Jana's Day Two, Part Two

Anything that involves DIY or contains the word "kit" is of automatic interest to me, nearly to a fault. It began with homemade stuffed animals (read: ugly felt objects) and miniature inedible pastries (God knows why), which later evolved into headphone mods…and now, my current learning project: a Pete Millett Butte DIY headphone amp, recommended by Sir Tyll Hertsens.

This obsession brought me to the wondrous room of SB Acoustics, a high-end audio division of the Indonesian manufacturer Sinar Baja Electric Group. Until now, SB Acoustics has mainly been a supplier to other high-end speaker manufacturers, understandably unnamed. But at Axpona, SB announced some new kits to be available in a few months time! As pictured, the smallest white speakers sitting on the floor are Micro Anniversary prototypes ($400/pair), the bookshelves atop the speaker stands are Ara kits ($1200/pair), and the floorstanders are Rinjani kits ($2200). They were powered by a Gato 400 amplifier ($6500) and connected via Vermouth Black Pearl cables—also from Indonesia. The geometric design of the loudspeaker cabinetry is meant to reduce high frequency diffraction, and both the Ara and Rinjani share that same design concept. The Rinjanis use SB's Satori TW29R tweeter and a pair of 6.5" MV16P-8 drive units, while the Aras use a Satori TW29R and a single MW16P-4. There's something very refreshing about how forthright kit manufacturers can be in specifying the model numbers of their drive units—especially in a show setting, where specs sometimes require reading between the lines and product literature can seem deliberately opaque.

SB's kits are distributed in the US by Madisound (who occupied the neighboring showroom at Axpona). They come with painted boxes and will only require minimal soldering, cutting/filing, and basic assembling; someone like myself, with only basic, self-taught skills, could conceivably complete both speakers in a few hours. It is important to note that SB's kits will only be sold as kits, and there will not be a slightly more expensive, pre-built option for purchase. If you're willing to put aside a few hours for some yum DIY fun, these speakers sound damn good, and are reasonably priced for what you get.

"We're going to go crazy. Are you okay with that?"
I nod.
Lights flicker off.
"I'm going to play some Justin Bieber."
ZZ Top comes on full volume.

In the dim exhibit room that housed Odyssey Audio's Candela preamplifier ($1600), Khartago monoblocks ($1995/pair), and Kismet loudspeakers ($4200/pair), plus a VPI Avenger turntable ($20,000) with a van den Hul Colibri cartridge and assorted Magnan Audio cables, a German wildman named Klaus—the maker of the preamp, amp, and speakers—was in charge. The setting resembled a cross between a tiki bar and something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Not sure exactly, but it was nearing the day's end, and this Hawaii girl was, inevitably, craving a piña colada.

"What would you like to listen to?"
"What do you have?"
He motions to a bin of LPs in the far right corner.
"Is this ok?" I hold up The Köln Concert, Keith Jarrett.

I am shipped off from the darkness of the tiki bar. The year is 1975. I am in the Opera House in Cologne, closely witnessing Keith's hummings along with the ups and downs of the Bösendorfer's damper pedal. I've only seen Keith once in real life—Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette at NJPAC for $10 a few years back—and let me tell you, this felt more real than that did or ever will in my memory.

The next room I visited—belonging to Wyred 4 Sound and Acoustic Zen—was, ironically, the opposite of the Odyssey Audio room I had just left, in two ways: 1) we transitioned from Keith Jarrett solo piano to Mozart solo piano, and, 2) rather than the speakers being outpriced by the rest of the system, the speakers were now outpricing the other gear. Doesn't mean anything, but it's interesting to note.

We listened to a nice selection of pieces from CDs curated by Acoustic Zen's President, Robert Lee, on an unspecified transport connected to the new Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2v2SE 10th Anniversary Limited Edition DAC ($4499) playing through Acoustic Zen Crescendo transmission-line speakers ($22,000/pair) powered by Wyred 4 Sound Special Edition SX-1000R monoblock amplifiers ($1799 each), with Acoustic Zen cables throughout.

The music selection also included some choral music and African percussion vocals. I had heard Wyred 4 Sound for the first time last year at RMAF 2016 and now have a clearer understanding of what their electronics can do when paired with such worthy speakers as the Acoustic Zen Crescendos. Throughout the Mozart, I was mesmerized by how the system delicately pranced upon the dividing line between articulate precision and heart-wrenching emotional resonance.

This is the DAC-2v2SE 10th Anniversary Limited Edition DAC ($4499), which is available for preorder now and will start shipping in May. It's a limited-edition run of their well-regarded flagship DAC-2v2SE, and will not be produced beyond this year. (A specific number of units hasn't been specified.) It features an ESS Sabre 9038PRO DAC chip and a completely redesigned digital board carried over from the DAC-2v2SE, and supports files up to 384kHz PCM and DSD256. Additionally, it has a custom 10th Anniversary silver, silkscreened chassis, red display, and lathed aluminum footers. It's quite handsome.

The last showroom I visited on Saturday belonged to Etalon Acoustics, whose slogan is "music incarnate." Endre Sallay, Principal and son of Etalon's Owner/Engineer, László Sallay, explained to me that Etalon is a Hungarian brand that makes sources, amplifiers, and speakers, and that, while the brand already has a following in Europe and has attended European hi-fi shows before, Axpona is their first US show, and they are just beginning to attempt to break in to the US market.

The all-Etalon system comprised the Solo digital media server/media player/preamplifier ($6500) and their newly released ClassA push-pull, class-A, dual-mono amplifier ($6500—and, yes, the name of the amp really is "ClassA") alternating with their SuprA class-AB integrated amplifier ($1980) to drive Etalon's Soprano + Alto loudspeaker system ($12,800/pair). The Soprano is the tall, thin, floor-standing, wide-range speaker of the two, while the Alto is the black, cubic, passive, stereo/mono subwoofer—sold and listened to as a pair, intended for small rooms (a convenient characteristic that many other loudspeakers visiting Axpona were not fortunate enough to be born with).

Endre spoke passionately about classical music in the concert halls of New York City, and I later learned that Etalon has a separate division called Sonophil, which has made recordings for such major labels as Naxos and Harmonia Mundi. We listened to Verdi's "Va Pensiero" (from Nabucco), played by Orchestra Italiana, and "Il Cammello E Il Dromedario" by Petra Magoni and Ferruccio Spinetti. At the end of a long Saturday during which my ears had been fed nothing but Gregory Porter's "Hey Laura," Pink Floyd's "Hey You," London Grammar's "Hey Now," and who knows what other exquisite but overplayed "hey" songs my ears had consumed in the last 48 hours, these tracks were rare in their musical enrichment.

Mike Houstina's picture

The Odyssey room sounded really good. I will own an Odyssey system at some point. A guy like Klaus deserves it. He is a breath of fresh air at those shows. He dropped 2 or 3 F bombs and I felt right at home. His Santana demo was unbelievable.

Anton's picture

Those Kismets look lovely, as well!

What an astounding price!

I will also go look up more about Sinar Baja Electric Group and their kits!

Thank you.

Allen Fant's picture

Nice coverage- Jana
Odyssey Audio is on my radar to demo as well. Can you suggest any U.S. dealers/retailers?

Jana Dagdagan's picture

Hi Allen - Thanks! According to their website, Odyssey Audio sells factory direct. See here for more info --> http://www.odysseyaudio.com/philosophy.html

Allen Fant's picture

Much Thanks! Jana.
keep up the excellent writing and listening!