New York Audio Show 2014 – Report
The New York Audio Show 2014 (http://www.chestergroup.org/newyorkaudioshow/2014
was held from Friday September 26 to Sunday September 28 at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn.
There were about 80 exhibitors spread across about 46 rooms on two floors. Attendance seemed steady, but traffic wasn’t too heavy to move around okay.
The weekend coincided with a major Jewish holiday, so that somewhat reduced the number of exhibitors and attendees.
I stayed at the hotel hosting the Show. I normally don’t do that because of the expense, but with the Show discount ($249/night) the hotel was
roughly the same price as the alternatives I could find. Apparently it was a busy weekend in NYC with attendant high hotel prices.
The weather was just perfect all weekend, allowing easy movement outside the hotel. Sun and shirtsleeves temperatures during the day, and just a
light jacket after dark, without even a hint of rain.
I traveled down, pre-checked into the hotel, and started looking around the Show just after it opened to the public at 2P.
My pre-purchased 3-day ticket got me whisked right in. James arrived shortly thereafter. (James is one of the scientists behind the Solar Grand Plan
published in Scientific American a few years back. We met when I emailed him asking why they didn’t have a website. Well, with their input, I built one for them.
). We went out to lunch at Dallas BBQ which we both enjoyed. Then on to the Show in earnest.
We got through over half the rooms, seeing quite a variety of stuff. It being a while since James had been to Show like this, I think he was a bit taken
aback by the staggering cost of the big stuff. We attended a talk about high resolution audio by Dr. Mark Waldrep. The key to useful high resolution
audio appears to be ensuring that it is treated as high resolution all the way through the production/distribution/playback sequence, because the sound is only as
good as the weakest link in the chain. We stayed until the Show closed at 8P. For dinner we went to Asya Indian Restaurant and had an excellent leisurely dinner
while discussing James’ current work on shale oil gas potential, and our common interest of grid-level solar power.
I went out walking in the morning, to explore Brooklyn. My first destination was the Gowanus Canal. (The Gowanus Canal??? Of course! It is a
major Superfund site - a prime tourist draw! My motivation was that it is frequently mentioned in communications from the various environmental
organizations I belong too, including Riverkeeper. There is significant effort being applied now to clean up the Canal. I figured this was my
chance to finally see it in person, and it gave me a good excuse to see one of the grittier industrial areas of Brooklyn. It actually wasn’t as bad as I
had anticipated, and cleaned up it could be a real asset. Already there is a Whole Foods Market next to it.) I walked down Smith St. so that I could
crisscross the Canal via its various bridge crossings, then headed east through Park Slope. I entered Prospect Park (full of locals enjoying the
nice day) around 7th street and walked up through it to Grand Army Plaza where there was a big farmers market going on. I walked east over to Washington Ave. and
up it, through Clinton Hill, to Willoughby Ave., admiring the mansions along the way. (280 Washington Ave. is well known. It appears to have been purchased
for $3.2 million in 2007 BEFORE renovation. Now it is all fixed up.
you are interested.) Then I walked back to the hotel through Fort Greene Park.
I met up with Ben at the Show at 11:30A. (Ben is a friend I first met at a job in Cambridge Massachusetts. We’d go out to lunch
together, and Ben, being Chinese, was able to take me to all sorts of fascinating restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown. I still don’t know the names of
everything we ate. We’ve kept in touch, and since he lives in Queens and is interested in Audio, we’ve met at most of the NYC audio shows over the years.
He always escorts me and anyone else joining us to a fun dinner at a real Chinese restaurant). I went out for a quick lunch while Ben attended a lecture on
High Fidelity Audio. Back together, we managed to cover most of the remainder of the Show by the 6P closing time.
In one of the small rooms, Ben listened to a pair of small stand-mounted bookshelf speakers, decided he liked them, and then found out they
cost $8000/pair! The stands themselves (price extra) were beautiful furniture in their own right. But the speakers sounded spectacularly revealing on a
beautiful mandolin recording. My main complaint was that I really missed the increased bass capability that a larger speaker has to convey the body of an acoustic instrument.
Ben currently is particularly interested in headphones as an affordable audiophile alternative to big expensive speakers. He listened to a variety of
headphones, and really liked what he heard. For about $1000 he felt he could have a good set of headphones with a dedicated amplifier. I sense a purchase decision building…
For dinner Ben picked out a restaurant in one of the multiple(!) Brooklyn Chinatowns. It was on a bustling section of 8th Ave near 60th street.
Delphine (my cousin, who lives in Brooklyn), met us there. The restaurant was one big room with lots of mostly round tables, and lots of local patrons.
After reviewing the menu in detail, we agreed on a large set of the items, and proceeded to have the table filled with a variety of interesting plates of food.
It was really good. Thanks, Ben!
I checked out of the hotel, and was at the Show when it opened at 10A. I was able to get to the few remaining rooms that I hadn’t yet a chance to hear, and
then I did a complete round of revisiting the rooms that I really liked.
I left the Show before it closed in order to take a tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, grabbing a quick lunch on the walk over. (The Brooklyn Navy
Yard??? Of course! The yard is no longer Navy – it is mostly owned by the City of New York. It is gradually being renovated as a home for
various “small” Brooklyn companies, mostly Makers and Artists who require a lot of industrial space and cheap rents. Also there is Steiner Studios, a serious
motion picture studio. With 322(!) acres, there is a lot of renovation yet to be done, but all renovated space is rented and there is a waiting list. I knew
about the Yard because of its mention as the home of various suppliers in the design magazines I subscribe to.) I took the General tour (there are several
varieties), a two hour bus ride with many stops and a very knowledgeable tour guide, seeing the old stuff (some of it just ruins), a working dry dock (commercial
ship repair), the outsides of various companies, the old hospital, and just getting a general feel for the place. The tour departed from the museum, a well-done 3-floor
exhibit with a lot of useful information about the Yard past and present. At one point (near the end of WWII) 72000 people worked there! At its low point
only 1000 people worked there. The concern I have about this place, and much of NYC, is that it is going to be repeatedly damaged by flooding in the future.
Delphine met me for dinner at Mojito Cuban Cuisine, a restaurant near the Yard, in a neighborhood that clearly used to be simply terrible but now is
improving. (Buy your condo now!) The restaurant was pretty good, and we had a long leisurely dinner and conversation.
After the walk back to the hotel to get my suitcase, the subway ride to Grand Central to catch my train, the train ride, and the drive back to my house, I was home by 1:30A.
It was a great weekend. I had blisters on my feet and I was exhausted, but it was definitely worth it. I’m already looking forward to the next Show!
Best of Show (in descending order):
The MBL room, showing their big 101 speakers and matching amps, with a system cost of $259,000. This company is a favorite at every Show. This room looked and sounded
gorgeous. Those strange-looking omnidirectional bending-metal speakers sure are crisp-sounding. For good picture of the room, and a description of this unusual equipment,
The Focal Grand Utopia speakers ($195,000/pair) driven by $172K of VAC vacuum tube preamp and amplifiers, for a system cost of $367,000. The sound was pretty and
non-fatiguing, but even with beryllium tweeters the sound seemed much less crisp than the MBLs next door. The difference was really striking. Maybe it was the tube amplifiers.
The Focal Stella speakers ($95,000/pair), driven by the new Naim state of the art amplifier costing $240,000(!).
Martin Logan was showing big electrostatic speakers, the CLX, at $25,500 a pair. They were running a pair of $4000 subwoofers to supplement the bass. As usual, the sound was superb.
I thought the Vandersteen Model 7’s sounded great, but Ben wasn’t so impressed.
Alta (I don’t know this company) was showing a $200,000/pair 7 foot high speaker in a small room. It was overloading the room, but otherwise sounded good.
The rooms had solid walls, ceilings, and floors, possibly made of concrete. This helped acoustically isolate the rooms. But the smaller rooms
had decent height ceilings, making them almost perfect cubes, so that all 3 dimensions resonate (echo) at the same frequency, causing horrendous
frequency boom in the upper bass (about 100Hz). Some of the smaller speakers benefitted from this bass reinforcement, some rooms were treated with
acoustic panels to some extent, and some rooms were simply overloaded with bass, including the room showing a later version of the Legacy Focus speaker I use at home.
Oh well. The larger rooms resonate at lower frequencies, so they fared better in this regard.
There was one 5.1 system (for movies) on display, but unfortunately the subwoofers were severely overloading the room, making it difficult to appreciate.
And it didn’t have a big display screen, making it a city apartment type of system. The theater systems on demo at previous shows with big screens and big
speakers are simply spectacular, so this one wasn’t particularly interesting to me.
One of the larger rooms contained a less-expensive but fine-sounding system. It contained Zu Audio Soul Supreme speakers (4500/pair), a Peachtree Nova
amp ($2000), and a $1000 turntable. It wasn’t quite full range (limited bass), but it was really nice otherwise. This was an excellent demonstration of
what carefully chosen “budget” equipment, carefully set up, can do.
There was some (relatively) inexpensive equipment at the Show. One room showed audiophile-grade computer speakers and amplifiers, starting at well under $1000.
There were lots of active displays of headphones, both over-the-ear and in-ear. Visitors were able to move from station to station listening to various
combinations of headphones and amplifiers. (Good headphones require better amps than are available in standard consumer audio appliances like phones or CD players).
Several small speaker systems I heard had surprisingly good bass for small speakers. I’m not sure how they are getting it. Some of it was room acoustics, some of
it may have been equalization, and some volume (some of the expensive small speakers are capable of being played very loud). For music other than rock or organ
these systems can sound exquisite.
One trend at the Show was the prevalence of computer-based audio file servers, managed via a tablet remote control. This allowed the presenter to stand near
the rear of the room or off to the side, and access a huge library of music.
There were several vendors selling a wide variety LPs and CDs. I bought a CD of beautifully-recorded blues/jazz solo piano.
I missed two important food groups: Chinese crispy fish, and Junior’s cheesecake.
Brooklyn! It is lively and visitable, and is really gentrifying. There are lots of interesting restaurants. I could have spent a lot more time there.