It was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of Bob Neill, a fellow graduate of Amherst College and proprietor of Amherst Audio in Amherst, MA. In a system headlined by JM Reynaud Abscissa loudspeakers ($5500/pair) bi-amped with Crimson 640E monoblock amplifiers ($6000/pair), and completed by the Crimson 710 solid-state preamplifier ($7000), Resolution Audio Cantata ($6500), and Crimson interconnects ($360/1m pair) and bi-wired speaker cable ($1070/8' pair), I enjoyed the kind of cultivated sound that discriminating listeners crave. True, there was some extra resonance in the treble that made piano sound a mite metallic, but the midrange beauty of Antonio Lysy’s cello on Yarlung Records’ recording, Antonio Lysy at the Broad, was very special.
It’s a great name, isn’t it? Your Final System, based in Rochester, NY, is an Internet-based, high-end audio consulting firm specializing in custom USB 2.0 cables and computer music servers that will travel anywhere in the US to set up their music server. Unfortunately, shit happens. YFS’s McIntosh 275 amplifier died right as the show was getting underway, they hunted around until they located Jolida electronics that were fresh out of the box. Given the insufficient break-in time, it’s inappropriate to comment on the sound of a system that also included a customized YFS HD Ref 3 Digital Music Server/Transport ($13,000), Bricasti M1 DAC ($8600), Von Schweikert VR-44 Aktive loudspeakers ($26,000/pair), and YFS cabling (including their REF USB cables ($350 each).
Don’t be scared. No one was busy rounding up illegal aliens during RMAF, thank God, but the combination of the EXD model of the BorderPatrol S20 power amplifier, which came complete with two power supply units ($16,500); BorderPatrol Control Unit EXT1 preamp ($12,250); BorderPatrol DAC EXT1 ($9750); Living Voice Avatar OBX-RW loudspeakers (from $11,750/pair); Tent Labs transport; and Electrofluidics cabling was overdriving the room. There was a captivating illumination to my CD of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, but highs were wiry, and the bass boomed like nobody’s high-end audio business in troubled times. (A common factor in this part of the hotel.)
Audio Note now handles its US sales directly from the UK. The sound in their room may have been warmer than neutral, but it had an immediacy that I enjoy. Here, the vividness of a classic recording of music from Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila struggled to triumph over the bass commentary from the adjacent room’s Göbell behemoth. When the booming subsided, Jennifer Warnes emerged triumphant.
Steve (Sze) Leung, a neighbor of Stereophile’s Wes Phillips and a joy to boot, made my day when he played a 45 rpm audiophile pressing of Elvis’ “Are you Lonesome Tonight.” As the great one began to intone the chapters of this teenage melodrama with tongue-in-cheek sincerity, the sound was so vivid and lifelike that images of the night I tried to ask Ellen Schmidt to go steady flooded through my mind.
Vapor Audio’s Rick LaFaver had reason aplenty to smile. Playing MA Recordings’ fabled CD of Sera Una Noche: La Segunda, his system nailed the timbre of instruments spot on. I was amazed at the depth he achieved from his small speakers, and took special note of the realistic decay of the sound of brushes on cymbals and bells being struck. “The hollow resonance of the percussion seems real,” I wrote in my notes.
I’m afraid I hit High Water Sound’s room at the end of the fourth floor at a time when, overwhelmed by how many systems I had left to visit before show’s end, could only muster the words “very nice sound” in my notes. Clearly I owe you an apology, and Jeffrey Catalano’s high-end emporium a visit the next time I’m in New York City.
Having heard the complete Haniwa 24/192 system twice, at two shows, I confess that I don’t get it. The ad for this $18,000 system, which includes 4" speakers, digital preamplifier with channel divider and DSP, and digital amplifier with recording and playback capabilities, proclaims: “An authentic 3D image pops up from sharply focused, high resolution left and right images . . . .Then, an authentic 3D sound should pop up from sharply focused, high resolution right and left channel sounds...” What I hear from digital copies of fine classical analog recordings is bright, edgy sound.
Squeezed into a small hotel room were the towering Gbell Epoque loudspeakers ($70,000/pair), driven by Artemis MK II monoblock amplifiers ($120,000), Stahl-Tek’s Opus DAC ($40,000) and Opus CDT ($37,000), with connections courtesy of Purist Audio Design 25th Anniversary cabling. How all this would have played out in a larger room, I do not know, but here, both period instrument and modern violins sounded edgy on different recordings, and bass was out of control on a third recording of a Mahler symphony.
There’s nothing like a good demo to change one’s opinion of what are now called Harman Luxury Audio components for the better. I had previously heard the pairing of JBL’s visually striking NDD66000 Everest loudspeaker ($60,000/pair) with Mark Levinson electronics at the speaker’s debut at CES a few years back. Although the buzz around the speaker was major, I recall thinking how dark and monochromatic the system sounded, and how it lacked the luminosity and color that I prefer.
Here, by contrast, the sound was some of the best solid-state sound I heard at the show . . .