My Epiphany: Pass Labs, Sony, Kimber, and DSD Files

For the first time in many years, I walked into a room at CES and was immediately blown away. Pass Labs personnel had suggested I listen to the amplifiers driving Sony loudspeakers, so I went to the 30th floor of the Venetian to listen. I had no expectations, other than knowing that five Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) were powered by five Pass Labs Xs300 amplifiers ($85,000/pair), all connected by Kimber Kable. What I didn’t know was that Sony had given the two people running that demonstration, Blue Coast Records’ Cookie Marenco and Super Audio Center’s Gus Skinas, carte blanche permission to play any one of the 150 Direct Streaming Digital (DSD) master titles from Sony’s library for the duration of the Show.

Gus was sourcing multichannel DSD files from a large hard drive sitting underneath his laptop, which was running the Sonoma pro-audio software. The DSD datastreams were fed to a Meitner DAC 8 Mk.IV 8-channel DAC.

I sat in a chair surround by a wide arc of five Sony SS-AR1s, each paired with a Pass Labs Xs300 amplifier. The speakers were arranged in the ITU-recommended positions, with the rear channels positioned at about 270° to the side and back. The sound was magnificent! The electronics and speaker disappeared and I was enveloped in a cloud of music that had tremendous clarity and dynamics while instantly communicating the ambience of the recording venue. For once, there was no sweet spot, just a sense of being immersed in the sound. Gus and Cookie played the San Francisco Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas playing Mahler’s Symphony No.1. I was transfixed. This was definitely the best audio reproduction I heard at the show!

Just to make absolutely certain I had now unknowingly been subjected to a Ken Kesey-type Kool-Aid Acid Test, I checked with Stereophile’s experts in digital audio, John Atkinson and Kal Rubinson. They both agreed I was hearing a different type of audio which might be as good as I claimed it to be! I later read on the website that others had had a similar experience, including musicians and recording engineers.

Bill Leebens's picture

Glad you liked it. Cookie's company is Blue COAST records.

jimmyjames's picture

Cookie Marenco's label is Blue Coast Records.

John Atkinson's picture

Corrected. Thanks.

BTW, Gus Skinas played me Joni's Mitchell's 2000 recording of A Case of You in surround DSD on this system and I was blown away.

John Atkinson

JasonVSerinus's picture

Two days before I flew to Las Vegas, we used Joni's 2000 "Both Sides Now" in hi-res as one of our test discs in a bargain DAC comparison session for the Bay Area Audiophile Society. I would have loved to have heard this.

Bill Leebens's picture

Biggest regret of CES 2013 was not hearing that recording. I'd heard rumors of it for years, and am kicking myself for missing it. Damn, damn, DAMN!

Kal Rubinson's picture

Need I say that this was my favorite room at CES?  yes

deckeda's picture

You might also check out ML's site. He's been saying some very positive things about, and has some experience with DSD as well.

(But epipanies are like that. "All of a sudden" you learn what others have been saying.)

cookiemarenco's picture

Thank you all for the very kind remarks!  I must thank Sony, also, for the incredible gift of this room and having fantastic people involved.  Multi-channel listening and DSD playback...  wow..  and Gus with music from so many sessions not yet released (including original Blue Coast Collection tracks in surround).  

Allen Sides, the engineer on the Joni sessions, came in several times to listen to his recordings as well.  We had a chance to ask him questions about the "Joni Sessions" which was fascinating.

Let's see, 4 days of non stop listening to music in multi channel surround, from DSD sources, on an incredible system with hundreds of music lovers coming in to share the experience.  Did I die and go to heaven for a few days?   

Thanks again, Having you all come in and spend so much time was a real treat!

Cookie Marenco
Blue Coast Records

wozwoz's picture

Nice to see Stereophile catching up with what's been happening in the SACD world and pure DSD:  it's simply marvellous when done native all the way through.