NY Audio Show 2014: Day 1

As with so many children who were raised in upstate New York in the 1950s and '60s, the first associations I forged with the word Brooklyn were not positive. Mine arrived through the transom of a novel called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I don't remember much about it, except everyone was poor and unhappy, and there was an angry milkman whose wife cleaned empty bottles with the same rag she used on the brow of a very sick baby. Oh dear.

That impression changed in the 1980s, when a co-worker at Scholastic invited me to a party at the Brooklyn Heights apartment he shared with his buddies. The place looked like a set from Playboy After Dark. (I think someone's dad had a bit of money.) My impressions changed again, still for the better, the first time I visited the Brooklyn home and workshop of Fi owner Don Garber, who lives across the street from a park and has a garden on the roof of his house. I lived in Oneonta at the time, and the thought occurred to me: This man has more greenery than I do.

In time I would come to see the lousy side of Brooklyn ("lousy" being Brooklynese for "woeful" or "decorated with lice"). But I paid it no more mind than its due. Yes, there were times when I wondered how people could tolerate the noise, the crumbling concrete, the extortionate real estate prices, the double-parking, the crime. More recently, there are times when I wonder why people tolerate the fedoras, the bowling shirts, the insufferable rock-critic patter, the ironic embracing of eyeglass frames in the style worn by Colonel Harlan Sanders. But mostly the fedoras.

I take that back: It's mostly the irony. And that makes Brooklyn an odd choice for a hi-fi show, because hi-fi, it seems to me, is mostly about sincerity. What we have here are men and women who so love listening to records, they leap at opportunities to share their love for it with others of like mind—that and to maybe buy more hi-fi gear, and definitely buy more records. What could be nicer and sweeter and more sincere than that?

So I traveled to Brooklyn, heeding, in the last leg of my trip, Billy Strayhorn's advice to take the A train. The Marriott Brooklyn Bridge—site of this year's edition of Chester Group's New York Audio Show—turned out to be a short, pleasant walk from the Jay Street station. Show registration was just around the corner from the Marriott's main desk, and beyond that was the show's Headzones area, where I began by visiting with Chad Kassem (below) and Marc Sheforgen of Acoustic Sounds.

Their SuperHiRez download service is now one year old, and is adding approximately 20 to 30 new files each day. (Warner Brothers Records are now available from SuperHiRez.com.) They now have about 400 DSD files on offer, with full-length albums ranging between $17.98 and $24.98.

The ADL (Alpha Design Labs) division of Furutech displayed a number of products, including their new H128 headphones ($469), with specially contoured earcups designed for a better over-the-ear seal—resulting, they say, in better bass performance compared with that of other 'phones.

Ultimate Ears, a division of Logitech, is a company with roots in the pro-audio world—and an apparently well deserved reputation as a pioneer in the field of in-ear monitors. That experience has led to their development of a new consumer product, the UE 900s noise-blocking earphones ($399.99), a three-way (!) design with integral crossover filters.

Chesky Records' Laura Cella—who is just one vowel away from having the most perfect name in the music industry—and Chuck DeMonte were on hand to offer CDs and LPs from their company's rich catalog.

Audio Task Force, a pro-audio supplier whose mission statement includes "the waging of war against the tyranny of inferior audio," displayed a number of items with domestic appeal, including these small Iso Acoustics isolation platforms for small monitor loudspeakers ($100/pair).

Another nice looking headphone design—one that I actually tried, and enjoyed—was the MH40 ($399.99) from Master & Dynamic, a very new company based right here in New York City. The company's Mary Martin proudly showed off the MH40's construction details, including lambskin earpads and a number of parts machined from light alloys.

Arnold Martinez of Chicago's Tweak Studio stayed on the side of the angels by bringing a healthy supply of reissue vinyl (Metallica's evergreen Master of Puppets is seen here), along with various accessories and smaller components such as phono preamps.

I made a silent pledge to return later to the Headzones area to visit the few exhibitors there that I'd skipped—but I didn't want to miss an afternoon seminar on "The Vinyl Resurgence," hosted by our own Michael Fremer (left), and with a panel including Mat Weisfeld of VPI, Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds, Stephen Mejias of AudioQuest—and formerly of Stereophile (center), of course—and Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith (right). Many good points were made, including an observation by Mikey that likened the overabundance of poor-quality digital music files to an all-you-can-eat buffet: "You think you're going to love it, but two hours later you realize you shouldn't have gone there."

After the seminar, I ran into VPI founder Harry Weisfeld, who was anxious for my reaction to the loudspeakers he'd brought for his main demonstration room: his personal pair of Tannoy Guy R. Fountain Memorial loudspeakers. They did indeed sound glorious, especially with LPs played on VPI's forthcoming Prime turntable, which is bundled with the 10" version of VPI's JMW Memorial 3D-printed tonearm for the remarkably low price of $3500. (Also seen and heard here was a fine-sounding new LP recording, produced by Ying Tan and mastered by Bernie Grundman, of the very soulful Vanessa Fernandez.)

I was also impressed by another forthcoming VPI product, which also marks their entry into the amplification field: VPI's 50Wpc 299D integrated amplifier ($4000), produced in cooperation with Steve Leung of VAS Audio. As some veteran hobbyists will know, the new amp, which includes a phono section, was inspired by the original H.H. Scott 299D, a sample of which Weisfeld bought for himself not long ago. (Steve Leung adds: "I have three of them!")

Next door to that exhibit, the reliably vinyl-friendly Jeff Joseph demonstrated an excellent-sounding system built around the Joseph Audio Perspective loudspeakers ($13,000/pair) that so impressed John Atkinson earlier this year. Associated components—the contrasting prices of which Joseph pointed to with characteristic good humor—were a Cayin 40Wpc integrated amp ($1800) and a newer-than-new VPI Scout Jr. record player (estimated to sell for $1500) with Ortofon Quintet cartridge ($400).

My last stop of the day was at the room of Soundsmith Audio, where fellow upstate NY resident Peter Ledermann demonstrated a system using the physically small but remarkably huge-sounding Soundsmith Dragonfly loudspeakers ($3000/pair). But one could argue that the real star was his well regarded Strain Gauge phono cartridge system ($8600 with its companion SG-200 Basic cartridge preamp). The Strain Gauge system produced an extremely detailed sound that was—counter-intuitively, given the wealth of information on tap—very smooth, inviting, and organic, without the slightest suggestion of groove noise.

Allen Fant's picture

Nicely done- AD. I look forward to more of Stereophile's coverage.
Have fun and Happy Listening!

tonykaz's picture

Reallly , that is a bit of a stretch , isn't it ? and Buffet of bad food analogy , oh-my , are there people out there taking vinyl seriously ? , enough to form your own Flat-Earth Society Chapter , maybe in Brooklyn , NY with those Bowling shirts and such , hmm , right out of the 1970s , you lads , it seems .

tmsorosk's picture

A show wouldn't be complete without Michael knocking digital in some regard.
I realize we all have are own opinion but does this guy know how much harm he's doing to the industry and the magazine ?

remlab's picture

Also, I could be wrong, but the cabinets of the Soundsmith Monarch's and Dragonfly's look very similar to Parts Express cabinets.

Bill B's picture
Bill B's picture

"there are times when I wonder why people tolerate the fedoras, the bowling shirts, the insufferable rock-critic patter, the ironic embracing of eyeglass frames in the style worn by Colonel Harlan Sanders. But mostly the fedoras."

Don't judge books by their covers.

"What we have here are men and women who so love listening to records, they leap at opportunities to share their love for it with others of like mind" Ah, like the hipsters you put down a few sentences earlier.

tonykaz's picture

I suppose you're right , sorry , let em be , no need to say nasty things .

Tony in Michigan

Alberio's picture

...after Art's comments, what do we have but a photo of Chad Kassem sporting an HD Track.com lanyard. Thanks for the great report, Art.