You know a show has hit the big time when the audio industry’s big names show up to support it. That was certainly the case in the Ciamara room where TAD's unflappable Andrew Jones was holding court. The Ciamara system consisted of TAD Reference One speakers and all-TAD electronics. The sound was as fabulous as ever, and featured some of the richest timbres and most realistic imaging of the show.
Finally, there were several products associated with neither a dealer’s nor a manufacturer’s room, but which caught my ear. Here is a brief rundown. Music Hall had the Ikura ‘table on hand. The new model had been introduced at AXPONA, but at that time the priced was TBD. Now we know: it will cost just $1,000 including cartridge and arm. Viola was showing the first production units of its $22k Concerto stereo amp (June). The chassis is made of solid T6061 aluminum, and the connectors are the first instance I’ve seen of WBT’s latest. Venture debuted its new VICI speakers, which come bundled with either one ($36k for the bundle) or two ($48k) subwoofers. The mains run full-range, rolling off naturally at 60Hz to the active subwoofs. They sounded dynamic and open.
New to me was a company called Clue, which makes very affordable loudspeakers. It was showing the Clue Speakers ($1k/pair) and the Clue Deuce ($2k/pair) as driven by a Hegel integrated amp with built-in DAC. As you would expect at this price point, this was not the most refined sound—but it was lively, rambunctious and fully in keeping with the company’s motto: “Fun is underrated.” These speakers are especially fun at their price and are well worth checking out.
VPI was testing the waters with a prototype ‘table called the Classic Direct. If ultimately produced—and the company says it will be—it will run between $20-30k. What makes it so much more costly than other VPI ‘tables? Not the chassis, which is classic Classic 3. Rather, it’s the motor, which is a unique 3-phase induction design said to eliminate cogging, and the direct drive system. (Eventually, everything comes back around.) The Classic Direct was mated to an equally intriguing tonearm, the JMW 3D (approximately $2500, June). Unlike every other arm on the market, this one is a fabricated from a single solid piece of epoxy. There are no joints or seams. How do you make such a thing? With a 3D printer, that’s how. This arm is the first such application of 3D printing technology, and it takes 26 hours to “print” each one. The new duo was playing through VAS tubed electronics and Joseph Audio Pearl 3’s. The sound was terrific.
I’ve saved one of my most exciting discoveries for last: the Astell & Kerns AK100 portable music player. Think of this device as an iPod for audiophiles. The form factor resembles an iPod Classic, but the innards and specs do not. This portable player supports resolutions up to 192/24 (the iPod tops out at 48kHz) and uncompressed formats such as WAV, FLAC and AIFF. If you must, it will also play MP3s. The UI is a nicely done touch screen that I found completely intuitive. Inside lies a genuine Wolfson DAC.
I listened to several tracks through both Azure LCD2 ($999) and Sennheiser Momentum ($349) headphones. In both cases the AK100 exhibited the steadiness of pace and timbral realism that epitomizes true high end components. Did I mention that this gem lists at just $699? Like the AudioQuest Dragonfly, this is exactly the sort of device our industry needs to woo younger listeners. And New York was exactly the sort of show our industry needs to expose a broader audience to great sound.