Next up were two rooms from New York’s Innovative Audio and two different pairs of Wilson Audio loudspeakers. The first was the new Alexia at $48,500/pair, and since this was press hours, I got a real treat—I was solo! Just me, and Peter McGrath, who walked me through a demo of the flexibility of this new speaker. Sweet! As you probably know, many Wilson loudspeakers are modular. What you may not have known is that, at least on the very high end models, those modules can move around a bit, and by “a bit”, I mean back and forward in 1/16th of an inch increments. Why, you ask? Alignment! Peter walked me through one of his own recordings, with huge and detailed soundstaging, played first “straight” and then again with the tweeter module (and only the tweeter module) moved one notch (1/16th”) toward me. Sure enough, I heard the top end get a tad more energetic. I actually quite liked it, but when he moved the tweeter back in place, coherence hit the stage like a sheet snapping out flat and crease-free. It wasn’t huge. It wasn’t night and day. But it was there. The Alexia (and up, in the line) can be tuned to your space, your ears, your whatever… bet you wish your speakers could do that. I do! As fun as those speakers are, or would be if they fell into my listening room by accident (it could happen), they were totally upstaged by the jewel-like electronics from Dan D’Agostino’s Momentum line. I don’t really have a ready analogy to convey exactly how unbelievable these bits are to see, touch and taste (generally frowned upon—don’t ask). The new black-on-copper look of the stereo amp (on static display, $30,500, with stands) is “steal-me” sexy. Wow. The “regular” chrome/steel and copper are quite nice, too, don’t get me wrong ($55,000/pair for the monoblocks and $32,000 for the preamp with the power-base), everything in this line looks like it could have been machined by Patek Philippe, and if it could have been threaded on a chain, Enjoy The Music’s Steve Rochlin would have been wearing two. Blown away by the aesthetic, I almost overlooked the top-of-the-line MSB Diamond DAC IV Plus ($44k, as configured) that was actually putting all the tunes out, which would have been a horrible mistake. I love that thing, and the “Femto Galaxy Clock” (a $4,995 upgrade, here included) has—to all reports—simply revolutionized their digital sound. Let’s just say I was a big fan. Transparent Audio cabling was used throughout.
Skipping across the hall, I ducked in on a demo of the Sasha W/P loudspeakers ($27,900/pair). Driven by Lamm and VTL electronics, including the Lamm M1.2 Reference monoblocks ($24,190/pair), a VTL Tl-7.5 Series III Reference preamplifier ($20,000), and a VTL TP-6.5 Signature phono stage ($10,500). A Spiral Groove SG2 turntable (w/Centroid tonearm, $21,000), mounted with a Lyra Kleos cartridge ($3,000) was balanced by an all-Naim digital system, including a NDS Reference network player ($10,995), a CDX2 CD player ($6,195) and a UnitiServe SSD ripper/UPnP server ($3,995). Cables from Naim and Transparent Audio were used throughout. The sound from the vinyl playback (I didn’t hear the digital side) was extremely inviting, and easily among the best that I’ve heard from the Sashas. Was it Lamm? Was it VTL? Was it a (gasp!) system thing? I dunno. But I do know that the sound in here was extremely refined, even when the demos dipped into the used record bin. Old disc? Who cares. There was magic happening and I plumb forgot to take notes. Whoops, where’d that 20 minutes go? Yikes! I had places to be!
Ciamara was showing the big TAD Reference 1 loudspeakers ($80,000/pair) biamped with Viola Labs Symphony and Concerto amplifiers ($22,500 each). A Viola Crescendo preamplifier, which included an on-board DAC ($22,000), was “helped” by a pair of devices from EMM Labs, including the DAC2X ($15,500) and the TSDX SACD/CD transport ($17,000). Analog signaling came from a Dr. Feickert Firebird turntable ($12,995), wired to a PH-77 phono stage from AMR ($11,995). A Lyra Kleos cartridge ($2,850) sat on a Reed 3P 12” tonearm ($5,995). I didn’t get much of an impression as the room was still being constructed on my flyby, but the eclectic collection of gear seemed to be offering a little bit o’ something for everyone.
Gideon Schwartz of Audio Arts demoed the Zellaton semi-open-baffle Studio Reference One loudspeakers ($52,750), with, as I mentioned, electronics from CH Precision and Trinity Audio. A Jan Allaerts MC1 Boron MKII cartridge mounted on a Simon Yorke S10 turntable ($19,950), fed into the Trinity Audio Design GmbH Phono ($34,740), lit me up with a damn fine spin of Al Dimeola, John McLaughlin and Paco DeLucia’s Friday Night in San Francisco. Flipping to the digital side with the C1 DAC from CH Precision ($32,975), I got my first listen in on the new Depeche Mode Delta Machine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—the CH Precision gear is beyond SOTA, and while it costs dearly, I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that “better” is actually on offer. It’s incredible stuff. The A1 amplifiers, here run bridged “for the heck of it”—the 100wpc of a single A1 can and will run just about any speaker made into failure—have a unique tuning capability; they can vary the feedback, both local and global, in order to tune to the speaker they’re mated with. Want more drive? More air? Tune away. With the vanishingly low noise floor, all you’re ever going to hear is your music. Can you tell that I want a rack full of this stuff? Yeah. Whew. I’m gettin’ all hot and bothered just thinking about it.
The big Ultimate Reference loudspeakers from Venture Audio were only on static display during my turns through the room, but that’s okay. I mean that. I didn’t miss them—the new Vici loudspeakers are fantastic. And if you’re the kind of person that thinks $150,000 for a pair of loudspeakers is a “bit of a stretch but worth it if it’s truly remarkable”, then the $36,000 for the Vici, which includes a dual-driver AW500 subwoofer, is going to make you throw up in your mouth a little. For less than a quarter of the dough for the Ultimates, I think the Vici might be better. Meep! Anyway, they’re awesome. The hefty V200A+ mono amps ($120,000/pair) and a VP100L preamp ($35,100) drove them here. Of particular interest was the Phasure NOS1 DAC ($4,500), an outstanding-sounding if curiously shaped device. While just about everything in this room was way out of my league, the sound was incredibly delicate, but still had that leather-wrapped-steel-hammer for bass. “Outstanding,” is what I wrote in my little notebook. I then underlined that word 25 more times.
Sound by Singer was showing off the diamond-coated woofers of the big D2 loudspeakers from Raidho (prices start at $43,500/pair), and as this topped my personal list of Must Hear Gear for the show, I frogmarched myself on over there—only to be defeated by my old enemy, The Locked Door. In fact, I think I got denied three times by a locked door during the show. Once was due to last-minute setups, and the other two times because You People had jammed the room. That’s me, hanging out with Kathy Griffin. Oh well. Anyway, I did finally sneak past the crowd and steal some prime seating, but alas and alack, this demo was submarined by room acoustics. This room could easily have been a best-in-show contender, because what I did hear around the mid-bass boom of the room, was an absolutely arresting clarity, warmth, and life. Hook is set, time to reel in the fish. Said another way, “I’ll be back.” Shown here with a VAC 450S amplifier ($44,000), a signature Mk 2 preamplifier ($18,000), and a Soulution 5400 SACD player ($32,500). Nordost Tyr v2 cables and Audience power conditioners aR6T-TS ($6,000 each) rounded out the package.