Roy Brunjes was a petroleum engineering graduate of Penn State University, and worked for thirty years with Texaco, including a ten-year stint in England as part of the North Sea oil project. His expertise was vital to help bring much-needed deep-water oil reserves up from an inhospitable, rough-seas environment to a world held hostage by the ongoing global oil embargo. Upon his return stateside in the eighties, Roy settled in Stamford, Connecticut, and began working for Manufacturers Hanover Trust’s energy division. Eventually growing tired of the daily commute into New York City’s financial district, Roy started his own successful energy consulting firm, with a client list that included Manufacturers Hanover Trust and Norway’s Saga Petroleum, among others. He lived the life, and seemingly had it all, but after many years of almost complete focus on his work, he wanted a little something more. Something that would give his life not only an elevated level of enjoyment, but perhaps even a more spiritual purpose; something that would allow him to experience a generous taste of the infinite.
Take a moment to ponder this: who is the one person who knows the content of your wildest dreams? The person who knows what keeps you up at night, what you just can’t live without? The person that might be able to help you experience a taste of nirvana? Who is this person? Is it your therapist, or perhaps a good friend? Your wife or the object of your affection? A financial advisor? Who is the person who can give you access to everything it will take to fulfill your most unbridled fantasies?
For the would-be audiophile, it’s the guy (or gal) who sells you stereo equipment.
That person is your confidant and advisor. The one person who can help you experience the kind of unmitigated joy that only cast-magnesium frames, well-damped, specially-doped paper cones and beryllium-clad drivers can bring into your life. The thunderous bass, the liquid midrange, the crystalline highs. There’s no judgment and no remorse. The one person who doesn’t care about any darkness that may trouble your existence, or any baggage you may bring with you. Unless, of course, that baggage happens to be stuffed with nicely-banded stacks of hundreds.
That person is your connection. And no price is ever too high in that most noble quest for the grail: the continual search for the ultimate in audio excellence. During Roy Brunjes’ frequent traversals of the Big Apple, he had finally made that connection and located the one person who could help make his audiophile dreams a reality: he had found the guy.
Lita McCormick is one of my wife Beth’s closest friends. Both are textile artists, and they share a love of transforming relatively nondescript, two-dimensional conceptions into glorious, colorful realizations of hand-dyed wools and other exotic fibers. Lita has the kind of vivacious personality that lights up any room she enters; I gathered that from the very first time I met her. But 2021 was a particularly rough year for Lita, and having just experienced the untimely death of her dear sister, she soon afterwards also lost both parents. The second year of the great pandemic was brutal for Lita on every level, and as she grieved, she became increasingly withdrawn from just about everyone and everything. Beth had virtually zero contact with her for months on end.
So, it came as quite a surprise when out of the blue, Lita phoned Beth in late January, and even more so when it became obvious that the reason for her call was predominantly directed at me! As it turns out, Lita had been going through the arduous task of sorting through her parents’ belongings in their home just north of Atlanta, Georgia. And apparently, her father had a collection of vintage stereo equipment that she was hoping to obtain fair prices for, but had no clue as to how she might assign a value to the various pieces. Perhaps I could assist with some of my audio expertise to help her decide whether she needed to even bother trying to sell anything, or just drop everything off at a Goodwill and be done with it. I told her I’d be happy to assist, but with the 2022 Florida Audio Expo rapidly approaching, it might be a few weeks before I could really provide the kind of assistance she’d actually need. At the very least, I could start with some online research to lay the groundwork.
Lita sent e-mails with photos of everything, and two items in particular jumped out at me: a Walker CJ58 turntable and a pair of interesting-looking monolith loudspeakers that were manufactured by New York Acoustics. The British-made Walker CJ58 was a piece of cake to deal with, and I immediately found online resale sites listing multiple CJ58 tables available in various states of condition. They were listed for anywhere from $350 for one in okay shape to closer to $2,000 for a mint condition unit (on a UK resale site) that came equipped with a Rega RB350 arm and Hana moving coil cartridge. Lita’s Walker table was fairly minty, so even though it needed a new drive belt, I felt pretty confident that we’d have no trouble moving it on US Audio Mart or Audiogon.
The loudspeakers, however, proved a much tougher nut to crack. Personally, I’d never heard of New York Acoustics, and apparently, neither had anyone else online. There were tons of posts for “New York City Acoustics,” who seem to manufacture a variety of garish boomboxes and the like aimed at professional DJs. But hours into the search, I’d only found a single hit for “New York Acoustics,” and it was a link to a fourteen-year-old Audiogon forum post, where the original forum member was asking questions about a smallish pair of New York Acoustics Model 8.2 loudspeakers he’d found at a second hand shop for next to nothing. The 8.2s sounded pretty good, but he couldn’t find any information about them anywhere. There were only two useful responses; the first came from a guy identified as “Rudes,” and it came five years after the original post! He said that he was “pretty sure” New York Acoustics was a spinoff from the former New York Audio Labs. And that the main guy was Jim Cox, who along with Andy Fuchs had started the company in a small space in a warehouse in Yonkers, NY. He also mentioned what a great guy Jim Cox was, and wondered what had ever happened to him, and that back in the day, he would frequently drop by the warehouse and shoot the breeze with Jim and the guys.
The second useful response came from a guy identified as “Cellorover2,” and came a couple of days after “Rudes” post. He expanded on “Rudes” information, saying that the New York Acoustics loudspeakers were very well crafted using drivers from Seas and Dynaudio. Also, that Jim Cox had returned to California after New York Acoustics shut down in the mid-nineties. He noted that the Model 8.2 loudspeakers in question sold new for $1,500/pair, and were one of the last models made by New York Acoustics before they shut down. Very interesting! There were multiple responses on the Audiogon thread, but all the others were either just asking more questions or had nothing substantial to add to the very small amount of useful information provided by “Rudes” and “Cellorover2.” The thread had been dead for almost eight years, so I figured the chances of getting any additional information from anyone previously involved was probably next to zero. I scoured the remaining pages of the Google search for New York Acoustics and came up with nothing to add to the very limited information I’d already found.
In the meantime, Lita e-mailed me a photo of a spec sheet she’d found for the loudspeakers that identified them as the Nova 1 model. I had a free afternoon on the Sunday prior to leaving for Tampa and the Florida Audio Expo, and drove over to Lita’s house to take a look at the equipment and hopefully be able to listen to the loudspeakers. Upon arrival, Lita told me that she was pretty certain that her dad had a consultant who had helped him piece the system together. I then checked out the Walker CJ58 table, which is very nice – actually in much better condition than Lita’s photos had indicated. The NYA loudspeakers were taller than they looked in her pictures; they were imposing, cloth-covered monolith towers with wooden bases that appeared to be in nearly mint condition. Lita told me they’d always been kept in a pet-free, smoke-free environment, and their appearance was literally perfect. Of course, we’re talking about a pair of loudspeakers that could be anywhere from twenty five to thirty years old, so there was a whole laundry list of problems that could potentially raise their ugly heads during the listening session. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect.
The New York Acoustics Nova 1s were connected to a vintage Carver amp and preamp setup that belonged to Lita and her husband Bob. I would probably have guessed that the age of the Carver equipment wasn’t too far from that of the Nova 1s. But the sound was surprisingly good, although I had no idea of the provenance of the digital file that was playing through the system, or what was playing it – probably a CD player? Regardless, while I didn’t feel that the music source was presenting the Nova 1s in the best light possible, I did a cursory check to see if I could determine if there appeared to be any issues with the drivers, etc. Everything seemed fine, and I thanked both Lita and Bob for their time. As I drove away, I really wondered what the Nova 1s might sound like with more modern, higher-end amplification and source equipment. Perhaps we’d explore that in a couple of weeks.
The Search Continues
After returning from the Florida Audio Expo, I got online and posted on the Audio Asylum forum on the Speakers page. I rarely visit there anymore, mainly because of the number of trolls who seem to reside there and the constant flamethrowing from the site’s regular residents – it’s just not worth the consternation you typically endure. Regardless, I forged ahead and posted the pictures I took when I visited Lita’s home, along with the photo of the spec sheet Lita had supplied to me. My post was a general call for help, combined with the very small amount of information I’d been able to cobble together – you know, Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Days went by without a useful response. One guy remarked about how very nice they looked, and that at the very worst, they could be scrapped for the individual Dynaudio and Seas drivers. They could be worth as much as $100 per piece – or as little as $1 each. Yes, it was pretty encouraging (not!). I checked the thread every day, several times a day, for about a week with no luck at all.
I was getting concerned that this was turning into a massive fail. A handful of people I’d reached out to suggested that I should attempt to get in touch with John Strohbeen of Ohm Acoustics. He’s New York through and through, and knows everyone in the audio world in New York City; well, apparently, everyone except anyone even remotely connected to New York Acoustics. Even he drew a blank on the brand or anyone associated with it. It looked like I was on the verge of striking out.
Then something magical happened eight days after my original post on Audio Asylum. An e-mail appeared in my inbox at 9 pm that evening, from a guy named Val Kratzman in New York City. He had replied to my post on Audio Asylum, and had been an investor and partner in New York Acoustics for six years. He asked me to please e-mail him and he’d be happy to provide any information or assistance he could about NYA and the Nova 1s. While looking at his e-mail, I overlooked an important clue that would have provided a vital bit of information: Val Kratzman’s screen name he used for posting on Audio Asylum was “Cellorover2,” the same ID as that second useful response to the Audiogon post from eight years earlier. Finally, a huge break!
Val and I began a dialogue that stretched across the better part of a week. He was still a distributor for Conrad-Johnson and a number of other manufacturers, and was still active in the high-end audio community. I told Val that I was an audio writer and reviewer who worked for the likes of Stereophile, Positive Feedback, Copper, and PMA (Power of Music and Audio), and was based out of the Atlanta area. And was simply trying to help a friend do right by her late father by trying to get a fair price for his prized collection of audio gear.
He confirmed for me that New York Acoustics had in fact branched out from New York Audio Labs, and that he had been deeply involved in the design and development of the Nova 1s. It was New York Acoustics’ flagship loudspeaker offering, and retailed when new for $2,500 (about $6,500 in today’s market!). Along with Jim Cox, Val spent countless hours listening to various capacitor and inductor combinations, and NYA spared little expense in creating the best-sounding crossover network possible while voicing the overall sound of the Nova 1s. The drivers were in fact from Seas and Dynaudio, with a three-quarter-inch polyamide high-frequency driver and dual 6.5-inch midbass/woofers that featured cast magnesium frames and specially-damped cones. The Nova 1 was the pinnacle of New York Acoustics’ loudspeaker designs, and had been voiced to provide the kind of transparency of sound that only much more costly electrostatics could typically provide.
Val owned a pair of Nova 1s for many years, even after his days at New York Acoustics had come to an end. He powered them successfully with high-end amps from the likes of Bedini and Electrocompaniet; the Nova 1s were quite efficient at 90 dB/watt, and Val told me they responded well to both tube and solid-state designs. The Nova 1s were built to last, and depending on how well Lita’s pair had been cared for, they possibly could still function at or close to peak performance, even after all these years. I thanked Val for all his information and assistance. Then he asked me: did I happen to know my friend’s dad’s name? Val was often very hands-on with customers, and beside the New York Acoustics loudspeaker line, they also repped a number of other high-end audio manufacturers, and he possibly might remember my friend’s dad from back in the day. I told him I didn’t know his name, but would send an email to Lita ASAP to ask. She responded very quickly; her father’s name was Roy Brunjes.
Yes, that Roy Brunjes, and remember that in putting together his system, Roy had finally found the guy. And that guy’s name was Val Kratzman.
Val was totally taken aback that the person we had been talking about all this time was Roy Brunjes, a man with whom he’d developed a serious rapport over the years, in New York City and in Stamford, CT. Like most typical owner/operator/consultants of the day, Val didn’t probe for a lot of extraneous information; his questions were mostly direct and to the point. Black or silver faceplate? Fully balanced or single-ended? Tube or solid state? Val not only sold Roy his equipment, but was also his turnkey solution, providing delivery and setup to Roy’s Stamford home. Val recalled that the rugs Roy’s wife had chosen for their home were so very thick that special spikes were required for properly leveling the Nova 1s. And the sale, delivery, and setup of Roy’s Walker CJ58 turntable? Val was also the man responsible for that. When Lita insisted that her dad had gotten a consultant to help with his audio gear, he in fact had. And his name was Val Kratzman.
Lita also told me she was certain that Val had also offered music recommendations to Roy that had helped him expand his musical horizons, like turning him on to the joys of (at the time) edgy artists like Rickie Lee Jones, and how very surprised Lita was to learn that her dad was developing an appreciation for music that she felt was much more in tune with her own generation.
Val asked me to please extend his condolences to Lita, and that he hoped the information he provided would be of some use to me in finding another caring home for the Nova 1s. Hopefully, they’d be loved for years to come in the same way that Roy had loved them.
Listening to the Nova 1s in My Home System
After all this came down, I asked Lita if she was okay with me taking the Nova 1s for a week to put them through their paces with more current amplification and source equipment. She was perfectly open to it, and I picked them up the first week of March. I had just gotten a $9,000 German-made Naiu Labs Ella solid-state amp for review, and connected the Nova 1s to it for starters. Right away, I noticed that the sound was harsh, steely, and hollow-sounding, and the tweeters had a particular kind of screech going on. The Nova 1s have an infinitely-variable tweeter presence control on the back panel, so I futzed with it quite a bit – it sounded particularly scratchy when I rotated it (probably from lack of use). So, I rotated the knob on both channels repeatedly for a few minutes each, which helped a lot, and the treble response almost instantly evened out and became more “normal” sounding, though still a little bright in my room. I ended up reducing the control by about two decibels on each speaker, and that seemed to work really well.
I ended up moving the speakers around for about an hour, and progressively spaced them farther apart and with minimal toe-in, until I had them completely dialed in. After a couple of hours of continuous play, the woofers relaxed, and the overall sound opened up considerably. I listened for about two hours with the Naiu Labs Ella, with a lot of acoustic music like jazz and classical (lots of Beethoven piano sonatas), and eventually moved to vocals and rock, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Dire Straits, and Metallica. About 1 pm I switched over to the $5,000 PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier. The synergy with the Nova 1s is off the charts great, and they can reach almost ear-splitting levels at about the halfway point on the amp’s volume dial. At the point when I switched to the EVO 300, I had turned off my REL subwoofer during the hookup transition, and had forgotten to turn it back on. The Nova 1 is flat to 40 Hz, and shockingly, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” had already made the pounding, gut-wrenching transition into the next track “Sad But True” before I even realized the subwoofer was off!
I took some measurements with my RadioShack sound level meter, and easily got a 1-meter, C-weighted sound pressure level reading of close to 100 decibels on the Metallica tracks (without the subwoofer), and the Nova 1s weren’t even working up a sweat at that point. Color me impressed! With that experiment completed, I continued to play a number of my “torture test” tracks, which will cause many loudspeakers to distort or lose control of the music. These are all music selections that can prove challenging to some loudspeakers (or systems). One of those tunes, “I’ll Be Seeing You” from Rickie Lee Jones’ classic album of covers, Pop Pop, features a devilishly difficult Charlie Haden bass track that will drive many loudspeakers into distortion. The Nova 1s handled the music of Roy’s beloved Rickie Lee Jones with flying colors.
In the product literature, and according to Val, the design and parts selection of the Nova 1 were intended to give them a sound that would be competitive with electrostatics, and I’d say they totally succeeded. While not an electrostatic speaker, the Magneplanar loudspeakers that do most of the heavy lifting in my system use quasi-ribbon aluminum foil drivers, which aren’t too far off sound-wise from electrostatics, and the overall presentation of the Nova 1s treble response sounded shockingly close to them! Only with the most challenging tracks – like an album of Rossini overtures from opera singer Olga Peretyatko, whose multi-octave voice can hit all the really high notes effortlessly – did the Nova 1s show any signs of falling the slightest bit short of the same presentation by the quasi-ribbon tweeters on my Magneplanars. That is very impressive, and I’ve been completely floored listening to these remarkable vintage loudspeakers!
I continued listening for days to music that I love just to see how the Nova 1s responded to a variety of musical genres. I was impressed that the Nova 1s offer a magnificent stereo image, and disappear in the soundfield; it was difficult to localize any of the sounds I was hearing as coming directly from either loudspeaker. I heard fine details in the music that I’d never noticed with my usual speakers. I also noticed that I was hearing a surprising amount of aural and spatial cues not only from in front of me, but also to each side. My listening position is toward the back of the room, but the soundfield presented by the Nova 1s was surprisingly three-dimensional and enveloping. I’m still shocked that virtually no one has ever heard of New York Acoustics, and that the Nova 1 isn’t mentioned alongside other classic audiophile loudspeaker designs. They really are that good.
This started out as a great mystery for me. It ended up as a heart-wrenching story for Roy’s daughter Lita McCormick, but also deeply affected Val Kratzman and myself. At some point in their lives, Roy’s wife Doris had been diagnosed with MS, and during the Brunjes’ time in Stamford, the disease was getting progressively worse. Roy decided to completely retire in the mid-nineties to be able to spend more quality time with his beloved wife, and they relocated to the metro Atlanta area to be closer to their daughter Lita. They remained here until late 2020, when they each required skilled nursing care and then moved to a dedicated facility in Colorado. Sadly, both Roy and Doris died within a month of each other last year.
This story is not only about the overachieving performance of an unheralded but greatly deserving world-class pair of loudspeakers, which Roy continued to enjoy until the elevated level of his care needs prevented it. This story is about the love of realistically-portrayed music shared by an audiophile and his enabler – Roy Brunjes and Val Kratzman – and a loving daughter who didn’t want her dad’s audiophile legacy to end up in a dumpster or on the shelf of a thrift store. Thankfully, Lita McCormick involved me in this journey of discovery. Now we just need to find the correct future owner to ensure that the story continues.
Header image: Roy Brunjes.
All images courtesy of the author and Lita McCormick.