Trelja in New York - 2005

Though I'm certainly not averse to flying solo, the annual Stereophile HE show seems a heck of a lot more fun when you do it with others. This year, compadres were in abbundance! There was Hugh, Mike, Tom M., Dennis, Tom C., Earl, a manager at my company - Charles Goddard, as well as our own Swampwalker (Michael). My longtime friend, the lovely Mae, graciously accompanied me through the festivities despite my warnings to avoid this stuff like the plague. Turns out after just few hours of show stomping, it looks like an audiophile is born, a monster in the making. Mae definitely made the day. Also, I'd like to thank my favorite Stereophile reviewer for stopping me to say "Hello", Art Dudley. I walked by him without recognizing him, but Art remembered our long chat last year, and was nice enough to give it another yearly go. Say what you will about Stereophile, but Art possesses a true gift for writing, and his wit and wisdom takes the magazine up on the excitement meter by several notches.

For the serious carnivore ever in NYC, make sure you check out Chuhascarria Platoforma. Truth in their advertising, "Meat, as it was meant to be." And, I must say that my hotel, the Westin at 43rd St and 8th Ave was significantly nicer than the Hilton. That it cost me $70 less to boot only made staying there all the more sweet.

In heavy rotation was, and I know this will really surprise everyone, Patricia Barber. On a more serious note, I didn't hear one Diana Krall number, though I can't say I feel any remorse. Jacintha also seemed to fall of the face of the earth, but I actually do miss the songstress from Singapore.

Missing in action was AtmaSphere, Antique Sound Labs, Coincident, Jadis. Krell, Audiopax, Thor, Wilson, Fried, Mark Levinson (the company), Gingko (for the most part), and Walker, among others. At first blush, I was a bit down regarding the lineup of exhibits, but through the show, my feelings perked up. I didn't understand the lines as long as a river for the HT rooms on the 2nd floor, and since I had no interest in getting into them, it wasn't source of distress. Also bypassed were the Sound By Singer rooms, at the expense of hearing BAT and JMlabs, I am a bit sorry to say. Finally, I didn't catch Red Rose Music, Vandersteen (oversight), and because of not wanting to wait, the normally great sounding Joseph Audio/Manley room.

An unexpected treat we stumbled upon while just looking for a place to sit down and map out a plan was the inspired piano performance by Robert Silverman. Bravo! Hopefully, someone will be able to comment on the Modeski, Martin, and Wood concert Friday night that I would have surely enjoyed.

I'm not getting soft as time goes by, but the number of rooms making the worst sounding list in the report seems to shrink with each passing year. Not that they're all stellar, far from it, but there was nothing that drove me away in pain. In fact, no one gets to wear the mantle this year. Good news, I guess. The only room I will single out as a disappointment were the Von Schweikert VR9, driven by two Dartzeel amps. Defintely expensive, but not good sound to these ears.

But before the voices rise to protest, I was more than happy with the other two Von Schweikert rooms. Previously, I have heard the VR-4JR and the DK integrated sound quite bad on their own, but the combination clicked big time at the show for me. Nice Oracle CD player in the system, which was not budget minded like the other components, but I am not going to say that was the reason things worked. Seemed like good synergy to me. Probably even better were the VR-4SR speakers, powered by the VAC Phi. Didn't realize I was getting a warm welcome by Kevin Hayes until he was headed out, but it just goes to show the man is one of the best people in audio. I think as long as I get a say, Kevin Hayes is going to win a lot of praise. The fact that he builds some fantastic audio gear (in EVERY way) doesn't hurt either.

April music sounded better to me last year, but I think it was their loudspeakers which they featured this year. From their look and sound, they weren't quite up to the quality level of the amplification. I don't want to say too much for certain, as I wasn't interested enough to really follow through.

Totem played the Rainmakers and Hawks for us, driven by Ayre electronics. I felt the speakers were too close to the rear wall, resulting in some wet and wooly bass. The rest of the sound was pleasant enough, however. I would have appreciated a chance to hear the other setup they had with the Plinius amp, as I found that amp to really mate nice with their Arros last year. Again, Totem takes the time to make the room their own. It continues to amaze me when a company spends all of this money and effort to show up and then fall down on making sure their house, err, their room, is in order for showtime.

I still wonder if Chord equipment justifies its pricetag, but to each, his own. Wes Phillips really focused in on the artistically painted speakers they were paired with. Be sure, pictures of this will end up in the Stereophile show coverage.

Eggleston speakers sounded as good as I have ever heard them when driven by the new Rogue stuff. I was REALLY happy to see Rogue sound so good. Some of their more recent show performances have left me wondering if they really knew what kind of hurt they were putting on themselves. Rogue can sound a whole heck of a lot better, and this year proved it. Kudos to Mark O'Brien and the crew!

Also better than I have ever heard before, which isn't saying much, were the Talon loudspeakers. Coupled by the Wavac pre/power amps, the sonics were better than I last heard, but the sound was as dry as the desert. If it sounds like I am being critical, please understand it was hard to judge in absolute terms as the very old Frank Sinatra recordings clouded my picture significantly. Still, the Talons seemed to have addressed my very strong complaints of 2001.

I've heard some claim the Lamms driving the Damoka corner horns were spectacular. Let's just say I am not in that camp. Again, old recordings, but I got the impression of the warm sound of 1950's hifi, for better or worse.

Nor did the Lamms bowl me over in the room featuring the Kharma speakers. I'm not going to say much beyond that since I know just how good the components each of these companies produces, so they both get a mulligan and three eighths. The all Kharma room had more bass than any room that small should ever have to endure. I overheard someone claim they were reminded of a kid's car stereo ala "Dude, Pimp My Ride".

Brinkmann produced commendably fine sound in their room. John Marks' recommendation of the integrated thus appeared to be more spot on than most in Stereophile.

AudioNote, with the Horning based Lowther hybrids drove me wild. Just like last year. I think it's time that the energetic, engaging, helpful Jeffrey Catalano got some serious ink and respect. Here's a guy flying under the radar, yet is truly an oasis of good sound. Didn't get to hear the Gaku-On this year either (that's an inside joke). A very knowledgeable gentleman when it comes to speakers (Lowther's specifically), and good sound in general. Do try to give him a serious look.

The MBL room wasn't my favorite, but I think it wasn't their fault. MBL is at its best in bigger rooms, and they made the right decision in not running the big Radialstrahlers in the small room they showed in this year. Still, the overly loose bass was all over the place, and I'm not sure such big amps are required to pressurize that kind of volume. I didn't get the fondest of looks when I was overheard remarking on the way in that my friend (THE Doctor) calls the Radialstralers "pineapple speakers". Tipping my hat to them, they invited guests for a showing of the bigger speakers at Rhapsody last night, and from what I heard from Hugh, things sounded commendably good. Knowing the high standards that Hugh
has (much higher than mine), that's a serious compliment.

As usual, Roy Hall put a smile on my face as wide as anyone. His room sounded darn good this year to boot. While not a fan of the new Shanling CD player's cosmetics, I must say the look and the sound was bold. Shanling could learn a thing or two from Roy about how a component should look. The Epos speakers sounded nice as well. Definitely budget stuff that could provide happiness for those who cannot or will not spend a lot on audio.

Speaking of "budget", I was most impressed with the Odyssey room. Amp, preamp, and speakers all showed themselves extremely well. The wall speakers, done up in artwork that scores a WAF unheard of in audio were especially of note. Though I did clean my ears out prior to leaving home on Friday, I had to ask the rep to repeat himself when they were discussing the price of the power amp. EVen more surprising, with the preamp, the price tag comes to only $995! Whew, that sure struck me silly. Prior to yesterday, anyone running this compliment telling me it cost $7000 wouldn't cause me to blink. Definitely the no brainer of the show. Is there a better deal in audio right now?

Not budget by a longshot was the Bosendorfer room. The blue lacquer piano was the visual knockout of the show for me. The speakers, coupled with Art Audio amplifiers did a pretty nice job on the reproduction of piano, though I felt things got overripe when the notes got low. Still, this is a company not exactly known for high end audio sound reproduction equipment, and given the track record of their pianos, I wouldn't exactly write them off. Art Audio sounded fine in their other room.

The more than novel, stainless steel Butler amplifiers, using a 300B run at so low a voltage that the owner kept pulling the tube out to show us how cool it was running displayed unmatched slam and dynamic capability in driving a pair of Escalante Design Pinyon minimonitors. He kept announcing that the subwoofers were disconnected, and though it was not perfect sonics, there was something about the execution that deserves both mention and follow up. The design of the amp is patented, and he claimed
they were basically like a battery. All I can say is that they way they discharged power into the loudspeakers was awe inspiring.

I always like the Naim room, but I realize I might very well be in the minority. No outrageous looks, no stainless steel, not a blue LED in sight. But, for whatever reason, I enjoy the toe tapping, punchy, engaging sound. Some find it thin and a bit too lively. The little speakers with Ring Radiators this year might be worth a second look for those looking for a minimonitor.

As much as I would tell anyone to stay away from Blue Circle equipment given the service I got from them last year, the music they make with the Focus Audio speakers is commendable. Pray nothing gpes south on you, which precludes me from ever again recommending the gear. I'm tempted to stop referring to them by name, in favor of "Brand X audio".

Gershman again showed in two rooms, though the Opera Sauvage was sadly not brought in. Ah, how I love the boat shaped speakers. The music room made me happy, the HT room less so. Still, this is a highly recommendable loudspeaker, built by a family of extremely nice folks.

SimAudio and DeVore seemed a little too goosed up when I visted, but I think the sound was probably still quite good. At least, I was quite impressed last year, and this year didn't do anything very wrong.

Ascendo speakers sure looked and sounded interesting. Big, bold, and dynamic. I need a little more exposure to them before I really commit to anything more definitive than that.

Silverline Boleros sounded unexpectedly good with the Conrad Johnson solid state amplifier. For comparison, they fired up the chrome plated (last year in black) 805 amplifier, but it was dead cold, and we listened to a different part of the song so I can't compare them adequately. Last year I was more than impressed, so I have no reason to feel otherwise. Was hoping that the price of that amp would come down an order of magnitude, but who am I to ask for that?

Normally, my opinions don't mesh very smoothly with those of Michael Fremer's, but we'll agree on the ELP Laser Turntable. Much more forward sound, like CD. An interesting creation, and one that should set aside the angst of wearing out one's hard won collection of vinyl. Certainly a novel component, though I wonder how a true vinylphile will find the sound. Joseph Audio Pearls were the opposite end of the chain, and this time I will actually say the Halcros sounded much better to me than last year. Or course, this year they were actually in an AUDIO system - go figure.

Not to bring up Yogi Berra, but it was like deja vu all over again when I saw the Analysis Audio Omega planar - ribbon loudspeakers. Was Apogee reborn, or at least the high frequency ribbon part of them? They sure looked like Apogees in cosmetics and that ribbon. The bass panel seemed to be not a ribbon, but a planar. Nevertheless, not totally well integrated in the room, but we should follow the company with enthusiasm. Concussive bass at times, though like that of the Apogees? That is the question.

Moscode was back, featuring the alluring hybrid amplifier you are seeing in the ads. Sounded more than worthy of a second look. Am I right in thinking that the input tubes one can run spans the gamut of just about any small 6 (like a 6922) or 12 (12 AU/AX/AY 7) volt derivative? Call me dead wrong or what have you, but if not, this could sure prove to be one interesting amplifier.

Most innovative, BY FAR, was the Bard Audio room. The power amp looked like the timers we used to plug lamps into while on vacation. It plugs straight into the wall. The Bardone transmitter/receiver used a disk shaped thingie getting music sent to it from a laptop. No, not the best sound of the day, but surely novel. Probably pointing to where things in general are headed. And, it wasn't half bad. Not by a longshot.

Last year's biggest surprise was Hyperion. No, they don't win it again, but when asked by Albert Wu if I had the same positive feeling as last year, my answer was, "No!" With their incredible new tube amps, I found it MUCH better now. Hard to believe, but true. Assuming that supplying the market with product will not be a problem, Hyperion is really going to make waves in the industry. I found the combination of the new speakers with the new amps to be about as good as I could ever wish for. Returing today, I got to hear the speakers with the new solid state monos. Punchier bass and dynamics, along with perhaps a bit more speed, but I personally preferred the delicious sound of the tubes. The tube amps seem to have it all, great sound, creative design, seemingly high build quality, gorgeous looks. By the way, a new tube preamp is on the way, though it just missed the show. Again, if they can open the flow and really deliver product, please take my advice and give the Hyperion stuff a try. I suspect you will find yourself very, very impressed.

Best sound this year goes to the Merlin room. No there's not a prize - at least I don't think there is.Although I wasn't nearly as high on the same system last year, the Merlin room in my two visits was stunning. It could have been the music last year, though I did visit three times, so perhaps something else was at play. With the Audio Aero Capitole and Joule amplification, the sound was startingly clear, fast, and enjoyable. Bass was extremely right, and it's hard to give a higher compliment than that. Bobby was more than a little high on the attractive little $3500 Spanish built Ars-Sonum Filarmonia EL34 base integrated that he will serve as the US/Canadian distributor for. We didn't get to hear it, but if the man says it's about 90 something percent as the high flying Joule rig he was running, that's surely a statement. Keep your eyes peeled in the future for this baby. Knowing how my former Jadis integrated outperformed some much more expensive gear I have, I wouldn't discount the Filarmonia. Special thanks to Bobby for giving Mae a half hour primer on audio, she was more than thanful. As he told me today, "She is a REALLY special lady." Indeed!

Apologies for what I have forgotten, but I am confident that the ensuing discussion will fill in a lot of the blanks. As always, some will find themselves agreeing with me, some disagreeing, and offering up their own pot of coffee. Thanks to all that I was able to spend time with, and for the show itself. It's truly a gift to our hobby,
Very nice report, thanks for taking the time to put it together for those of us that were unable to attend this year.
Great summary Joe and best of all you don't mince words, it is so refreshing to read an obviously honest opinion without having to read between the lines. Your reports are as much appreciated as anticipated. Thanks!
Have to agree with most of your thoughts.Gingko was there however,down in the software area.They had all their platforms on static display ttS and cd players in a booth selling Sacds and Xrcds.I agree the Hyperion line is a no brainer and in m my opinion did some serious hurt to some expensive gear.I personaly though the DK design did a diservice to the VR 4 jrs as I found them much better teamed with a Spectron amp.THe fact that the rep really doies not know his equipment that he is seling is a total turn off.The room just lacked punch and transparency and I know it is not the speakers.I thought most of the rooms had bass control issues,which in 80% of cases could be blamed on the rooms which were even smaller than last year due to the fact the Hilton moved the show from the 5th and 6th floor due to the Jewelry expo here on Sunday.The lamm room was not as good as I have heard it,but as usual the Hilton had them originalky in the partitioned section where the Dolby demo was(god awful) and they had to scurry into the suite they were in and probably ran out of time to dial it in.The Merlin Joule room ,as always very musical and just plain good.The Kharma room.just has lost all it's luster.Used to love that setup,and the magic is just gone.Seems to get worse every year.The VSA rooms with the VR 4 Sr,was very good(better be with the great electronics.The VR 9s are wonderful speakers,but in my opinion need to be in a big room for them to shine.I am not a fan of EMM labs gear nor upsampling.The Reimyo room was terrific,first time I heard this room and I did like it very much.The Music Hall room always fun and the the price point is a no brainer for good quality gear.I still do not see what people see in the Joseph audio rooms.I have seen them for 5 years and just does nothing for me.The Devore room was a dissapointment.These speaker have recieved universal praise yet to me they just sounded dead.Maybe the Electronics,just lifeless.The JM labs(small ones) were to bright for my taste,the flagship models with BAT DCS ect. sounded good,but damm well better for 300k plus.The AA imports room sounded excellent.The Accapela speakers sounded extremely rich and musical.I went through very room and just mentioned the ones that left an impression either negatively or positively.Nice to see there was a good deal of vinyl again.

Best in show budget.Hperion no question
Best in show hi priced;Reimyo

Overall the show was ho hum,nothing earth shatering in sound,was much better this year as I did not have to show,and could walk around with friends which made it much more pleasant.
Joe, Thanks for the effort in sharing your impressions of the show.
Rgds, Larry