VTV Expo New Jersey Roundup

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by Josh Ray on May 09 '06

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VTV New Jersey landed over the weekend, bringing with it more tube craziness than you can shake a stick at. VTV stands for Vacuum Tube Valley, a mythical land where tubes can be plucked from trees. Not only that, but VTV is a project about tube love and brings together some of the most interesting minds in the tube world. If you're not familiar with audio's recent history, you wouldn't know tubes have launched a stunning comeback in the last few years, becoming almost as ubiquitous as transistor-based amplification in the high-performance audio world (lord knows a tube has never passed through the pearly gates of Best Buy).

In any case, American Wired was at VTV in force, taking pics and telling ya how it sounds. Great coverage so go check out parts one and two for all the goods.

Also, check out MSNBC's local audio-head Gary Krakow's coverage of VTV. It's a nice intro piece to tubes for those who aren't as addicted to this hobby as the rest of us. Gary is a DeVore man, in case you were wondering...

Below is something of an oddity in this crazy industry. We all know there are certain products that you look at and go "oh, that must be expensive!" And others that, well, "have great personalities." Beyond that, one expects a certain increase in the "wow factor" when the price skyrockets.

Audio Note, however, is a company built around subtle upgrades. Where some companies give you one or two tweaks, Audio Note gives you dozens. And not dozens of cheap upgrades, but ones so wildly expensive it's hard to fathom just who would purchase such things. And yet, Audio Note is one of those beloved companies with hundreds of cudgel-weilding fans. They get high marks for their sound and people love 'em (including Stereophile in the most recent issue).

Witness: First picture below, the AN-E speakers (model LX) go for $12,200 a pair. Below that, the same model AN-E (big pic on next page), but now in "Sogon" flavor featuring upgraded magnets, crossovers, wiring and, uh, stuff. Price? $125,000.

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I was at the exposition on Saturday. I have heard tubes amplifiers for the first time since late 70's and certainly for the first time in high-end audio, and I must say that they sounded really awful compared to my $20 Sonic Impact t-amp. Nearly everything sounded muddled, lacked the dynamic range that I accustomed to and had weak bass. I was particularly disappointed by Zu Druids. I wanted to audition them after all the hype on Six Moons. They were the main reason I went to the expo. I really wanted to like them, particularly given what nice people Adam and Sean are, they were the only exhibitors who didn’t badger me about how I liked the sound. Still, the Druids sounded kinda harsh in the upper frequencies. I didn’t really like them all that much. The room I liked the most was from a company I’ve never heard of - Powers Audio. Those speakers sounded really good, which rather astonished me, so maybe they were hiding a few transistors in their Cayin tube amplifiers. Powers seem to be using the same woofers as this Totem speaker: I only saw one teenager accompanied by his father. I also saw only one woman, and she was a part of the exhibitor crowd. The average age of the attendees was about 40. I wonder what that means for the future of audiophilia.
Chances are you heard some of the bass-lite tube gear, but also hotel rooms are known for their bass-sucking, terrible-sounding qualities. Drawing conclusions from shows is, ugh, nearly impossible. The Totem drivers I think you're talking about are the Israeli Morels. They're killer if done right. Yeah, average age 40 is no good. Then again, it is the VTV...we'll see what happens at HE but I don't expect it to be much better.
Yeah, the acoustics was terrible, I know, however I must say that I still managed to like some of the rooms and really dislike others. The horn and electrostatic speakers were awful. The sound in Red Wine / Omega Audio speaker room was horrific. The Omega Super 3 XRS’s screeching sound reminded me of an old table radio with a torn driver that my co-worker had years ago. In some rooms attendees would just stick their head in and run for cover (Acoustical Zen Adagio) and in other rooms people lingered (Zu, Powers Audio). You know, Josh, as I went from room to room I sensed that many of those audio-obsessed exhibitors would have still enjoyed showing off their equipment even if there was no commercial aspect to the show. I wondered what would have happened if I had set up my own room there with my $200 Ipod system (SI t-amp + Radio Shack 13.8VDC 3-Amp Power Supply + Athena AS-B1 speakers + cheap Monster cables); it would have easily sounded better than most systems there. I think that many audiophiliacs would have enjoyed showing off their equipment like that. :)
Henry, nobody likes a smartass.
Going to an Audio Show and commenting about audio-obsessed exhibitors, makes about as much sense as going to the Rose Bowl looking for florists. I had more conversations with exhibitors at the VTV Show about music than gear. It all depends on what you're looking for. What you bring to the table. If you go looking for your sound you're likely to be disappointed. If you go looking for good music, you can't lose (cause you can bring your own).
Michael, I brought my own actually (a CD-R with 4 pop songs I knew well) thanks to Josh mentioning doing the same during the West Coast expo. I also thought that music was played too loud in most rooms. I dunno whether the exhibitors were trying to mask something or whether they had hearing loss, but whenever I reduced the volume or asked them to, they felt uncomfortable as if I was not letting their stuff play at its best. :)
Hi Henry, Mask something? Hearing loss? How about they like to listen at a different volume than you do? And if you think you can make someone who does this for a living squirm by turning down the volume at a show, well ah, ehm, I suggest you may be misreading the signals.
Yo yo yo. Steve Marsh's 6Moons just put up his coverage today. The more the merrier:
Yo yo yo. 6Moons' Steve Marsh's just put up his coverage today. The more the merrier:
Michael, I sensed that they were worried that their equipment was not at its very best at a lower volume. Loudness is something akin to sugar or fat in food and tends to win favor over something that less loud when it comes to preference. Unless of course the music is *too* loud. I actually ended up using ear plugs because it was really just too loud for me. Instead of concentrating on melody I was hearing noise. Were you there when the humongous Ken nearly destroyed Zu's Wyetech amplifiers' tubes in colliding with a low hanging lampshade, but then saved the day by catching everything while also holding a camera? We might have been listening to the same music. :)
They were all battling noise; from other rooms, from outside the rooms, from people like me talking too much, AC units and lamps crashing (yes that was us and that was a very athletic save for a giant). Henry I’d like to give you a hard time but seeing as you’re happy with your gear and earplugs, who am I to complain. I just think we’d all be better off if you left the conspiracy theories and over-the-top criticism out of it.
Michael, and how would we be better off if I had left the conspiracy theories and over-the-top criticism out of it? When I returned home from the exhibit, I looked into the latest issue of The Absolute Sound and saw a review by Sallie Reynolds of the very Acoustic Zen Adagios that I had actually heard a couple of hours before. Her review essentially says that the speakers, which I didn't like at all, are nearly perfection itself. It really made me mad since I heard them for at least 10 minutes and the only reason that I stayed that long was because I could not find a polite way to run off from the very nice people who operated the room.
So Henry, you didn't like the Acoustic Zen speakers after a full 10 minute listen in a hotel room. Case closed. You’ve proved your point (and mine) better than I could. If you really want to get pissed, check out my review of the Lamhorns ;-)
Hello. Humongous Ken here. Or you can call me that super agile guy who can dance, drink, and catch broken lamp parts in a single step. The even funnier thing is I had hit another lamp shade only ten minutes earlier. Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaacccccccccck! Henry, you must be a 'lil guy, sorry my massive girth kept you from entering the sweet spot.
Ken, lol, you crack me up. So why has no one mentioned Audio Note's $125,000 bookshelves? I'm kinda surprised the most unimpressive-looking speakers over, oh, $10k, missed out on this conversation...
$125,000? (*&)*^*&%(*^V)*^)*()(*980 9Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I didn't know the price. I did ask Josh Turney why their stuff costs so much. If you gotta ask..... (and I didn't really care for the sound in the middle AN room)
I got to hear the $125k Audio Note's with Ken and without. They sounded much better with.
Oh, lordy lord that was funny!
Michael, I’ve read your review of the Lamhorns. You seem to have liked them, but you didn’t give them a Lunar Eclipse award for all-around excellence in a speaker design that reduces room clutter and reclaims square footage. You also didn’t buy them because you plead poverty. Why don’t you ask Srajan for the $7,000 that he still has left over after the move to Cyprus?
Henry that's a great idea about the award, I didn't get your sense of humor so well till now. Good show. On the $$ side, I figure I can get about 16 pairs of Lamhorns or the ANs so I'm still debating. Then again, I could get 1 pair of Lamhorns and put an addition on my house to put em in.
Michael, what do you think about "liked it so much that I bought it" reviews? Also, do you feel that reviewers should be forced by Cypriot military law to live with products that they gave awards to? For example, Sir John gave Zu Druids an award and but now he doesn't seem to wonna listen to them anymore only a year after buying them.
Just remember Henry, reviewers are people too. Sniff, sniff.
The VTV show was a blast, lots of turntables spinning! I walked away after 2 days with a list of 8 newly discovered Cd's and Lp's that caught my ear that I need to pick-up, and that's what these shows should be all about. As if you without the Music it's just all glass, metal, and wood crap to fill a room. Most of the manufacturers set-up their gear the night before the show. A handfull of systems sounded good on Saturday, by Sunday 2 handfulls where sounding really great. The second and fourth floor demo rooms where smaller then our master bedroom walk-in closet, so all the demonstrators who managed to make some magic should be praised, under show conditions the others shouldn't be critiqued. These shows are about music, fondling some gear, and meeting up with old friends. If you make a few new ones along the way the merrier. VTV east coast was quite the Fun place to be last weekend, and I look forward to next year!
Just a quick note in defense of Druids... 1. I had to beat the crap out of mine to break them in...took even more than their recommended 250 hours. But there's a huge difference now...I'm guessing their show pair didn't get through its paces. 2. Single driver speakers are an inherently different animal and take a while to get used to...if you've not heard them before, I'd say it takes a good couple of hours to "get it"... 3. I think the common conception about these speakers is that they're immune from placement issues, which couldn't be further from the truth. Actually, I think they've been the most difficult speakers I've owned to place correctly, and it makes a huge difference, especially in soundstaging. Are they perfect speakers? Of course not...but don't judge them by a quick hearing in a crappy room on less than broken in equipment. Try a listen in someone's home, if you can find an owner. I'd offer you a listen but I'm in Canada.... ;) And no, Sean and Adam are not related....! Thanks, Matt