NY Audio Show 2014: Saturday Evening

Sony's hot news at the New York show was the launch of what they called a "Walkman." However, this was no cassette player like the Walkpersons of 30 years ago but a hirez-capable file player with 64GB of RAM and a micro-SD slot for memory expansion. Priced at just $299 and beautifully styled, as you can see from the photo with David Chesky modeling it, the new Walkman makes my Astell&Kern player look clunky. But peculiarly, the new Sony player doesn't handle DSD files, just PCM up to 192kHz.

Shown standing next to one of his active Lipinski Signature 700 loudspeakers ($54,000/pair) in the seminar room, veteran classical recording engineer Andrew Lipinski explained that this tall speaker comprises the latest version of the L-707 monitor that Larry Greenhill favorably reviewed in our December 2005 issue, flanked above and below by modules each containing three woofers. But the design remains a two-way, the extra radiating area being used to increase low-frequency extension and reduce distortion. All the amplifier modules run in class-A. I played some of the hi-rez master files of my own recordings stored on my Astell&Kern AK100 by plugging its Toslink output into Andrew's Mytek DAC and despite the poor acoustics in this room, was blown away by the sound. Imaging and dynamics were all superb.

Outside the seminar room, Brooklyn's own Mytek had its new Manhattan D/A processor/preamplifier on display, which will handle DSD256 and DXD (32-bit/384kHz). Mytek's Michal Jurewicz explained that the new DAC uses a Femto clock, has a dual-mono headphone output with a current capability of 1.6A and will be priced at $4995.

In the Fidelis room, Red Wine Audio's Vinnie Rossie introduced a new modular integrated amplifier to be sold under his own name. The LIO can have a passive, auto-transformer or an active, tube-based preamp stage/volume control and an optional DAC board. Unusually, rather than batteries, the amplifier uses 18 Ultracapacitors in two banks of nine, to provide power. The caps were developed for automotive use (in regenerative braking systems) and can be charged much faster than batteries. The LIO switches automatically and seamlessly between one bank and the other when the voltage drops below a predetermined level. Demmed with the latest version of Harbeth's Super HL5 Plus speakers ($6895/pair in cherry), which have upgraded crossovers, the Vinnie Rossi amplifier sounded very promising. Fidelis now distributes Acoustic Signature turntables in the US, the company's Walter Swanbon told me.

The loudspeakers in the room shared by Nola Loudspeakers and New Jersey dealer Xtreme Fidelity were familiar: they were the Nola Metro Grand Reference Golds ($33,000/pair) that I am reviewing in our November 2014 issue. These loudspeakers combine twin reflex-loaded SEAS magnesium-cone woofers with dipole midrange and tweeter, the latter a ribbon developed by Nola and RAAL. Driven by a VAC Sigma 160i tube integrated amplifier ($13,300) and a PS Audio CD player, the speakers sounded significantly better in the relatively lively hotel room than they had in my well-damped listening room. But as they had in my room, the four 6.5" woofers (with alnico motors) produced bass dynamics greater than you would think they had any right to.

In VAC's own room, the Statement 450iQ monoblock amplifiers ($116,000/pair) were being used with the Statement Line Preamplifier ($66,000) and Statement Phono Preamplifier ($70,000) to drive Focal Grande Utopia EM speakers ($195,000/pair) via Shunyata cabling with Shunyata Hydra AC conditioning. Source was the Bergmann Sindre turntable and arm ($28,000) fitted with a Lyra Etna cartridge, everything being supported on HRS racks. "Every Time We Say Goodbye," from the Acoustic Sounds remastering of the Ray Charles and Betty Carter LP sounded delicious.

The smaller speakers in this photo are Opera Secondas ($4000/pair), which, with a Peachtree Nova 125SE integrated amplifier ($1500), an AudioQuest Carbon USB cable and AudioQuest Rocket 88 speaker cables, comprised a good-sounding system that dealer Tenace Home Music Systems was selling for $5000. The recent Doug MacLeod album from Reference Recordings, which was our "Recording of the Month" for May 2013 was reproduced with superbly palpable vocals, while the subterranean bass line on Lorde's "Royals" had impressive weight.

A modest glass case in the Marriott's lobby held some fascinating artefacts from audio's past. The display showed items from the Audio History Library and Museum's collection, including a Western Electric mechanical amplifier (top left in cabinet) and the world's first horn-loaded, electrostatic compression driver. Based in Lenox Hill, the museum, which is curated by Louis Manno (left), aims to expose NYC students to what lies behind and led to modern audio technology.