Brilliant Corners #5: High Water Sound; TW-Acustic Raven GT2 turntable; Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua & Miyajima Shilabe phono cartridges

"New York is an ugly city, a dirty city," John Steinbeck wrote in 1953. "But there is one thing about it—once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough." Decades later, the novelist's insight about this appalling, incomparable city still feels true. New Yorkers love to complain about the summers, with their wafting miasma of hot garbage and urine; about the superannuated subway system, which only sometimes resembles a psilocybin trip gone really wrong; about the purgatorial agony of finding an apartment; about the affronts of existing shoulder-to-shoulder with the stupendously rich.

New York will never make onto a "most livable cities" list, and it attracts a particular kind of person. Despite the influx of suburban corporate workers that has transformed it over the past three decades, the city remains a haven for the strange and those drawn to strangeness, for artists and obsessives, for people hooked on the pursuit of more than ample parking space and an affordable breakfast burrito.

This situation is alluded to in the title of Waylon Jennings's 1992 album Too Dumb for New York City, Too Ugly for L.A. and also by the odd fact that John Waters, the filmmaker responsible for underground art-trash classics like Pink Flamingos, once attended New York University. "I didn't go to class," Waters recalled. "I went to Times Square every day and saw movies. I stole books from their bookshop and sold them back the next day to make money. I took drugs. I probably should've been thrown out." Waters was eventually expelled, after getting arrested with a quantity of marijuana. I think about him every time I teach a class at NYU.

What I'm getting around to saying is that easily the best part of living here is the people. One of them is Jeffrey Catalano, who has been a drummer, painter, DJ, and construction worker and today runs a hi-fi business, High Water Sound, from a loft in a former sail-making factory on Water Street in Manhattan's financial district. With his wiry frame, matinee-idol cheekbones, and graying thrash-metal mane, he's a dead ringer for country singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore and also looks a little like the late character actor Harry Dean Stanton. Catalano's intensity can be glimpsed in his diet-and-exercise regimen: he's vegan, eats one meal a day, and logs 1000 daily reps on a rowing machine. Like some longtime New Yorkers, he can come off as gruff and even severe in an attempt to cover up a readily apparent curiosity and kindness.

What exactly High Water Sound is can be difficult to figure out. It doubles as Catalano's home and feels more personal than a showroom, being the repository of decades of record collecting, listening, reading, and an approach to audio that can be described as uncompromising and quite possibly fanatical. Unlike most hi-fi retailers, Catalano doesn't try to cater to every price point, technology, and commitment level. Instead, he offers components from a handful of producers—calling them companies doesn't quite capture it—who make beautiful, exotic, high-sensitivity speakers, low-powered tube amps, and devices for vinyl playback. If you're looking for digital or solid state gear, or a soundbar for your projector, you've reached the wrong address. Like Catalano himself, the products found here embody a devotion to the best possible sound with little to no thought given to practicality. Consider possibly the most quixotic of these items, the Dalby Audio Design Pirueta Extreme record clamp and Pirueta Carbon mat. Constructed from Gabon ebony, a carbon fiber weave used in Formula 1 racers, and gold, they resemble mysterious artefacts from one of the Hellraiser movies and retail for a hair under $16,000 for the pair.

During my first visit to High Water Sound last winter, I listened to a system consisting of record players and tube electronics from TW-Acustic sitting on racks and platforms from Silent Running Audio, hooked up to a pair of Cessaro Horn Acoustics Liszt speakers. The Liszts weigh 992lb each. When I asked Catalano how he got them up the narrow staircase to his second-story loft, he described a system of ropes and pulleys like the ones used by the builders of the pyramids at Giza.

As Catalano put on record after record, my friend Michael Lavorgna and I listened on the sofa and from time to time shot each other a look that meant "Holy f*ck, are you hearing this?" On John Coltrane's 1959 version of "My Favorite Things," Coltrane's soprano sax and McCoy Tyner's piano were rendered larger and louder than live, with extraordinary detail, weight, presence, and color. But the more memorable thing about the system, possibly the most transporting one I've heard, was the way it riveted our attention to the music and how freely that music flowed. Every once in a while, Michael and I were hugged by Thaddeus, Catalano's Old English Sheepdog, who felt like he weighed 992lb, too.

Before Michael and I left in a euphoric daze, I mentioned that I wanted to review the Raven GT2, the smallest and least expensive turntable from TW-Acustic (footnote 1). A little more than a year and many emails later, Catalano made the trip across the Brooklyn Bridge.

TW-Acustic Raven GT2
The GT2 ($12,500) is a formidable machine that in no way comports with the notion of "entry level." To my eyes, it is not so much attractive as sternly functional, in keeping with its German origin. Everything about the 'table, which weighs 75lb and is made almost entirely of raven-black aluminum, appears thought out. The motor controller is hidden inside the chassis, while the power and speed are set with pushbuttons and confirmed by red LEDs on the front. Three aluminum cones are used for leveling and support. The GT2 is so precisely machined that lowering the very heavy composite-and-bronze platter onto the upward-facing bearing shaft takes not seconds but minutes. Watching the belt-driven platter in motion, I could detect no swim at all. Best of all, the turntable is no larger than it needs to be and, despite its considerable weight, is compact enough to fit on a typical rack.

Yet the Raven 12" arm ($6500) that came installed on the GT2 impressed me even more, having been designed with a solution for every last thing I hate about tonearms. VTA is fine-tuned by turning a ring at the arm's base. VTF is dialed in by rotating the ingenious counterweight, held in place by the friction of unevenly spaced threads. Antiskating is set with a magnetic screw. The integral headshell rotates to allow azimuth adjustments. And the housing of the four-point gimbal bearing has a dimple at its center, to anchor the point of a cartridge protractor and eliminate guesswork from finding the arm's pivot point. I suffer from shaky hands and shakier patience; discovering this seemingly minor convenience nearly brought tears to my eyes. Compared to my 12" Schick arm, with its SME-style system of grub screws, the Raven appears to be a product of a more enlightened civilization—clearly, TW-Acustic's Thomas Woschnick is an obsessive. The GT2 also offers provision for a second armboard, which Catalano was good enough to provide, allowing me to mount the Schick alongside the Raven. Look ma, two arms!

It took several weeks of listening to the GT2 with the Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua and Miyajima Shilabe cartridges (see later) before I began to zero in on the turntable's character. That may sound like a criticism, but I mean the opposite—the German 'table did everything so well that I struggled to describe its sound. No single area of performance stood out or seemed overlooked, and it remained trouble-free and delightfully straightforward to operate. The only small hitch was needing to add the 7mm-tall Trans-Fi Reso-Mat in order to achieve proper VTA with the Schick arm. For what it's worth, I slightly preferred listening to the GT2 with the Reso-Mat than with the records placed directly on the platter.

Listening to Arthur Verocai's self-titled album from 1972, a classic of Brazilian pop that blends voices with acoustic and electronic instruments in dense, unusual orchestrations, I was struck by how unfailingly the GT2 was able to unravel the gossamer musical layers and surround them with plenty of space and air. On "Dedicada a ela," I heard remarkable separation on the wildly busy arrangement of horns, strings, flute, bass, drums, background vocals, guitar routed through a wah-wah pedal, and Nivaldo Ornelas's searing sax solo. And the Raven placed Verocai's voice, which sounds like it's coming from the bottom of an elevator shaft, well behind the plane of the other instruments and singers. On record after record, the German deck was able to excavate spatial and instrumental detail, and imbue recordings with depth and dimension, as well as any I've heard.

Footnote 1: TW-Acustic, Sabine Woschnick Harkortstrasse 62 f, 44652 Herne, Germany. Tel: +49 (0) 2325-668484 Email: Web: US distributor: High Water Sound/Jeffrey Catalano, 274 Water St., New York, NY 10038. Tel: (212) 608-8841. Email: Web:


hemingway's picture

This is old news, but I highly recommend stopping by Jeff/High Water Sound's room at any show at which he is exhibiting. Jeff is extremely friendly, genuinely cool guy, and has THE best taste in music of most anyone I have come across, inside or outside our hobby. Its a breath of fresh air.

johnnythunder1's picture

such beautiful and expressive writing about this thing of ours in Stereophile. Bravo. I "heard" everything you were writing about.

Ortofan's picture

... the sort of rigorous methodology employed by Floyd Toole.

Anton's picture

I nominate you to do it.

rik99's picture

I second.

Herb Reichert's picture

New Your City is: it provides access to an infinite peer group.

Before you go to bed you could be hanging out with anybody of any type from anywhere.

Plus it's the only place I fit in. LOL


Ortofan's picture

... J&R Music World, HMV, Tower Records and Sam Goody closed.
Same for the old Yankee Stadium and the Carnegie Deli.
Likewise for the Met Opera under the helm of Rudolph Bing.

News reports make it seem as though the main intent of members of that "infinite peer group" is to murder someone on the subway.

georgehifi's picture

I think he's possessed, and needs to be exorcised, he's worse than me and I was thinking to go to my Priest for help, I don't feel so bad about it now.

Cheers George