Welcome to my coverage of:

Hi-Fi '99
Chicago Show

I flew to New York on 9 May and met my four friends (Nejat Basar, Cuneyt Borcbakan, Haluk Ozumerzifon, Mahmut Yener) who had traveled there two days before me. They had already visited the two famous Hi-End dealers of New York: Lyric and Sound by Singer.

During my only full day (10 May) in New York my friends took me to Lyric in the morning and I took them to Dave Slagle's (a famous, colorful figure of DIY circles) photography studio and listening room. Before tackling Chicago I would like to cover these two interesting visits.




With the guidance and great hospitality of Mr. Michael Kay (owner of Lyric) we listened to various speakers of Genesis, to the new Magnepan 3.6 and B&W's new Nautilus 801.

Lyric's listening rooms were maybe even more interesting than the equipment they contained. Different material on every wall, diffraction, absorption, sandwich construction and in sum a very successful acoustic treatment made with taste. Congratulations Mr. Kay.

Driven by Classe amplification, Magnepan 3.6 had good stage, detail and balance but gave me the impression that they need some more breaking in. Very promising and good value speakers.

The massive four pieces Genesis 1 speakers occupied the best furnished and biggest room. They were driven by Burmester amplification and had nearly life-size imaging and stage. Very impressive indeed! However tonally they were not to my taste : they possessed a slightly colored euphonic sweetness.

On the way out of the shop a very pleasant sound caught my ear: it was coming from a small tuner with built-in speakers: Kloss Model 88. A very romantic tube like sound with a very attractive price tag: $200.-. A real "Must buy".

Pictures (click to enlarge):
(1) My four friends. From left to right: Mahmut, Nejat, Cuneyt and Haluk.
(2) Mr. Kay talking to us in the Magnepan room.
(3) Genesis mid size speakers driven by Nagra 845 amps
(4) Genesis 1 right channel speakers.

Dave Slagle


I knew Dave Slagle from Sound Practices magazine's internet discussion forum (mailing list) dedicated to DIY enthusiasts (also called "Joenet"). I had also seen the picture of his amplifier in "Enjoy the Music" site taken during the "NY Noise" underground show for DIY fanatics. So I knew what to expect when we reached Dave's studio in Soho around 4 pm. But my friends didn't! 

One of my goals was to meet Dave and listen to his very unconventional Single Ended amplifier using mercury vapor Tyrotron rectifier tubes (with blue glow) and my other goal was to hear a Lowther speaker for the first time in my life.

The Lowther (a 2A driver in a "Big Fun" cabinet) and/or the system sounded very relaxed, natural and alive. It's bass was unexpectedly extended and controlled. Maybe I also should consider building one.

As you can see from the pictures, his Single Ended amplifier is perhaps the most striking of all DIY amplifiers . They were using 45 and 50 tubes and NiF (Nickel Ferrite) OPT's made by Michael Ulbrich. Dave switched from 45 tube to 50 and then to "Mesh Plate 50's" ( a very rare tube of 1927 which Dave calls the best tube ever made - pict 9) within seconds. He was not only changing tube but adjusting voltages and biases as well. Dave was right: "Mesh Plate 50's" sounded far better than both 50 and 45 tubes. It had more of everything. Then he started changing the rectifier tubes: from Tyrotrons to Hex Fred's and then to 80's. Again Tyrotrons were far superior. Hex Fred were sounding very dry (or should I say Solid State) and uninvolving.

Dave feels that he is very near to his ideal sound: "I'm getting there" he says. Good luck  and Congratulations Dave!!! And thank you for inviting us.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
(5) The system
(6) The amp
(7) Tyrotron mercury vapor rectifier tubes
(8) Me and Dave
(9) Mesh Plate 50 tube

Hi-Fi '99
Chicago Show

Hi-Fi '99 is a Show organized by Stereophile magazine. It took place in the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago.

We arrived there on 11 May in the noon time and took our "Trade" badges (the first two days of the show being strictly reserved to Trade and Press), visited the show for two full days (12 and 13 May) and departed on the 14th in the afternoon.

As everyone knows, Hi-Fi Shows are about moving from room to room, listening to systems, meeting people and talking about Hi-Fi. If you expect to find the sound of your dreams, you will be deeply disillusioned. The primary reason for relatively mediocre soundings is of course the terrible acoustical conditions of the hotel rooms. Each exhibitor is doing their best to correct room acoustics by using a variety of treatments (some more successfull than others), but even the best application is far from ideal.
I tried to evaluate the systems taking this negative factor into account.

There are many ways of evaluating a system. My primary concern is tonal fidelity or neutrality: a violin should sound like a violin and a piano like a real life piano without coloring their natural timbers and with
necessary inner detail. If this condition is met, then I judge the other characteristics like detail, sound stage, depth, dynamics, extension, bass control, etc. This is why I brought with me a CD that I know and like very much: R. Strauss Violin Sonata performed by Kyung Wha Chung (violin), and
Krystian Zimerman (piano) (DG 427 617-2). In fact I was in full agreement with my friend Nejat Basar in this principle. He  were also using the same practice and most of the time we were doing it together and were having very similar judgments. This was not the only CD we used but it was the first one. If the system could reproduce it decently enough, we were ready to proceed with others. If not, the audition was stopping at this point.

Some systems were sounding very decent and even impressive with either jazz or rock music but once subjected to my acid test (the above test CD), the piano was sounding metallic, the violin dull, edgy or electronic.

Of course if a system sounds bad this may be due to a single component, to the lack of synergy or to the room acoustics. But if a system sounds good, this may give you a positive opinion about each and every components of it.

I will not cover below all the rooms that I visited, but only the ones that I found interesting (this doesn't necessarily mean good sound but something worth mentioning). Let me also tell you that I automatically skipped all the rooms which contained "home theater", video and surround systems. I'm a two channel audio person and I hope to stay this way.

I started from the 11th floor and continued downwards. The order of the below systems is totally random.

I would like to also congratulate and thank Mr. John Atkinson and the Stereophile staff for their initiative and organisation.

Cary Slam 100 P/P (power), Cary CD-301, Cary SLP 98 (pre), Joseph Audio Speakers
This was one of the good sounding systems. Small but very natural. The Vampire speaker cables were made using cast silver. Of course it was difficult to judge their contributions.

We met the famous Steve Rochlin (Mr. "Enjoy the Music") at the Vampire room.
From left to right: Me, Steve Rochlin, Cuneyt Borcbakan.


Totem Acoustic
The smallest of the Totem Speakers called "Arro" had an amazingly good sound. It had a very light construction. You could easily lift it with one hand holding it from the top (which is perhaps against all theories for good sound). 
On top of it (the right speaker on the top picture) you can see two diagonally positioned aluminum bullet like shapes. This Totem made tweak is called "Beak" tuning pod. This tweak is amazingly effective in creating a bigger, spacious sound. It also adds life to it. When you take them out, the sound becomes dull and two dimensional in comparison. You can apply these Beak's to any speakers.

Totem's bigger, top of the range speakers (bottom picture) benefited less from the Beaks. I also found their sound less interesting than the small ones.



Electrocompaniet, Alon
I think this room produced one of the two best sounds of the show. The system consisted of Alon "Circe" speakers driven by Electrocompaniet "NEMO" amplifiers and Electrocompaniet CD player (a beauty!). Very well balanced from top to bottom, the system gave us nearly everything we needed.

In Alon's own room the same speakers were driven with lesser electronics and the sound was not to the standard of Electrocompaniet's room. But still very promising. Really great speakers these Alon Circe's. Alon's owner stripped the top half of the speaker (bottom picture) to show us the enclosureless mid and tweeter units


ProAc 3.8, Classe Omega (power), ARC CD-2, Classe CP60 (preamp)
This my other "best sound" and maybe the real one because it seemed less electronic than the Electrocompaniet one. ProAc 3.8 is definitely a great speaker: very balanced from top to bottom, relaxed and very musical. Classe electronics are the most tube like sounding solid states and the new Omega seems like a winner! Bravo to both!



Sony DSD - Super Audio CD
This was one of the most interesting rooms for me. Sony was demonstrating their new DSD player which is going to be launched on the 21st May 1999 in Japan and during the month of October in the USA.

The comparison was made against the existing CD format which was on the top layer of the new CD, the lower layer containing the new encoding. There was no single doubt: the new format was way better than the old. There was just so much more information: more detail, more clarity, more ambiance, in sum more of everything you can imagine. Maybe I should have said that the difference is like day and night. Very promising for the future of HI-End audio. I was very satisfied from this result. The speakers were Sony and the power amps Pass Labs.

Joseph Audio, VTL (power), Oracle Turntable, Oracle CD Player

The room was dark, with black velvets on the walls. The music was jazz and suiting the created ambiance. The sound was OK too, until... Yes until I gave them my R. Strauss violin sonata CD. Unfortunately the violin sounded thin and uninvolving.

But the Oracle turntable and CD players (bottom picture) are the most visually attractive ones of the market.


Manley 250 (power) - Tannoy Churchill speakers
This was one of the good sounds of the show. Relaxed, sweet, effortless, articulate and pleasant. Maybe a bit too pleasant to my taste. It had this euphonic quality that many people will adore. Myself I tend to prefer more neutral sonics, but I could easily live with this one.

I had the pleasure to meet the owner of Manley Laboratories: Ms. EveAnna Manley (bottom picture). Ms. Manley related to me that after their divorce with David Manley she acquired 100% of the company. Being an engineer EveAnna Manley contributes to the design of most of their new amplifiers. A woman deeply involved with Hi-End audio, a very unusual and pleasant surprise! Ms. Manley is also an amateur photograph (B&W photos of the bottom picture are by herself). If she could combine her artistic talents with her engineering ones, I'm sure she will be very successful.


Manley SE/PP 300B Amplifiers
This room was interesting for Manley's Single Ended to Push Pull convertible amplifiers. For the first time me and my friends had the occasion to compare SE to PP. I may be biassed on the subject but everyone agreed that SE sounded much more natural and relaxed. When switched to PP the sound was becoming electronic and edgy. Thank you Manley, good show!



Gershman Acoustics (speakers), SIM Audio (electronics)
Another good sound of the show. The neutrality and good balance of this relatively less well known (at least to me) system pleasantly surprised me.

My two friends are appreciating the system's qualities (bottom picture).


Cary 2A3 SE (power), Soliloquy (speakers)
This was another good sound of the show. Natural, three dimensional and effortless (although the amp is only 5 W). Of course the bottom end were missing, which was normal for such a small speaker. But the mid range was full bodied and fluent.

Cary Audio's president and designer Dennis Had (on the picture) related me that the Soliloquy speakers were designed by himself (he doesn't own the brand) especially for Single Ended applications. They have high sensitivities (like 92 dB/W/m) and high average impedance (10 ohm): very easy to drive indeed.



Impact Technologies, E.A.R.
In this room we have had a good surprise: the two new rival systems were compared. Of course I'm speaking about DSD and DVD audio (Sony's new player is on the left, and DVD on the right hand side of the picture). The same analogue recording was converted to each system using their respective encoding. Although the difference was not as big as in Sony's room (against the present CD format), DSD had a clearly better sound than DVD audio. But this may be due to the quality differences between both hardware.



Striking, beautiful modern designs, extraordinary finishes and in sum excellent "conversation pieces" are these MBL speakers. In this room, not only the speakers but all the rest of the electronics were made by this futuristic German company MBL.

Because the speakers have 360 degrees radiation, the created sound stage and depth was impressive regardless of where you were standing in the room. They had good detail too. But unfortunately these are the only pluses I can mention about this system. The reproduced sound was electronic and metallic. Should I say more?

KR Enterprise (amplifiers), Silverline (speakers)
KR is a company established in the Czech Republic in order to manufacture new tubes for audio applications. They have created a variety of tubes similar to the famous WE 300B. But the tubes they were using on their displayed amplifiers (left picture)  were nearly twice (!) the size of 845 tubes (the ones I use on my NUANCE amps). They have many different hybrid amplifiers too.

Silverline were very efficient speakers (around 95 dB/W/m). I don't know if this is the result of this excessive efficiency but the sound was becoming harsh and tiring on the attacks. On soft passages they were sounding fine.


Reference 3A (speakers)
It was a nice surprise for us to be able to speak Turkish with the owner 3A speaker company. Mr. Kosh M. Goka was a Turk living in Toronto.

We heard a small (it was the smallest speaker of the range) but good sound through this system. There were also at least five Room Lenses around the system. A very effective room tune!


In the accessories and CD's booth we encountered David Chesky. It was sad for me to hear from him that Chesky changed its direction towards DVD Video and Audio. 

On the picture, from left to right: Nejat Basar, Me, David Chesky, Cuneyt Borcbakan. David Chesky wanted also two of their recent DVD Video releases to appear on the picture: a great marketing person indeed!

Perpetual Technologies
This company makes a very interesting hardware which corrects either loudspeaker's curve or loudspeaker / room combination curve. For this purpose they first get (or try to get) the correct data from speaker manufacturers and then create this hardware which works only in the digital domain (between CD transport and D/A converter).

We listen to a before and after demo which was very revealing. A good add-on I think. Top picture reflects Nejat listening to Mr. Mark L. Schifter, president of Perpetual Technologies. The bottom picture shows a curve before and after correction.


Lamm Industries (amplifiers), Kharma (speakers)
I had heard and read so many good things about this Russian made Lamm Single Ended amplifiers that I was disappointed by the sound I heard during the show. Of course it may be due to many other factors which are explained in the introduction paragraphs.

Vintage Tube Services
I was impressed by the displayed tube testing facilities of this famous tube supply company.

Sonus Faber - Amati
Rave reviews appeared recently on most mainstream Hi-Fi magazine. These speakers are on the cover of the June issue of Stereophile. Of course I was very curious to hear them. Unfortunately they refused to play my CD. I was not happy and left the room immediately without taking any pictures. They were looking great though. Sorry, I'm unable to comment about the sound produced with manufacturers demo material.