After a tumultuous week in American history I return to the TAVES report. Part 2 begins with the sugar high from the mango mousse dessert at lunch. I returned to the first floor of the Best Western and resumed in the DVL Audio room (7239) where I encountered David Chan, VP of this very selective Canadian importer.
Normally, such high value components as I found here are seen in larger conference rooms. Some of the players here included the Viola Bravo Mk II Reference power amp ($59,000 USD 350 Wpc into 8 Ohms, 700 into 4 Ohms), Viola Sonata Reference Preamp ($35,000) with separate power supply, CH Precision SACD CD Transport/Player ($38,000, base), CH C1 DAC ($33,000, base) The analog front end was the Kronos Sparta turntable with counter-rotating platters ($21,500 USD, reviewed here) and a Haniwa low impedance mc cartridge ($8,000 USD) (See Ron Nagle's review here) which fed into a CH P1 Dual Monaural Phono preamp ($31,250, base) and a separate power supply, the X1 ($15,000 base). All of this was situated on a row of Artesania Audio Exiteryc series racks, a very high-end company with a three-tier rack selling for $5990 USD and a four-tier model at $6990, with commensurately priced amp stands and turntable shelves. A lower priced Prestige line was about 20% less. The look can be described as precision/industrial instrument grade with nothing Zen about it, making it a perfect match for the CH and Viola components. The orange speakers were the Magico S7 ($64,000) with drivers derived from their flagship M-Pro and the music here was... how shall I say it? Superb. And one of the Best Rooms of this or any other show I've been to. Carol King sounded very real, even off-axis.
On a table at the side of the room was the relatively more affordable Viola Forte Monoblocks ($19,000 USD) and the Viola Cadenza Preamp with separate power supply ($19,000 USD) with incredibly tactile and sensuous control knobs that I simply had to experience. They were every bit as sumptuous to the touch as they looked to the eye.
Across the hall in 7236 I found my friend Richard Kohlruss who is re-inventing his business with the acronym Asona (Audio Sales of North America) to better reflect the enlarged scope of his long-standing import business. I found a relatively mid-priced rig with a Hegel Mohican CD player ($5000 USD) feeding a new Hegel Rost integrated amp ($3000 USD, 75 Wpc into 8 Ohms) driving a pair of floor-standing Triangle Delta speakers ($8000 USD) from France that sounded very transparent and sharp on the drum beats. Triangle, who is now several years under new ownership, has become much more style conscious offering a fair amount of bling to their designs while simultaneously improving the quality of their speakers. Noticing the CD of singer Ann Bisson with cellist Vincent Belanger, Richard said she was performing right next door at this time, so I cut my visit short without taking any photos.
I squeezed into 7238 where Audio Alchemy electronics were driving PMC Twenty5 series Model 26 loudspeakers ($16,000) from Great Britain, everything connected with XLO cables. Music was sounding pretty good here, too, while everyone waited for Ms. Bisson to appear. Last year I caught the Audio Alchemy room early in the morning before things had a chance to really warm up and while it sounded good, I imagined it could probably sound better. At this point in the afternoon, it was definitely warmed up — the entire room was — and it was indeed sounding very transparent, dynamic and highly focused, as you would expect from a speaker company with deep roots in the pro audio world. While I personally like a warmer sound, I have to give high praise for the musical fidelity produced by this rig.
Ms. Bisson finally burst into the room and quickly set up a portable piano, eschewing the portable sound system for the piano. We were treated to a brief expose of her creative process and interesting background information about the songs as she performed them. I heard a couple from Tales from the Treetops. It was up close and personal for everyone who packed into this small room that was becoming increasingly warm. Nonetheless, people were genuinely interested in her presentation. With work to do, I surrendered my 1.52 square feet at the back of the room and ducked out after a couple of songs.
Feeling I had given Richard short shrift, I returned to 7236 to find a very attractive pair of Diapason stand-mounted monitors ($6000) from Italy playing. A pair of smaller Amphion floor-standing speakers ($5200) from Finland was waiting its turn. Along with the Triangles mentioned above, he has had these three very good speaker lines for more than a decade now, if I'm guessing correctly. And it is a very pleasant and rewarding shift from the "old days" when he crammed way to much product into his room, all on silent display. It's a pleasure (and I hope a rewarding experience for him) to hear some of his fine lines actually playing music.
Room 7244 was right at the end of the long hall, facing back down the length of the hall. It was yet another musically rewarding experience. The preamp shown here was the Pure Black 101 from Melody Audio, a brand I had seen (but not heard) years ago and rarely, if ever, since then. While I was interested in review them at the time, it kind of fell off my memory card. The large tube seen here in the center is a 274B, flanked by 101D tubes used as voltage rectifiers. The power tube on this preamp is a Western Electric 403 which is barely visible between the 274B and the 101D's. The 101D is actually a Western Electric tube also, developed at the same time as the revered 300B, but never licensed to other tube manufacturers. Neither tube was originally designed as an audio tube. Now that the patent has expired on the 101D, it is in production in China with a premium variety produced by Psvane and available through Grant Fidelity in Canada. I can testify to its excellence from my experience with the Coincident Statement Line Stage in my reference rig. The rig here sounded very good too, so the Melody preamp ($7000) must have been doing something right.
The Triangle Art Concerto turntable ($16,000 USD) was not only stunning with its bright chrome and its 12" Osiris tonearm ($5800 USD) with Makassar Ebony tube, but a lot less intimidating than the Triangle models above this entry level offering. It uses the same bearing and motor as its larger brothers and a second tonearm can be accommodated as you get deeper into the hobby. The brass and black record clamp reminded me of the ebony Shun Mook design. The Seraphim Prime speakers from ACA (Angel City Audio, $22,000 USD) featured a stunning hand painted finish and were driven by a pair of Melody PM 845 monoblocks ($6900) that put out 21 Watts each with a 2A3 tube used as a driver for the 845 power tube. The speaker, rated at 91dB/W/m sensitivity with 4 Ohm impedance is obviously tube-friendly. It's loaded with top quality drivers including custom ACA midrange and woofers and a SEAS millennium tweeter. A more basic version of the Seraphim in a black finish starts at $8000. ACA not only manufactures the speakers, but is also the North American distributor of Melody, which is an Australian company with a manufacturing plant in China. The owner and designer is Chinese and he continues to work now at the factory in China. According to Tim Evans of ACA, Melody had some bad luck with distribution in the past but ACA hopes to turn that around. Their products have always looked great to me, and the music I heard here proved this to be one of the Best Rooms at the show.