Audiophile Inroads at AES

You hear a dismaying amount of bad sound on the Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention floor. Tizzy high frequencies and mushy bass are more common than not, but encouragingly, good-sounding products tend to draw small crowds or generate a buzz among attendees.

One display that consistently did good box office in Moscone Center was Bryston's full music/home-cinema surround system, complete with a 42" plasma screen and seating for six. Several years ago Bryston teamed up with British loudspeaker company PMC to create good-sounding powered loudspeakers. In San Francisco, the system fulfilled its mission, with audio sophisticates standing three deep to experience a concert video of former Pink Floydian David Gilmour. In my two days of wandering the convention floor, his performance of "Comfortably Numb" was the only thing that provoked spontaneous applause.

Some of the potentially good sound at AES can't be heard, because exhibitors feel it's pointless to demonstrate in a crowded ,noisy convention hall. Therefore the verifying experience must be postponed to a later date, perhaps in a visit to a manufacturer or studio.

It's nonetheless encouraging to see the audiophile approach making headway in the pro market. One manufacturer that has made an apparently complete aesthetic turnaround is KRK Systems (a division of the Stanton Group), now run by Revel's former head of engineering Domenic Buonincontri. KRK monitors have long been studio standards, despite their deserved reputation for high frequencies so intense and beamy "they could drill holes in your head," as one mastering engineer described them.

KRK was one of the targets of former Threshold Audio president Chris English and Georgetown Masters engineer Denny Purcell, who had teamed up with the vision of bringing better sound to the studio world, a mission that was cut short by Purcell's sudden death two years ago.

That mission may have been accomplished from within, as Buonincontri brought his entire audiophile agenda with him from Revel, completely overhauling the design of all KRK products and introducing several new lines. KRK's new "V Series" powered monitors, for example, feature high-excursion Kevlar woofers, soft dome tweeters, and high-quality electronics. The company's V12 S, a 250W powered subwoofer, features a foot pedal cutoff switch that lets engineers instantly shift from full-range playback to full-range with low-end reinforcement. The company's entry-level products, such as its RP series, are made in China, but better KRK products are made stateside, according to Buonincontri.

Another loudspeaker brand generating buzz at AES was newcomer Lipinski Sound Corporation, whose designs riff on the D'Appolito array popular in many audiophile products. Founder Andrew Lipinski followed a common trajectory in deciding to create his own line of products—he had been consistently dissatisfied with products from other companies, at first modifying them and later coming to the conclusion that it would be best to simply build them right from the ground up. Composer Robert Rich, Jon Iverson's musical colleague, was one of several folks I bumped into on the AES floor who gave Lipinski monitors a big thumbs-up. Lipinski Sound also offers attractive financing packages for client studios.

Lipinski was sharing a booth at AES with Mytek Digital, maker of high-bit-rate/high-sampling-rate multichannel DACs, ADCs, and digital processors. The convention floor was full of such products, but Mytek's products got the audiophile nod from Mobile Fidelity's John Wood and Shawn Britten, who said that unlike most of their competitors' gear, the Mytek stuff "sounds really good." Product brochures boast that Mytek users include renowned mastering engineers, such as Chuck Ainley, Bob Ludwig, and Bob Katz, and that they have been used in some of the best-sounding recordings issued in recent years. Mytek president Michal Jurewicz expressed a desire to introduce audiophile versions of his products into the consumer market, but confessed bafflement at how to do so—clearly a business opportunity for a golden-eared marketing expert.