East Village Fringe: Stereo Exchange during NYAV weekend

The big guns: Sonus Faber’s new flagship loudspeaker, the Aida, with electronics from Audio Research.

The early bird catches the worm, but the well-warmed playback system is another thing altogether: So it was when I visited New York’s Stereo Exchange on the morning of April 13, mere minutes after they opened their doors for the day. Nevertheless, the ever-genial David Wasserman and his staff hit the ground running, cheek-to-jowl with eager customers and representatives from 11 equipment suppliers, whose presence had at least something to do with the New York Audio and AV Show.

Technically speaking, I was in town for the latter. But I love the East Village—I used to work at Scholastic Publishing, just a few blocks north on Broadway—and David Wasserman has long been one of my favorite people in the business. So I took the number 6 train downtown and spent an hour and a half at Stereo Exchange: not a whole lot of time, but just enough to get a taste of what was happening around me.

Jonathan Derda of Peachtree Audio with the NovaPre preamp and Peachtree220 amp.

I began my visit at the less expensive side of things, in the Stereo Exchange demo room where Jonathan Derda of Peachtree Audio was showing off the company’s recent NovaPre preamplifier ($999) and Peachtree220 amplifier ($1399). The former is a tube-buffered line stage plus 24-bit Sabre DAC with asynchronous USB input, while the latter is a solid-state amp that boasts 220Wpc into 8 Ohms. My earliness confounded me: The system, which also featured Sonus Faber Toy Tower loudspeakers ($2998/pair), wasn’t yet ready for serious listening.

Across the hall, Mike Marko of Arcam demonstrated that company’s new AVR-360 surround-sound receiver: a lighter weight version of the successful seven-channel Arcam AVR-400, featuring Ethernet capabilities and a USB input. Marko treated me to an AV dem using Totem Forest loudspeakers and a Runco LS-100D projector, playing that well-loved concert DVD of Jeff Beck and band at Ronnie Scott’s: a sonic and visual delight.

Even more impressive—yet considerably more expensive—was the AV experience awaiting me in the dedicated Meridian room, where Stereo Exchange’s Israel Verchik demonstrated the English electronics and loudspeakers that are his spécialité du chef. Here I was treated to such delights as Meridian’s new DSP 3200 digital loudspeakers ($6000 per pair), Meridian DSW subwoofer ($5000), Meridian DSP 3300 center channel speaker ($4000), and the Meridian 861 V6 processor ($23,000). Suffice it to say, this system and this room (I fell in love with the settee) made me feel at once relaxed and excited, even with program material that wasn’t my cup of tea (eg, Lyle Lovett doing Paul Simon). Sadly—Predictably? Forgivably?—I didn’t succeed in taking any usable photos in this or the Arcam demonstration rooms.

Bel Canto’s John Stronczer poses with gear from Bel Canto, HRS, Kimber, and Sonus Faber.

The budget came closer to Earth in the Bel Canto room, where that company’s John Stronczer demonstrated the Bel Canto Reference 500M mono amps ($4000 per pair) in concert with the Bel Canto DAC 3.5 control center/D-to-A converter and Bel Canto VBS1 battery power supply ($5000 for the combination), playing music files streamed from a MacBook. The beautiful and apparently effective equipment stand was by HRS, and the cabling was all by Kimber: KS-1126 interconnects and Monocle XL speaker cables. Louis Armstrong’s “Saint James Infirmary” and other well loved numbers sounded invitingly clear, and it wasn’t long before the Bel Canto system pushed some of my “why spend more?” buttons.

Stereo Exchange’s Anthony Rago demonstrates the Totem/Rogers system.

Similar switches were thrown in one of Stereo Exchange’s open demonstration areas, where Totem’s stand-mounted Ember loudspeaker ($4200 per pair) produced surprising bass depth (and unsurprisingly good spatial reproduction, given the brand’s track record) in tandem with the Rogers EHF-100 integrated amplifier ($6350). The latter caught me off guard: I confess seeing the name and assuming that some offseas company had bought the rights to the name of one of England’s finest loudspeakers. As it turns out, this Rogers is American—very American, since it turns out that proprietor Roger Gibboni lives only a few hours from me—and makes two remarkable tubed amplifiers: the above, and the EHF-200 integrated amp, which uses KT-120 output tubes and can be used in either Ultralinear or triode mode. The Rogers amps are hand-wired, point-to-point, right here in upstate New York.

Roger Gibboni’s striking new integrated amplifiers.

The anticlimax: Seeing, in Stereo Exchange’s final dem room, a system comprising the Audio Research CD-8 CD player ($9995), Audio Research DAC 8 digital converter ($4995), Audio Research limited edition Reference Anniversary preamp ($24,995), Audio Research Reference 250 mono amplifiers ($25,990 per pair), and Sonus Faber Aida loudspeakers ($120,000 per pair), with all Transparent Audio cabling—and not being able to audition it! I was invited, graciously, to come back and listen to my heart’s content, once the system was dialed in and warmed up. But with hundreds of other products waiting for me at the Waldorf=Astoria, that experience will just have to wait a bit longer…