In a way, it was badly named; there was no ‘AV’ in the New York Audio and AV Show. There was a lot of audio though, and more than 2,000 attendees. Making it one of the most successful new events on the audio calendar.
It was a distinctly analog show, though. Turntables were everywhere, and even the occasional reel-to-reel. The positive analog vibes had a clear effect on my digital voice recorder, sending it into hashy-sounding hell for daring to convert sounds into ones and zeros. If only I’d brought my portable cutting lathe! So, rather than cover every room in the event, I’m limited to the ones that stayed lodged in my memory, because they were exceptional.
It was an ambitious affair, set aloft the 15th and 18th floors of the prestigious Waldorf=Astoria hotel in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. An Anglo-American event (staged by The Chester Group and The Home Entertainment Show) in the middle of April, it was a bit like setting your watch back 20 years, in a good way.
It could best be described as ‘uncompromisingly vinyl’. In many rooms, digital it seems was a passing phase, and they didn’t even speak the language of computers. Naturally companies like Soundsmith were always going to stress vinyl (the talk of the show was Peter Lederman’s outstanding $7,500 Hyperion moving iron cartridge that sports a cactus needle as a cantilever), but companies like High Water Sound were fiercely no-digits, even though the two-armed $40,000 TW Acustic is only one link in the chain. Silent Running Audio stands, GT Audio’s Tron amps from the UK, Pranawire cables and Cessaro Affascinate SE-1 horns made up the rest of the system. This was perhaps the most tweaked and changed system in the show, having been built and rebuilt at the end of the first day to sound at its best. Digital was not totally forgotten – the show did mark the first outing for EMM Labs new DACx2 (which sadly wasn’t playing when I visited the second Audio Doctor room) and the first public auditions of the DaVinci DAC – and even headphones had their place at Woo Audio’s fine stand, but vinyl predominated.
At opposite ends of the scale, this was the first time I got to hear both the Walker Proscenium Black Diamond III turntable in all its might (it’s not distributed in the UK) and the new Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable, and I was not disappointed in either case.
Exhibitors were divided more or less evenly between manufacturers and NY-based dealers showing what they do best. Some of these (Sound by Singer, MBL) ran ticketed demonstrations that were so well attended, waiting in line for an hour or so was the only option. Others had a ‘drop in’ approach, but yet again the rooms were frequently packed out. Of these, perhaps Innovative Audio had the most, er, innovative solution. Making a good sound from a Spiral Groove/dCS/VTL/Wilson system in its own right, at the end of each day at the show, the company ferried off interested listeners to its own Midtown store for a demonstration in more controlled surroundings.
I was also taken by Wes Bender Studio’s system, comprising Redpoint turntable, Lindemann and Viola digital, Zesto and Viola analog electronics and a pair of Hansen loudspeakers. The sound was excellent - all power and confidence - but the confidence of the team was even better. When I pitched up with my “I’ll show ‘em” test CD of James Blunt, they already had a copy pre-loaded on the laptop. And their collection wasn’t limited to little-known British post-dubstep acts; they had a play-anything approach that was a refreshing change to the semi-enforced sound of The Eagles burping out of hotel rooms around the world come showtime.
The rooms themselves were a problem. They always are when people attend a show for the first time; a couple of years in, when they are used to the sound of the room, they can tailor their system and room treatment – and sometimes even music played – to match the room. But this was a new show, with new room problems. Many of the rooms were made of thin wood partitions, faced with padded cloth, which hampered many systems attempting to recreate a full-range sound. The Sony loudspeaker through EMM/Pass Labs and the YG flagships played through Brinkmann turntables and Solution electronics were the first rooms most people encountered and they set the scene well. In fairness, the Sony speakers made an admirable sound given the limitations, but it meant chairs were lined up in a single line (like a rowboat) and the best sound seemed to be a foot from the floor and the unflappable Philip O’Hanlan made the YG-based system sing like an angel with some beautiful 45rpm vinyl, but break out anything with deep bass and the rooms began to sing along too, irrespective of room treatment.