My visit with Bill Parish (GTT Audio & Video), Dick Diamond (YG Acoustics), and both Joe and Greg Kubala (Kubala-Sosna Cables) in room 138 was damn near revelatory. It is no secret that I'm a total Audionet convert. After reviewing the PRE G2 linestage and MAX mono combination for another publication, they have become my reference electronics, handily besting anything I've ever had in house. After hearing the new Stern linestage and Heisenberg monos, first in Munich in May, then in a private audition at GTT Audio & Video in late October, I've gone on record saying that they not only raise the bar, they create a new benchmark in amplification electronics. Guess what? The Watt ($18,800) is just as impressive an integrated as anything else I've heard from Audionet!
Using the Audionet Plank CD Player/DAC ($18,800), sourced by a file serving laptop, the Watt drove a pair of YG Acoustic Carmel 2's ($24,300/pr.), using all Kubala-Sosna Elation series cabling (~$20,000), to an unprecedented level of performance.
The music was conveyed in a convincingly "larger" sense than one would expect just looking at the Carmel 2, with its 7" BilletCore mid-woofer and 1" ForgeCore tweeter. Bass was tight, fast, and surprisingly deep for both driver and room size. Tonality was spot-on, with rich color, great texture, and virtually perfectly sized staging cues, with a very sophisticated level of resolution and transparency. I'm not usually that engrossed by a speaker system with only a 7" woofer, but man, this rig was creating some full-on magic, and was one of the most intimate and "live" feeling presentations I heard at CAF this year.
I'd seen photos of the Sound Insight SI 600 open baffle subs ($12,000/pr.), as long-time audio pal, Rich Hollis, of Hollis Audio Labs, had shared the building and assembly of his set. But this was my first listen to this astonishing sub. Pairing the GT Audio Works GRA3R planar/ribbons ($17,000) with the SI 600's, yielded a highly pleasing result in the Frederick Room.
Using an Esoteric K-01x SACD player ($20,000), the Pass Labs XS linestage ($38,000), XS phono stage ($45,000), and XA 60.8 monos, all connected with Triode Wire Labs cables, this system really got into the music. Bass impact was exceptional, mids were fast and clean, while upper frequency extension was airy and full of sparkle and detail. Though lacking slightly in harmonic bloom and instrumental body, this system was articulate, with remarkable transparency and resolution.
Doug White, of The Voice That Is, never, and I mean NEVER, fails to get amazing sound from any room, at any show. So, it came as no surprise that he turned in another winner, complete with a host of recently introduced Tidal products, in the Wilson Room.
Analog source was the TW Acustic Raven Anniversary Turntable ($22,000), with 10.5 Tonearm ($5,490), fitted with a Transfiguration Proteus Cartridge ($6,000). Digital was served up by the Antipodes DX Gen 3 Music Server (starting at $7750 for 1TB), introduced just last month, through the TIDAL Audio Camira DMC DAC ($28,500) that was launched May of 2017. TIDAL's Audio Presencio Reference Preamplifier ($77,900) handed off to the new (also this past May) TIDAL Audio Ferios Mono Amplifiers ($67,900/pr.). Cabling was a full loom of newer TIDAL products, including power cords, XLR, USB, and speaker cables. Finally, the TIDAL Audio Agoria loudspeaker, in a special edition Macassar veneer (starting at $109,000 in Midnight Black) completed the nearly all TIDAL system. Everything sat on Stillpoints racks and isolators.
This was one accomplished system, resolute, detailed, fast, vivid, and airy. Instruments had a great sense of color and texture, and very good bloom and solid body. It generated a wonderful sense of instrumental weight, and was almost magical at conveying microdynamic expression. While I found it to be just to the dryer, more analytical side of neutral, it generated a most realistic sized, open soundstage, with rock solid, stable, and accurate imaging.
Finally, let's visit the exquisite showcase in the enormous Potomac Room on the mezzanine of the Rockville Hilton, a system that has reset my absolute reference, yet again, after having just done so last April at AXPONA 2017.
Sponsored by The Audio Company of Marietta, GA, co-owners Keith Sequeira, Jim Kumpe, and Gordon Waters, played host to a system that carried a retail price of $1,500,000! That's right, one and a half million dollars!
Analog sources were either a Transrotor Orion Turntable ($30,000), with 5009 Tonearm ($3,800), fitted with an Air Tight Opus cartridge ($15,000), handing off to the VAC Statement Phono Stage ($80,000), or a J-Corder rebuilt Technics 1520 Reel to Reel ($14,000). Digital sources were all Esoteric, either an N-01 Network Audio Player ($20,000) or the Grandioso P1 Transport ($35,000), re-clocked by the G-01 Master Clock ($18,000), and the Grandioso D1 Monoblock DACs ($36,000/pr.)
The all VAC electronics chain stated with the Statement Line Stage ($75,000), and two pair, that's right, four, of the Statement 450 iQ mono Amplifiers ($120,000 a pair, or $240,000 for the quad set).
Loudspeakers were the Von Schweikert Audio flagship ULTRA 11's ($295,000/pr.), with a pair of Shockwave V12 Subwoofers ($11,500/ea.) used for active room correction. Cabling was a full loom of MasterBuilt Audio Ultra series, with interconnects, USB cable, power cords, and speaker cables (~$400,000)!
Everything sat on Joe Laverncik's Critical Mass stands, including an Olympus six-shelf Rack ($60,900), a Maxxum MK3 6-shelf Rack ($36,900), and four of the Black Diamond MK3 Amp Stands ($2,995 ea.). Room treatment was addressed with a variety of Acoustic Sciences Corp TubeTraps. Talk about an exceptional assembly of state-of-the-art gear!