But New York’s biggest surprise, other than that it took place at all, lay in the fact that so many vendors chose an unproven regional event to introduce new products—some of them quite significant.
For example, Sony used the platform to give the SS-AR2 ($20k) its first live airing. (The speaker was on static display at CES.) The acclaimed SS-AR1’s little brother struggled to fill its grand surroundings, and suffered mightily from the Waldorf’s acoustics. Consequently, musical scale seemed small, and both dynamic verve and transparency dissipated into the dead space. Bass was overly plump, which certainly didn’t help the fuzzy rhythms. Even so, the speaker family’s unforced, natural character came through. For a real test, we’ll have to wait for an audition in a more conducive environment.
Another new speaker making its U.S. debut was the Kudos Cardea C-30. The floor-stander ($11–12k) also sounded quite dull at the show. Here the venue’s deficiencies were amplified by the use of a printer-grade USB cable from the music server. Folks, you mustn’t do that! Meanwhile, in the LessLoss room, the Kaiser Vivace speakers ($42,500) were holding court. Though not quite a debut, this was only the second time in many years that the speakers have been shown publicly. They need to be heard more often, because the Vivace was resolving and engaging, though with obvious SPL limitations.
New DACs were everywhere in New York, and none created more buzz than the Light Harmonics DaVinci ($20k). A stunning piece of industrial engineering, the DAC is noteworthy for its purist approach (the company says DaVinci employs no digital filters or upsampling), a three-stage buffer said to banish jitter, support for resolutions up to 384/32. Like nearly every other new DAC at the show, the DaVinci embraces the new DSD-over-S/PDIF standard that will finally allow audiophiles to stream DSD files. As played through Pass electronics, MIT cables and interconnects, and another set of Sashas, the DaVinci proved capable of prodigious bass, lightning reflexes, and an ability to get timing right—something that is not exactly common in USB DACs.
While the DaVinci stole the show, the new Meitner EMM Labs 2X SE DAC ($15k) stole my heart. I know little about its internal workings—save that it upconverts everything to DSD—but I do know that it sounded astoundingly analog. I heard the 2X SE in the other Audio Doctor room, playing through KEF Reference 207 speakers. There was a turntable sitting directly above the DAC, and if I hadn’t known otherwise I would have assumed it was the source. Really. At the other end of the same room, Esoteric unveiled their D-02 ($23,500). This DAC was clearly retrieving a tremendous amount of detail in a very natural way, but other than that I couldn’t tell much since the KEF Blades anchoring its system were not well placed.
In non-DAC news, Veloce showed off a new line battery powered amps incorporating the latest Hypex Class D module. Available in the Fall, the $15k/pr monoblocks I heard sounded lovely and grainless. VPI chose New York to introduce not one but two turntables. The Traveler is the company’s new entry-level offering. At a mere $1299, it has many of the features of the Scout (which remains in the line), minus the standalone motor. Traveler’s base plate and platter are aluminum, and its tonearm is VPI’s first gimbaled design. The company also introduced the Classic 4 ($10k), a new mid-line model that includes both 10” and 12” unipivot arms. “Why should you have to choose?” a spokesman said.
Finally, at the show’s only formal press conference, David Chesky announced that HDTracks will soon offer a series of “Binaural Plus” albums. The company claims that, unlike typical binaural recordings, these will play equally well through speakers as well as the usual headphones. Over the next year, Chesky said, a new high-resolution crosstalk filter will take things even further, allowing speakers to create a holographic image. In the meantime, Chesky promises that 192/24 binaural files will be available on HDTracks by the end of May.
In the end, the 2012 New York Audio Show proved both fun and informative. Next year, if the Chester Group switches from the Waldorf to something equally classy but less opulent, say the Four Seasons, it might well be perfect.