I almost missed the Nightingale display. The first time I tried to enter the room, there were so many people involved in post-listening conversation that I skipped it. Happily, the Axpona organizers alerted me to my omission, enabling me to leave the show on a high note. And once I took a listen, I understood why people were spending so much time discussing what they heard.
Nightingale products, I soon learned, are manufactured by Simetel, an Italian corporation. Introduced by Valentina Ross, US distributor for Nightingale and Concentus and daughter of Simetel's CEO, and Biagio Annunziata, Project Manager for Simetel, this system tested the limits of my ability to find words that can fully convey what I heard.
Perhaps in part due to the open-baffle design of the Concentus CTR 2 loudspeaker ($10,900/pair), this system created a sonic landscape like no other system I have heard save perhaps for the large mbls. Sonic images were huge, towering, and thrilling. They didn't just appear big; their impact was big, yet appropriate to the music at hand. Mahler's Second Symphony, for example, took on proportions commensurate with its musical import, filling the space between, above, and around the speakers with sound. More than just high and wide, the music seemed to radiate in and through space. I sat there, simultaneously stunned and baffled, trying to figure out what was happening. Whatever was happening, I sure liked it.
The Nightingale Concentus CTR 2 loudspeaker, which radiates to the rear as well as the front, is an 8 ohm three-way with 90dB sensitivity, and a frequency response of 35Hz to 22kHz. It includes two woofers as well as a midrange and tweeter, and weighs approx. 55 lbs. Although the literature says it needs 250W to truly sing, the speaker was powered by the brand new 50Wpc Onda tube amplifier, which is a two-piece, push-pull, 300B triode, class A design that does not utilize negative feedback. I believe two were called into play as monoblocks. Also in the system were the Purity PTS 03 battery-powered tube preamp ($12,000), and the CR-1600 line conditioner ($4800), whose eight outlets include two especially dedicated for amps. The not-for-sale cabling was also by Nightingale.
As amazing as the system sounded, it was not perfect. (What is?) Perhaps because of what I suspect was a case of extremely low voltage in the hotel, which darkened the sound of all the tube systems I heard on the last day, including several systems I revisited that had previously sounded far more alive and illumined, the Nightingale set-up emphasized the midrange over the top. For example, when I played a rather simple recording of radiant soprano Elly Ameling singing Schubert to piano accompaniment, the midrange of the voice received more emphasis than its shining edge. I will have to hear this system under different circumstances before I can figure it all out. Given how fabulous the system imaged and conveyed music under difficult circumstances, I sure hope that revisit comes soon.