Arthel "Doc" Watson, one of America's greatest musical treasures, has died in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at the age of 89. A seven-time Grammy Award winner, Watson was known for his rich, unaffected singing voice, his apparently limitless repertoire of Appalachian folk songs, and a flatpicking guitar style that influenced a great many of his peers and inspired countless others to take up the instrument.
In last month's column we met May Belt, whose contributions to domestic audiomade alongside her husband, designer Peter W. Beltall have to do with reflexive perception: conditions under which a listener's comprehension of music can be altered, given the presence or absence of certain nonsonic stimuli.
Stop me if you've heard this: On January 10, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York's Lincoln Center, a performance of Mahler's Symphony 9, led by conductor Alan Gilbert, was stopped in its tracks by the ringing of an iPhone.
It wasn't just any part of the Mahler Ninth: It happened during the exceedingly quiet closing measures of the final movement.
It wasn't just any symphony orchestra: It was the New York Philharmonic, which Gustav Mahler directed during the last two years of his life.
The big guns: Sonus Faber’s new flagship loudspeaker, the Aida, with electronics from Audio Research.
The early bird catches the worm, but the well-warmed playback system is another thing altogether: So it was when I visited New York’s Stereo Exchange on the morning of April 13, mere minutes after they opened their doors for the day. Nevertheless, the ever-genial David Wasserman and his staff hit the ground running, cheek-to-jowl with eager customers and representatives from 11 equipment suppliers, whose presence had at least something to do with the New York Audio and AV Show.
In 1862, skepticism among the educated was exemplified by the medical establishment, which ridiculed Joseph Lister's notion of "animals in the air." By contrast, the professional skeptic of 2012yes, it's now possible to make a comfortable living in the fieldfinds himself inconvenienced by 150 years of discovery, and makes do with ridiculing Lister for his Quaker faith. I guess that passes for progress in some circles.
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.
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.
Sony Electronics launched their new SS-AR2 loudspeaker ($20,000/pair), seen here with the X600.5 mono amplifiers from Pass Labs. The SS-AR2 is a three-way, four-driver floorstander that’s crafted from select Japanese maple laminate (the front baffle) and Finnish birch plywood (the remainder of the cabinet). Twin aluminum-cone woofers are said to extend bass response down to 42Hz.
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!
A Legacy Audio Whisper XD loudspeaker ($20,500$22,500/pair, depending on finish) stands next to a life-size picture of a Legacy Audio Whisper XD loudspeaker. One of these has eight drivers, dual 500-watt ICE subwoofer amplifiers, and a 24-bit room-correction processor. The other does not.