One of the most talked-about exhibitions at NYAS 2013and, indeed, one that impressed me more than mostwas by a newish company called Symbol Audio, specializing in heirloom-quality furnishings that are aimed, it must be said, at non-audiophiles possessed of both good jobs and good taste. The centerpiece of Symbol's room was their Modern Record Console, which combines a high-quality record player from Project, a built-in Apple MacMini with a Meridian Explorer D/A converter, a tubed (push-pull EL84s) integrated amplifier by ENG Vista (with source selections for phono, D/A, and WiFi), and a pair of Omega full-range drivers, supplemented with a self-powered, pedestal-mounted subwoofer. All of this is built into drop-dead-gorgeous cabinetry, bench-built in New Jersey from solid black walnut. Price: $26,500, woodchuck not included.
Much has been made of the influence that Linn, Naim, and Rega have had on our ideas about music-system hierarchies: Before they and a handful of other British audio manufacturers kicked off the debate in the 1970s, the conventional wisdom worldwide was that the loudspeaker was more important than the record player, amplifier, or any other link in the domestic audio chain, and thus deserved to be the object of significantly greater care and attention, not to mention investment of cash. But the Brit-fi approach was different, and ostensibly better reasoned: Because musical information that's distorted or dropped entirely by a record player, a CD player, or any other source can't be made right by any other component in the system, it is the source that must be considered the most important component of all, and to which the majority of funds should be allocated.
I've heard TAD's high-tech CR1 loudspeakers ($42,000/pair) on other occasions, at other shows. But they've never sounded as good as they did at RMAF, where they were demonstrated with electronics from a new company called Zesto (a great, un-self-conscious name that sounds like an affiliate of Slusho, the imaginary Japanese soft-drink company created for the 2008 film Cloverfield). The source was a Merrill-Williams REAL 101 turntable ($7200) with Triplanar arm ($5800), Dynavector XX2 MkII cartridge ($1985), and Zesto Andros phono stage ($4300) and Leto preamp ($7500), plus GamuT D200 amp ($6000) and WyWires cabling which, like the Zesto gear, comes from Thousand Oaks, CA. On selections by Illinois Jacquet and others, this system sounded richly textured and very involving.
My friend Harvey Rosenberg, who had more clever ideas in a day than most of us have in a lifetime, was a Tannoy loudspeaker enthusiast. I, on the other hand, had little experience with the brand before 1995, when Harvey invited me to come over and hear his then-new Tannoy Westminster Royals.
Mark Waldrep of AIX Records was on hand with Tearing it Up, the Albert Lee performance film that was recently featured in Stereophile’s pages. Waldrep also showed off a processor called the Realiser (ca $3000), from Smyth Research, a listener-adaptive device that, in this demonstration, allowed me to hear surround effects just as Mark Waldrep hears them in his own installation. Even this headphone-phobic monophile was impressed.
Industry veteran Louis Manno was on-hand to remind show attendees about the Audio History Library and Museum, a non-profit organization that's dedicated to creating an on-line database of information on the domestic and pro audio industries. (To that end, Manno brought with him some of the more tangible audio specimens from his collection.) Individuals and businesses alike can contribute to this project in a variety of ways; details are available at www.audiohistory.com.
Bill Leebens, who serves as Vice President of the Chester Groupthe organization that produced the New York Audio and AV Showdid a hell of a job getting this thing off the ground, alongside the Chester Group’s Roy Bird, Justin Bird, and Scott Humphrey, not to mention the enduringly beloved publicist Lucette Nicoll and T.H.E. Show's Richard Beers. Leebens, seen here in one of the Waldorf's intimate little rooms, is an audio industry stalwart whom I’ve known for years yet never actually met!
In one of two rooms sponsored by New Jersey dealer Audio Doctor, Jay Rein of distributor Bluebird Music demonstrated an impressive system comprising KEF Blade loudspeakers ($30,000/pair), Chord SPM 14000 Mk.II mono amplifiers ($86,000/pair), the Chord CPA 8000 Reference preamp ($45,000), a Manley Steelhead phono preamp ($8000), and the Kronos turntable (starting at $32,000)a combination on which Neil Young’s Comes a Time album sounded so good, I can scarcely wait to hear it again when I get home. While there I also enjoyed some music filesappropriately, my friend Michael Lavorgna of Audiostream.com had the seat next to minecourtesy of the Chord DSX-1000 ($13,000), a music streamer that incorporates the same company’s well-received QBD 76 D/A converter.
The late Bill Monroe may have been the father of bluegrass music, but it was the distinctive banjo playing of Earl Scruggs that most listeners came to recognize as the voice of an entire style. Scruggs, who died on March 28 at the age of 88, left an indelible imprint on American music, influencing virtually ever player of the five-string banjo to follow.
In the Audio Note UK room, managing director Peter Qvortrup demonstrated the company’s new Jinro Shochu power amplifier ($32,250). This is essentially a Jinro integrated amp (see Stereophile’s April 2011 issue) without the volume control and with a single pair of true balanced inputs. During my visit the combination of Jinro Shochu and Audio Note AN-E Lexus Signature loudspeakers ($19,000/pair) sounded natural, engaging, and just plain musical on selections by those two great exponents of British music, Vaughan Williams and Led Zeppelin.