Among the smaller systems I heard at NYAS, this nears the top of my list: the Resonessence Labs Invicta D/A converter ($3990), driving the Music First Audio Baby Reference preamplifier ($6990; see Sam Tellig’s rave in the October 2012 issue), the Wells Audio Innamorata power amp ($6000), and most recognizably, Audio Space’s BBC-approved version of the classic (imagine that word in gold leaf) LS-3/5a monitor (only $1790/pair) and SW-1a woofer towers ($1190), with cable by Audience. This setup had exceptional drive and impact: qualities I associate with good transformers, of which the passive Music First preamp has an abundance.
In one of three NYAS rooms sponsored by the Manhattan dealer Rhapsody Music & Cinema, a pair of Vivid G3 Giya loudspeakers ($40,000/pair) sounded colorful, spacious, and well-textured with a pair of mono amps ($15,000) and a line-level preamp ($10,000) from the new Dutch company Mola Mola. (The company’s chief designer, late of Philips BV, is said to be the originator of “universal Class-D.”) Digital files supplied by Vivid’s and Mola Mola’s distributor, the reliable Philip O’Hanlonhe never fails to make my Top Five list of people who bring the best music to the showwere played on Luxman’s DSD-friendly DA06 converter ($6000).
Raidho D1 loudspeakers from Denmark ($20,000/pair), Merrill Veritas amplifiers from Colorado ($12,000/pair), a Kondo G-70 line-level preamplifier from Japan ($35,000), and a Pi Greco Sinfonia CD player from Italy ($15,000) managed to get along nicely in one of the Rhapsody Music and Cinema rooms.
The Audio Note Corporation of Japanwhich offers products under the surname of that company's founder, the late Hiruyasu Kondohas, in recent years, flown so far under the radar that some feared they were defunct. Now the leaders of Kondo have rededicated themselves to this market, with Rhapsody Music & Cinema as their new US distributor.
Once hailed as the most expensive amplifier in domestic audioa distinction that has long since passed by the wayside, even when one accounts for inflationthe legendary Audio Note (Japan) Ongaku was put through its paces in the Kondo room. Though designed as an integrated ampits stereo pair of 211 tubes, run single-ended, offer 27Wpcthis Ongaku was being used as a power amplifier, by means of its direct inputs. Pricing information was unavailable at the time of my visit.
Heard at the NYAS with a Leben CS600 integrated amplifier and an Arcam CD73 CD player, the smartly styled desktop loudspeakers from Well Rounded Sound impressed me far more than at previous shows. Their standard Corgi model ($799/pair), used in parallel with a pair of their passive Woof 4 woofers ($399 each) were surprisingly engaging on the Jimmy Cobb Quartet's Jazz in the Key of Blue: explicit without being bright, with decent color and impact. At NYAS 2013, Well Rounded also debuted two new models: the Jack Terrier SE ($349/pair, shown on the left) and the Corgi Mini ($399/pair, shown on the right).
I've noted the typically spacious, airy sound of Reimyo electronics at previous shows, and at NYAS 2013 the brand followed suit. Playing through a pair of Combak Audio's single-driver Bravo loudspeakers (ca $8000/pair), themselves supported by Combak Dinosaur stands ($4000/pair not including feet, the latter represented by options too numerous to list here), the Reimyo gear did a lovely job with the classic Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony Orchestra Scheherazade. (NB: The astonishing trumpeter on that 1960 recording, Bud Herseth, died only days ago.) Reimyo products in use included the CDT-777 CD transport (ca $12,000), the CAT-777 preamp (ca $20,000), and the KAP-777 monoblock amplifiers ($27,000/pair). I was given to understand that Wynn Audio, which sponsored this room, now distributes Reimyo and Combak in the US.
"Glad," a jazz-tinged instrumental by the English band Traffic, sounded great on a Gamut-intensive system from Woodbridge Stereo. Therein, the enormous Gamut S-9 loudspeakers ($101,999/pair in optional ash finish) were impressive, but I enjoyed even more the Gamut S-5 speakers ($30,000/pair), which did a nice job with the song's propulsive, almost Motown-esque beat. Other gear in the system included the Gamut D 150 integrated amplifier ($11,700), Pass Labs XP25 phono preamplifier (ca $10,000), and a prototype version of VPI's forthcoming Vanquish direct-drive turntable (price TBD), with VPI's similarly prototypical epoxy-resin JMW tonearm and a Soundsmith moving-iron phono cartridge. Very nice stuff.
Andy Regan of Cardas Audio saw me near the 10th-floor elevators and asked, "Do you have an iPod or an iPhone?" I said that I did, and Andy handed me a leather pouch upon which the Cardas logo had been printed. Inside was an obviously well-made pair of earbuds. "Give 'em a try."
Suggesting that a $10,000 amplifier might represent decent value for the money is, when done within earshot of the most aggressive audiophiles, not unlike dropping the soap in the prison shower; nevertheless, the snappily named 6C33C SE amp from the Budapest firm Tube Guru, the price of which breaks the five-figure barrier by one penny, impressed me as a good buy for what it is. And what it is is a handmade all-tube stereo power amp that gets 14Wpc from its nominal indirectly heated power triodes. The 6C33C SE, which is imported by Beauty of Sound, sounded shockingly good driving the planar-plus-ribbon Model 8 loudspeakers ($65,000 per pair) from Leonardo Audio, the latter imported by Laufer Teknik.