As many reading this undoubtedly know, retail marketing of high-end audio products underwent a profound change beginning in the 1990s, continuing to the present day. Stores that had previously focused exclusively on 2-channel audio found their survival dependent on embracing home theater and custom installation. This necessitated a shift of assets – gear, space, and personnel – to surround processors, multi-channel amps, projectors, home automation, and decor-friendly equipment, with a concomitant decline in stereo gear and in time allotted to 2-channel customers. The situation was exacerbated by the massive influx of Chinese-made gear and by the proliferation of internet sales, both of which chipped away at business. The recent economic crisis has been the final nail in the coffin for many dealers, who have been forced to cease operations. All-in-all, these events seriously limited the options for those looking to audition and purchase quality stereo gear.
Thankfully, a new breed of audio salon is appearing. These shops are more specialized than the mega-stores they replace, focusing exclusively (or nearly so) on two-channel audio, and opting to carry only select brands, rather than attempting to have something for everyone. Often operating by appointment only, some shops are home-based while others are located in commercial space, but they have in common the ability to offer a personal, one-on-one relationship with prospective customers, and an uncompromising approach to audio. Audio Arts, a brand new audio salon in NYC, and its proprietor, Gideon Schwartz, epitomize this new breed of audio salon in a downtown commercial loft.
I initiated contact with Gideon when I learned that Audio Arts – located here in NYC, just a short subway ride from my place of work – is the U.S. importer of Voxativ speakers. Voxativ is a German company specializing in its own proprietary wideband drivers for use in single driver speakers. Single driver speakers invariably elicit strong opinions in the audiophile community, either pro or con. I personally have feet in both camps; on the one hand I am enamored of the superb coherence of single drivers, but on the other am frustrated by their lack of bass and the presence of irritating peaks (e.g., the “Lowther shout”). Not surprisingly, my interest was piqued by early and persuasive reports suggesting that Voxativ speakers possess all that I liked about single drivers but without their deficits. Accordingly, I contacted Gideon and we arranged for me to pay a visit to Audio Arts.
Gideon is a gracious and cordial man, who first became interested in audio as a teenager growing up in Long Island. He has remained a dedicated hobbyist throughout the ensuing decades. He practices law in his office in downtown Manhattan, and about a year ago he began toying with the idea of opening an audio salon. A guiding principle was to carry only a few select brands that spoke to his soul, and to those with similar tastes and sensibilities. Gideon learned of Voxativ speakers while traveling in Germany, and knew immediately that he had found what would be the centerpiece of his new salon.
The speaker on hand when I visited Audio Arts was the Ampeggio, which is Voxativ’s “entry level” single driver speaker ( MSRP of $29,750). It utilizes the 8” diameter and not insubstantial AC-3X driver. The Ampeggio has a stated efficiency (more correctly, sensitivity) of 100 dB, and a stated frequency response of 38 – 20,000 Hz (though it is not indicated if these are the -3 dB points). The AC-3X driver is rear-loaded into a chamber that terminates in a large opening in the bottom of the front panel. The speaker epitomizes the dictum of form following function, and the lustrous Schimmel piano black finish is nothing short of magnificent.
I heard the Ampeggios for only a brief time, in unfamiliar surroundings and with unfamiliar ancillary equipment, thus my comments should be taken as preliminary, not as a formal review. With those caveats in place, my impression is that the Ampeggios live up to their reputation. They are dynamic, coherent, and with better bass than probably any other single driver I’ve heard. But perhaps most impressive of all is that unlike Lowthers – the prototypical single driver to which all others are invariably compared – the Ampeggios seem devoid of any “shout,” and are, overall, impressively low in distortion. Musical, fast and coherent, the Ampeggios represent a major step forward for the single driver paradigm. I would welcome the opportunity to hear them in my own listening room, and I also look forward to hearing the considerably more expensive Ampeggio Due speakers with dedicated Field Coil drivers.
Switching topics just a bit, I should mention that while the Ampeggios are Audio Arts’ flagship product, Gideon sells products from a number of other manufacturers. These include (amongst others) speakers from the Swiss firm Stenheim and another Swiss firm, Ensemble. Gideon will only entertain speakers with very high efficiency and has selected what he believes are the finest speakers of that genre. Toward the end of my visit we listened briefly to the Stenheim speakers. These are designed by former Goldmund engineers, and use all aluminum enclosures. They are superbly crafted and, much to my surprise, were easily driven by 5 Watts per channel (see below). Though I suspect they would benefit from a bit more power, the sound was smooth and refined, with impressive dynamics.
Audio Arts’ lines of electronics include Ensemble, 47 Labs, Vacuum State (again, amongst others), and turntables from Brinkmann. I applaud Gideon’s choice of reasonably priced Silent Wire and WSS cable (both from Germany), rather than the megabuck wires carried by many (if not most) other stores. In fact, Silent Wire has collaborated with Voxativ to create Voxativ-labeled wires which I listened to. When I auditioned the Ampeggios the front end was a Brinkmann Bardo table with Origin Live arm and Brinkmann Pi cartridge; while these were excellent in the absolute sense, they were extraordinary given their price – a true high-end bang-for-the-buck rig. The Ampeggios were driven by a Fi 2b preamplifer and Fi 421A amplifier (5 Watts per channel), which bears comment. Because Don Garber sells his products direct, Audio Arts is not a Fi dealer. Gideon’s decision to show the speakers with Fi amplification is indicative of his desire to provide the best sound he can for potential customers (which is not to imply that the Fi gear is better than that from the other fine manufacturers he represents), even if it means passing up the opportunity to sell additional products. In point of fact, Gideon encourages serious customers to bring their own favorite amplifier to the audition. As I noted above, this is reflective of a deep and abiding commitment to sound, and to customer satisfaction. Kudos to Audio Arts.
I hope to have more to say about Audio Arts’ products in the near future. The company website is http://audioarts.co (note the absence of the final “m”), and Gideon can be reached at (212) 260-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Auditions are by appointment only.
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