New York Audio Show 2013 – Report

The New York Audio Show ’13 was held in New York City from April 12-14 at the Palace Hotel on Madison Ave. The exhibit areas consisted of two floors of suites, and three floors of hotel rooms. It was a pretty good layout for an audio show. The elevators were busy with regular hotel guests, but the stairwells were open between the suite levels, and also between the hotel room levels, which made movement reasonably easy. The Show attendance was reasonably busy on Friday, and more so on Saturday, but it thinned out a bit on Sunday with a slightly different crowd. Hopefully there was enough attendance to warrant future Shows.

I go to Shows like this for a variety of reasons:
I was planning to commute, due to high hotel prices, but I finally found a somewhat cheaper place, Pod 39. The room was small, 55 square feet including the bathroom, but it was new, clean, and nicely laid out, so it was quite satisfactory.

I had some company at various points over the weekend. Paul came in to the Show on Friday, and we managed to see most of it. It was fun discussing what we saw with someone so knowledgeable about speakers. Friday night Margarita and Boris and Delphine joined me for dinner. We had a great time chatting, and had an excellent Chinese dinner. I got my crispy fish! Afterwards, Delphine managed to find us good ice cream for dessert at Ben and Jerry’s in Rockefeller Center, although the weather was a bit too cold to use the observation deck.

This Show was notable from previous Shows due to the number of really good systems on display. Shows historically have had lots of small rooms showing new small speakers from new and unknown companies, that sometimes didn’t sound very good. But at this Show most of the rooms sounded good, some were spectacular, and many of the small speakers were excellent (and extremely expensive). Raidho was showing a small stand-mounted two-way speaker that the critics have been raving about, that cost $28,000 per pair! And the stands were $3500 extra! I admit they did sound spectacular. They also had a larger 3-way floorstander for $48,000 per pair! I heard one guy come out of that room complaining that what was on display cost more than his Land Rover! But apparently he was looking to buy speakers, he had money, and he liked those…

On display were a surprising number of electrostatic and ribbon speakers. Electrostatic speakers are a unique way of making sound – they consist of a charged plastic mylar sheet between two very fine metal screens. The signal voltage is applied to the screens, forcing the plastic to “flap” back and forth, making sound. They are very difficult to do right, but done right they sound wonderful because they don’t have the transitions between individual speaker cones that traditional speakers have. And they have the added benefit of being pretty much transparent! Martin Logan was there with their new flagship electrostatics, boosted by traditional subwoofers on the bass, and sounded fantastic, other than bass boom in the untreated room. And ribbon speakers seem to be getting more popular as the technology is proven. Ribbon speakers consist of metal strips folded like an accordion (they are not transparent). When the signal voltage is applied to them, the “accordion” expands and contracts, producing sound waves. I’ve seen them mainly in tweeters up to now, but at the Show one company was showing a full range ribbon speaker that sounded really good. This may be a major future trend. One disadvantage of electrostatics and ribbons is that, although they are very thin, they cannot be placed against a wall because they radiate sound equally to the front and to the back.

One of my interests at this show was to see what kind of room treatments the exhibitors were using. I’m planning to buy some, so I wanted to see what the experts used. But as it turned out, most rooms were using nothing or surprisingly little. A couple of rooms had big tube traps in the corners, and several had panels in various places. To be fair, room treatment panels, to absorb reflections, are huge things that are difficult to ship and move in and out of hotel rooms. But some of the rooms could have used some treatment in the bass frequencies.

There was a big emphasis on headphones at this Show. Headphones are a hot area these days, and companies are putting a lot of effort into making good ones. Apparently lots of people are looking to move up from the cheap earbuds sold with cellphones and portable music players. And a lot of people in New York live in apartments where they cannot install big speakers, so they concentrate on headphone listening. There was one pair there selling for $5500 dollars, but the line was long and I never got to hear them. To me, headphones sound good and very clear, but they just don’t have the visceral “you are there” slam that big loudspeakers have.

There were several vendors selling CDs and records, but there were far more records than CDs. Most of the CDs were audiophile recordings of obscure jazz or classical, so I ended up not buying anything. Oh well. One vendor was selling LP storage furniture. To show off their wares, they had filled one drawer with LPs. People were flipping through the LPs and ignoring the furniture, so they had to put up a sign noting that the LPs were not for sale!

There was a company selling console systems, sort of like people used to have in their living rooms with built-in turntables and speakers. But these were really nice modern furniture with modern equipment in them. A real lifestyle product for people who care how their living rooms look (unlike me!).

This was almost entirely an audio show, but a few rooms did have televisions. And there was a gorgeous hall display of a Sony screen that appeared to be about 80 inches. It may have been a 4K display, but there was no literature to explain it. There were some jaggies on motion edges, but they could have been in the source material. This screen would look really good in my living room (maybe some day)!

There was a room set up specifically for playing full length albums for a variety of listening sessions. It was a big room, but was driven by big Wilson Audio Maxx 3 speakers (about $70,000 per pair). Wow! I also saw a documentary movie there about the rise, fall, and survival of record stores, which was fun and had a nice soundtrack.

I went to a very interesting lecture about the benefits of digital high-resolution recording, given by Mark Waldrep of AIX records. (I have one of his recordings – excellent). He showed lots of frequency analysis charts that showed the impacts and limitations of various types of recording and processing. He is convinced that the recording medium (tape versus hard drive) is the most critical factor, and that tape cannot compete any longer due to noise floor and bandwidth limits. He stated that microphones are not necessarily a limiting factor, as there are microphones available that are flat out to 40KHz, but how they are used matters because they are all directional in some manner.

There was construction outside the hotel all weekend, because Consolidated Edison was replacing a gas pipeline. They had the street dug up, and were pumping out a lot of water that was filling the trench, and on Sunday afternoon they flooded the hotel basement! That took out the hotel power temporarily! Most of the rooms came right back up when the power came back on, but the MBL room was on a separate circuit and did not. I had managed to obtain a ticket for their popular hour-long home theater demo, which was supposedly quite spectacular, but with the power out that session was cancelled. So that was the only room in the Show I missed.

I did have two complaints about the Show. My first complaint is that many of the rooms did not have a prominently displayed equipment/price list. Most of the rooms were run by dealers, not manufacturers, so there was a wide variety of equipment in each room. Given that many of these rooms had very expensive electronic stacks (turntables, music servers, CD players, DACs, preamps, and amplifiers), this was a disservice to the visitor. I recognized some of the names on the electronics, but more explanation would have been helpful.

My second complaint was about the live music performances. They were held in fairly small hall, which should have been sufficient for accoustic performances, but they were amplified! And worse, the sound system was a small commercial JBL system! Completely unacceptable at an audiophile Show! I did not attend any of the performances.

There were three local hi-fi dealers having open houses in conjunction with the Show. Paul and I went to Innovative Audio & Visual on Friday night, and saw a really nice (seductively nice) home theater. It had what appeared to be a 150” projection screen, expensive 7.1 channel sound, and a well-treated room, probably costing well over half a million dollars overall. Sunday afternoon I went to Stereo Exchange down in Greenwich Village. It had some high end things, but nothing I needed to spend much time with. What was interesting was that they appear to have lots of used equipment, so someone looking to trade up cheaply might find some real bargains there. Lyric Hifi & Video was also open, but I wasn’t able to squeeze in a visit there. I saw them last year, and they were showing really high end speakers in really nice rooms.

This Show was run by a busy and aggressive show-producing company, so there is a respectable chance there will be another Show next year. Hopefully!