Focal+Soulution+Critical Mass+Tara Labs=. . .

Hardly ones to shy away from the big stuff, the folks at Apex Audio Denver filled the mezzanine’s large Blanca Peak room with an I-dare-not-do-the-math system that, for starters, paired Focal Stella Utopia EM loudspeakers ($95,000/pair) with Soulution’s 500 monoblock amplifiers ($55,500/pair), 530 integrated amplifier ($49,000), 520 preamp ($26,000), and 540 CD/SACD player ($32,500). Those still breathing can add in a Transrotor Rondino Nero turntable ($14,000), Graham Phantom Supreme ($6800), and Air Tight PC-1 Supreme Cartridge ($10,500). (I’m not sure if the first track I heard in the room was on LP). That’s only half the list, but, to cut to the chase, the sound was disappointingly dark and damped on everything I heard. That includes the excellent Sony CD of Murray Perahia playing Handel, where the bottom end was exaggerated and the glee and shine central to the music were absent.

The remainder of the system, demmed by Joe Lavrencik of Critical Mass, included Critical Mass Systems’ MAXXUM rack System ($5640/level), RiZE! component footers ($185 each) and RiZE! loudspeaker footers ($225 each); Running Springs’ Audio Nikolai Reference conditioner ($8000); and Tara Labs’ Zero Gold interconnects ($15,900 and a Michael Fremer reference), Zero GX phono cable ($3800), Omega Gold speaker cables ($24,000/pair), Cobalt power cords ($5000 each), and PM/2 conditioner ($600). What and where was responsible for the system’s imbalance I do not know.

Et Quelle's picture

Would be upsetting for some CEO to buy all that stuff and say "the sound was disappointingly dark and damped on everything ".

SergioLangstrom's picture

Try taking along a handheld sampling measurment system, a pink noise CD or pink noise loaded onto a USB stick and see just what the frequency response looks like next time. Would also come in handy for all the other rooms you listen to. Takes less than one minute to sample each room.

Never heard of the term "glee" in audio other than that TV show.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Show reports are not reviews. I can think of nothing more obnoxious than insisting, every time a person from Stereophile enters the room, that the music cease so that testing can begin. Nor would I want to add a handheld sampling measurement system to the camera, monopod, notepad, literature, CDs, and hi-res files that I already tote around.

For show reports as well as reviews, I trust my ears. After all, they're what I use to enjoy music, not measuring sticks.

Glee is an emotional term. I used it to describe music. If equipment cannot convey the emotion inherent in the music, there's a problem. Whether the problem is in the equipment itself, or results from set-up and/or room considerations is a question that cannot be conclusively determined through brief visits to hotel rooms. IMHO, people who write major reports and arrive at absolute conclusions based on the relatively brief time they've spent with equipment arrays in foreign environments excel in writing fiction.

joelavrencik's picture

Hey, I recognize the slap-faced guy in the photo.  It’s me!  Seriously, it’s important that reviewers maintain the highest level of integrity when they write what they hear and Jason has a very strong ethical compass.  I appreciate his candor.  The cables weren’t fully broken in (12 hours on one long run and 100 hours on another), so no doubt there was an inconsistency, but the cables are great please don’t doubt that.  This more or less comes with the territory when big systems in big rooms are settling in.  Every system is sensitive to electrical variations.  So, thank you Jason for stopping in to see us and please see us again and again in the future…..  JL 

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Joe thank you for being a gentleman. It counts for a lot in this industry. Thank you as well for pointing out that not everything was fully broken in. 

When I solo blogged the second AXPONA show in Jacksonville, I had only 28 rooms to cover, rather than 75. Every time a dealer asked me to return because I heard their system before it had fully settled in, I did. I even returned to rooms on my own volition when sound I expected to be good turned out sub par. I regret that I couldn't return to your room, because everything about it held so much promise.

Here's to next time!