Having greatly enjoyed YG Acoustics' two-way Carmel loudspeaker ($18,000/pair) at the California Audio Show this past summer, I was eager to hear it in a different setting. This was the opportunity, paired with Veloce Audio's battery-powered set-up. The system also featured Kubala-Sosna Emotion cabling (price not supplied), the LS-1 Pure Tube linestage ($15,000)are there any impure tubes?and LP-1 Pure Tube phono module ($3000), and V-6 monoblock amplifiers ($14,000, presumably for the pair). Also doing the honors were the Amazon One turntable (price not available), and the PS Audio Perfect Wave transport/DAC combo (approx. $6000).
As fate would have it, on my third attempt to enter the Venice Audio Suiteintense conversation made the other passes futileMark Waldrep of AIX Records/iTrax had brought in some of his hi-res files for store proprietor Peter Selesnick to hear. The room was quiet, and for good reason: the sound was too beautiful to talk over.
Gary Katayama of Affordable Audio constructed a system that allowed Randy Bankert's Sonist Concerto loudspeakers ($5895/pair) to show how much sound they can deliver. With apologies for my potentially flawed attempts at deciphering Gary's handwriting, I heard the Baetis Media Server ($2595) and Mach 2 Mac mini (approx. $1000) using Amarra 2.3, Human Audio Table USBS/PDIF converter ($1000), Bel Canto 3.5 USB DAC ($3500), Audion 300B amplifier ($5500), EAT E-Flat turntable ($6000), and Synergistic Tranquility Base ($1000). The soundstage was impressively big, and the sound warm but overly smooth, to the point of softening the leading edge on Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's glorious mezzo-soprano.
Vincent's new SV-800 integrated amplifier ($4999.95) outputs 100Wpc into 8 ohms, the first 50 of which are class-A. A tube hybrid design, it uses four 12AX7s, four 12AV7s, and six output transistors. Most of its inputs are RCA, but there is one pair of XLRs.
Scoring a "10" in the outrageous visuals department, especially when played in the dark, are the 200 lb, $42,000/pair Amber Wave 200W push-pull monoblocks. The space-consuming units, wide as well as deep due to their massive power supplies, utilize huge, readily available NOS 304TL transmitting triodes as output tubes. Complete with an audible buzz from the power supplies, and thus best situated far from the listening area, the amps give off so much heat that they require built-in cooling fans (which add to the noise). Amidst it all emerged a strong if not particularly sweet midrange and a guarantee that everyone on the block will want to take a look.
What a relief to revisit VTL electronics, and breathe in the mellow midrange of jazz vocalist Johnny Hartmann singing on the Original Recordings Group reissue of I Just Dropped by to Say Hello. There's a beauty and timbral truth to VTL electronics that you do not hear from many tube products that cost more than the $50,000/pair Siegfried monoblocks, and far more than the wonderful VTL MB450 Signature Series II monoblocks ($15,000/pair).
With Jon Iverson covering digital products for Stereophile, and me covering preamps and amps in the $2500$15,000 range, I tossed a virtual coin and went for the new Vitus RD-100 ($13,000). Billed as "Reference Digital to Analog Converter," it is 50% DAC, and 50% preamp. Hans-Ole Vitus himself displays the product, which includes a full-blown relay volume control with a single resistor in series to ensure a very short signal path and a consistent sonic signature at all volume levels. Built with separate internal modulesfour for the DAC, and four for the preampit is said to be fully upgradeable. The DAC handles files up to 32/192 via USB and has a total of four RCA and XLR inputs, while the preamp also includes two XLR and two RCA inputs and both XLR and RCA outputs.
I was impressed by the extremely full-range presentation of the VMPS RMD-60 loudspeaker ($9950/pair) paired with the VMPS Very Solid Subwoofer ($1850)—especially with the system's admirable bass control. Part of the credit goes to Bybee special-effect Golden Goddess AC cables and speaker bullets, Bolder Cable interconnects and cables, the rest to the Eastern Electric M156 monoblocks (160W into 8 ohms, $7000/pair, based on the EL 156 pentode tube), and Bolder's Statement Level Modded Squeezebox 3 ($1300). If The Bolder Cable Company’s display sounded this good with brand-new amps that were not yet broken in, I look forward to hearing it again once everything is fully ready to strut its stuff.
There's nothing like a $118,600 system (excluding racks, Shakti Hallographs, equipment supports, and all the rest) to get the juices flowing. Such was the case in Jonathan Josephs' One World Audio room at T.H.E. Show, where the imposing redesigned Voce Audio VA-3 loudspeakers with Stillpoints Ultra Five supports ($35,635) were making beautiful music with MSB Technology's Analog DAC w/volume control ($7990), Data CD IV disc player w/power base ($7490), and 200W class-A 203 monoblock amplifiers ($27,500)the things that look like huge space heaters.
Every music-loving audiophile has a unique storya story of the first time he or she was grabbed, body and soul, by a first, usually low-budget listen to a 78, LP, CD, open-reel, cassette, or MP3a story that continues today in that audiophile's quest for high-end bliss. For me, it was my desire to move closer to the voices of the singers I most loved.