TAVES 2013 Report Part 2

Turntables were much in evidence at TAVES, perhaps the most impressive being the TechDAS Air Force One, which had two versions of the famed Graham Phantom Elite arm mounted. Bob Graham himself was on hand, and can be seen in the photo. Bob demonstrated the vacuum hold-down of the turntable, the audible resonance of the LP when tapped being silenced when the vacuum was turned on. Impressive. The worldwide standard price of the Air Force One is $100,000, and the Phantom Elite arm is $15,000, but Bob said that since he's also the distributor of the AirForce One, he can offer a "deal" on the package price.

I've always been intrigued by the concept of the air-bearing turntable and linear-tracking arm, and if I were more into playing LPs and wanted a turntable/arm combo that was better than my aging and not-fully-up-to-date Linn, I would probably start by looking at products that follow these design principles. Bergmann has two products in this category which were on demo at TAVES: the $22,000 Sindre the $13,000 Magne. (The one in the photo is the Sindre.) Considering the technology, and the fact that both are turntable/arm combinations, the prices don't seem out of line.

The Bergmann turntable/arm combos are made in Denmark, and, perhaps coincidentally, the speakers in the system were also Danish: the rather diminutive stand-mounted Raidho D1s. The sound was simply superb, making me think that the Raidho D1 is probably the best speaker of its size that I've heard. Alas, a pair of Raidho D1s will set you back $28,000.

In a less exalted price range than the TechDAS Air Force One and the Bergmann turntables was the new TD-209 from Thorens ($1499). Love that red!

Tash Goka, who, along with his wife, Diane Koebel (respectively, right and left in the photo), handles Canadian distribution of Copland, Antique Sound Lab, and various accessories, is also a speaker designer, being responsible for the revamping of the Reference 3A line. The top of this line, seen in the photo, is the very fine-sounding Nefes ($10,000/pair). Also making its debut at TAVES was the Copland CTA405-A integrated amplifier ($5990). This is a tube-based unit, which uses KT120s rather than the KT88s used previously. Tash told me that KT120s draw greater current than KT88s, which required a new, higher-capacity transformer. I've been thinking of swapping the KT88s in my McIntosh MC250 for KT120s—which, some people have told me should be OK—but was somehow reluctant to do so. Based on what Tash told me, my reluctance was justified. Thanks, Tash!

The Gershman Black Swan loudspeaker ($45,000/pair) has been around for a number of years (the earliest reference I could find to it in Stereophile was June, 2006), but it continues to evolve. According to Ofra Gershman (on the right in the photo, with her husband Eli, the designer of the speakers, on the left), there have been some recent changes in the drivers and associated tweaking of the crossover. A brief listen suggested that these are the best-sounding Black Swans so far.

One of the ways you can tell that you're in a room that is demming Joseph Audio speakers is that the speakers are set up diagonally rather than parallel to any wall. (Of course, you could also look at the brand name on the speaker, but that's cheating.) This worked well for the Joseph Audio Pearl 3s ($31,500/pair) driven by an Accustic Arts integrated amplifier ($6900) at TAVES. Jeff Joseph played an LP called Essential Elvis, which had a previously unreleased cut of "There Will Be Peace in the Valley." I have never been a real Elvis fan, but listening to this beautifully sung, deeply felt performance pretty well turned me into one.

Nordost had some new products at TAVES, and, as is their usual practice, did A/B comparisons to demonstrate their effectiveness. (Ariel Bitran reported on one of these demos here) The demo I attended compared the original Valhalla 1 speaker cable with the new Valhalla 2, playing the same piece of music, keeping everything (including volume) the same, just switching cables. The comparison was actually A/B/A, with "A" being Valhalla 1. The Valhalla 1 is my reference speaker cable, so I'm pretty familiar with its sonic characteristics, among which I would include superb clarity and transparency. However, switching from Valhalla 1 to Valhalla 2, and, especially, switching back to Valhalla 1, made Valhalla 1 seem almost muffled, Valhalla 2 revealing fine detail that was only suggested by Valhalla 1.

What's the cost of this improvement? Don't ask . . . I did ask, and was told that the 4m demo length pair of Valhalla 1 costs $12,200 and Valhalla 2 of the same length is $17,850!

DougM's picture

Just what the world needs, another $100,000 turntable, and a pair of $28,000 two way minis. No wonder ordinary people think audiophiles are lunatics, because they are. I could buy the Thorens, and have enough left to buy my own small island with the money I saved.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

...for the existence of such equipment is bragging rights.  Yeah, sure there are a few wealthy audiophiles who can tell the difference, but I'd bet most can't.  And, I suspect few would buy this stuff if there were no one to show it off to.

Today I heard jazz on large Quad electrostatics driven by a full Naim rig and a Brinkman turntable.  Sounded very distant, muffled and unlifelike.  (I go to a lot of live music.)  I don't know where the weakness was, but I can tell you my modest gear costs about 5% of that rig and is much more lifelike. 

I'd take the money I saved and spend the season attending every major classical concert in Europe.  After all, how many times can one play The 1812 Overture, Patricia Barber and Pink Floyd just to hear the thundering lows, creamy mids and sizzling highs?

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

...this provided a better buzz (for many reasons) than any high end system playing audiophile chestnuts I ever heard.  


Ariel Bitran's picture

deserves props.

John Hall's picture

That totally caught me off guard! Dude's got one hell of a voice.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

After watching this video several times I now think that besides the holy trinity of tone, power and control, a great singer has one more quality; their voice can startle you - it sounds like a wounded animal, at night, in the forest.  

Perhaps that's a quality we also crave in great audio gear; it transcends price, technology and marketing expectations and startles us, it makes us utter "wow!", or, "what just happened?!"  IOW, it bypasses our intellect and hits our emotions, just like a great artist.  

That's why I love Stereophile's affordable audio discoveries.  Sadly, such revelations usually require lots of clean watts and serious bass, and as we all know this seldom comes cheap.

All of this begs a question - is good gear's real purpose to release emotion, or is to technically impress and raise one's social standing?

eugovector's picture

Thank you for the best thing I've seen on stereophile in a long time.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Love the droll humor. The singing's too good just to be camp.

But how did this come into your awareness? Surely it was not something live you heard at TAVES....

dabigpuma's picture

While these prices are almost nobody's price range I am glad people are still trying to make things better and push the boundaries of what's possible. Maybe one day this kind of equipment will be affordable for most of us.

volvic's picture

It must sound extraordinary and would love to hear and see how it deals with older beat up records.  At this price it should make them sound great.  I wouldn't say it's beautiful, it is a little vulgar looking but pretty sure form follows function.   While some may think it is crazy to make such things, you do it because you can and because it is a statement product much like a Bugatti Veyron is.  As a dabigpuma said, we can only hope some of this technology trickles down to us mere mortals.  

DoggyDaddy's picture

The cable thing smacks of snake oil to me.  Take this line: "[Valhalla 2] made Valhalla 1 seem almost muffled."  Really?  And yet the 1's probably cost multiple thousands of dollars.  Seems to me if you pay big bucks for cables that "seem almost muffled," something is wrong w/ this picture...

Jeff Joseph's picture

...featured Zesto Audio tube preamp and amps, Cardas Clear cables, and Joseph Audio Perspective Loudspeakers. (not placed diagonally!) 

The system with our Pearl3's included a Accustic Arts Integrated amp, Aesthetix Rhomulus CD/DAC,  MacBook Pro running Itunes/Pure Vinyl, Thoress Phono Equalizer, Brinkmann Bardo with a Benz Glider, and Cardas Clear Beyond speaker cables. 

The cool-looking rack is from Clearaudio, with a HRS isolation base on top for the turntable. (Tricell was offering the rack for sale at a bargain price)

I'm glad Robert was able to find our tiny room tucked away in the corner of the 8th floor!

I greatly enjoyed the enthusiasm of those who came by and listened.