AXPONA 2017: High Water Sound is what it’s all about… the music

Jeffrey Catalano puts music first.

There’s a quote I got from Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note UK which I brought up a number of times over the weekend in Chicago at AXPONA, and it goes like this: “There’s far too little focus on music, and far too much focus on equipment in this industry. It never ceases to baffle me how badly the industry looks at music, it’s like it’s actually an annoyance… because why can’t we just focus on the equipment?”

211 power.

The reason I was reminded of it, and kept inserting it into conversations was because a number of the audiophile press I spoke with kept complaining about how boring, predictable, and painful the bulk of the music being played at high fidelity shows is. I think I got lucky in Chicago because most of the rooms I spent time in were practicing diversity in their music choices, and a couple in particular had me photographing LP covers because after hearing them I needed to buy a copy for myself.

TW Acustic Black Knight.

There’s no doubt that there is a very thin veneer of music that seems to get played at audiophile shows, and they are invariably audiophile pressings, or digital masters, and anyone who’s attended a show can rattle off titles, and artists who are in heavy rotation pretty quickly. As I said in my previous post it’s become expected, and unfortunately it’s also become demanded by show goers. How many rooms clear out immediately as soon as anything electronic gets put on? How many people ask to hear “female vocals” or “something with piano” ad nauseam? And, the biggest thing I notice in rooms is that the ones requesting all this music barely seem to be listening to it. They will talk over the entire track they requested asking questions about this amp or that CD player or turntable.

AXPONA 2017 coverage proudly brought to you by Noble Audio.
In service to sound.

Rarely have I ever heard discussions about the material being played. Except for one room where the music is almost always being talked about: The High Water Sound room run by Jeffrey Catalano out of New York. This is the room I always go to because I want to visit with Catalano – he’s an amazing man, with impeccable taste in music – and hear albums that I’ve never heard before. Without fail his LP picks blow me away, and I’ll always end up ordering two or thee from a single listening session. I joke that Catalano costs me a small fortune every time I see him because not only are the albums musical masterpieces, they’re usually ubër rare, and pricey – but worth it.

Ortofon mono and stereo cartridges in play.

Catalano usually doesn’t fuss too much with the gear he brings to shows, it’s almost always a variation on Hörning Hybrid loudspeakers (This time the Aristotle Ellipse, $16,000 USD, $21,450 CAN), New Audio Frontiers amplification (Ultimate 211 SE Stereo Amplifier $13,500 USD, Stradivari Line Stage $10,000 USD, Stradivari Phono Stage $11,500 USD) Tron-Electric (Seven GT Mono Phono $15,000 USD), and TW-Acustic (Black Knight turntable $40,000 USD with two 10.5-inch tonearms, $5,500 each, Ortofon PW-Winfield stereo cartridge $4,100 USD, and Cadenza Mono $1,280 USD). His set-ups are always one of the very best sounding rooms at every show I attend, and are a beauty to behold.

Twin 10.5-inch TW-Acustic tonearms.

The next time you’re at a high-fidelity show I recommend you take the time to seek out Catalano, not only will you be treated to a room that is built upon a foundation of emotional connection to music through some of the finest sounding equipment I’ve been exposed to, but you’ll most definitely hear artists, and albums you’ve never heard of.

Who knows, you might even talk about the albums you’re listening to and not the gear it’s being played on.

–Rafe Arnott

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream


  1. I see a laundry list of equipment that adds up to the price of a first home in many parts of the US, but not ONE single mention (or album cover pic) of the (allegedly) interesting music that was being played in a post titled “High Water Sound is what it’s all about… the music”. Apparently it is not actually “all about… the music”.

  2. The only thing worse than people talking over music at an audio equipment show is people doing that at a live music show. Can we make this a hanging offense please?

  3. I too go to audio shows to look at gear. But it is because of the music that I go. I need to find the pieces of gear that make the music sound so real and life-like in my home. Jeffrey Catalano is first about the music, reps amazing sounding gear that brings the music to life and helps people build systems that work together to keep a musical smile on their face for years to come. High Water Sound rooms always sound amazing. I always find myself not wanting to leave the room, lusting after gear and motivated to search out the vinyl that I heard. I will take this kind of audio show experience every time. Any time you spend with Jeffrey Catalano and High Water Sound will only move you farther down the road to musical bliss.

  4. Well, this is industrial show, not music show. We manufacturers want to focus on making good equipment so users can have good music at home. And at the show the visitors can hear the same songs over and over again so they can compare rooms and have reference to what they know. So in other words : AUDIOPHILES should put much more attention to music and not test one CD at home, Agreed. But at industry hardware show – NOT NECESSARILY. Especially that the show is not about keeping the reviewers amused and happy. This is not our job. Our job is creating stellar hardware. My 2c.

  5. And, to build upon this, most reviewers almost never use rock and roll tracks to test loudspeakers….it is just only jazz music.

    BTW, It is very difficult to find a review on AudioNote speakers, specifically the AN-K….wish you have the chance to do it.


    • Most audio reviewer’s I know use rock equally balanced with many other forms of music in order to present a broad and fairly balanced assessment of the equipment they are reviewing.

    • High Water Sound has participated in over 75 shows in the past 17 years. I have never once even considered (except for maybe CES), any of these shows as an “industry show”. Even at CES, most manufacturers and or distributors given proper time and context, would disarm and loose themselves in either listening and or discussing music. If all these shows were just “industry shows: there would be mostly static displays with boring men in suits or matching branded polo shirts spewing out countless B.S. along with pretty ladies pointing at each piece of gear on display.
      The notion of playing the same boring tried and true “audiophile” recordings to make a fair comparison is a total misnomer. There are way to many variables i.e., room size, type of gear, how many people in the room, humidity, mood, time of day, etc to give validity or justification to such an argument. Do you know how many people come to my rooms with their favorite records? Many are rare and the genres are all over the place. These records are deeply coveted and cherished. They are not bringing me a piece of gear, they are bringing their most beloved music. At this Axpona, I had a very nice man and his lovely wife who by the way, have never purchased anything from HWS, brought me as a gift a 1952 first pressing, 10″ from Chet Baker and an ECM record from Don Cherry as a thank you for all the great systems I have brought to each and every Chicago Axpona. This man said my systems always convey the soul of the music. If once again, these shows are just “industry or hardware shows”, why are there so many music vendors at the market place? On the first day, there are lines of people eager to purchase the most rare or what they perceive to be the best music on sale. Many save up for months to be able to do so. Most of these vendors usually sell out or do incredibly well at these shows. Another question would be, why are there live performances at every show which are usually filled to capacity if these shows are only about the gear? What about the wonderful master tape nights in the MBL rooms? Sitting in the dark, listening at intimate but, loud volumes of incredible music for free doesn’t seem to be only gear oriented. I like to think it’s a thank you to all who attend and a treat for those who could never even dream to be able to afford such wonderful gear as MBL. I have attended most of these late night tape sessions and not once have I ever heard Jeremy, Tara, Greg or Todd talk about the gear unless someone asked a question pertaining to the gear. Sunday morning, I got a chance to run over for a listen in the Volti room. Greg, Gary and Pete are all friends and people I respect. There was no talk of gear, Gary just streamed (no record) a piece of electronica that danced all over the room in psychedelic splendor which was just awesome! Gustavo, I love the gear to, as I think most who attend these shows do but, the gear is only one part of the show experience. Music and the social aspect of each show are also just as important as the gear. This audio hobby is as much a lifestyle as it is a business. This is something that should never be forgotten and always respected before anything else. And to you comment on Audio Note speakers, Peter Q. who has a vast record collection and incredible knowledge about music loves to demo with heavy metal. It’s all about the balance…

  6. I agree with your comments about the music. It is all about the music. So why don’t you share the names of the albums that impressed you? I think that all of your readers would be interested.

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