Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, the record-store clerk-turned-internationally known DJ-turned-analog impresario, has set out to change the way we listen, one roomful at a time; based on my experiences at NYAS 2013, she is bound to succeed. I had heard that Ms. Murphy is as sound- and music-savvy as she is lovely, and I can only say those observations don’t do her justice. “Today, music is treated almost as aural wallpaper, as a cheap commodity,” Murphy bemoaned in her opening remarks before spinning the Japanese vinyl version of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory on a truly grand system, including a Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with Centroid tonearm and a Lyra Atlas cartridge; a VTL TP 6.5 phono preamp (with integral step-up transformer); VTL’s TL 7.5 line-level preamp and Siegfried monoblock amps; Wilson Audio MAXX 3 loudspeakers and Opus series cabling from Transparent. (When I visited the Classic Album Sundays room, early on the show’s first day, exact pricing details weren’t yet available; suffice it to say, everything was rather expensive.)
Colleen Murphy, whose first serious system was built around a pair of Klipschorns, prefers vinyl to all other formatsnot just for the superior sound, but for other, less tangible qualities. “It’s almost a ritual,” she said at NYAS 2013. “The inconvenience is one of the things that makes us give ourselves over to it.”
Among the finest aspects of the site selected for the Chester Group’s New York Audio Show was the view from the New York Palace hotel. As you can see from this glimpse through the window at the exhibit of Well Rounded Sound (to whom I’ll return shortly), one side of the Palace looks out on the neo-gothic Cathedral of St. Patrick, dwarfed by other architectural marvels in this concrete canyon: serious sights for serious listening.
Beethoven understood the pathos of the gap between idea and realization, and the sense of strain put on the listener's imagination is essential.Charles Rosen
Bass, like sex, is something most young men desire in excess: To the novice, quantity trumps quality, and as long as he can hear from his playback system the deepest sounds of an orchestral bass drum or five-string electric bass (low string tuned to B-0 or C-1), he is completely satisfied.
The challenge is biblical in character, if not in scope: A half year after railing, in these pages, against our industry's overabundance of products that cost more than $20,000, fate has given me such a thing to review.
Audio Note has long been a believer in high-torque turntables, having brought to market a number of belt-drive designs that use multiple motors (à la the original Voyd). One of the less expensive such models in their line, the twin-motor TT Two ($3500), has now been upgraded, with a plinth made from the same veneered Russian-birch plywood as the company's well-regarded loudspeakers. (The sample here is in Rosewood.) And external power supply ($2400) is also available, either at the time of initial purchase or as a subsequent upgrade, providing greater electronic stability and easy speed selection. Seen with the TT Two are the Arm Three V2 captured-unipivot tonearm ($2000) and an Audio Note Io-I moving-coil cartridge ($4100)which, for SSI, drove an S4L silver-wired transformer ($6200).
I finally got to hear a mono system at SSI, but not in the manner that I or the exhibitor might have wanted. Halfway through the show, Audio Note's Dave Cope suffered the loss of one Empress Silver monoblock amplifier ($10,000/pair), apparently owing to an AC power surge. The Empress Silver, seen here alongside the outlet of infamyand a coil of Audio Note's new Isis LX 168 copper-Litz speaker cableis a new single-ended mono design with a 5U4G rectifier tube, a 6SN7 input tube, and parallel 2A3 triodes, for a total of 8Wpc. This was a disappointingly bad break for a company that has, in the past, won more than its share of Most Enjoyable System of the Show awardsalthough I must say that a mono recording of Count Basie's "88 Basie Street" was nonetheless fine when played through the surviving channel.
Recalling my very positive experience with the same company's AS-400 digital playback source/integrated amplifier, I found myelf attracted to the Micromega MyDAC ($399), a recently introduced asynchronous USB converter offering 24/192 performance and a color choice of black or, as seen above, Apple white.
Bluebird Music, the North American distributor for Chord electronics (and other lines), along with Totem Acoustics and the Montreal retailer Audioville, put together this superbly clear and punchy yet unfailingly smooth system: a Chord Red Reference Mk.III CD player ($25,000), Chord CPA 5000 preamp ($20,000), Chord SPM 5000 Mk.II amplifier ($25,000), and Totem Element Metal loudspeakers ($13,000/pair). Neil Young's "Look Out for My Love," a song I've only recently come to appreciate (its mildly goofy arrangement put me off for the longest time), sounded especially greatno more so than during the entrance of the backing singers, when the sound of this Chord-anchored system seemed to double. Also in this system but not auditioned during my visit was the brand new Chord Music Streamer ($13,000), a CAT 5-happy player with BNC digital inputs that also contains the full Chord QBD76 D/A processor.
At SSI I had the opportunity to hear the slightly more comfortable cousin of the Definitive StudioMonitor 45 loudspeaker that recently impressed Stephen Mejias: the same company's StudioMonitor 65 ($1000/pair). Partnered with a 150Wpc Acurus 2002 integrated amplifier and Bel Canto CD player, the 65s were exceptionally well balanced and pleasantly explicit on Diana Krall's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." I added it, on the spot, to my cumulative mental list of good-quality affordable loudspeakers.