New York has been host to audio shows for a very long time – since the 1950s. The 1954 New York Audio Show marked the introduction of Henry Kloss’ landmark Acoustic Research AR-1 acoustic-suspension loudspeaker, the first-ever of its type. The first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in New York in 1967. Other audio shows continued, with some missing years, through the 1970s and 1980s. Stereophile magazine picked up the baton in the late 1980s.
However, in the 2000s attendance started to decrease, and Stereophile’s then-owners decided to opt out in 2007. In 2011 the Chester Group started hosting shows in New York. They’ve been much smaller than the glory years of the Stereophile era, when a who’s who of audio companies would exhibit. In fact, after the 2018 outing I and others wondered if there would even be a 2019 show.
Whaddya know. The 2019 New York Audio Show, while still far from the same size as AXPONA, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and others, felt more upbeat than last year’s. (I went on Friday, the first day. I didn’t receive confirmation of attendance figures as of press time.) And, like the recent Capital Audiofest (CAF show report in Issue 98) there was a varied mix of people in attendance.
As noted before, I don’t make definitive judgments at shows. There are so many variables an exhibitor has to deal with, from less-than-optimal rooms to far worse: airport people ripped open the Onkk turntable upon its arrival to the US, looking for contraband (there was none) and Onkk had to patch it together and soldier (solder?) on. (it worked!) If the demo material is unfamiliar you don’t know what a system’s supposed to sound like. I’ve been in rooms where the sound changed from hour to hour. (Old industry joke: you get the best sound 20 minutes before the show ends.)
I wasn’t stringent about getting pricing for every component. (My editor is going to bust my chops for that. Oh, wait…) Some rooms were too crowded to hear the music properly. I missed a few. Some peoples’ opinions about the sound of a particular room were different than mine. (Part of being an audiophile.) So, take any sonic commentary as one person’s impressions, YMMV, call me crazy if you’d like…
Some highlights, in no particular order:
Robyatt Audio showed a compact, high-end system that would be perfect for apartments, smaller rooms and people who just don’t want a lot of equipment in their living space. It included the Rogers LS3/5A monitor speakers (these just look like the classics they are in their rich wood finish and textured grilles), along with the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge streamer/DAC/preamp and matching Brooklyn amp, Robyatt stands and Finley Audio cables. Just add a source and you’ve got a fine system for around $8,500. I have a weakness for the sweet sound of LS3/5A speakers and this system only fueled that feeling.
Alexus Audio and Bache Audio showcased a wide variety of their tube electronics and loudspeakers including Alexus’ impressive 845SE pure Class A single-ended mono power amp ($24,995), Perfect Line V2.0 dual-mono preamp ($13,995), Multi-Standard phono stage ($11,995)and more. It was a big room with a big sonic presence, fueled by the authority and scale of the tower speakers that were playing at the time, and the sumptuous sound of those amps. Honestly, I don’t know a lot about either of these companies yet. I intend for that to change.
The Blink High End Audio room had a vast array of gear on exhibit including Technics turntables, Fink Team loudspeakers, Aavik Acoustics amplifiers, Linn gear, Illusonic digital components and processors, Kroma loudspeakers, HiDiamond cable and more.
The Fink Team Borg loudspeakers (and they looked like something out of Star Trek; $30,900/pair), featured Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeters and other high-tech drivers and delivered remarkably clear sound with no distortion that I could hear, even at volumes which literally rattled the walls and had the exhibitors in the adjoining room barging in and pleading with the Blinkians to please turn it down. (To be fair, this was partly because of an odd resonance effect that amplified the bass in the other room.) Music was reproduced with a sense of purity I’ve heard from very few systems, and I’ve heard hundreds. No surprise that Blink’s Tim Lukas told me the Borgs are being adopted in professional recording studios.
Triode Wire Labs along with Well Pleased AV and Vinnie Rossi Audio displayed a large-scale system featuring an Innuos Statement music server ($13,750), Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature Edition integrated amplifier, ($18,995, options available) Gigawatt power management, QLN Prestige Three loudspeakers, SGR audio racks and more. My friend Harris Fogel asked them to play “To Sir With Love” by Chaka Khan and we heard a soundstage that was immense, absolutely vast and enveloping with vocals and instruments seemingly everywhere and far beyond the boundaries of the large room.
You have to admire Ohm Acoustics for sticking to their unconventional loudspeaker design principles since they founded the company in 1972 to offer speakers based on inventor Lincoln Walsh’s patent. Ohm speakers utilize an inverted cone driver they call the Coherent Line Source or CLS, which is said to maintain perfect phase and time alignment and uniform frequency response. The audible result in their room was what they claim – a “3D” sort of sonic presentation throughout the room, with a spaciousness that was the antithesis to “head in a vise” speaker designs where the listener has to stay in a tightly defined sweet spot to hear the best sound. Ohm’s thing may or may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the Ohm sound certainly has its adherents, as evidenced by 47 years of manufacturing.
Personal show highlight: I sat with my friend Gene Tambor in New Hampshire dealer Fidelis AV’s room, which included Acoustic Signature Maximus and Signature Double X turntables ($3,495 and $5,495), Einstein The Preamp and The Power Amp ($22,000 and $20,000) and the Harbeth 40.2 Reference Monitor loudspeakers ($15,495) among other gear. Conventional wisdom on the Harbeths is that they’re great for classical, jazz, folk and other kinds of acoustic music. However, when Gene and I sat down they cued up Jeff Beck’s “Brush with the Blues” from the Who Else! album. It’s a live cut, well recorded.
Well, it was astounding. Beck is an extremely expressive guitarist and we heard the nuances of his playing on this cut as never before – his myriad variations in attack, note-shaping, dynamics, string and tremolo bending and the humanity in his playing. These are the nuances that make the difference between a nice-sounding audio system and one that can fool you into thinking you’re hearing “into” reality. We were completely blown away. We couldn’t stop raving about it. This room reinforced what so many speaker designers have said over the years: a good speaker is a good speaker, period. It should be able to reproduce all kinds of music equally well.
In past years Sound by Singer has exhibited in larger rooms and this year was no exception. Their room featured an impressive array of top-shelf gear including the Stenheim Alumine Three loudspeakers ($30,000/pair), CH Precision 1 Series electronics (the I1 integrated amp ranges from $38,000 – $48,000 depending on configuration), a selection of Dr. Feikert turntables including the Firebird ($11,000 without arm), and My Sonic Lab cartridges (the Signature Gold was playing), Audience cables and power conditioning (full disclosure: I do PR for the company) and Solid Steel equipment racks, all surrounded by Mobile Fidelity LPs. Since I was there during press hours, before the public was let in, the room was relatively quiet (except when Copper’s J.J. French, Andrew Singer and I got carried away talking about vintage guitars) and I finally had a chance to hear the CH Precision components that so many people have been raving about.
Now I know why. The sound was clear, present, detailed, transparent in the true sense of the word (I know, it’s an overused audiophile cliché but when you can hear into the sound that deeply, you know it), tonally neutral, just there. While I was there I heard Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Music” and the illusion of reality was strong – I wasn’t listening to, I was absorbing his playing. Neutrality is a prized attribute in a system (well, unless you like certain colorations and you know what, sometimes I do) and this system had it, and not in an analytical or “cool” sense but as a quality of being right.
Part Two of the New York Audio Show Report will appear in Issue 100.