Page 1 | Page 2Room #5 - Quad - OTL
Quad ESL loudspeakers ($12,000 refurbished)
Charles King (one-off custom preamp)
Miyajima OTL 2010 amplifiers ($10,000 each)
Cables by Tel Wire
One of the rarest sights at an audio show is a pair of QUAD ESL electrostatic loudspeakers, because they are so room-acoustic and power dependent. But here Robin Wyatt chose to power them with a pair of Miyajima OTL 2010 amplifiers (22 wpc) which, despite the tiny room, made glorious sounds that were eerily see-through. The combination of great audio components overcame the limitations of the room (which was not the case with most other groupings around the show) and reminded me of my own control room set-ups during my Chesky Records and Epiphany Recordings sessions: simple and direct sound from the source. For those who have never heard quads and OTL amps together, the combination is simply stunning, as they don't sound like speakers and other components. Peter Walker's time-aligned design (first heard in 1956) has stood the test of eras and remains one of the all-time great- (not colored) sounding systems ever. It is a pity that the room was so tiny that only a single person at a time could be in the sweet spot.
Room #4 - GTT Audio & Video
YG Anat III Professional Signature speakers ($119,000 per pair)
Brinkmann Balance Turntable ($24,000)
Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm ($7,500)
Air Tight PC1 Supreme cartridge ($15,000)
Soulution 750 phono stage ($25,000)
Soulution 720 preamp ($45,000)
Soulution Series 7 - 745 SACD Player
Soulution Series 7 - 721 Pre-Amp
Soulution 501 monoblocks ($55,000 per pair)
Kubala-Sosna Elation cables
The towering titanium finished YG Anat III Professional Signature speakers ($119,000 per pair) were making an impressive sound when I came across them in the GTT room. The eight-box speaker system, weighing over 800 pounds, was featured without its metal bike-spoke-like grilles (as seen elsewhere at the show). The speakers were source-fed by the Brinkmann Audio turntable, alongside the Soulution Series 7 - 745 SACD player, both through a Soulution 721 preamp and then Dual Soulution mono amplifiers, all via Kubala-Sosna cables. The LPs played by Philip O'Hanlon of jazz piano, trumpets and drums put the band in the room with us, with dynamic, bright presentations containing subtle layering of the cymbals. The double-sized room allowed for sufficient spacing between the listeners and speakers to really let the sound develop properly. These were the most musical and involving dynamic speakers at the event from a showmanship point of view. You had to admire their ballsy design and mighty sonic presence.
Room 3 - MBL Germany
mbl 101E Mk.2 "radialstrahler" speakers
mbl 120 Radialstrahler ($21,400 per pair, without stands)
mbl C11 preamplifier ($8,800)
mbl C31 CD player ($9,200)
mbl C21 stereo power amplifier ($9,200)
mbl 9011 monoblock amplifier
A big crowd pleaser, the MBL Room, as always, was packed to capacity, and center seating was highly coveted and not easily acquired. As you might expect, the MBL 101s were fully engaging, with their 360-degree radiation pattern, which is a real difficulty when it comes to hotel rooms, where the geometry of the room is usually not symmetrical. Extensive tuning of the room was required in the first 48 hours of the show in order to reach the level of fidelity exhibited here. For a room that was very damped by curtains, acoustic treatments, people's bodies and all the Stereophiles they had brought stuffed into the windowsills (by Jeremy Bryan), the speakers sounded amazingly clear and transparent, without being particularly colored. My iPad audio analyzer kit revealed amazingly detailed waterfall plots, showing how the speaker clearly resolves musical nuance to a far more accurate degree than any other design at the show. These details are normally obscured by speaker cabinet resonances. The MBL speakers, amps, and source components worked together in synergy to produce one of the most transparent and musical sounds at the show. Had they used a larger suite, I'm certain this combination would have been number one by a long shot. But the room was the limiting factor, in spite of all the fine acoustic tailoring.
Room #2 - Wes Bender Studio - NYC
Hansen Audio Prince E loudspeakers ($39,000 per pair)
Viola Audio Labs Crescendo preamplifier/DAC ($19,000, including Apple iPod Touch)
Viola's Forte monoblock power amplifiers ($19,000 per pair)
Redpoint Audio Designs MG Special Edition turntable ($65,000)
Tri-Planar Ultimate Mk. VII-UII tonearm ($5000) with Dynavector DRT XV-1s cartridge ($5450)
Graham Phantom II Supreme B-44 tonearm ($5999) with Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge ($4250)
Apple Macbook Pro running Channel D Pure Music software ($129)
Lindemann Audio 825 disc player ($12,500)
speaker cables and interconnects from Jorma Design
power cords by Kaplan Cable
AudioQuest Diamond USB cable
Listening to a Wes Bender Studio NYC system is like putting yourself in the hands of a master. This year's NYC debut of the Hansen Audio Prince E loudspeakers was yet another triumph for him, as the sound produced in the small hotel room was amazing. As an audiophile, it is really easy to tell when a system design is right, and this combination proved to be detailed, controlled, well-balanced, and vivid, with no sign of stress even during the most monumentally loud moments from the great vinyl set-up. It's not often that one sees such a strong positive reaction to the visual design of the speakers, much less the turntables, which are resplendent works of art on all counts. These speakers kept drawing cooing sounds from all the women in the room. They simply loved it, petting and admiring the smooth silver surfaces. While not inexpensive, the speakers far outshone the competition at the show in terms of sonic nuance and dynamic grace, never offering anything more or less than the source was producing. Even my wife remarked about how nice they would look in the living room. "And how much is it going to cost us, this time?" said I.
Room #1 - SimpliFi Suite
Gradient Revolution Helsinki 1.5 speakers
Harbeth PSES3 bookshelf monitor
Apple 17: MacBook Pro running Pure Music Audio Player
The biggest surprise came from a combination of Gradient/Harbeth speakers, commanding everyone's attention the moment it was within earshot: prodigious wall-to-wall bass presentation and layers of depth. These included Alan Shaw's sub-compact Harbeth Loudspeakers' hand-matched monitors made in England. On audition was the Harbeth PSES3 bookshelf monitor atop the Gradient Radient Subwoofer (a dual twelve-inch design), alternating with the Revolution speaker, and the Helsinki 1.5 (available in white oak - seen here - black oak or walnut). These were powered by Gradient Amplification and sourced from a new Bladelius DAC, which decodes digital audio files fed from an Apple 17-inch MacBook Pro running the Pure Music Audio Player (controlling iTunes) through a USB interface. The sound was totally mind-boggling, regardless of which combination of Gradient speakers and subs were playing (including the Harbeth). Of particular note was the size of the soundstage, which fully extended beyond the room's boundaries in all directions. From the fairly small bookshelf Harbeth monitors, there also came this enormous, highly layered, dynamic and extended soundstage, with really deep bass that reached down to 16 Hz, thanks to proper mating of the Finnish Gradient subwoofers. Several amazing pieces of organ music, live club jazz and female vocals proved to be intoxicating. The sonic imaging placed me in the room where each of the recordings was made, and each projected a different-sized space. Holographic would be the best word to describe this system. Whether sitting in front or standing in back of the speakers, the sound was so extremely visceral and huge that you could easily lose yourself in the illusion of being at a live music event. This was the most realistic and musical sound at the 2012 New York Audio Show.
High-end audio (and video) shows are all about bringing you closer to the original performance through carefully assembled and tuned systems. There are manufacturers who come from all over the world to demonstrate their wares, always improving upon their previous efforts - such as Wireworld Cable, which was also showing their best products at the show. Whether large or small as a company, esoteric or familiar, the NY Audio Show 2012 brought many of them together and established a tone for listening and sharing music through technology, the likes of which have not been seen or heard in Gotham City for years. Amongst the resplendent and opulent offerings towering and gleaming in the light of the flashbulbs were many great-sounding offerings, as well as several inexpensive alternatives. In attending this show, I was able to directly compare far more audiophile offerings, under fairly good-sounding conditions, than under nearly any other circumstances, the kind most of us can never afford, but really want to appreciate all the same. Do yourself a favor and plan to attend the next show, regardless of where it is held. Bring your favorite albums (in any format) and prepare to be amazed at how great they can actually sound, given a finely assembled group of components from audio professionals sharing their joy of music.
Jeremy R. Kipnis is a senior staff writer at
Kipnis is a multi-award winner in the fields of music, film, and technology, and he records and produces single-stereo microphone audiophile recordings for many labels. Additionally, he designs multi-million-dollar ultimate media presentation rooms and home theaters for select clients throughout the world.
( All photos by Jeremy R. Kipnis / Copyright Kipnis Studios 2012 / www.Kipnis-Studios.com )
(Empire State Building photo by Carolina Kipnis / Copyright Kipnis Studios 2012)
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• Explore our show coverage of the 2012 CES Show.
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