by Rick Becker
Ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-ooh ditty
Talkin' 'bout the show in New York City
There was a tension that built as I drove the Hotel Tracker across New Jersey, then under the river and into Manhattan. Would the Tracker and I survive the experience? I invested $30 in parking fees to raise the odds in my favor. Montreal, on the other hand, was like a free trip to Paris, without the jet lag and only minimal language barriers.
Acoustic Dreams Custom Rack
The Home Entertainment Show was kind of like being at a NASCAR race... just sitting there, watching and listening to things I can't really afford. Fortunately, at times I was able to put my mind in the driver's seat and enjoy the music. Coming only a couple of months after the Montreal show, I found myself making comparisons of both the shows and the equipment. I've written this report about two weeks after the show, so some of the details may not be totally accurate. Or, the set up in a room you saw may have been different from what I saw if we visited on different days. Sorry if I misrepresented anyone's equipment. What I may have lost in accuracy, hopefully I have gained in perspective.
Montreal was about enjoying music and the equipment that makes it happen for a broad cross section of the population. New York was Montreal run amuck with conspicuous consumption and unbridled
capitalism -- a showcase of toys for a much narrower and much wealthier segment. While many of the manufacturers and retailers in this industry make and sell products that range from entry level to entering orbit, it was mostly the astronomical that were on display. It is easy for show
goers -- paying public and journalists alike -- to get caught up in the fever of magnitude and the search for Perfect Sound. While the vendors and manufacturers would like you to think that you have to pay more to get more, sometimes the path to better sound, as I discovered last week, is as simple as re-tightening the binding posts on your speaker cables.
Slightly ironic, I had to come to the New York show to hear the Canadian speaker manufacturer Gershman Acoustics model Opera Sauvage $15,500 speaker. I had seen it in Montreal, but here eye got to 'ear it. Splendid sound, but visually, this speaker is best suited for listening in the dark. It sure breaks the mold of their earlier models. <www.gershmanacoustics.com> An Audiomecca CD player fed a Kora Equinoxe remote controlled preamp ($1449) . Kora Cosmos 100 wpc triode monoblocks
($4,795/pr.) drove the Gershmans. When I reviewed my digital videotape, which I use to take notes at the show, the music playing in this room sounded the best on playback, however I don't know if that translates into the best live system at the show. On silent display was the Kora Explorer 90 SI hybrid integrated amp that puts out 60 wpc. Did the sign say $749? Yes it did!
The Wilson Watt/Puppy VI demonstration was worth the extra wait--I took the premium seating position as the first person in the next herd to enter the room. Not a refinement of the Watt/Puppy V, this is a new model with a similar architecture that cannot be created by upgrading a model V. Acoustically, it is more transparent, more dynamic, and more refined than I recall the earlier model being. No need for a subwoofer, here. Fun, and easy to listen to, at least for what little unfamiliar music they parceled out to us. Actually, it was a carefully scripted ploy to get us to come to the retailers for an in-depth listening session. At less than $20K, the legend continues. <www.wilsonaudio.com>
The Watt/Puppies were driven by a rack full of Spectral electronics which proved to be a synergistic match. My past experiences with Spectral left me feeling like they were too analytical and unlistenable for long periods of time. While still precise, this was a very listenable system. I wonder what those speakers might sound like with tubes.
Speaking of legends, Legend was there, too. I remember hearing this single brand system at the last NY Show, and wondering why some reviewers put it down. Of course, tubes were not so popular back then. Not only does it sound good, within the limitations of the power and the frequency response of the pyramid stand-mounted speakers, the line has expanded to include the pretty Starlet integrated amp which was on silent display. (40 wpc,
$3,000). They also had a trio of speakers painted in shades of metallic purple that looked quite nice. The use of color on speakers and electronic components seems to be something of a trend. <www.legendaudio.com>
In Montreal, I was very impressed with the Vandersteen Model Five speaker driven my McCormack solid state electronics, and I mused in my report of that show, what might they sound like driven
by... say, tubes? Well, in New York, the chain went from vinyl on VPI to an Aesthetics
phono stage, I believe, to Cary V-12 monoblocks powering the upper drivers. (A built-in 400 watt amp powers the subwoofer). I have to say that I was more impressed with the solid state system in Montreal, but I am sure grateful I had the chance to hear this system in New York. <www.vandersteen.com>
The tube vs. solid state debate was put right on the table in adjacent rooms sponsored by Merlin. I listened in to Bobby Palkovic
(spelling?) passionately explaining the importance of the refinement his specially designed conical feet brought to his speakers, and to the joule electra amplifiers as well. In one room the VSM with the latest BAM was powered by joule electra tube preamp & OTL monoblocks (in matching red paint). (The speakers are gorgeous in red, btw, but if you listen to them more than you look at them...the quasi-stucco matte black is fine). An Audio Aero CD player, with tubes, was the source. This player was a popular source for systems at Montreal, too. In the next room, the same speaker was driven by Simaudio solid state gear. What looked to be a rather modest size power amp drove the VSMs very well. The differences were clearly audible. Both sounded great, and I'm still sitting on the fence on this one. It is tough choices like this that put a lot of good used equipment on the market as 'philes try to second-guess their original purchases. <www.merlinmusic.com> <www.simaudio.com>
In the video arena, viewers got to see the best of CRT and DLP technology. CRT projectors maxed out in the Krell home theater demo with a megabuck Sony projector. And DLP projection looked very good from projectors from Davis, a Norwegian company <www.davis.no>, and SIM2, an Italian company <www.sim2selcousa.com>. Sony is not in the DLP race because it refuses to be at the mercy of Texas Instruments to supply the chips. Talk about "control freaks"! I was pretty wowed by the SIM2 image, and I was told of projectors with the new 16:9 format chip being ready later this year. These DLP projectors were in the $10K to $12K range, but for people who want a big image and can tolerate motion artifacts, the industrial grade projectors cost about a third of that.
The $500,000 Krell, Faroudja, Sony, Stewart (kind of sounds like a law firm, doesn't it?) home theater demonstration was very spectacular in a large conference room. Of course, no one thought to ask the obvious question: What does a commercial grade theater cost? In case you have the desire to turn your home into a small
Cineplex, the Paradigm Reference home theater with DLP projector comes in at a mere 4% of the Krell rig. It sounded pretty damn good, too, and the video would be much brighter in your home with the shorter throw of a residential installation. At a mere $20,000, you could install one in your garage for watching NASCAR races on cable. Think of the ambience! Just recline in the power bucket seats of your SUV and watch through the windshield! Your very own drive-in theater! Be the first one on your block! And remember folks, you heard it here first.
BAT and Avantgarde Acoustics teamed up for a presentation in a large room that was largely home theater oriented. I was hoping for a more intimate, music-oriented opportunity. Of particular interest was a new center channel coaxial horn speaker that might also work nicely as a stereo pair. The high efficiency of the horn loaded speakers made for a dynamic cinema presentation. And BAT's equipment is, of course, first class.
The Arcam FJM series CD player and integrated amp driving Acoustic Energy AE-1 Series 2 speakers was one of the more modest rigs in the show, and gave a very respectable sound. The Series 2 speaker sounded much improved over my impression of the original many years ago. Very nicely finished. This was also one of the few stand-mounted speakers actually playing. A tip of the hat to this room for presenting a real world high-end system.
Another floor standing speaker was the aluminum body Krell LAT-2 powered by...
you guessed it! I wanted to run from this room at first, but stayed for a second and third piece of music, which gave a better accounting of what the speaker can do. Nonetheless, there is something about that much metal that high off the ground that raises my anxiety level. This may be one of those brutally perfect speakers that only sounds good with perfect CDs...
and you know how many of those you have in your collection? If you are considering this speaker, give it a very long audition with lots of your favorite CDs.
One of the megabuck rooms that didn't work well to my ear contained the large Wisdom Audio speakers. The Clearaudio TT with Insider cartridge, The Groove
phono stage by Tom Evans Audio Designs, conrad-johnson ART preamp, feeding huge VTL monoblocks should have sounded much better. The speakers were placed along the long wall of this rectangular room, much as you place large Dunlavys, but I suspect the room was simply too small to allow optimum spatial relationships for these huge speakers. The sound wasn't bad, but it should have been more involving. I was highly impressed by the silver metallic finish on the tower speakers and their separate subs. Being in the furniture business on ordinary days, I gently caressed them to make sure there were no specs of dust embedded in them. The Wisdom IQ Brain is the massive crossover for the speakers that had the heft and finish of a fine amplifier. An Edge amplifier was used to power the subs, I believe. A
Burmester CD transport and
DAC in their chrome-laden chassis were not in use while I was in the room. I was hoping to play my
Burmester compilation CD on it, but in the early Saturday morning, the hosts seemed to be walking around in circles. Perhaps what we all needed was a good cup of coffee! The Press Room was not far away, but one of the show glitches that showed up was hot coffee without any cups! <www.wisdomaudio.com>
In another room Wisdom Audio had their Baby Adrenaline speaker ($7,000-$8,000, depending on finish) driven by an Accuphase CD player and amp. Again, I felt the quality of the products should have resulted in better sound than what I heard. Too small room again?
The Dynaudio Temptations, on the other hand, seemed to be in too big a room! Maybe they should have switched with Wisdom? Powered by Gryphon monoblocks, these $30K speakers hinted at what I heard from their big brothers, the Evidence, in Montreal, but seemed to lack dynamics and presence. Lots of potential in the equipment here, but the room did not come together for me. Maybe it was simply a classical recording that was recorded from the 30th row of the hall?
Electrocompaniet AW 220
Talon speakers appeared in two rooms. I had seen their ads, but this was my first listen. The black pair, driven by Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblocks gave a reasonable presentation. This was obviously an expensive rig, as witnessed by the presence of the $2000 Hydra by Power Snakes. I was more impressed by the pair in ribbon maple driven by KR monoblocks.
I believe these were the $14K/pr VT 8000 model with push-pull vacuum transducers.
Talon spends a great deal of attention to the "look" of their product and the maple veneer was gorgeous. (I'm partial to blondes). The aluminum low pyramid top is plated with chrome and polished to a mirror-like finish, as are the aluminum corner edges that run top to bottom. While the finish is superb, the style seems to me to be over-done. It will probably appeal to people who can actually afford it, though. Red Rock speaker cables were snugged down to the speaker via an interesting twist-lock binding post, similar, but different to the Cardas one on the Joseph Audio speaker I would encounter later on. Vaic also has a 300B integrated amp at $3400 that might be of interest to some folks. And Electrocompaniet is introducing the AW 220 stereo amp with 75 wpc for $2000. Both closer to the real world. <www.acousticdreams.net>
Talon Audio Technologies Khorus X
One of the little "secrets" of the show was Red Rock Audio's little Harmony tube preamp for $995 and their Theater monoblocks using 4 EL34s in parallel
push-pull to give 60 watts per side for $3475/pr. Sitting on the lower shelves of a rack in the Talon/KR room, was this a real world system
waiting to be discovered?
Back to the black, a pair of Roman speakers gave me my first opportunity to check out the DiAural crossover technology. This simple system, with a Mark Levinson CD player and ML-350 monoblocks was tight, as one should expect from Levinson gear, but I didn't have an "Oh, WOW!" experience. What I'd like to hear is a comparison of an otherwise identical speaker with a non-DiAural crossover. Say...retrofit a DiAural crossover to a Proac Response One SC. The Roman Centurian speaker goes for
$5,400/pair, with an efficiency of 93dB. <www.romanaudio.com>
In the room correction arena, TacT gave a convincing demonstration with their RCS 2.0 using Diva speakers. These speakers had also impressed me at Montreal, and I believe they are available north of the border. Diva also makes a very affordable series speakers that were promoted in another room. As to room correction, while the Tact certainly smoothed out the system, I'm hesitant about throwing money at a manufacturer for an expensive electronic box when inexpensive physical modifications and treatments can also work wonders. As for their amplifier, it is sounding much better than the first few times I heard it in a system. Apparently they have been making great progress there, too.
Another amp that also grabbed my attention in Montreal was the GamuT from Denmark. (Say, what's with the capital letters at both ends of the name)? I believe I heard it sounding very good with the Gradient speaker up north, but I was so absorbed in the amp that I forgot to make notes on the rest of the system here in New York. <www.gamutaudio.com>
Also from the Montreal show, I ran into RL Acoustique with their Lamhorn 1.8. This was the exact pair of speakers powered by the exact same Tenor Audio 15 Wi OTL integrated amp ($14,600), but it was sounding much better here in New York. I was told that the drivers were newly installed for the Montreal show, and were now fully broken in. These were the
$6,500 version with the AER Mk-1 drivers, rather than the $10K version with the Reps R-1 drivers I had heard two years ago. Nonetheless, this speaker still needs a good subwoofer. Source was the Audio Aero Capitole 24/192 CD player. I also noted that the speakers were resting on new metal pucks that were not present at Montreal. <www.rlacoustique.com> <www.tenoraudio.com>
And yet another replay? An Audio Analog CD player feeding a Unison Research hybrid integrated amp playing Opera speakers. Good real-world sound here, too.
And one more time! The beautiful ribbon maple veneered Verity Audio Parsifals that I saw on static display in Montreal were live, powered by a pair of Tenor monoblocks fed directly from a Sony SACD player. Wonderful sound here--one of the very best I heard at the show.
Kef Maidstone speakers were on display, but not playing when I visited the room. I admired the fit and finish of the speaker, and wondered about the broad face it presents to the listener. Then I moved on.
The Sonus Faber Amati Homage is one of my favorite speakers as those who have read my Montreal reports know well. In New York it was presented with a top shelf Mark Levinson rig connected with Nordost Valhalla speaker wire and balanced interconnects. Nordost Silver Shadow digital interconnects carried the bits and pieces. The system seemed to lack the passion I felt in Montreal. I think this speaker was born to be driven by tubes--personal opinion, here. I was hoping I might get to hear the new shorter version of the Amati that is being developed, but I guess we'll have to wait until next year.
Another room that fell short for me was the room with large Eggleston Savoy speakers ($40K) driven by a Nagra preamp and their MPA solid state power amp. The Sony SCD 777ES SACD player and a turntable alternated at the front end. I recall the music being quite loud in this room.
Western Electric gave us a Big Tease with their silent display of the 91C tube monoblocks ($16K pr.). About the size and orientation of a Mark Levinson 33H, their styling was very art deco with one huge tube and a large meter on the front face. Putting out 12 watts per channel, it is definitely a two-man lift to position these amps! I hope someone is able to post a picture of these awesome beauties. And as if the amp was not enough, on an end table next to a chair, they showed the WE 308B 212E tube ($1500 each,
$3,100 matched pair) capable of putting out 75 watts, class A. Hey, with bottles like those, there has to be champagne around somewhere!
Alón presented a major statement with their speaker comprised to four very tall towers. The two up front had a vertical array of ribbon drivers, while the towers to the rear on each side housed a vertical array of woofers. The darkened room made it difficult to see all that was in the rig. I did recognize a pair of Audio Valve monoblocks, and they were definitely playing analog. The sound was very nice, and the room was packed with people who seemed to refuse to leave. I tried to get a fix on how stable the soundstage remained as I moved across the room, but I had to concentrate on not walking over anyone. I left wishing I had had a better opportunity to hear (and see) this system.
I had a real good listen in a room that featured the Audio Physics Avanti III driven by a gorgeous Hovland
Sapphire hybrid amp. (It looked like a very contemporary tube amp, but the Hovland ad in the show directory identifies it as a hybrid). The amp is museum quality design, and the sound of Hugh Masekela in his CD Hops was great, coming from an Accuphase DP-75 CD player. Analog was silently represented with an Immedia RPM 1 turntable sporting a Lyra Helicon cartridge. Perhaps another reporter can comment on that front end. Hovland's HP-100 preamp is a beauty in its own right, though more conservatively styled than the power amp. I remember seeing Hovland equipment in the mid-90's that was considerably more ordinary in appearance. This system was not only a delight to listen to, but also a delight to look at! I should also comment on the Synergistic Research cables and the Zoethecus racks. And, as in several other rooms, Richard Gray's Power company 1200S filtered the electricity. Apparently their review in Stereophile has not slowed them down much.
In the audio industry as well as furniture, looks sell product. Niro Nakamichi sold his original company and seems to have set out to land his name in art history. His literature proclaims otherwise: Amplifiers are electromechanical devices," and proceeds along the lines of the "form follows function" school of thought. His statement products, seen in ads in recent journals, are a cross of architectural and aerospace design. Used to power large B & W Nautilus speakers in a small room, the result seemed less than optimal, unfortunately. It is not likely that these amps will come to a local stereo emporium any time soon, so I can only hope to hear them at another show. Looking at them in person, the word "awesome" comes to mind. <www.niro.net>
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