by Darryl Lindberg
High Water Sound: Hørning Hybrid Systems, TW-Acoustic, etc.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Jeff Catalano’s show set-ups—or Jeff himself? As usual, Jeff wrung excellent sound from his set up, which, as usual, was ensconced in room 589. And, as usual, I came back to this room at least once a day over the course of my stay. This year he was featuring Thomas Woschnik’s TW-Acoustic RPS 100 B phono preamp ($17K) and 45 SE Mono Block amps ($15K/pair) along with Thomas’s GT SE turntable ($12.5K) and TW 10.5 arms ($5.5). Rounding out the whole shebang were long-time HWS show products Hørning Hybrid Systems‘ Eufrodite Ellipse peakers ($30K) speakers and the Tron Syrene II GT preamp ($55K), all lashed together with Zen Sati cables. The sound was excellent when I stopped by on Friday afternoon and got even better over the next two days.
Sunday morning I sauntered in and found four or five other denizens skipping church services to worship at the altar of the audio gods. I’ve always found Sunday morning to be a great time to seriously listen to RMAF systems (assuming the exhibitors are up and about): the systems are tweaked and broken in, the crowds are generally a lot thinner, and you can usually listen to some edgier music. Anyway, I asked Jeff to cue up the beginning my LP of Shostakovich’s String Quartet #8, as performed by the Fitzwilliam Quartet (L’Oiseau-Lyre DSLO 11). This is an outstanding performance of sublime music that also happens to be very well-recorded. I didn’t want to hog the system from the other hearty souls, so I figured I’d put a stop to things after the first movement or so (five to eight minutes). However, when I gave Jeff “the look,” he motioned to let it spin, as no one had said a discouraging word—or any word for that matter. The end of this tale is that the quartet played from first to last—about twenty-one minutes—and not a soul interrupted to request “female vocals!” One of the guys turned to me and said, “I’ve been to most of these shows and this is a first: a bunch of audio guys at a loss for words.”
Of course, that’s a tribute to Jeff’s system and its ability to captivate yours truly and the other intrepid Sunday morning listeners, as well as a tribute to old Shostakovich’s musical genius.
Nola, Audio Research, Nordost
Nola featured its newly introduced Studio Grand Gold Reference Gold speaker ($19.8K) in the Beaver Creek room. These are the smallest model in the floor standing Gold Reference range, but they sure didn’t sound small: the spacious, musically satisfying Nola sound was there in abundance. As usual, Carl Machisotto was using an Audio Research electronics and Nordost cables and, as usual, the sound was excellent. The system’s reproduction of my HDTT CD would have done a much larger speaker proud. Although I’ve heard some folks sniff that Carl’s speakers are kludgey, you can’t argue with the results, which in my experience are always musically satisfying.
Audio Alternative: Vandersteen Model 7, Audio Research, Brinkmann
I’ve always found the Model 7s to be musical and, most importantly, enjoyable in Audio Alternative’s various RMAF set ups. This year was no exception. Driven by the liquid-cooled Vandersteen M7-HPA power amplifier and fed by Audio Research’s Reference preamp and phono preamp and a Brinkmann Spyder turntable/Brinkmann arm (can’t recall the cartridge, but probably an EMT), the 7s sounded superb—in fact, some of the best sound at the show, in my opinion. The one nitpick I have with the 7s is that the speakers seemed a very tiny bit dynamically challenged; however, it’s a quality that seems to be inherent, given what I’ve heard in other places (including last year’s RMAF) and with other electronics. But, given the magnificent sounds emitted, this particular caveat gets relegated into the “who cares?” column in my book.