Newport 2015

Newport 2015: That’s a wrap


THEShow_LOGO2015The Car of Life can go awfully fast, and I often find myself blinking and missing another precious turnoff, and subsequently, another moment to spend time with those who matter to me. Those turnoffs on the road I travel – with a group of select others that I can call my family and friends – are where most of the truly memorable events occur in my little corner of the world, but thanks to Part-Time Audiophile and my fellow Audio Travelers, my little corner is getting bigger, and much better.

Looking back in the rear view at my time spent covering T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach this year, I can’t help but echo some of my initial impressions in my show opener; that the experience was going to be more about the people involved with hi-fi than the gear itself.

In the end it turned out to be almost equal parts.

Some of the most memorable moments involved the most memorable people, albeit memorable people who have incredible taste in music and the ability to build incredibly holistic and synergistic sound systems that just sing.

A couple of examples include Danny Kaey of Sonic Flare, who basically brought his living room to share with listeners at the Show. The combination of Wilson Audio speakers, Einstein amps and preamps, Brinkmann turntable and Transfiguration cartridge was close to unbeatable for its sound. But it was Kaey himself, his casual demeanor, his easy smile and quick laugh that made you feel welcome immediately, and his experience at presenting music in an effortless and completely natural-sounding system was apparent to anyone who heard his kit.

Likewise for David Cope and Warren Jarrett of SM Audio in the Audio Note UK room. These two gentlemen went out of their way to make their space not only sound incredible (without acoustic treatments or excuses for it being a hotel room), but stripped away any and all pretension that some may associate with hi fi and high-end audio in particular with their good-natured joking and incredible selection of vinyl.

Jon Derda from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and his hospitality will not soon be forgotten, and chilling out with him and John Darko while we sipped 12-year-old Taketsuru single-malt whiskey from Japan, distilled the essence of what got me into hi-fi to begin with: sharing time and music with others. It started with my father, and continues now with my children, and listening to Koetsu cartridges and Avid turntables with Derda and Darko, while we all smirked at the beauty of our situation, carries on that tradition of sharing.

Other Show standouts for me were Covenant Audio‘s rooms, particularly the Technical Brain and Silverline room featuring a modified Stellavox 5i-KC tape deck. Richard Brown of Open Reel Hardware & Software and Kenny Gunlock of Covenant audio made me absolutely squirm I was so uncomfortable with their setup; because I knew was completely screwed as soon as I heard the Stellavox and would now need to buy one (one thing at a time, turntable upgrade first Rafe).

The sound of great tape was the single-biggest impact for me out of Newport, so I’m giving Covenant the nod for Best Sound I heard at T.H.E. Show.

Listening to the Stellavox silently spin the hotel room back into time as an Impulse session from 1963 of Count Basie and the Kansas City 7 played was other worldly – spooky – and then hearing a 1/4″ tape from what I believe Brown said was a dupe of a remaster of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” flicked a switch deep inside my mind and soul. Those sounds changed me, a subtle change no doubt, but not one that can be unchanged.

High Water Sound‘s room featuring the Miyajima Labs cartridges was another revelatory moment for me. The power of a true mono cartridge is something that must be experienced firsthand to truly understand and comprehend the amazing insight one can provide into mono recordings – particularly early jazz mono recordings – and I can’t recommend tracking down a Miyajima mono cart strongly enough if early jazz is your jam.

Other standouts for me included Tom Vu’s incredible, cathedral-like, altar-to-vinyl Triangle Art Ultimate LE turntable room, featuring the awe-inspiring NAT Magnetic Status pre-amp and mono blocks with the thermos-sized M100 tubes lighting up the entire room, and the incredibly tactile-sounding and musical Audio Federation room with its Audio Note UK digital front end and Acapella Atlas speakers.
Anton and Mike in the NFS (Not For Sale) room were another perfect example of how great people make audio. These gentlemen didn’t have a interconnect cable between the two of them to flog, but they did have one of the most inviting, friendly and groovy rooms at Newport Beach where the tired masses in the know (wink, wink), would come to wash away the day’s audio grit with cold beers, rum and Coke and delicious vinyl spinning on a retro system that sounded like Anton and Mike: non-fatiguing, unforced and coherent.

A look back has to include my partner in audio-writing crime – Malachi Kenney – a man whose ears are so finely tuned that he can literally hear VTA issues on a cart in five seconds. I learned a tremendous amount from Mal on the trip, and the bond we forged over cigarettes, beer and the relentless drumbeat of hitting room after room will always be a fond memory for me and one I hope to repeat with him again soon.

A shout out to Colleen Cardas for her friendship and grace and of course her soul mate and Vinyl Anachronist Marc Phillips, two highly recommended people to spend time with if you see them at the next big trade show.

And I can’t emphasize enough the sheer size of a show like Newport. There is so much to see and do, the main floor salons at the Irvine Hotel could take up two days alone if you were hunting for rare vinyl, wanted to listen to some of Bob Sattin’s step-up transformers, or take in the car audio demonstrations, and don’t even get me started on the headphone area, which swallowed Malachi whole for almost an entire day.

So, now that I’m back on the road, I’ve got my eyes once again firmly planted on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to my next chance to write from the show floor, and to all the turnoffs I can pull into for a spell, to sit down and hear what’s spinning on the turntable next. That’s where the memories happen. Until then ….

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

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Zu Audio


THEShow_LOGO2015Zu Audio is a serious tribe of ‘philes out of Ogden, Utah led by founder Sean Casey on a sustained campaign to keep hi-fi firmly in the hands of those passionate about the pursuit of engaging, lifelike and musical sound.

To quote Sean:

“When an innovation and tangible products-based company loses its “hands-on” connection with the thing it makes – choosing to maximize margin instead of product performance – originality is lost and the product debased.”

An ethos I wholeheartedly ascribe to.

Zu make lovely, highly-regarded, hand-built speakers, cables and modified phono cartridges (Zu Denon DL-103 anyone?).

Their high-efficiency speaker designs like the Zu Omen MK II have always made me picture myself kicking back in a chair, relaxing and hearing them paired with a flea-powered SET amp being fed some delicious, acoustic instrument-based vinyl.

That didn’t happen on Saturday night of T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach this year.

There was no sitting down, relaxing or acoustic music happening when I showed up, instead I had the smokey rasp of Malachi Kenney’s voice yelling in one ear, and the roar of the crowd of about 25 people jammed into the Zu Audio room at the Irvine Hotel in the other.

Michael Mercer had what sounded like Skrillex pumping the room and the wall of sound of percussion, vocals and synth seemed to alter reality in the small space.

The kit consisted of the Zu Omen MK II loudspeaker ($1,800 US pair), loomed up with Zu Event MK II cables, Pass Labs 60.8 amplifiers, K&K Maxed Out phono stages, RND 5060 mixer, a Groovetracer tricked-out Rega RP6, Luxman PD-444 fitted with a Rega RB-700 arm and Zu/DL-103 MK II cartridges for pickup duty.

It’s truly something to see anybody mix with a Luxman and RP6, but when the scratching started, shit got real in a hurry. Security made their presence known pretty much immediately, and none of the offers of free beer seemed to dissuade them from shutting down the party tout suite.

Luckily, I had been given a rather large bottle of high-test, homemade limoncello earlier in the evening courtesy of Anton and Mike in the NFS (Not For Sale) room, so several of us took the party down to the lounge and continued to imbibe.

Zu Audio make outstanding gear, what I heard that night was proof that the Omen MK II can definitely rock, and maintain composure at rave-level SPLs, but the Zu Audio crew can also party, and are hands-down some of the loveliest people I had a chance to connect with in Newport Beach.

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






Newport 2015

Newport 2015: SoTM and ESS Laboratories


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015SoTM (Soul of The Music) and ESS Laboratories paired up to show off some of their latest goodies at T.H.E. Show and it was a pleasing combo, that for an all-digital front end sounded surprisingly organic.

It could have something to do with the match-up between ESS’ peculiar Air Motion Transformer (AMT 12″) loudspeaker ($4,450 US) SoTM’s sDP-1000 D/A converter and battery-powered preamplifier (featuring constant power-cycling and automated charging) with DSD playback and USB input (Approx. $2,900 US), the SoTM sMS-1000 music server ($3,000 US), and the sPS-1000 DC Linear Power Supply (Approx. $1,200 US).

SoTM are doing some very groovy things with their clean DC power, and the sPS-1000 has the ability to run three separate SoTM components via umbilicals, which eliminates a lot of power cords (if you’re into that sort of thing).

A fat Plinius stereo integrated 8150 with 150 watts/8Ohm (Approx. $3,000 US) was supplying ample get-up-and-go to the kit.

From SoTM:

“sPS-1000 is a high performance DC linear power supply to connect with audio devices using DC power to maximize the sonic performance.It is designed to operate by linear circuits only it means it doesn’t use any digital circuit at all, so doesn’t generate any digital high frequency noise. Also it uses Ultra Low Noise Regulator circuit to minimize the faint noise occurred even from the linear circuit and it has the built-in Noise filter to block the noise coming from AC power.”

Are you into low noise and no garbage scrambling your DC power waves? SoTM has got you covered. Very cool indeed.

I’d love to see a similar, dedicated unit for hooking turntable power supplies to from some of my favorite manufactures.

The ESS sound was deep and bouncy, and in some ways reminded me of an older JBL 4430 Bi-Radial Studio Monitor set-up I heard at a dealer’s several years ago. The 4430s were 93 dB efficient compared to the AMT 12″ at 98 dB, so these things will pump out big sound with not a lot of juice, which is a big plus for the SET heads like me out there.

Both these companies are onto something good, and I look forward to spending more time hearing more at the next opportunity.

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





Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Sunny Components presents Wilson Audio and Audio Research


by Rafe Arnott

darth-vader-faceWilson Audio makes speakers that remind me of Darth Vader.

Since I’m a huge Star Wars fan, this is a very good thing, and every time I see a pair of Wilson’s Sofia or Sasha, or in this particular room’s case, the big Alexia, I smile secretly to myself and with my throaty inside voice say “the Force is strong with this one…”

I’ve written previously about my little crush-like feelings towards the Wilson Audio Sasha 2 speakers, (which fronted Danny Keay’s Einstein-powered set up at T.H.E. Show) and that little crush carries over to Sasha’s big sister Alexia ($52,000 US).

Mind you, I did not get to hear the Alexia being fed vinyl, (the gorgeous Spiral Groove SG-2 with Orotofon Cadenza Red – $22,000 for TT, arm and cart – was not spinning while I was in the room.

THEShow_LOGO2015I had to settle for zeroes and ones, but what I heard was deeply satisfying.

Sunny Components out of Covina, California was driving the big Wilsons with a breathtaking rack of Audio Research hardware.

The power plants were a pair of floor mounted 250 watt (KT 150 tubes!) Reference 250 SE monoblocks ($34,000 US pair), over on the HSR MSX and RSX racks was the AR Reference 10 preamplifier ($30,000 US), the AR Reference 10 Phono ($30,000 US), the AR CD-9 ($13,000) and the beguiling MSB Diamond DAC ($43,000 US).

Cabling and power supply duties fell to Transparent.

The sound was just effortless, and while it might of lacked that last bit of organic texture I thrive on from great vinyl rigs or reel-to-reels, it was punchy, jammy and the bass and midrange were lush and gorgeous.

The Wilson are another one of those great speakers that IMHO just play what their being fed, and the AR gear was spoon-feeding those big Alexias a lot of tasty tubed goodness.

I know some people just don’t go in for Wilson. Whatever. I find them incredibly transparent and they can really juice with the right compliment of equipment and source.

So, if you’re not a Wilson fan perhaps you just haven’t had a chance to hear them properly fronted with a synergistic, analog-source system.

If you have and you’re still not convinced, I’m going to have to quote Vader and say “I find your lack of faith … disturbing.”

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

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Cary Audio with Tannoy


By Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Cary Audio‘s Daryl Berk had a nice, simple kit put together to showcase the company’s latest tubed preamplifier at Newport Beach, the TL-300d ($6,000 US ~ $8,000 US TBA, six to eight weeks wait time).

Running a laptop, Berk was playing a nice mix of 16/44 files upsampled to DSD through the 300d and pumping those out to the beautiful Cary CAD-120S MK II stereo power amplifier ($5,995 US) which was feeding a healthy 60 watts (in Class-A triode mode, or 120 watts in Class-A/B ultralinear mode) to the beefy Dual-Concentric driver Tannoy Revolution XT 8F loudspeakers ($2,600 US).

The new pre-amp is interesting for Cary (and is a digital junkie’s delight) as it includes four DAC chips with eight independent channels for true balanced XLR and RCA single-ended outputs.

The 300d also uses a 128-bit DSP engine prior to the DSD 64/128/256 capable DACs and has five digital inputs (asynchronous USB, coaxial S/PDIF, Toslink, AES/EBU and wireless aptX Bluetooth) along with four analog RCA inputs.

So, no lack of options anywhere for this beast, and with four 12AX7 and two 12AU7 tubes running the show, you can be assured that the sound was very smooth indeed.

Cary doesn’t have a legacy of killer tubed gear for nothing, and this setup didn’t disappoint, delivering a big, room-filling sound through the Tannoy’s with a sweet midrange and no missteps anywhere in the highs or bottom end.

I could see this being an easy (and affordable) end game for many on the two-channel upgrade path, the digital options alone on the 300d will keep even the most purist bits-n-bytes diehards satisfied for years to come.

The fact that it offers balanced XLR and RCA outputs keeps the 300d pre-amp in the mix with pretty much any amplifier you want to pair it with.

Also, I’d love to hear this system paired up with Blu-Ray and a 70″ LED TV for some absolutely killer man-cave movie nights.

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




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: United Home Audio and MBL


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Let me be the first to say that my “value system”, when it comes to hi-fi, is already considered one that is seriously flawed to many of my friends and family.

I have a sickness and I freely admit it, fortunately for me, my sickness is tempered by the restraints of what I consider an average income, and an average lifestyle. So when I tell people I’m writing about a sound system that is pushing the $300,000 envelope (without a turntable), they usually stare at me blankly for a second and then laugh, shaking their heads (same look I get when discussing the nuances of difference in sound between AC/mains cables with my son). I’d imagine this type of reaction is standard too for rare, or antique car and motorcycle enthusiasts, art collectors … and that buddy with 42 pairs of perfect Air Jordans.

My point is that when it comes to true appreciation of the finer things in life; the state of the art, old-world craftsmanship, fanatical attention to detail, all in the pursuit of beauty in any way, shape or form, money doesn’t really come into it.

It’s passionAnd passion, like love, doesn’t really obey day-to-day laws of life. Thank God.

The United Home Audio/MBL room at Newport Beach had that passionate sound to my ears, and it was immensely impressive. This was a system, that in my opinion, was put together by people who love music.

The setup consisted of a United Home Audio modified Tascam UHA-HQ Phase 12 OPS two-track 1/4″ 15 IPS reel-to-reel ($20,000+ US, depending on options), MBL 6010D Vorverstarker preamplifiers with four of the absolutely massive MBL 9011 monoblock amps powering the crazy Doctor Who-looking Radialstrahler MBL101E MKII loudspeakers ($260,000+ US, all-in). Cabling was handled by Wireworld Eclipse Series 7.

They were playing all sorts of crazy-rare and I’m sure, priceless, 1/4″ tapes of a bunch of jazz that I didn’t recognize off the top of my head, but man did it sound sweet, authoritative and ridiculously huge.

People in the small audience who were there for the Saturday night listening session I was invited to, all looked like someone had just smacked them in the face when they least expected it, like if the elevator door opened and all of a sudden “THWACK!”

The sound just kept startling you with its scale and impact.

This is not a system for a condo or small home in my opinion, it needs some serious space to breathe and truly be appreciated.

If you have the means, a big enough room to house the kit (and no close neighbors) and an itch to put your hair straight back, then pick up your phone and call UHA.

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

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Your Final System and Channel Island Audio


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Things that annoy me:

  1. People who stand on the left side of escalators (this is the passing lane people).
  2. Mouth breathers.
  3. Class-D amplifiers.
  4. People who add an apostrophe to everything that ends with “s” – speaker’s, dog’s, asshole’s.
  5. People who say “punches above its weight” when referring to audio gear that is more affordable than anything else in the same class.

So, I’m going to annoy the hell out of myself, and perhaps you, and say that the Your Final System/Channel Island Audio room was producing a sound at T.H.E. Show that punched way above its weight.

This is doubly annoying to me because Channel Island was using the E 200S dual mono (200 watts/8 ohms, 400 watts/4 ohms) Class-D amplifier ($2,500 US) to supply the juice through their PLC-1 MKII Passive Line Controller ($899 US) and Transient MKII USB DAC ($699 US) into a pair of prototype speakers that Channel Island’s Dustin Vawter kept telling me “were not for sale.”

The tunes were flowing from the YFS modified Mac Mini (with16 GB of RAM and a 120GB SSD drive stuffed into it) that also sported a YFS ($375 US, owner-installed) internal power filter and PS-12m Linear Power Supply ($1,895 US, external).

The sound being produced from this kit was fun, punchy and colored in a way that I usually associate with Class-A (which means it sounded like real instruments being played and real voices singing, not a digital approximation).

Vawter described the prototype speakers as “…almost like a Transmission Line in a really small box.” You’ve been warned.

I hope these come out soon for sale, so I can breathe through my mouth before I ask for a review pair.

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




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Kubotek/Haniwa


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015I’m still not 100 per cent sure what was happening exactly in the Kubotek/Haniwa Real 3D Audio room at Newport Beach, but whatever it was, I’m 100 per cent sure they’re on to something.

Kubotek president and CEO Naotake Kakishita was very enthusiastic about the room’s sound, but because my Japanese is not the best (at the best of times), I had to rely on the handout material to fully grasp the concept.

It seems Dr. Kubo (of Kubotek) really dug Harry Pearson, the late founder of The Absolute Sound, and Pearson’s love for vinyl and classic recordings from the ’50s and ’60s, and in particular Pearson’s love for two-channel audio playback systems.

So he set about designing and implementing a recording-source-to-playback system that, Dr. Kubo feels, truly captures the essence of real, live music performances.

Everything being played in the room was ripped from Pearson’s personal 3,000+ vinyl record collection that Kubo acquired, and it seems the room was an homage to Mr. Pearson’s friendship with Dr. Kubo.

The system involves recording musicians with “two omnidirectional microphones because those two microphones configure the simplest audio sensing tool about the 3D space… the use of multiple close-up microphones only distorts the spatial relationships of players and instruments.

“Once the performance is recorded right, only necessary work is to deliver the recorded information transparently including two speakers, to the listeners.

“Anything that alters the original information, such as mixing, electronic, and acoustic filtering, etc. should be avoided.”

OK, I’m down with the less-screwing-with-the-original-recording-is-best concept, so Haniwa is getting buy-in from me off the top. I’m not a big fan of digital playback though, regardless if they’re pulling 24/192 files off LPs, or recording in real-time to high-resolution digital media, — BUT — the sound in the room was incredibly lifelike, nuanced, detailed and completely engaging.

The setup consisted of the Haniwa HSP1C04 Full Range Cube Speakers (30Hz ~ 30KHz) and the HDCA01 Digital Amplifier ($12,000 US for speakers and amp) and the HAMP05 Full Range Tube Stereo Power Amplifier ($4,000 US).

It was a small, easy to hide system and I honestly was truly impressed at the depth and breadth of the system’s sound. I would imagine Harry Pearson would be pleased with your efforts Dr. Kubo.

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





Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Herron Audio, Audience & Audio Physic


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Another room at T.H.E. Show and another mix of solid state amplification and tubed pre-amplification to please my ears and make me wonder if valves are making inroads with the transistor set when it comes to getting the most out of fat, mega-watt, solid-state monoblocks.

Not that I’d say Herron Audio is part of the transistor set, but many in the listening public (from what I saw and heard in Newport) seem to be digging the grunt that solid state amps like Herron’s 150 watt into 8 Ohms (275 watts into 4 Ohms) M1A Monoaural Power Ampllifiers ($6,850 US pair) are adding to the sweet smoothness and harmonic goodness of valved pre-amps and phono stages like Herron’s VTSP-3A pre ($6,550 US) utilizing six E88CC (6922) triodes and the VTPH-2 phono ($3,650 US) with a mix of 12AX7 and 12AT7 tubes.

The Herron gear in this room was loomed up with some major yardage of Audience cabling and power conditioning that added up to about $13,500 US.

Speakers were the venerable German, multi-woofer/driver Audio Physic Avanti IIIs ($11,000 US) pair. A Rega RP6 with an Ortofon Cadenza Red MC cart and a Meridan G08 24-bit CD player rounded out the source duties.

Nothing stood out in this room, and to me that’s a good thing.

It smacked of synergy and everything seemed to vibe with each other – always a good sign in a multi-manufacturer system – and had a rich, engaging and non-fatiguing sound.

If you’ve got speakers that provide a challenging load to an amp, or are less than 90 dB efficient, and are running all solid state amps and pres, I think you owe it to yourself to try some tubes up front and see what you get.

You might be pleasantly surprised at what the valve/transistor mix is capable of producing.

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





Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Dynaudio


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Digital amps and active speakers. Now combine the two.

I’m neither a big fan of digital amps (other than the difficult to classify Devialet amps which are slaved to one watt of pure Class-A power) or active speakers, so these Dynaudio’s aren’t my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but they bring an awful lot to the table for me, or anyone else to summarily dismiss them with any SET/two-way speaker illness. So forgive me my sins and please read on.

Dynaudio‘s Focus 600 XD loudspeakers ($13,500 US) are capable of directly streaming 24/192 files (very cool) – or whatever else you want via wireless and they sport a plethora of digital and analog inputs to boot. The amps are all seamlessly integrated not only with the multiple drivers but in-room as well through the black magic of digital DSP. With four on board 150-watt digital amps (one per driver; two bass units, one midrange unit and a soft-domed tweeter) the sound has scale and slam.

The big 600’s were being fed via an Airport Express and a 2TB Aurender N100H ($2,700 US) high-resolution server and player which supports both USB and NAS.

Like TIDAL? It’s built in.

I’m a less-is-more kind of guy, so the uber-clean look of this set up gets a high-five from me big time and from, I’m sure, those designer types who prefer white walls, concrete floors and lots and lots of glass. For someone looking for a rig that can produce a clean, clear and bouncy sound that will deliver audiophile-grade files via wireless with built-in amps and enough inputs to please the most diehard digital purist, Dynaudio has you covered. Simple, straightforward and very well thought out, this setup will please a lot of people. For those looking to spend less, or with smaller real-world spaces, check out the 200 XD.

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




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Prana Fidelity


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015This was a cool rig.

Steven Norber from Prana Fidelity in Denver had organized some very esoteric gear (Ampex! My Sonic Lab!) that put out a very enjoyable and fatigue-free sound.

A nice heft to the sound to my ears. ‘Weighty’ was a word I wrote down and underlined. Imaging was pretty decent IMO considering the number of drivers as well. It was a real straight-ahead sound, no-nonsense; great bass, smooth highs and a refined midrange that stood out for me.

People seemed to really be knitting their brows while I was hanging out in the room, but whatever, the stuff is musical as all hell and, to me, is reasonably affordable considering what it was capable of.

The speakers were the Prana Fidelity (from now on referred to as PF), Vayu/fs, listed as a two-way quasi-line array with four woofers and a 30 mm tweeter ($6,950 US) which were getting their juice from a PF Purna 400 watt/8 ohms 700 watt/4 ohms 1200 watts/ 2 ohms power amp ($8,950 US) and the PF Purna preamplifier MM/MC ($4,500 ~ $9,950 depending on options) that were being fed a healthy diet of premium Groove Note and ORG vinyl from a Basis Audio 2200 signature turntable ($ not available) with a My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent Ex MC cartridge (more than $6,500 US, hard to find a price on this Japanese cart).

Norber had a Bernie Grundman Mastering-modified Ampex ATR-102 spinning the brown tapes that I thankfully didn’t hear because I’ve come down with a sick perversion for reel-to-reels that will have to be addressed at some point.

Digital was spitting out code from a Luxman D-08 SACD/CD player which I didn’t get a chance to hear.

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







Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Vandersteen, Basis Audio, Audio Research, Lyra


by Rafe Arnott


The Vandersteen Model 7 MK II speakers ($62,000 US) are Stereophile ‘Class-A’ recommended, but at only 83.5 dB efficiency, they never really held much interest for me because I’m one of those people who loves SET tube amps and high-efficiency speakers and less crossover just means more music to me. 

I hear many of you out there already: “I mean c’mon Rafe. You’re practically a dinosaur or some kind of yeti. Who really likes that stuff?”

So despite my obviously lacking credibility (I did own 85 dB rated Harbeth M30.1s, so there’s that), I ventured into the Vandersteen/Audio Research room at Newport and plunked myself down for a listen.

I was surprised.

The speakers were very dynamic and seemed to have limitless headroom to my ears, helped no doubt by the unique pairing of the MK IIs with the new Vandersteen 600 watt (into 4 ohms) M7-HPA liquid-cooled mono blocks ($TBA).

From Vandersteen’s website:

The M7-HPA (High-Pass Amplifier) is designed and built from the ground up to maximize the performance potential of Vandersteen’s powered-bass speakers, and represents a radical, ground-up rethinking of what a power amplifier and speaker system can be. (And should be!) Vandersteen has pioneered the use of subwoofer amplifiers custom-tailored to each speaker design in its powered-bass loudspeakers in conjunction with passive 100Hz high-pass filters for the ultimate performance. When paired with a Vandersteen powered-bass speaker like the flagship Model Seven Mk II, the M7-HPA monoblock forms a complete powered-bass speaker system in which the entire frequency range is driven by perfectly-tailored amplification. 

Vinyl was being sped to 33/3 rpm on a beautiful Basis Audio Inspiration turntable with a Basis Super Arm 9 mounted ($74,000 US for both) and Lyra Atlas ($9,500 US) handling playback.

Audio Research was doing their groovy tubed best thanks to the stunning REF10 Pre-amplifier ($30,000 US) and REF 10 Phono ($30,000 US) – each with separate power chassis – passing along everything the Basis/Lyra combo was sending them.

Perhaps not as tonally rich as I prefer, with the timbral textures I seem to relish slightly lacking in the upper mids, but highs were very extended and non-fatiguing and the bass made me go “Mmmmm.”

For me, the jury is still out on speaker designs that put emphasis on uber-stiff enclosures, or chassis-within-chassis designs meant to to hold drivers in a vise-like grip. I really vibe on natural wood enclosures where the approach is holistic in the sense of tuning along the lines of an instrument’s body, like a violin or guitar. Resonance is not the enemy in my books.

Your mileage may vary.

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







Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Austin HiFi presents Tocaro, Crimson, Linn and Resolution Audio


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Austin HiFi‘s room at Newport was an interesting one for me.

First off, it was packed the whole time I was there and I had to play musical chairs for about 15 minutes to get a seat in the sweet spot, as the Tocaro Model 42E loudspeakers ($14,000 US pair) and Crimson CS 710 pre-amplifier with MC and MM phono stages ($7,000 US) and CS 640E-III mono blocks ($6,000 for two pair) were impressing the hell out of everyone and no one gave a shit what my Show badge said. Reviewer or not, I could sit when they were damn well ready to move their asses on up and out.

Records were spinning on a gorgeous and competent Linn Sondek LP12/Ittok LV II tonearm (vintage) with a Reson Lexe MC cart ($2,600 US) and digital files were pumping through the beautiful Resolution Audio Cantata Music Centre ($6,495 US). Cables were all Crimson.

These speakers don’t produce a sound that I can easily classify, as they don’t sound like anything else really… if I had to describe them I’d say the sound was very coherent, in-the-room, smooth and deep, with very sweet and natural highs. String instruments in particular sounded incredibly convincing. And the thing is these Tocaros use laser-cut wood for the tweeter membrane.

Yes, laser-cut wood. Not a typo.

They’re also 99 dB efficient, have no crossover and can be bi-amped if you wish (they were here). If you search around, it seems Crimson are a natural  pairing with the Tocaros, and since this was my first exposure to the two, I just went with it.

It might serve you well to just go with it too. If you’re near Austin, look up Creston Funk at Austin HiFi. He’ll hook you up.

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




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Audio Note UK


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015The Audio Note UK room at the 2015 Vancouver Audio Show was my favorite, hands down, and David Cope, this time teaming up with Warren Jarrett from SMAudio in Fullerton, did not disappoint in Newport Beach.

The sound as always is very organic, tactile, room filling and emotionally engaging in a way, that to my ears so far, only a handful of high-end audio companies can really pull off consistently; especially in a hotel room.

As always, no fancy equipment racks, special room treatments or isolation footers. Just a hotel table with a cloth draped over it and a bunch Audio Note gear and all their glowing tubes doing their thing.

Analog playback was being handled by an Audio Note TT-2 Deluxe ($3,500 US) fitted with an Arm Three V2 ($2,000) sporting a killer IOI moving coil cartridge ($4,150 US) feeding an Audio Note step-up transformer AN S4L ($6,200 US).

The gorgeous M6 Phono in all black ($20,500) got down with a pair of pure Class-A Empress Mono blocks ($7,200 pair).

Digital responsibilities fell to the more than capable CDT One ($4,100 US transport only) and the DAC 2.1x Signature ($5,500 US).

The AN-E/Lexus HE speakers ($6,800 US) got their lift from some rather cool white Audio Note stands ($640 US pair), which I had never seen before, nor knew were available in anything other than black. Interior decorator-types take note.

While I was there photographing, mastering legend Steve Hoffman stopped by to shoot the breeze and listen to some LPs being spun by David and Warren, one of which is a brilliant album I had not heard previously – Vanessa Fernandez, Use Me – that I highly recommend grabbing if soul and R&B classics are your jam.

What I heard of this all-acoustic set was spellbinding through the Audio Note kit with Fernandez’s raw, breathy and achingly beautiful voice right in the room, every guitar string pluck, and strum zigging down my spine.

If I had a cap to doff, doff it I would to David and Warren.

Merci gents.

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

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Von Gaylord Audio

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by Rafe Arnott


Von Gaylord Audio was showing off a complete system at Newport Beach this year, from DAC to speakers, to cabling, Von Gaylord represented with their top-notch tube-amplifier designs and weighty, heavy-duty construction.

The Return of the Legend MK II three-way speakers ($18,995 pair, stands $795 pair) were producing a very surprising amount of bass for a design with limited cabinet volume.

Power was being supplied by the massive and squat Uni Earth MK II mono blocks – 150lbs!!! – ($16,995 pair) which utilize four KT-120 vacuum power tubes to pump out 180 watts into either 8 or 4 ohms.

A Uni Digital MK II DAC ($12,995) was feeding the Uni Preamp MKII, which operates in pure Class-A mode and comes with a separate power supply ($15,995).

A mix of Von Gaylord cabling, from AC cords ($1,595), speakers cable ($4,995), and interconnects ($4,000 approx.) took care of connectivity.

Ray Leung of Von Gaylord was spinning a bunch of little silver discs through a Vecteur D-2 CD player and the sound was clean and authoritative, with the 3-way standmount Legends easily pressurizing the room and displaying a knack for disappearing rather quickly once you had yourself positioned properly (Leung had them very slightly toed-in).

This setup once again confirmed my thoughts that pairing well-done solid state, dual-mono designs with tubed amplification can create convincing sound staging and add that touch of warmth that solid state can sometimes lack.

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

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Newport 2015

Newport 2015: High Water Sound presents Hørning Hybrid, Tron Electric, TW-Acustic, Miyajima Lab


by Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015Jeffrey Catalano of High Water Sound is a very cool cat.

Not only was he spinning some of the best and rarest jazz, blues and folk LPs I’ve had the pleasure to hear (as did many others in his room at T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach), the system he put together to showcase those albums was outstanding.

The reason I had chosen Catalano’s room to check out was because I had seen that he would be featuring the Miyajima Lab Zero Mono ($1,995) and Miyajima Lab Madake ($5,895) cartridges.

The Zero Mono in particular was of real interest to me because of my blossoming fetish for mono jazz recordings.
This was supposed to be the mono fetishist’s cartridge of choice to fetishize over.

The Miyajima Labs carts were mounted on dual TW-Acustic 10.5 tonearms ($5,500 each) riding a TW-Acustic GT SE turntable ($12,500) feeding into a TW-Acustic RPS 100 phono stage ($17,000) hooked into a Tron-Electric Syren II GT preamplifier ($55,000) which had a pair of TW-Acustics 300B SE mono blocks ($18,000 pair) running into the Horning Hybrid Eufrodite Ellipse+ speakers ($30,000).

Let me tell, it sounded sweet.

If you’ve never spent much time truly listening to mono recordings through a mono cart, this is a whole new way to peel your brain out of your head.

The separation between instruments, the startling clarity of placement in the 3D sound stage that the system and Zero Mono in particular was throwing (Catalano had cued-up to the Madake first to give an idea of the difference between mono recordings played through stereo carts) was incredible.

Talk about the speakers doing a complete disappearing act too, the Hybrids just vanished and Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley were left performing a few feet in front of me.

If you have enough mono recordings to justify getting a mono cart, and if you have a ‘table that supports more than one tonearm, or a tonearm with a removable headshell to make cart swaps easy, then I think you owe it to yourself to check out the Zero Mono.

Be careful though, it could become a fetish.

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

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: The Lotus Group presents PranaWire, Hanss Acoustics, Marten, KR Audio


by Rafe Arnott


Marten is a company, in my experience, whose loudspeakers are often discussed in hushed tones by serious audiophiles who nod their heads solemnly when they speak of rendition, resolution and focus.

Having only heard them this once in Newport at T.H.E. Show, and since I definitely don’t take myself too seriously, I’m going to nod my head and say in a hushed tone (imagine it, please) that the Marten Coltrane Tenors sounded kick ass.

The Lotus Group had the Coltranes ($80,000) fronting a juicy analog and digital combo of KR Audio VA910 mono block amplifiers ($16,500 pair), KR Audio P-130 MC pre-amplifier with phono stage ($6,400) a Hanss Acoustics T-60SE turntable ($10,500) with Durand Kairos tonearm ($6,450) and Ortofon Winfield cartridge ($4,094) handling vinyl duties and dCS Scarlatti Transport/DAC/Clock ($68,000 approx) for dealing with all the ones and zeroes.

Everything was wired up with more PranaWire cabling than anyone has seen anywhere, which after some mental calculations came out to around $100,000.

The whole kit screamed “LOOK AT ME, LISTEN TO ME!” and I did.

My eyes lingered far too long on many of the gorgeous components and had anyone been paying attention to me they probably would have blushed at the wanton look on my face as I tried to mentally figure out a way to fit the Martens up a pant leg and make my way from the room unnoticed.

Not for those with too few zeroes in their bank accounts, this combo moved me with its synergy and bounce, and the Martens/KR Audio amps did a magnificent job of muscling through the room’s space with sonic grunt and real authority.

Every instrument and voice I heard had plenty of space around it and seemed to defy any other instruments or voices to come near the other in 3D space.

If you like rendition, resolution and focus, check this combo out.

If you like your system to kick ass, check them out too.

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

Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Dan D’Agostino and Focal


By Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015The Dan D’Agostino Momentum Integrated Amplifier is a work of art to behold.

The chassis just exudes class everywhere you look, and I was looking at it everywhere I could.

You just don’t want to take your eyes off it.

According to the company’s nomenclature the trick-looking copper slabs melded with gobs of machined aircraft aluminum billet in the Momentum’s casework help dissipate heat, and that’s a good thing because this solid state beauty pumps out 200 watts into 8 Ohms, 400 watts into 4 Ohms and a staggering 800 watts into 2 Ohms.

Not much this beast couldn’t drive speaker-wise… actually, I can’t think of anything it couldn’t drive to mind-cleaving SPLs.

This $48,000 US integrated features a whack of digital – S/PDIF, USB and TosLink coaxial digital optical inputs to finesse 24-
bit/192-kHz files – and analog inputs – six XLR and a headphone jack – (and at this price Tidal is included), it also sports a slick 5″ LCD screen to show what artist, track, etc. is playing.

Don’t get me started on that volume knob ring that encircles the signature D’Agostino power output meter that I couldn’t stop turning up and down, much to the consternation of the young man watching over the room.

But I mean c’mon. Have you ever tried this volume ring? You really can’t stop, it feels so damn smooth and precise.

The Momentum setup included a pair of Focal Scala Utopia’s ($40,000) and was running the company’s new iOS app, streaming lossless files from a remote server. A very simple-looking setup which I love: no clutter, just business.

I didn’t get to spend much time in this room, but if I had to describe the sound succinctly through the Focals, I would use words such as; compelling, rich, textured, and distortion free.

This D’Agostino integrated has real jam, and the optional separate, umbilical-connected power supply that doubles as a base is another example of the great design work going on in Arizona at D’Agostino.

Definitely a solid state stereo integrated I’d like to spend more time with.

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




Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Acapella and Audio Note


By Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015“The [Acapella] Atlas offers an extraordinarily open and transparent sound in a more compact home loudspeaker system.”

Uh, compact?

These speakers are over six-feet tall and weigh in around 350 lbs apiece, so you’re going to need some help setting them up, and at $85,250 US they ain’t cheap, but I can assure you they are worth it if you want that right-effing-there sound.

And to be fair I took that opening quote out of context, Acapella was comparing the Atlas to its massive hyperspherical midrange horn-equipped Poseydon ($279,000 US) and Apollon ($154,000 US) loudspeakers, which kinda dwarf the Atlas, and you ain’t moving those babies without several people, or better yet, a forklift.

The Atlas was set up by Cornelia and Michael Davis in their Audio Federation room at T.H.E. Show. These two are real brick and mortar owners with their gorgeous digs in Boulder, Colorado and they carry some of the juiciest rigs in the business as far as I am concerned, and the kit they assembled for Newport was full of jam, as I like to say.

Fronting the little Atlas speakers was the Audio Note CDT Five transport ($54,000) the Audio Note DAC Five Signature ($98,250) and Acapella’s own LaMusika hybrid integrated amplifier ($100,000).

A mix of Audio Note UK Pallas interconnects ($2,428 US), NVS Sound Silver Inspire power cords ($5,430 US) and Acapella speaker cables ($???) rounded out the system with all the weighty bits piled onto the HSR SXR rack and M3x Isolation Bases ($13,680 US).

So, “thanks for all the deets Rafe, how was the sound” you ask…?

The gear was dealing with some rather tame tunes when I walked in thanks to a Show goer who brought his mom’s CDs to play, but after photographing the room and chatting amicably with Cornelia, she seem to sense that it was time for something a bit more capable of demonstrating what the Audio Note/Acapella combo was capable of.

On went Radiohead’s Amnesiac, and Thom Yorke’s dissonant voice snaked into the room causing the hair on my arms to stand upon end as the chest-rattling bassline and eerie electronic hysteria of “Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box” made its way up my spine and into my lizard brain at the base of my skull.

I’m sure some people would play nothing but classical on this system, and jazz and classical sound staggeringly good through this setup, but if you really want to hear what the fuss is when it comes to Audio Note and Acapella, let your hind brain take control and throw on something challenging, this combo will not disappoint.

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






Newport 2015

Newport 2015: Einstein, Wilson, Brinkman and Tranfiguration


By Rafe Arnott

THEShow_LOGO2015I can’t help the way I write, bear with me people.

Have you ever read a book or seen a film where in the midst of constantly being hunted and chased, or battling zombies the protagonist suddenly stumbles onto an idyllic hideaway?

A place of respite from being driven before the hounds, so to speak?

I’ve read those books, I’ve seen those films, and as initially surprised and relieved as the main character always is to have a chance to catch their breath, you know they can’t stay in that tranquil setting, you know that soon the hounds, or zombies (what have you) will catch up to them and they’ll be pressed to run, to move, to stay alive…

Danny Kaey’s room was that hideaway, T.H.E. Show was those zombies for me.

Keay is behind SonicFlare, and after being at enough audio shows over the years, and always being asked what he ran at home, he finally decided to bring his living room to a show.

When I walked in, Kaey seemed to be finishing a quiet conversation with a gentleman who – like I would 30 minutes later – looked pained at having to make his way out of the room.

First off, the system is stunning to behold, and Kaey has an easy smile, is affable and looks like a man at ease, so you just kind of want to sit down and take a break, relax … enjoy.

Featuring a plethora of completely drool-worthy amplification and pre-amplification from Einstein, which consisted of Silver Bullet mono blocks ($65,000 per pair) an Einstein Preamp ($30,000) and a Turntable’s Choice phono pre ($7,500) being fed from a Brinkmann Spyder with a 10.5″ Brinkman arm and Transfiguration Proteus cartridge ($6,000) with cabling being handled by Nordost ($25,000 approx.) every component fought with your eyes for time to linger on the level of craftsmanship, fit, finish and attention to the finest detail.

The gorgeous Sonoras ATR-10 tape player ($10,000) wasn’t spinning while I was there unfortunately (or fortunately from the standpoint of my ailing bank account, because if it sounded better than the Stellavox I heard the day before I would have been truly screwed).

Kaey cued up the Brinkman with Nina Simone’s Little Girl Blue, an as-yet unreleased Chad Kassem (Acoustic Sounds) remaster, and it sounded so good I literally closed my eyes and let myself be carried away for several minutes.

The pressing was incredibly silent, the very few pops or ticks pushed far away into the background by the Transfiguration cartridge, and the comings and goings of several people entering and leaving the room did nothing to dispel my reverie, my sanctuary, my communion with this system.

Alas, after another 10 minutes chatting with Kaey, I heard the groans of the zombies, and their shuffling feet pressing close to the door, and knew I had to leave, had to keep going, had to keep ahead of all the coverage at T.H.E. Show… I bolted, and ran down the hallway, seeing the door close behind me on Kaey’s idyllic hideaway.

I hope he made it out alive.

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