New York Audio & AV Show 2012 – Report
The New York Audio & AV Show 2012 was held from Friday April 13 to Sunday April 15 2012 at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. There were about 120
exhibitors spread across about 40 rooms on two floors. Attendance, unfortunately, didn’t seem huge, with a significant percentage of the attendees being
Press. However, Saturday was the most crowded, and it was difficult to move around, with some rooms having lines to get in. Hopefully there was enough interest to
ensure this type of event is held on a regular basis.
Friday April 13:
I got into town in good time, and had a quick lunch. After checking into the hotel, I headed over to the Show. There was quite a line to get in, but it
moved quickly, and I was inside by 4P. I had time to take a quick circuit around to almost all the rooms so that I had an idea of what was there and which rooms I wanted
to spend time in. At 7P I left the Show to meet Margarita and Boris, and we went for dinner at O’Neill’s, an Irish restaurant on 3rd Ave. between 45 and 46
streets. We had a nice meal and an excellent visit. After walking them back to catch their train at Grand Central I walked back up the Show and caught a few songs
being DJ’d in the seminar room on the big Bermester speakers. It sounded very nice, with the volume good but comfortably below disco levels.
Saturday April 14:
I got to the Show when it opened at 10A, and was soon joined by Ben. We viewed most of the big rooms on the 18th floor and then went for a quick lunch. Paul
joined us after lunch. We listened to a seminar about computer-based digital audio (the coming thing), saw the remainder of the 18th floor, and then went down to
the 15th floor to see the smaller rooms. We ended the Show day back on the 18th floor for an extended end-of-day listening session in the MBL room, where they
were really blasting out rock and roll (Metallica, The Who), and a spectacular exotic drum track. It was great fun hearing what that system can really do!
We then went out to dinner at Brazil Grill at 787 8th Ave at 48 St. There all three of us had the all-you-can-eat meat carving special. In spite of
that, afterwards we walked down 8th Ave and across on 42nd street for ice cream in Times Square, and chatted outside until Paul had to leave to catch his train.
Sunday April 15:
I checked out of the hotel in the morning, and then walked to meet up with Ben at the Lyric HiFi showroom up on Lexington Ave. Lyric is one of the few
remaining big New York audio dealers, and rather than rent space at the Show and move their systems there, they opened up their showrooms to the general public
during the Show. We spent a great two hours listening to their high end systems, in their beautifully decorated and acoustically tuned rooms. We heard the
Focal Grande Utopia ($198,000 per pair!), driven by expensive Macintosh tube electronics. We also heard the Nola Concert Grand
Reference (a mere $197,000 per pair), driven by expensive Audio Research tube amplifiers. Ben preferred the Nolas due to their treble, and I slightly
preferred the Focals due to their solid imaging, although it is difficult to be sure of preferences based on hearing just a few songs at the dealer-determined
volume level. But both systems sounded world-class wonderful. We also listened to the Magneplanar 20.7’s, panel speakers (about $15,000 per pair) which were
unbelievably smooth on the top end but a bit weak (as electrostatic speakers are) on the bass. For someone with good ears but not into heavy rock like me they
would be a terrific value.
We ate lunch on the walk back to the Show, and then Ben departed due to previous engagements.
Back at the Show I met up with Steve. Steve had made a quick tour of the whole Show in the morning on his own. We attended the second day
seminar on computer-based digital audio, which was quite a bit different than the Saturday version due to changes in the moderator, panel members, and
audience questions. At both versions of the seminar it would have been nice to get even more technical detail. Then we reviewed the highlight rooms on
the 18th floor, and spent most of the rest of the afternoon on the 15th floor, reviewing the smaller speakers that more interested Steve. At the end of the
day, and the end of the Show, we ended up back on the 18th floor in the MBL room listening to the last few tunes.
We went out to dinner at Hunan Manor at 339 Lexington Ave between 38 and 39 streets, and had an authentic Chinese meal (and I got my semi-annual crispy fish!). We
still had room to eat desert at Grand Central before catching our train back home.
Notable systems (in no particular order):
The aforementioned MBL room. See picture below. MBL systems are too weird-looking to be described, but put out amazing omnidirectional sound, and
their exhibitors have a history of demonstrating them very loud to the delight of some attendees and the consternation of other exhibitors. This was the
best I’ve heard MBL sound at a show, due to some aggressive and innovative room treatments. The system we heard (the 101’s) cost about $80,000 per pair
for the speakers, plus big $ for the expensive MBL amplifiers and CD player. We were probably listening to about a $200,000 system. The really big MBL
system costs over $500,000 I believe. They wouldn’t play customer CDs without first demagnetizing them!
The big Scaena Spiritus speakers (tall line-arrays with separate enormous subwoofers, $110,000 per pair, $300,000 for the whole system), sounded the best I’ve
ever heard them. Unfortunately, they were consistently playing small scale music (vocals, jazz), but it is big scale music like pipe organ that really shows off this system.
Legacy had a very nice room with three separate systems. The Whisper ($22,000 per pair with powered woofers), the top of the line, sounded very nice, and
both Ben and Paul really liked it. See picture below. The Focus ($10,000 per pair) sounded nice and rock-and-roll-like (this is a later version of the speaker
I have). The smaller Signature also sounded nice, but well, smaller! Overall, Legacy provides an excellent value per dollar, compared to the really expensive brands.
The AG Anat III Professional Signature speakers ($119,000 per pair), being driven by Soulution amplifiers ($50,000 per channel). This is a state of the
art system. The AG speakers are heavily engineered out of aluminum in an effort to control resonance, and the Soulution amplifiers contain new circuitry that
is designed to reduce high frequency phase shift caused by the feedback loops. There was a smaller set of AGs in another room, and they sounded nice also, in
spite of reflections off the bare walls and ceiling.
The KEF Blades ($30,000 per pair): This is a modern highly engineered style of speaker, with a narrow front and completely curved edges, probably made of
composite. It sounded good, and has been getting excellent reviews.
The Wilson Sasha Watt/Puppies ($27,900 per pair) were in two different rooms and sounded just terrific in both. This is a “smaller” speaker that has been
engineered over several generations to put out quite a full good sound.
Walker Audio was showing a heavily tweaked room with big Bermester speakers, with a turntable source. It sounded really nice. They played a track that I
know well (Take Five by Dave Brubeck), and appropriately, although disappointing, it sounded much better than it does on my system. Oh well.
Sound by Singer, a big Manhattan dealer, had two rooms with nicely conducted presentations. Both systems were driven by computer audio. Andrew Singer was
there in person. From what I’ve seen (I haven’t been to his showroom) he offers very high end stuff, but also specializes in providing outstanding no-hassle
turnkey Manhattan-apartment-size systems of carefully selected mixed vendors. A friend I brought to a Show a few years back bought a pair of small Focal speakers from him
at that Show, with delivery and installation - an overall excellent experience and result.
There was a new brand (Well Rounded Sound?) showing a practically homemade electrostatic speaker with dynamic cone drivers for the bass. They sounded
good, with no obvious sonic defects, which is extremely difficult to do with this combination of transducers, and is usually the provenance of very high end
brands such as Martin Logan. And the Show price was only $2750/pair! I couldn’t talk Steve into buying a pair though! Another dealer told us, and it made
sense, that if this manufacturer survives, we will see those speakers sold at much higher prices because they are so good.
|The mighty MBL 101s
||The Legacy Whisper
Missing big vendors (most make world-class speakers):
- Krell (electronics and amplifiers)
- Martin Logan
- Sonus Faber
- Anything iPhone related - this might have drawn a crowd
Ribbon tweeters seem to becoming almost standard, rather than traditional cone tweeters.
Computer-based audio is here. Improvements using asynchronous USB connections have made tweaked computers feasible for delivering high end sound. This
has enormous long term implications, including the ability to obtain higher-than-CD resolution tracks over the internet.
Improvements in sound reproduction continue to be made. Engineers are finally learning how digital really works. They have begun taming phase shift
problems due to filters and processing, including the ability in some playback products to digitally remove pre-ringing problems introduced in
production. Everything they improve exposes more problems, so I expect more improvement in the future. David Chesky (of HDTracks.com) thinks this will
even come to include better understanding of how the human ear/brain deals with incoming sound. And more powerful computer analysis is allowing speakers to be made with
cabinets that are stiffer, and with crossovers that deliver smoother frequency response.
Audio shows like this are becoming the standard way for consumers to audition a variety of high end equipment. Due to the financial etc. advantages of
internet marketing and sales, brick and mortar HiFi shops are disappearing, and interested consumers have to find ways like shows to see and hear the equipment.
The music for the rooms was sourced almost equally between turntables, CD players, and laptop computers driving USB DACs, with (to my ears) equally
good sound quality. Of more importance was whether the source and electronics were digital or analog.
It is difficult to understand how a system is performing at a Show. The demonstrators play music that they think shows off the strength of their
systems, although they often let visitors provide CDs to play a track from, and they tend to keep the volume down so as not to drive everyone out of
the room. The rooms are ordinary hotel rooms, suites, and meeting rooms, so are not acoustically friendly, even with some ad hoc room treatments
applied, so there can be really difficult issues with floor, ceiling and wall bounce of the higher frequencies, and room mode bass imbalances. But the
exhibitors are experienced pros, they know their equipment, and they usually manage to get a pretty good sound. The same equipment, properly set up in a
showroom or at home, is going to sound even better.
Considering everything, the exhibitors did an excellent job at this show. They were a bit harried, because (rumor was) they hadn’t been able to even
get into their rooms to begin setup until 5P on Thursday. Equipment lists and prices were difficult to come by in most rooms, but exhibitors were always
willing to answer queries.
I was unable to attend any of the live musical performances, unfortunately. However, peeking in once, I did notice a singer using a microphone and
sound reinforcement speakers! Sound reinforcement is simply unacceptable for an acoustic performer for an audiophile audience in a relatively small room.
There were two vendors selling audiophile grade CDs, and I managed to limit my purchases to just one CD. I buy most of my CDs over the internet, based on
stuff I know and like, or recommendations in the audio magazines. (See my album listing
I saw a lot of people from the press, and enjoyed recognizing many of the people who write for the audio magazines I read.
From my point of view, the Show was a great success. I learned a lot. I had a great time. The weather was perfect. I had good visits with good
friends, and had some good meals.
Links to other Show reports:
Enjoy The Music
Looking forward to the next Show…!