The Big Toys Play Without Limitations in Quintessence Audio Ltd's 3 Rooms: Wilson, Dan D'Agostino, dCS, Sonus faber, Boulder

Mick Survance of Quintessence Audio in Morton Grove, IL knows his brands well. Wilson Audio, Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems, Clearaudio, DS Audio, dCS, Transparent, Bassocontinuo, Sonus faber, Boulder, Critical Mass Systems, Hana, and Kubala-Sosna: these are among the major, time-honored brands that fill the homes of many audiophiles with means.

Each of these rooms had several elements in common: premium equipment, meticulous set-up, and heavy black draping that, while necessary to reduce multiple issues in narrower air-walled spaces (which were nonetheless larger than my music room), also reduced three-dimensionality and air. It was thus a wonder that individually as well as collectively, Quintessence's showcases produced some of the best sound I encountered at the show.

I began in the Knowledge space dominated by Wilson Audio Alexx V speakers ($148,000/pair in special finish in the room). Fed by a Dan D'Agostino threesome: Momentum HD preamp ($42,500), Momentum HD phono ($32,000), Momentum M400 MxV amplifiers ($79,950/pair—review coming in the June 2023 issue) on Momentum M400 stands ($4000/pair)—the rest of the system included a Clearaudio Reference Jubilee turntable with Universal 9" tonearm ($30,000) and Jubilee MC cartridge ($6600), new DS Audio Grand Master EX cartridge ($22,500) and Grand Master EQ ($45,000), and dCS Rossini Apex streaming DAC ($32,800) with Rossini Clock ($10,850). Many components sang on a Bassocontinuo Revolution X rack ($35,000), with connection provided by Transparent XL cabling ($192,960) and really fine music.

The highlight of this room was not a 24/96 file of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing Liù's aria, "Signore, ascolta," from Puccini's Turandot—a humble, somewhat naïve, hopelessly romantic, self-sacrificing slave girl Schwarzkopf could never pretend to be—nor a lugubrious performance, on LP, of Mahler Symphony No.4 conducted by André Previn, with Elly Ameling sounding much too mature in the final movement. Rather, it was the drop-dead fabulous bass and lively highs on "Warriors" by Too Many Zooz. Another highlight: Jeff Beck's "Brush with the Blues." Fabulous fun, and one of the five best rooms I visited at AXPONA.

Next to Quintessence's Perfection room, where Wilson Alexia V speakers (base price $67,500/pair; $79,500 in finish shown) received power and signal from the new Audio Research 160M MKII mono tube amps ($38,000/pair), Reference 10 phono stage ($35,000), and Reference 10 line stage ($35,000). Sources: Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable with Universal 12" tonearm ($20,000) on an Olympus stand in black lacquer ($16,000), Hana Umami Blue MC cartridge ($2500), and dCS Rossini Apex streaming DAC ($32,800) with Rossini clock ($10,850). This time, Kubala-Sosna Sensation cabling ($88,000) and a Critical Mass Systems Ultra Q equipment rack ($23,355) kept things together and afloat. Nat King Cole sounded gorgeous on "Ain't Misbehavin'"—everything was behaving to perfection in this system—and a portion of Stravinsky's score to L'Histoire du Soldat sounded lovely, with wonderful colors.

What, you may rightly ask, is new about the Audio Research 160M MKII monos? According to the press release distributed mid-February, Audio Research claims "great clarity from top to bottom, even better transient speed, more vibrant dynamic contrasts, and iron-fisted bass. Recorded music . . . just sounds more real." Existing 160Ms can have their parts and wiring upgraded for $5000/pair, but early production units may require additional parts. Contact your dealer or email for more information.

Finally, to the Connection room, where I connected with a maximally different, significantly drier sound from equipment that proffered oodles of deep, thumpy bass. The set-up, which showed off the system to best advantage, combined Sonus faber Aida MkII speakers ($140,000/pair) and three Boulder beauties—the 3010 preamp ($158,000) and 3060 power amp (another $158,000) with the 2108 phono preamp ($62,000)—with dCS's Vivaldi Apex streaming DAC ($46,500), Vivaldi Master Clock ($21,000), and Vivaldi Upsampler Plus ($27,000). Transparent Opus cables ($196,960) and Critical Mass Systems Olympus equipment racks and isolation ($70,875) completed a system that did full justice to an LP of Susanne Vega singing "Small Blue Thing" and Sonia Dada singing "Lester's Methadone Clinic." A perfect summation of the sound in Quintessence's three rooms, which was positively addictive.

RobertSlavin's picture

It would be nice if one or more of the Stereophile writers posted a summary of their experiences at Axpona.

John Atkinson's picture
RobertSlavin wrote:
It would be nice if one or more of the Stereophile writers posted a summary of their experiences at Axpona.

A summing up of the writers' impressions of AXPONA 2023 is planned.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

RobertSlavin's picture

When is the summary expected? AXPONA ended over a month ago.