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.
When I heard the big Ventures at CES 2013, I was so impressed with their beauty of sound that I lingered far longer than my schedule allowed. John Atkinson was similarly impressed at the 2013 New York Show But here, paired with the same Phasure NOS1 DAC, XX HighEnd software, and similar if not identical electronics and cables, the bright sound led me to truncate my visit.
In all fairness, this was far from the only room at T.H.E. Show whose sound was bright.
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.
Warned that the speakers and phono cartridge were not fully broken in, I entered Vana Ltd’s Room 9025 to discover Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand SE loudspeakers ($5500/pair) paired with the debut of the Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker turntable with 12 Jelco and Acoustical Systems Arché headshell ($8000) and equipped with an Ortofon Windfeld phono cartridge ($3900). Also in the system were Primare’s CD 32 CD player ($2800), I32 with MM30 media upgrade integrated amplifier ($4500), and R32 phono amp ($1200); IsoTek’s EVO3 Aquarius Mains conditioner ($2000), EVO3 Syncro active DC blocking cable ($1750), and EVO3 premier power cables ($195/each). Analysis Plus analog cables completed a system whose bass was not under control, and whose midrange was somewhat muffled, but whose highs, on an LP test pressing of Mahler’s Symphony 3, were quite wonderful.
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.