Sasha Reports from the NYAS

"We want the Beatles! We want the Beatles!" the packs of teenage girls screamed as they chased Herb Reichert down the halls of the Park Lane Hotel, grabbing for his still-ample hair. Stereophile's Fab Four—Ken Micallef, Jim Austin, Herb Reichert, and myself—hit the halls early for the first day of the New York Audio Show. As Herb has explained, I knew that Friday, November 9th was also the release date for Giles Martin's remixed The Beatles (aka the White Album), and I had a strong hunch that Chad Kassem would have some LP copies at his Acoustic Sounds booth—after all, his company pressed them! I managed to score copies for our group—the first out of the boxes (for which we paid, audio conspiracy theorists). Things were off to a grand start!

The White Album became a theme for me for the rest of the show, as I was able to hear my copy in a number of the rooms that I visited—everyone being excited to play it. It is not my purview here to give a detailed review of the latest iteration of this great recording, and no one reading these pages needs an introduction. Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed hearing a bit of what Giles Martin has done here, and look forward to spending real time with the LPs "when I get home." It's a Beatles world!

Saturday afternoon, I did have the pleasure of attending most of a presentation Chad Kassem made about recent highlights from his Quality Record Pressing operation, a session hosted by Robyatt Audio and Audible Illusions in their fine-sounding room. When I walked in late, and elbowed my way to a chair, Chad was in the middle of spinning their outstanding reissue of Masterpieces by Ellington. Sitting behind and to the side, the restored Quad speakers still sounded great! Kassem then spun an original LP copy of Surfer Girl and bravely contrasted it with his remastered pressing. The title track got applause—to which Chad responded: "Y'all are applauding a record?!" Then we heard a couple tracks from Axis: Bold as Love—first an original-release copy of this great Hendrix LP, and then the not-yet-available edition that Kassem has designated UHQR—which stands for 'ultra high quality record.' This project has been in the works for a while, and there was some discussion about the process; each copy is being individually hand-pressed, on the finest available non-black vinyl. Presented in a serious hard-bound, library-quality archival type box/book. "If 6 Was 9" was sounding scary good. I was also scared to ask the retail price for this—it's not going to be for free. The listening session finished up with a couple tracks from Chad Kassem's own Quality Record Pressing LP of the White Album, Kassem explaining that they were responsible for the physical pressing only, having been sent mastering parts from further upstream (I am assuming from Giles Martin and the Apple/Abbey Road mastering team). "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and "Martha My Dear" sounded fully present and accounted for. When the band fell in on "...take a good look around you" it gave me shivers! Get it.

In Salon C, the largest active listening room at this year's New York Audio Show, I couldn't help but be wowed by the massive system installed by ESD Acoustic, hailing from Hangzhou, China. A newcomer on the international audio scene, ESD was all new to me, though not to Herb Reichert, who mentioned having heard them at the Munich audio show earlier this year. At my request, Sales Manager Nicole He kindly stood next to one of the gigantic horns to give an idea of the sheer scale of the things! I know what you're thinking—we are on the deck of the Titanic here. As presented, the system comprised three sizes of horns, plus two tweeter modules. In between was arrayed a buffet-table-length mass of electronics. All of this firepower was graciously presented to me by ESD Chairman David Dai and his son, designer and co-founder Jacky Dai. As heard and seen here, I was told the five-way Dragon loudspeaker system would retail in the US for approximately $300,000. The electronics as configured would retail for $500,000 total. (I was not provided with individual unit pricing). To this, unfortunately, I was told you could expect to add approximately another 25%, given the current trade tariff situation with China and the US. There is a lot of technology involved here, but a few significant design aspects of the loudspeakers include: field coils, Beryllium diaphragms, and the use of Supermendur alloy in the magnetic circuits—described as "the highest magnetic density achievable outside of laboratories." Designing for high-efficiency horns frees things up on the amplifier side—the ESD D100W power amplifier outputs just 20W of class-A monoblock power, and many were used in this setup. Designer Jacky Dai showed me the ESD DX-1 active crossover, which can modify up to four crossover points for up to five channels. When I got my breath back from taking all this in and actually listened, I heard unidentified acoustic guitar and Harmon-muted trumpet sounding "yuge," but in no way harsh or strident. I asked for something classical, and heard an older unidentified mono recording of Beethoven's Symphony 5. The Dragon horn loudspeaker system seemed to revel in the darker lower mid-bands of this recording, and simply exuded the thick and viscerally powerful string textures. However, on other material that included highs and lows from hi-tech synthesizer instrumentation, I don't know how you could hear any more sound—I could hear it around the corner and down the hall. This is take-no-prisoners stuff on all levels, and the kind of thing most of us can get to experience only at an audio show. Awesome ESD!

Before Chad Kassem's presentation, I had visited the room hosted by Robin Wyatt and his company Robyatt Audio, alongside Audible Illusions. In a first, Robin handed me his business card, which is also a phono-alignment protractor! Also participating was Kent McCollum and his Kansas City, MO company Electrostatic Solutions, who makes it his business to fully rebuild vintage Quad loudspeakers. I heard and admired greatly a pair of Electrostatic Solutions Quad 57s ($6000/pair) with their handsome Quad copper grilles ($1500/pair) and additional Quad 57 Spider Legs (8" or 12" at $795/pair). This room had great system synergy going on. Some of the other standouts included Butler Monad monoblock amplifiers ($19,000/pair), which included a single 300B tube that is used neither as an input or as an output, but "multiplied" by the solid-state portion of the amp. A Technics SP10R turntable ($10,000), sat on a very impressive OMA Hypoeutectic Iron Plinth ($9450), sporting a Miyajima Labs Zero Infinity Mono cartridge ($3350). Also playing their part were the Wax Rax LP-H console ($8250), and the Wax Rax TT-1 turntable stand ($8250). The Wax Rax Company hails all the way from Brooklyn, New York, and they make really fine gear IMO. With the Quad speakers set up on the long wall, I pulled out my brand new White Album and we listened to "Blackbird" and "Piggies." As I felt with the prior excellent mono LP pressing of a few years back, here in Giles Martin's new stereo remastering, I think the primary sonic beneficiaries of these renewed Beatles albums are the sound of Paul's bass and Ringo's drums. Paul's vocal on "Blackbird" sounded warm and wonderful. I need to listen further/later, but I think also George Martin's arrangement touches also are improved—the strings and horns Sir George brought to the table seemed less strident and more solidly part of the mixes than in the original versions, sacred as they may be to many people. Finishing up with "Rocky Raccoon," it struck me that the old-fashioned "tack piano" sound was lighter and more realistic, and fit into the track better than the original mix. Great-sounding room and great gear.

It has been a little while since I've made it to an audio show, but some gear and people stick in the ear and the mind over time. I had heard and liked the open-baffle loudspeaker designs from Pure Audio Project several years back when I heard them at the audio-show-formerly-known-as-Newport. These speakers are sold direct as kits, helping the retail prices remain very reasonable in terms of the quality—as long as you know which end of screwdriver to use. Now, in New York, I heard a five-driver floorstanding model, the Pure Audio Project Quintet 10 Voxativ ($8900/pair), driven by a Hattor Audio Integrated NCore Amplifier ($6000), in turn fed by analog LPs sourced from a VPI Prime Signature with a Grado cartridge, into a VPI Voyager phono stage ($2500). Luminous Audio provided the cabling (prices not given). Those interested should know that the loudspeakers each contain a single 8-inch full-range Voxativ 1.6 driver, fitted above and below with four 10" woofers from Morel. Sampling (not) a few LPs, I heard a bit from Miles Davis's Seven Steps to Heaven and Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste (the Reiner/Chicago Symphony recording). Miles's trumpet sounded great: metallic, but not too much so, with that intimate, in-your-ear effect that Miles creates when he goes to a Harmon mute. The Bartok is probably one of the great ones for checking out hi-fi systems—don't know why I don't hear it more often at shows. Here it sounded full-range and impactful, also delicate when called for, and as exciting as that piece can and should be. Then, once again, I got to hear the new "Martha My Dear," which I enjoyed again! Heard enough from these LPs to tell me that I still like the sound achieved here from these open baffled loudspeaker designs from Pure Audio Project.

On my beat at this year's NYAS, I seemed to encounter all flavors of loudspeaker design—to put it mildly. Up on the eighth floor things got horny again, with designer Sunny Lo and Orinda Acoustics. What got my ears hot and bothered were large, fine-looking horn-loaded floorstanding loudspeaker designs by Mr. Lo. Up and running was a pair of his middle-of-the-line Orinda Acoustics 12" 2 Way Be, which contains one 12" horn and a 12" dynamic woofer ($22,000/pair). The construction quality looks seriously first-rate. This hefty box is front-ported, and rated at 93dB efficiency into 8 ohms. Frequency specs run from 35Hz to 22kHz. Sunny Lo is all in, designing his own line of cables and amplification. Cable range runs from $250 per meter up to $6000 per meter. Here at the New York show, though, rather than utilize an amplifier of his own design, the system was being driven by a Line Magnetic amplifier running with 845 tubes (info not avail.) When I listened, with speakers pulled far out into the room, close together, and firing straight ahead, the vocals for Frank Sinatra doing "I've Got You Under My Skin" were excellent and supremely focused. Then I heard some of Dave Brubeck doing "Take Five," and it seemed to me, at least at that point, that the overall balance was very centered around the mids—which surprised me a bit, given the heft and construction of the cabinets. I would need to spend more time with these, and with Sunny Lo's other models, to give you anything resembling a final take.

Staying with the eighth floor for good luck, I next strolled into the Ruel Audio room, hosted by founder and designer Thierry Ruel. With manufacturing done in New Brunswick, Canada, the design I heard had only been shown once before, earlier this year in Montreal. This is a complete systems approach, except for the source components. Thierry Ruel described what he's designed as the "first modular full-range one-way line source." That's what the man said. What I was actually staring at with great interest looked somewhat like tall, handsome Doric columns. They are, in fact, speaker columns stacked and assembled from individual speaker modules a little less that one foot in height. The goal was to achieve a true line source. In a small hotel room, this was an 8-foot proposition, hence eight speaker modules. The systems are room-specific, and configured depending on ceiling height. The speakers are fed from a system controller that Ruel told me was putting out 1000W times two. The controller contains DSP to achieve the best frequency response, and accepts USB, AES, SPDIF, and analog inputs. In each of the speaker modules, which are constructed from very handsome layered birch wood, is a vertical array of small 1-1/2" drivers firing straight ahead through a "diffraction slot" that assists in creating claimed 180-degree dispersion. Time did not permit me to listen long, but for some reason, there was Beethoven's 5th again—like a faithful old dog. I heard amazing soundstage depth, particularly considering that these speakers were placed almost directly against the wall, on the long side of the hotel room. The Ruel R+ system as shown retails for $70,000. This is highly creative design work: It looks great, and it all sounds very fine. I hope to hear more from Ruel in the future.

Taking the nice, fast elevators (a big plus at any audio show) back down to the main Mezzanine floor, I visited again the large Salon A, a room co-hosted by MartinLogan and Mark Levinson. I say "again" because the first time I tried, boxes and furniture were flying everywhere. I want to underline my appreciation to all the exhibitors at the New York Audio Show for their time, efforts, and expense. It's what makes audio shows happen! Back to the big time here—not so much in terms of overall budgets, but physically and sonically an imposing system was assembled. Featured was the MartinLogan Neolith loudspeaker ($80,000/pair + or - depending on finish). All electronics and sources were from Mark Levinson—their No.536 monoblock amplifiers ($29,998/pair), No.526 preamplifier ($19,998), No.519 music streamer & DAC ($19,998), and No.515 turntable ($9998). Cabling was by MIT (the pair of MIT ACC 169 loudspeaker cables in use sells for $46,594; no prices were available for the others). The name Neolith gives a clue about the MartinLogan hybrid design speakers—electrostats up top, joined to hefty dynamic drivers below. These babies weigh in at 385 lb each, and are over 74" tall (48" of which is occupied by the electrostatic panels). Frequency response is stated as 23Hz-22kHz, +/- 3dB. When I sat to listen I first heard Gary Clark Jr. doing "3 O'clock Blues." Boy, was he there all right! I felt like I was sitting at a little cocktail table in a dark Chicago club, with a very loud electric guitar right in my face. It all felt somewhat forward—maybe just a matter of listening levels, as they were playing loud here. When I requested something from LP, I heard Hugh Masekela doing "Hope." Now I experienced laser-like pinpoint imaging on his lengthy rap-style intro, huge deep soundstage, and a nice low-end kick when the band fell in. The low-end woofer cabinets contain both 15" and 12" drivers. I asked for, and was given, another chance to hear "Martha My Dear," and this time it sounded super tight and rockin'! I hope to get by once more to listen further before show's end. A heck of a system.

Let's end with a little audio history. (Actually, this is how I began my show visit: I was waiting there in the hall by the ticket table, minding my own business, when I was replaced by an illuminated bookshelf case…) Louis Manno is the Director of the Audio History Library, and was putting on display what I am sure is just a small sampling of his collection. Louis enthusiastically explained to me what he had on hand. In the photo you can see what I am told is the first mechanical amplifier, made by Western Electric in 1900. Next to it, to the right, is the first tube amplifier, the Robert von Lieben Model EV-72, made in 1912 by Telefunken. Also, on shelves below, I couldn't help but admire a Western Electric 600A Double Button Carbon Mic, made in 1938, and an S.G. Brown Ltd. Mechanical Mic Amplifier, dating from 1922. No streamers need apply!

I really enjoyed my time at this years New York Audio Show, in great part as I got to spend a little time chewing the fat with fellow Stereophile writers, but also to meet and greet and learn things from the wonderful designers, retailers, and exhibitors that you just can't meet anywhere else, unless you flew all over the world for weeks and spent a lot of money doing it. I know it costs a pretty penny to have a show at all in midtown Manhattan—on Central Park South no less, with gorgeous late fall leaves visible from many of the rooms across the street in Central Park. I hope the New York Audio Show will continue, and I look forward to seeing you all there next time!

Charles E Flynn's picture

It appears that the Reiner/Chicago Symphony recording of Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste" is being remastered and released on a hybrid SACD:

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stereophile Maroon 5 in my opinion are JA, AD, HR, JVS and Jim Austin .......... and JA is Adam Levine :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Or, if you prefer to include all the Stereophile reviewers, then they are Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers ...... and JA is Tom Petty :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Or, if you prefer The Rolling Stones, then they are JA, HR, RD and KR ............ and of course, JA is Mick Jagger and HR is Keith Richards, a.k.a The Glimmer Twins :-) .............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Did the people demo-ing the ESD speakers and the associated electronics play ..........

"U Can't Touch This"? ............... MC Hammer :-) ...........

rschryer's picture

...Tidal offers a Super Deluxe edition of the White Album, that includes, by what I've glanced of it, 402 alternate takes — or not, but a lot of them anyway. Streaming it in MQA is an option.

Metalhead's picture

Ordered Surfs Up and my local record dealer acquired the AP Surfer Girl.

Said OK, why not and bought it.

FANTASTIC, it's so juicy it just drips from the speakers. NAILED IT.

I bought the standard (Capitol-?) re-issue Summer Days (and Summer Nights) and although I prefer the songs on it, it is flat and wooden compared to the AP surfer girl.