How The Other Half listens:
Reimyo: A room tweaked'n'tuned to within an inch of its being with all sorts of spendy bits and pieces by Harmonix sounded extraordinary indeed. I especially liked the Harmonix-branded speakers even though I was told they were from a lesser line than the other electronics in play. These speakers are called the Bravo if my chicken-scratch notes are to be trusted. A lesser line? Well, you know me - always slumming. Here was another room I would have been able to listen for hours in, but what it had in smoothness and grace it seemed to give up in detail retrieval and raw impact. In fact, nothing was "raw" or too very excited in this room. Overall a highly refined sound that was eventually to these ears a bit too polite and homogenous, disc after admittedly lovely-sounding disc. Of course it was a real treat to meet the semi-legendary Mr. Kazou Kiuchi (or Kiuchi-San), chief designer at Combak Corporation of Japan. The real deal if ever there were.

And so on, leaving so much out:
The Audiopax room became the unofficial meeting place of the moonies. Audiopax amps and the company's own speakers with a Zanden DAC/transport made more than a fair share of magic. Although the room was rough and I couldn't help suspecting the speakers could be bettered without too much effort. Would have loved to hear the Rhethms here [you shoulda heard this room by Saturday. Ditto for Reimyo after Kiuchi-San altered the overall tuning - Ed.].

The Thor and WHT setup had a very distinct sound, especially enveloping and just short of sweet. It's difficult to draw a cost bead on Thor Audio because each unit is built to customer spec from available options; pricey will have to do. I'm still a bit confused as I recall this room featuring a large banner that read "Bass reflex done right", yet the only speakers I could see sure looked horn-loaded to me. [Quite correct - but I believe silly notions about horn honk and other unsavory preconceptions made the folks from WHT shy away from using the horny word in their marketing - Ed.].

Naim. This room ticked me off in a way. Here was a sound most easily described (and differentiated) by its near total lack of negatives. Electronics, cables, even racks all from the same company and sounding like they had all trained together to make proper music. Pace, drive, fun. Frankly, somewhat unemotional and a shade arid in the end, but such higher-level niggles aside, I'd bet that this would be the room most non-philes would get it in. And even the most rabid a'phile looking to simplify their life (or outfit their retirement houseboat) couldn't do a lot better than this. It's as easy as plug'n'chug and upgrade with confidence. These products are worthy of admiration from almost any angle.

A long-time Naim fan explained that this gear needed, in his opinion, "several days" to settle in and start flowering and that, to his ear, this collection had not quite "got there yet". So I guess I should take my impressions, add break-in and grade upward.

David Caplan, father of the Shakti Hallograph, told me their production difficulties are very close to being solved and the availability of this room-treating Soundfield Optimizer will soon improve. Ben Piazza of Shakti had just weeks ago explained that the complexities of manufacturing the Hallograph had led to a backorder/dropship-only situation, but David assured me of a review pair "within the next coupla weeks". He whet my appetite with a brief history of the Hallograph: "It started in my fireplace...". Any story beginning in a person's hearth is bound to be a good un' and I'm pretty convinced this will make for a captivating column in the near future.

It's not my intention to get into the standard ragging here, but one room was so appalling as to earn a special mention: The Kharma room sounded like the only thing working was the tweeters and not very good tweeters at that. Thin and twangy, percussive in a clickety-klack, one-note way, this experience had all the aural satisfaction of tin cans strung with twine. I've only heard this line of loudspeakers once before, but I recall a much riper (if still a bit tightly-wound) presen-tation. Is it possible that these folks were dealing with a serious technical failing and were too distracted to notice? [Possible - when I heard both Kharma rooms on Friday and Saturday, nothing indicated any malfunctions - Ed.].

The Loudest Room at the Hilton wasn't so much a room as it was a large, partially enclosed space just outside the hotel's main 6th Avenue entrance (and that's 6th Ave., not The Avenue of The Americas. New York is the safest large city in America, but here's a free travel tip: If you go asking on the street for an address on The Avenue of The Americas, you will be mugged, even by someone who's never committed a crime of any kind before, perhaps even by a cop). Speaking of tourists, this main entrance is where -- not seeming to know they could get the job done by themselves faster and without the need for a tip by walking to the curb -- the tourists line up to have hotel staff hail cabs on their behalf. Said staff sport whistles, black for underlings, the older man with gold epaulettes and fancier Captain's cap had a silver one, and said whistles emit an ear-shredding, brain-drilling shriek unlike any sonic assault I had suffered before.

The enclosure's composition of marble, cement and yard upon yard of tempered glass surely played a role in this deafening serenade, as did the undoubtedly well-developed lungs of New Yorkers who blow whistles for a living. I had popped out with an associate for a quick ciggy and to return a few calls (the interior of the hotel is largely impenetrable to cell phone signals; an unexpected plus) when I found myself sitting on the edge of a planter with my fingers in my ears, unable to either indulge the nasty habit or use the phone (an even nastier habit, if you ask me). Overheard from a

stranger nearby on his mobile mumbler: "I'd like to talk about it some more but if I don't get away from these whistle fuckers, I'll be deaf in five minutes." And that guy wasn't even wearing a show pass. After snapping a few candids of the whistlers in case they were needed for a lawsuit, I couldn't help but ask the toughest, meanest-looking one just what in God's good name they thought they were doing bending the needles of innocent decibel meters everywhere: "What?" I'm not screwing around. He actually said "What?" Like hunched backs in mining, online trashing in audio reporting and alcoholism in advertising, I guess that's what's called professional hazard.

Stupidest thing I did all day
This had to be dutifully and politely accepting every hand-out and press pack pushed in my direction, creating a cumbersome load before I even got to the ½ mile of vinyl bins. After succumbing to the special show prices (just really expensive instead of the usual really really expensive) I ended up toting a knuckle-stretching,

shoulder-bruising mass that a later visit to the scale would reveal as representing 17.7 pounds. The plastic handles of the gimme bags were in tatters and it was moonie Marja -- taking pity on me as I staggered backwards under the weight into the Audiopax room I was trying to leave -- who would save me with a sturdy canvas bag courtesy of WBT: The one manufacturer give-away I needed most yet had somehow missed. Typical.

All things must pass
Even a show pass. The day ended with a press reception sponsored by the ELF Foundation, a wonderfully worthy charity that outfits the Children's Wards of hospitals with music and theater capabilities (and which I've made a note to look into). Here I had arranged to meet up with Art Dudley whom I had not had the pleasure to greet in the flesh for almost two years - and let me tell ya folks, audio's favorite lefty did not look a lot like Che Guevara.

Art was resplendent in an impeccable Italian suit (wait a second, this is Art Dudley - it was probably Regent Street) and looking for all the world like a man who had just emerged from an invigorating spa experience. By 6:30PM and in stark contrast, I looked like a man who had been shoved into a sack and beaten with Shunyata's beefiest cords for hours. When I returned from the bar with our refills, I noticed that my bag had toppled over from where it had been resting against a chair, narrowly missing putting the compound fracture on Art's ankle. It was here that I learned that this bag was possessed of a religious power as everyone I asked to pick it up exclaimed "Jesus Christ!" and stared at me with burning, unfocused eyes.

As Art and I seem to suffer not-dissimilar tastes where equipment bias is concerned, it took about

Eric Barry, ex-Listener scribe, now cofounder of the 'zine Tracing Error and the highly haberdashed Art Dudley of Stereophile.
90 seconds for one of us to bring up the Wyatt Erp audio room. Neither one of us could remember the name of the amps. "I remember thinking it was a lousy name," I said. "Yeah, me too", Art said (and there was just no way I was going through the Holy Bag for my notes). "Were you there when Rob put in the 50s? Those tubes from the 1930s?" Art asked. "Yeah! What was that?" "I don't know, what was that?" "It was amazing." "Just amazing!" "It was like, what? Like the air became charged or something". "What was that?" "Was it like, sparkle? Or something?" "Something for sure." "I don't know if it had a lot to do with real, but it was incredible". "Just incredible". "Yeah." "Yeah!"

How's that for some off-hours expert commentary? And I, for one, was only drinking O'Doul's. In addition to my all-too-brief time with Art, I got to meet many cool folks like Eric Barry of Tracing Error, the aforementioned infectiously effervescent Robin Wyatt of Robyatt Audio and spent much of the day with good friend and mastering genius Jim Mageras of Soundbunker who had a large hand in more than a few of the multichannel SACDs that Sony had once again papered the walls with. After all kids, when it's not "all about the music", it's all about the people who keep this hobby on the boil.

Finally a Word About Shows
There are good and bad things about them as we all know. Yet most of the common carping strikes me as petty. Where else would most people get the opportunity to hear such a wide range of equipment, in "suboptimal conditions" or not? In some cases, it's a rush to simply see half this

*Mastering Engineer Jim Mageras of Soundbunker poses, somewhat reluctantly, with his SACD multichannel remaster of Norah Jones "Come away with me" just visible in the upper right of photo.

stuff, even if it's not playing music at the time. I mean, how many Meitner, Brinkmann and Aperion Audio dealers are there in your town? There ain't a ton in mine, that's fer damn sure - and my town's metro New York. Bottom line? if you're a committed hobbyist, show attendance is something you'd certainly enjoy and almost surely benefit from. Just don't take all the brochures offered to you and, for goodness sake, save the LP stands for dead last (and Paul, I do hope this was long enough for you to -- you know -- take care of business while saving printer ink?). See y'all next year.

While I did work on that SACD project, I was only involved in the premastering. For the record, the SACD release was mastered by Jay Newland. - Jim Mageras