Some may say that the rise of the Internet as a forum for the buying and selling of audio equipment has downplayed the importance of the audio dealer. But only the perception, not the role, of the audio dealer has been transmuted.
It is now possible for a customer never once to step into a dealers showroom throughout her or his entire audiophile pursuit. You may buy, sell, and educate yourself online. Component recommendations and warnings can be gathered from websites, blogs, and forums. You can contact and procure equipment from dealers, sellers, and manufacturers themselves with an email address and a credit-card.
Despite all of this, the brick-and-mortar audio dealer is still a critical establishment in the audiophile world, especially in the realm of High End audio. Hearing is still believing, and a dealers showroom can provide the same education for your ears in the here and now as it has done for decades. And a great audio dealer can provide guidance, knowledge, and irreplaceable expertise.
This article could very well read as an advert, or advertorial, of GTT Audio; so positive and impressive were my findings. But I have not been paid off. Actually, I could have written this entire article and completely neglect the fact that the systems I heard were in a dealers showroom, instead say that I was in the home of some enlightened and resourceful audiophile or respected audio critic with countless gear on loan. Regardless, the outcome would have been exactly the same; I would be crazy about the quality of sound I heard these audio systems produce. But it is important to note that I actually was in a dealers showroom, because the overall experience might well convert any music lover or curious listener into a lifelong, passionate audiophile. And this is what the audio dealer has done and will continue to do for many audio lovers, as long as the doors are still open.
GTT Audio has always been a one-man operation. Since 1995, Bill Parish has run GTT Audio out of his home in rural New Jersey (45 minutes from NYC). A sizeable addition to the house was built to include three custom designed listening rooms.
Parish himself sets up and maintains the systems at GTT Audio, to make sure every system is finely tuned and beautifully presented (that they are). For his efforts, he has created excellent listening environments that feel neither sterile nor corporate. It’s like visiting a good friend (a good friend with six rooms dedicated to amazing audio systems). Parish is relaxed and mellow and never puts on any superficial airs. I never felt like an outsider. There are a total of six listening rooms at GTT Audio and each one holds an extraordinary record collection (according to Parish, there are over 15,000 LP’s in the house).
Parish describes himself as a High End audio dealer, meaning: GTT Audio only sells components that live up to his high standards of sound quality and performance. According to Parish, “every component I sell is set-up in my home. I want to be able to walk into any room, at any time, and listen to the music. And I want to enjoy the sound of each system, every time.” He told me that he sells audio “pleasure machines”, but the equipment is only there to serve the music. Live music is his reference. And like some of us, he is on a quest to see how close he can get to that elusive goal.
I think it is important to note that GTT Audio only carries Kubala-Sosna cables and interconnects. A dealer who offers only one brand of cables, and it’s easy to understand why. Cables are an unsettling affair; a specific interconnect that may suit one system could very well ruin another. And cables are a serious source of discontent for many in this hobby (discussing the worth of cables on the Internet will turn into a heated affair). But from my own trials, I would say the stability of using one brand of interconnects is a necessity when auditioning audio components. And Parish is concerned with compiling the “best” systems he possibly can, and to do that, having references are mandatory.
Since there were far too many rooms and components to cover in a one-day visit, we confined ourselves to two listening rooms; the “Big” room and the “Studio” room. The two LP’s we listened to were; a Classic Records 45rpm Clarity pressing of Louis Armstrong’s “St. James Infirmiry,” and a Classic Records 45rpm pressing of Fritz Reiner conducting Prokofiev’s “Lt. Kije” [RCA LSC-1900]. I brought a few other LP’s with me, and we got to them later on. (We only listened to analog playback during my visit.)
The “Studio” is the first room you enter when you walk through the front door. The dimensions are: 17’ x 24’ with 9′ ceilings. In the Studio Room, the line stage was the Veloce LS-1, a personal favorite here in Sea Cliff. The first set-up consisted of the YG Anat III Studio Signature loudspeakers being driven by a Soulution 710 stereo amp. Analog playback was as follows; Sutherland PhonoBlocks Phono Stage, Brinkmann Oasis Turntable with a Brinkmann 10″ arm, and an Airtight PC1 MC cartridge. The entire room was outfitted with Kubala-Sosna Emotion cables and interconnects.
With the Soulution 710 amp in place, the sound was quick and direct. There was an abundance of detail and the noise floor was quite low. The opening trumpet on “Lt. Kije” was properly placed, with that distant Orchestra Hall reverb echoing in the back of the mix, stage right. I noticed the Soulution’s crispness on the snare drum that accompanies the lone trumpet. I must say that from the first note, the YG loudspeakers impressed me, providing a deep and wide soundstage that fit the listening room perfectly.
Although the sound of the Soulution 710 was impressive, it was maybe a bit too precise for my tastes. Then, Parish replaced the Soulution with the Tenor 175S stereo amplifier and the sound immediately became more natural and relaxed; it was more musical. The Tenor 175S, is a tube driven design, as opposed to the solid-state Soulution, and to my ears, allowed the YG loudspeakers to perform their finest. I also noticed that the YG’s allowed the distinct character from each amplifier to come through, thus, imparting little, if any, of its own sonic character to the sound. On “Lt. Kije”, the soundstage developed even further with the Tenor in place; allowing you to hear deeper into the orchestration and therefore, the composers intent. The realistic decay of the trumpet in the Hall was livelier and more natural than with the Soulution. The strings were sexy and the celeste had a more direct presence.
Listening to “St. James Infirmary,” Armstrong’s voice appeared dead center in the mix and his playful phrasing was heard full-with-body and with all the delicate complexities his human voice exudes — as it should be. This was one of the most realistic sonic presentations of this haunting LP I have ever heard (and that is saying something since I listen to this LP practically every day in our Reference Rooms).
Next up was the Big Room. We walked downstairs and I immediately felt as if I was entering a small theatre; that unmistakable feeling of romance that overwhelms you in such a place. The Studio Room had a casual, laid back vibe, but the Big Room has the feel of importance. This is the same feeling I get in our large Reference Room #3, in Sea Cliff. Sometimes you walk into a room and just know that incredible things might happen.
The Big Room at GTT Audio is 21’ x 35’ with 11′ ceilings. For starters, we had the Soulution 700 mono amplifiers, Soulution 720 preamp, and 750 phonostage driving the YG Anat III Signature Professional loudspeakers. The analog rig consisted of a Brinkmann Balance turntable (with tube power supply option), Brinkmann 12″ tonearm, and the Airtight PC1 Supreme MC cartridge. Kubala-Sosna Elation cables, the top-of-the-line, were used throughout.
With the Soulution amps in place, the sound was huge and impressive. Detail and imaging was glorious, with each instrument in the orchestra settled into their proper places. The Soulution amps earned all the usual “audiophile” adjectives and adverbs you might muster. The soundstage in the Big Room at GTT Audio is enormous and helps recreate a live-at-the-theater experience.
But, the listening experience should always be about how a system translates the music and nothing else. It should be about how “close” we can get to actually forgetting that we are listening to so much freakin’ equipment. And I was quite unprepared for the changes I heard when we again replaced the Solution gear with the Tenor. Although everything was seemingly in its right place with the Solution amps, there was more to the music that came bursting to life when the Tenor was in the chain.
“St. James Infirmary” is a recording that we use as the acid-test for life-like imaging and realistic presence (although overplayed in audiophile circles, I on an incredible system this LP will give you the chills). The great Louis should appear before you, from head-to-toe, and can startle even the most unflinching of souls (if the system is dialed in just so). On this system, I felt as if I was watching the musicians perform on a stage directly in front of me, but there was really no stage, only two speakers and a large Persian rug. When I heard his voice enter, the chills ran down my spine. The YG Anat III Signatures translated such a life-like presentation of the music that the loudspeakers seemed to melt down and disappear into the floorboards.
From the first bars of “Lt. Kije”, the acoustic ambiance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, fifty-six years later, was practically reincarnated. The Hall sound was captured and heard in three-dimensions. I am careful to use this word, but revelation is not far off. My next thought: HP has got to hear this! Not only was the staging of the orchestra fully developed, but each instrument had weight and body that carried the air of the acoustic instruments with a real sense of truth. The attack and tone of the celeste was correct and its position was revealed as if hidden before; I could actually “see” where the instrument was placed within the orchestra.
Listening to “Laughing” from David Crosby’s masterpiece, If I Could Only Remember My Name, the YG loudspeakers continued to sound fully coherent throughout the entire sonic spectrum; from the ambient highs to the deep bottom. The mid-bass and low end information was controlled and perfectly executed; without any harmonic dips or stutter. I heard each and every note that Phil Lesh played on his electric bass guitar. These are licks that can sound sloppy on even the best playback systems (ours included). And Jerry Garcia’s lap steel guitar gracefully floated into the air with such ease that you could practically see the notes trail off.
So why would I want to profile a dealer? Answer: To find out the what they are trying to accomplish and to hear how their chosen components perform. At GTT Audio, the systems I heard sounded like music, and no less than state-of-the-art at that. This is the highest compliment I could possibly give. It is easy to see that Parish really understands the role of an audio dealer; which is to help provide a customer with the most rewarding listening experience possible.
More than once during my visit I forgot I was in a dealers showroom. I kept having to remind myself. My criticalness became so disarmed. There was an ease at which I found myself listening deep into the music. This is something I rarely, if ever, experience outside the confines of our reference systems in Sea Cliff. We always say that it must be about how the components get out of the way so the music has a chance to live. Fortunately, Bill Parish at GTT Audio feels the same way.