This was my second year attending the Home Entertainment Show in the Big Apple and I noted a dramatic reduction in the number of both visitors and exhibitors compared to last year. Saturday afternoon was the busiest the show got. Since my 6moons gig focuses on the < $5000 per piece category, I was disappointed by the lack of affordable gear. At best, perhaps four or five rooms offered decent yet inexpensive equipment. Other than Creek/Epos/Shanling courtesy of Roy Hall, there was Odyssey, Rogue Audio, Hyperion and Almarro and that was pretty much it. There was little to tickle this audiophile's cost-conscious funny bone. For an industry that surely seems on the ropes, I cannot understand why we need another $60,000 loudspeaker or $20,000 amplifier.
While Srajan offered a comprehensive report, I focused on the fewer, smaller, less expensive systems with one of two exceptions. First off, renegade Klaus Bunge's Odyssey room was easily the sickest room of the show. Unless you don't have kids or are 200 years old, sick means good as does cool, hot, bitchin', gnarly, phat, chillin' and sweet. In-wall speakers suck, right? You wouldn't think so if you ventured in this room. Since the Hilton folks wouldn't have been too happy to have their walls punched full of holes, Klaus -- who, I am convinced, is clinically insane -- muscled up a skid of plywood and built a wall in his demo room complete with wallpaper and a fireplace. Mounted on the faux wall was Odyssey's $1500/pr and larger $1950/pr wall-mounted speakers complete with your choice of laser print (80 to choose from) or your own photo transfers. Even at close range, these speakers looked like framed artwork. Music playback was remarkably vivid and powerful, with a decent rendering of depth that surprised me. Also on display was a complete system (sans source) that consisted of a pair of 180-watt monoblocks, preamp, Lorelei floorstanding speakers and full cabling all for the truly sick price of $5500. Throw in a decent source and you would have a killer system for under $7500. Nobody at HE2005 offered as much bang for your dollar as Klaus did.
I dropped into the ELP room on three separate occasions to check out their laser turntable and left unconvinced. It did not sound at all as involving and immediate as even the most inexpensive turntable. Moreover, the ELP had trouble navigating anything but the cleanest of LPs. The way I see it, vinyl playback is a physical experience. It involves contact of a needle in a groove. Using a laser table is like having sex with a condom. Sure it's safe but it just ain't as tactile or as much fun as doing it commando style.
|Rogue Audio's Mark O'Brien showed off his new Titan line of affordable tube equipment. On active display was the Cronus integrated ($1795) featuring 55 watts of EL34 power, four inputs, two outputs, headphone output, remote control and phono section. On passive display was the Metis preamplifier ($995) and Atlas power amp ($1395). The Cronus is essentially the Atlas and Metis squeezed into the same box. The build quality and appearance was stunning for the price. To top it off, the Titan series are completely home-grown USDA beef! How Rogue can build here and keep the price so low is beyond me. I hope to review the Cronus later this year. Awesome value.
Show veteran Roy Hall always manages to obtain exceptional sonics and HE2005 was no different. Roy's lines are excellent examples of decent sounding affordable gear. Roy was also one of the few exhibitors who placed small signs indicating model names and prices for every piece of gear on display. Why everyone else failed to do this is beyond me. Furthermore, his was the only room featuring affordable analog.
|Regardless of price, I thought the best sound at the show was the Lamm/Damoka room, which featured 50-year-old Vitavox horn speakers driven by Lamm tube electronics and a beautifully restored Thorens table. While the speakers were hardly perfect by modern standards, it somehow did not matter as they effortlessly filled the room
|with glorious music. The subtlety and nuance offered here was transcendent. I suspect this room was less about trying to sell something but more about educating listeners that older equipment is just as musically relevant if not more so than most modern gear.
|Sonically, two other rooms off my price beat stood out for me. One was the Ars Aures/Art Audio/Gill Audio room. Here was a fine example of a perfect marriage between art and performance. Both amps and speakers are available in a number of matched Ferrari colors. Unlike many rooms, there was no bass boom or bloat here. I suspect the Real Traps positioned in all four corners had much to do with the sound in this room. Highwater Sound's room also impressed with their Sound Engineering SE-1 turntable, DaVinci arm, 47 Labs digital, Tron amps and Horning Perikles loudspeaker. These two rooms were among my favorites of the show regardless of price.
|Joseph Audio and Manley Labs demonstrated three-channel mixes of the Mercury Living Presence SACD reissues on Joseph's RM55LE floorstanders and center channel while electronics included a VPI HRX table, Philips SACD player, Manley's Wave DAC/preamp, Steelhead phono preamp and Ghidorah 3-channel preamp and three Neo-Classic 250 monoblocks. On static display were Manley's new Prawn preamp and probably the coolest reviewer tool ever: a hard-wired remote control 4-position switch box called the Skipjack making cable comparisons a breeze. That's sweet - er, sick. Outside this room, I witnessed a completely unconvincing demo conducted by Joseph Audio's chief designer on why first-order crossover designs are wrong. Sorry, I do not listen to test tones or examine frequency sweep graphs when listening to music.
|I was happy to see another loudspeaker manufacturer offering time/phase-coherent loudspeakers. Newcomer Aural Acoustics displayed their $4500 Model B floorstander. There was the same natural, inviting, open ease to the Model B that I consistently hear in similar speaker designs. Audience's Adept Response ($3800) was the power conditioner of choice in several systems this year as was Audience's Au24 and powerChord cables. Here Audience president John MacDonald poses next to
|one of his power conditioners in the Piega multi-channel system room. While patrolling the vendor stalls on the third floor, I bought several LPs from the good folks at Music Direct and Acoustic Sounds. You guys are going to bankrupt me! I also scored a quartet of stunning CDs from Todd Garfinkle's MA Recordings. Not completely knowledgeable with respect to most of MA's offerings, Srajan fixed me up with a couple of his top recommendations. I doubt any real music lover would be disappointed with any of these discs.
HE2005 was the fifth audio/video show I have attended. Each time I leave with less inclination to attend future events for other than purely social reasons. First, I find it increasingly difficult to get any sense of emotional attachment from most equipment on exhibit. Many systems seemed more concerned with sound rather than music. Perhaps I shouldn't expect so much given the sonic limitations of small hotel rooms. This year, only one exhibit succeeded in transporting me away and that was the aforementioned Damoka room. I lost count of how many times I stopped by to relax and decompress. In two instances, I stayed for over an hour whereas other rooms displaying the latest and greatest in technology left me cold. Two other rooms that blew me away musically and emotionally that weekend weren't even at HE2005. One was Jonathan Halpern's home system which included a Shindo-modified Garrard 301 table, Shindo tube gear and the truly staggering Latour Field Coil speakers. If I ever win the lottery, Jonathan will be the first guy I call.
|The other killer system that impressed was fellow moonie Jules Coleman's
|which showcased John Devore's Silverback loudspeaker to spectacular effect. If you thought Devore Fidelity's room grooved at HE2005, it didn't come close to what I experienced at Jules' home. For once, this budget-obsessed 'phile heard a pair of speakers that I consider worth every penny of their $14,000 cost. While drawn to time and phase-coherent speakers, these vertical baffle beauties impressed me big time. We stayed up late Sunday night giggling like kids while listening to the Kill Bill Vol 1 soundtrack on LP. Powering the big Silverbacks was a mere 8 watts of Shindo 300B single-ended-triode power. Many audiophiles believe SETs to be warm, lush and romantic. They are if you subscribe to the Cary school of tube amp design or use the wrong speaker. In fact, most SETs I have heard are about dynamics, incisiveness and immediacy, provided you partner them with suitable loudspeakers. I got more out of those brief moments than the entire show combined.