I looked forward to going into the Audionet room for listening fully aware that the Audionet Stern, preamp and Heisenberg power amplifiers were in place. No surprise, the sound delivered in the room was that big and effortless sound I now come to expect from these top-of-the-line electronics. We played a track from a “Yello” CD and a track from our Michel Jonasz CD. The music wrapped itself around the listener and the bass on both tracks was deep and well integrated. I don’t know of a finer solid state line. The source was the Audionet Planck with the Art G3 D/A Converter. The outstanding Dynaudio Evidence Temptation Platinum speakers were a perfect match for the Heisenbergs.
This year, Oliver Goebel surprised many of us with a completely new line of loudspeakers called the “Divin Series”. The Divin Series “Majestic”, the largest loudspeaker in the line, debuted at the High End 2018. The new line is offered to the most discerning listener who is looking for high efficiency in a large space. Tube lovers take note! Although the new series is seemingly more of a conventional design, Oliver mentions in the AVShowrooms video that his bending wave circuit technology is applied to the Devin series.
The source, again this year, is the Kronos Pro turntable with the SCPS and the Kronos phonostage and power supply. There has been an evolution with The Kronos Analogue Solution and the phonostage is now a suspended unit using the SCPS as the base. Louis Dejardins explains in the AVShowrooms’ video what he strived for and what he has achieved; that is, a more realistic and larger soundstage with more stability. The tonearm was the Black Beauty.
Having listened to a number of tracks in this room over the weekend, I can say with conviction this was one of the best sounds at the High End 2018. The Sound was big, warm and enveloping. It was multi-layered and what I would call a romantic sound. Cabling was the Goebel Lacorde Statement Series and electronics were by CH Precision.
This year at the MOC, Nuno Vitorino, Director at Innuos walks us through a static display of the new Zen MK.III music servers. The display includes the ZENMINI MK.III with more storage options than the MK.II version and an optional linear power supply, the ZEN which now benefits from a double linear power supply, and the ZENITH. Nuno explains in detail the upgrades and improvements developed for the MK.III series.
Also in the video, is the listening session and an in depth description of the new ZENITH STATEMENT with a separate box for A/C to D/C conversion. Innuos’ unique approach to design for optimal sound is what I found most interesting in this presentation and I encourage viewers to check out the AVShowrooms’ video to learn what I have about the new ZENITH STATEMENT.
In conjunction with the new KII Three BXT System, the sound produced, on a track from the Michel Jonasz CD, was extremely fast, quiet, clean and accurate, and at the same time, musical and emotionally involving. Truly, the best sounding Cabin I visited at the MOC and one of the best sounding rooms at High End Munich 2018.
The iconic Kharma brand brought its usual big, majestic and concert-like sound to their exhibit room at the MOC. What immediately struck me was how quiet the room was relative to every other room I’d visited. This, of course, is attributed to the acoustic treatment the “Second Wave” and the wall fabrics. Charles van Oosterum, founder of Kharma International, talks about these treatments in the AVShowrooms’ video along with the equipment in the room.
Kharma was exhibiting with the new Enigma Vyron EV 4D loudspeakers with diamond tweeter and midrange. The monoblock amplifiers were also from the Vyron line as were the cables. I’ll add that the new cables are very impressive; the outside is a leather jacket with the Kharma pattern contributing to the overall beauty of the room. Electronics were also Kharma and we played track “Song of the Stars” from the LP “Spirit Chaser” on the Clearaudio Statement turntable.
The sound and beauty of the Kharma room was so immersive, I wanted to hang around for the rest of the day! Timbre and fine detail were on point along with natural decay.
This year at High End Munich, Rene Laflamme introduces the new Nagra DSD 4 HD DAC. Another beautiful looking piece in the Nagra lineup. We played a track by Holly Cole and were impressed with the very quiet analogue-like sound. Holly’s voice was clear and the spatiality of the instruments were spot-on. No doubt, another great sounding room assembled by the Nagra team. Don’t miss the upcoming AVShowrooms’ video with Rene explaining the new DAC in detail followed by a walk around the Nagra Museum.
The loudspeakers were the Wilson Alexia 2’s with the Nagra HD amplifiers and pre-amp and the Nagra T tapedeck. On the front end the DSD4 and the Kronos Pro turntable with power supply, Black Beauty tonearm and an EMT 75 cartridge. Cabling by Kubala-Sosna.
Purist Audio Design:
One of the audio industry’s luminaries, Jim Aud of Purist Audio Design talked about the new USB Diamond Revision, a new AC box with six outlets and for MAC users a USB C to A. A Vitus amplifier requiring 3 AC power chords, dominated the center of the room and the loudspeakers were the Goebel Epoque Aeon Reference. “Song of the Stars”, one of our reference recordings at the shows, this year, was sounding detailed without any harshness, perfectly integrated and most importantly, emotionally engaging. All cabling was the top-of-the-line from Purist, of course.
Showing at the High End 2018 were the new TD-4.8 loudspeakers with the Raidho Tantalum-Diamond cone. The new technology is a thin overlay of the heavy alloy, tantalum, applied to the ceramic cones before the diamond layer. We played a track from the “Frederic Alarie Trio” CD and the system produced a natural, realistic sound with zero distortion. And, wasn’t there a touch of that gamuT-sound in the mids? Whatever the case, the new technology was evident combining accuracy with emotionally engaging musicality.
One of the best sounding rooms at the MOC, this year. The sound was three dimensional and hauntingly beautiful. All electronics were Chord and the cabling was the Nordost Vahalla 2 line.
VAC/Von Schweikert/Acoustic Signature:
Kevin Hayes of Valve Amplification Company (VAC), Leif Swanson of Von Schweikert and Gordon Waters of The Audio Company walked us through the exhibit room and, as you will see on the upcoming video, there is a great deal to show, explain and discuss. Leif talks about the redesign and re-engineering of the Ultra 11 flagship loudspeakers bringing the already incomparable to another level. Kevin proudly shows us the brilliant VAC Statement 450 iQ monoblocks, bi-amped for optimal performance. There is so much to know about the VAC Statement series and we’ve captured it on video.
Again using our reference LP, “Dead Can Dance” album Spiritchaser we played “Song of the Stars”. The instruments and voices were layered in the room giving us the best frequency response from top to bottom we’d experienced at the show. Realistic and spatial with both macro and micro dynamics, it’s difficult to believe that what we heard at The Capital Audiofest and AXPONA could be improved upon, but it was. All flourish aside, a cost-no-object system like no other I’ve heard, ever, anywhere. I left the room recharged with reaffirmation as to why I do what I do.
The turntable was the Acoustic Signature Invictus with a VAC phonostage; digital source, Esoteric. The cables were the MasterBuilt Ultra line. Artesenia racks from Spain combined beauty with function, as Gordon and Kevin detail on camera.
It was a very exciting time for us and the Voxativ team this year at High End Munich. Voxativ was celebrating its 10 years with the new Ampeggio X loudspeaker powered with a field coil driver and a power supply with 10 rectifier tubes fully adjustable from 10 to 20 volts. The new integrated amplifier introduced was the T805, single-ended with 30 watts per channel. The AVShowrooms’ video shows Holger Adler, owner and designer, explaining his new products, including a new rack system, in detail.
Of course, the sound is what matters most and Voxativ is a hands-down AVShowrooms’ Gold Show Award winner. We played a beautiful track introduced to us by Holger and we’ll share that listening session with our viewers. The sound was very realistic and pure with breathtaking impact. We look forward to listening to these loudspeakers in our home environment this year.
YG Acoustics/Playback Design/Nagra/Kubala-Sosna:
Tucked away in one of the cabins at the High End Munich 2018 were the YG Hailey’s with Nagra HD amplifiers. The source was Playback Design’s MPS 8 Player, Streamer with a PD DAC. We played our Michel Jonasz CD and the sound was believable, realistic and without any bass overhang. This was a combination that really worked well together and prevailed over the noise in the Halles at the Munich Order Center. Cabling by Kubala-Sosna.
The Zellaton 3-way loudspeaker delivered “Song of the Stars” effortlessly, filling the room with one of the best playbacks at the Munich High End 2018. The lateral imaging, with pinpoint precision, was everywhere in the room with instruments and vocals properly placed and separated. The YS Sound amplifiers and preamplifier were such a perfect pairing with the Zellaton’s I’d probably look no further than this room of exceptional components if I was in the market to purchase these extraordinary speakers.
The turntable was a Reed Muse 3C with the new Reed 5 T tonearm, cabling was from Schnerzinger and the beautiful and functional racks from Artesania. Pure music for the most discerning listener
Aavik Acoustics Ansuz Acoustics:
Michael Borrenson, chief engineer and designer of the Aavik electronics and Ansuz cables introduces two new products at hifideluxe, this year. First, Michael explains in detail the new Mainz8 D2 power distributor that utilizes the D-TC technology to eliminate noise in the main system. The AVShowrooms’ video gives Michael the floor to elaborate on the new product for those who are interested in the line and for the already fans of these cutting edge brands.
The second product is an equipment rack with an aluminum sub-frame and titanium uprights, again explained in full by MB, himself. The system set-up in the room included the U-150 integrated amplifier with phonostage and DAC, the D2 cables introduced this year, the Mainz8 D-TC power distributor and the, cult-favorite, 2-way standmount speakers, the Raidho D1.1’s. Listening to Fink’s “Wheels Turn Beneath My Feet” the sound was lightning-fast, dead quiet and emotionally involving – racks do make a difference.
Alysvox, Omega Audio Concepts:
The room featured the Alsyvox SL planar loudspeakers and Timeless electronics. Not only do I think this was the very best sound at hifdeluxe 2018, it was the most beautifully designed exhibit room thanks to Daniel Cohen of Alsyvox’s talented wife. The CD transport, DAC and power supply brought to mind a cauldron (don’t miss the AVShowrooms’ video!). The cabling is Omega Audio Concepts very own patented design shown in a fire engine red taking center stage arranged in a creative sculpture.
The Alsyvox Botticelli loudspeaker, the midsize of the line, is a 3-way, full ribbon speaker featuring a unique woofer concept with push-pull magnets. The CD we chose for the listening session is the track “Terre” from the Michel Jonasz Trio. An articulate sound that was enveloping and warm with no sacrifice to detail. Organic and full.
Audio Note UK:
Featured in the Audio Note UK room at hifideluxe 2018, were the AN-E/SPe loudspeakers in an attractive slate veneer, the Meishu Phono Silver 300B Single Ended Phono Integrated Amplifier and the new TT-3 turntable with the external power supply, now in production. Mario Binner guided us through the system and Vincent Belanger, the Audio Note Music brand ambassador introduced us to the remaster of the album “La”, now on vinyl, originally recorded by Fidelio in 2011. One of the tracks we played from “La” was track one on Side B called “Scene 1 de l’opera Nelligan (A Gagnon).
The Audio Note system beautifully reproduced this melancholic piece pulling at my road-weary heartstrings. The sound in the Audio Note room, sponsored annually by the AN distributor, Germany, Alexander Voigt, was room-filling; detailed, yet warm and my uber-emotional response to the system was my usual to that signature Audio Note sound.
Audioplan, a German dealer/distributor of Jadis electronics and turntables showcased their Concert III 2- way loudspeaker, Jadis amplification and a new Jadis turntable described by the room operator as the “little sister” of the Thalie with an Ultimate Omega cartridge, for the source. Watch the AVShowrooms’ video and check out how you change speeds on little sister! Spinning up “Nublado” from the album “Sera Una Noche” was proof again that the Audioplan room and its fine products produced one of the best sounding rooms at hifideluxe 2018. The sound was musical, detailed with a marked separation of instruments and not a smidge of compression.
The representative of Cube Audio, Grzergorz Rulka, walked us through the Cube Audio/Tektron room. Cube Audio, located in Poland, manufactures full range drivers and loudspeakers. The Cube Nenphar loudspeaker which translates to Cube Water Lilly in English debuted at hifideluxe 2018 with the new 10 inch Cube driver, the F10 neo. Grzergorz talks about the flower design of the drivers, with four cones, on the AVShowrooms Video. The speakers, driven by the Tektron tube electronics, went way down and deep on a track from the Fidelio recording, “Les Sept Paroles Du Christ”. The sound was big, bold, fast and accurate.
Giuseppe Gabbarini walked us through his exhibit which included the Diesis horn open-baffle loudspeakers the Number One Limited Edition, a model designed to work with Kondo triode amplification. Giuseppe played a Flamenco recording on the Vyger turntable that shook the room, then moved on to “Nublado” from the album “Sera Una Noche” recorded by MA Recordings. The sound was realistic with transient speed expected from a world class horn loudspeaker. One of the best sounds at the show.
Dieter Mallach’s room is consistently one of the best sounding rooms at the hifideluxe. Featured with Malvalve’s usual large array of electronics was the MalStat Four loudspeaker with a magneticstatic midrange and woofer and an electrostatic tweeter. The power amplifier driving the system includes the control unit, power supply and the unique outboard, output transformer. Dieter also showcased his new Head Amp Five that can also drive loudspeakers. There’s lots to show in the Malvalve room and we’ll walk you through everything on the AVShowrooms’ video.
We played a track from the Michel Jonasz CD “Où Vont Les Rêves” and the singer’s voice rolled forward in the room. The sound was detailed and musical with the Malvalve signature organic quality.
All the rooms had great sound, these rooms just stood out!
Hermann Winters talks to AVShowrooms about his elegant looking and beautiful sounding horn loudspeakers, the High Cellini’s. I remain a fan of Acapella speakers with their detailed and delicate sound along with a midrange that could well be the agent for a romantic interlude. The sound of these beauties truly stir my emotions.
Next, Neli Davis of AF takes the floor to tell us about the Level Five Audio Note CDT5 Transport, the Fifth Element DAC with the Fifth Force power supply. Cold, out of the box, the signature of Audio Note was apparent. There was that deep and layered heartbeat of a sound that can make even a mediocre Redbook CD engaging. We decided on a track from the well recorded Michel Jonasz CD, Où Vont Les Rêves and the artist’s voice filled the room. The integrated amp in the system was by La Musica.
David Michael Audio Room:
The Dohmann turntable with the Frank Schroeder arm played “Nublado” from the album Sera Una Noche recorded by MA Recordings as Peter B. videoed the David Michael Audio exhibit room. Included in the room were the Nagra electronics driving the British made BBC licensed Graham 5.8 loudspeakers with ease. Cabling by Kubala-Sosna. Like my experience at home with Nagra, the sound was organic, delicate and detailed.
Eikon – Gayle Sander’s Eikon:
Gayle’s back to introduce his new loudspeaker, the Image1. The full system, all digital loudspeakers, uses DSP throughout for time alignment, crossover alignment, individually driven drivers and monoblocks inside the cabinets. Gayle had two rooms and we listened in the second room. The sound was clean, clear and emotionally involving when listening to Celestial Echo. This system proves that DSP and active loudspeakers can compete with the big boys. Stunning sound.
GTT Audio & Video:
It comes as no surprise to me that the GTT Audio & Video room was a star at the show. However, I was surprised that such harmonious and finely detailed sonics could be had in an untreated hotel room. The loudspeakers were the YG Acoustics’ XV Jr.’s, a four-way system. Simply, the Jr.’s are the XV speakers less the bottom woofer on each tower. The woofer unit is identical to the YG Acoustic’s XV Flagship Loudspeaker from 65 hertz and above. Driving the loudspeakers were the majestic and incomparable solid state amplifiers, the Heisenbergs, brought to us from Audionet. And, Audionet’s pre-amplifier, The Stern, a pure analog preamp combined with modern technology as so eloquently explained and introduced to our viewers and the consumers at the AXPONA 2018 by Audionet’s Managing Partner, Robert Hagemann. German engineering at its finest.
Cabling by Kubala-Sosna, the “Realization” is their top-of-line and, no exaggeration guys, a major contributor to the high-quality sound in the room. The “Realization” cables are not bigger and better, they are a breakthrough. This latest innovation by Kubala-Sosna demands attention from those who have the interest and the funds to qualify for an audition. Truly, a peer to all other components in the system.
I conclude with the source, the Kronos Pro turntable with the SCPS (super capacitor power supply) with carbon fiber armboard, the Black Beauty tonearm and Opus 1 cartridge. The Kronos effortlessly delivered music engaging the listener, viscerally. We spun the track “Song of the Stars” from Dead Can Dance; the layering of instruments and vocals filled the space.
Sound in the GTT Audio & Video room was big, revealing, musical and emotionally involving. Peter B. and I agreed that it was the best sounding GTT exhibit room we’ve heard at any of the audio shows over the years.
High Fidelity Cables:
Anyone who is a lifelong true grit audiophile attending an audio show where Rick Schultz has an exhibit should put the High Fidelity Cables rooms on their must-attend list. Also, don’t miss the upcoming video, this is going to be probably Rick’s best work. Three rooms, one I call the mad scientist room which includes a demo with a Tesla coil! The second room was wine and refreshments attended by two lovely ladies with products displayed throughout the room. The third room was the listening. Rick’s speakers are now coming to market and that’s an important piece of information as Peter B. and I have been raving about Rick’s sound and design for years. To say the room was challenging is an understatement, but the sound reproduced was stupendous. A big wide enveloping sound with detail I’ve not heard before on Anne Bisson and Vincent Belanger’s CD track, “Le vent souffle encore (The Wind Still Blows)” from the album Conversations. A sleeper exhibit? Maybe for the usual show attendees, but the three rooms were packed when we arrived for video shooting on Sunday proving to me High Fidelity Cables has earned a sizeable fan base and for good reason.
Bill Dudleston, owner of Legacy Audio gives us a walk-through of his room chock full of loudspeakers and electronics. This year the Valor loudspeakers driven by the impressive Raven tube electronics (watch the upcoming video when Bill talks about the amazing driver technology), produced an unabashed, commanding ambience when playing a track from the Michel Jonasz CD. One of the best sounding systems at the show.
Next Level Audio & Video:
Stop complaining about no women or young people interested in high-performance audio when you have Dana and Tyler Mueller, owners of Next Level Audio & Video. Passionate, knowledgeable and focused entrepeneurs with top-brand audio products, these guys put together a system at AXPONA 2018 giving us one of the best sounding rooms I heard at the show. Lars Kristensen of Ansuz/Aavik products manufactured in Denmark along with Tyler walked us through the system that included the Mainz8 DTC power Distribution Bar employing their new technology called “Ditter” to reduce noise. Also, the new and scalable Aavik U150 integrated amplifier, the DTC Power Box and Ansuz D-2 cabling and a NAIM CDX2 used only as a transport in this particular installation. Loudspeakers were Raidho D1.1, 2-way standmounts that threw a soundstage that should not be possible with a 4 ½ driver and ribbon tweeter. The sound on two tracks, a Norwegian female vocalist and male vocalist, Michel Jonasz was enormous and gripping with bass so natural, apparent and well-integrated it defies logic. I love a two-way loudspeaker and the Raidho D1.1’s are at the top of the food chain.
Rune Skov, Ambassador Extraordinaire, for Dantax Radio of Pandrup, Demark, talks into the camera about the Raidho D4.1 concept and design in detail. Again, we listened to the Michel Jonasz track “Terre” and the sound was room-filling and accurate with perfectly integrated bass and midrange. Aside from being probably one of the best loudspeakers I’ve heard and experienced in my home, Rune and Peter B. talk about the versatility of the Raidho’s and the ability to use a wide variety of amplification with great success. Components in the room included the SME turntable and tonearm with a Chord phonostage and the Chord Blu MKII Scaler Technology transport with the Chord Dave DAC. The amplifier was the Chord CPM 3350 Integrated. Cabling by Nordost.
Again, Ted Denney, Chief Designer and owner of Synergistic Research delivers one of the best sounds at an audio show. This time Ted introduces SR’s new Atmosphere X Series interconnects and speaker cables and the new Wide Angle HFT. The video shows Ted playing the All-Star Orchestra’s Intermezzo from Carmen, from his server, with the Wide Angle HFT’s placed strategically around the room to compare to the sound when they are removed. This beautiful piece of music was reduced to ashes when the HFT’s were not in the system. The soundstage collapsed and what rendered so beautifully in the mid to high frequencies became scratchy sounding and downright annoying. Conversely, when the Wide Angle HFT technology was applied the soundstage exploded with pinpoint imaging. Accurate and musical at the same time. The loudspeakers were Magico S5 MII and amplification was Constelation Audio. Analog source in the room was the United Home Audio tape deck.
The Audio Company:
Leda Schubert’s “The Ballet of the Elephants” comes to mind whenever I enter The Audio Company’s room. I wish I could include an image of this because the Von Schweikert Ultra 11 flagship loudspeakers driven by four VAC Statement 450 IQ power amplifiers in all of its physical size and mass delivers music with effortless grace and athletic virtuosity. The sound owned the room. No matter how much equipment was present, how many chairs or how many people were roaming about, the sonics prevailed.
These guys from The Audio Company, along with Damon Von Schweikert, Leif Swanson and VAC’s Kevin Hayes have brought these already iconic brands to a new level. The reproduced concert experience and sound has never been closer to the real thing. I did not do the amount of listening I would have liked, but even when sitting off to the side, the sound was the best I’d heard at the show. Listening to “Song of the Stars” from the Dead Can Dance album “Spiritchaser” caught everyone’s attention. The scale and the scope of the music – every instrument was in its proper place in the room, the sound around me was multi-layered, kaleidoscopic and my mind’s eye visualized colors.
The source for our vinyl spin was the Kronos Pro turntable with the SCPS, VAC Statement phono preamplifier and the VAC Statement Line Stage. I don’t know of another front end combo that excels to meet the level of excellence this room commands.
Equipment racks were the Critical Mass Maxxum racks. The cabling was MasterBuilt Audio. Also, in the room were Esoteric, Aurender and ASC tube traps.
The Voice That Is:
Doug White, owner/proprietor of The Voice That Is walked us through one of the best sounding systems at the show. AVShowrooms’ Kemper Holt declared it his “take home” system at our “Reviewers View” wrap-up at the end of the show. We played the track “Nublado” from the LP Sera Una Noche and the music filled the room with a fast, articulate sound with just enough warmth and layering to render it organic and emotionally involving. Included in the room were the Tidal Piano G2 loudspeakers with the TIDAL Preos-D Reference Phono / Line Level Preamplifier with Integrated DAC and the TIDAL Impulse LPX Reference Dual Mono amplifier. For the source, the digital was the Antipodes DX3 server and for analog, a TW Acustics Raven AC1 with a TW Acustics Raven 10.5 tonearm. The cartridge was the transfiguration Proteus. Cabling by Tidal and Dynamic Design.
Mike Malinowski Reviews the United Home Audio UHA Ultima2 The new written review is below the videos!
Peter Breuninger Reviews the Phase 11
Introduction to the Phase 11
Listening to Reel-to-Reel Tape
Reviewer Thoughts and Conclusions
Meet the Designer and Purchasing Tapes, Greg Beron
Mike Malinowski Reviews the United Home Audio UHA Ultima2
As a lifelong audiophile and long-term reviewer I’ve had the opportunity to listen to some of the world’s greatest audio components. Having meandered through the various formats, I always returned to vinyl. For years, I have been firmly ensconced in the vinyl world, fortunately, reaching a point at or near the state-of-the-art. That was until I met Greg Beron.
Although a diverse group, audiophiles often inexorably strive for that next small, incremental improvement. While leapfrog watershed component improvements have occurred, unfortunately, they usually occur in the ultra-high price strata. I believed that long-gone are the days of inserting a reasonably priced source component into a state-of-the-art system resulting in dramatic improvements. Therefore, part of the fun of our hobby is looking for that 3%, 4%, or 5% gain. I believed in this paradigm until I had the pleasure of meeting Greg Beron and his UHA Ultima2 deck. This is a game changer which has upended my beliefs as to what is possible.
While I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing the design, Greg’s radial remanufacturing and modification of the Tascam BR-20 is utterly stunning in every respect. Visually you can customize this deck from an understated but elegant basic black, to an over-the-top paisley design with enough bling to command attention in any system. I opted for the somewhat conservative silver with a touch of red in the screws and VU meters. The top silver paint has a slight iridescence providing an elegant sparkle. Yet a beautiful chassis and distinctive look does not guarantee great design or sound. Underneath the hood, Greg did not just meet the current state-of-the-art, he blew past it. Stripped of its previous electronics, Greg re-engineered and replaced every element and every critical component of the deck with the highest quality audiophile circuitry. For example, the outboard power supply has the size and weight of an amplifier and provides pure DC to the entire tape deck – no AC anywhere means no AC hum. Actually, the outboard power supply is really two independent supplies: one for the drive motors, the other for the electronics. Greg has done a far better job than I could in describing the technical aspects of the deck. I urge anyone who might be interested in the technical side to explore the UHA, a website for detailed information.
Although beautiful and elegant, the ultimate question is the sound, both in an absolute sense and compared to my current state-of-the-art source components. Over many years, I’ve been very fortunate to assemble a superior listening room – Wilson Alexandria, Tenor electronics, Walker turntable, Clearaudio Statement cartridge, tweaks galore, all sitting in a custom ASC designed room. At this level there is no right or wrong, just as there’s no right or wrong luxury car. Ultimately it comes down to your specific taste.
My room reflects my tastes in listening: high-energy, emotional, revealing, with an immersive sound stage. It is the antithesis of polite and laid-back. The room is intensely resolving without being analytical, offering the ability to discern the details and differences between components.
On my audio journey, I’ve auditioned and/or owned hundreds of audio components and I really thought I had a good handle on my sonic expectations. I was wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the arrival of the Ultima2.
The deck, now several months old, is fully broken-in. Let’s not kid ourselves. Every component imposes a unique sonic character on the sound. To get a handle on the Ultima2, I’ve listened to a large variety of tape sources and can draw some specific conclusions as to the overall sound quality of the Ultima2. Tapes in my collection include reissues from Acoustic Sounds, Groove Note, spectacular new tapes from Ed Pong, the Tape Project, Yarlung, and others. Fortunately, I was also able to listen to copies of master tapes from some of the great classic pop and rock artists, sourced from the internet and collectors around the world.
So, in general, what does Greg’s Ultima2 “sound like”? In a word – Stunning! It is utterly involving, which to me is one of the highest compliments attributable to a component. It has the ability to pull you in directly to the heart and soul of the music and at times allows you to forget that the music is being mechanically reproduced. It allows you to focus solely on the essence of the music. On the best recordings, there is an inner sense of purity and detail, which exceeds the best that I’ve heard from vinyl or digital.
The Ultima2 projects a seamlessness that is almost hard to describe. From top to bottom, music flows with a natural continuity. It makes even the best analog and digital sound slightly “discrete.” It’s also dead quiet. Turn the volume up, put your ear two inches in front of the speaker, and you hear absolutely nothing. Although cliché, music leaps from a deep black background, with heretofore unheard low-level cues, and details clearly emerge.
When it comes to soundstaging, the Ultima2 removes the walls and scales proportionally to the music source. With the right recording, in a darkened room, you can actually see the music spread across a 100 foot stage or tightly focused in an intimate nightclub. With my Proscenium Black Diamond turntable, I have heard instances where the speakers simply disappear and the music just “exists” in the room. To me, this is the ultimate compliment of the system. The Ultima2 ups the ante. At times, and with the right tapes, the speakers, the walls, and the rooms literally ceased to exist.
Over the years I bought and sold dozens of copies of very specific records that I love, in search for that ultimate set of vinyl recordings. These are my benchmarks. Over the past few months I’ve been fortunate to be able to compare some of these treasured recordings against analog tape using the Ultima2. I am able to draw some interesting and relatively consistent observations. Compared to my vinyl, the Ultima2’s tonal response is fuller, and more powerful, while vinyl is tilted to the top-end. Let me be clear, this does not mean that the Ultima2 adds a warm, slow, or euphonic glaze to the sound; far from it. It does mean that the low-end is explosive and dynamic. With other media, the low-end can be a vague background image; with the Ultima2 the low-end is deep, rich, detailed, and fully integrated into the sonic signature. Music via the UHA had more body and more “meat on the bone.” As to the top-end, I initially wondered if vinyl had more high-end energy than the tape, “and was it real?” While the records were in some cases brighter, they didn’t appear to have any additional high-end information. After significant comparative listening, I’ve concluded that tape has all of the top-end information compared to vinyl, and sometimes much more. The key difference appears to be that tape has lower distortion and presents a far smoother top-end. However, the Ultima2 has variable equalization which can be used as a pseudo tone control without the inherent messiness that typical tone controls bring to the signal. If the tape is slightly dull or bright, you can make some subtle adjustments to suit your taste.
While taking listening notes over the past few months, the word “more” kept appearing. In short, take every relevant audiophile buzzword that we banter about, and just add the word “more.” More realism, more depth, more soundstage, and more information. Simply put, the Ultima2 allows the user to become more engaged in the musical presentation. Here the Ultima2 is off the charts, and in my humble opinion, it is a quantum leap forward.
There is a sense of limitless dynamic energy, authority and musical density with an effortless presentation. To my ears, the best tape makes other medium sound slightly compressed or limited. When you combine this with the lack of surface noise, pops, or ticks, it just adds to the realism.
Conclusions? As the proud owner of arguably one of the world’s top vinyl front end systems, the question most often asked is how does the Ultima2 compare to your Walker and which is better? Certainly the comparison is not apples-to-apple. On one hand, the retail value of my vinyl front and is more than five times that of Greg’s Ultima2. On the other hand, tapes cost approximately five to ten times more than a new high-end vinyl record. Life is full of trade-offs. After living with the Ultima2, will I be selling my Walker Proscenium Black Diamond turntable? Never… They will have to pry it from my cold dead hands.
While you can find specific tracks where both the tape and vinyl are equally satisfying, generally, the Ultima2 was clearly and unambiguously superior, not just to my vinyl system, but to any system that I’ve ever heard. When the Ultima2 was better, which was often, the level of realism and emotional involvement was a substantial leap above what I thought was possible.
Reviewers are prone to hyperbole. However, I can say without fear of exaggeration, the Ultima2 is one of the signature landmark source components in a generation. If you love music, if you love sound, and are invested in a high-end system, get one of Greg’s Ultima2s. I assure you that will fall in love with it just as I have.
The New York Audio Show was small and intimate. This can be a good thing for it gives the exhibitors lots of time to interact with the attendees. This can also be a bad thing since the rooms are crowded and sweet spot listening positions are hard to come by.
Small shows are also very exciting- the halls are packed and folks are in a giddy frenzy to see and hear the audio systems. New York is especially fun since there are so many reviewers that live close by and attend. You can chat up your favorite guru, talk shop and discuss the rooms.
The three top rooms include the Alta Audio, Krell room, the Triangle Art, EgglestonWorks room and the Audio Note room. Each of these rooms had scale and impact. The first two due to the large speakers and the Audio Note room due to the speakers using the room as a semi horn. Listen very carefully to the videos and you will hear what I heard.
This show is now competing with the Capital Audiofest being one week apart. So we have two east coast shows for our listening and auditioning pleasure! Nothing wrong with that!