Zoom Away with Audio Arts

The intriguing sonics and gorgeous décor of Gideon Schwartz’s Audio Arts room were easily noticed by anyone who entered. Just in front of me, a little boy took pictures with his iPhone of the imposing yet luxurious Zellaton Studio Reference One loudspeakers ($52,750/pair). Schwartz’s room, the Chairman’s Office as indicated by New York Palace signs, used to be the office for hotel inheritor and tyrant manager Leona Helmsley. Dusty multi-colored hard-bound books lined the dark mahogany shelves next to daintily painted ceramic pots centered by the wonderfully symmetrical American-crafted Audio Strata racks.

“Who wants to hear some Doors?” Gideon asked the audience.

He dropped the Jan Allaerts MC1 Boron Mk. II MC cartridge ($4950) on side two of Waiting for the Sun on the Simon Yorke S10 ($19,950), a turntable built in Spain. Conveniently, side two begins with “Spanish Caravan”—Schwartz is obviously thinking on multiple levels. The classical guitar reference to Albeniz’s Asturias (Leyenda) at the beginning of the track was surprisingly relaxed, natural, and dynamic. Gideon’s audience was thrilled.

“How about some Zeppelin?” Gideon asked the crowd again.

“Sure!” yells a man in the front row.

“Wait just a second, I found this on my way to Zeppelin, and I’d like to play it first.”

He begins spinning a live version Albert King’s “Blues Power”. There is expression in King’s bends. Gideon howls and kicks in the air. The music spoke effortlessly, but rather than being placed in front of King, the listener was placed at a distance in the live spectrum possibly fifty feet away from King’s amplifiers.

Zeppelin guy has left the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Manito de Plata,” Schwartz introduces the next guitar record. It too is withdrawn.

Gideon asks if I have anything I’d like to play.

I pulled out my newest Rhye record, a sexy album with sexy strings and an even sexier cover, but in terms of sonics, while not dynamic-less, it is certainly “modern” and the vocals could be a bit hashy in the treble as a result of a production decision to make every lyrical delivery sound like a whisper. A sensitive tweeter like the one on my Usher S-520s at home will accent this in an unfortunate manner.

Confused by this record, the system had trouble trying to find the right balances between the instruments in the midrange, keyboards were overstated and strings distant, but the whispered hashiness in the vocals was now dulled.

Gideon and I both seemed eager to get this record off the platter. Since Teddy Pendergrass was such a success last year, I thought another R&B ballad would do well. I put on “Zoom”, the final cut on side one from Commodores.

The ballad got off to a slow start, and before we could reach the emotional chorus, Gideon was at the turntable anxious to remove the record: “Have you heard enough?” I hadn’t, but I could understand: folks were leaving the room.

“Sure,” I said. Just a measure away, synthesizers would flit like hummingbirds across Helmsley’s stodgy office, and Lionel Richie could have been there grasping for air while singing, “Zoom! I wanna fly away from here.”

He removed the LP, and I exited quickly.

“Does anyone want to hear some Doors?” I heard as I left the room.

For more thoughts on the relaxed sound in the Audio Arts room, here’s Stephen Mejias’s report.