CAF2016: Herb Gets It On

Think hip, young, handsome, and smart—with (maybe) some grease under his fingernails. Besides being one of my favorite loudspeaker manufacturers, Zu Audio's Sean Casey and his daughters restore vintage motorcycles. Sean is also a dancing party guy with a pile of records that follows him around like dust follows Pig Pen. And . . . he's a Left Coast guy that gets to hang with mellow smart dudes like Nelson Pass (Pass Labs).

At CAF Sean was knee deep in vinyl demonstrating his Definition Mk.IV loudspeakers ($12,500/pair in Hickory wood), He was using a beyond-super-cool vintage Luxman PD444 direct -drive turntable with a Rega arm and a Zu Denon DL-103 cartridge ($439). The definition of the Definition Mk.IVs was controlled by a Pass Labs XA-30.8 ($6800) and a Pass Labs XP-25 phono stage ($10,600) and a wondrous, bespoke passive transformer-based preamplifier ($12,700)—made in Hastings, UK, the US sales are handled by Koby Koranteng of HiFi Logic, NJ.

As I type this Jason Victor Serinus is whispering in my ear, "Herb! Tell them about the sound —it's your job! Herb . . . " Standing up and speaking loudly I retort, "Jason! The Zu room is where I come to forget about 'sound' and wash some of that audiophile dust off my clothes and out of my soul." Music was good in the Zu Room.

One of the joys of every audio show is speaking with the lovely and knowledgeable Ofra Gershman of the Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer, Gershman Acoustics —whose professional and audiophile loudspeakers always look as good as they sound and vice-versa. This year, Gershman was introducing the beautiful Studio II two-ways. After I listened at length, Ofra encouraged me to guess the Studio II's MSRP—which I never mind because it is such a better game than, "So where do you think I hid the subwoofer?" stunt, to which I usually answer (in my mind at least), "Is it a dark place?" "They sound like $8k" I said, " . . . but, with those stands, they look like $6k" to which she smiled and shook her head. I tried again, "$7k?" Now she was grinning broadly—"Half that!" she exclaimed. "With stands!" ($3000/pair without stands.)

While Ofra was grinning broadly to my left, a man I always wanted to meet sat grinning on my right: Kevin Hayes of the prestigious Valve Amplification Company (VAC). The best part of my job is that as a Stereophile prattler I get to hang and talk with a broad range of cool smart people whose joy and long-term survival depends on innovation and hard work. As Kevin and I discussed the details of his patented (iQ) tube bias strategy the sounds of his KT88/KT120 Signature 200 IQ ($14,000) were making the Gershman Studio IIs sound big and deep and wide. The energy in the room made it difficult to remember why I was at CAF.

The Signature 200 was driven by the Signature SE preamp ($26,000 w/phono—$15,000 line only), the out of production VAC DAC Mk.II, an Esoteric KO3 transport ($8000-ish), a VPI Avenger with 12" 3D arm and Bob's Devices cable, and VAS Nova cartridge—which my mind kept saying sounded really big and natural. Cables were by Shunyata.

Most of my life I thought I was a good boy if I somehow managed to put my LPs back in their sleeves within a week of taking them out. It was good also, if I didn't stack the bare records in piles of more than two or three. Nowadays, vinyl is so damn cool and honorable, you got (mostly dudes) cleaning their discs three times in a row (with three different fluid concoctions), and then "transferring" them to digital at 192/24 with Channel D's excellent new Pure Vinyl v5 software ($299), Pure Music v3 app ($129), and Model L phono ($3800) or Seta preamps with Lynx Hilo ADC ($2600). And then, and then!

These very hip record collector dudes (which I aspire to become) put the black disc in a special after-market poly sleeve (you don't want paper fuzzys littering the grooves after you've cleaned them three times!) but then! They don't put the poly-sleeved disc back in the cardboard jacket—oh no—that would cause ring wear. Instead, they put the poly-sleeved disc and the M++ jacket in a new archival 3 mil poly sleeve. I suspect this whole plan is designed to keep stray seeds and stems from lowering the disc's condition rating —but it works and I do it. Channel D is a happening scheme!

This is the third consecutive year I have visited the Classic Audio Loudspeakers room at Capital AudioFest, it is the third year I have talked with the parrots and petted all the Nippers—I love Nippers—and is also the third time I have asked Classic Audio proprietor John Wolf why he places his loudspeakers so far apart—you need to pack trail mix for the hike between channels. And he always says, "Herb, go sit in the sweet spot . . . don't you know people like imaging and big soundstages?" "Can you see it now Herb?" "Yeah, you are right—it is big!"

Then I always say, "What's up with those ports? I can hear them out in the hall?" (John Wolf is a really nice guy but for some reason I always bust his chops—I hope he knows I am teasing. Then he plays something with big bass and asks, "So now what do think of the ports?" Then I tell him how much I love the field coils and Tractrix horns he uses in his T1.5 speakers ($72,500/pair). Every year I ask him why his speakers work the room so well and how does he get all this big heavy stuff here. He always smiles and does his best to humor me—but I imagine he is glad when I leave.

John always powers his speakers with an Atma-Sphere MP-1 ($18,000) amp and Nova Cron preamp ($22,000). His front end sources always include the Kuzma Reference turntable ($10,720) and Tri-Planar U12 arm ($9800) and a Van Den Hul Stradavarius Crimson cartridge ($5000), and a United Home Audio reel-to-reel tape deck with outboard power supply ($23,000). All this extraordinary gear was connected with Purist Audio Design cables.

Most of you must know I am a long time fan of Volti Audio's Vittoria horn-loaded loudspeakers. They achieve what I always thought was impossible: a smooth, coherent, hyper-efficient loudspeaker that bubbles with musical life—and never let's on it's a horn speaker. Most folks that heard it agreed except, many wished it was smaller and less expensive. Well, Volti proprietor/engineer, Greg Roberts was listening and at CAF released a smaller, less expensive model, the Rival at only $7900/pair. The sound, while not quite as sweet and sophisticated as the Vittora, was "oh my my" tight fast and textured. The box, the drivers and the music reproduced seemed properly scaled, utterly uncompressed. The new 99dB-sensitive Rival delivered a great portion of the bigger speaker's pleasures. Bravo Volti!

The new Rivals were driven by Border Patrol S20 EXD parallel, single-ended, dual-mono 300B amplifiers ($16,750/pair) and the Border patrol 1543 DAC ($1500). All cables were Triode Wire Labs and sourced from a PI Audio UberBUSS power distribution block.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

As with dream analysis and gestalt therapy, Herb, it is always best to own all parts of your fantasy. The voice speaking to you was actually not that of Mother Serinus, nor of the mother that some Freudians might dare suggest you have always wanted to xxxx, but rather of your poor, dusty, oft-smothered soul that hollers night and day for the release that only music can bring.

For further insight into the workings of your psyche, please call my office phone and book an appointment. My practice offers special rates for gifted visual artists such as yourself.

Odin 412's picture

Zu Audio is always one of my favorite rooms at audio shows. An oasis of great and interesting music - and speakers that play music in a very involving way.

Herb Reichert's picture

That sounds too much like privatization - can't I just share them with my pets?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

That you consider your readers your pets suggests the need for emergency intervention. To replace the traditional couch, Ms. Daisy Mae Doven has offered her personal dog bed for the session. For positive reinforcement, it will be held in a room whose walls are fully treated by Resolution Acoustics. Please call 1-360-NER-VOSA to schedule.

Herb Reichert's picture

consider my readers as "pets" - I have a variety of real and stuffed animals which I often arrange in a circle around me while I lecture and share intimacies. My pets are my in-home charges. In contrast, my readers are my human friends and honored confidants - for whom I hold only the greatest respect.

eatapc's picture

Herb, Koby's last name is Koranteng and he's from HiFI Logic. Nice talking to you at the show! You always seem to be having fun, but I know these show reports are hard work on a tight deadline. Good job.

John Atkinson's picture
eatapc wrote:
Koby's last name is Koranteng and he's from HiFI Logic.

Thank for the corrections.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

prerich45's picture

Hmmm.....the Volti design looks an awful lot like a "Cornscala" design!!!

Art Dudley's picture
Thanks, Prerich45: "Cornscala" is now my favorite new word!
prerich45's picture

They were that good? :) Well most people say you can't go wrong with "corn" (LOL!!!)