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.