A trio of Musical Fidelity V-Series products: V-CAN headphone amplifier ($199), V-DAC D/A converter ($299), and the asynchronous V-Link 24/96 USB to S/PDIF converter ($169), all tied together by budget-priced AudioQuest cables. These products may be affordable, but they offer true high-end sound quality.
Evolution Home Theater is an Atlanta-based dealer carrying products from B&W, Pioneer, Marantz, Pro-Ject, Arcam, Sony, Musical Fidelity, Definitive Technology, and Sonus Faber, among others.
While in the Evolution Home Theater room, I enjoyed speaking with Andy Ritz, whose Ritz Interiors offers a wide selection of solutions for room treatments, specializing in whole-room custom treatments but also happy to provide single panels for smaller jobs, each project available with customizable fabrics and designs for “a true theater look and feel.”
I also enjoyed chatting with B&W’s Eric Joy, who told me that the company’s new P5 headphones (seen here) have been a great success. Indeed, I’ve even started seeing people in NYC sporting the good-looking headphones. At just $299, the P5 might offer the discerning music lover a fine alternative to Monster’s Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.
I sat down and listened to a system made of the P5, along with a suite of Musical Fidelity V-Series componentsV-CAN headphone amp, V-DAC, and V-Link asynchronous 24/96 USB to S/PDIF convertertied to one another and to an Apple iBook G4 by AudioQuest cables. There was nothing muddy about Muddy Waters singing “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had.” (So true.) The sound was perhaps a little laidback, smooth, and seductive, with a good sense of air around Muddy’s voice, a weighty, well-defined bass, and great tone to the guitar.
A look inside the Qualia & Co. Indigo Blue Reference preamplifier seems to reveal solid construction. Qualia products, manufactured in Japan, are scheduled to be available in the US sometime this summer.
In the Immedia room, a sweet, relaxed sound was coming from a system made of Spiral Groove Allegra 2.0 loudspeakers, a Spiral Groove E60A power amplifier on a Finite Elemente Pagode platform, Audio Research CD8 CD player, Qualia & Co. Indigo Blue Reference preamp, and Spiral Groove cables.
At the time I walked into the room, Immedia’s Allen Perkins was in the nearby Analog Ballroom, tending to a disassembled sample of his Spiral Groove turntable, discussing its technology and design, while Michael Fremer used a fully assembled SG ‘table to give a turntable setup seminar.
So, though I didn’t get to hear vinyl, I nevertheless enjoyed the music. The system filled the rather large room with a lovely, easy sound, with solid stereo images and strong, compelling center fill. I don’t recall what we were listening to, but my notes quote the song’s lyrics“I will rock you gently...”which seems appropriate for this room and system.
The modest-looking system being demmed by Atlanta dealer Playhouse Audio was my final stop on the first day of the Show but turned out to be one of the highlights of that day. Nola's new three-way Contender speaker ($3400/pair) was being driven by an Audia Flight FL2 integrated amplifier, with the source a Mach 2-modified Mac mini feeding USB data to a Peachtree iNova that was being used as a DAC. Cabling was all Harmonic Technology: Pro-10 speaker cable and Magic 2 interconnects, as well as a Silver Oval interconnect from Analysis Plus and a Platinum USB cable from Wireworld. In one of those too-rare audiophile moments where one track organically led to another to another to another. I listened to Dave Grisman and Tony Rice ("Turn of the Century" from Tone Poems), Taj Mahal and V.M. Bhatt ("Come On Over My House"), Herbie Hancock and Luciana Souza ("Amelia" from River: the Joni Letters), but a discovery for me among the music played was a live version of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" by Swedish singer Lisa Ekdahl. Nice. Very nice.
I first heard the Voxativ Ampeggio speaker ($29,750/pair) at the 2011 Montreal Show, where I was gobsmacked by what I heard. In a beautiful, high-gloss enclosure from the Schimmell piano company was a single drive-unit with an old-fashioned "whizzer" cone that resembled but wasn't a Lowther unit, which is was loaded with a rear-loaded horn. Such designs offer enormously high sensitivitythe speakers at Axpona filled the room with sound using a Fi WE421A single-ended amplifier ($3275) that offered just 4Wpc for its single dual-triode output tubebut my experience with Lowthers is that they can sound equally enormously colored. But the Ampeggios, seen here with importer Gideon Schwartz, just produced the same uncolored, dynamic-sounding music in Atlanta as they had in Canada. I'll be driving up to Artie Dudley's in upstate New York in a few weeks to listen to and measure the Voxativs in his room. Intrigued by what I'll find.
The Avatar Acoustics room featured the Rosso Fiorentini Siena speakers ($24,995/pair) that made their North American debut at last January's CES, seen here with Avatar's Darren Censullo. A four-way sealed-box design, the Siena features two 8" aluminum-cone woofers, a 6.5" paper-cone midrange unit, a 1" silk-dome tweeter, and a Murata ultrasonic generator and produced a big sweep of sound on what appeared to be the Show's ubiquitous dem track, Nils Lofgren's live acoustic number "Keith Don't Go," driven by an AMR AM-77.1 integrated amplifier. But converting Nils' bits from an AMR CD-77.1 CD player used as a transport was AMR's new DP-77 D/A converter ($4995). Uniquely, this offers a choice of two DAC chips, one a non-oversampling 16-bit type which is recommended for CD playback, the other a 32-bit type optimized for playback of high sample-rate data, which offers minimum-phase, apodizing, and "organic" reconstruction filters.
The DP-77 has an asynchronous USB input that can accept data with sample rates up to 192kHz and jitter is reduced by using a high-precision clock and rather than adjusting its frequency in continuous steps to match the average rate of the incoming data, which can allow jitter to bleed through to the DAC chip, the DP-77's clock switches between 28 million discrete frequencies.
I have never been a fan of transmission-line speakers. My experience has been that too often resonant problems in the line color the speaker's upper bass. But I didn't hear any such problems with the Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers ($16,000/pair), seen here with designer Robert Lee. The Crescendo combines two 5" midrange units with magnesium-impregnated paper cones placed either side of a horn-loaded tweeter with two 8" woofers that use ceramic-coated "non-pressed" paper cones, these loaded with a transmission line venting at the speaker's base. Driven by a Triode Corporation 20Wpc TRV-845SE integrated amplifier ($6000), which uses two 845 output tubes running in class-A, and a Triode TRV-CD4SE CD player, the sound in this room was uncolored and extended at both frequency extremes, revealed by a superb recording of a female singer accompanied by a double bass.
MBL's Jeremy Bryan had an interesting problem when set up his system at Axpona, in that while the hotel room was large, it was also double-story, with a 16' ceiling and an acoustic nightmare of a mezzanine level at the rear. Jeremy, shown in the photo next to the unanticipated in-room stairway, solved it by packing the mezzanine floor with queen-size mattresses that had been emptied from other hotel rooms. The system was the same used at SSI in Montreal two weeks ago101E Mk.2 omnidirectional speakers driven by gigantic 9011 monoblock amplifiers, a 6010D preamp, a 1621A CD transport, and a 1611F D/A converterand I listened to the same hi-rez solo piano recording made by MBL's long-time chief engineer Jürgen Reiss, "Walchensee, Mondnacht," performed by Martin Vatter, from the album Klangbilder. Once again, the piano sound was disturbingly lifelike, with full-range dynamics.
Back in the day, you couldn't cruise the corridors at an audio Show without hearing Willie Nelson's arrangement of "Stardust" coming from every open door. So it was with a feeling of nostalgia that I walked into the Sanders room at Axpona and heard that familiar voice. Providing the tunes was an all-Sanders system featuring the Model 10c speakers ($13,000/pair including 500Wpc bass amplifier and crossover module), which combines an electrostatic panels for the midrange and highs with a transmission line-loaded 10" moving-coil woofer. Unusually, the active crossover operates in the digital domain, operating at 24/96 and splitting the signal at 172Hz with 48dB/octave slopes, which should ameliorate the problem blending the omnidirectional woofer with the dipolar panel. With a Sanders line stage, Sanders electrostatic amplifier ($4000), and Sanders cablesRoger Sanders feels strongly that a system should designed as a systemthe 10cs sounded unexpectedly dynamic.
The Daniel Hertz M1 ($100,000/pair), designed by Mark Levinson (the man), uses a high-frequency horn, a 12” mid-woofer, and an 18” woofer. The stainless steel frame surrounding the horn is said to optimize waveform termination and imaging quality, while those frames surrounding the woofers are used to increase the rigidity of the drivers. The speaker is divided internally into two sections: One section for the horn and 12” driver, damped using sheep’s wool for its high mass and absorptive properties, and one section with two tuned ports for the 18” driver.
As seen here, the M1 is designed to be powered by four Telikos M5 Mono Reference amplifiers ($8000 each): Each channel uses one M5 switched to frequencies above 80Hz and one M5 switched to frequencies below 80Hz. Also in the system was a Telikos M6 preamp ($10,000). The source was a $400 laptop running WAV files from iTunes.
Interesting story: Daniel Hertz (the company) takes its name from the two sides of Mark Levinson’s family. Daniel Levinson was Mark’s father, while Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894), a German physicist and the first to demonstrate the existence of electromagnetic waves, was Mark’s great uncle on his mother’s side.
The YG Acoustics Anat III Signature ($119,000/pair) employs a new circuit in its main module which enables the speaker to play louder while minimizing midrange distortion. Though the Anat maintains its rated sensitivity of 89dB, its impedance is more even, which should make the speaker easier to drive. Completing the system were a Veloce preamp, Krell 402 amplifier, dCS Scarlatti system, and Kubala Sosna Elation cables.
Alright. As some graceful piano came slowly tinkling into the room, I was immediately struck by the system’s combination of scale and delicacy. And when the first voice came in, it was one of those holy shit moments. And when the second voice came in, it was another one of those holy shit moments. And when the two voices came together, all I could do was sit there and grin like a dummy, in awe of the texture and tone and exquisite delineation of images. And then the percussionfast and clean and authoritative. It added up to a compelling complete performance, just as sonically impressive as it was emotionally involving.
I heard myself thinking wild thoughts: It’s incredible that reproduced music can sound this good…. Sitting there listening to Herbie Hancock’s The Imagine Project, I was having the same sort of reaction as when walking the halls of a museum or strolling down 34th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, looking up at the Empire State Building: I’m just sort of amazed that humans can create such beauty.
Well, not really miles, but definitely a lot. Feet and cones and spikes and pucks and all sorts of fun stuff. I kinda just wanted to run as fast as I could and fling myself right up onto this table to swim with all of these little goodies. But I managed to restrain myself.
"It's fitting for the world premier of the Da Vinci 384k DAC to happen on the first day of Axpona," explained Light Harmonic's Larry Ho, "as today is Leonardo da Vinci's birthday." 384k? Yes, the Da Vinci DAC ($11,999 regular price, $8999 Axpona price [NOTE: The actual retail price ended up at $20k-ed.]) will operate at sample rates up to 384kHz. At the show, in a system featuring Wilson Sophia 3 speakers driven by Pass Labs amplification, a 2L recording of Ole Bull's violin concerto, sourced from a Mac 2-modded Mac mini running Pure Music and recorded with a 352.8kHz sample rate, according to the DAC's front panel display, offered up some of the sweetest-sounding, natural violin sound and the most solid stereo imaging I have experienced from a classical recording. The 384k DAC uses the USB2.0 protocol and functions on a Mac without a driver having to be installed.
"I made this for myself," explained the genial Ron Sutherland, as he showed me the interior of his new monophonic phono preamplifier ($9800/pair). The power supply on the right, which uses both choke and RC smoothing, feeds DC to the active circuitry on the left via a ribbon cable running in a channel machined in the front panel. Plug-in daughterboards are used to change loading and gain and three chassis grounding options allow for the lowest noisefloor: floating, grounded directly, and grounded via a 50 ohm resistor. Ron has used 1/8"-thick circuit boards to lower dielectric effects. There are two outputs to allow a mono cartridge to to be fed to both left and right inputs of the phono preamplifier.