Jason's Last Day 1 Rounds

At first-time show venues with hosts of unknowns, some exhibitors luck out, while others unwittingly end up with unmanageable spaces. Alas, to retailer Brian Berdan of Audio Element in Pasadena did fall the distinct dishonor of two larger 2nd floor rooms with the noisiest, constantly-on air conditioning I have ever encountered at an audio show. To the non-stop roar of large, ceiling vents were added random higher-pitched noises, including infernal rattles, which made listening to music with quieter passages a waste of time.

Perhaps to compensate for an environment destined to repel rather than attract, Brian tilted the Wilson Audio Yvette loudspeakers ($22,500/pair) upwards, so that people who didn't even bother to sit would get more of a sense of all they can do. Those who did sit discovered that the Yvettes, due to their upward tilt, threw a huge, exciting soundstage that hovered unnaturally high in the ether.

Regardless, the system, which also included either an AMG Giro special edition 5th anniversary turntable ($17,000) with AMG 9WT Turnbo tonearm cable ($2250) and Benz LPS cartridge ($6000) or dCS Rossini digital player/DAC ($28,499) with dCS Rossini clock ($7499), which in turn led to a VTL TL-6.5 Series II linestage preamp ($15,000), VTL TP-2.5i prototype phono stage ($TBD), and VTL MB-450 Series III monoblocks ($22,500/pair), all connected by Cardas cabling ($38,565 total) and supported by Grand Prix Audio amp stands ($4300), produced some very beautiful sounds. A vinyl pressing of soprano Elly Ameling singing Schubert's "An die musik" yielded one of the best depictions of the weight of her voice I've ever heard.

Another of Mahler's Symphony 1 showcased the beautiful warmth of the system, but also revealed some undoubtedly room-induced limitations in deep bass response. Finally, an LP of Enescu's Romanian Dances created a virtual wall of sound, with the music dancing on the ceiling. There were places in the range where the music beamed unnaturally, but there was a lot to love in this system.

In the second Audio Element room, where Wilson Audio's Sasha Series 2 loudspeaker ($33,950/pair) joined with the Boulder 2160 stereo amplifier ($53,000), VTL TL-7.5 Series II Reference preamp ($25,000), VTL TP-6.5 Signature phono preamp ($12,000), Grand Prix Audio Monaco 2.0 turntable ($37,500) with Tri-Planar Mk VII U2 SE tonearm ($7500) and Benz LPS cartridge ($6000), dCS Vivaldi DAC ($35,999) with dCS Vivaldi clock ($14,999), Transparent Opus cabling ($93,000), Grand Prix Audio Nouvelle 4-shelf stand & 2-shelf stand ($33,895), and Grand Prix Audio Formula platform under the amp ($3795), it was clear that the VTL tube preamps added liquid illumination to the drier albeit tightly focused and impeccably controlling Boulder amplification.

Together, this exceptionally musical combo produced a gorgeous midrange on a Red Book file of Ella and Louis doing what they did best. Control was excellent on both an LP of guitarist Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio's Smokin' At the Half Note and a hi-rez file of the first movement of Lou Harrison's Violin Concerto. Despite the room being a near perfect cube cursed by the devil in the ceiling ducts, this was one of the best-sounding systems I heard on the first day of the show.

I didn't get an equipment list for the Nordost room, because the exhibit was less about the quality of the sound per se than the difference Nordost products make to it. Most exciting was the US premier of Nordost's QKore passive grounding solution. Designed to rid systems of hum and electrical noise cause by high frequency interference, noise, and stray voltage-generated magnetic fields, Nordost claims that the device grounds the system to a manufactured earth point without use of an external grounding wire. It is not meant to replace an external ground, which makes the system safe, but rather to supplement its effects. I am told that it is cable agnostic, and works equally well with all brands of cabling.

"The QKore is a parallel grounding device which provides an artificial, 'clean' earth . . . using both an electrical and mechanical approach," says the PR. It combines Nordost's mono-filament technology with low-voltage attractor plates (LVAPs), "constructed with a proprietary metal alloy," and a passive electronic circuit. The unit comes in three models: the QKore 1 ($2500), which provides a parallel ground for Nordost's QBase power distribution block, and affects the primary side of a power supply; QKore3 ($3500), which has three binding posts for the "secondary side of a power supply where the audio circuit is" and is not meant for the QBase; and QKore6, whose two separate plates and six binding posts work with both primary and secondary sides of the power supply or, in other words, with both the QB8 and all of your audio components. The QKore6 also has additional connectors for monoblocks.

An essential part of the system is the Qkore Wire ($360/2m, $150/additional meter), a mechanically tuned micro mono-filament 16 AWG silver-plated solid-core OFC wire with extruded FEP insulation that comes with a wide choice of connectors. This is the wire you use to connect components and/or the QB8 to the Qkore. For components, the connection is achieved by any open input or output. I realize that this explanation is a bit confusing—it took a long time to put it all together, believe me—but I trust your Nordost dealer can do a better job of explaining it all than I.

Through Simaudio gear and Sonus Faber Amati loudspeakers, all connected and powered with Nordost cabling, the unit did exactly what it claims to do. On a Red Book file of a Japanese Jazz Trio, a without/with/without comparison revealed that the background got markedly blacker, the piano stood out from the surface and became far more three-dimensional, and the entire presentation was far more transparent. When we removed the QKore, the original file seemed disappointing opaque by comparison. For people like me who are not eager to bust open walls and concrete walkways in order to run additional grounding wires from their system, the QKore sounds like an ideal solution. I'm eager to try this product in my reference system.

I loved the sound of the Jadis JP80MC tube preamp ($19,900) and Jadis JA120 tube monoblocks ($23,900/pair) in the Brooks Berdan system. Paired with Magico SE Mk.II loudspeakers ($28,000–$33,000/pair, depending upon finish), Chord Dave DAC ($10,588) playing files, Chord Red Reference Mk III CD player ($22,900), Vertere MG-1 Magic Groove turntable ($13,000) with Vertere SG-1 tonearm ($3200) and Acoustic Systems The Archon cartridge ($3295), and Cardas Clear and Clear Beyond cabling.

If I say little about this system, it is only because I was so entranced by its sound and color that I remain at a loss for words. From Jonathan Scull on, audio reviewers have spoken of the special magic of the Jadis sound. Count me one of those people. And it's not just the Jadis midrange that's special. As with my Pass Labs XA200.8 monoblocks, the sound of the Jadis gear has a special beauty all its own.

After trying set-up in multiple configurations, the lovely Ayon Audio folks, working with Lumenwhite, decided that spreading out on the long wall sounded best. Perhaps so, but it required that I also spread my wings in order to take this perilously perched aerial shot from the far corner.

The system produced excellent full range sound. Dire Straits' "You and Your Friends" had a big, big image, with excellent bass and striking highs. On my familiar SACD of soprano Carolyn Sampson singing Mozart's "Et incarnates est" from the Great Mass in c, I missed the full differentiation of colors between period instruments that I'm accustomed to, as well as a bit of the grounding in the center of Sampson's voice. Regardless, the art and beauty of the performance came through, and provided needed respite toward the end of a long day.

Doing the honors: the world premier Ayon S-10 tube streamer ($8300), world premier Ayon CD-35 tube SACD player/DAC/streamer ($10,500), Ayon Spheris III tube preamp ($34,500), Ayon Orthos II XS Gen 4 350W tube monoblocks ($28,000/pair), Lumenwhite White Light 25 Anniversary speakers ($69,000/pair), Synergistic Research cabling, and BBS Audio Rack 3-shelf system ($6900).

Concert Fidelity of Japan has just made it to the US. Listening to the first of two systems in a large room—both had Concert Fidelity i33B amplifiers ($10,000), with system 1 also including a TW 6000B (whatever that is, it costs $42,000–$45,000)—I found the large, prototype Maxonic S-800R loudspeakers with field-coil power supply ($22,000/pair) sounding a mite wiry and lacking warmth on an Eva Cassidy LP. These 8 ohm impedance speakers have a frequency range of 45Hz–18kHz and sensitivity of 93dB/W/m.

The second, smaller system, which had a digital source and Concert Fidelity CF-040 DAC ($14,000), produced some very beautiful warm sounds that were tipped up a bit. I realize these notes are sketchy, but so was the literature, with the distributor's product list scribbled on both sides of a single sheet.

"Really fine midrange and gorgeous sound" was my reaction to Tom Waits' whiskey-drenched voice through Holger Stein's virtually all-SteinMusic system. On a recording of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the organ sounded excellent and spacious through prototype SteinMusic HighLine S loudspeakers ($14,400/pair) with excellent bass extension. Eager to hear more, I discovered that, despite some unwanted room resonances, the voice of mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter in her prime sounded simply gorgeous on a recording of baroque music.

Given such rapture, I'm sure you'd like to know what other equipment provided such a happy conclusion to my first day at the show. The only non-Stein product was an Acoustic Signature The Storm turntable ($7495), and it was equipped with SteinMusic The Perfect Interface Pi Carbon Signature platter mat ($599), SteinMusic Aventurin 6 cartridge ($6495), and SteinMusic tonearm ($3895). Besides that, we had a SteinMusic Stateline Phono 2 Signature with Stateline Phono 2 power supply ($TBD), forthcoming SteinMusic Media Player capable of playing PCM and DSD files ($TBD), Stein Music HighLine 1 Integrated ($14,995), SteinMusic Powerbar 10 Signature power distributor ($TBD), SteinMusic Highline cabling, six SteinMusic Signature Harmonizers with a host of Blue Suns and Blue Diamonds scattered around the room, SteinMusic DE-3 LP conditioner, Super Natural Signature footers, and various SteinMusic Quantum organizers. Call it a Stein sweep. If you want to pronounce the company name more correctly than not, it's "Shtein."

mrkaic's picture

$38k for a few wires? Can anyone honestly say that a few pieces of copper should sell for more than a new Subaru Outback?

ChrisS's picture

Maybe you should be more concerned about the many, many more dollars spent on all the cheap junk sold in the 99 cent stores that end up in our landfills.

mrkaic's picture

I mean, who isn't? That is why I try to live like minimalists.

ChrisS's picture

However, your concern re: pricey audio equipment is vastly disproportionate to how we should regard the toxic wastefulness rampant throughout our consumer culture.

Who cares if someone doesn't believe that Ford makes the best trucks in the world...!

Unless you yourself build and mass market that piece of audio equipment that's way cheaper, but "sounds" just as good or better than the expensive stuff, your comments and opinion won't stop these audio companies from doing what they do.

ppgr's picture

It should be "Maxonic"

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

If I were to show you a screen shot of the PR and their logo, which is what I looked at, you would definitely say Maronic. But, looking at their URL, which appears in very small print on the bottom of the page, I see that it is indeed Maxonic. My apologies.

I've just gone to the webpage. Take a look at this: http://www.src-el-main.com/maxonicpage.html IMHO, they really need to change the archaic typestyle they use for their English logo if they want their name to be understood.

John Atkinson's picture
ppgr wrote:
It should be "Maxonic"


John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anton's picture

Those Concert Fidelity speakers have what seem to be Great Plains Audio Inc. Altec 604 reproductions.

They call theirs the Model 604-8H-III.

They seem like great folks, nice to see them getting use from manufacturers!

I bet Art or Herb could work on them and get sweeter sound!