Best Sound at the New York Audio Show 2014
This entry was posted on Sunday, September 28th, 2014 Authored By: Robert Entenmann
Several rooms had my attention at the show this year. Audioquest, Audio Research, Basis, Lyra, and Vandersteen were in the Fulton Ferry Suite. The Naim Statement Amplifier paired with the Focal Stella Utopias was sourced with Naim electronics in the Coney Island suite. VAC was in the Brooklyn Writers suite with their reference electronics powering the Focal Grand Utopias, sourced with a Bergmann turntable. The VAC room was very impressive insofar as the imposing size of the Utopias and the aesthetics and build of their electronics, which were visible through clear acrylic covers. If you took a closer look, you’d see William E. Low’s signature interconnects between electronics and the unlikely choice of Shunyata speaker cables, which may have contributed to the indelibly forward nature of the Utopia’s performance.
This was my first time listening to the Vandersteen 7’s mated with their very own liquid-cooled M7-HPA 600 watt monoblock amplifiers. The “Vanderamp” controlled the midrange drivers of the 7’s with ease. Truly pistonic motion may be possible if you supply enough power to a rigid enough transducer, but typically with compromise: as power increases breakup mode occurs increasingly as a result thereof. However, Richard has a few secrets up his sleeve to mitigate such issues; namely an incredibly rigid and well damped midrange driver whose unique combination of geometry and materials, carbon and balsa wood, put it in a class of its own. Furthermore, the raw power of the Vanderamp is a no compromise approach, as its proprietary liquid cooled design allows for it to function in pure class A, regardless of amplitude.
On the front end, Audio Research worked its typical magic with the Basis Inspiration turntable paired with Basis’ new Superarm 9 tonearm and the acclaimed Lyra Atlas cartridge. Needless to say, the Basis performed in its usual dead quiet yet lively and above all musical manner. You could say they cheated a little, by having the principle of Basis, A.J. Conti, along with Audio Connection’s veteran analog specialist Nick Sette there for setup. Finally, Audioquest did its job by allowing the music to reach the 7’s without coloration. All in all, I thought the room sounded great.
Getting back to the VAC room, I’m certain if it were not for the Shunyata speaker cables misinterpreting the neutral delivery of the WEL Quest interconnects that the room would have been a serious contender for best sound at show. One has to be hyper cognizant of every element of the system when a Focal Utopia loudspeaker is performing. I have extensive experience with Focal, in particular the transparent nature of their beryllium tweeter technology. Anything, and I mean just about anything you send to them, you’re going to hear. With this in mind, a component such as speaker cables cannot be overlooked. Contrary to popular belief, signal cables, within the analog domain, can affect sonics more dramatically than a change in source components. Speaking of sources, the VAC room’s Bergmann table may have contributed to the forward sound of the Grand Utopia if the vertical tracking axis of its arm wasn’t paid close attention to. Table setup and the Shunyata cables are the only two things I could surmise would make the Utopia sound as it did with the VAC equipment, which needs no introduction nor defense; as they are one of the finest tubed electronics made in the US.
Soundsmith’s Peter Ledermann had his usual setup of Soundsmith cartridges and speakers, a VPI HR-X with Schroeder tonearm, and Soundsmith electronics. It’s awfully tempting to say that Soundsmith’s setup is “bright” upon first listen. However, you’ll notice that Peter’s room is always full and people tend to hold on to their seats, and I assure you it’s not to gaze at his magnanimous beard. The speakers have a live feeling to them. If you don’t listen to live music regularly, this important observation may go right over your head. All too often, we juxtapose systems in the industry when ultimately the reference should be the real deal. In consideration of the modest cost of Peter’s system as per the others referenced above, I have no choice but to tip my hat to him.
So who’s the best? It is my humble opinion that Mr. John Bevier’s Focal/Naim combination was an acoustic match-made-in-heaven. I looked around Bevier’s room to try and find some fancy RPG panels or some type of voodoo that was translating into the captivating sound the Stellas delivered, and there was nothing to be found. No fancy speaker cabling, and a completely solid-state front end, which is typically not my bag. I was completely unfamiliar with the music being played at relatively comfortable levels. Sometimes louder music will give the listener the impression that it is “better.” When the system was turned up, the lack of distortion during a Requiem choir performance, the organ well below 30Hz, was breathtaking. The Naim Statement Amplifier effortlessly controlled the 94db sensitivity Stellas.
I mentioned earlier that I was not familiar with the majority of the music being played, and typically I would not draw strict conclusions about a room in lieu of being familiar with the music. However, the Focal/Naim performance was riveting, inspiring the: “I can’t believe what I’m hearing” sensation. At the end of the day, whichever room emotionally engages me the most will be the one I endorse as the best. A job well done for Audio Plus Services, especially in consideration that Naim is a new venture for them.