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Interesting, Tom. Thanks for the report. It has seemed for a long while that
some audiophiles work up the 'quality' ladder by chasing more information,
more detail, or at least the impression of more detail, often where no more
exists. That can lead to a clinical, sterile sound that strikes me as
a-musical. I was on that path, too, until I changed priorities. Narrow
dispersion figures into a design concentration on lateral imaging.

My friend Bob, who runs The Analog Shop in Victor, NY, was there; I'm
anxious to hear his impressions. He specializes in record-players, and is
also heavily into computer-audio. He sees the high-end business picking up
lately, and the new category of networked systems are helping to drive that,
at least as much as the vinyl revival has. Headphones, too, as the two
categories seem to synergize. One side benefit to the retailer is that
computer audio customers are accustomed to figuring out their own problems.
Thank you, Mr. Gates!

-----Original Message-----
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
Sent: Sunday, April 14, 2013 9:18 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [ARSCLIST] NY Audio Show -- one man's observations

I decided to check out the New York Audio Show today, I think it's the
second year of this particular show. It was spread over several floors of
the New York Palace Hotel on Madison Ave. I flashed my AES membership card
and got a discounted admission (I think 10% or maybe 15% off). That
admission got me into everything going on Sunday afternoon.

A general observation is that the hotel was not an ideal place for this kind
of event. Demos were taking place in small NYC hotel rooms, and were
sometimes overcrowded. The rooms were invariably stuffy and in some cases,
smelly food had been brought in (why? to clear out the over-crowded room?).
Detracting somewhat, and no fault of the show organizers, was a power
failure, which caused super-loud generators outside the windows to kick in.
The net result was akin to horrible turntable rumble-feedback. This did not
last all afternoon, thankfully.

I won't get into what makes people spend more on stereo gear than cars, but
most of what I heard didnt't sound particularly great. Nothing made we want
to run out and take a home-equity loan because I _must_have_it! But, there
were some surprises.

First surprise was how many headphone companies were there, how many
high-end headphone amps are now made, and how mediocre to bad most of them
sound. However, I found a couple of 'phones that were superb, better than
anything I own. Most interesting of that bunch were MrSpeakers out of San
Diego. 
Dan Clark, the "Head-Master" (I assume that means owner or chief engineer),
has some interesting ideas about "voicing" headphones (as he pointed out,
ALL headphones are "voiced" in one way or another). I really liked his
mid-line model (the regular unbalanced one). It comes out less bass-extreme
than my go-to Audio-Technica ATMH50s but still with plenty of solid, natural
bass. The midrange is akin to AKG 'phones (very natural-sounding, especially
right where the human voice usually falls) and the treble is much better
than AKG and more like the more-costly Sennheisers I heard. Dan Clark said
he allows a 15-day return policy, so I plan to try out a pair in the studio.
I think they may be better than the A-T's for judging overall sound quality
because of the superb midrange. The A-T's are still probably best for
hearing exactly what's wrong or right in the bass frequencies (much better
than near-field monitors). I also have to give props to the Mytek
DAC/headphone amp I heard driving HiFiMan headphones (which were very good
in their own right, but way over my budget for headphones). They had the
Mytek playing DSD streaming files off a Mac laptop and the sound quality was
very pleasant and realistic. They didn't have enough variety of music to
render a verdict on DSD vs high-resolution PCM, but I will say I enjoyed
that demo very much.

A company out of NYC called Well Rounded Sound makes single-driver speakers
in tubular wooden enclosures that can be combined or used alone. They had a
setup with their biggest drivers on the floor and their long-tubed smaller
drivers up on the radiator/ac unit. The beauty of the system is that they
had time-aligned the bass and treble so the damn thing sounded fantastic. It
was a small hotel room, so no telling how this would sound in a living room,
but I'm wondering about the applications for a studio, assuming one built
their own crossover network (or maybe not, I'd probably try it just driving
the two speakers per channel first, see if I could align them right for the
room). I know there are probably a bunch of acoustics theories broken here,
but I know what I heard and that setup sounded really good, better than some
of the house-priced speakers in other rooms. I specifically asked the guy to
demo full-range and dynamic music, helping pick from his large pile of CDs.
Better treble than I expected, really nice stereo-location-cues frequencies
and plenty of bass (even though the speakers on the floor are only spec'd
down to 70hz).

Also noted, definitely in the class of what's called a "lifestyle product,"
along the lines with that 4-car garage in the McMansion, the return of the
"Hi-Fi Console":
http://www.symbolaudio.com/collection/modern-record-console/
The difference with the old klunky furniture containing a Garrard
record-wrecker, some screamy/honky speakers and an underpowered and
ill-vented tube amp, this thing sounds pretty good. I had the guy put on a
bass-heavy Jimi Hendrix record and then crank that little tube amp to the
point of room-clearing loud, too see if the bass would skip the record.
Amazingly, no! He's figured out some sort of isolatuion system for that
turntable where he was tracking at 1.5 grams and had no skipping or feedback
issues. The build quality was also impressive, although the tube amp has
more a good DIY fit and finish than an old Magnavox chasis of old. The
speakers don't have super-strong treble, but they don't sound like a blanket
is over them either. The little tube amp is quite crisp and clean, like a
Dynaco with a better power supply (which is what I suspect is the design).
The noise floor of the system was good, not at all like the hiss/hum/hash
background of yore. The Wall Street Journal had an article over the weekend
about many-vehicle, million-dollar, stand-alone garages, and one of these
things would be great in the loft/lounge area of one of those places. It
would definitely sound better than what's more likely to be there.

Another general comment -- people demo'ing very expensive equipment should
obey two cardinal rules: 
1) never plug in an iPod or run lossy files from iTunes on a laptop, no
matter how thick your cables or how costly your DAC connected to the laptop.
2) try to pick music that is not all midrange. 
Acoustic folk music or a guy and a guitar playing blues doesn't demonstrate
anything. Original pressings of 70s rock records also doesn't reveal
anything except how bad most of those records sounded from Day 1. To almost
everyone's credit, no demos were done at pain-level SPL's. To my ears, too
many pricey speakers are "voiced" to have too much midrange or too much bass
and very few do "air and space" well. Also, too few speakers throw the
treble and midrange very wide, and this seems to be a recent trend. I
remember in the 70s and 80s that it was common for speakers to be spec'd
with a wide treble throw (usually having half of the tweeter orb outside the
front of the cabinet), and some manufacturers would have a horn-ish setup on
their midrange driver (or an actual horn, like Klipsch Heresys) to make sure
it threw wide. It could be that the demo'ing folks "toe-in" these modern
speakers too much, but it's not just a problem throwing out beyond the
speakers, it's also not throwing in toward the center. I heard this same
problem in about half of the demo rooms, with speakers costing a couple
grand a pair and speakers costing more than many homes.

Probably worth noting that I saw a lot more headphone and streaming/computer
audio stuff than vinyl-playback stuff. There's definitely a trend out there
among computer-saavy music fans to set up whole-house servers and to create
or download non-lossy music files to feed the listening systems. 
There were definitely more software and whole-home-control reps there than
turntable or cartridge manufacturers, and many demos were being run off
digital devices (although the majority were probably run off CD players).
That said, there were several "vinyl playback sessions" each day of the
show. VPI had one of their top-line turntables set up playing LPs all day.
They had a very good-sounding amp and speaker combo, I forgot the brands
because the prices were way out of my league (big speakers and lots of
tubes, but not all for show because that system's sound was clear, detailed
and solid if not super-crisp). It was very nice to sit in there, rest the
barking dogs and listen to a side of "Dark Side of the Moon."

-- Tom Fine