HE 2005 Nelson Brill


As good music and food go hand in hand, I must confess that my first delight at attending the Home Entertainment 2005 Show (HE2005) in New York City was to grab a uniquely New York gastronomique creation – a fresh, hot pretzel with mustard from an (audiophile?) food vender outside of the New York Hilton Hotel where HE2005 was staged. A New York City pretzel with mustard is a unique combo, a great saucy concoction that tastes hot, sweet and pungent all at the same time. It reminds me of a similar unique combination rendered in music by the creative genius of the Jacques Loussier Trio over the years, as they take classical pieces from Debussy and others and re-structure and re-work them into new creative combos of jazz improv and blues spice. I wonder if Jacques got his first inspiration for such re-workings from eating a New York City pretzel with mustard for the first time?


Speaking of creative recordings, I should inform you that one of the best things about HE2005 is the gathering of recording labels selling their wares in disc and vinyl. One could spend hours going through the bins. I was particularly impressed with the wealth of new discs, including SACDs from labels such as Chesky, Naim and Telarc. The pronouncement by many in audio that SACD is dead just hasn’t fazed Telarc and Chesky, and more power to them for continuing to produce deeply moving and provocative SACD recordings. On the CD front, Ken Christianson of Naim Audio introduced me to several of Naim’s new True Stereo discs, including a pristine beauty entitled “Remember The River” from pianist Fred Simon and Paul McCandless of Oregon. [Naim CD 081]. Also inspirational were the discs from MA Recordings, and the creative genius of Todd Garfinkle, who was on hand at HE2005 to plug you into his Stax headphone system and wallow in the sheer sonic bliss of Maria Babone’s voice, captured with piano and Portuguese guitar [MA Recordings 46A]. Listening to Garfinkle’s amazing recordings only satiated me for a moment, making me hunger for time in the future when I could play these recordings on my own rig and explore their myriad of inner musical treasures.


Turning the attention to those rigs listened to by this writer at HE2005, I would say that even with the overall limitations of hotel room configurations, a number of systems provided nuggets of sonic delight.


Given that many systems were displayed in very small rooms, it was not surprising that mini-monitors seemed to bring out the best sound overall. Philip Lam of Sonic Spirits and Kam Leung of Focus Audio were kind enough to give us a special listening session with their 10th anniversary edition of their 68 SE monitors, partnered with Blue Circle’s BC202 amp ($5295), BC3 Galatea MkII tubed preamp ($4995) and Dodson DA-218 DAC/source ($7995). The sound from these compact speakers was very involving, from their sweet, detailed highs to their nicely rounded and tight mid-bass. They shed a surprisingly deep soundstage for their size. Look for a future review of these upgraded classics in these pages.


Another standout room that featured small-scale loudspeakers to great intimate effect was the May Audio room, featuring products from Reimyo and a new monitor speaker produced in Finland called the “Bravo” ($4200). The Reimyo CDP-777 transport/player, (utilizing Japan Victor’s Extended K-2 Processing), was one of the best this writer heard at HE2005, delivering a steady stream of silken, delicate and detailed musical data to the Bravo monitors. The Bravos, in turn, cast a pinpoint soundstage and handled all dynamics evenly and with a lot of emotion. There was no better intimate sonic portrayal at the show than this system placed in such a small listening space.


I am always a fan of Alan Yun’s Silverline Audio products, and his room at HES, anchored with his beautiful floorstanding Bolero loudspeakers was uncanny in its natural presentation of female vocals and its sheer musicality. Bill Wells and I enjoyed a few minutes with both Odetta and Mary Stallings crooning deeply and vivaciously in this room, while others lingered in the doorway to catch the naturalism of this presentation. Look for a future review of Silverline’s new SR-11 ($1500) monitors soon in these pages to see how much of this natural, musicality is achieved in a smaller, more affordable monitor.

Another speaker that exceeded expectations for price and musicality was in the Almarro Products room, where the Almarro M2A slim floorstanding loudspeakers ($2300) were driven by the 5-Watt per channell A205A amplifier ($800). I was taken with the spacious sound of this system. It presented a very open, light and airy sound with no obvious limitations, especially in the treble regions. It had proper rhythm and pacing, and was particularly well suited to the acoustics of the small-scale jazz recording that was playing. Almarro is a company to keep an eye on, especially given the build quality and value offered in this price range.


Another room that impressed me with its value for a very musical presentation was theApril Music room. The featured system was anchored by Stello’snew CDA 320 CD player ($1995), a wonderful player that provided great detail and dynamics in listening to my sample of a Roy Gaines’ jumping blues number from his great disc, “I Got The T-Bone Walker Blues” [Groovenote GRV1002-2]. The Stello electronics (P-200 preamp and S200 or M 200 amps) fed the new NHT Evolution T6 loudspeakers ($4000) with great energy and finesse. It tended to be a little bright in this small listening room, but boy, the natural flow of tight bass and natural mids from the NHT’s was riveting. Stello continues to impress this writer and a review of the CDA player is in the works.


Finally, I thought that the Von Schweikertrooms at HE2005 were each a delight to visit and listen to. Each room had its own unique musical character and presentation. I was convinced before entering that Albert’s stunning creation, the VR-9SE, with its 1,000 watt sealed subwoofer and twin bass drivers, would clearly overwhelm the tiny hotel space that it was placed in. Not so. Driven byDartzeel amplifiers, the sound from this room was absolutely pitch perfect and accurate, detailed and intimate on acoustic jazz and with great soundstage and presence on large orchestral samples. A major achievement in such a small confined listening space. The same applied to the merits of the VR4 SR room, where with the help of an Oracle CD 2000 player and VAC Phi Beta integrated amplifier, Roy Gaines’ driving blues, along with his crack brass section, were given a visceral, driving, and musical presentation.


Bon Appetite Everyone!

Nelson Brill

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