Ask the Editors, Round Two on day three of the New York Audio & AV show was decidedly more laid back than Ask the Editors, Round One possibly because there were less panelists clamoring over a single microphone. In fact, I’m not even sure if the microphone was used this time around, since everyone could hear each other clearly in the room.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
I will state up-front that the Audio Note AN-E Lexus loudspeakers ($19,000/pair) and accompanying Audio Note gear was not my favorite system at the show. I did not have a favorite, as I particularly enjoyed the sound of many systems including the Sony room, the Innovative Audio room, and the High Water Sound room. Yet, I easily spent the most time at Audio Note. Why?