First, I would like to thank all the people at Stereophile for putting it together. It was a nice show with a lot to see and not a lot of mooola to get a ticket. Stereophile really doesn't have to do this; it is for us. The price of the hotel room was a little steep for me. It was nice to hear a concert for cheap and it was not too loud.
Second, I am a speaker guy, talk about speakers. Hate me if you want, but that is who I am. All the larger rooms seemed to have terrible imaging problems. Kudos to those who overcame this pre-existing condition.
Caveats: Nobody should be making life decisions on mine or anyone's comments from this show. Every dealer has about 24 hours to set up in a strange environment where the room design parameters did not include speaker auditions. Then we come in and have, at best, 30 minutes to evaluate an entire system with little to no input or component swapping. The whole time there is always someone chatting away nearby. Perhaps I am guilty for writing as if there are absolutes in my audtions, there are not. The best a dealer can hope for is some good press and someone like the product/presentation enough to contact a local dealer to schedule a listen in the correct location: our home.
People: I met a lot of very nice people. I have to say everyone was warm and inviting, even after long days and mine being the millionth question. Those who really took time to talk:
Ray Kimber is doing his experiments and showing what he learns. He has a very interesting perspective and my kind of research: throw out the mathematicians, set up some equipment and learn by trial and error. He also takes the time to talk with us (the attendees) and give out disks and stuff. The guy from TAD speakers who supplied Ray, Andrew Jones, was also nice.
Art Dudley was warm and sincere. John Marks was nice, as was Joseph from Joseph audio, also his engineer whose name escapes me this moment. Got to Joseph Saturday evening at closing and he still put on a good face for us, even though he looked exhausted. It was interesting to meet the real Mark Levinson face to face. The list goes on and on. Thanks to everyone. Not a sour face in the place.
Story about Robert Silverman: I was in some room where I actually liked the system and played a couple of my test tracks. We hit my piano cut and RS, who is next to me and I have no clue, perks up and says; "I think I know that piano." I think: "like, yeah right." He says; "that sounds like the Maestro Foundation Boesendorfer." I say in surprise, "Yes, it is. Do you have some recordings from it?" He says "no, but I have made a number of recordings on it", with a big smile. Nice guy. I was so embarrassed.
Best party people: Continuum. Fun group having a good time. Great looking gear. Good music. Get better speakers next time. I don't know what speakers they were but I think the speakers were the weak link. :o)
Consistently the worst audition music: Tie: Singer and Totem. Totem just had weird (unfamiliar) music and it always sounded odd to me. Singer's music sounded like it was specially made for audition music (not necessarily a bad thing) and like it only included certain tones and dynamics. This is like the TV demos which will never show a TV's problem. Some of the other rooms I simply could not enter because their music was so offensive or loud. Some rooms I tried to enter three or four times and could not.
Best audition music: Ray Kimber's gunshots ( . . . and the janitor). Seriously, it was a little short (blam, blam . . . blam) but I doubt any system could have done the gunshots as well as Ray's Isomike, Pass amps and TAD speakers. There was real clarity there. I tried this at home and am not even close in sound on the gun shots. Overall, I think a lot of Ray's tapes were very good. I liked all the demos, which had unprocessed recordings (Fever was great, not at Kimber). Sure, there recordings did not help much in telling how the system will sound in my living room, but these were the most interesting. In a sales venue, connecting with the buyer (me) is the number one goal. These special tapes helped connect me. Now, if I could only remember which room had that master tape of "Fever".
Other than that, I think my tape of Duke's Place was the best music. It fit the two most important rules of audition music: I know what it sounds like. It sounds different to me on every system.
Most overplayed music: Duke's Place. Seemed to follow me around. Seriously, have I mentioned there was a lot of bad music? It shows how hard it is to pick audition music and that the big boys struggle with it as much as I do. Interesting that every time I played Duke's Place, the room would fill up and get lively. I would like to thank every group who declared a Krall-Free-Zone. I love her but cannot take it anymore. Also the Jones-free-zones.
Best in show: Focus Audio in room 1018. These were 7" two-ways with what looked like a SS9500 tweeter and an Eton woofer with a flat phase plug. Burl wood cabinet or something like that. I do not know how they did it but the bass was outstanding as were the mids and highs. The bass was much too clear and low for a 7" two-way. The image was perfect. Just walk into the room and the speakers disappeared. Some law of physics was being broken in the room. The rest of the equipment was Blue Circle. OTOH, these were one of the few speakers that were set up well in a room that was about the right size for the speakers. I visited the room four times and was wowed every time. I do not know what was happening there, but it was amazing.
Second best in show: Von Scheikert vr9. I heard these twice and the first time I was amazed. The second visit they were pretty good and not quite as blended driver to driver. I liked the solidness of the bass and smoothness top to bottom. These had the Dtarzeel amps. I did not care for the smaller VS units at that venue.
Best non-audio: Ray Kimber's hand held touch pad. Really cool. We will all have one in a few years. Also cool were all the audio servers. I know this was way out of my price range, but this will be the standard some day. Hard media is on the way out.
Most annoying habit: People coming into the room and talking loudly. Take it outside! One time there were two loud talkers and after five minutes I realized it was the sales guystalking to each other. Very annoying when trying to listen. I am the king and it is all about me, me, me!
General comments: Singer: I was really jazzed about their stuff and what I learned is all the best equipment in the world sometimes does not sound that good. Besides really bad audition music, the mids were poorly defined followed by harshness in the low treble. The bass was very poor and there was lettle image at all. Both systems had the same maladies. I went through the demo twice with the same results. We can give them the benefit of the doubt and say it probably was the big room without defined boundries, but guys, a lot of other people did better with worse rooms.
Joseph Audio: For those who go to our DIY events, they sounded a lot like Bob, an excellent DIY speaker from our meeting last year. The Josephs' were very good speakers and had a nice presentation. They had a decent image but it kept creeping up and to the right. Almost like an out of phase tweeter somewhere. Joseph was the best of the big room boys. I really liked the show atmosphere as well as the speakers. No snobbery, just come on in and listen and we can talk. You even let me play my own CD. Overall, the speakers were extremely detailed and sounded full range. All the big room people were having a hard time with imaging.
JM labs: I do not know what it is about these. I don't like them. I have heard them a bunch of times in my local shop and then at this show. I always come away with the same feeling that the tweeter is killing me. This is a voicing decision and more power to 'em if that is what their audience wants. Also, no image at all in that room. Same review for both groups showing JM labs.
Totem: I visited the suite maybe five times. Three times the music was so bad I ran from the room. Once, someone had the bass turned up so high it was un-listenable. The last time the place was almost empty and we played some of our own tracks. The units on the stands sounded like they had too much tweeter to me but the small floor stander was quite nice. They had a very good image and excellent sound for the price.
Talon: Visited them a number of times and did not like them. Don't know why, so shoot me. Yeah, these are supposed to be one of the best. Maybe the room was bad.
Gershman and Analysis audio: Both were setup very poorly or I never made it to the sweet spot due to crowds. No image, confused sound, no bass.
I have a note on Analysis Plus but don't remember the system, "nice upper mids."
MBL: Great imaging. You could be off to the side and the image still mostly centered. Tons of vertical lobing. The sound changed (improved) a lot if you put your head down about to couch level. They massacred the mids and horns on Duke's Place.
Sound Fusion: If I have this right, these are the curvy ones with the SS cut cone woofers. These were pretty good overall, on the edge of peaky. The first ones were running off tube amps and if they are that peaky on tubes, they are going to be over the edge on solid state. The second pair was self powered and sounded better to me. Overall very good and a fun group of people.
Kuzma: I cannot read my notes on this one, except "great image" and a fairly high score. I am not even sure if the speakers were Kuzma or not.
Brinkman Audio: Marten something. Next time I have to bring a camera. I don't remember the speaker but I gave it a high score.
Music Hall: The gear looked great. No real listening demo set up.
NHT: Basic rock and roll speaker. Good for the price. Expected better. Those Peerless drivers are better than that.
Mark Levinson. This was an interesting talk about ther Berwin computer player and I like when a leader takes the time to face the public. The demo was lame but the vision was good. I agree hard media is on the way out and we all will need some software control for the whole thing. He needs to continue to develop a real product out of this vision.
Vandersteen: I expected more from them. A solid performer yadda yadda yadda. I wanted to be wowed by them. It could have been the room. It was one of the few large rooms with a fair image.
Horning Hybrid: I liked them the first couple of times and then the last time in the room they were a little heavy.
There were a couple of suppliers with a cool looking tweeter with a squiggly ribbon behind a short horn. Two people were using it. The Mother Company seemed not to have it under control at all but the other company was better (some German company).
(Lucky I don't do this for a living, my notes are very bad. I will have to get better.)
Goo was a fun group. I will buy that if I go with projection.
Kharma: Another one where I really had high expectations. These were stunningly beautiful speakers with ceramic cones. The sound did nothing for me. Again, this should have been a WOW speaker. It must have been a room problem.
AIX Records: Nice overall. Here is another guy who is taking this from the top down and he is right. It is amazing how good things get when the source material is good. I get so discouraged when I spend money on a lousy sounding CD.
It was interesting the number of tube amps and tube front ends. They look very nice but I cannot comment on sound in the time allotted. I really wanted to hear Wilson speakers who were a no-show. I did not do much of the TV gear. I did notice that a lot of the TVs had artifacts, which is the first thing I look for. So if they were trying to sell to me, most of the companies blew it. This is the same thing with the sound; this is a sales venue and you should be peaking. Like no spelling errors on your resume. Maybe I am unaware of a variable in the TV rooms.
The two things I missed that I really wanted to see were the Boesendorfer speakers (hidden in a corner room) and the forum with JA (just went stupid and missed it). I did see the forum for Q and A and it was OK. Clearly, the most worry is about source material: MP3, SACD and vinyl. I could not help thinking this is probably the same angst audiophiles have had since the 1950s. It was a good forum and I am glad it did not turn into a slugfest. Notice how most of the writers have the same look?
It really is fun to do the show with someone. I did Friday on my own and Bob Cordell joined me on Saturday. Bob is an amp guy and I get to play the stupid sidekick as he asks all the technical questions. It is surprising how many of the guys in the room cannot give a correct answer to a technical question or simply state something "is" when it "is not". As a group, we get to do reality checks on what we hear. Sometimes when I hear an a few systems and don't like them, I start to think my ears are off. Having a friend there for a reality check is great.
One point Bob brought up again and again is that we (at the amateur DIY events) are not that far off the mark. The show is a good reality check for us as sometimes one wonders if our target sound is right. This show illuminates what a struggle it is for all of us, both amateurs and pros. If it were easy, all the rooms would have sounded great.
Next year I would suggest there be a dinner hour where we could come in, eat cheap food and meet strangers. This show does not have to be in NY, with the schedule of this show, I did not see any of NY anyway.
Bought a bunch of SACDs, had a great time. Next year I want to rent a room and set up some of our DIY gear. Show 'em how it is really done :)
I would say the key to a show like this is to create wow and score on the warm and fuzzy atmosphere. Different dealers took different approaches to this. I am sitting here trying to form an image of what would have wowed me, other than an all nighter alone with wine and all my own CDs, but I cannnot. So I am stuck with 30 minutes to evaluate and form an opinion. It is the dealer's job to figure out how to wow us and there were few rooms which did that for me. That means one of the following: a) I have golden ears and know perfect sound, b) I am deeef, c) I am average and the conditions did not allow wow.
Copyright: Peter J. Smith 2005 Return to helarc.com