Musical Magic at San Francisco’s Tone of Music Audio

Beautiful sound was the order of the day at Tone of Music Audio (1303 Castro Street, Suite D, San Francisco, CA 94114), as the small retailer, headquartered in the heart of San Francisco's Noe Valley, held the first of two spring open houses. Judging from what the 30 or so visitors heard at the first open house, on March 18, those who show up for the second listening session on Saturday, April 1, between noon and 5 pm (RSVP to, are in for a treat.

How proprietor Tim Nguyen (left, in photo, with Bea Lam, right, and Luke Manley, far right, of VTL) manages to fit products from 11 speaker manufacturers, 21 electronic manufacturers, 14 analog specialists, and 5 cable companies in a three-room store, whose main listening room is 22' x 13' x 12', is beyond me. But he assures me that it's all there.

The Magico M3 loudspeakers ($75,000/pair), driven by VTL's 6.5 Series linestage ($15,000), TP 6.5 phono preamp ($12,500), and VTL S400 stereo amp ($33,500), produced an extremely captivating sound. The second I heard soprano Elly Ameling's radiant voice, I was reminded of that warm, supremely smooth, and glowingly sweet sound for which VTL tube gear is prized. Relaxed as all get out, liquid and flowing, and saturated with color, it was for many an audiophile dreamboat to paradise.

Thanks, as well, by a Berkeley Audio Reference 2 DAC ($19,990), Brinkmann Spyder turntable with Ront power supply ($16,000) and 12" Brinkmann arm w/Airtight cartridge ($8500), and a slew of Argento cabling ($30,000), I enjoyed track after track. A file of Aretha's soulful voice in its youthful prime, backed by great percussion, was lovely and warm, with luscious, take me home and eat me up sound. Claudio Abbado conducting Schubert's "The Great" Symphony on LP was supremely smooth and quiet, and the epitome of warm bloom with a non-aggressive, anything but brutal top. On a 24/96 file of Sibelius's Overture to The Tempest, all the turbulent energy, whirls and crashes, and rapid timpani rolls (with every pound clear and distinct) essential to putting somewhat over the top music over the top was there in spades.

Squeezing multiple listeners into one room, along with Bea Lam and Luke Manley of VTL, did dictate a few sonic compromises. While the room's limitations are usually addressed by carefully positioning the rear of the speakers toward the entrance-way, that was not possible for a big public demo. Hence was the system turned 180&!76;, which shrunk the soundstage and activated a few pesky room nodes. Nonetheless, no apologies were needed for sound so lovely and inviting.

My listening session ended with two very different pieces of music—The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" and a fun track from Radiohead. It was an experience to send one out into the craziness of the 21st century urban landscape with a smile on one's face and promises of audiophile nirvana just a check away.

Allen Fant's picture

Nice coverage! JVS.