For an audio manufacturer that has worked long and hard to craft equipment that sounds great under most normal listening conditions, taking that gear to an audio show can be as frightening as entering a spook house on Halloween.
In a thunderstorn. With a black cat streaking across the sidewalk. Just as your flashlight fails.
What’s so scary is there’s nothing normal about the space or the conditions where you’re about to install your latest, carefully tweaked stereo creations. You’re either in a cramped hotel suite with a large amount of glass at one end, or you’ve shelled out for a cavernous conference room. Neither is helping those goosebumps.
Add to that zombie-like hordes loudly roaming the halls, an electricity supply that fluctuates like Frankenstein was getting jump-started downstairs and shadowy writers haunting your room and you can’t escape getting all cold and clammy.
Most of the time, in those darkened spaces, it’s a wonder anything sounds halfway decent.
Yet, after covering all the major audio shows for the past few years, I have to say there are a few companies that somehow manage to bust the ghosts and consistently deliver fine reproduction.
One of those is YG Acoustics, based in the Denver suburb of Arvada. The high-end speaker manufacturer, founded in 2002 by designer Yoav Geva, rarely seems to disappoint — no matter how difficult the room or sketchy the AC. Even different electronics partners don’t change the results much.
Such was the case at AXPONA 2017, where YG was showing its Carmel 2, a slender floor-stander, backed by equipment from Mola-Mola and Kubala-Sosna. The rig was assembled by dealer and distributor GTT Audio & Video of New Jersey.
When I walked into the small, fourth-floor room at the Westin O’Hare, YG sales and marketing director Dick Diamond had just cued up Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand.”
The track was the live version from Young’s 1971 concert at Massey Hall. I immediately was struck by the crispness of Young’s acoustic guitar and the purity (in an audio reproduction sense!) of the singer’s trademark wavering falsetto.
It was like sitting front-row center and hearing the guitar strings vibrate directly into the soundhole and Young’s voice coming straight into your ears.
This illusion was helped by high frequencies that were extended and airy. In addition, the reverberant sound of the famous venue extended deep behind Young’s mic stand. The noise floor — for a live recording — was amazingly low.
The next demo cut, Steely Dan’s bouncy “Peg,” displayed the Carmel 2’s strengths in speed, midrange transparency and imaging. Bass, while not plumbing the lowest depths (as you might imagine for a speaker this size), still was tight and tuneful.
The Carmel 2 ($24,300 a pair), like all YG speakers, uses a lot of aircraft-grade aluminum. Yoav Geva loves aluminum. The CNC machine operators don’t take many breaks in Denver.
The cabinet is made out of aluminum. Drivers (a 144mm midrange-woofer and a 27mm tweeter) are cut in-house from the metal and motor systems are created with 3-D technology. The result, to me, is that the enclosures and cones meld together and speak with one voice.
YG also is obsessive about controlling vibrations. To start with, each Carmel 2 weighs 76 pounds. Second, the base flares to offer a wider footprint. Third, and perhaps most critical, Geva believes in building a sealed, airtight cabinet to minimize turbulence, avoid smearing and enhance microdynamics.
The Carmel 2s were driven by a front end of Mola-Mola components, including the Kaluga monoblocks ($16,500), Makua preamp ($11,740) and DAC ($7,850).
The Kaluga, a 400 watt-per-channel Class D amp, was especially refined, yet detailed, which would seem to reflect the impressive measurement graphs on the company’s website.
Kubala-Sosna provided its Elation speaker cable and interconnects ($6,000 for the first meter, $1,200 for each additional meter), Realization USB cable ($3,500) and Elation power cords ($1,800 for the first meter, $500 for each additional meter).
All that top-notch support gear undoubtedly contributed to the fine sound in Chicago, despite strange knocking sounds and disembodied voices outside.
I guess with YG’s track record, there’s little to be scared of — even in the dim light of a stereo show.