Scintillating Scaena

Alan Eichenbaum and Sunny Umrao's Scaena room was one of four that vied for my personal Best of Show. It certainly competed with MBL's for most expensive set-up at AXPONA. At its center stood the Scaena Spiritus 3.4 loudspeaker system ($110,000). Each tower contains 12 midranges and seven ribbon tweeters. Bass at 100Hz and below was handled by the four massive 18" subs that looked as though they could pacify an advancing army with their slam. (You should have heard the bass drum on Mahler's Symphony No.2; it had the most convincing weight, focus, and up against the wall impact I've ever heard from my Channel Classics hybrid SACD).

The indispensible remainder of the chain included the dCS Scarlatti, the battery-powered Veloce Audio LS-1 linestage ($18,000) that also helped distinguish sound in YG Acoustics' room, and Conrad-Johnson ART monoblock amplifiers ($35,000/pair). Cabling was totally fabulous, super high-speed, remarkably neutral and full-range Nordost Odin ($$$$$). In this company, the Silver Circle 5.0 SE power conditioner ($7500) seemed like a bargain product.

Sonics, as you may well expect, were anything but bargain basement. Instruments sounded remarkably neutral in timbre, with a lively yet naturally non-fatiguing top, an abundance of believable (as opposed to over-hyped) color, and superb bass. Not only did I enjoy the music of the Hadouk Trio on Live at FIP, but the applause at the end of the track Alan played was the most believable I've ever heard from a recording. In another vein, the voice of Patty Larkin sounded extremely mellow and inviting. If there was anything to criticize in this system, it was its very slightly tempered top end. But compared to just about every other system I've heard in the past year, it was heaven.