My Epiphany: Pass Labs, Sony, Kimber, and DSD Files
For the first time in many years, I walked into a room at CES and was immediately blown away. Pass Labs personnel had suggested I listen to the amplifiers driving Sony loudspeakers, so I went to the 30th floor of the Venetian to listen. I had no expectations, other than knowing that five Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) were powered by five Pass Labs Xs300 amplifiers ($85,000/pair), all connected by Kimber Kable. What I didn’t know was that Sony had given the two people running that demonstration, Blue Coast Records’ Cookie Marenco and Super Audio Center’s Gus Skinas, carte blanche permission to play any one of the 150 Direct Streaming Digital (DSD) master titles from Sony’s library for the duration of the Show.
Gus was sourcing multichannel DSD files from a large hard drive sitting underneath his laptop, which was running the Sonoma pro-audio software. The DSD datastreams were fed to a Meitner DAC 8 Mk.IV 8-channel DAC.
I sat in a chair surround by a wide arc of five Sony SS-AR1s, each paired with a Pass Labs Xs300 amplifier. The speakers were arranged in the ITU-recommended positions, with the rear channels positioned at about 270° to the side and back. The sound was magnificent! The electronics and speaker disappeared and I was enveloped in a cloud of music that had tremendous clarity and dynamics while instantly communicating the ambience of the recording venue. For once, there was no sweet spot, just a sense of being immersed in the sound. Gus and Cookie played the San Francisco Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas playing Mahler’s Symphony No.1. I was transfixed. This was definitely the best audio reproduction I heard at the show!
Just to make absolutely certain I had now unknowingly been subjected to a Ken Kesey-type Kool-Aid Acid Test, I checked with Stereophile’s experts in digital audio, John Atkinson and Kal Rubinson. They both agreed I was hearing a different type of audio which might be as good as I claimed it to be! I later read on the DSD-Guide.com website that others had had a similar experience, including musicians and recording engineers.