VTLs, Ebens & Wilson Sophia 2s

11 AM Thursday, my first room at HE2005: I've just spent way over an hour listening to VTL gear in two completely different configurations. The first, in a hotel suite whose dimensions are similar to rooms in many smaller homes or larger apartments, paired the new VTL MB-450 monoblocks, TP6.5 phono preamp, and just upgraded Reference TL-7.5 linestage preamp with the Jadis JD1 Mk.II transport and JS 1 DAC, VPI Aries 3 turntable with JMW 10.5i tonearm and Benz LP cartridge, Wilson Sophia 2s, and Cardas cabling.

The other VTL set-up, in a huge suite, paired the $45,000 VTL Siegfried monoblocks with Bel Canto CD player, $20,000 Acoustic Signature Grande turntable equipped with SME Series 5 tonearm and Sumiko Rosewood cartridge, giant $100,000 Eben X-5 speakers that impressed the heck out of Paul Bolin, all Nordost Valhalla cabling, and Nordost's Thor power distribution system.

Because it is press day, I was lucky enough to have been the only person in either room. First, in the smaller room, we listened to the Sophias with the grilles on. Taking them off removed a veil that had initially made feel like I was listening to very, very good Hi-Fi. What a difference! Sophia owners, no matter what anyone says, please consider shedding those grilles. Doing so will bring you considerably closer to musical truth.

An equally significant improvement came about when we switched the Jadis DAC from its 16/44.1 setting to 24/96. All of a sudden, the soundstage opened up, with much more air and depth. With bass control better than in my room at home, I was able to hear low pitches of the double basses on Reference Recordings' Minnesota Orchestra CD of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances with admirable clarity. Switching to LP section gave me a wonderful taste of Ella Fitzgerald's "Black Coffee," a track I've previously heard only on an excellent gold CD. I'd never before been so aware of the beauty of the piano accompaniment, and the depth of Ella's vocal production. I loved what I was hearing.

Sound in the huge room with the Eben speakers was that and more. Familiar with the properties of Valhalla cabling from my own reference system, I immediately heard the extra clarity and openness on highs that sets it apart. But what most blew my mind was listening to the identical LP track of the late tenor Fritz Wunderlich sing Mozart's "Il mio tesoro" (in German) that I'd heard in the smaller room. Even on such a compressed recording, this larger system enabled me to feel as one with Wunderlich's emotional intent. The way he used his breath support to swell his sound and add extra vehemence to his declarations was a thing of wonder. Any system that enables me to get that close to the heart of a great singer's artistry scores a 10 in my book.

After all was almost said and done, I returned to the smaller room. On my first audition, the VTL monoblocks had been powered by stock power cables. Since then, more Cardas power cables had been delivered. Now I was able to listen to the VTL MB-450s powered by Cardas. The extra extension on top, additional bass response, and increased color that came through after changing those two power cables made clear why Art Dudley waxed ecstatic over the Cardas Golden Ratio power cables last March.

Bill Stanton's picture

This was the room that I kept coming back to most of all (followed by the continuum turntable room close second).