Finishing Up With Evolution and darTZeel

As John Atkinson and I entered the room at THE Show in which darTZeel electronics partnered Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers, I was immediately struck by the fullness of the midrange. It was as though the system was opening its heart and welcoming us in. That's how warm and nurturing the sound was.

What was especially wonderful was that this system was about far more than midrange. From a very open, clear and realistic top all way down, the darTZeel/Evolution Acoustics system sang true. And beautifully. Very, very beautifully.

First we listened to a favorite audiophile demo, tenor José Carreras singing an excerpt from Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla. The air around voices and instruments was as wondrous as the clarity of playback.

Then came something very, very special. But first, a description of the system.

This not exactly bargain-priced system consisted of darTZeel’s new NHB-458 monoblocks, whose 1000Wpc will set you back a mere $135,000/pair, and the darTZeel NHB-18 NS reference preamplifier with MC phono section ($29,000). Speakers were the brand-new, just introduced Evolution Acoustics MMtwo loudspeakers ($35,000/pair). Weighing 375 lbs each, these gorgeous babies claim a frequency response of 10Hz–40kHz ±3dB, and a sensitivity of 93dB. They also sound marvelous.

The rest of the system comprised Evolution Acoustics' DRSC speaker cables ($5000/pair), the LINK-Reference 50 ohm BNC–BNC interconnect ($6000), and PC2One power conditioning power cord ($2000). Playback was from either a Playback Systems MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD player with 24/192 input ($15,000), or the world-premiered Music Servers Direct MSD-1 Reference Music Server ($1995) controlled by an Apple iPod Touch. Other goodies included the Audience Adept Response aR6-T power conditioner ($4600).

Yes, it was an expensive room, filled with equipment I cannot possibly afford. But it's not about me, John, or Stereophile; it's about the music that gives us joy, and the equipment that brings it to us in all its glory.

After the Carreras track, Jonathan Tinn of Evolution Acoustics began telling John how much he loved listening to a track from one of John's recordings, Cantus' While You Are Alive. (Stereophile's newest reviewer, long-time audiophile Erick Lichte, was Music Director of Cantus at the time of the recording and produced the CD). As the conversation grew more animated, I quietly mentioned that I just happened to have the CD with me.

I cannot begin to tell you how it felt to enjoy John's energy as he immersed himself in two tracks from one his finest recordings. What I can tell you was that the sound was little short of heavenly.

On that high, I bid adieu to THE Show and CES 2010. If John, in his talk earlier in the afternoon, both acknowledged the bad year that has past and the good year that he expects to unfold, the Evolution Acoustics/darTZeel demo confirmed that 2011 has the potential to launch a very full, rewarding, and musical decade. With sound like theirs, the admittedly struggling high end gives indications that it is indeed alive and well.

The Show is now so large that it is impossible for any one writer to visit every exhibit. While it was our goal, with six people covering CES and THE Show, for someone to at least make an appearance in each room, (Our apologies if that was not the case.) I regret that I left unable to visit a host of rooms at the top of my list: PrimaLuna, Bel Canto, Peachtree Audio, Kimber, XLO, Pass Labs, PS Audio, Parasound, Simaudio, The Lars, Harbeth, Furutech, Scot Markwell of, Immedia. . . Then there were all the companies I'd never heard of whose products I wanted to hear. CES had at least 274 high-end audio exhibitors in 206 suites and air-walled conference rooms and THE Show offered another 110 exhibitors; the list of missed opportunities is huge. I never even had the opportunity to hug Marjorie Baumert, who continues to maintain and build the increasingly successful Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in honor of her late husband, Al Stiefel. But we can only do what we can do.

Thanks to all the designers, engineers, manufacturers, reps, and retailers who make CES and THE Show possible. Above all, thanks for giving us the opportunity to enjoy the best that recorded music has to offer.

michaelavorgna's picture

I don't know what's more infuriating - stuff that costs more than I can spend or stuff that costs less than I've spent.

KBK's picture

Yes mike! Walking out of the audio shop should feel like a near completed act of deep perversion. The kind where you sandwich multiple emotions in a space meant for one. Fear that the wife will find out. Loss, for the money spent. Anguish over possibly not having the right piece of gear. Joy that you have a new toy. Shame that you could not afford the bigger one than the one you bought. Anticipation of opening the box and having fun with the new piece. Angst over the coming tube rolling choices. Depression that you will not be able to do this again, soon. Your heart should be beating like a jackhammer as you walk out with your new toy.

zead's picture

KBK, i love should be writing for TAS

Perturbed's picture

JA asks:"Or is it that your own sense of self-worth demands that you have the best but as you can't afford the best, you spend your days in a cloud of anger and resentment?"No. I'm contemplating setting up a music server, which involves the purchase of a computer, an interface, etc. Taken together these will cost a small fraction of the darTZeel. What my self-worth is wondering is how I justify this expenditure in a world I share with a Haitian woman whose sole possessions are the clothes she's wearing and an empty grain sack. If I knew this I'd think myself smart.

The Groove's picture

Wow, easily the liveliest blog on stereophile website! I am perplexed at the whining show above. I didn't think it was in the Amercian spirit to do so. I think the American spirit is to applaud excellence when we see it, reward it, encourage it. This is the spirit that keeps us getting better, at everything we do. It should be a global spirit. Ofcourse there should be healthy scepticism over design choices, cost, looks etc. but never in a meanspirited way, rather contsructively. What I see above are mostly people that are disappointed with themselves not being able to afford something they'd like to afford. That doesn't make we want to shout rudely at the manufacturer or marketer. It's their choice to set the price and live with the consequences. If they make the wrong choice in their value proposition, they will go bankrupt!I will happily live with my 108 for however long it takes, because I'm focused more on the music I enjoy with it...

rudolf's picture

Congratulations to Jonathan Tinn and Herve Delatraz with such a great achievement!I know from experience how disastrous it can be to set up great gear in lousy acoustical hotelrooms. and get hundreds of critical audiophiles in front.yes the 458's are truly expensive and I may never afford them too, but Herve can expect my check for a NHB108 / NHB18 eventually.. i'm just lucky to own 96dB speakers so 100 watt is mucho enoughthe whiners:those who know it all, but with empty pockets

Golden ears's picture

The bottom line is that there is lots of expensive gear out there that is sonically inferior to some lower priced gear, but "The Best' is always expensive. The Dartzeel monos are obviously Herve's statement product, and he is to be applauded for contuining to push the envelope. Fact is that some of the technology in the monos have already been trickeled down to their 108 stereo amp yielding spectacular results. Other than the Dartzeel mono masterpieces, the Evolution speakers appear to be a steal at 35K (compared to the competition of course). Same goes for the playback player. Congratulatons to Jonathan and Herve for putting on such a glorous show.

Felixs's picture

Any fool can make a bridge that doesn't fall down; only a good engineer an make a bridge that only just doesn't. (Tacoma Narrows excepted). I question whether just throwing money at a problem without a sense of proportion constitutes anything approaching good engineering practice. Audio has to be seen in some context, like cost/benefit - and at some point the law of diminishing returns starts to apply. A $30,000 system will probably sound better than a $3000 one - but once you get into six figures the incremental improvement is marginal to those who are honest. While it may be interesting to experience equipment like this, no doubt it still has coloration, distortion and at $164,000 I'd at least expect DZ to have decent typography. It so happens that the distortion is pleasant to experience, but it's what delivers the character of the sound. True accuracy can be achieved a lot cheaper (and with less tasteless colors) - but "warm and nurturing" don't sound like the accurate replay a studio engineer desires.

Jonathan Tinn's picture

Felixs: Maybe "warm and nuturing" was the character of the music playing at the time. That might very well have been the "sound like the accurate replay a studio engineer desires". To assume the negative out of that statement is really a mistake here.We had recording and mastering engineers that came to our room, and made statement of how accurate and real the music sounded through this system. One was Jim Merod, of Blue Port Jazz fame and another was Bruce Brown of Puget Sounds Studios. They both played their music and expressed their extreme satisfaction.

Felixs's picture

Jonathan: fair comment, and I note that the review says "very open, clear and realistic". I'm guilty (as are others in this thread) of combining a general point about cost/benefit within the extreme high end, and the motivations of owners, with a more direct and personal criticism of your particular system - which is unfair, at the very least because I wasn't at CES. Unfortunately DarTZeel's extremist philosophy inevitably makes them a target within this debate, which I expect is annoying and frustrating for you. However, I do think a general discussion about the extreme high end and its engineering criteria is necessary, because it does influence the wider industry. I can see parallels within high end watchmaking: Richard Mille watches are jewelery; he uses horology as a vehicle to express his art, he's not about easy or optimal time-telling. High end audio can be similar: the extremist tour-de-force that is artistic expression not science - yet they maintain functionality is all, when it patently isn't.

Bruce Brown's picture

I have this "fight" all the time with audiophile labels. I like the accuracy, transparency and pinpoint imaging. The audiophile labels want musicality, euphonic colorations and overtones. If I want to get paid, I have to make the music sound the way the client wants it, even if it's against my best wishes. Usually I can compromise and have a little of both. If what you heard was "warm and nurturing", it's probably the way the producer wanted it to sound. I can guarantee you one thing though...whatever goes into the Playback/DarTzeel/Evolution is what comes out... nothing added or subtracted!

bwright's picture

As this is a subjective science, there is no correct answer when it comes to the high end, as each offering reflects the singular point of view of the designer in relation to their love of music. Indeed, that is the same reason why we are taking the time to participate here. I truly enjoyed the darTZeel/Evolution room as I found the speakers and source chain sounded exactly like music in a live venue. There were no solid state or tube characteristics I could detect; it simply sounded like music, and beautifully rendered. The only other line I have heard that reflects a similar point of view is Spectral, but darTZeel does so with a gentle sense of humor (the "Pleasure Control" knob, for example) while serving the essence of the music. I also visited many of the other high end rooms there, and some of the related positive reviews and threads left me baffled. But in the end, it is simply a personal reaction to a point of view - nothing more. So I can safely say I agree with darTZeel's perspective.

Miguel's picture

You can go to the site , where you will find a short video of this system playing. It is possible to grasp the quality of the system through the computer speakers. I had the same thoughts as many here about extremely expensive equipment, I am thinking right now about the Hansen Master speaker, ridiculously expensive and grotesque, but it sounded really good through the glimpse I get when I see the video on my computer. The video reportage says much more than any words.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

It's a little late in the game, but I want to comment on several points that have been raised in this discussion. The first is that this is NOT a review; it is a snapshot impression garnered over the course of 15-18 minutes. No blog report should be taken as a review. Note as well that, when John listened to his Cantus recording, I ceded the sweet spot to him and sat in the corner of a small room. Having said that, that Jonathan and the manufacturers he represents managed to get such extraordinary sound out of a space that proved untamable to others says a lot. Secondly, "warm and nurturing" should be read as appropriately inviting, and not as a code word for colored and euphonic. In the end, few show systems invite me into the room, speak out through boxes and wires to my heart, and want me to forego my other assignments and just spend hours listening. This was one of them. Finally, we in the audiophile community tend to repeat adages as though they speak immutable truth. See my next post.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

We in the audiophile community tend to repeat adages as though they are immutable truth. One of many is the so-called "law of diminishing returns." Who wrote this law, and who proved it scientifically, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you get my drift? I heard HUGE differences between this and other similarly priced systems. Most of them couldn't hold a candle, at least to my ears. I also heard HUGE differences between this system and those that cost much, much less. Note as well that while the amps are astronomically priced, the speakers, by today's standards, are anything but. [paragraph] With no criticism intended of any single poster, I would urge us to use caution in repeating high-end platitudes rather than listening with open ears and heart, and discovering how a system, regardless of price, speaks and sings to us.

GEORGE's picture

Jason of course heard "huge" differences, in this system and others. He KNEW it was so expensive, so it had to sound "better". Law of human frailty, power of suggestion. But of course audio writers are immune from all things frailty of humans. Get back down to planet earth. Just like you pal Mickey Fremer who heard "huge" improvements when he demagnetized his plastic records! Huge, this word has lost it's proportions? Price yup, not sound differences. When does the BS end? You guys couldn't hear the difference between a high quality $3,000 amplifier from Crown, QSC, AVA,ElectroVoice,other p or several other hi quality, priced for people products. If you didn't wee it, or have been told it's priced in the stratosphere. Why don't you guys ADMIT it's mostly pure BS, and you guys go along with it all, in the hopes of garnering some ad space from these makers of jewelery, not audio products? There is no practical reason, or business sense that says these things are worth, or should be so over priced.

Best Sound At The Show's picture

I am so glad to read all over the various web blogs that so many people from different walks of life, professional and amature alike, who heard this system, came to the same conclusion ... best sound ever !!!And I am so priveledged to have had this system and that experience in my home for three years running now. No need to change. Congrats & well done Jonatahn, Herve, Andreas and Kevin. A very happy customer.

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Steve Dodds's picture

Since this has been brought back to the top, I'd like to ask the obvious.One of Stereophile's tenets has always been that it is impossible to judge the sound quality of any system except in the reviewer's room, against a known reference.Walking into a strange room for 15-18 minutes and then making the comments Jason has is surely a major violation of this tenet.I realize this is not a review, but it was also not qualified in the way I'd expect a brief listen under show conditions to be. The sound could have been merely average, but if the previous rooms were horrible it would stand out like a beacon.As for the speakers, I have no doubt they sound good. The Accuton mids are excellent, as is the Raven tweeter (or similar). No doubt the bass unit is of equally high quality.The frequency response on the site is obviously nonsense, but they should sound really good. BTW, why not just describe the crossover as a Linkwitz-Riley rather than 'constant voltage'. It makes your speakers seem tacky.

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Casandra's picture

Hm, quite an interesting review! Thanks for posting it)) I hope I got the necessary impression here! Cheers!

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glorybaker's picture

Congratulations to Jonathan Tinn and Herve Delatraz with such a great achievement!I know from experience how disastrous it can be to set up great gear in lousy acoustical hotelrooms. and get hundreds of critical audiophiles in front.

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