A Taste of Heaven

The phrase "save the best for last" rang true for me today. After close to five hours of listening, with ears that were beginning to scream, I heeded the advice of Sound Applications' Jim Weil and headed to the large room at one end of the 9th floor commandeered by Boulder’s Audio Federation. There I encountered the most rewarding sound I have heard at the show so far.

As I entered, a track from The Modern Jazz Quartet's Concorde LP was playing. The sound was indescribably beautiful. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to report that, when I turned around, I discovered a couple listening in silence, hand in hand. To me that says far more than any string of adjectives known to man or beast.

Wishing to maintain the peaceful atmosphere, I asked to hear what may be titled “Endless Night”—I don’t have the liner notes with me—from Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's Avie CD of Handel arias. Yes, the sense of space and silence were near miraculous. But, most important, the system captured the sacred aspects of the mezzo's voice like no other I have heard since the Joule Electric/Talon/Elrod room at CES 2006. This, truly, was the only system I've encountered so far at the RMAF where I wanted to do nothing other than forget about my blog assignment and instead spend hours listening to music.

Some readers may balk when they hear the prices of the system I'm praising. I had no idea until I was handed a sheet at the end of the demo that the speakers were the Marten Coltrane Supreme. Unveiled at CES 2006, this almost broken-in pair (chief designer Leif Olofsson of Sweden tells me that the active crossover in the bass amplifier needs more time on it) retails for $250,000. Add in the Audio Note UK Kegon amplifiers ($49k); Audio Note UK M10 preamplifier ($50,000); EMMLabs CDSD SE transport ($8400) and DCC2 SE DAC ($13,500); Brinkmann Balance turntable and tonearm ($18,500); Lamm LP2 Deluxe phono preamp ($6900); top-of-the-line cabling and power cords from Nordost, Stealth, Jorma Design, Elrod, and Shunyata; Shunyata Hydra-M8; and Harmonic Resolution Systems isolation base and equipment rack (the latter starting at $11,500), and you have an incredibly expensive system. No, it wasn't delivering perfect sound in a room prone to overload. But what it did do right was beyond compare.

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