The Return of the New York Audio Show

Posted by: Alan Taffel at 2:02 pm, April 30th, 2012

Surprise! There’s a real, live high-end audio show back in the Big Apple. For seven long years, since Stereophile pulled the plug on its own string of New York events, this audio mega-market has inexplicably lacked a similar exhibition. Thankfully, the U.K.’s Chester Group, which specializes in that very thing, has been looking for opportunities to expand internationally. New York jumped out as an obvious U.S. beachhead. Thus was born the New York Audio and Video (though there was no video to be found) Show, whose maiden voyage took place in April.

The waters proved a bit rough. Given the enormous popularity of the Stereophile bonanzas—at their peak they drew 10,000 audiophiles, 400 journalists, and six hotel floors worth of exhibitors—hopes ran high that New York would be another Newport Beach. Instead, attendance hovered at about 3,000 people and 100 press, while exhibitors spread out across two floors. Solid though hardly extraordinary numbers.

But if you’re thinking you could hear crickets in the halls, you’d be wrong—very wrong. Traffic that looked encouraging on Friday had by Saturday transformed into a full-fledged crush. Every room was packed, and crowds waited contentedly for up to half an hour to enter the most popular (read: audio porn-filled) rooms. Exhibitors, pleased with both the quantity and quality of attendees, were relieved to learn that the organizers had achieved their first-outing goal of breaking even, thereby ensuring that this show will go on.

A second surprise was the venue. Rarely are regional shows held in such fancy digs as New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, but the Chester Group apparently prides itself on presenting high-end gear in suitably high-end environs. Unfortunately, the venue’s old-world luxury proved to be its sonic undoing. Silk-paneled walls, plush carpeting, layers of heavy drapery, and high (but beautifully frescoed!) ceilings conspired to create a series of anechoic chambers that sucked life and detail from many systems.

Exhibitors marshaled a variety of means to tackle the venue’s acoustic challenges. For instance, many vendors resorted to fewer seats, which they placed quite near to the speakers in an effort to minimize room effects. Vinyl was exceedingly popular, as exhibitors compensated for poor acoustics with superior source material. The most ingenious tactic I encountered was in the MBL room. During setup, the company found that the heating vents were literally “speaking” at around 100Hz, generating a boom that was not at all uncommon. MBL solved the problem by stuffing 700 copies of TAS and Stereophile into the vents’ openings. (Hey, we’re happy to serve the music any way we can.)

The sole exhibitor that wrestled the venue’s devils entirely into submission was local dealer Innovative Audio. Since the system featured Wilson Sasha speakers, I automatically attributed the balanced, lively yet nuanced sound to Wilson’s setup magician, Peter McGrath. But no, Peter assured me the work was entirely that of the dealer itself. All I can say is, “Kudos”, because this system, which also incorporated mid-tier VTL electronics, a Spiral Grove ‘table with Lyra cartridge, and a dCS digital stack, delivered the best sound of the show.

Given the circumstances, a surprising number of other rooms produced good sound. Here are just a few highlights.

 

The combination of AVM electronics and Legacy Whisper speakers proved once more that large, high efficiency speakers have an imitable effortlessness.

 

MBL’s Reference Series gear was over-driving its room—believe me, you did not want to hear “Hotel California” in there—but when the company switched to its less expensive Corona Series components and smaller 120 speakers, all the traditional MBL virtues, especially an infinite sense of space, emerged. Over in one of two Sound by Singer rooms, the Verity Audio Amadis speakers, driven by VAC electronics and a Playback Designs DAC, produced lively and absolutely coherent music.

The controversial Scaena speakers resided in one of the Audio Doctor rooms, as usual accompanied by Conrad-Johnson electronics. But in a twist, the woofers were not their normal half a football field behind the mid/tweeter towers. Would this arrangement allow the Sceanas to produce their sometimes elusive magic? It would. The Scaenas generate voices and instruments with a palpability that eludes every other speaker I’ve heard.

Another high bucks system, this one from Walker Audio and Burmester, was sweet and entrancing. At a somewhat lower (though hardly low) price point, the Wes Bender Studios room’s clean, rhythmically charged sound came courtesy of Hansen Prince speakers fronted by Viola electronics and a Redpoint ‘table. In the Gradient room I was once again floored by the overall goodness of the $10k/pair Revolution speakers. And speaking of value components, Soundsmith demonstrated a tiny, $2k/pair bookshelf speaker called the Dragonfly that made truly gorgeous sound and, other than bass extension, admitted few other compromises. The company’s $699 MCP2 phonostage appeared to be an equal steal.

Comments

sales@audiodoct... -- Tue, 05/01/2012 - 14:13

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Dear Mr. Taffel thank you so much for the nice comments about the EMM Labs DAC 2X. I too thought the DAC was stunning and in some ways represents the best digital I have ever heard! On Saturday we were demonstrating Waltz for Debbie 24/192 HD tracks through the DAC, and it was spooky how real the sound was even out of such an old recording! We did try several positions with the KEF Blades and unfortunately the more in to the room position killed off some of the sound stage, so I made a compromise between a little bass bloat or a more constrained sound stage, I think next year we will try a few more tube traps.
Also thank you a second time for noticing the Scaena/CJ system with the remarkable Kudos turntable. I thought the Scaenas were magical in this room and given a few more days of tweaking and setup we could have created even more magic.

On Sunday during tear down I played the Blade system without the Shakti Hollographs and the Acoustic System resonators which were discreetly placed around the room, and boy did the system suffer!
I agree with you that the attendance was good but doesn't harken back to the uber-exciting audio shows of the ninties, I would have liked to see non audio journalists covering the show, such as Wired, Rolling Stones, WSJ, Time Out NY, and the New York Times.

Now more than ever high end is more affordable and really excellent, and the masses need to know there is a world of quality audio that they are missing from the big box merchants, and Amazon, hopefully next years show will include all of the excellent audio journalists plus a whole lot more! Thanks for visiting with us.
Sincerely,
 
Dave Lalin, President, Audio Doctor, www.audiodoctor.com

bymc98@aol.com -- Thu, 05/03/2012 - 17:37

<<Now more than ever high end is more affordable>>
15K for a DAC? Thats affordable?? To who may I ask?
Even the Weiss at half the price is out of reach for most audiophiles!!
Do we live on the same planet??

mbrooks@nyinter... -- Thu, 05/03/2012 - 19:18

 1.   The show manager needs to do a far better job with registration.    It's ridiculous to have to wait in line for 30 minutes just to get into the show.  There's absolutely no reason why tickets couldn't have been sold online instead of just taking "reservations" online.   You get to the show, you show that you've paid...maybe they scan the barcode so the ticket can't be used more than once and they hand you the wristband.    Another problem was that only one registration line was taking credit cards.   
2.  While decades ago, the AES used to be held at the Waldorf, the Waldorf "ain't" what it used to be and I didn't find it "fancy" at all.    The maze-like hallways were not especially luxurious and many of the exhibition rooms were far too small.  No one should have to wait in a long line for a demo.
3.   While I'll admit to not having my younger ears, I was disappointed in the sound of most of the equipment demonstrated at the show, especially at the prices offered.   I'm happy there's a market for hand-crafted, U.S.-built equipment, but there were plenty of speakers in the $10,000 and up category that I wouldn't have wanted for $700.    Most systems I heard had absolutely no life to them and I find it hard to believe that the room acoustics played that large a role.
4.  While I don't think the show should include the cheap products of the international conglomerates, I do think the show could be expanded to include quality, but not necessarily esoteric, equipment and it should also encourge vendors of multchannel, not just stereo, systems.     If you're going to hold a show in New York City and expect people who live in the city to attend, a majority of those people live in apartments and there should be systems shown that are suitable for apartments.   
 
 

sales@audiodoct... -- Thu, 05/03/2012 - 20:56

to bymc98
You totally missed the point, I was not talking about a $15,000.00 DAC in my post,  I was talking about the state of the entire industry:
At my shop we sell PSB speakers for $300.00 Cambridge audio amplifers for $500.00 etc. If you look at the sound quality of many, of today's affordable products you can produce a fantastic sounding system for $1,500.00-$5,000.00 that will crush many of yesteryear's much more expensive systems!
There are so many affordable products that are offering fantastic peformance for  reasonable amounts of money.
At the show we demonstrated the new Merrill Willaims Turntable which is priced at $6,000.00 -$7,200.00 which outperformed  George Meririll's last turntable the MS 21   which sold for $24,000.00!
So value is where you see it, even the $15,000.00 EMM Labs Dac is a value in that it competes with much more expensive reference class digital products.

Dave Lalin, President, Audio Doctor, www.audiodoctor.com
 
 
 
 

radberanek -- Fri, 05/04/2012 - 01:33

@sales : What price to listen to music - whoa!!! Who can afford what question becomes moot if we are not told which musick (sic) is actually worth the price. Pray tell, or no... don't answer, we already know it - different strokes etc.
But seriously, why do we even try to fight the obvious pop culture trends with these high prices?  The hipsters watch sports on their Iphones and listen to their sounds on their Ipods and like it that way. Nobody wants their musical tastes under scrutiny and besides, a rhythmic sound defeats loneliness most of the time, then only obsession remains, if you have the moolah.
Happy listening

romrom14 -- Thu, 06/14/2012 - 14:05

I wish they would come up with a section for high end but-not-the-latest audio devices which they can sell at bargain prices. I have been searching for a kickass audio setup for my room and i do not want to settle for mediocre brands yet i also have budget constraint issues.

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