Because it was housed in a protective plastic case, which was allergic to my flash, my photo cannot possibly do full justice to the US pre-debut of the gorgeous Rubicon Atomic AD/DA preamp (price not yet announced, probably under $40,000, hopefully to be demonstrated in full form at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in October and available for purchase at the end of the year). This 384kHz converter, phono preamp, and headphone amplifier with an integrated atomic clock and gold-plated relay volume control utilizes the 10M Rubidium atomic clock, which is said to be 100,000 times more stable than a traditional crystal oscillator. Coupled with Antelope's 64-bit "Acoustically Focused Clocking technology" the Rubidium purportedly manages jitter superbly. Already boasting an award from Japan, the unit is one of several from the company that uses DACs endorsed by Morten Lindberg, founder and chief engineer of audiophile label 2L.
Handsome Vapor Audio Cirrus Black loudspeakers ($3995/pair)I don't have a clue as to why speakers of blond wood are named "black," unless it’s a Harry Potter referencemated with exotically named Arte Forma Due Volta monoblock amplifiers ($5500/pair) and Thalia preamplifier ($2250), a B.M.C. DAC1 ($5690), Antipodes DV2 music server ($3299), Antipodes Reference speaker cables ($2200/set) and interconnects ($1900), Balanced Power Technologies PC-9LN power cables ($499) and BP-3.5 power conditioner ($2399), and ATS Acoustics room treatments to produce sound that I found nicely illumined, albeit a little hard and unyielding. The system may not have penetrated to the heart of the music, but the sound was very attractive, solid, and well-controlled.
I’ve eagerly awaited the opportunity to hear APL Hi-FI’s NOW-2.5, the no-hold-barred, top-of-the line model in their frighteningly named New World Order series of Universal Players. A redesigned Esoteric UX-1, featuring a 6H30 dual-tube output stage, the $21,000 unit threw an exceptionally three-dimensional soundstage mated with the ESP Concert Grand S1 speakers and Shoreline 300 monoblocks. My sense, however, is that the unit is capable of offering far more than what I was able to hear in the Show setting. With the assistance of Alex Peychev’s new Service Manager, Brent Rainwater, I look forward to eventually auditioning the NOW-2.5 in my reference system.
April Music's tremendous achievement deserves two blog entries. In one room at the Alexis Park, the Korean-based company demmed an absolutely amazing for the price Stello stack of low-cost, truly high-end mini components: the Stello CDT-100 transport ($695), DA100 Signature ($895), HP100 headphone amp/preamp ($595), and S100 50W/channel power amplifier ($745). Auditioning Harmonia Mundi's beautiful recording of Schubert's Arppeggione Sonata, this diminutive set-up (complete with B&W 805 loudspeakers and Red Rose cabling) created an amazingly deep, involving soundstage that would make many a manufacturer of components costing 10 times the Stello price envious. The system also did a fine job of capturing the complex harmonics of the piano. An I2S bus connection between components—shades of Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technologies—sure helps matters. I wouldn't go as far as saying that this set-up fully captured the soul of every piece of music I auditioned, or that its solid-state pedigree wasn't apparent, but it blew the socks off most mass-market doo-doo and a helluva lot of supposedly audiophile-grade components.
After a break of too many years, it was great to again encounter the fine sound of April Music. This time, the company was showcasing three premiers: the April Music Stello Ai700 integrated amplifier ($6500), Eximus S1 stereo amplifier ($2500), and Eximus DP1 192/24 DACPreamplifier ($3200). Together with a MacBook Pro running Amarra 2.4.2, Marten’s Coltrane soprano loudspeaker and Verrastar cabling, the system sounded gorgeous on soprano Renée Fleming’s rendition of Dvorák’s “Song to the Silver Moon.” Bass was impressively solid. The speaker needed more room to shine on the very top, but the midrange and bass produced by this chain were excellent.
After four years of virtual inactivity, new and updated Aragon and Acurus high-end amplifiers, preamplifiers, and processors are slated to return to the marketplace. The long-established brands, which have been the property of Klipsch since 2001, are now in the hands of two enthusiastic veteran Klipsch electronics engineers, Rick Santiago and Ted Moore of Indy Audio Labs, LLC.
Many, many moons ago, in the days when Stereophile was a small digest rather than a full-sized magazine and lively website, I owned an Aragon 4004 dual-monoblock amplifier. Oh how I wish I had never sold my 4004, with circuitry designed by Dan d'Agostino, and instead mated it with a front end, speakers, and cabling that could have revealed all that it had to offer.
You, thankfully, have an opportunity to find out just how good the circuitry is. The just-introduced Aragon 8008, a software-upgradable, 200Wpc dual monoblock amplifier ($4999) with dual, symmetrical power supply and ethernet-based control and status monitoring, is now produced by Indy Audio Labs, who bought the brand from Klipsch in 2009.
One of the reasons for Acoustic Zen's Robert Lee journey north was to visit his extended family, part of which lives in Millbrae. When I encountered them on the final day of the show, I could not get over how beautiful his grandchildren look. No wonder Robert's tweeter sings so sweetly.
ArkivMusic, one of the Web's leading sources for classical music recordings, has struck a deal that enables them to release on their own reissue label, ArkivCD, out-of-print titles from the extensive catalogues of EMI Classics, Virgin Classics, and Angel Records. The reissues are available "on demand," copied from actual out-of-print CD releases (not master tapes) without compression or enhancement, and are often accompanied by copies of the original liner notes.
ArkivMusic.com has just signed a deal with Warner Classics to reissue, on demand, out-of-print recordings from Teldec, Erato, and Warner Classics. The site's first 300 offerings from the Warner USA catalog, available at the end of October, will join the more than 4000 other out-of-print titles from EMI, Sony/BMG, Universal Music Group, and two dozen independent classical music labels now available on demand from ArkivMusic on ArkivCD. An additional 1000 ArkivCD reissue titles should become available by the end of 2007.