Ana Mighty Sound Room: Stenheim Ultime Reference Two, Alumine 5 SE Loudspeakers; darTZeel NHB-18NS Preamplifier, NHB-468 Monoblocks, Döhmann Helix One Turntable, Plus Live Jazz from Jérôme Sabbagh

Parisian high-end audio dealer AnaMighty Sound's room, F114 in Atrium 4, showed several products made in Switzerland from darTZeel, Stenheim, and Nagra. The room also became a mini-concert venue for a couple of demo sessions on Saturday that incorporated live music: Jazz saxophonist Jérôme Sabbagh played solo, accompanied by playback of his No Filter album bandmates on the room's system. They played 24-bit/96kHz versions of the tracks with Sabbagh's sax parts/tracks omitted.

These half-hour presentations were a nice diversion; a different way of showing how, or to what extent, a system can deliver a dynamic, true-to-life sense of live-music action versus—or here, in tandem with—reproduction of recorded tracks. The bass in particular sounded rich and substantial, the instrument's three-dimensional body apparent. Sabbagh's tenor sax obviously sounded real. It seemed to blend well in scope, staging, and scale with the other musicians on the recording. A pleasing presentation.

The system included Stenheim Ultime Reference Two loudspeakers (demos also alternated with Stenheim's Alumine 5 SE speakers) driven by a pair of darTZeel NHB-468 monoblock amplifiers (above), preceded in the chain by a darTZeel NHB-18NS preamplifier and NHP-18NS phono preamplifier. The amplification components are fully discrete designs and the preamplifiers are battery-powered. A darTZeel LHC-208 integrated amplifier with internal DAC and network streamer was also in the system; a Nagra CD player was another source on-hand.

The NHB-18NS preamp, whose front panel states "zero contact signal path," is intended to get out of the music's signal path. Instead of using relay switches, its volume control is controlled "very carefully" with analog processors and LDR (light dependent resistance) to avoid contact and minimize noise. It uses zero global feedback (and only a bit of local negative feedback).

The analog sources included a Studer A807 open-reel tape deck/recorder and—mostly—a Döhmann Helix One Mk2 turntable (above), with one of its tonearms fitted with a pre-production prototype of a new darTZeel MC cartridge (below) developed in partnership with AnaMighty Sound CEO François Saint-Gérand ("Consider Every Option" read his card), whose dealership also repairs cartridges.

The cartridge has a ruby cantilever, and its square-shaped diamond stylus is made to have broader surface contact within the groove—about 10 times more contact area compared to many cartridges, according to Saint-Gérand, to get the most information possible from the grooves. It's a cross-coil type with silver coils. Although the pre-pro prototype (say that three times fast) is ultra-low-output—with a reported 0.075mV output spec—it doesn't need a step-up transformer (at least not in that setup) because the phono preamp is quiet enough, he added. The cartridge will be made in Hungary with the help of laser technology; production is targeted by the end of the year.

Many of the MOC venue's rooms' can be tricky to tame sonically. Here VDM Sound Group founder/designer Igor Fiorini installed custom acoustic panels made of wood to control the acoustics by absorption and reflection. Based in Rome, Italy, VDM Sounds Group also provides custom room treatments to pro-audio clients, recording studios, etc.

Anton's picture

I am unaware of this conformation!

Anybody know how that works compared to all the usual shape suspects?

Glotz's picture

More info please, Julie?

Julie Mullins's picture

I'll revisit my notes and/or see what I can find out. Thanks for asking!

François Saint-Gédand's picture

Hi Anton,

The stylus used was a Fritz Gyger S. Interviews on shows are never easy to do with the surrounding noise, people interactions, etc... ;)

windansea's picture

How perfect to have the saxophonist play live and then compare against his album through the system? Wish I could have been there for that.

As for the dartzeel preamp, that LDR volume control sounds like the Lightspeed Attenuator.

woodchamber's picture

I was looking forward to Munich to hear the Dartzeel presentation. They did a wonderful selection of records, but to be honest for my ears the system was unbalanced. The upper midrange was too sharp for me. Maybe Stenheim was not the right match.

Just my personal view - tastes and people are different. With all the respect to the manufactures, I wouldn't listen to music like that at home.

Julie Mullins's picture

Which Stenheim speakers were you listening to? Also which tonearm/cartridge?

woodchamber's picture

The Stenheim Ultime Reference Two loudspeakers with the new DarTZeel MC cartridge. I can't remember the tonearm, but I guess it was the same you mentioned.

Glotz's picture

on gear heard at shows.

We all know the rooms aren't designed for listening, regardless if the sound was a bit better than at AXPONA (despite room bleed-through at Munich).

I could never own darTZEEL equipment, but if I ever had the dosh I would blindly purchase the entire line of theirs. There are enough trustworthy reviews to convince me of such.

Those Stenheims I heard at AXPONA were impugnable with Leonard Cohen's 'Anyhow'. Zero forwardness or brightness. Utterly natural.

woodchamber's picture

You are absolutely right, but the room in Munich looked well acoustically treated to me. Of course, I am not in possession of the absolute truth, and I couldn't afford this equipment either, but equipment in this price range should be close to perfection. I was generally surprised, how many setups I didn't like in Munich. Never mind, just my observation & opinion.