NY HE Speaker Standouts
I'm always interested in looking for speakers around the $4k mark that most of us mortal audiophiles would consider to be the upper end of speakers we can actually afford. So here are my impressions of the rooms from this year's NY HE show worth mentioning, IMHO, for better or worse.
VON SCHWEIKERT VR4JR/DK Design VS1 mk2 Room:
The surprise of the show. I have auditioned these speakers at shows and dealer show rooms on at least 5 different occasions in the past, each time walking away disappointed. To me, they always sounded like good hi-fi, just not natural. The big difference this time around, I believe, was the DK Design VS1 mk2 integrated amp ($3k) that was driving the VR4jrs. I have never heard this amp in person and most of you know the controversy surrounding this amp here on A-gon. But the sound was remarkable, most notably the soundstaging, imaging, and dynamics. I was perhaps one of the most open sounding speaker I heard under 10k at the show. Images just floated in a large black soundstage with instruments jumping out at you when called for. The imaging, staging, and dynamics remind me of my system (more on this later) but better.
I asked DK what was done to the amp and found out he replaced the stock tube with NOS Mullards (CVS ?, goes for around $160) with Herbies Halo tube dampeners. This amp was the long lost mate the VR4jr needed as there was tremendous synergy. The digital front end was the Oracle transport and DAC (over $10k), and cabling was by Analysis Plus. According to DK, it was the amp that took the VR4jrs to another level, not the digital front end or cabling.
The downside to this combo was some grain and rolling in the upper frequencies, slight rounding of the leading transients on cymbals, and still some residual hi-fi sound (eg, vocals not as smooth as my reference speakers) that started to fatigue me after about 30 minutes of listening. Please don't get the wrong impression. It definately was not driving me out of the room, but I could imagine after about 1 hour of listening I would need a break.
I heard the VR4jrs in other rooms with much more expensive electronics (ie, $19k VACs) and was unimpressed.
Overall, very impressive. Kudos for DK integrated for revealing what the VR4jrs are capable of.
HYPERION HPS-938/HYPERION ELECTRONICS ROOM:
Some of you may know, the 938s are my reference speakers. I wrote an extensive review on these speakers last year. These remain the best speakers I have ever heard in real world setting (eg, living room in your home). In other words, I may be biased so don't flame me.
This year, the 938s were set up in a much smaller room than last year's NY HE show. Compared to the VR4jr/DK VS1 room or last year's room, it was about 4 feet less wide. This was unfortunate because it didn't show off the soundstaging capability of these speakers.
This year the 938s were mated with their new SS balanced monoblock amps ($1.6k) and new KT88 monoblock tube amps ($2.8k). The preamp was their SS balanced preamp ($1.5k). Digital front end was the venerable Sony SCD1 SACD player. Cabling was by Hyperion using their silver biwire cables.
Since the VR4jrs ($4k), the 938s ($4.5k), and amps/preamp (~$3k) are similarly priced, a comparison is in order. The rooms and electronics were different, an absolute comparison is not possible.
These are my impressions of their sound at the Show. The 938s are still much smoother and more natural sounding the VR4jrs. From top to bottom, the 938s are more coherent. Imaging were on par with each other. The Hyperion tube monoblock made the midrange of the 938s bloom seductively and the highs just silkenly wet, which were not as refined on the VR4jrs.
The soundstaging is where the VR4jrs were clearly better, benefiting from the larger room and perhaps the DK amp. I know from last year's Show and personal experience that the 938s could equal the soundstaging of the VR4jrs in a comparable room.
The VR4jrs were also clearly better in dynamics being driven by the DK amp that puts out at least 300 watts in 4 ohms and clips at 800 watts into a 1 ohm load. The Hyperion SS monoblock puts out 100 watts into 4 ohms and the tube monoblock puts out 18 watts. Perhaps, the comparison isn't fair.
The 938's bass was respectable driven by their SS or tube monoblock, but not as dynamic as the VR4jrs driven by the DK. Also room size is likely a factor.
If I had to sum up my experience of the two rooms at the Show, I would put it this way. The VR4jr/DK combo just kicked your ass with it's amazing dynamics/soundstage and in your face presentation, but it lacked ultimate refinement. The 938/Hyperion SS/Tube monos seduced you with it's refined, coherent, holographic sound, but lacked the tremendous dynamics of the other. Even though the VR4jr/DK sound is impressive at first, I found myself experiencing some fatigue after about 30 minutes of continous listening. Given a choice, I would still choose the Hyperion room over the VS/DK room becuase I could listen to music for hours without fatigue. Please note these are comparisons of the Hyperion and VS/DK rooms at the Show, not of the speakers individually which I could only do in my home using the same electronics
So the real question is, how does the 938s sound with the DK integrated using the NOS Mullard tubes? Could I get the same level of refinement but with the tremendous dynamics of the DK? If anyone can answer this question, I would give my left testicle!
INNERSOUND KAYA REFERENCE/INNERSOUND ELECTRONICS ROOM:
I used to be an Innersound fan when the Eros was introduced for $4k in the late 90's. Now their top of the line electrostatic goes for $20k and was mated to their electronics costing around $30k, not including the Redline turntable which I'm sure costs tens of thousands. They only allowed 4 people at a time (seated one behind the other) to listen to the set up because of electrostats extremelhy narrow sweet spot. The sound? Better than last year. Tremendous bass from LP. Good imaging. No emotional involvement. Flat stage. Not the transparency I associate with electrostats. So what does >$50k get you? You come up with your own conclusions.
If you want electrostat sound with real dynamics, try the Hyperion 938s.
JAS ORIOR SPEAKERS/JAS ARRAY 2.1 INTEGRATED/1.1 PREAMP:
Very impressive stuff from this Chinese company. The US distributor is Gini Systems (www.gini.com). The Orior is very handsome 2-way using the Accuton ceramic mid/bass driver and their own proprietary aluminum ribbon tweeter, although another new speaker from Sound Fusion (?Canadian company) seemed to have a very similar tweeter. I think the Orior goes for around $3.7k. Very clean, transparent sound with excellent imaging from these speakers being driven by what I thought was the most impressive looking integrated amp at the Show. Go to the Gini website. It is a single end integrated with dual transformers using two 300B tubes as drivers for the two 805 power tubes to produce 45 watts of single ended power! The god damn thing weighs over 100lbs, is finished in gray, and looks beautiful. People were guessing >$10k for the integrated. But get this, it goes for around $2.9k!!!! And they were giving 20% (or 25%?) discount at the Show! Fricken unbelievable what the Chinese are doing these days.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my post. There were other notable standouts from MBL speakers, Audio Consulting Empress speakers, etc. But these speaker are priced to impress those living in LaLa Land and not significantly better, IMHO, than what I mentioned above.