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Home Entertainment 2004 East

New York City, 2004, May 20-23

[Italian version]

Words: Carlo Iaccarino (Supervisor: Roberto d'Agosta) - TNT Italy
Published on: 2004, June (original version)

Foreword

This piece was originally intended to inform Italian readers (usually not so confident with travelling abroad...) about the N.Y. Show (and the City...). It is written having mainly in mind, as a reference, our most important and largest Hi-Fi Show, the Top Audio and Video (T.A.V.) held yearly around mid-end September in Milan. Now that H.E. West was canceled, the N.Y. show is the only "H.E. 2004", then we tought that, possibly, this article could have gained even a foreign"attractivity".

(Audio)tourists...

Imagine a big, luxurious and fully-equipped comfort hotel; a basement level floor sporting huge halls where some "important" gear - in terms of either money and reputation - is exhibited; an upper floor where you sign-in and find the specialized press (well, only those magazines belonging to the editorial board that organizes the show), the sellers of "special" records and accessories and, still, some more "important" exhibitor; then other floors, where the suites decrease in space but increase in number, and where you can find the big producer next to the "evolved" manufacturer, next to the newcomer and to the exotic producer seeking for his place under the sun.

No, we aren't at the T.A.V., because either it's not September, and, if you want to leave the hotel for a while since you're hungry and don't want to undergo the arguable chewy sandwiches supplied by the show organization, you don't end up in the depressed and far away metropolitan borderhood, but on the 6th Avenue, New York City! So you can choose between Deli/Chinese/Japanese cuisine, a steakhouse, a "pizzeria"... (and your mate can find GAP, Banana Republic, Armani, Escada, Cartier, and always at little walking distance, the MOMA...)

Yes, this is undoubtably the first of the differences you perceive immediately: after years of TAV/SIM/RAS [those were the acronims for actual and past major Italian hi-fi exhibits - A.], here the "breathe" is quite different. However, to be politically correct, it must also be said that YOU'RE CHARGED FOR ATTENDANCE: 32 bucks for a three-day pass (come on, you don't cross the pond up to NYC for only one day, do you?).

Another difference is the attitude of exhibitors. In N.Y. there were mainly the resellers, not the distributors, of the shown gears. And, yes, you could also find lots of manufacturers. So it happens that Roy Hall treats you with a shot of whisky (in his opinion, the only really working accessory to make every system sound better). Or that the demo of a big system with the (not that) new Thiel with the servo-amplified subwoofer goes on with Jim Thiel standing near you, or that just outside the suite you can find Herr von Schweikert ready to show you the different veneers with which you can order his beasts. Obviously, this is not to diminish the value of your chances to meet our National Bart (Bartolomeo Aloia, of Aloia and Steg fame), or Rampino (of North Star fame), or Murace (of Chario fame) - let me make that clear! Anyway, in most of the suites you could deal with the reseller/distributor (often coincident roles), thus the general attitude of the exhibitions - when they weren't real demonstrations of the setup systems - was always ofthe kind "we're making it better", "that's how it must be done", "it's the best type of ... that you can find at the show", "our competitors can't reach this level of ..."

Perhaps this is a difference that we could find difficult to accept, butthat, if seen from a practical point of view, had positive aspects.
First,you could hardly find suites where the system sounded bad. In many suites the systems were capable of timbral correctness, depth, image (in respect of the limitation due to the hotel room venue, but with always undoubtably cured results). Second, although this may seem "brutal", the most important resellers had also to show their"power". I can assure you that the FOUR  Sound by Singer HALLS (a shop that deserves, IMHO, a visit in your touristic stay in NYC) were really interesting and left their sign in my melting mix of memories with their systems made up of Musical Fidelity, Thiel, B.A.T., JM Lab, Runco.
The other side of the coin is that, sometimes, the demoes were made to impress. But, even then, the competition amongst those"impressionist" left room for diversification, where every tastecan be satisfied. In the same view, try, over there, to seat at a restaurant and ask for a simple steak. You will be asked which of the four level of cooking you want it made, which of the two kind of side dishes you like, which of the six salad dressing you want, how you want your potatoes cooked and, for each choice, which kind of sauce and topping you'd like... got the point? So, the Monster Cable demo (... not only cables, but a complete system from wall AC plugs to video screen) was really superpower, in-your-face, in a word, American. While the Joseph Audio/ManleyLabs demo, featuring Eva Ann Manley, was hosted by Jeff Joseph in a very polite way, yet very nice and provocative (the little system"masked" as the big one; the invitation to send letters toStereophile to protest for the - allegedly decided by the editorial companywithout consulting with the magazine's editor and writers - elimination, starting this year, of the "best sound of the show" election, that he won for three years in a row).

What's left to say?

There was a lot of A/V, of course, even because the U.S. television technical offer is wider and better than ours (cable, v.o.d., and, now -? - H.D.T.V.); there was also multichannel and, easily predictable, it was more "effect" than else; there was H.T. in its native proportion,that is a good and wide hall suited for the collective fruition of multimedia content (yes, there also was integration - the Monster Cable demo provided, for instance, also a session with an iPod and a videogame console...).
But - and I don't know how surprisingly - there was also the good ole TWO-CHANNEL. Thus, it could happen that in the Music Hall suite the system in function was only stereo and that Sam Tellig [of reknown Stereophile fame, specialised in affordable gear, deeply in love with France and...Italy ;-) ], once seated in front of it and after some time of listening, shouted an impromptu and smiley "who needs multichannel ?"; and that, coming from an important institutional contributor of the magazine that sponsors a show voted to Home Entertainment, with a strong futuristic and technological attitude, is a kind of impresive statement...By the way, Roy Hall has now become the U.S. distributor for Shanling (from China) and - guess what? - sells with his own company name an universal player and an integrated amplifier that he said to have commissioned to the same factory that produces Shanling gear.

Then, there also were the newcomers, like e.g. Mr.Koubala and Mr.Sosna, who, by joining their forces, are producing a complete line of cables that happened to be found in a lot of the little suites of the show, amongst which the McIntosh one (!). Other ubiquitous cables were the ones by Shunyata, a firm that also supplied its Hydra AC distributor to lots of the systems shown. You could easily meet "Mr.Shunyata"walking around with its big snakes hanging around his neck...And you could also meet people who really believed in what they were doing, like the technical manager from Balanced Audio Technology who, after hours, "invited" the most interested of us to hear a small system officially exposed just "statically", but really interesting, consisting of BAT amplifier and the little Utopias by JMLab. He used to introduce every track underlining pros and cons, limitations and potentiality of the gear that was playing, always speaking in terms of emotion, rather than technics.

And there was a lot of high resolution digital software, ALL IN SACD FORMAT. No DVD-Audio was demoed (or sold - only the DVD-Video only audio by Aix and something at the Musicdirect booth). Though, everyone had their top-level good multi-format player working in their system. It didn't seem that much clear to me, at least until I noticed that among the programmed "seminars" there was the one about high resolution formats, held by ... Sony (that, moreover, furnished also a long aisle wall with his published SACD, exposed like deer heads). Yet, to keep my political correctness, I have to say that in record stores you can easily find both formats, although in number ridiculously smaller than CDs and - hear this - vinyls...
WHAT? Yes, at the show there also was vinyl. Better said, there were suites where the exibitors conducted also demos using ONLY vinyl, with that cool vintage stuff - I'm talking about the big hall where you could hear the megabucks and very refined LAMM amplifiers placed halfway between EMT/MicroSeiki and Tannoy: not bad for a "home entertainment" show, isn'ti t?

And there were happenings, too: a riffle to give away some of the exposed gear, a benefit auction of gear offered by the exhibitors, a benefit concert, a seminar about the correct turntable and cartridge setup, a meeting with loudspeaker designers and with the installators of custom domestic integrated systems.

... in other words, so much stuff that it couldn't be completely "covered" in only three days - and I, actually, preferred the suites to the seminars...

In conclusion, if you ask me if it's a show that's worth attending, I must answer yes, and without exitations. Of course, if you are one of those that don't miss a show, attend exibitions from long time, and keep updated, then, maybe, this is not a "unmissable date"; yet, if you, like me, enjoy those shows, can find spare time, and don't let a foreign language intimidate you, then, maybe, you could even put a visit in your schedule. Instead of going Milan, you head toward NYC - if you anticipate your programs, the flight might be kinda cheap, as well as the accomodation (expecially if you avoid the horribly expensive Manhattan, and reach for a much affordable - and very well connected - New Jersey or other surroundings). Moreover, once out of the hotel after the show closes, you end up in NYC, where you always can find something to do, even only go out for dinner ;-)

Oh, if you were "sizzled", be aware that...there's a bis. Innovember, in S.Francisco (and, from there, a little getaway to Napa and Sonoma valleys can even be done... or not?)

Some suites and some names? OK, but with no precise order

FOREWORD: that part is undoubtedly very reduced and probably inferior than a real "coverage": anyway, I'm sure that "real" writers can do it much better than me, and surely Stereophile will give big space to "its" show.

TENOR AUDIO - From Quebec, Canada - hybrid tubed OTL amplifiers, sporting one tubed stage, followed by a solid-state "transimpedance output stage", coupled to the former with a "high voltage" transformer.

[Tenor Audio Suite - take the cd wallet as a dimensional reference]

I don't know if all this makes sense for you, but they sounded "loud andclear"".

ODISSEY - Sells in the USA gear made upon a design from the german Symphonic Line brand (we all know how expensive they are...), but made up of cheaper USA material and labor costs (about the loudspeakers, they said the x-over remains original german S.L.). The prices were really of the "real world" like:
loudspeakers from $395 to $2,700,

[Odissey Suite]


and integrated and pre/power combos from $750 to $2,500.

[Odissey Suite]

PENAUDIO - Elegant, tall and not intrusive loudspeakers, with very good veneers, sporting the classic solution of a two-way minimonitor supported by the bass unit that acts also as a stand. Prices high, here, since we're around $5,500.

[Penaudio Suite]

Yet, the sound was really clean and acctractive; probably part of this result was due to the Panache amplifiers that feeded them ("Mr.Panache" is also Penaudio's US distributor, and he said he choosed them to show his electronics at their best)

MONSTER - This brand produces interesting solutions that start from the wall AC plug and ends to the "active" couch. Costs go from $40,000 up to$60,000. But don't think it's too much, because of the quantity of stuff you get for that money, and considering their loudspeakers' high aesthetic quality cabinets and shapes, with a big subwoofer easily hideable in your hall. It was worth noting a kind of frame, always with furniture-grade materials and aesthetics, containing three arrays of driver sto voice (Front) Left, (Front) Right and Center channels, and inside which you can put a flat (plasma/LCD/projection) screen. Naturally, the whole series of "furniture" is called with the italian term "Eleganza", with Italian-style names for each model - a colourful note: the powerful and huge amplified subwoofer it's the only piece with an English name, but "in topic" - The Godfather :-)

VON SCHWEIKERT - This producer showed a very beautiful loudspeaker,"split in two" with a minimonitor layed upon a tower containing two bass drivers charged with a "triple boxed" transimission line (...); it too sported an adjustable level rear dome mid-tweeter also charged with a transmission line, to ensure a dipolar emission.

[Von Schweikert Suite]

Price: $4,000/pair; not cheap, but also not exaggerated, especially if you consider the very good finishing. And, in the suite, the system was sounding not bad...

STELLO - From Corea, with a small, yet complete line of electronics, including an interesting transport + dac/pre cobo, with choice among mono and stereo power amplifiers.

[Stello Suite]

All for about $6,000.

GOLDMUND - Even this producer showed a modular system; although the room was little and acoustically hideous, the system successfully materialized with a good presence the beautiful voice of Diane Schuur. The only complaint: here the mere multiformat player (Eidos 18) and digital pre/decoder (Mimesis 30) combo costed more than $25,000. And you should add the usual amplifiers and loudspeakers (modular, too) of this German brand, with "leveled" prices...

SOUND BY SINGER - I already wrote above, about this important store's suites. Here I want to show you either one of the functioning systems, made up of universal multicabinet source by DcS, B.A.T. electronics and JMLab Utopia loudspeakers

[Sound By Singer]

driven by a vertical multiamplification,

[Sound By Singer - B.A.T.]

either the smaller system, always sporting B.A.T. electronics and JMLab loudspeakers, that we could listen to "after hours", when official demos were over.

[Sound By Singer]

This small system was setup to support the new $4,000 B.A.T. stereo power amplifier.

[Sound By Singer]

In another room you could find the new tubed power amplifier with digital control for bias, status, timelife, etc, by Luke Manley's Vacuum Tube Logic, that trickled down a little more affordable (so to say...) stereo power amplifier from his poderous monoblock;

[Sound By Singer]

please, don't ask for model names (and, if you're interested, you already know all of thenot infinite "top" series from VTL).

WILSON BENESCH - Even in this room the USA distributor joined several UK brands. What caught my attention were the new loudspeakers from this albionic brand, whose aesthetic (and, I suspect, not only...) was a little reminindg of our own Sonus Faber,and, thus, very cured.


[Wilson Benesch]

Driven by an all-Cyrus system, they sounded loud and clear.

LAMM - A particular mention goes to the big hall occupied by Vladimir Lamm,with two systems placed halfway between classic and modern. The amplification was all by LAMM, tubed pre plus mono and stereo power amplifiers. My pictures, though, concentrate on what preceeded and followed the russian/american electronics.
First, ANALOGIC sources: EMT

[LAMM - EMT]

and Micro Seiki.

[LAMM - MICRO SEIKI]

Then, the "loudspeakers" (I placed my CD wallet to give you a dimensional reference). Front view...

[LAMM - Front]

... and rear view...

[LAMM - Rear]

... to end up with two more traditional Tannoys.

[LAMM - TANNOY]

It was really a particular and pleasant sound, surely proper to the big hall in which we were.

KONDO - In tis room you could actually see several nippocuriosity,

[Kondo Suite]

like the well known CD player by 47 Labs,

[KONDO - 47 Labs]

a particular mains big snake "shunted" on a little box that is supposedto suck all the dirty things traveling along AC lines,

[KONDO - MAINS]

and, finally, a kind of wooden row, whose purpose is ambiental correction (I've seen italso in several other rooms)...

[KONDO - pillows]

...yet, the best thing, IMHO, is the pillow row placed in a corner: among so much oriental esoteric finesse, a "tubeytrapp" setup in a very neapolitan way :-)

MISCELLANEOUS - Well, there was so much more, but my photografic ability is next to zero. I prefer to track down my memories before they fade away, so I'll give them to you just like they float in my head ;-)

A fine all-French suite, where were worth noting the PRAME HR-2, dynamic loudspeakers with horned mid-highs.

[PRAME Room]

Then, Red Planet amplifiers, understatemently layed down on a very normal traytable by their (modest: see picture) manufacturer.

[RED PLANET room]

Moreover, a SONY demo about high resolution, sporting a minimalist system: a SACD/CD/DVD-Vplayer (the 9000, not well regarded by our magazines: actually, it was used only as a transport), linked (only) digitally (fast proprietary connection, of the likes of a firewire) with the best of their integrated multichannel amplifier/processor, driving a lot (I think I counted 10 of them...) of channels, whose emission were taken care of by Wilson Audio beasts.

[SONY room]

Much a do about nothing. With a multichannel SACD (DSOTM? Maybe; the demo was really short), thanks to my de-centered position (I couldn't enter among the first attendants), I could enjoy a very good stereo image ... to my right side.

Then, the TETRA room, a manufacturer of loudspeakers that followed another US archetype, of Dave Wilson (or maybe the less known Bud Fried...) fame: the massive rectangular box sporting the big woofer(s), above which is placed a truncated pyramid-shaped head for the remaining range of frequencies.

[TETRA room]

A nice thing were the dwarfs (please, compare their case with the cables...) driving the Tetras loud and clear.

[Tetra room]

And, for a good end, a massive but particular looking turntable. Here we have the Testa Rosa (come on, a misspelling in Italian is not bad for an English writer...) by Redpoint.

[Testa Rosa]

There were other rooms worth mentioning, but I couldn't shoot decentpictures.

But I cannot leave outside this list the Chord suite, where the British manufacturer showed all its new Choral line, consisting of preamplifier, phono stage, power amplifier, CD transport and an interesting converter, the DAC 64, sporting Chord's special patented digital filter, that, according to its manufacturer, is the min responsible for the good performance of the device (and it seems that the UK magazines agree about that). The room was small, so they preferred (like few others) to setup just one and comfortable seat for listening, instead of the usual and sad row of chairs. This was an attitude that I think must have been appreciated by many. Certainly I was amongst them. But I can't tell you how much the comfort of their seat influenced my enjoyment of the system :-)

Now, I'd like to mention a couple of accessories that took my attention.
The first one is a video processor by Silicon Optix, that, beyond very good scaling functionality, can also correct the geometrical aberration due to an irregularly shaped projection surface or a disaxed VPJ position. Please,don't charge me with a furious Off-Topic: this device can make you correctly see the image coming from a VPJ disaxed up to 40 degrees respect to its mandatory perpendicular position in front of the screen. This means that if you have your good system hardly harmonized in your familiar living room, you can even enjoy a "video" performance also with not fixed and eventual VPJ "installations" (e.g., aside the couch, on the tea table), without being forced to give up because your S.O. has firmly said that: "that thing hung there, in the middle of the room is ugly - I already let you place your huge box in our room, but that's too much".
The second, more "in-topic", is an anti-vibration base working with air insulation (it's either "passive", either "active", sporting a pump, that can also be connected in series with other bases to keep them at  the same pressure), that was exhibited with a PC running seismic analysys in real time: it's theVibraplane by Sound of Silence, costing about $1,800, or $5,000 (the active version).

Finally, a note that seemed to me really curious and, at the same time, a good thing. The Moscode firm, by a certain George Kaye, had just reintroduced the last version of his power amplifier, the 401HR model, where the letters are an intended dedication in memory of the late Harvey Rosenberg, pictoresque and historical character of the USA audio community. This firm didn't have a room, but some producers (even amplifier producers) let them use their own, replacing for some time the exhibited power amplifier with the Moscode, and the show organisation let them leave around their (modest) advertising material. It was surely a favour to the designer, but I like to think that it was above all, a hommage to H.R.,that surely humanized the competition attitude among show exhibitors andt hat so much differentiate a show that has a more "commercial" characterisation than we're used to.

That's all, folks!

Addendum...

This period saw me, so to say, somehow gipsy, so I can also tell you of a short, but very warm meeting with Roberto Pereira.

Yeah, but... Who's that guy?

Well, let's say that,  if you happen to spend some days in Rio de Janeiro [and you should, at least once in your life ;-) ], once the sun is set, you could go and visit the "Alta Fidelidade" store, in Copacabana (yes, right, behind the beach - it couldn't be more comfortable). There, good ole Roberto welcomed me very warmly, and setup for me a nice little system, although I honestly precised I was just a passing tourist, i.e. I wouldn't have bought anything, curious of listening to some Brazilian gear; in a world, the usual time consuming moron.

Local market seemed to gravitate around the northamerican one (price lists and magazines references are all in USD), with occasional Brit-Fi presences; yet, some new things are emerging, the most known (and expensive) being the Audiopax amplifiers Roberto, while having Audiopaxes available, insisted to show me a $1,800 veeeeeery minimalist (just one input/output, with only a stepped volume knob) autotransfomer-equipped single-ended passive preamplifier by Tone Audio, with which the system was really very quiet (you betcha!) and, how could I say, respecting of the dynamic transient of the tracks he played. This device comes also in a - more expensive - balanced version, that local magazines indicates as "first in the world". Roberto sadly told me that his customers always prefer famed foreign brands, although this preamplifierwas evidently superior, perhaps due to an intimate disbelief toward the ability of a Brazialian manufacturer to produce well made gear; yet, he was much more successfull in selling cables, also from a local producer (artisan, I'd say), but made of (top secret...) imported material: sure, this was something that could more easily be loaned for a home trial.

Anyway, what most surprised me was to know that, even over there, TNT is very popular and appreciated. So, when I told Roberto that I was used to "lend Lucio a hand" - yet, specifying that my being there was due to mere personal reasons - he was even happier of my presence ;-). And he started to ask me about Italian products (there they know mainly Sonus Faber and Audio Analogue, and he's in love with Pathos), so we ended up chatting until closing time, CD after CD (all rigorously pure genuine brazilian that he selected for me to "repair" the proposal I could have received by local record stores). And I could hardly hide my pride when I noticed his evidently envious reaction after I told him about the TNT mailing list and our local communities. He told me that, in Brazil, Hi-Fi world is still an elite affair, and it couldn't be different, considering the economics of a still developing country. It's still a friend affair. Few people that, just because not much and with few opportunities, know each other and exchange "courtesy" visits in their houses.

So, if - as I told you at the beginning - you happen to be in Rio, try and visit Roberto's store and even try and seek for other ones [there's one also at the end of Ipanema, toward Leblon, but, well, over there you can find also something else to do, don't you? ;-)]. It is a somehow expanding market, so it could even reveal surprises, and who knows if you don't come back home with some tropical cable.

Copyright 2004 Carlo Iaccarino - www.tnt-audio.com

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