Herb's Friday at the NYAS

A fun fixture of every audio show is the hanging badge-on-a-lanyard we all acquire at the registration table. I'm glad for these things—at least the large-print editions—because they help me overcome the steady embarrassment I feel because I can't remember any names. If you know me, I am sure you have talked to me while I've stared at your belly trying hopelessly to memorize your name. Unfortunately, somebody with deeper character flaws than mine decided that these badges should hang on swiveling clips—enabling more than 50% of them to be facing the wrong way. Yesterday I realized this design feature was not spawned by cruel ineptitude: It was actually a clever invention meant to showcase one of the show's sponsors. On both the back side of the badge and the lanyard itself there is always an ad for some big company, like Sony or Technics, but this time the advertisement was for a company many of you have never heard of: Qobuz Hi-Res (up to 24/192) streaming.

For several months, I have been using a trial membership in this Paris-based online streaming and download service, and I am fully addicted—but I have been forbidden to write a formal critique/review/comparison before the (as yet unannounced) American release date.

But today I spent my whole day staring at people's bellies and trying to decide if I should enter the NYAS Qobuz contest by filling in the back with my name and email address and then dropping the badge in the competition box. Then I remembered my trial membership, which I'm loving night and day. I have not bought a single CD since I started using Qobuz. Better yet, when I compare Qobuz' 44.1 sound to what comes out of my ancient Onkyo CD player…I feel certain I will carry weapons and fight on the front lines to make sure Hi-Res streaming is here to stay. Now I think I should have filled out a badge for my girlfriend.

I'm covering this show with three distinguished (and very tall) Stereophile associates: Jim Austin, Ken Micallef, and composer/writer (and runnin' buddy from upstate) Sasha Matson. I had not seen Sasha in some time, and just before the show my inbox was flooded with excited notes about what rooms to cover and how we must all get an LP copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Beatles in the stereo remix by Giles Martin. Sasha was beyond excited. Me being a smart-ass, too-cool-for-school, buzz-killing know-it-all, I wrote back telling him "there won't be an LP": I had attended Giles Martin's presentation at Power Station, and I thought (you always need a fact checker with Herb) Martin said the box set contained only CDs and Blue Ray discs. (And I was too low on the music-reviewer food chain to get a comp copy.) Sasha said, "No, Herb, Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds is pressing them on vinyl—and everybody will be playing them at the show!" I scoffed. But he was right.

After I got my NYAS badge I walked with Sasha into the big white room—and there it was! It cost me $40 but the Acoustic Sounds vinyl felt thick and good in my hands. I opened it quickly to see how nice the Beatles' photos looked, and was completely impressed: It looked like the White Album on steroids—very nice. But! When next I see Chad I must ask, Where are the front-cover serial numbers?

I was worried about Vinnie Rossi: I hadn't heard much from him since I reviewed his impressive LIO modular integrated amplifier in September 2015. I remembered thinking back then, Wow, this modular scheme is hip and keen, but maybe he should make some monoblock amplifiers—just to show a broader audiophile world what he is capable of. Well dang me if he didn't do just that and then go me one better with a tubed (300B) line stage, too. Vinnie's new (and oh so handsome) MOSFET 75W/8 ohm class-A/AB model L2 Signature monoblock amplifiers ($14,995/pair) made me grin so hard my cheeks started hurting. And what the hay…look what's sitting between them: his new modular L2 Signature Preamplifier (also $14,995). As I spied these beauties, my mind was telling me I should ask for review samples, but then I remembered, I committed to examining gear at a much lower price point. I told Vinnie how cool these things looked in the Central Park South sunlight, and I suggested I would talk to my higher ups: "Maybe JA or AD would review them?"

Now this room was sponsored by Walter Swanbon's Fidelis Music Systems, so obviously I could not determine how much Vinnie's handsome electronics were contributing to my White Album pleasures—not without considering the effects of the new German-made Palmer 2.5 turntable (Price on request), British-made Audio Origami PU-7 tonearm (Price on request), British-made 40th Anniversary Edition Harbeth 40.2s loudspeakers ($17,990/pair) on German-made TönTrager wood stands ($1695), connected with all Triode Wire Labs cables.

As my regular readers all know, I have gone on record as a fan of every non-Rossi audio product I just listed…but! What I heard today was something special. My personal taste leans toward loudspeakers that come in small boxes. But today, I was sitting less than six feet from the big Harbeth 40.2s, and they were throwing a soundstage that went through the window and over Central Park. They were transparent beyond belief. But I swear—don't laugh and kick my shin—I could gauge the volumes of the insides of their giant boxes. It felt a little like my head was too close to the two front-mounted ports.

I came back for a second listen, and—surprise, surprise: Walter had put the diminutive sealed-box P3ESRs (also 40th Anniversary Editions) on top of the 40.2s. He had them leaning slightly forward and Oh—when I say I am in love, you best believe I am in LUV. I'm sorry: I know I'm weird and old, but the sound coming out of the P3ESRs was exactly the kind of hi-fidelity sound I live for. God bless Walter, Vinnie, Alan (Shaw), and Triode Labs's Pete.

I've known Andy Singer for at least 40 years and I love him. The world of perfectionist audio would be a smaller, less sophisticated place without his big, sagely human presence. There are only three people on this planet whose ears I trust 100%: turntable master Michael Trei, Audiophiliac Steve Guttenberg, and Singer: the one dealer we've all spotted at the top of the retailer mountain. Each in their own way has taught me how to listen and enjoy the beauty of sound. But that's not why I like Andy. I like Andy because he speaks intelligently about 1000 topics, has a giant heart, and, after all these decades of doing business, he is still a nerdy, tweaky, non-cynical audiophile.

I had so much fun just being there, discussing the strange times we live in, I didn't actually listen very close; but the $10,995 Spendor D9 loudspeakers, the Chord Dave DAC ($12,488), the Memory Player 64-8 transport ($15,950), Chord stands ($1995/ea.), Absolare Integrated amplifier ($26,500-$34,500), were all connected with Echole cables and sounded clear and expressive in that always-excellent Chord DAC/Spendor loudspeaker sort of way.

Ok: I felt I owed Nicole He and the ESD Acoustic people a second chance. I first heard their large, complex Dragon five-way horn system at High End Munich 2018. They had spent money on two-story-high banners scatted everywhere—but their room was a very small glass enclosure on the main floor, and the sound was not commensurate with the price of the gear.

In Munich, I listened to a variety of Chinese and European compositions, and I'm sorry to say I had trouble finding much sonic or musical merit. Transients were fast, but seemed disembodied. The system struggled to register accurate tone. Vocals were brittle and sometimes piercing. Frequency balance seemed off-kilter. Today, here in NYC, ESD had the biggest, most r e l a x e d, most natural, uncolored sound I heard—in any room. By comparison, in other rooms, there were ported loudspeakers that sounded more colored and obtrusive. Bravo ESD!

Anton's picture

I think I saw that ESD system on a boat deck once.

Are those Dorade Woofers?

(Nautical joke.)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Those ESD speakers look like some people from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) would design :-) .......

Herb Reichert's picture

the "E" in ESD stands for my old friend Dr. Bruce Edgar who is responsible for their tractrix expansions


johnnythunder's picture

in your Harbeth P3ESR description! The Dolls - like you Herb - were/are a national treasure.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HR is one of the best reviewers because, he reviews mostly 'the common people's' audiophile equipment :-) ..............

HR is the Lord reviewing for the benefit of the Commons :-) ...............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Speaking about 'common people' .......... May be HR or JA could review the new KEF LSX wire-less and self-powered speakers ($1,000)? :-) ............

They are a lot of a speakers for the money :-) .......... Their specs 'speak' for themselves :-) ............

Herb Reichert's picture

I should look into


jmsent's picture

..whenever it happens to finally come to the US appears to cost $25/month for the hi res tier?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The latest predicted Qobuz launch date is around CES. I'm covering CES. So, either in that show coverage or as a separate news story, I'll tackle the payment issue.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Viva Las Vegas" ............ Elvis Presley :-) ...............

Triode Pete's picture

Herb - Thank you for your very insightful and kind comments on our Vinnie Rossi / Harbeth / Triode Wire Labs room! We're happy you were having fun!

Cheers - Pete