AXPONA: More That's New on Jason's Day Two

Doing my best to leave the rest of the poetry to the music, my second-day new-product coverage began with a visit to the Playback Designs room, manned by the company's president and designer, DSD champion Andreas Koch. There, I found two new Playback Designs products, the MPD-8 DAC ($22,000) and MPT-8 Digital Music Transport (target price $14,000-$20,000). Both are due out at year's end. While Andreas assured me that what I would hear would be the final sound of both products, I know there will be some software fixes to the transport, because it declared that my 11-track La Perla Baroqua SACD (Channel Classics) had 12 tracks.

In a system that also included Playback Designs' IPS-3 integrated amp/preamp/DAC used solely as a 130Wpc amp ($13,000), ATC SCM40 loudspeakers ($7000/pair), and Nordost Valhalla 2 cabling, Michael Bishop's less-than-24-hours old quad DSD mix of Lyn Stanley's "Break it to me Gently" was distinguished by extremely natural, totally believable timbres. The sound was a little blurry down low, and the ultra-smooth presentation of an ultra-smooth track lacked the last iota of sparkle. Regardless, both performance and sound were gorgeous and true. A track by Rachel Podger and colleagues from the above referenced SACD sounded remarkably smooth for a system that lacked power conditioning.

J&B Distributors, headquartered in New Jersey, showed a multi-national system that included the Italian Unico CD Uno CD player ($2700), Adcom GFB 815 preamp ($499), Tagwood tube amplifier from China ($4000), Deluxe Acoustics DAF-350 loudspeakers from St. Petersburg, Russia ($3500), and stock cabling. The last item was intentional: Distributor Boris Meltsner has run into one too many consumers who, after hearing components demoed with after-market cabling, bought the equipment, took it home, hooked it up with stock power cords and lamp cord speaker wire and all that, and then complained that it sounded nowhere as good as what they had heard in the showroom.

Be that as it may, while an unidentified tape sounded really nice, the grand piano on my CD of Murray Perahia playing Handel lacked top end, and had an overemphasized and slightly muddy middle that was somewhat counterbalanced by tube warmth. Sometimes the system made Perahia's playing sound over-calculated—it isn't in the least—and other times his fast fingering a little smudged. As if to confirm the system's imbalance, the radiant voice of soprano Elly Ameling could not rise and sing clean and clear of an unnaturally dominant midrange glow. Ameling's radiance was missing, and her German was marked by extra sibilance not on the recording.

Bricasti Design offered the very first listen to their M5 Network Player ($2000). Roon-ready, this network interface and media renderer connects your LAN via Ethernet and Wi-Fi, and outputs up to 192kHz PCM and DSD64. Along with Bricasti's M1 DAC, it is expected to be field-upgradable to MQA playback in a few months.

From a system that also included the Bricasti M12 dual-mono source controller ($15,995)—basically a special edition M1 DAC with a new preamp stage—and M28 monoblock amplifiers ($30,000/pair), the latter driving Tidal Audio Piano Diacera speakers (a hair under $40,000/pair) with Oyaide cabling and StillPoints Ultra Isolators, the voice of mezzo Michelle DeYoung sounded extremely gorgeous and smooth on the San Francisco Symphony native DSD recording of "Um Mitternacht" (At Midnight) from Mahler's Rückert-Lieder. The Minnesota Orchestra's Original Master recording of Ravel's La Valse was a little subdued on top, but my recording of mezzo Jamie Barton singing a song by Sibelius (24/96 file) was to die for. All of which means that Bricasti, Tidal, and friends affirmed their excellence one more time.

The GTT Audio & Video room included multiple premieres: a new SCPS-1 optional power supply ($13,500) for the Kronos Pro turntable ($38,000), shown here with Kronos Black Beauty tonearm ($10,000) and Air Tight Opus 1 cartridge ($15,000); the first consumer-show appearance of the Audionet Planck CD player ($18,800) and Audionet Ampere Optional power supply ($11,200); and the first consumer-show showing of a complete set of Kubala-Sosna Realization! cabling allied with a Kubala-Sosna XPander ($4800). Together with Audionet's PRE G2 preamp ($23,350), Max monoblocks ($30,500/pair)—reviewed by JVS in the June Stereophile—PAM G2 phono ($10,100) and EPX optional power supply ($10,100); and YG Acoustics Sonja 1.2 loudspeakers ($72,800/pair), the excellent rendition of the throaty and guttural voice of Mario Biondi—who, with the High Five Quintet was performing "This is What You Are"—proved once again that this was a perfect, synchronistic match of components.

Perfect match? How about highs that were brilliant without being piercing, impressive bass (albeit nowhere near as overwhelmingly powerful as from the far more expensive Sonja XV system), and excellent timbres? The bottom end may not have been as focused and clear as it could have been—this was a hotel room set-up, after all—but the excellence of timbres made for a winning presentation. Reservations aside, I loved it.

The self-powered Kii Three Loudspeaker system ($13,900/pair), which is built in the Netherlands and is seen here on its optional stand ($1650/pair), now has a new Kii Control ($1760). The heart of the Kii system, the Control is basically a preamp that controls volume and DSP and allows you to select inputs.

The Kii Three is a six-way active model with six drivers—as well as six amps and six DACs. While it has drivers on its rear and sides, it is claimed to send all sound to the front so that you don't hear the sound of music bouncing off the walls. The Kii Three's resolution extends up to DXD and DSD128. (There are no plans to upgrade it with MQA.)

On a file of "Magnificat" from 2L, transparency was very nice, but the organ's low notes sounded more like electrical hum than anything else. Strange for a speaker that is –3dB at 30 Hz but can descend to 20 Hz. The sound was also a bit lacking in life for my tastes. I'd point the finger at the room, but the Kii Three does include DSP.

Having overheard two men in the fourth-floor hallway declaring the sound in the Volti/Border Patrol room too bright, I was happy to discover nothing of the sort when I descended the stairs to their exhibit on the third floor. In fact, the treble on Volti Audio's new compact horn Rival loudspeaker ($7900/pair and up, depending upon finish) is adjustable.

The exhibitor's burned-to-CD-R copy of the Telarc CD The Ray Brown Trio Live at Starbucks sounded washed out, so we switched to one of my own jazz CDs, the Joe Harley-engineered Screaming in Daytime (Makes Men Forget). The presentation of the oft-violent music on "Black on White Paper" thankfully sounded far more lively on top, but never harsh and bright. It did lack ultimate color, but the system was quite fast, and excelled at conveying the body of the drum. Although I ended up feeling that the side-wall setup rendered the space too small for this music, brass was conveyed with in all its uncensored brutality, which is exactly what the music needed. Also heard: Border Patrol's P21EXD 20Wpc push-pull 300B power amp ($13,150 and up) and Control Unit EXT1 preamp ($13,500), plus their new SE SPIDF DAC ($1350), with all Triode Wire Labs cabling.

robrector's picture

What was that big Adcom amplifier in the picture? I had some Adcom gear a long time ago and just currious as to how their new products are.

I'm hoping some of these brands make it to the CA audio show at the end of July.



Jason Victor Serinus's picture

it wasn't in use. This often occurs at shows. To avoid confusion - admittedly a failure in this case, given your sharp eyes - I usually omit mention of products that were not auditioned. Thus, when you see both an analog and digital front end in a photo, but I mention only one, it means that I didn't listen to the other.