New York 2014: The Monkeyhaus, the 21st Century Audiophile, and the End of Line


Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014The Monkeyhaus is something of an urban legend. It’s usually discussed in hushed tones. Photographs are always blurred. No one ever seems to go and be willing to talk about the experience.

Until now.


I’m kidding. Sort of. DeVore Fidelity is located in Brooklyn, over in the Old Navy Shipyard. Monkey House Adept Michael Lavorgna drove me over, navigating the blasted urban landscape. At several points, I was looking for either Snake, Buffy, The Cigarette Smoking Man, or Luca Brasi. Stepping out of the car, I was pretty sure we would not be climbing back in. Ever.

Okay, fine, it was dark and the Navy Yard is one of those crazy leftovers from WWII that never really got repurposed. There are still giant warehouses and industrial buildings, some with broken glass and gaping holes, and some looking very much in-use for nefarious extra-governmental “projects”. The whole was like something from the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. Better still — several sets. I’m told that Dreamworks nearly bought the place, which would have been all manner of awesome, but that never panned out. And now, the Navy Yard awaits … Godzilla, maybe. Dunno. The place feels like it’s holding it’s breath.

But up in Building 280, DeVore Fidelity has a surprisingly open-seeming and lived-in space. Tucked into a corner was the House, all particle-board walls and bookshelves filled with LPs as well as new and vintage audio gear. It was completely disarming. There’s a giant couch next to a desk, and out in the middle of the floor were a pair of speakers.

These were the new, completely finished and ready-for-sale, Gibbon X loudspeakers.

I first heard these at CES a year or two back. The final version swapped front-firing drivers for side-firing ones. Bamboo cabinets with the tweeter lined up directly beneath the mid/woofer, and the whole thing comes up to John DeVore’s waist. He’s tall, so this is a big cabinet. Formal introduction will come at RMAF, but this sneak peek was unexpected and delicious. Just for the record, the speakers were playing pretty much continuously if only at low volume — there was a party underway — but the clarity and nuance was obvious. More soon.

The pizza was delicious. The beer, copious. The bourbon went down with nary a gasp. The conversation was full and effortless — I poured bourbon for John Atkinson of Stereophile and chatted up Art Dudley and was regaled by Michael Fremer. John Derda of Peachtree Audio appeared, and the room was stuffed with Audioquest regional sales reps (I had no idea Audioquest was that big of a company!). It was, all in all, a fine time.

The following day, Art and I were joined by Steve Guttenberg of CNeT’s Audiophiliac and John Darko of Digital Audio Review. That hour long panel discussion attempted to tackle where the industry was heading, and pivoted around the several questions:

1. Where have we been and have we actually gotten anywhere in the last 75 years? I recalled an experience at CAF that I found electrifying — a demo of an RCA bass horn paired with an Altec horn tweeter in a system put on by Live Sound Designs. None of the equipment in that room postdated JFK (even if it had been refurbished quite a bit), but the sound field was enormous. As I now retell it, it wasn’t like having Dylan in my listening room — this demo put me at a Dylan concert. That’s a whole different thing! But Art, having just chaired a panel on vintage audio, brought us back around, talking about the many advances high-end audio has wrought. That was fun.

2. We also raided the cupboard for ideas on how to turn on and tune in the Millennials. This is a particularly troublesome problem for “the industry” as a whole, and while the personal audio seems to be making inroads, the question of hi-fi crossover is still very much open to debate, despite the rosy-colored glasses many of us seem to be wearing. By contrast, the idea to infect them with the joys of vinyl playback, seems to have some legs. I’ll come back to that eventually in a full treatment, I’m sure.

3. The issue of affordability was a soapbox not enough of us are on, to my mind, and Steve Guttenberg agrees wholeheartedly. As a result of this thrown gauntlet, I’ve ordered a pile of truly affordable hi-fi gear in the attempt to assemble a $100 (one hundred dollars) full system. And a couple more at various price points — all under $300, if I can get it to work. It’s a worthy experiment, I think.

4. John Darko and I talked about this set of topics all weekend and we’re not done yet. The future of audio in the 21st century is going to be a different thing than what we saw in arise in the 20th, to be sure. Keep an eye out for that debate as it unfolds.

Turning to the New York Audio Show itself, I have to say that it was a great success — even with the challenges to do with dates, lack of local dealer support, and simply having a show in NYC. I noted very high traffic both Friday and Saturday, and when I say “high”, I mean it — short of CES, this was a big crowd. If this show ever manages to find its feet, and settle on a venue and date, it’s going to be a monster. The Big Apple is hungry for this kind of thing, that’s clear.

Three NY shows in the bag — and this was the best yet. Nice work! Kudos to the Chester Group. Looking forward to what you all can pull together for 2015.