From Country to Classical in Tampa

The apotheosis—some would say the nadir—of country music suffering was reached in the Western Electric Sound System room put together by Déjà Vu Audio South. There, Vu Hoang (above) took the perilous step beyond Steely Dan's "Black Cow" (as in black sheep?) to Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Please Release Me" and The Carpenter's "This Masquerade." The superb sound got me through a succession of despair-laden tracks from Western Electric Sound's The Perfect Vocals CD that were titled—I kid you not—"These Days I Barely Get By" (Daryle Singletary), the aforementioned "This Masquerade," "The Man That Got Away" (Rosemary Clooney), "The Party's Over" (Nat King Cole), "Cry Me a River" (Jack McDuff), and the final track, "Only the Lonely" (Shirley Horn).

Our collective savior came in the form of refurbished and NOS components that shook to the core my preconception that "vintage sound" amounts to a preponderant midrange without much of anything else. I heard: Déjà Vu Audio's Custom Vintage speakers ($22,400/pair), which include an 18" high efficiency woofer in a sealed cabinet, vintage WE 555 compression midrange driver, vintage 150hz bent horn with large air column, and Alnico-magnet horn supertweeter; Déjà Vu Audio by Aldo custom preamp with phono stage ($19,000); Déjà Vu Audio by Aldo DAC ($19,000); Déjà vu Audio Custom 124 Western Electric Monoblock amplifiers ($25,000/pair); restored vintage Thorens TD 124 idler-drive turntable with Ortofon cartridge ($5000); and J-Corder reel-to-reel deck (which I don't believe I heard). From this system came absolutely beautiful sound that, honest to Betsy, extended beyond the midrange to a really lovely top end and solid bass. I wish I could have stayed for more, and that Art Dudley and Herb Reichert could have joined me.

Déjà Vu Audio South also sponsored a second headphone exhibit in the adjacent bedroom of its two-room suite. Shown are Peter and Fred Ruggiero of Bradenton, FL, who were excited to compare different models of Audeze headphones. With music playing in the next room, I left the headphone listening to them.

Bart Andeer, one of four owners of the Florida Audio Expo, paired his excellent Resolution Acoustics room treatment with a Play it Again Audio system that did not inspire requests for same. There was no equipment list, but the combination of handmade David Berning monoblocks, which were designed to mate with the room's Avantgarde Acoustic Trio loudspeakers, a Soulution preamp, and bleeding-chunk snippets from seven pre-selected tracks made for a brief listening experience.

I don't know if designing their own loudspeakers and cabling is the reason that Raven Audio's exhibit took a major sonic step forward from their previous audio-show displays, but that's certainly my hunch. What I do know is that I heard an excellent sense of space on Luciano Pavarotti's uncharacteristically expressive, beautifully sung recording of Puccini's "Che gelida manina," from the commercial recording of La Bohème conducted by von Karajan. Apart from a bit too much bass on Jennifer Warnes' "A Little Bit of Lovin'," the system sounded alive, colorful, and musical on every track I auditioned. Heard: the pre-release premiere of the 92dB-efficient Raven Performance Tower speakers (the ones closest to the rack—$3995/pair), which mated perfectly with Raven's 20Wpc Avian Blackhawk Mk3 tubed integrated amp ($3795), a Mytek Manhattan II DAC ($5995), and Soniquil interconnects.

Although I missed cellist Vincent Bélanger's live vs reproduced demos in the Audio Note UK room, sponsored by Déjà Vu Audio South, he virtually dragged me into the room after I encountered him in the hallway. He was especially excited by his fourth recording on Analog Music, produced by Audio Note's Peter Qvortrup, which is due out in March and which I heard on a pre-release lacquer.

When Vincent played, at exactly the right volume, his recording of "Kol Nidrei," arranged for cello and organ, the beauty and spaciousness of the Aristide Cavaillé-Coll organ in the L'Église St. Pierre-de-Charentons was conveyed to perfection. Doing the honors, in an all-Audio Note UK system (which needed more space than the room provided): Audio Note LX HE Signature speakers ($18,284/pair), Conqueror stereo tube amplifier ($5423), M2 preamplifier with phono stage ($4958), TT Three turntable with PSU3 power supply ($13,850), TT Two tonearm with AN-V cable ($1497), IO1 MC cartridge ($4132), S2 step-up transformer ($1291), and, un-auditioned, a DAC 0.1X ($1797).

On the far side of the hotel pool, an amplified string quartet serenaded showgoers who were seated far, far away on the hotel's second-floor balcony: I reached them only as they were about to pack up for the night. Yet given that I was the sole person standing before them, they offered to play another short piece in my honor. When I felt compelled to comment that the amplification was simply awful, they unplugged, and performed a beautiful, blessedly acoustic rendition of Piazzolla's Oblivion. My sincere thanks to Bart Andeer, who made the performance possible, and to violinists David Dillingham and Lemay James, violist William Goodwin (former Principal Violist of the Ulster Orchestra), and cellist Gary Tussing.

spacehound's picture

Leaving aside the 'country' stuff of which we Europeans know little.

The reality of high fidelity is that there has been near zero improvements in sound quality (other than the computer as a source) in the last twenty or thirty years. It's all hype and BS, mostly from small US companies with no history and little actual technical experience in the field. Assisted of course by the audio press which needs something to fill its pages. Basically they are just 'garden shed' companies.

Sound quality of the better, more experienced, companies has ALWAYS been good.

In the US I would name McIntosh, Pass, Krell, and Audio Research for amplifiers, JBL and the sadly now defunct Snell for speakers. (As an aside, the 'real', as in the six above, US hi-fi industry is surprisingly small considering the size of its population.)

In the UK Quad amplifiers (not their electrostatic speakers as they ARE limited), Naim, Musical Fidelity, and Sugden, and for speakers Tannoy, B&W and Monitor Audio.

And they are all still doing it.

And nowhere near as expensive (with a few exceptions such as Tannoy's 'flagship' Westminster speakers) as that grossly overpriced nonsense from microscopic mostly inexperienced companies few have ever heard of in your report.

Please do not take any of this as a personal criticism. You come over as about the hardest-working member of Stereophile's staff :)

Don Logan's picture

Spacehound you really haven’t got a clue about high fidelity.

You can’t have listened to many high end systems otherwise you would have included the likes of Wilson Audio, Magico, Jeff Rowland, Dan D’Agostino, Boulder and Constellation to your list of US manufacturers.

As far as hifi not progressing over the last 20 years....... really????? The Naim/ProAC System I owned 20 years ago didn’t come close to the dCS, Jeff Rowland, Raidho system I have now... not even on the same planet.

You talk about Quad and Monitor Audio as examples of UK brands but Quad and MA are made in China. Comparing those brands to likes of Magico and Constellation is like comparing a Ford Escort to a Ferrari, quite frankly, embarrassing.

Sugden anyone?? Think I’ll stick to dSC who really have changed hifi over the last 20 years.

spacehound's picture

Those manufacturers you mention are conning an ignorant, non-technical public. High-income lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc. with plenty of money and about as much technical understanding as my dog.

And don't forget we are listening to recordings, so we have no idea how the studio intended it to sound. Therefore we have no standard of sound quality to judge it by. "It cost a lot of money" or "I personally like it" doesn't cut it at all. Not when the very definition of Hi(gh)-Fi(delity) is 'high accuracy'.

Take Magico as just one example. It's a newbieh in the field. Their business model was "If we charge nonsense prices we will attract attention" so that's what they did. If they had charged a couple of thousand dollars or so for pair of speaker nobody, the hi-fi press included, would have paid them any attention.

Raidho? From the brands you mention it's obvious you buy on price and 'exclusive' name rather than sound quality. I don't know which Raidho speakers you have but with the banks of multiple drivers most of them use, all of which are nominally the same but in practice differ slightly due to manufacturing variations, the sound can't help but come out 'mushy'.
Don't worry, we all do it sometimes, I do it with fancy European or American model airplane engines mostly though I've got a dCS Rossini too.

Of course Quad and MA are 'UK' brands, in the same manner that Apple is a 'US' brand. They are all, Apple products included, made in China, as we know. And unlike Apple, MA actually owns their Chinese factory. And MA is British owned.

The Quad name was bought by IAG, a Chinese conglomerate that has been buying up defunct or near-defunct British audio names like GM collected US car brands :). Among others, Mission and Audiolab are two more they own. But they still use British designers, in the case of Audiolab the original designer.

TommyTunes's picture

Jason, you need to do your homework, that’s a stock Otari reel to reel deck.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

in covering 40 rooms in 3 days is to report what they tell me and what I hear. I was told J-Corder, and J-Corder is what I wrote.

Thanks to you and the J-Corder folks for reporting my error.

JCorder's picture

Alas, it is not a J-Corder Tape Deck pictured but we wish it was. Our friends at Déjà Vu Audio do carry J-Corders. You can get a demo at their store in Miami. You should check out their place. They have great stuff. Happy listening my analog friends!

Kim and Jeff

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Mea culpa. I did have a room equipment list after all, but my heretofore impeccable equipment list organizing system failed me around the time that I sold Manhattan to America's true natives.

The system also included an EMM Labs DAC2X and Siltech Prince speaker cables. All equipment, which was used, was discounted for show attendees. The The biggest price drops were for the Soulution 720 preamplifier ($40,000), which was available for $12,000, and the Avantgarde Trio loudspeakers ($82,000/pair), which were going for $27,900/pair.

My apologies for this error.

Anton's picture

That is some mark down.

I wonder if the Trio is taken?

I gotta go check my CC limit.

Anton's picture

They must have sold.