The 10 Best Sounding Rooms from the New York Audiophile Show 2012

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The 10 Best Sounding Rooms from the New York Audiophile Show 2012


NY_AV_Show_2012_Empire_State_Building.jpgThe High-End Audio Show returned to the tall skyscrapers of Manhattan with gusto, fervor, and commitment after an absence of nearly five years. Gotham City once again became the center of the AV universe, showcasing 107 different common and obscure brands from around the globe, meticulously assembled within over 70 larger-than-expected hotel rooms and suites at the world-famous Waldorf Astoria, 50th St. and 301 Park Avenue in Midtown New York City. The attendance from April 13 through 15, 2012, was solid and, in many rooms, the 1,600-plus audiophiles, engineers (who were playing their own recordings) and journalists encountered standing-room-only situations in some of the more popular exhibits. The variety of different tastes in music I heard afforded a spectacular opportunity to experience crazy opulent audio systems. The enthusiasm from the exhibitors added immensely to the event, which I attended on the final day, hearing the best possible sonics during the show.

Additional Resources
• Read more original stories like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more industry trade news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore our show coverage of the 2012 CES Show.

The previous New York Audio/Video show had been held in 2007 at the Hilton across town, but it was overly congested, making for long delays waiting for the elevators and in lines to enter popular rooms; progress was slow even moving from room to room. Sound quality, along with rising temperatures and humidity levels varied dramatically, with many exhibitors' tonal balances being so screechy and/or boomy they were nearly unlistenable. In the end, it was a very exhausting event that required several days, and even then, it wasn't possible to see everything. But this time, a much more relaxing experience was had by almost everyone I encountered (with a few notable exceptions). Only a few lines extended out and down the halls (as in the case of the MBL Suite, as usual). Exhibit rooms were spread out across the 15h and the 18th floors with sufficient spacing between them, so that little if any sound intruded from adjoining rooms. Fortunately, this gave me the perfect environment to utilize some of the more compelling audio analyzer tools on my new iPad 3. I was able to measure each room with several spectrum analyzers, SPL meters and FFT histograms. For the first time (in my experience), specific audio measurements could be correlated directly with my listening experiences for each system while I went from room to room. Some interesting and entertaining observations occurred, based on this unique technological and measurement vantage point.

Here, then, are my Top Ten picks for Best Sound at this show (closest to the impression of real musicians playing right there, in front of me):

NY_AV_Show_2012_Well_Rounded_Sound_01.jpgRoom #10 - Well Rounded Sound
"Corgi" Two-Driver Loudspeaker System ($799 per pair) (July 2012)
"Jack Terrier 2" One-Driver Loudspeaker ($299 per pair)
"Yorkie" One-Drive Loudspeaker ($249 per pair)

The only things that are small about these gems are price and footprint. Great surprises I stumbled upon were the new diminutive and inexpensive Well Rounded Sound's Corgi two-way desktop loudspeakers (40 Hz - 24 kHz), which simply sounded great, both for the money and because of the minimal real estate required to use them. NY_AV_Show_2012_Well_Rounded_Sound_02.jpgUtilizing a round enclosure resolves so many of the typical dynamic speakers' natural distortion predilections, improving upon Henry Kloss' Acoustic Suspension design from 1954 (along with Ed Vilchur at Acoustic Research). These little Corgi gems, as well as their smaller siblings, the Jack Terrier 2 and Yorkie, are as cute as their names, easy to drive with a few watts (particularly from a salon-built audiophile tube amplifier), and everyone that heard them began petting them. How can such a great and large sound come from such a tiny package, one that does not use equalization or even a crossover (they run full-range) to make the one- and two-driver systems here seem full-range? There was this glorious high-end sound coming from this tiny, unassuming room set-up with the nearly invisible speakers. It was a pleasure to experience the new Corgi design, which is both innovative and affordable, not to mention the extremely high Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF).

NY_AV_Show_2012_Sony_Pass_Labs_01.jpgRoom #9 - Sony / Pass Labs
Sony SS-AR2 Loudspeakers ($20,000 per pair)
Pass Labs X600.5
Pass Labs Pre-Amp
Pass Labs CD Player

A surprise for me was to see Sony's Motoyuki (Yuki) Sugiura demonstrating their newest three-way (with four drivers: one-inch soft dome tweeter with twin aluminum cone woofers) floor-standing SS-AR2 loudspeakers ($20,000 per pair), amplified by a pair of matching Pass Labs X600.5, a pre-amp, and a CD player. Clearly, Sony is trying to bring its image back toward that of a company that actually cares about sound quality. The double-length suite provided ample space for a fairly large sweet spot of fourteen chairs in which to listen to some glorious symphonic music from CD. NY_AV_Show_2012_Sony_Pass_Labs_02.jpgUnfortunately, having come from many previous rooms that were playing analog LP, I really didn't feel that the audio here was terribly inviting or musical, though the soundstage was very large, clear and holographic. Naturally, I wonder if a good turntable and arm would have done any better than the Pass Labs CD player, especially with so many turntables on audition elsewhere.

Also on display (but not being auditioned) were a Mytek Digital Stereo192-DSD DAC and several pair of Sony's SS-AR1 Flagship speakers, some of which offered an interior view of the finely-braced cabinet design. Both models of Sony Speakers feature a Japanese maple laminate for the front baffle and Finnish birch plywood for the balance of the cabinet. A knuckle rap on the top surface sounded appropriately wooden and braced, but not dead like Corian or Marble. My iPad 3 Spectrum Analysis for this room showed nothing out of the ordinary, with a fairly flat response from 40 Hz - 21 kHz. The thing is, I really wanted to hear the bigger Sony flagship speakers with the Pass Labs front end and Mytek DSD DAC. Alas, this will have to wait for a future show.

NY_AV_Show_2012_High_Water_Sound_01.jpgRoom #8 - High Water Sound
Cessaro Horn Acoustics Affascinate SE-1 speakers, $62,000 per pair
TW-Acustic Black Knight turntable, $40,000
two TW-Acustic 10.5 tone arms, $5,500 each
Ortofon A-90 stereo cartridge, $4,200
Miyajima Premium Mono BE cartridge, $1260
Tron Telstar 211 SE amp, $40,000
Tron Seven GT line stage, $18,000;
cabling by Pranawire
racks and platforms by SRA

NY_AV_Show_2012_High_Water_Sound_02.jpgJeffrey Catalano was displaying the most unusual-looking speakers in the High Water Sound room, and his thousands of LPs made for an impressive- looking and sounding room design. The TW-Acoustic Black Knight turntable with its 10.5 tone arms, Ortofon A-90 stereo cartridge and Miyajima Premium Mono BE cartridge really played amazingly though the Cessaro Horn Acoustics Affascinate SE-1 speakers, featuring an eleven-inch woofer in a back-loaded horn, a proprietary compression driver for the spherical midrange horn, and a modified horn-loaded TAD beryllium tweeter. The impression I got was very similar to listening to an acoustic recording replayed through and acoustic horn system: immediate. The wooden trumpet bell is flared in a way that projects the upper midrange and lower treble considerably, contributing greatly to several vocal albums I heard. I found the presentation to be extremely musical, if a bit forward in the 3 kHz range. This was confirmed by SignalScope Pro by Faber, another audio analyzer App for the iPad. There was a considerable hump between 2 kHz and 5 kHz. But with great vinyl playing, particularly some treasured favorites from the 1960s on the Tron vacuum tube amplification, I easily found myself wanting to hang out and admire the imaging, which extended well in front of and in back of the speaker's position.

NY_AV_Show_2012_LessLoss_Audio_02.jpgRoom #7 - LessLoss Audio
Kaiser Vivace loudspeakers ($42,500 + $2500 for Lamborghini Orange per pair)
Beyond Frontiers Audio - Tulip Tube DAC converter
Beyond Frontiers Audio - Tulip Stereo Integrated amplifier
Anchorwave Cabling & Blackbody Ambient Field Conditioning by LessLoss

Sometimes, great sound comes from small floor-standing packages that come in Lamborghini Orange finish. The Kaiser Vivace loudspeakers provided a large viewing window into several fine albums auditioned in the room. For one thing, the noise floor of the system was incredibly quiet, no doubt due in part to the Blackbody ambient field conditioning units, carefully located and aimed throughout the room. So besides some great-looking and sounding sources from Beyond the Frontier, I was surprised that this was one of only a few rooms outfitted with various acoustic and electronic tweaks that were added to control any of the remaining gremlins that invade an audio system (particularly at a show), making it sound less than stellar. Perhaps this is one of the identifying characteristics of audiophiles: they continue past the acquisition of great-sounding components assembled into a good room by testing and refining, using a whole bunch of different options. LessLoss went out of their way to treat everything possible, short of the ceiling. The result was very, very enjoyable listening.

NY_AV_Show_2012_Audio_Arts_01.jpgRoom 6 - Audio Arts Suite
German Podszus Zellaton Concert Speakers ($59,750 per pair)
David Berning ZOTL preamp with phono stage ($12,300)
David Berning ZH230 mono amplifiers ($18,400 per pair)
Holborne Analog 2 turntable ($5275)
Holborne Analog 2 tone arm ($3475)
Holborne MC1 cartridge ($1975)
Telluriuq Cables

NY_AV_Show_2012_Audio_Arts_02.jpgThis was the first room I ventured into at 10 AM Sunday morning. Inside, I found the handmade German Podszus Zellaton Concert Speakers ($59,750 per pair). The tweeter and four woofers are made from a custom sandwiched foam membrane called Pawel, which is a laminated metal foil that exhibits little or no resonances in the audio band, and consequently has very little sound of its own. The components included the David Berning ZOTL preamp with phono stage ($12,300) and a matching pair of David Berning ZH230 mono amplifiers ($18,400 per pair), connected by Telluriuq Cables. I was treated to several LPs (but no CDs) of intimate jazz, replayed on a Holborne Analog 2 turntable ($5275), with the Holborne Analog 2 tone arm ($3475), and Holborne MC1 cartridge ($1975) to delightful toe-tapping effect. This suite at the Waldorf had lovely tall curved ceilings with sufficient decoration along the edging and pillars plus carpeting, which provided the large living room-sized acoustic space with a solid, ample acoustic where it could shine. The first thing that struck me was just how analog the sound was, with rich, solid imaging and a firm tonal foundation that easily made me want to listen for hours. My iPad measurements revealed a slightly depressed treble response above 8 kHz, and some slight room echo in the midband around 800 Hz. None of this diminished the fine set-up and integration work, and the sound quality was nicely ambient and present in front of me, never sounding forward or aggressive in any way. This was indeed a really pleasant grouping of components to begin the day of show reviewing.

See the top 5 rooms on Page 2.


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NY_AV_Show_2012_Quad_01.jpgRoom #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 NY_AV_Show_2012_Quad_02.jpgsee-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.

NY_AV_Show_2012_GTT_AV_01.jpgRoom #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

NY_AV_Show_2012_GTT_AV_02.jpgThe 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.

NY_AV_Show_2012_MBL_01.jpgRoom 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 NY_AV_Show_2012_MBL_02.jpgsymmetrical. 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.

NY_AV_Show_2012_Wes_Bender_Studio_01.jpgRoom #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 NY_AV_Show_2012_Wes_Bender_Studio_02.jpgputting 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.

NY_AV_Show_2012_SimpliFi_Suite_01.jpgRoom #1 - SimpliFi Suite
Gradient Revolution Helsinki 1.5 speakers
Harbeth PSES3 bookshelf monitor
Gradient Amplification
Bladelius DAC
Apple 17: MacBook Pro running Pure Music Audio Player
DNM Cables

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 - NY_AV_Show_2012_SimpliFi_Suite_02.jpgblack 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.

Conclusion
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

HomeTheaterReview.com
AudiophileReview.com
HomeTheaterEquipment.com

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)

Additional Resources
• Read more original stories like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more industry trade news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore our show coverage of the 2012 CES Show.


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