Sunny Components Presents Premieres: Stenheim Reference Ultime 2 loudspeaker, CH Precision M 1.1 amplifier, Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC & Wadax Reference Streamer, Neodeo Origine S2 CD player

There was something for everyone in Sunil Merchant's Sunny Components room. Even if you didn't have a spare half million dollars to give for great music reproduction, you could still listen to MoFi's Lenny Mayeux spin vinyl on the Brinkmann Taurus turntable with 12.1 tonearm ($21,000) and Koetsu cartridge ($3995). Amplification was a CH Precision M 1.1 Amplifier ($54,000), L1 line preamplifier ($34,500), P1 phono stage ($31,000), and X1 dual power supply powering the P1 and L1. And if you had questions afterwards, you could always approach Merchant, Mayeux, or CH's Ralph Sorrentino.

If you attended the revealing MQA demo, you heard the Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC ($145,000) and Wadax Reference streamer ($67,000), both shown below. If CDs were playing, you heard the Neodeo Origine S2 CD player ($24,900): I think that translates as "original new God, series 2," which certainly gives you something to think about. And let's not forget the biggest premiere of all, physically: The Stenheim Reference Ultime 2 loudspeaker ($150,000/pair). All this was facilitated by AudioQuest Dragon and Audience cabling and HRS SXR audio stands with Vortex feet and damping plates. Lots of feet and damping plates.

The demand for this room was so great that a sign-up list was instituted, even for Sunday. I missed Mayeux's show but attended one of the timed MQA demos. Even before the music began, the contrast between the design aesthetics of the CH Precision, which exemplifies understated Swiss elegance, and the Wadax gear's cross between a Brinks armored car and pirate booty from a 16th century Spanish galleon—that's my characterization, not theirs—seized attention. If these two components were a married couple, imagine what their living room looks like.

The MQA demo was immensely convincing. After the first two selections, both "Red Book" digital issues of older recordings played non-MQA first, I asked for a modern hi-rez digital recording. Psychologists have shown that, in A/B demos, we tend to prefer the second choice because during A, we're still familiarizing ourselves with the music, but with B we tend to settle in and listen deeper. So, I asked that the MQA file be played first. (Thanks to Kal Rubinson for enlightening me about this).

Whether listening to Dire Straits, Muddy Waters, or Dominique Fils-Aimé, the extra clarity delivered by MQA rendered the musical experience more alive and involving. For example, on the Muddy Waters track, the background was much quieter, which allowed the voice to stand out as it should. And on Dire Straits, the difference in soundstage depth was striking. "The best rock I've heard at the show," I scribbled in my notes.

Editor Jim Austin recently referred to me as an "MQA partisan" (footnote 1). MQA-deniers will shake their heads if not throw poison pens at my words and poison darts at my image, but that's what I heard.

This system was not afraid to allow a horn to sing with realistic bite, nor was it shy in the soundstage department: massive. On Anoushka Shankar's "Boat to Nowhere" (44.1k MQA), low bass was impressive and, once the volume was turned own to natural levels, its pitch well-defined. From where I was sitting, though, the big Stenheims threw voices up to the ceiling as though every vocalist was speaking from on high. Something in the system or the room rendered colors paler and—probably related—the silences between the notes less profound than these components are likely capable of. But that didn't stop the presentation from being mind-blowing in many respects.

Footnote 1: See my As We See It in the July 2020 issue.—Jim Austin

Kal Rubinson's picture

Psychologists have shown that, in A/B demos, we tend to prefer the second choice because during A, we're still familiarizing ourselves with the music, but with B we tend to settle in and listen deeper. So, I asked that the MQA file be played first. (Thanks to Kal Rubinson for enlightening me about this).

It would have been better still if you weren't given a choice or been informed. :-)

Joe Whip's picture

You do not ask to have the MQA played first as they you play right in to your biases. All I can say to that request is wow. these presentations should be made without comments by anyone, level matched, same masters. When you are told prior to the demos what you are about to hear, you are being primed to hear just that whether it is there on not. That is just human nature. I avoid these types of demos at shows for that reason.

Awsmone0's picture

It would also be worth knowing whether the MQA tracks were “white glove” or batched processed ?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

and one that I must remember to ask in the future. For your answer this time around, write Sunil at Sunny's Components.


Awsmone0's picture

Like me you are a classic guy, but try an mqa which is highly compressed as there is some evidence that the mqa encoder will clip more that regular red book due to reduced headroom , this might be especially the case with electronica

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This is not my experience.

Awsmone0's picture

Isn’t that a matter of looking at the file just listening you personally may not hear it , because it’s possible to show it if you analyse the files

Which files have you listened to that are mqa electronica or highly compressed in mqa versus non mqa

Allen Fant's picture

Nice coverage- JVS.
Always good to see a CD Player in 2021, Neodeo G2, no less.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I'm told there's a chance that it will end up playing both MQA CDs and SACDs. Not that I've heard of any new MQA CDs in a long time. Which doesn't mean that they don't exist.

ok's picture

upgraded my dac (though still not mqa certified) I must say that in most cases mqa sounds much better than the redbook equivalent; through tidal that is, since my legacy cd player somehow comes closer to mqa than to 44.1 streaming/computer files. Definitely a "digital" sounding format - in a good way I guess - not remotely resembling native dsd's "analog"(and sometimes boring) feeling; probably not suited for bright-sounding systems, but very "alive" and fun to listen to anyway.

Awsmone0's picture

Quite a few have written about Cđ transports versus streaming red book, haven’t done it myself as up till recently I didn’t have a transport , your data point is in agreement with those opinions, I appreciate the advantages of Hq player on my files which I cannot do except with an m scaler, however the rise of high definition ladder dacs, which don’t need upsampling, may mean a new era in Cđ transports that look to have gone almost extinct , time will tell