New York 2014

New York 2014: The Monkeyhaus, the 21st Century Audiophile, and the End of Line

IMG_2539

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014The Monkeyhaus is something of an urban legend. It’s usually discussed in hushed tones. Photographs are always blurred. No one ever seems to go and be willing to talk about the experience.

Until now.

Bwaahahahahahahahaaaa!

I’m kidding. Sort of. DeVore Fidelity is located in Brooklyn, over in the Old Navy Shipyard. Monkey House Adept Michael Lavorgna drove me over, navigating the blasted urban landscape. At several points, I was looking for either Snake, Buffy, The Cigarette Smoking Man, or Luca Brasi. Stepping out of the car, I was pretty sure we would not be climbing back in. Ever.

Okay, fine, it was dark and the Navy Yard is one of those crazy leftovers from WWII that never really got repurposed. There are still giant warehouses and industrial buildings, some with broken glass and gaping holes, and some looking very much in-use for nefarious extra-governmental “projects”. The whole was like something from the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. Better still — several sets. I’m told that Dreamworks nearly bought the place, which would have been all manner of awesome, but that never panned out. And now, the Navy Yard awaits … Godzilla, maybe. Dunno. The place feels like it’s holding it’s breath.

But up in Building 280, DeVore Fidelity has a surprisingly open-seeming and lived-in space. Tucked into a corner was the House, all particle-board walls and bookshelves filled with LPs as well as new and vintage audio gear. It was completely disarming. There’s a giant couch next to a desk, and out in the middle of the floor were a pair of speakers.

These were the new, completely finished and ready-for-sale, Gibbon X loudspeakers.

I first heard these at CES a year or two back. The final version swapped front-firing drivers for side-firing ones. Bamboo cabinets with the tweeter lined up directly beneath the mid/woofer, and the whole thing comes up to John DeVore’s waist. He’s tall, so this is a big cabinet. Formal introduction will come at RMAF, but this sneak peek was unexpected and delicious. Just for the record, the speakers were playing pretty much continuously if only at low volume — there was a party underway — but the clarity and nuance was obvious. More soon.

The pizza was delicious. The beer, copious. The bourbon went down with nary a gasp. The conversation was full and effortless — I poured bourbon for John Atkinson of Stereophile and chatted up Art Dudley and was regaled by Michael Fremer. John Derda of Peachtree Audio appeared, and the room was stuffed with Audioquest regional sales reps (I had no idea Audioquest was that big of a company!). It was, all in all, a fine time.

The following day, Art and I were joined by Steve Guttenberg of CNeT’s Audiophiliac and John Darko of Digital Audio Review. That hour long panel discussion attempted to tackle where the industry was heading, and pivoted around the several questions:

1. Where have we been and have we actually gotten anywhere in the last 75 years? I recalled an experience at CAF that I found electrifying — a demo of an RCA bass horn paired with an Altec horn tweeter in a system put on by Live Sound Designs. None of the equipment in that room postdated JFK (even if it had been refurbished quite a bit), but the sound field was enormous. As I now retell it, it wasn’t like having Dylan in my listening room — this demo put me at a Dylan concert. That’s a whole different thing! But Art, having just chaired a panel on vintage audio, brought us back around, talking about the many advances high-end audio has wrought. That was fun.

2. We also raided the cupboard for ideas on how to turn on and tune in the Millennials. This is a particularly troublesome problem for “the industry” as a whole, and while the personal audio seems to be making inroads, the question of hi-fi crossover is still very much open to debate, despite the rosy-colored glasses many of us seem to be wearing. By contrast, the idea to infect them with the joys of vinyl playback, seems to have some legs. I’ll come back to that eventually in a full treatment, I’m sure.

3. The issue of affordability was a soapbox not enough of us are on, to my mind, and Steve Guttenberg agrees wholeheartedly. As a result of this thrown gauntlet, I’ve ordered a pile of truly affordable hi-fi gear in the attempt to assemble a $100 (one hundred dollars) full system. And a couple more at various price points — all under $300, if I can get it to work. It’s a worthy experiment, I think.

4. John Darko and I talked about this set of topics all weekend and we’re not done yet. The future of audio in the 21st century is going to be a different thing than what we saw in arise in the 20th, to be sure. Keep an eye out for that debate as it unfolds.

Turning to the New York Audio Show itself, I have to say that it was a great success — even with the challenges to do with dates, lack of local dealer support, and simply having a show in NYC. I noted very high traffic both Friday and Saturday, and when I say “high”, I mean it — short of CES, this was a big crowd. If this show ever manages to find its feet, and settle on a venue and date, it’s going to be a monster. The Big Apple is hungry for this kind of thing, that’s clear.

Three NY shows in the bag — and this was the best yet. Nice work! Kudos to the Chester Group. Looking forward to what you all can pull together for 2015.

IMG_2543

IMG_2540

IMG_2544

IMG_2545

IMG_2547

IMG_2546

IMG_2554

IMG_2555

IMG_2560

IMG_2563

IMG_2562

CT6A8689

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Soundsmith parts the seas, opens the heavens

CT6A8516

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Legend tells of a legendary designer whose kung fu skills were the stuff of legend.

I said that line to two, three dozen industry big wigs at the New York show. They all laughed. Some even got the Kung Fu Panda reference. They all shook their heads at me.

When I followed up and said that the legendary designer in question was Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith, they stopped laughing. “Yeah, that’s about right. Respect to Peter.”

Peter Ledermann. Audio Kung Fu warrior. Of legend.

His career is a bit of a textbook, so I highly encourage any and all to check out his bio. You can take it on faith that he’s smarter than all of us, but the best part of it is, he’s also almost absurdly modest. Legend! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

Anyway, here at New York, he was showing the same basic setup from CAF that I found so appealing and touting the new “medium output” cartridges that he’s recently released. The new carts are variations on designs currently in production, but the difference (obviously) is in the output. “A lot of people have those old phono preamps that need a higher-output moving coil,” said Peter. And for them, there are now options — options that don’t include giving up beloved (and perfect good) phono preamps.

Here’s the entire series of new medium-output (~1.1mV) cartridges:

  • Helios ($7,500): with a cactus-spine cantilever and OC-CL stylus, the Helios maps to the extremely well-regarded low-output Hyperion.
  • Mezzo ($4,800): maps to the award-winning Sussuro.
  • Nautilus ($3,800): maps to Paua, with the “natural seashell” details.
  • Sotto Voce ($2,800): maps to The Voice
  • Norma ($1,800): maps to Aida.

This room was my pic for Best in Show for several reasons. One, there’s a consistency in a Soundsmith demo which is alluring and subtle. Coming into the room, nothing may particularly strike you as exaggerated (a good thing) or even as particularly noteworthy (the subtle thing) — until you leave and go to the next demo room and wonder where all the life, the fun, and the magic went. In a Soundsmith demo, there is so much going on around you in the tone, flow and timbre of the music, that it’s easy to take it for granted. “Of course it sounds like this. Music sounds like this. Why would I have expected different?” you say to yourself, and then wander into the next room only to have icy reality shock your senses. Okay, maybe that was just me.

What I heard was the Schröder tonearm with the Strain Gauge cartridge, on a “vintage” VPI HRX table, played through the Soundsmith Strain Gauge system, including a pair of HE-150M amplifiers and out a pair of wonderful Monarch 2 ($3,995/pair) stand mount loudspeakers. With that playback chain, Peter treated us to a lacquer of Blood, Sweat and Tears — yes, he played “Spinning Wheel” — and it was the best thing I heard all weekend. Bam. Done. Close the book. Time to pack it in. It’s all down hill from here. The clarity, silence and immediacy of this disc was breathtaking — in fact, Peter admonished the group, reminding us to not blow on, cough on, or even breathe on our records if we can help it. All that eventually hits the stylus resulting in yuck (a technical term). Dynamics were thunderous. Vocals were visceral and tactile. I started grinning from the first note and by the last, I was approximating an in-chair squirm that I tend to think of as “dancing”.

loved it.

Peter Ledermann is legendary. Hats off, folks. Respect to the Master.

NYASHOW 1

NYASHOW 2

NYASHOW3

CT6A8515

CT6A8517

CT6A8518

CT6A8519

CT6A8522

CT6A8524

CT6A8525

IMG_2531

CT6A8526

CT6A8527

CT6A8528

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Legacy, svelte and on your wall

CT6A8575

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Bill and Victoria Duddleston of Legacy Audio were demoing a new pair of their on-wall loudspeakers, the Silhouette ($3,960/pair). The new Silhouettes are similar in most respects to the old models, adding some size and some more elegant chamfering on the edges. Don’t worry — these on-walls are not your typical panty-waisted wallflowers — the now-standard AMT tweeter gets a 10″ woofer and a 10″ passive to bring out the lowest registers. Expect “big” things from this combo.

Also on demo were the Aeris ($21,450/pair in the new “Cabernet” finish). Accustic Arts massive, new, Mono Amp II Mk 2 ($13,150) was matched by the Tube Preamp II ($10,750) and Tube CD player ($16,900). I think this means that Accustic Arts is planning to make some inroads again into the US market; I haven’t really heard much of them in recent years. The big, bold aluminum cases with the chromed out accents are extremely friendly to the eye and the new designs to be more musical than the old, and the old were pretty darn good.

This was a crowded room, with several full demo systems on display including an interesting one featuring Ayon Audio tube gear, but the Legacy Audio one was what I got to hear, even though the sound was relatively low. I’ve said this repeatedly, so for the sake of redundancy I’ll repeat it here, the Aeris may well be the best sounding speakers in the Legacy Audio lineup, though Bill is promising something even more amazing with the new XDS speakers I’ll be checking out at RMAF. Detail and air, and sense of solid presence — these are the hallmarks of greatness. Love what they’re doing here!

As always, it was great to see the Duddlestons at the show — finding a more friendly pair is not possible.

CT6A8576

CT6A8578

CT6A8579

CT6A8580

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Peachtree Audio, Zu Audio and VPI

CT6A8595

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Koby Koranteng of Hi-Fi Logic, Zu Audio’s East Coast Diplomat, didn’t quite bolt as soon as I pulled out the camera, but he did maintain a suspicious distance and as soon as I asked a much-subdued Jon Derda of Peachtree Audio to step up for a photo, I think Koby might have ducked out of the room. Sneaky, that.

To New York, Koby brought a Zu Audio and Peachtree Audio pairing, and once again, made a most excellent sound.

The speakers were the Soul Supreme ($4,500/pair), featuring the iconic Zu wide band nano tech doped driver and massive Radian “super” tweeter. These loudspeaker are pretty much designed to work with low-outupt amplifiers, which is why Derda brought his new nova220SE integrated amplifier ($1,999), for its extremely healthy 220 watt output. Over kill? Maybe. But you know what you get when you add massive power into a loudspeaker with a 100dB+ sensitivity? Oh yeah. Rock concert! Which we probably could have pulled off, if Derda hadn’t spent the evening being mercilessly driven by those party-animals over at Audioengine USA. Sorry — that’s the story that Jon was telling, Mr Wide-Eyed Innocent that he is.

Instead, we were treated to some damn fine music played through the high-res DAC input on the nova220SE and I will admit readily — I think this integrated, with its 24bit/192kHz USB2 input — is the best work they’ve done so far. Two grand isn’t cheap, but this kind of sound is near impossible to find for less.

I forgot to ask about the little box sitting next to the integrated, but knowing Peachtree like I do, I suspect that Derda was being sneaky. That little $99 Peachtree BT1 is an aptX Bluetooth receiver — which means your Samsung phones will be a very adequate source for streaming music directly into your system.

A VPI Nomad ($995), which I’ve learned may see its limited run end soon, was topping the rack. A couple-dozen LPs lined the front wall, ready for deployment. I’ve not seen a Nomad used this way, but it does remind me that even though it has a built-in headphone output, you can and probably should use the phono preamp output that’s built-in so you can share your tunes when it’s not late at night.

Zu Audio signal cables were used throughout. Waveform Fidelity power cords finished out the wiring set. An Apple MacBook Pro running Amarra playback software fed the Peachtree.

CT6A8596

CT6A8597

CT6A8598

CT6A8600

CT6A8601

CT6A8603

CT6A8605

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: KEF flips another Blade, goes for the throat

CT6A8667

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014KEF knows how to throw a party.

First, you invite the coolest kids on the block. Or in this case, an entire block of your fancy loudspeakers — check that wall! That’s a Muon! Oooh, a Blade! Hey, wait — that’s a Blade Two!

… Oooh, aaah ….

Johan Corg was once again whipping up the crowd, demoing this now-available novelty from KEF, the Blade Two. The Blade, if you’ll recall, is that insanely elegant looking pillar of gorgeous curves that recently debuted to much fanfare and sighing. The Two, then, is another Blade. Yes. But it’s also a bit more wallet friendly ($24k vs $30k for the original Blade). We like that. The specs are rather similar, with a bit more bass extension going to the larger model, but your in-room expectations will probably not be far apart. Driven here by electronics from Parasound, with cabling from Audioquest (the board, immediately below, has the makes and models), I heard absolutely nothing to complain about.

Also shown were the new Reference 5 ($18,000/pair) and the stand-mounted Reference 1 ($7,500/pair). In a rather interesting but perhaps unsurprising turn, there is a shocking amount of “family resemblance” for these speakers and their upscale siblings — it seems the voicing is very similar. Good news for the more budget constrained!

Sadly, I did not get to hear the $200k/pair Muon loudspeakers. I mean, there was only one and it was a static display, but I’d still love to hear what all the fuss and bother is about with the stately Silver Surfer of the line.

Anyway, an extremely impressive demo here.

CT6A8684

CT6A8668

CT6A8669

CT6A8670

CT6A8671

CT6A8673

CT6A8674

CT6A8675

CT6A8676

CT6A8677

CT6A8678

CT6A8679

CT6A8680

CT6A8681

CT6A8682

CT6A8683

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Taking my ease with Gingko and LampizatOr

CT6A8641

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014I remember when the only thing I knew about Gingko Audio had to do with squishy balls. Sure, they still make the Cloud Isolators, but these days I’ve been entranced by their ClaraVu MK III ($8,995/pair) loudspeakers. This loudspeaker is a “four-way, 4-module, stacked cabinet speaker system consisting of 3-way monitors (ribbon super tweeters, soft dome tweeters, and isobaric double midrange/woofers) and powered subwoofer modules with identical isobaric double woofers mounted on sealed paperboard tubes.” That arrangement puts a lot of sound into the room, and the sub cabinets give a bit of flexibility on output — the result is a consistently fine demo.

Powering the ClaraVus this time around is the Wells Audio Innamorata stereo amplifier ($6,500), wired up with the astonishingly massive Diamond Reference speaker cables ($6,550/set) from Gingko subsidiary, Dana Cable. Diamond Reference interconnects (starting at $1,500/pair) were used throughout, and a Diamond Reference USB ($895) and S/PDIF cable ($795) were used to wire in the Music Culture MC501A ($4,500) player and Big Seven DSD DAC from LampizatOr ($11,500).

I’ve seen this pairing — or something similar, the last few outings with Gingko, and each time, I’ve been very pleased with the result. Great sound, with fatigue-free listening, is always welcome — audio show or not — so arriving here is always a treat. Moving up the chain with the top end Lampi has only added even more refinement.

Another room, another set of congratulations to Vinh Vu of Gingko for a job well done.

CT6A8642

CT6A8643

CT6A8644

CT6A8645

CT6A8646

CT6A8648

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Tweak Studio brings the toys

CT6A8687

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014It’s pretty much impossible to not love Arnold Martinez of Tweak Studio of Chicago. Look up the word “irrepressible”, and Arnold will be the guy looking over your shoulder laughing with you. He’s always laughing. You get the feeling that he likes what he’s doing, and there’s nothing like a party audio show to bring out the grins.

Arnold, very astutely, uses the audio show circuit as a sales venue — he brings and loads a table or three with some of the affordable brands he represents (Bellari, Carot One, and more), and lets you browse while he chats. Given how absurdly personable the fellow is, it’s a joy — and quite frankly, his taste in gear is excellent.

Case in point — Torus Power. Torus, the audiophile brand of the company that makes the monstrously huge Plitron transformers, uses those transformers to create power conditioning/distribution systems that feature high-current delivery with noise suppression, filtering, surge protection and more. For fun, I tried lifting the box shown below, only to discover its made from the same stuff as Mjölnir. No worries, it was nothing a protracted hospital stay (in traction) didn’t fix. The “problem” of power delivery is a pervasive one and something I’ve been struggling with for years. Finding something that can “help” my power-hungry power amps is still on my to-do list — Torus has come up more than once. At this point, I’m wondering if Torus’ “All In One” system (it’s a freakin’ power sub panel with conditioning built-in!) might help me wipe these issues out entirely. Ha!

CT6A8686

CT6A8685

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Volti, quoth the Raven, Evermore

CT6A8496

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014I don’t really need to be a millionaire, I just want to be one. I think of that difference as subtle, and one that ought to get much smaller than it is currently. I mean, not that you asked.

It’s been on my list for “When I can” for a couple of years now, but the Volti Audio Vittora is a modern heirloom. This is a pair of loudspeakers that your kids don’t know they want. The Vittora is a 3-way fully horn-loaded system, with a  15″ bass driver in a singe folded-horn enclosure (bottom cabinet), with a wooden Tractrix horn up top housing a 2″ midrange compression driver and a 1″ high-frequency compression driver. The pair retails for $21,500 and is available with an optional subwoofer and sub amp for $25,000. Art Dudley loves them, and so do I (though I loved them first and best).

Driving them in New York was a set of glittering silver-and-glass electronics courtesy of Raven Audio, including the 2014 Reference Preamplifier ($9,995) and the 2014 Spirit 300B Reference stereo amplifier ($7,295). That amplifier is a paralleled 300b tube amp, good for 26 watts. These two pieces also featured their new custom “RavenCap” capacitors.

The source electronics were from Greg (Mr Have Fun) Roberts’ personal stash of EMM Labs gear.

The wire in the room came from Triode Wire Labs, including the monstrous 7awg “Seven Plus” ($499 each) and “Ten Plus” ($349 each) power cords. The new American Speaker Cables ($599/set) and Spirit Interconnects ($349/set) were also used throughout. Triode Pete was showing off his brand news “Digital American” digital power cord ($499), a special design for dealing with highly sensitive electronics, such as a DAC. I want a pair of these!

The sound in this room was dynamic and warm, with good tonal colors and density. Set up along the long wall, as Greg almost invariably does, the big Vittoras bracketed the listeners into a wide sweet spot, which is probably why it was jumping all weekend!

CT6A8494

CT6A8495

CT6A8498

CT6A8499

CT6A8501

CT6A8502

CT6A8503

CT6A8504

CT6A8505

CT6A8508

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Audio Note UK earns an ovation

CT6A8470

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014I’m not sure where it happened, or when, but somewhere along the way, I became a fan of David Cope. I suppose he’d cringe to see that written down, but it’s true. He’s been very quietly and calmly wearing me down. And as a result, I think I might finally be an Audio Note fan.

The room here in New York was very similar to the last several times I’ve seen David and his traveling kit of Audio Note gear. Here’s the list (courtesy of Mr Cope):

  • TT Two Deluxe – $3,525 – Updated TT Two suspended, two motor turntable with wood- veneered Russian birch plywood plinth, all internals upgraded to superior materials. An external power supply with electronic speed switching is available as an option or upgrade. Black Ash shown. Black or white gloss, rosewood and cherry are also available.
  • Arm Three V2 – $2,000 – New Audio Note-designed 9” tone arm, AN-AI 99.99% pure silver wire with AN-Vx external cable. Single piece tapered arm tube from tip to tail. A drop in replacement for 9”arms based on Rega geometry. Available in black or silver.
  • IQ3 – $980 – Our best moving magnet cartridge, with a Pocan body weighing 6 grams. The square cross-section titanium cantilever with an Audio Note type 2 is identical to the one used in our $4k+ IOI low output moving coil cartridge.
  • CDT One/ II – $4,100 – The display may be dimmed or turned off and a remote control is included. Brushed aluminum fascia with aluminum buttons (shown), or black acrylic fascia with gold buttons is available.
  • DAC2.1x Signature – $5,500 – A Red Book DAC utilizing the AD1865 18 bit chip that allows it to read 24/96 files, (albeit truncated to 18 bits.) I/V conversion is accomplished via purpose designed, in-house wound transformers. As in all Audio Note DACs, no up- sampling, oversampling or filtering is used. Analog output utilizes a pair of 6922 tubes, while power is rectified by a 6X5 tube. Output coupling is via Audio Note copper foil capacitors. Audio Note tantalum resistors are used in critical locations. Your choice of brushed aluminum (shown) or black acrylic fascia.
  • OTO SE Phono Signature – $6,325 ($5,525 line) – We took the classic OTO parallel single- ended, EL84 integrated amp, added AN tantalum resistors and AN foil caps in critical locations, then replaced the M4 IE output transformers with IHiB double c-core models – superior magnetic core material in a superior topology. Available with your choice of a brushed aluminum or black acrylic faceplate.
  • J/D – $3,700/pair satin ($4,000 as show w/hemp woofer) – Two way, acoustic suspension speaker system, 92dB/w/m sensitive, using an 8″ woofer and a 1″ silk dome tweeter, wired with Audio Note D copper speaker cable. This entry level version of the J uses a cabinet with MDF front and back faces and particle board top/bottom/sides. The D model is only available in satin black ash.

What I can tell you, above all that, is that the sound in this room on Saturday was like a cliche grab bag. It was an oasis. A calm port in a storm of noise. It was music. It was everything just about every other room at this show wished it could be. It was, in a word, great.

Part of the reason for success had, no doubt, to do with David’s careful selection of loudspeakers. These are not the largest loudspeakers, and nowhere near the most expensive. But they fit the room! And there really is no way to overstate how wonderful that was. This was the work of a pro, working with excellent tools. I could have stayed all day. In the end, it was edged out only by a single room — this was my Best of New York Runner Up. Loved everything going on here, and I look forward to revisiting.

CT6A8466

CT6A8467

CT6A8468

CT6A8469

CT6A8471

CT6A8472

CT6A8473

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Bache and Alexus, SET goes Wide Band

CT6A8375

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014New-to-me manufacturer Bache Audio was showing off a new wide-band loudspeaker, which I’m pretty sure was the 001AB, an active-crossover model designed for use with SET amplifiers. The 001AB ($9,945/pair) is a powered speaker with a down-firing 8″ woofer powered by a 300 watt Class D amp. The wide-band driver is an 8″ Tang Band; the tweeter is a “Fostex Limited Edition FT-96A-EX2 that takes over at 10000 Hz. No high pass filter is used on the wide range 8” driver instead, it is allowed to roll off naturally.” Frequency response is cited as 22Hz-33kHz, 95dB, and a friendly 8Ω. A fully passive version, the 001PB ($8,945) is also available.

In the rack was equipment from also-new-to-me company Alexus Audio, including a pair of smartly turned out 33SE mono block amps (introductory price of $8,995/pair) built around the Foxbat output tubes. That means Class A for the big, hot 6C33C tubes and 22 watts into 8Ω.

A matching line stage, the Perfect Line ($6,995), a dual-mono design featuring the 6H30Pi tube stage and Perfect Phono stage ($6,995) sat beneath. I didn’t catch the turntable or cartridge.

I wish I had more on this room — the gear was all very well turned out and the sound seemed warm and almost lush. Definitely something I have on my check-out further list.

CT6A8376

CT6A8382

CT6A8381

CT6A8380

CT6A8379

CT6A8378

CT6A8377

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Gershman Acoustics fronts Backert and VPI

CT6A8399

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Gershman Acoustics is a brand I’ve been following for years. Visually, the speakers are arresting and a little on the avant-garde side of the design spectrum, but sonically, these little buggers can jump.

Shown here was the Grande Avant Garde (see?) at $12,500/pair. A specified frequency response of 22Hz-20kHz might make this the most compact full-range loudspeaker I’ve run across in recent memory. I’m not precisely sure how this kind of performance is possible, but reading over the brochure, Gershman makes reference to BCT — “back-wave control technology” — which has been combined with their “proprietary Regulation Line” design, derived from their Avant Garde R1 model. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a full readout on what any of this means. What I can tell you is that these red hotrods, fronted by this system, were filling the room quite handily with full and impactful sound.

On top of the rack was the new Backert Labs Rhythm 1.1 ($7,500) I first saw at Capital Audiofest. The new preamp looks just as hot then as it did back in July! I have more details in that report, but suffice it to say that I want to get my hands on one of these.

Also in the rack, The VPI Classic 2 with a 3-D printed tonearm ($5,500 for the combo), mounted with a Dynavector XX-2 MkII cartridge ($1,950). For digital, a battery-powered Hugo from Chord Electronics ($2,495) was standing in. A pair of Odyssey Audio Kismet mono blocks ($5,000/pair) provided power. A Naim CD5si ($1,995) spun discs.

CT6A8400

CT6A8401

CT6A8402

CT6A8404

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: GamuT plays big, bad wolf and blows us away

CT6A8418

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014“There was something about this room …” is what I heard, repeatedly, in reference to the all-GamuT room, put together by local NJ dealer Woodbridge Stereo. Something …. Maybe it was the speakers, the new Superior RS-5 ($31,990/pair) playing in the room. These speakers are 2.5-way floor-standing loudspeakers, shown in black and not to their best effect, sadly — in “real life”, these gently sculpted creatures are works of art. Michael Vamos of GamuT Audio was on hand to point out a couple of interesting/odd design elements — including the double-ring radiating tweeter, the sliced-cone mid, and the wood-fiber cone woofers.

“Wood?” I asked. “Why wood? Why not aluminum or something like that?”

“Too slow,” Vamos said. “With the wood, you get stiffness and speed but with a far more natural tone and harmonics. And with these wood dust-caps in the center, the woofer is far more piston-like,” he said, making a punching-fist gesture. I found no reason to argue with this, based on what I was hearing.

He also pointed out the extremely unusual binding posts — all arranged in a linear array. If you scroll all the way down, you can see the tasty, chunky terminals. The RS-5 is an 89dB speaker, 4Ω, with 31Hz-60kHz performance. The enclosure is extremely damped, with over an inch of laminations on the sides walls, as well as grooved contours on those sides, to help with resonance. Overall, the new cabinet upgrades (over the outgoing “S” versions) is a 50% improvement in structural inertness.

The Superior Series is new, and features several new models — the RS3 ($19,500/pair) is a 2-way stand mount. The RS7 ($40k) is a true 3-way that features a “DC-coupled” midrange (no caps in the signal path), and the driver complement adds a second 7″ wood-fiber woofer to the dual-ring tweet and sliced-cone mid. The RS-9, the new flagship at $115k/pair, was sitting in the corner showing off the second finish-option for the new Superior line — “blanco” (white ash). I think that finish is extremely sweet-looking. Aside from all the internal and hidden tweaks and upgrades, the RS9 adds a third wood-fiber woofer to the mix. I can’t afford pretty much anything in this line, but if I could, I’d be on that RS-9 like white on rice.

The electronics in the room were also, all-GamuT. I’ve heard “good things” about their old amplifiers, but aside from the occasional blip here and there, there hasn’t been a whole lot to read. A shame, really, and something … well, perhaps it’s something yours truly could rectify! Hmm. Just a suggestion.

On the deck were a pair of M250i mono block amplifiers ($12,900 each, bottom rack), below a D3i dual-mono pre ($8,290) and a CD3 disc spinner ($7,990). The lattermost is just that, a CD player. It’s been highly regarded and well-reviewed, but don’t expect a USB input or SACD support. This is, at least to some, a pinnacle in CD playback design and that might well be enough. Given the absurdly high quality of sound coming out of this system, I think I’d be okay with that.

With regard to the former-most, these amplifiers are not precisely new, but they are new-to-me. 250 watts into 8Ω, with 500 watts in 4Ω, these are some very impressive amplifiers. Fitted out in a rather upscale-minimalist enclosure with large heat-sinks off the side, I’m told that the sound is very open and with the right speakers, there are some interesting options. From Robert Harley’s review of the D200i (the stereo version):

“There are two pairs of output binding posts per channel, but there is more to them than the provision for bi-wiring. The inner pair is called “normal” and has an inductor in parallel with a resistor between the output section of the amplifier and its corresponding binding posts. The outer pair is called “direct” and has no added inductor and resistor (Zobel) circuit. The “normal” Z-circuit pair is offered to help handle low-impedance speakers or highly capacitive cable loads. Provided the speaker has two pairs of binding posts (i.e., it is bi-wireable) GamuT recommends connecting the inner/normal pair to the speaker driver’s terminal with the trickiest impedance—the bass driver terminals, in the case of a typical dynamic cone type speaker, or the tweeter driver terminals, in the case of an electrostatic speaker. I experimented with both the inner and outer pairs and preferred the outer/direct pair.”

That’s pretty fancy, in my book. All the wire was GamuT, too — Wormhole Signature balanced interconnects (starting at $2,990/pair) and a prototype of the Wormhole Reference speaker cables ($13,990/3m pair). I’m told that the final, shipping product will include a leather wrapping (!).

All in all, this was a remarkable sounding room. Another Best-in-Show contender and another brand to add to my “Must-Explore” list.

CT6A8425

CT6A8424

CT6A8423

CT6A8422

CT6A8421

CT6A8420

CT6A8427

CT6A8428

CT6A8429

CT6A8430-2

CT6A8433

CT6A8431

CT6A8432

CT6A8434

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Hegel and GamuT, revving the engine

CT6A8412

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Ah, Hegel, let me count the ways ….

Hegel Audio may or may not be named for the (in)famous 19th century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. As some of you may or may not know, I spent a happy decade bouncing around the halls of higher education seeking a degree in Philosophy. During that time, I may or may not have obsessed over Hegel. Really, there’s no other way to “do” Hegel — reading his work is very much like falling through the Looking Glass. Simplicity, brevity and clarity were really not his style. I cannot overemphasize the word ‘not’ in that last sentence. Pardon me while I have an existentialist shudder.

With this as my own personal albatross, I also cannot overstate how perplexing it is for me to see Hegel Audio’s creations. For one, the complete lack of Byzantine, Rube Goldberg-like structure is entirely disconcerting. There is no thesis. No antithesis. Just, simple, straightforward, synthesis. It’s like someone predigested everything Hegel ever wrote (and given that Hegel was one of the most prolific writers in the history of Humanity, that’s saying something) and just delivered the punch line. It’s almost unseemly. The case work for Hegel is silver or black, and that’s really all there is to say about it. It’s … solid. Functional. Almost utilitarian. Pardon me while I shudder again. There’s really just not much to see — all the magical confection is on the inside. And let me be plain, because apparently, simply invoking the ghost of Hegel is enough to twist my mind and speech, this stuff is just great.

One of my all-time favorite amplifiers is the Hegel H30. It’s like a neutron star. Like most Hegel gear, there’s not much to look at, except for its appearance of an absurd concentration of mass. But that amplifier has the almost unique ability, to my admittedly limited experience, of making the “everything else” sound so much better. It’s a polisher, in the best possible way. At $15k, it’s nowhere near cheap, but that’s like saying that paying 1/10th the sticker price for a brand new Ferrari is “too much”. Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s also a supercar that we’re talking about and it compares directly and favorably with gear costing fantastically more. Me? I like to call that little ratio, “value”. Maybe there’s something to this “deceptively simple appearance” thing? Hmm. Power rating on the amp is a bit hard to track down as the website talks about the amp almost exclusively as a mono-bridged setup, where two of these are used. I don’t know anyone that’s done that (but it seems like a smashingly good idea, and will yield over 1kW when run this way), but according to my erstwhile publisher, you can expect 350 watts into 8Ω when running it in stereo. Seeing it here in New York kinda makes me all happy inside.

Fronting the Black Beauty was the matching preamplifier, the synergistically and stylistically compatible P30 preamplifier ($7,500). A H300 integrated amplifier ($5,500) sat underneath a now-discontinued H70 integrated (the new model, the H80, is priced at $2,000) that they were offering a sweetheart deal on. The new H80 does include a full 24bit/192kHz DAC (USB is limited to 96kHz). A CDP2a ($2,650) was sitting atop the rack for those silver-disc lovers that haven’t fully gone digital.

Speaking of which, that brings me to the star of this particular show, the HD12. The HD12 ($1,400) replaces the outgoing HD11, and I adds “true” DSD64 capability (with no PCM conversion) to the already excellent sonic brew. A fully balanced design (with volume controls), the HD12 includes a headphone output (¼” TRS plug) on the front and a digital display walking you through the menu, replacing the old push-button input selection from the outgoing model. Notably, the USB input has been significantly upgraded and now supports 24bit/192kHz in addition to DSD support. The noise floor on the new DAC hits -145dB.

Eileen Gosvig of Hegel was on hand to do the demo, and quickly walked us through an A/B listening session between the HD12 and the HD11 — the new DAC is much quieter, with far better detail retrieval than the outgoing model, but still has that natural, non-fatiguing Hegel sound that I love. I’m going to have to get one of these at some point to explore it more fully.

On a side note, Eileen also let me peek at her personal Hegel Super USB Headphone amplifier/DAC ($299). Super-quiet, the Super does 24/96 over USB and includes an optical/mini-jack combo output.

The room also had a pair of loudspeakers, did I mention them? Ha! Yes, GamuT M’inenT M7 ($16,490/pair), a bass-reflex design with curved side walls of veneer-over-MDF, was shown with the Hegel gear, and this pair came in a sexy, matching, matte black. The M7 is a 4Ω nominal loudspeaker with a 90dB sensitivity and a frequency response between 29Hz and 50kHz. Two 7″ wood-fiber (!) woofers, a 7″ “sliced cone” mid and a double-ring radiator tweeter complete the picture. The finish was extraordinary — very clean, very modern.

I am quite partial to the sound in this room, so I feel a bit biased. I’ve been very impressed with GamuT generally, and hearing them driven by Hegel electronics was a special treat.

I’d happily take home any and all of this stuff. Hook it up!

CT6A8414

CT6A8413

CT6A8411

CT6A8410

CT6A8409

CT6A8408

CT6A8406

CT6A8415

CT6A8417

IMG_2510

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Audioengine cleans up your desk, smashes all your crap to the floor

CT6A8360-2

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Audioengine is the brand that seems to be single-handedly making the bridge between personal audio and high-end audio, and doing it in a way that’s not only awesome sounding, it’s not bank-breaking. And for that, I’m grateful.

Some years ago, I invested in a pair of P4 passive loudspeakers ($249) for my office desk. My Mac Pro needed a little sumthin’ sumthin’ to sauce it up a bit, so I went with these. I can’t even remember what amp I was using at that time, and that’s probably why I don’t have it anymore, but the P4s are still around. These days, I’m rocking to the powered A5 loudspeakers ($399, which have since been upgraded to the A5+) because it’s not only cleaner than a passive setup (less real estate), they sound amazing and play loud as hell. And that helps when you suddenly realize that you’re Netflixing instead of doing TPM reports (snore).

The big news these days from Audioengine is the B1. At $189, the aptX-enable Bluetooth receiver/DAC promises to simplify your streaming musical needs. I’ve been fiddling with one for about a month, and I think the sound quality is “good” — but when paired with an aptX transmitter, that “good” gets a whole lot closer to “great”. Samsung Galaxy users have reason to celebrate — they get aptX Bluetooth — but Apple lovers are still in the wasteland, here, even with the new iPhone 6. Interestingly, I just found out that the new Sony Walkman A17 supports aptX Bluetooth as a transmitter, which is awesome news. I’m already making plans.

Backing up a bit, if there’s ever a cause for you to kit out a niece, nephew, or college-bound offspring, Audioengine and an inexpensive turntable might be a killer gift. You know. Like one that says, “hey, you stay in and study in your dorm room and not go out to that frat house party”. A Music Hall MMF2.2 turntable, sitting next to a pair of A5+ as I walked in the room, struck me as a particularly wise thought.

I spent an hour this weekend, talking with Steve Guttenberg of CNet, Art Dudley of Stereophile and John Darko of DAR, about the cloudy future of the world of audio’s high-end. The conclusion of that august panel was that turntables are good, and that great sound needs to be a lot more affordable. This room is exactly what we were talking about.

CT6A8361-2

CT6A8362-2

CT6A8363-2

CT6A8364-2

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: LampizatOr Storms New York, Millions Flee In Terror

CT6A8464

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014I’ve been looking forward to meeting Lukasz Fikus of LampizatOr for a good while now, and catching up to him at the New York Show was really nifty. Unfortunately, I also caught up to him 30 seconds after his team ditched leaving him scrambling to pull off a gear-switched demo, and things got a bit hairy. Oh well. Another time.

In case you missed it, the name “Lampizator” does not refer to a foe of Godzilla. Sorry. Though that would be awesome. No, it  means “to add vacuum tubes”, aka, “to en-tube-en-ate that which was not tubed”. It speaks to his origins as a modder, and the name kinda … stuck.

LampizatOr has been on my radar since I dunno when, when I first crossed paths with a Generation 3, Level 4 DAC. That experience remains one of the most compelling of my short audiophile career, and I still think back fondly on that. Since then, Lukasz has pretty much gone bananas.

At the top of the rack is the Big 7, his take on what a no-holds barred DAC ought to be. It’s a monster, to be sure. I’m pretty sure there wa a pair of 45 tubes sticking out the top, set back from the big rectifier tube. Yes — this beast is a Direct-Heated Triode DAC!. Prices start at $7,500€, and go up with options. What options, you ask? Well, there’s the choice of analog output tubes, whether or not you want the DSD decoding DAC (it’s a fully discrete and separate path, a second DAC, if you will), what kind of caps you want (there are several to choose from) and more. This version featured a volume knob which meant that it could stand in for a preamplifier to the LampizatOr GM70 mono amplifiers (prices start at 6,900€, depending on options), but those amps actually also feature volume knobs! Dual mono integrated amplifiers? Yes! Also in the rack was a Gen 4 Level 4 DAC (prices start at 2,950€). A LampizatOr Transport, a modified Squeezebox Duet server engine meets wireless/wired ethernet to S/PDIF conversion, provided the linkage between computer and DAC.

The loudspeakers were/are something of a mystery. There was absolutely no literature in the room (Lukasz shrugged at me when I asked), and there appears to be no online information, either. I’m pretty sure they were Mosaic Audio Illumination ($18k/pair), as this is what Jason Serinus reported was shown at CES this year. Some design information I found over here, but I can’t verify or vouch, but feel free to click-through.

The sound in the room? Well, we were in something of a transition actually, moving from the Big 7 down to the Level 4, and there was some issues with hum and clicks. Once everything was firing, the sound was very tactile. Which brings me to another point.

I was talking with Lukasz, very briefly, about the DSD portion of his DACs. As I mentioned, this upgrade is a completely separate board inside the DAC, and activating it requires telling the DAC that the signal is on the way. Previously, this was done manually, but now there’s a really handy remote for switching the paths around. Once active, this pathway doesn’t actually decode anything — there’s no “chip”, per se, either:

The LampizatOr DSD DAC … does not manipulate the data in any shape or form, it does not convert it, upsample, reclock or downsample. It does not go through pcm process either. It is purest native dsd we know of. We practically only gently remove the carrier frequency from the raw data as it comes from hard drive. Nothing more, nothing less.

I asked about an auto-sensing feature, something that could “see” whether the incoming bitstream was PCM or DSD and switch accordingly, and he shook his head. Too complicated and too damaging to the sound. Mute-and-switch-and-unmute was the recommendation. “Better still — do the conversion on the computer,” he said.

“On the computer?”

“Yes! With JRiver, you can simply have your computer do all the conversions prior to sending. You can send everything this way. MP3, PCM, whatever. Sounds a lot better.”

This rang a bell, actually — the Berkeley Audio team had suggested the exact same thing when it was revealed that their new DAC did not support DSD. They suggested a similar move, albeit, their recommendation was to convert everything to PCM.

I filed that trick away for future reference.

Outside the room was the new LampizatOr Head DAC — a derivation of the LampizatOr DAC designs (“all of them”, apparently), and features many of the same … features. Including 32bit/384kHz sampling on PCM and up to double-rate DSD over USB. ¼” TRS single-ended, 4-pin XLR and dual-mono 3-pin XLR headphone outputs are options, and there’s a user-switchable output setting to accommodate higher/lower impedance headphones. Prices start at 3,900€. I got a few minutes on this DAC with a pair of HiFiMAN 560 headphones, and the sound was textured, dynamic and liquid.

I think I want more of this. Oh yes, yes please.

CT6A8457

CT6A8458

CT6A8459

CT6A8461

CT6A8462

CT6A8465

IMG_2522

CT6A8463

IMG_2524

CT6A8465

IMG_2526

CT6A8455

CT6A8456

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: MrSpeakers preaches the Pro, teases Prime

CT6A8279-2

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014I might have caught Dan Clark of MrSpeakers a bit early Saturday morning (as in, while he was setting up), but he was gracious enough to let me cycle through two of his awesome headphones, the Mad Dog Pro ($449) and the Alpha Dog ($600) on his Cavalli Audio Liquid Glass headphone amplifier ($3k), fed by an Auralic Vega DAC ($3,500).

I’m a fan of Cavalli, but I haven’t had much experience with the tube version of his work. The Vega, on the other hand, I happen to know. It’s a great little DAC, a very competent performer with no obvious sins — which is a backhanded way of saying “one of the best DACs at this price”, which is exactly what it is.

That tiny box up on top of the stack? That’s a $99 Schiit Wyrd! A self-styled “USB decrapifier”, the Wyred essentially provides clean power to the USB DAC downstream. For many DACs, it works an absolute treat — the Vega being one.

Back to the headphones! The Pro may well be the sweet spot in the line. It has quite a bit of the sound of the 3-D printed Alpha, and is a bit more compact. Trying them back-to-back, I will offer that the Alpha does in fact have better resolution for fine detail, and also presents a bit more linearly, while the Pro seems mid-range forward. Neither have any issues with treble or bass, but both share a common richness and tonal density, if that means anything to you. In short, I love ’em. In fact, I own a pair of Alphas and consider them my reference for closed-back designs. I’ve always been very impressed with Dan’s work and have been happy to recommend them to any and all comers — still do, in fact. If you have the opportunity, check ’em out. Especially those Pros. Those are some fun cans.

But that was just the appetizer.

Say hello to the Alpha Dog Prime!

I’d been hearing birds chirping about … things … BIG things … happening at MrSpeakrs, so I was ready for the Cheshire Grin when I asked him about it.

I heard the Pro, the Alpha Dog, and then … he pulled out another pair of Alpha Dogs. The only thing that differentiated this one was a small strip of green tape. Again, the Grin. “Try these.”

Moving from Alpha to Prime, you get space. Its as if the sound stage moved out by an order of magnitude. Detail, tone, bass — all take small steps up the happiness chain. But that space … that was breathtaking.

“I’ll take these,” I said. He laughed.

The final versions will have some slightly different cues to separate them from the “regular” Alphas when they ship in early December, so Dan asked me to refrain from taking much in the way of pics. Price is set at $999. Dan’s “exploring” upgrades — I’m hoping this is do-able, because if so, mine are headed in for the re-working. Absolutely stellar sound.

IMG_2501-2

IMG_2499-2

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Woo Audio drives out to Oswald Mills for a little party

CT6A8540

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Next door to the main Woo Audio room was another setup, this time featuring the big WA-234 mono blocks configured for stereo speakers and driving a pair of Minis from Oswald Mills Audio.

OWA has been famous for doing horns a bit differently, but the styling of the Mini ($25k/pair) probably clued you in to that pretty much immediately. Conical horns are praised and derided — and it seems to be an either/or kind of thing. Whatever. The horns, here in iPod white, were matched to what looked like reflex-loaded bamboo cubes, sporting the single black mid/woofer driver, and sat astride a three-legged tripod in matching white. 95dB and 8Ω means “tubes” to me, and that’s precisely what was driving them, so all was right with the world.

I thought the sound was dynamic in just the way that only horns seem to manage, but while the tube-tone came singing through, the room had enough challenges that made any kind of evaluation problematic. C’est la vie.

Definitely one of the most eye-catching rooms at the show, though.

CT6A8541

CT6A8542

CT6A8543

CT6A8548

CT6A8549

CT6A8550

CT6A8545

CT6A8546

CT6A8547

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Wes Bender Studio NYC brings Zesto, E.A.R. and Marten, weaves magic

CT6A8389

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Wes Bender is a fantastic photographer and he’s way more meticulous about it than I am. He’s shown me some of this work — specifically, the G-rated product stuff — and told me about the process by which he “finishes” it. I think there’s some kind of childhood drama or something, because the vendetta he has against dust is the stuff of legend. Legend! Me, I can barely remember where the microfiber cloth is. Just guessing, but I think he might actually get paid for his photography … anyway, I digress.

I’ve been following Wes’ high-end audio show-systems for a while, only in part because they tend to photograph really well. The rooms are always bright and uncluttered and all the gear is easy to see and “get at”. It’s almost as if he’s, you know, thought about the way it looks on the rack and in the room. Gasp! I kid. Okay, I’m not. I can think of about 200 or so demos that could have used a quick conversation with Wes before they “finished” their demo displays. Hint, hint.

Visual glory aside, the sound of his systems tend to also lean toward the sonically pleasing as well. Kind of a sensory two-fer. I’ve offered to explore the other three senses, but for now, Wes seems content with what he’s offering. I’m there for ya, big guy — you just lemme know.

To wit was his current demo — the US debut of the $23,500 Getz from Marten loudspeakers, shown here in a lustrous piano black, a sharp contrast to the white Accuton ceramic tweeter, mid, and woofers in the angled-sidewall cabinets. Like most of the Marten speakers, the Getz is a 4Ω load, but has a minimum of 3.7Ω, so consider this relatively tube friendly. If you could call 87dB a problem, it’d be in that the speaker calls for something more than the average SET, however.

Shown here was the 60 wpc Bia 120 from Zesto Audio. $12,500 will net you a very slick-looking Class A stereo amplifier featuring a quartet of KT-88 tubes and a quartet of 12AU7 input tubes. The power supply is fully solid-state. The amp is much larger than it first appears, but those swooping design cues are visually captivating.

Aquarius — knew I was writing about him

Matched here with the matching Leto line stage ($7,500) and the new Andros 1.2 phono stage ($4,700). The latter received a whole host of rave reviews, but designer George Counnas felt that it was a good time to share “what they’ve learned along the way.” Here’s the list of updates:

  • 10 position MC load, from 20 to 1000 Ohm and more positions in the sweet zone between 200 to 1000 Ohms
  • 2 position MM loading, 47K &15K to accommodate a wider range of cartridges
  • 67dB of gain
  • +6V max output
  • Same sonic signature
  • Improved circuitry design and component value upgrades
  • Enhanced grounding scheme
  • Binding post moved to accommodate shorter ground wires
  • Lower noise
  • New feet

In addition to the Zesto gear, a pair of mirrored bits from E.A.R. also found the rack, including a DAC4 and a Transport4, for all your PCM-to-DSD playback needs. Price for the combo is $13,000.

On the analog side, a couple of new bits too, including the Townshend Audio Rock 7 Mk 2 with Merlin motor ($5,800), still featuring the distinctive head-shell damping system. What’s new — subtle changes, including a dust-cover for the head-shell trough, that $1,900 motor from Merlin, a new clamping mechanism, and other minor changes and upgrades. Friday saw the brand new dynamic-VTF-enabled Townshend tonearm, the Excalibur II ($TBD); a Helius covered it the rest of the weekend. I have a confession to make — I’ve been drooling over this turntable for last five years. That head shell damping system is, as far as I know, unique among the turntables I see at these shows and I can tell you that it very clearly adds dramatic improvements to tone and detail — even if it looks kinda wacky.

In case I miss it, let me add that all the cables are from Waveform Fidelity. the GS MK3 ($2,895 for 3′) were matched with interconnects (starting at $1,495) and power cords ($1,745 each) from the same line. The “GS” marks the flagship offering from Waveform Fidelity (aka, Kaplan Cable). The Alchemist ($4,500) was upended in the corner, providing both power conditioning and distribution.

More audio goodness came from Stillpoints. Massive Ultra 5 footers sat under the loudspeakers ($699 each), and I think by now it’s pretty much assumed that Stillpoints is the company to beat when it comes to isolation systems — I’m seeing their little footers everywhere these days. The bare-framework rack was the Stillpoints ESS 34″ ($8,905) and the ESS 42″ ($10,700). Each of these racks are something of a marvel in suspension design and of course off the full benefit of Stillpoints isolation. Stillpoints Apertures ($650 each) were used on the walls for diffusion and bass trapping.

The most intriguing thing in the rack was the wood box from Entreq. The Silver Tellus is a grounding box — think: your own private power system ground, and one that is not shared with the rest of the house. Given how crappy hotel power is, or how bad urban power can be, I was looking at this box rather carefully. Better grounding schemes means a quieter system, and that’s never a bad thing. It was wired to the components in the rack and also to the rack itself, which despite what I’m told does not create a Faraday cage effect (you need a lot more material in the rack at the very least), but may well help take unwanted interference and ground that out, too.

Wes Bender, Himself

Okay, so that’s a lot of words to describe what was in the room, but did I mention that it was a most excellent sounding room? There’s a real synergy that came together with this equipment that made me smile and say “This is the kind of system a great dealer would put together,” and I’m not just blowing smoke up Wes’ skirt. Seriously. Great sounding components are easy to find. Great sounding components that work together to create a great system? That’s quite a bit harder. That’s where a dealer is extremely helpful. And given that Wes Bender Studios was one of the very few local dealers to actually support the local audio show, I for one hope that the thronging crowds took especial note of the easy, delightfully rich and wondrously detailed music happening here.

Very nice work. Another contender for Best in Show.

EM1_NYAS14_505.jpg

Printed with kind permission of the great Wes Bender

EM1_NYAS14_1466.jpg

Printed with kind permission of the great Wes Bender

EM1_NYAS14_478.jpg

Stillpoints Aperture room treatment panel. Printed with kind permission of the great Wes Bender

EM1_NYAS14_Rock7_44.jpg

Townshend Rock 7 Mk II with Excalibur II tonearm. Printed with kind permission of the great Wes Bender

CT6A8393

Townshend Rock 7 Mk II with Helius tonearm

EM1_NYAS14-zesto_515.jpg

Zesto Audio product line! Printed with kind permission of the great Wes Bender

CT6A8398

Marten Getz

CT6A8397

Zesto Bia 120 stereo amplifier

CT6A8392

CT6A8396

CT6A8395

CT6A8394

E.A.R. Acute4 and DAC4

CT6A8391

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Mytek takes Manhattan

CT6A8290

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Mytek Digital‘s long awaited upscale “audiophile” DAC offering, the Manhattan, is now ready for prime time. Shown here is the final case work, and boy-howdy, is it a beauty. $4,995 will net you, yours.

So, what’s in the mix? A lot.

First, there’s support for all the latest formats, up to and including* 384kHz of PCM and quad-rate DSD (DSD256) over  an asynchronous USB2.0 connection (*firmware upgrade may be required, but will be available by the end of the year).

Second, there are 2 attenuators. One analog, one digital — your choice.

Third, there’s a linear power supply. To many, this is the best power feed you can get. And there are separate, fully discrete, power supplies for the digital and the analog sections.

Fourth, there’s the dual headphone jack. Two ¼” TRS jacks, with very low output impedance and variable gain.

Fifth, the clocking is handled by a hyper-accurate Femto clock.

There’s more, too — including Firewire support, a Lightning connection for Apple storage, an upcoming MM/MC phono input and an input compatible with the EMM Labs SACD transport. This thing is amazing.

But none of that takes away from the fact that it’s quite the looker. The chassis is two-level (better RF rejection), and that outer case work is the one with the sculpted, hammered front and laser-cut top.

Do I want one? Oh yeah.

CT6A8292

CT6A8293

CT6A8291

Standard
New York 2014

New York 2014: Master & Dynamic, beautifully styled

CT6A8275-2

Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Master & Dynamic was showing off a pair of their new headphones — both on-ear and over-ear, dangling over an ALO Studio Six that was completely and somewhat inexplicably trapped under plexiglass.

Following their May launch, these headphones have the distinction of being one of the nicest looking in a flurry of new headphones that’ve seen the air this year.

The MH40 are over-ear, and retail for $399. All that leather and metal immediately set them apart from their competitors from Apple.

The MH30 are on-ear. They retail for $340, and pretty much match the aesthetic of their slightly larger siblings.

M&D also have a pair of in-ear monitors, the ME01 ($149) and the ME03 ($159), but neither were on display early Saturday morning.

Of the two headphones that were, I had a natural preference for the larger MH40. Perhaps it was their 45mm drivers (as opposed to the 40mm in the MH30), but the sound felt deeper, fuller and generally more rich. Detail was high, but here with the ALO, the sound was non-fatiguing.

$399 is a tough price point to defend in today’s market, but if you’re going to do it, this retro-styled headphone is certainly a great attempt to do so.

I’d love to try a pair long-term, for sure.

CT6A8274-2

CT6A8273-2

Standard