Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Stillpoints and Exemplar Audio

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Now this was fun.

“Show Conditions” don’t usually offer the chance to listen to gear that was recently living in your house, but the tenth floor room shared by Stillpoints and Exemplar Audio offered just that — with a source and amp that I recently wrote up as part of a long-winded piece for Positive Feedback Online. The Giant, John Tucker, was even using the same hard drive I’d become so familiar with when he left it at my house. It was easy to ask him to cue up a little Professor Longhair while I got to know his tiny, little speakers.

While I got to know his tiny, little, gorgeous speakers with alnico magnets and insane bass, that is. Four grand for the pair, built around drivers I would have dismissed out of hand, and wrapped in the best cabinet work that David Florio has to offer. There’s some deep magic in there.

Sure, the soundstage was a little bit constrained, and, sure, the dynamics didn’t quite leap out at you like a desperate mugger, but I wasn’t expecting that from the hard drive as a source. I also wasn’t expecting to walk away thinking that I’d wish I’d lived with these instead of the Big Duplexes. The music had a relaxed and natural quality that was, in every way that mattered to me, the opposite of cerebral. John had to kick me out when I tried to camp in a chair.

Some of the credit for this room has to go to Stillpoints and their “tweaks.” First up was the Entreq Silver Minimus ($729) that Stillpoints distributes in the US. This is a one-in/one-out box that works some weird magic on the AC ground. Then there were the Stillpoints feet — far too many to count — under everything. Even the speaker stands were breathed on by Stillpoints, and they cost a bit extra. Then there were the delightfully effective Aperture acoustic panels ($650 each, base price) around the room. I don’t even know how something that small manages to have any effect, but this was noticeably one of the best sounding rooms in the hotel.

The problem, of course, is that some of the credit also has to go to John Tucker’s one-off power conditioner — that’s the big, power-amp looking box at the bottom of the rack. Unfortunately, it’s not for sale. “It’s insane,” says John. “Do you know what that costs to make? I can’t sell that!” If it’s as effective as it seems to be, I think John may be underestimating the market potential.

Proud to sponsor Part-Time Audiophile and The Audio Traveler at THE Show in Newport 2015!

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High End 2015

High End 2015: Vitus Audio

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HE15_Logo_GB_01I’ve been using some Vitus Audio Reference electronics in my reference system for some time now, mainly on the recommendation of a friend and long-time dealer, Doug White at The Voice That Is.

I’ve been very impressed with Hans-Ole Vitus, who cuts an altogether impressive figure in “real life” as he does with his product offerings. He’s very approachable, very much a pragmatic fellow, and an entirely no-BS kind of audiophile. That said, his electronics are the very epitome of “high-end”, and the prices of his “Master Level” electronics — the very pinnacle of his thinking and designs — are nothing short of eye-popping.

But for me, it’s that middle segment that I’ve always identified as the best blend of extreme performance and value.

No one is ever going to think of a €21k integrated as “affordable”, and that’s just as it should be. But what if I told you that that very same product, the SIA-025, is actually being offered at a lower price today than when it was introduced? And by a considerable margin — when I first investigated the SIA-025 in 2012, the list price was (about) €24k! A 1/8 reduction in price, without a “Clearance” sticker attached to it, is unheard of. No, I mean that. I can’t think of another current-rev product seeing a published price reduction, much less one at this level. Viva la difference!

New on the floor was the SCD-025 II (€19k), which features a brand-new USB input and a new DAC section, both of which now support DSD over USB. That fed an SIA-025 integrated (here used as a pre), into the new 100wpc SS-025 (€21k) stereo amplifier, and drove the big diamond-tweeter Berlina RC7 Mk II from Gauder Akoustic. Furutech cabling and a Stillpoints rack rounded out the set. A little Marshall amp, tucked into the corner, was actually a fridge.

I was listening to music from the $26k ReQuest music server into the SCD-025, but a monster Transrotor Tourbillon FDM, with a $15k Swedish Analog Technology tonearm carrying the new Ortofon A95 cartridge, was also in the room (total of about $60k), connected to the main rig by way of the Vitus Audio SP-102 (€32k) phono pre.

Deep bass, soaring highs, completely wrap-around-you music. The sound was absolutely sublime.

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Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

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AXPONA 2015

AXPONA 2015: The Voice That Is, with TIDAL, Bricasti, Aurender, Purist Audio Design, Silver Circle

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Doug White of The Voice That Is built a gorgeous system around the TIDAL Contriva GS speakers ($69,690 as shown), easily the best looking speakers at the show. Note that this speaker is also a complete reworking of the Contriva Diacera SE loudspeakers. From TIDAL:

The all new successor of the worldwide praised TIDAL Contriva Diacera SE (2007-2014). We did not let things as they were, all is completely new with the Contriva G2. Like with iconic design classics improving does not mean changing. It means making dimensions and proportions better while strictly continuing and following the generic and unique design of it. So we made the Contriva G2 45mm less tall, 5mm less wide and we gave it 3° degree more slope to give it a more dynamic and elegant look while improving also the sonic dispersion of it.

The cabinet is made out of TIRADUR, TIDAL’s proprietary cabinet material for this 102 Kg beauty. Also we equipped it with all new BCC drivers, a complete new x-over design, an all new terminal with TIDAL’s completely new pure silver binding posts. The result is the very best midsize speaker we ever built.

The source was a Bricasti M1 ($8,995) fed by an Aurender W20 ($17,600).

Amplification also came from TIDAL, with the unbelievable, three chassis, Presencio Preamplifier ($77,990) feeding a pair of Impulse monoblocks ($64,990 per pair).

Everything was wired together with Purist Audio Design cables, and everything was sitting on Stillpoints. Power distribution came from the massive Silver Circle Tchaik 6.

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CES 2015

CES 2015: E.A.R. and Hansen at Wes Bender Studios

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ces-logoThere are more than few vendors that are quite content to let me know where I stand on the evolutionary scale, though Wes Bender is one of the very few that tends to make me laugh about it. Usually, the issue tends to be the absurd camera I tote around. Wes, you see, has gone mirrorless for his more portable kit and I still lug around a DSLR dinosaur from Canon. Oh well. He’s the pro photographer, after all — and as I was told several times throughout the show (though not by Wes, who’d be horrified by the bluntness — jibes should be delivered with a smirk or at least a sly sideways look), I’m just a hack.

[Sigh]. Humble pie. It’s what’s for dinner.

Which is kinda what I felt, walking into another room with E.A.R. equipment fronting some more enormous speakers from Hansen. Humble. Because this stuff is amazing.

The new-at-CES Dragon Legend E ($60k/pair) is about as far from hackish mundaneness as high-end audio tends to get. It’s a 4-driver/3-way loudspeaker that sports the top-of-the-line Scanspeak soft-dome tweeter and some wicked-cool driver tech. The woofers and mids are completely custom, a 3-layer sandwich considerably more stiff than “mere” aluminum that designer Lars Hansen describes as being completely inert, with no coloration at all. “The finished driver, utilizing our amazing powerful motor assembly, has the fastest attack time, the quickest recovery time and the most accurate tracking possible.” Tough talk. I love it when designers do that!

The cabinet looks leather-wrapped (yay!), but is actually an “animal free” composite that I believe is also used in some insanely expensive super-lux cars. The cabinet itself is very unusual in shape, and said to be phase coherent and “dispersion coherent”, though I’m not exactly sure what that means. Sitting in the sweet-spot, I heard all manner of powerful competence. Clearly, this speaker was loafing here, but cranking it over would probably have caused structural issues.

Also interesting, E.A.R. designer Tim de Paravacini was showing off the newest iteration of the Acute DAC/Transport here at CES. This one features minor upgrades, but also addresses some supply chain issues. Expect that — and more details — earlier rather than later.

An Entreq Silver Tellus “grounding box” ($2,699) tied it all the parts together. Literally. Providing a dedicated in-rack ground apparently creates something of a Faraday cage, with the net effect of reducing system noise. Sounds like a plan to me.

The path started with an E.A.R. Disc Master turntable ($28,500), carrying a pair of Helious Silver Ruby tonearms ($5225 each). These were mounted with either a Transfiguration Proteus ($6,000) or a SteinMusic Aventurin 6 Mk II ($6,500) cartridge, to bring the signal into an E.A.R. 912 full-function preamplifier ($13k), and then, into an E.A.R. 509 mono block amplifier pair. Cabling came courtesy of Waveform Fidelity. Footers and racks came from Stillpoints. On that latter note, Bruce Jacobs showed me the new Ultra 6 footer ($899 each), which introduces yet another dimension of vibrational identification and elimination. Big, chunky, and pricey, but if you’re looking for that last edge, this might be just your ticket.

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Lars Hansen, Dan Meinwald and Wes Bender

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Tim and his new Acute

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A new Acute

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Yours Truly and the inimitable Wes Bender

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CAF 2014

CAF 2014: Bricasti Design brings catapults, hurls insults at poor quality audio

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Brian Zolner of Bricasti Design has a good reason to be smiling. His new under $30k/pair (est.) 200wpc M28 mono amplifiers are simply outstanding. His M1 DAC has been sitting on top of the A+ Recommended Components List at Stereophile since its launch. Oh, and as lauded as these accomplishments are, it’s his pro-audio stuff that’s really killing it — his M7 Reverb unit is wildly popular.

Blah blah blah. I want those amps. Whoops. Did I just say that out loud? Heh heh. Whoops.

But it’s true — the amps are really impressive. Part of my adoration comes from the fact that I know the speakers Brian is using as part of the voicing process. They’re TIDAL Contriva Diacera SE loudspeakers, and I happen to have a pair and I’m routinely stunned by what they can do. When Brian shows, he tends to bring their baby-brother stablemate, the Piano Cera ($23,990/pair), and I’m pretty familiar with that speaker too — but driven by Brian’s amps, I’m not sure anyone has ever heard what a TIDAL loudspeaker can do. Bass? You want bass? Bah! You know nothing, Jon Snow. I’ve got yer bass right here, and I’ll raise you a magical midrange and a treble purity that will make you weep for the Fae whose voice are no longer fairest in the Nevernever.

In other words, Ba-da-BING. Hook me up! Continue reading

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CAF 2014

CAF 2014: The Voice That Is reaches for stars with TIDAL Audio, Bricasti and Aurender

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I’m pretty sure it’s a sign of old age when you start referring to your stories by number. Or maybe it’s just superior indexing? Ah, well. Anyway, audio story #1,287 is about Doug White at The Voice That Is. Doug is an audio dealer, and brings in several upscale product lines to serve his Philadelphia-centered clientele, including TIDAL Audio, Bricasti, and several others. My story starts with me calling Doug, asking some impertinent question or other, and Doug refusing to quote me a price, much less sell me something.

Honestly, I can’t even remember what it was I was asking after. But the fact that he refused to do business with me is what really sticks out. A dealer, refusing to make money? Seriously? Seriously. Doug isn’t a slash-and-burn sales guy. He’s a consultant and takes that role seriously: “If I sell this to you, you’re not going to like it and you’re going to blame me and never call me again,” he explained. “I think I can help you get where you want to be, but we are going to have to spend some time figuring out what that is. When we have a goal, we can work on a solution. That’s the value I bring.” I’m paraphrasing, but this was perhaps the first time I’d ever encountered a commercial sales rep actually doing this kind of thing — sacrificing the quick sale for the chance at earning a customer long-term. I was, and still am, very impressed with Doug and his ethical standards and he remains one of the very few audio dealers I can unequivocally recommend doing business with.

Now that I’ve blown all this smoke up in his general direction, we can talk about what he did to all of us at CAF this year. Because it was amazing.

Continue reading

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