Day 1 at the NYAS: a Binaural Video Report

In this video, we join Stereophile writer Herb Reichert (above right) as he explores the 2017 New York Audio Show that took place last weekend at the Park Lane Hotel—this is the first of three videos covering the show. (If you haven't already read Ken Micallef's written show coverage, you can do so here and here.)

We're particularly excited about this series of videos for two reasons: First, viewers have eagerly been asking us to hear systems—not just see them. We've wanted to share that with viewers, but we wanted to do it right. In our opinion, the absolute best way to remotely convey a system's sound is by creating a binaural recording using a dummy head. But if we wanted to do it at shows, it would require too much setup time; not to mention, shows are so tricky that we'd probably injure the dummy head pretty quickly. Instead of a dummy head, we're using Herb's head, wearing a modified Stereophile baseball cap, with two omnidirectional Sony ECM-44B lavalier microphones hanging on zip ties directly in front of Herb's pinnae, recording into a Zoom H5 recorder. Because of this, you'll have to wear headphones to hear the recording properly. Our main music source was a flash drive that included Sasha Matson's album Tight Lines, and other copyright/hassle-free music. (You will also occasionally hear other pieces of music (named in the video) chosen by manufacturers that were thankfully not flagged as copyright on YouTube.)

And second, we (Herb and Jana) really enjoy creating audiophile content in the visual medium, but are very wary of falling into creating the usual "What's in this room? What's new? Wow, it sounds great. Okay, on to the next room. Repeat." video coverage one typically sees when audio journalists attempt to cover hi-fi shows. Yes, we agree that those points do need to be covered somehow. But do they also have to be boring? We tried our best to be as spontaneous and raw as possible—that is, without catching manufacturers off guard, filming anyone without first asking for their permission, and explaining our process—all while trying to maintain a cohesive narrative and be respectful to show goers.

The first room we entered was hosted by Fidelis AV, AVM, and Triode Wire Labs. The system consisted of an Acoustic Signature Primus turntable ($1999 with Acoustic Signature Red MM1 phono cartridge), Harbeth 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition speakers ($6495/pair) atop Ton Träger speaker stands ($1450/pair), an AVM CS8.2 All in One, used as a preamp ($12,995), an AVM MP6.2 CD/media player ($8995), an AVM SA8.2 stereo amplifier ($14,995), and cables by Triode Wire Labs.

In the second room, shared by Linear Tube Audio and Well Pleased AV: Rethm Bava speakers ($3750/pair), Linear Tube Audio microZOTL2 preamplifier ($2050), Linear Tube Audio ZOTL10 Mk.II ($3200), an Aqua La Scala DAC ($3450), an Innuos Zen MkII serve ($3450), and an Aqua LaDiva transport ($8200).

The third, and last room (of this video) belonged to Audio Note, with a system that comprised an Audio Note TT2 Deluxe turntable and external power supply (approx. $5000) with Arm 3 (approx. $2000) and IO I MC cartridge (approx. $3000), an S8 MC transformer step up (approx. $10,000), an RIAA Zero phono stage (approx. $2000), a CD3.1x CD player (approx. $6000), an Oto phono SE signature amplifier (approx. $5000), AN E LX HE Signature speakers (approx. $14,500/pair), Audio Note interconnects, and ISIS speaker and mains cables.

More coming soon . . .

donlin's picture

This is by far the best show report ever. The binaural mic idea is very clever, it is almost like being there. Can’t wait for the next one.

rschryer's picture

Great idea. Great sound. Great discussions. (And great music — love Matson's Tight Lines.)

ken mac's picture

Exactly what I heard in the Fidelis AVM Triode room. Purity.

supamark's picture

Glad to see you guys thinking along the same lines I do for audio on your videos.

It was interesting to hear what different folks had to deal with acoustically, and how. The Harbeth room had a nasty resonance that really showed on Ella Fitzgerald's (I think it was her?) voice.

The most interesting, and annoying, was the Audio Note room because several times I turned around to see who was talking behind me. I feel like that gave me what is probably the *true* show experience (never been to one, they don't have them anywhere near Texas - Austin, btw, would be a fantastic spot for one).

tonykaz's picture

I'm sitting here pondering all the Audio Journalism I've consumed since the 1950s, this ( right-here ) is probably the very best of the very best.

Not-scripting is brilliant, off the cuff reactions to these experiences are wonderful, the more contributing voices ( JA, SG ) the better!

Stereophile Staff are inventing a whole new form of Audio Journalism. It's like seeing StarWars for the very first time ( back 40 years ago ). HR & Jana are taking us into a whole new world.

Manufacturers will get wind of this and be properly prepared.

"Herb & Jana do RMAF" will probably be the most exciting part of these Shows.

Somehow, Stereophile's got some good Chemistry cook'n-up!

Tony in Michigan

corrective_unconscious's picture

These are audiophile systems, purportedly. What is the best resolution and format for audio on youtube again?

supamark's picture

Youtube's resolution is significantly higher than html text's, so there's that.

corrective_unconscious's picture

If only the major high end manufacturers would advertise on TV then I could just do my equipment auditioning from home while enjoying chicken wings.

supamark's picture

how anyone can actually enjoy chicken wings, just don't get it. Real good quality fried chicken on the other hand, hell yeah gimmie.

corrective_unconscious's picture

I will upload a jpeg later of some particularly good chicken wings and then you will be able to experience for yourself how good they taste.

Much better than "html text."

dalethorn's picture

Youtube's advantage is that the video bandwidth is far greater than CD-quality audio, and so the embedded audio quality is mostly dependent on who made the video and what with. I have quite a few videos snagged from Youtube that I'm very happy with, even though the sound isn't high-res, i.e. 96/24 or whatever. For me, the video is enough of a distraction that I generally don't miss the difference in the audio. Maybe in the future, video channels like Youtube will get enough demand for high-res audio that a new generation of audio/videophiles will train themselves to appreciate the highest quality audio at the same time as they're focused on the video.

tonykaz's picture

Where do we get em?

How much?

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

The soundstage seems a little weird, and exaggerated. And there's a slight sense of the "home recording" sound. Since the mics aren't in the ear canals, I presume that has something to do with not being exactly like other binaural recordings. Anyway, if these ad-hoc recordings could be remixed and equalized a little, they'd be very close to being there.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Then why not just cut out the middleman of the ultra expensive audio system you're "listening to" and go with binaural portable digital recording of the original musical event played back over whatever headphones?

There is something odd about people's reaction to this. I'll get back to you when I can finally figure out what the something odd is.

dalethorn's picture

It's a big world and I for one am very privileged to be able to buy music tracks from a huge diversity of genres and artists, most of which sound great. While this on-the-spot recording technique probably won't have the consistency of sound - coming from a plethora of independent sources - to challenge the professional recordists and their resources, it's still a terrific advance over anything I've heard so far for what it is - ad-hoc on-the-spot reporting. I'm imagining now what it would be like if this technique and quality were available and convenient for everyone, starting with reporters and then filtering down to everyone with a cellphone video camera.

corrective_unconscious's picture

I am in love with the notion of actually comparing the sound of these purportedly superior, and definitely expensive, nuanced, tweaked, golden ear high end systems' sound in this manner. My other posts explain the concept.

Which youtube audio file and at what bit and sample rates allowed by youtube, exactly, exceeds Redbook quality, all other things being equal? You might have an answer that I am unaware of for all I know. DOT com/youtube/troubleshooter/2888402?hl=en

dalethorn's picture

Well, this was a lengthy bit (heh) of research, with no definitive answer. But, it appears that the audio/video streams are processed separately by Youtube, and whereas most sources say you'll get only 160 kbps or so on download (some say there is or was 192 kbps coding), I get the idea that some people know how to download higher quality audio if it's actually stored with the video. Whereas Apple iTunes and Amazon MP3's are fixed somewhere around 256 kbps, Youtube's marketing provides lower, and possibly higher rates depending on the providers and the customers. At this point it's costing me zero dollars, so until they specifically market higher resolution audio, I'll just wait and watch.

corrective_unconscious's picture

The audio quality on youtube is not better than CD quality as you arguably sort of claimed. We're not discussing whether or when you like to pay for music, we're discussing whether this videoblogging idea over youtube makes any sense whatsoever as a way to "hear" and audition high end audio systems. Unless you think high end audio systems are maxed out in terms of source once you get to a good mp4 file. Then it would make sense.

dalethorn's picture

"....sort of claimed", as you corrected yourself, is still not what I said or intended. The important thing is that Youtube is a video site, and while audio has always been secondary, the fact that the video bandwidth is an order of magnitude greater than the audio bandwidth is, in my view, the primary reason why the audio is as good as it is, on some videos anyway. I have no proof or convincing evidence that the actual effective bandwidth of a Youtube video's audio has ever gotten to more than half of the CD rate in lossless compression, but it's moving that direction. For me there are certain important principles - one being that with video watching, the audio doesn't have to be lossless as my primary attention is on the video. Another thing is that I'm not paying for lossless audio - in fact, I'm not paying anything at all. And the third thing is the history - I can see and hear the improvements they've incorporated over just a few years. If there's any bad news, it's likely going to be a pay service for users who want highest quality audio and video in the future.

Edit: It's not easy expressing thoughts of audio and acoustic fidelity from a keyboard, but at the risk of further confusion, and assuming that Herb's idea can result in videos with at least iTunes-level quality audio, the audio will give a lot of information about what was heard at the event, in terms of tonality, soundstage, and other factors, in spite of not being able to discern the ultimate resolution of the system. And the Youtube video is not the end as far as that event is concerned. The original video and audio will be preserved, and somewhere along the line we'll be able to see and hear the original unfiltered.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Was an effort to suggest the audio quality via youtube is not as irrelevant to hi end audio as I posted it is. And you had no idea of youtube's audio format(s) specs.

A video blog of show rooms and company principals is one thing. Going on as though field recordings of demo rooms then played back over youtube via computing or smart devices which usually have wretched sound is...what I said it is.

dalethorn's picture

You say wretched, but I say useful. I look at the progress all around me, and all you see is failure. But I can guarantee one thing - the enjoyment I and others get from those videos with 256 kbs VBR audio tracks is indistinguishable from the maximum enjoyment you could hope to get if they were 96/24 tracks. And BTW, your "you had no idea" is just another attempt to put down someone whose tech credentials undoubtedly exceed yours.

corrective_unconscious's picture

I correctly question the premise of gauging the sound from kilobuck stereo systems via youtube coupled with (in most cases) a stock computer's or pad's sound circuitry. It makes nonsense of the idea of having an expensive audio system to begin with.

Sorry that was too difficult for you to follow. I'll be sure to get you those jpegs of chicken wings so you can see how good they taste.

dalethorn's picture

So you lose your argument, i.e. that there is a lot of value in Herb's recording even on Youtube, and because you lost your argument (!), you resort to chicken analogies? You could instead deal with the fact that those other factors I described are audible and useful despite the compression.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Your mention of the "video bandwidth" of youtube was idiotic in a discussion of whether a low res audio outfit like youtube would in any way be a reliable indicator of how high end audio systems sound.

If you don't like the chicken wings analogy then we can return to the one of high end audio companies running Superbowl ads so you can "hear" how good them thar speakers sound....

You observably know nothing about youtube or about validity in testing.

dalethorn's picture

So now it's "idiotic", and thus you have outed yourself as a troll who is so extreme that you have to have the last word, even at the risk of revealing how you spread disinformation. The thing is, I know far more about audio and technology than you ever will, and if that makes you feel shortchanged, so be it. You just have to accept your limitations.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Your unknowing invocation of "video bandwidth" as some sort of argument that youtube permits anything near Redbook bit and sample rate audio was exactly that.

Seeing moving images of demo rooms or having video blogs featuring manufacturers is a totally different subject. That doesn't undermine the very premise of high end audio systems.

dalethorn's picture

Your failure to see the big picture is a form of myopia. Some people just can't be helped in that regard, but who knows, other people get it.

supamark's picture

the overwhelming majority of recorded music people are listening to does not originate as an acoustic performance in a real space in real time, right? that's really all binaural is good for. To really get the full impact of pop/rock (and symphonies) you need to feel it, and you don't feel it with headphones.

Actually, come to think of it, I'd like to hear a Neumann KU-100 recording done at Gateway Mastering. It'd be filtered through the mics, mic pres, A/D converters, D/A converters, headphone amp and headphones (all of which change the sound) but would still be sonically very interesting to me.

dalethorn's picture

I've never been to a rock concert, due to my lack of interest, although I do have quite a few rock tracks that I really love. So I feel like I'm getting everything of value from those rock tracks with headphones, despite the extra "thump" on the body that some people feel is vital to the music.

supamark's picture

are that Herb's using lavalier mics (intended to pin to a lapel, like they use in TV interviews) which don't do as well on distant sounds and they're not really mounted rigidly or in the "correct" place (as you noted). They could try mounting them like a hearing aid with the hook-like thing behind the ears but Herb wears glasses so I don't know uncomfortable that would be. I bet they tried cable-tying them to Herb's glasses but it was too annoying.

Regardless, I give them an A+ for effort (plus for Herb's willingness to look a little silly) and doing something different, and a solid C for sound quality. I noticed on the Harbeth room portion that both the camera mic and Herb's mics picked up the same nasty resonance so I think they gave a good idea of the room sound outside of the treble - those mics just aren't suited to picking up distant high frequency sound which is why everything sounded soft.

As you suggested, they could try applying reciprocal EQ to the mics (mics are just speakers in reverse) to compensate for the frequency response - they're omni's so no proximity effect to worry about.

I look forward to more videos, and Jana & Co. honing their techniques.

John Atkinson's picture
supamark wrote:
they're not really mounted rigidly or in the "correct" place (as you noted). They could try mounting them like a hearing aid with the hook-like thing behind the ears but Herb wears glasses so I don't know uncomfortable that would be.

I tried out various mounting schemes before the show. Clipping the mikes to my eyeglasses so that they were positioned in front of my pinnae worked but the set-up was too unstable for practical use at the show. Clipping the mikes to a hat placed them above the ear, hence the final decision to use zip ties to both lower the mikes and give them a consistent mount. This was both stable enough to allow Herb to walk from room to room and didn't require individual set-up in every room under show conditions.

Consider our NY Show coverage as "proof of concept" and we will continue to refine the recording technique in our future show coverage.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

supamark's picture

but what if you took one of those plastic hats with the cup holders for beer and mounted a pair of B&K/DPA 4006 (or Neumann KM 183, other HQ omni - I know you and John Iverson should have access to good omni's) mics to the cup holders? Mount 'em rigidly through the cup holders so the capsules are right outside the ears, add a GoPro to the front and paint a large Stereophile logo on it. Two GoPros and you've got the whole VR thing happenin'. just spit-ballin'...

Les's picture

I do believe show recordings can give you a decent gist of the sound, and it is indeed much appreciated. I personally find recordings done by this channel (i.e. to be of high quality, albeit done in totally controlled environments. Not that Stereophile should be all of a sudden equipping its show-goers with expensive Sanken mics, but further experimentation with the belief that it can be "good" is something that I heartily support.

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for doing this.

The video side still needs plenty of light but there are now Battery Powered LED Lighting Solutions with nice color temperatures. I'll anticipate you migrating to a 24mm f1.4 lens.

All this added complexity is becoming necessary because people are single sourcing their personal life around the iPhone.

Portable gear has become capable and compitant which seems to make a "Park Bench Audiophile" Column a popular addition to your Wonderful Publication. The LG Tone Studio creates a musical bubble around a person's head.

We are on our way to an entirely new world.

Tony in MIchigan

AVM Audio's picture

Thank you Jana & Herb, we really had a great time hanging out with you guys while doing this video shoot and we are very happy that you liked the sound in our room, it take lots of work just to make these hotel rooms even decent sounding.

Ortofan's picture

... to be desired. In the future, give Ms. Dagdagan an iDevice plus a Sennheiser Ambeo Smart headset.
Let her sit in the front row and record the demos in each room while leaving the senior staff behind to schmooze in the hallways. That way we won't be stuck looking at the back of Herb's head.

philipjohnwright's picture

Keeping his hat on indoors.

Sorry Herb (love that film about your brother by the way - Brave Heart).

Attempts at humour aside, as others have said this is ground breaking stuff, keep it up.


Anton's picture

Companies set up their finest gear (or any level gear) on their home turf, then record the experience binaurally on highest rez, and we can pay a small fee to, basically, have that experience piped into our listening/easy chair.

Anton's bean bag chair, 2022: "Tonight, I'm in an Audio Note mood. Siri (or whatever,) play "The Genius of Ellington" in their "listening Room B.""

It'll be like Sol Roth's "Symphony Suite" experience in Soylent Green.

jimtavegia's picture

Since I own the cd and the 2496 downloads this was most interesting and th best recorded sound I've heard from a show. Cool. Nice work. The speakers are beautiful.

ishmael25's picture

Absolutely loved the experience. Hoping you do this for all shows from now on. Loved the conversations with others, and the feel of the room. This... I would pay for.

Can't wait for the next post