakers ($8750$9250/pair, depending on finish), set up at the other end of the room from the Whispers, were playing. Driven by Ayon tube amplification, this speaker, which combines a 1" Kapton ribbon tweeter with a 3" Kapton-ribbon midrange unit, two Rohacell-reinforced graphite-cone woofers, and two 12" aluminum-cone subwoofers sounded pleasant enough, but the listening conditions were not sufficiently ideal for me to make a more confident judgment of the speaker's quality.
The larger of the two Audio Doctor rooms at the Waldorf=Astoria featured KEF's Blade speaker driven by Chord monoblocks and a Chord Red Reference digital player. This was my first chance to hear the English manufacturer's $30,000/pair speaker, which has been featured at dealer events the past few months. I was not disappointed: the sound of the Reference Recordings Scheherazade had focus and stability, coupled with an even full-range balance. (Could the array of Shakti Hallograph "candelabra" be responsible for what I heard? Nah!)
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.
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.