Long lines flooded out of the MBL room on the 18th Floor of the Waldorf=Astoria all weekend long, so I arrived at 9:30am on Sunday morning to see if I could get a good listen to the MBL system by myself. Upon arrival, MBL North America’s representative, Jeremy Bryan, was still setting up his smaller speakers, the mbl 120 Radialstrahler ($21,400/pair, without stands) along with their mbl C21 stereo power amplifier ($9200), mbl C11 preamplifier ($8,800), and mbl C31 CD player ($9,200), all members of their Corona line of electronics.
I sat to the side of the room while Bryan finished his set-up, centered in his listening position, tilting his head back and forth. After the first ten seconds of four to five different demo tracks, Jeremy blurted, “Alright! I think we’re set. Come sit down.”
The Soundsmith room featured a hot and clean vinyl sound as played back with the Hyperion cartridge ($7500), which uses a cactus spine cantilever, routed to their affordable MCP2 phono preamp ($699), reviewed by Michael Fremer in our October 2011 issue and March 2012 issue. Pricing on the Hyperion includes a 10 year warranty and re-tipping. Playback came out of Soundsmith’s potent Dragonfly speakers ($2,000). While I certainly heard enough Stevie Ray Vaughan at this audio show to make me wish I had crashed that helicopter myself, the blues master’s slides exhibited a natural attack and decay that brought the man and his dirty Stratocaster to that very room in the Waldorf, a more than welcome revival.
In the LessLoss Audio room, a gorgeous couple of Kaiser Vivace loudspeakers painted in a Lamborghini Orange finish ($42,500 in painted semi-gloss, add $2500 for the Lambo paint job) paired with electronics from Beyond Frontiers Audio, including their Tulip Tube DAC converter, which runs in a dual mono state with 2 Burr Brown chips, and the Tulip Stereo Integrated amplifier. Tulip, in the designer’s former country of Yugoslavia, is a friendly name for a “good old guy”. Cabling and “ambient field conditioning” in this room were provided by LessLoss, who offered their Anchorwave cables and Blackbody ambient field conditioner. The Blackbody claims to “enhance audio playback quality by modifying the interaction of your gear’s circuitry with the ambient electromagnetic field.”
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.
The Sony SS-AR2 loudspeakers, described here by JA, were one of my many favorites at the show. Their soundstage extended deep, all the way to 42nd street, and they performed with warmth and polite resolution of high-end frequencies. Some said it was too mellow, but to me it sounded just right. Pictured above are Jonathan Lin and Carlos Giraldo from Sony posing with the SS-AR1 enclosure, reviewed in Stereophile last July.
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.
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 open and relaxed feel of the orchestral music immediately impressed me upon entry to the Wes Bender Studio room. One showgoer played his demo track of Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, and immediately again, I was overwhelmed by the size these speakers could create yet how relaxed the remained. Music flowed from their pores (and drivers).
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.