Two Southern "Boys"
On the Loose at
The Home Entertainment Show 201
Since relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina from my hometown five years ago, my Father and I have made it a point to take time out from out busy schedules to take a trip together, just the two of us. Usually this trip took us to the national meet of a specialty automobile club that we belong to. The 2001 Meet is being held in Calgary, Canada this year, which is too far to drive for either of us (we always attend these meets with our car) so the decision was made not to attend. I had already made plans to attend HE-2001 given my position as a reviewer with Ultimate Audio and Enjoy The Music so it was only appropriate that I ask Dad to join me in
Our journey to New York began with our meeting in Atlanta, with me flying down from Charlotte (yes, I know it is 200 miles in the wrong direction from NY) and Dad flying up from his home in Dothan, Alabama. After arriving in New York, we enjoyed a trip from LaGuardia to the New York Hilton via limousine compliments of my Mother. We checked into the Hilton and then joined up with
Stereophile Guide to Home Theatre's Fred Mantaghian for dinner and a play. Fred treated us for dinner at an absolutely fantastic Brazilian restaurant about four blocks from the hotel. After dinner, we then attended the Tony Award winning play "Aida". While the music was not my cup of tea, the choreography and acting were first rate. Highly recommended.
Since Friday morning was designated as the "Trade Days", Dad and I were determined to get an early start so we can get as much in possible before the show opened to the public at noon. We picked up our press passes and headed up to the
42nd floor. Our first stop was a room sponsored by New York dealer Innovative Audio. I was particularly interested in this room as it featured the Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy 6 loudspeakers driven by Spectral electronics. The W/P 6's
predecessor. The Watt/Puppy 5.1 has been my reference speaker for several years and I was particularly interested in hearing how much an improvement the new speaker was over the old. Staffing the room was Wilson Sales Manager, Peter McGrath, who has a well-deserved reputation as a recording engineer. McGrath played several selections that he had recorded that showed off the system to it best advantage. While I had heard that the "6" was an improvement over its predecessor, I was not prepared for just how much. The new model betters the old model 5.1 in every aspect. The biggest improvement appeared to be in the bottom end. Using a selection from Mickey Hart's Planet Drum", the Model 6 produced some of the most realistic bass I have heard in awhile. I must get my hands on a pair of these for review. After an absolutely enjoyable hour of listening, we said our goodbyes and moved on to the next room.
Our next stop was at another room sponsored by another New York based dealer, Sound by Singer. The room featured the JM Labs Utopia loudspeaker driven by pair the Lamm ML.2 single ended triode amps and the Lamm ML.1 push/pull triode amps. The front end consisted of a dCS CD + SACD Transport/ dCS Elgar D to A converter and the new Lamm L2 Reference Line Stage all tied together with First Impression reference cables. The system produced a big sound that filled the room. While impressed with the sound, Dad felt that the system was too complicated with the four amps and all the ancillary components.
Leaving the Lamm/Utopia room, we proceeded to another Sound by Singer room, which featured products by Immedia and Hovland. The room featured the Immedia RPM-1 turntable fitted with the Immedia RPM-2 tonearm and the Lyra Helicon cartridge, an Accuphase DP75V CD player, the Hovland HP100 preamplifier, the Hovland Sapphire amplifier and Audio Physic Avanti III loudspeakers all strung together with Synergistic Research cables. Turn off the lights and I do not understand how anyone could not fall in love with the Hovland combination on its looks alone with its soft blue highlights. While the combination is beautiful to look at, its Sonics are even better.
Our visit to this room was further highlighted by the opportunity to meet Immedia head honcho Allan Perkins. Allan and I have conversed via telephone and e-mail for several years. It was the result of these conversations that I purchased an Immedia RPM-2 tonearm. This tonearm is exceptional and deserves more attention than it gets.
Our next stop was to a room that featured some of the most unusual products to hit the marketplace in several years. Niro Nakamichi, of cassette deck fame, has been spending the last few years working on amplifier design. He has been concentrating much of his research on the audible effects of vibration on electronic signals. In 1998, he founded Mechanical Research Corporation to market a line of audio equipment that takes his research to the limit.
The result of his labors is the visually stunning Niro 1000 amplifier. Capable of producing 150 watts in class "A", the unusual design of the Niro attempts to control every aspect of mechanical vibration. The Niro 1000 is also available in a two-channel version, as well as a preamplifier (called a control engine) and an integrated version.
Across the hall from the Niro room, was the room occupied by high-end newcomer Impact Technology. On display was the company's statement product, the Airfoil 5.2. The Airfoil is approximately six feet tall with nine elements, mounted on two bases that contain two small woofers that operate in the 80Hz to 160Hz range. The system also utilizes two powered subwoofers that contain two 12-inch woofers per side. The internal edge of the Airfoil is an irregular curve containing nine drivers that resemble a bent ribbon. The curved portion of the tower provides 150-degree horizontal dispersion for all frequencies above 160Hz. While I can't say I understood Impact Technology's Vice President of Marketing, Lawrence Blair's explanation of how it works, it is one of the most natural sounding speakers I have ever heard. The Airfoil produced an image that remained rock solid no matter where I was in the room. This system was one of the few systems I heard at the show that received praise from everyone I talked with.
After breaking for lunch, Dad and I continued our journey on the tenth floor. Our first stop was in the Joseph Audio room. As usual, Jeff managed to produce some of the best sounds I heard at the show. Jeff's system consisted of the gorgeous Spj La Luce turntable/arm combination with a Cardas Myrtle cartridge, Marantz SACD player, Classe' Omega preamplifier, Herron phono stage, Classe' CAM 350 amps, and Cardas Golden Reference cables. Every time I went by his room, it was jammed to the gills with people with a long line of people waiting to get in.
Room 1008 was occupied by Music Hall. As usual, Music Hall's head honcho, Roy Hall was displaying equipment from Creek and Epos. According to Dad, this was one of his favorite rooms as it contained equipment that he could understand. As usual, the sound was excellent.
Mark Levinson's Red Rose Music was also one of the most talked about rooms at the show. It was a small system built around a Sony DVP-9000ES DVD/SACD player, Red Rose Model V integrated amplifier, and a pair of the small R-3 stand mounted speakers. Costing
$13,000, the system produced a well-defined soundstage with plenty of depth. The overall presentation was very natural. One interesting thing about the room is that no room treatments were utilized.
I was also impressed with the room occupied by Tenor Audio. This room featured the Model 75 OTL Integrated Monoblock Amplifier, Verity Audio Parsifal's and Steve Smith's SilverSmith cables, which were finished in an absolutely magnificent maple finish that adds $5,000.00 to their list price. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to listen to the Parsifal and I now know why fellow
Ultimate Audio writer, Lars Fredell, is so enamored with them. I was also really impressed with the Tenor amp and the SilverSmith cables.
After leaving the 10th floor, Dad and I took the stairs down to the ninth floor where we proceeded to the Perpetual Technology room to say hello to my old friend, Perpetual Tech President, Mark Schifter. They were demonstrating the effects of their room correction software, but I really was not able to hear the Martin-Logans as the room was packed. That will be solved soon as Mark promised to send me the P1-A D/D and P-3A DAC for my evaluation.
By this time, it was approaching the 8:00 closing time of the show, but my day was far from over. Dad and I had an 8:30 appointment with Philip O'Hanlon of Nearfield Acoustics for an after hours audition of the Reference 18 2W Pipedreams system. This room featured the superlative VPI TNT Series V Hot Rod with the 12-inch JMW-12.5 tonearm and Van Den Hul Black Beauty cartridge. The digital front end was an Accuphase. Amplification was provided by Kevin Hayes' Valve Amplification Company (VAC) Signature Preamplifier and two Signature 70/70 power amplifiers. My first impression on seeing the small room was that there was no way that big speaker could possibly work. Boy was I wrong. The pipes filled the room with a sound that was coherent and smooth. Given that Harry Westfield's turntable was highlighted in the room, I spent most of the time listening to vinyl. This is one system I would love to have in my home. While I sat enjoying the system, Dad and Kevin Hayes sat in the back having a pleasant visit. My audition was scheduled for an hour but it stretched into nearly three. The only thing that brought it to a close was we were getting hungry. So, George Bischoff of Nearfield, Kevin Hayes and Kevin Carter of VAC and Dad and I set off in search of food.
Saturday morning began with Dad and I splitting up and heading off in different directions, him to get tickets to the Sony SACD presentations and me back to the Nearfield room to hear the new $9,900 "baby" Pipedreams. Designed to be used as part of a surround sound system, the speaker sounded so good that the decision was made to market the speaker with small active subwoofers as a stand-alone system. This speaker gave up very little to its larger brothers. I have requested a pair of these for review.
Most of Saturday was spent visiting rooms that we had missed the day before and to revisit those we found particularly interesting. This was a lot harder than imagined as the hotel was an absolute zoo with the Home Entertainment Show, a teacher's convention and a speech by former President Bill Clinton all taking place on Saturday. Elevators were hard to come by; the rooms were packed with people talking instead of listening and it was general chaos. One item that caught my attention was the new "Baby" Adrenaline speaker system from Wisdom Audio. While I was not able to get a true handle on their sound because of a crowded room, they are absolutely cute.
We did manage to attend a demonstration by Sony of their new multi-channel SACD. The new units will start at
$300 and go up from there. The system consisted of five Sony SS-M9ED loudspeakers driven by five Pass Labs X-600 mono amplifiers. I was not real impressed with the sound of the system as it sounded like some instruments were coming from behind my head. During the question and answer session, the Sony Rep was put on the spot by one of the attendees who asked if he could get the same sound out of his modest home system with the
$300 unit considering the fact that it was demonstrated with $80,000 worth of electronics and speakers. Unfortunately, he never gave a clear answer to the question; only saying it was probably better than what he was currently listening to.
We then ventured off to visit my friends from Balanced Audio Technology. Sharing a room with BAT was a surround sound system consisting of Avant-garde Trios and special versions of the Uno's for the center and rears. Video was provided by the largest Sony projector I have every seen. Cardas supplied the cabling and Symposium the racks and tweaks. Needless to say, it was my favorite audio/video presentation.
While I explored the "zoo" on the second floor looking for vinyl and CD's, Dad took advantage of the opportunity to attend a live concert by pianist, Hyperion Knight. Dad is not a real fan of Gershwin, but he found Knight's performance to be riveting. After collecting more vinyl than I had room for in my luggage, Dad and I headed upstairs to get ready for a dinner with Myles Astor and the rest of the gang from
Sunday was a light day for Dad and me as we had an early flight back home. We spent most of the morning back at the VPI/VAC/Nearfield room listening to the Pipedreams. To say that I am really impressed with these big speakers is an understatement. From there it was off to LaGuardia to catch our flight home.
On the plane, Dad and I had the time to discuss what we had seen and heard at the show. Dad's favorite room was the very first one he had heard, the Spectral/Wilson room sponsored by Innovative Audio. He also liked the VPI/VAC/Nearfield room as well as the Creek/Epos room. His vote for the best sound at the show goes to Hyperion Knight. Guess that live always beats Memorex. My favorites were the Wilson room (so, I am prejudiced in favor of Wilson), the Nearfield room, The Red Rose Music room, and the Impact Technology Room.
When I set this trip up, I was concerned that Dad might have been bored. Mother laid all of my fears to rest. Upon our return, I called to see if Dad had made it home okay since we arrived in Atlanta with minutes to spare for our connecting flights. She said Dad was sitting in his chair with all of the literature he had collected spread out in front of him. He was in the process of trying to describe to her some of the equipment he had heard and was regaling her with stories of the people he had met. She said he was already looking forward to Home Entertainment 2002. Mother then accused me of creating a new audiophile monster. Guess that means the trip was a smashing success. All in all this was the best Father/Son Male Bonding Trip yet.
Click here to see
complete listing of show exhibitors.
Click here to see our
1999 show coverage.