Audio by Mark Jones: CH Precision, Linn, ProAc, Nordost

Although it may seem like it sometimes, not all the exhibitors at an audio show play the same typical audiophile fare, which sounds great but rarely challenges the power and dynamic reserves of their systems. Mark Jones, of Ontario-based retailer Audio by Mark Jones, is one of those exceptions to the rule. The first track he played for me was Led Zeppelin's chord-crunching, drum-whacking "Moby Dick," at high volume.

And that was Mark's point, wasn't it? To show how his system could play big, hard, loud rock music while remaining cool under pressure. And it did. Listening to "Moby Dick" on Mark's system, I wondered if I'd ever heard it reproduced with this level of poise, articulation, detail, and nuance. The midtrack drum solo, which John Bonham performs with his bare hands, had never sounded so bare-handed before, so fleshly rendered. It was replete with information on John's hand technique; I could tell exactly what area of the drum he was hitting, brushing, tapping, unsticking his hand from. Granted, this was "Moby Dick" from the Classic Records 200gm reissue of Led Zeppelin II, so this is about as good as Led Zep gets sonically, but still. Even when the band members went full throttle in a collective rock stampede, Mark's system always kept its sense of decorum.

That Classic Records record was played on a Linn Klimax LP12 with an internal Urika phono stage and an Ekstatik MC cartridge ($38,000 for the package; see Herb Reichert’s review), a CH Precision L1 preamp ($34,500 US), and M1.1 power amp ($54,000 US, 200Wpc into 8 ohms; see Michael Fremer’s review) feeding a pair of ProAc K6 Signature speakers ($46,300/pair). A CH Precision C1.2 DAC ($36,000; see Jim Austin’s review) was also in the system but not in play when I was there. Cabling was Nordost Valhalla 2.

Mark followed up "Moby Dick with a softer track, which showed that this system was as adept at delicate and refined as it was at hard and loud. Willie Nelson's voice and harmonica on "Georgia on my Mind" were delivered with such clarity, intimacy, and tender tonal shifts that it was heartbreaking in a musically beautiful way.