It's been a long wait to pen this last installment of the NY Audio Show. In truth, I would have shelved it due to running the business, and the limited hours of a day. However, there were noteworthy musical moments, and meetings that are pertinent to the future of StereoDesk. So, No Show Day Will Be Left Behind.
We should begin where I did, in the Genesis Advanced Technologies Room...Team Rutherford and Robb Niemann. It was Thorens, feeding Burmester, feeding Genesis, but feel free to correct me. I know there was some Venture in the room, as well as Elac and April Music. I was feeling the wear and tear of show life that morning. I had slept no more than 1.5 hours in my hotel room. (a story for another day) Nicely, the gentleman handling things (likely Robb) asked if there was a type of music I favored. I said, 'How about some jazz.' As he set the needle to the groove, a wave of familiarity sunk into me. I could hear home. It was the Basie Orchestra, the Second Testament with Lockjaw, Frank Foster, Thad Jones, Sweets...and the lifers, Freddy Green, Joe Jones, Walter Page and so forth. (my prize possession is a photo taken of me when I was 3, sitting on Basie's lap in a train station.) Enter the voice of Joe Williams, a smidge behind one...Joe was a friend to my parents and I had known most of the guys in that band as a kid. To hear them, when my hat was low and my jaw was slack, with such scale and presence...was religious. They were the fuel for continuing, and as always, their timing couldn't have been more perfect.
Joe was in our den when he received word that Basie had passed away, and years later, he would take me to lunch after my Father passed. The elegance of the man, his gestalt, and class continue to serve as an example. I can imagine Norman Simmons whispering, 'Hey Man, your slip is showing.' To audio... In terms of fidelity, I couldn't tell you beans about the room. When music is that close, it trumps any thoughts of staging, tonality or other. Unless the quality is so poor you can't hear the message, and this room certainly was not that. I remember thinking, if only these speakers were only a little (no, a lot) smaller. But it's a show, and companies are want to show their finery. Well, let's say it was convincing. I wished I'd taken a better pic of the Genesis' G2Jr, so I went to their site to poach a better one, only to find their's were no better...sound guys, not photographers evidentially. Still, a hearty thanks is due.
Feeling born again, I entered and saw, who I knew must be Joel Edmondson. It was the Symbol Audio room. Joel and I had begun communicating via email and phone some months earlier. I'm drawn to user friendly, decor friendly equipment. For me the aesthetics of a listening room, directly correlates to the amount of time most listeners will spend in it. I have no firm data on this theory. As I've pointed out in other scribbling, some of my favorite designer/engineers have also done time in the world of architecture and design. (Jacob George is one example that springs to mind...I know during the show, a speaker with the directness of
the Rethm Line, was for me a missing ingredient.) Joel too is an architect/designer, and Symbol makes some sexy consoles...yes, consoles, but not like your grandparent's consoles. Their top offering (The Modern Record Console) beautifully straddles art and engineering. It sports an EL84 push pull circuit and has enclosed subs. Symbol's smart circuits and electronics are designed by Boris Sasic of ENG Vista, Inc. Boris happens to be an old friend of Sasa Cokic of Trafomatic Audio and imports Sasa's gear. Marry those to speakers purpose-designed by Louis Chochos of Omega speakers fame, Project Turntables redesigned by Joel and company,
and you have a very synergistic package.
The design that really kept me coming back for more was their mid-level offering, simply called Stereo Console Table. I believe this show was it's first appearance. Quite simple in appearance yet not at all simple in execution is always a hallmark of great design. This unit provides a platform for a turntable, tv etc....it has a hidden compartment in the rear for component storage, a built in phono stage, and sports not only two 4 inch drivers but an 8 inch sub. Not to mention clever album or other media storage...all bluetooth compatible, usb charging, smart audio.
Symbol also makes cleverly designed media storage as fine furniture. There aren't many ways to effectively and attractively store a number of albums. Symbol certainly fills that niche.
Next on the list of 'must see' was the house of KEF. You may notice as you peruse StereoDesk, that there aren't too many large companies represented. To be accurate, there are no large companies. I buy for my clientele based on my ears and our geography. (for the large esoterica, you'll have to wait for AudioPrana, our parent company.) My ears seem to think that smaller companies with simpler goals, tend to come nearer the Absolute Sound at present. That's not true where KEF is concerned. KEF is attainable, cutting edge design and engineering. Look at the Blade, the LS50, or the X300a. These are each components that could and do make me very happy. All to say, look for a relationship to be forming between KEF and StereoDesk, (and ultimately Audio Prana). Fellow Bostonian David Kroll was on hand, the head US KEF-ster. Talking audio with David is a gas. He's been around the business for many years yet maintains an infectious joy and energy around making the music happen. He juggled 3 systems and made it look easy.
Also in the KEF dugout was the lovely marketing guru for KEF, Stephanie Scola. She had me at Uni-Q...she also imparted some sage advise where marketing was concerned.
I spent the majority of my time listening to the KEF LS50. It was being fed by Audio Electronics gear, while the Reference 207's were being fed by Cary's Reference gear. Sad to say, I missed the Blade on the 11th floor, but I've had the pleasure and it's always impressive. Speaking of the Blade, check back for news of a Blade event this Fall in the Greater Boston Area.
A newcomer to my ears this year was the MAD speaker company. They were being shown in a number of rooms. The majority of my listening to them took place in the Colleen Cardas Imports Room. (that's right the offspring of the famous cable maestro himself.) MAD, being British, had a flyer with Andrew Lloyd Weber extolling their virtues. It's quite effective, depicted as he was with his cello and draped in the Union Jack. They have an array of speakers on offer, but those being shown were the Baron, a large monitor that could easily be considered a floorstander and a small monitor called the 1920S. Funnily the 1920s looked like a small British Monitor, was visually quite understated, but didn't sound like one. To be more exact, it didn't have any of the limitations one might associate with a small British Monitor while still maintaining a similar character. Plenty of Chutzpah in a small package. They could have easily demoed them next to a larger speaker and done the, 'which speaker is playing' game, but didn't, (thankfully, as that's always smelled like an old man pulling a quarter out of my ear)...after all, it is a British Speaker and has no need for tinsel marketing. Rather they showed them with a new line of gear from Kiwi Land, called Pure Audio. Remember when Plinius was taking names and kicking arses. Winning all those awards and being proclaimed kings of the value valiant? That was when Gary Morrison and Ross Stevens were there. Before they were shown the door or stormed out of it...regardless they were there then they were not. Anyway, now they are Pure Audio, and what they are, sounded very very good. Look for the upcoming review on 6Moons. Honestly I don't recall the price points, but I did sit there for a long time. It turns out that JA tends to end his shows in Colleen Cardas Imports Room. A large part of why I stayed was the music, but even more so was the company and conversation with Marc and Colleen. Marc is one of those guys that has a wealth of information and shares it with complete enjoyment and ease. Colleen was pretty ensconced with hosting so we didn't have the opportunity to chat quite as much.
Do you love vinyl. Well, I do and Wes Bender certainly does. He was showing Jim Hagerman's new Trumpet phono stage. I've always been a fan of Hagerman designs, (don't get me started on the Castanet Headphone Amp Jim discontinued-say it ain't so Jim.) The new reference phono stage from Hagerman clocks in at a svelte $6600.00-that's fairly affordable terrain for a top phono stage these days. Wes had a great sheet made out with everything in the room described and priced. He made sure I had one. I lost it anyway. Still there was a Dynavector Cartridge into a Tri-Planar arm, down to the Hagerman, into Tim's EAR electronics, and eventually into a pair of Marten Design speakers. It sounded great, but I imagine there would be even more magic at Wes' Place. Besides, Wes' studio looks like something special, with the Hansen speakers and guitar and art. Like a real music room as opposed to an equipment storage area with music.
There were a few landmark introductions at the show. Notable among them,was VPI's new reference table. It's direct drive and according to VPI a large step forward from all efforts thus far. The room was comprised of the Table, a cartridge from SoundSmith, (very nice) and accompanying electronics from Harman Kardon's Citation line of yore. The speakers were Joseph Audio Pearls. In an effort to improve off axis listening, there were three Pearls kicking out the tunes. Of course the Citation stuff was completely updated. Nice sound. I look forward to hearing the table under varying circumstances.
Louis Motek was on hand from Lessloss showing their new streamer. It's still in it's skeletel form, so what we really had was a sketch of it, and the inner workings, hidden behind an OZ like covering. The finished product looks like it's going to be pretty slick. They also had the Kowero speakers and what was I believe Pass Labs.
One of the hands down, best sounds of this show, was Andy Singer's room. The Raidho Speakers were excellent in this room. I would have stayed longer but time was running low. Congrats to Singer for really nailing the bullseye this year.
The combination of VTL and Raidho was a winner!! I had 5 fav rooms, and this was one of them. Wade through to the end of this mess to read what they were.
Fellow Massachusetts purveyor Red WIne Audio was on hand and making some nice sounds. Vinnie's new Signature 57 looked sweet and had a number of different additions that could be ordered to make it a 'one-box fits all' answer to our prayers. Get it with one of Vinnie's sweet on-board dacs or on-board phono-stages, add speakers and relax. No muss no fuss, just batteries. Go Vinnie!!
Vinnie is very well represented by himself in Holden, MA and by Walter Swanbon of Fidelis an hour North of Boston in Derry, NH. Doesn't leave much room for us urban folk. I certainly inquired. All to say, if you haven't heard Vinnie's line, give it a shot...you'll be glad you did. Walter will have them up North perhaps on Harbeth Speakers, like they did at the show.
Another interesting room came from Brodmann Acoustics out of Austria. Austria has amazing audio per capita. Just wait and see what we have coming from there this year!! Brodmann used to be Bosendorfer, or so I was told. The room was set up for near field listening, with several sets of speakers set against the long wall of the room. As someone who enjoys set-up challenges, I would have found this a difficult room to set up in that way. I believe the point was to show how well on or off axis the speakers played. I didn't get the best listen. I would like to hear them under different circumstances.
One of the best sounds I heard all day was in the Audio Loft / Coincident Speaker Room. My listening notes say, 'Meaty, down to bone sucking tasty. Not what I'm used to hearing from ceramic drivers, but the synergy between speaker and electronics was obviously engineered to a T." As you may have seen in the second part of this show report, my interest was also peeked by the the new Dynamo SE34, which for a cool grand gets you an SET el34 integrated along with what should be an excellent headphone amp. The turntable was the classic VPI Classic 4, with an HRX 12.7 tonearm and a Dynavector DRT XV-1t cartridge. The rest was all Coincident. Thomas Krauss and Israel Blume were perfect hosts. Israel was a wealth of information on his view of driving a headphone, dismissing some of the myths around impedance and sensitivity. Evie Rein was out front, the spirit of greet and sweet.
One of the last shows of the day was the Care Audio Room. They too were showing Mad Speakers. In this room, a larger pair than in the Cardas Room (there was only one way to go). Sunil Lekhi, Care's owner communicated his own caring. A gentleman. (can't find a link to their business.) Also attending was Kevin Welsh of Musica Pristina. I have had long conversations with Kevin and Simon Thacher about their takes on the current and future roles of servers in the industry. Musica Pristina certainly has an excellent example of that idea, as well as offering the
option to have an on-board Weiss Dac in your server. Kevin and Simon have also consulted for the likes of Joule Electra and Spectron...so the pedigree is there. Also on hand was the massive Dude preamp. Too large for the camera to capture in it's entirety.
Care Audio had a nice display of Allnic, including the HPA-5000 headphone amp. Can you hear me drooling. It and the HiFiMAN EF-6, playing into the HE-6, were on display in the rear of the room. Unfortunately it was too small a room to have any meaningful headphone experience while the speakers let loose 12 ft. away. The digital was Calyx. Care Audio has a bright future.
We'll close with a photo of the ubiquitous Steven R. Rochlin of Enjoy the Music, who I bumped into, while bumpering all over the Palace Hotel. I think Steve came away with Venture as his best sound of show. It was a good room, and for around $500k one could expect nothing less. The Venture Room was long and rectangular, and had 3 sets of transducers each about 5 ft. behind the last-hence everyone said they staged deeply.(of course.) Still, it was quite good.
For my part, I suppose the lines I harped on were the one's that were my tops. It's in my nature to shy away from equipment that requires a dedicated room to sound good or whose cost of entry is so high that finery dwarfs engineering. (Does that mean we won't have some silly expensive and crazy offerings for special events down the line? You know we will!!) This show wasn't about what sounds best under compromised conditions, rather it was an opportunity to meet cyber friends, make new friends, and reacquaint with old friends, all while digging some tunes, and seeing what new equipment is in our futures. It becomes more of a rolodex for what to hear in less congested, more personal settings down the line.
Zellaton/CH Precision, VTL/ Raidho, TAD/AMR/VIOLA, Coincident, KEF, CAS (for it's meaning), MAD DOG, Mal Valve, Klangwerks, and Genesis were my hearts desire this year. A big thanks to everyone who showed...these shows are tremendously hard work and it was evident that everyone gave it their all, often in less than perfect conditions. Next time, I'm on the other side of the coin, running a room. Wish me luck...I hope I do half as well.