Audio Solutions featured its Virtuosso loudspeakers driven by Vitus Audio electronics. We both were so taken, once again, with the sound that the Audio Solutions’ speakers deliver, we played three tracks instead of the usual one. First, Kraftwerk – a great deal of impact and imaging. The second track was “Agnus Dei” from the Chasing the Dragon CD. The soprano’s voice was suspended in air between the speakers and you could hear the mechanics of the organ. Utterly captivating. And, the third was a drum track that rendered so realistic, it was as if the performance was live. Excellent on every level.
The new CEO, Stefan Schwehr, introduced the world debut of the Humboldt, integrated amplifier which contains all of the superb technology of the Heisenberg monoblock amplifiers and the Stern preamplifier. Truly a state of the art piece of machinery bringing us the music with that signature Audionet sound. Playing Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity”, the room was filled with holographic imaging, delivered effortlessly, unravelling the layers in the track with ease. The sound was musical with excellent tone and detail. The pinnacle of solid state amplification. Loudspeakers were Dynaudio.
Borresen, Aavik, Ansuz:
Listening to the 01 Borresen loudspeaker further drives home the ability of the highly talented designer, Michael Borresen. We played Kraftwerk’s “We are the Robots” and the bass on these little speakers was deep and powerful. The sound filled the cabin with layers and textures. Electronics were Aavik and the cabling, Ansuz.
Critical Mass Systems, Soulution with Magico:
Cyril from Soulution introduced the system and Joe from Critical Mass gave us detailed product overview for the AVShowrooms’ video. The Magico loudspeakers were the M6. We played a track from a Michel Jonasz LP on the De Baer “Saphir” turntable from Switzerland and the sound was pure liquid gold. Spot-on micro detail and deep reaching bass.
Goebel High End:
Oliver showcased the Divin Noblesse loudspeakers and explains in the AVShowrooms’ video, the differences and similarities to the Divin Majestic. Again, this year, The Analogue Solution from Kronos was the front end and we played the track “I Want You” from Groove Notes’ new Vanessa Fernandez album and the room was dead quiet allowing for every bit of information to be extracted from the LP. A world class system and the best Goebel exhibit room we’ve heard at the High End. Outstanding. Amplification was Angstrom Amps, 70 watts per channel.
The exotic room within a room was on display at the Kharma exhibit complete with a credenza to house your electronics and turntable! The eye candy is full-on via the AVShowrooms’ video, but the real achievement is in the sound. We played “I Want You” from the new Vanessa Fernandez album and the singer’s voice was suspended in space between the speakers. The sound was holographic, with brilliant dynamics and pin-point imaging. The acoustical treatment transformed an exhibit space with the usual problems to a venue allowing for a live concert sound. Treatments matter, folks, and the proof was in the Kharma room at the High End 2019.
This was the European introduction of the new M2 loudspeakers, the smallest in the M series. Take a look at the AVShowrooms’ video where Alon Wolf explains the technology. We played the track “I Want You” from the Groove Note LP of the same name and the sound was layered with a big soundstage and excellent transient response along with holographic imaging that we’ve come to expect from a Magico loudspeaker. Excellent. The room’s electronics were Soulution on Critical Mass racks. The source was the Kronos Analogue Solution.
The suite of Nagra electronics paired with YG Acoustics Sonja XV Jr., four tower system and the big YG sub woofer, InVincible™, delivered a delicate and detailed presentation on the Chasing the Dragon’s “Agnus Dei” CD. The believable organ and vocal were rich with imaging, tonality, tonal quality and a natural transient attack. The soprano was in the room with us as was the organ!
Benno Meldgaard, Chief Designer, walks us through all of the improvements to the Raidho design including a new motor system for better bass control and more (see the AVShowrooms’ video for the interesting details and philosophy). The result is the new loudspeaker, the TD3.8’s delivering an organic, musical sound, with excellent bass reach, dynamics and tone. We played Vanessa Fernandez’s “I Want You” and the sound was holographic and effortless. One of the best sounding rooms at The High End 2019. Electronics from Chord; cables, Gamut Reference; source, the new Pear turntable with two arms, “The Source”.
VAC, Valve Amplification Company/Von Schweikert Audio:
Featuring the Von Schweikert Ultra 9 loudspeaker from the flagship line and the VAC 450i iQ integrated amplifier, this system delivered a not unexpected concert sound which was truly one of the best sounds we heard at the MOC this year. We played the cut “I Want You”, from Groove Note’s new Vanessa Fernandez album and the sound was holographic with brilliant tonal quality, tonality and detail. All cabling was by MasterBuilt; the analogue front end, Acoustic Signature’s Invictus Jr. turntable with an Airtight Opus cartridge. The system also included Esoteric electronics and Artensania Racks.
Hans-Ole Vitus explains to the camera his new SIA 030 integrated amplifier that so effortlessly drove a pair of Rockport loudspeakers. We played one of our reference recordings “I Want you” by Vanessa Fernandez. Beautiful, musical and detailed sound filled the room. The decay left me emotionally charged and the quiet and speed of the system was extremely impressive.
Featuring the Zellaton Reference MKII loudspeakers, Michael Schwab walks us through the system which includes the exotic and excellent YS Sound monoblock amplifiers along with Schnerzinger protectors and cables. We played “I Want You”, Ying Tan’s new Vanessa Fernandez recording on the Reed Muse 1C turntable. The speakers are truly works of superior refinement. A relaxed natural and realistic sound; layered, fast and musical these speakers give you everything.
One of the top two at hifideluxe, 2019. The Alsyvox Caravaggio four panel, 5-way ribbons driven by a new Omega Concepts integrated amplifier; 200 watts per channel with 11 powers supplies for each channel! We easily transitioned from classical music to Kraftwerk’s German beat. Huge staging, perfect imaging and dynamics with a deep bass flawlessly integrated with the mids and the highs. To my ears, perhaps one of the best of the best sounds in all of Munich, this year. If I only had the room.
A new 4-way, passive loudspeaker from Latvia, the Aretai Contra high-end, debuted with stunning sonic success. A track from Kraftwerk showed off the impressive dynamics and the deep and punchy bass. A hands-down winner for the AVShowrooms’ Gold Show Award for sound, this year, at hifideluxe. Pay attention to these guys and check out our video.
Lots of slam and space, Audio Note UK gave us everything we’d want in a system. Detailed, musical and engaging. The AN-E SEC Signature loudspeakers turned the room into a concert hall. The Kraftwerk track “Musique Non Stop” was stunning in it’s realism.
Audionet and SeaWave Acoustics:
Featuring the Plotinus horn loudspeaker with Audionet electronics, we played the CD track “Agnus Dei” from Mike Valentine’s Chasing The Dragon. The voice was suspended in space and the bass pedal was spooky-realistic. A perfect handshake between these horn speakers and Audionet amplification.
“…perhaps the perfect loudspeaker…” Peter Breuninger. The debut of the Bayz “Counterpoint” flagship loudspeakers left us nothing less than astounded. A member of the design team, Zolton Bay, inventor and patent holder from Hungary played the jazz trio track “Three Blind Mice”. The sound was natural with impeccable decay and spot-on transients along with perfectly accurate tone and top to bottom micro and macro dynamics. The AVShowrooms’ video is not to be missed.
A live version of a Michel Jonasz track filled the room with a big warm, emotionally engaging sound. Fyne Audio was playing their F700 Series loudspeakers, driven effortlessly by a Cary Audio integrated amplifier. Jonasz’ voice grabbed this listener and kept her very interested.
The little Stella loudspeakers from Kroma delivered a big performance with chest punching bass and super-fast transients due in no small part to the synergy with Bricasti electronics, the M28 monoblocks, 200 watts per channel, and the Bricasti flagship streamer The speakers include tailor-made drivers from Scan Speak and use no metal parts in their construction.
Synergistic Research: This room was the “smooth operator” of the show. The Kharma Elegance dB9s were driven by Thrax electronics. Synergistic introduced the new Galileo Powercell 12 and the new Atmosphere X Series Power Cables. The sound was detailed but oh so smooth and believable, I wanted to stay there all day.
A complete Viva system including the Allegro loudspeakers and the Aurora monoblock amplifiers gave us a sublime sonic presentation when playing Anette Askvik’s “Liberty”. The sound in the Viva room was musical and warm, and at the same time detailed and realistic. I picked up on new information on a track that I’ve heard many times at audio shows. Sophisticated and emotionally involving.
Audio Note UK:
Vincent Belanger, Audio Note, UK Ambassador walked us through one of the best Audio Note audio show exhibit rooms I’ve heard to date. The new turntable, the Audio Note TT3, was spinning and the sound in the room was effortless and natural while playing a track from the album “Pure Cello” from Audio Note Music. Loudspeakers were the AN-E/SPeHE’s.
Wow! I got slammed, musically that is. The Gryphon room featured the Trident II Loudspeakers driven by the mighty Mephisto stereo amplifier with the new Ethos CD Player/DAC. Cables were Gryphon’s own VIP line. I was spellbound by the impact this system had. The system produced extensive image layering but the real take away was the emotion impact this amazing system produced. The dynamic range was simply off the charts! It was if I was at a live Kraftwerk concert!
GT Audioworks/Sound Insight:
Bravo to Steve Rabitz of Sound Insight and Greg Takesh, loudspeaker designer, GT Audioworks along with Eric Pheils, North American Distributor for Zanden. We played a track from “Chasing the Dragon” that filled the small hotel exhibit room with deep, rich music along with perfect tonality and tonal quality in both the female vocal and the organ. The GTA 3.1r Planar Magnetic full range loudspeaker along with Sound Insight’s open baffle subwoofers delivered seamlessly integrated bass as the panels pressurized the room. The Zanden tube amplifier Model 8120 drove the loudspeakers effortlessly, something I’ve come to expect from one of the best tube amplifiers being produced today (see AVShowrooms’video review of the 8120). . With pleasure I report that this year’s exhibit in a small room proved how well the loudspeakers work within a limited space. Included in the room: all cabling from Zanden, Richard Grey isolation transformer and power conditioner, Esoteric K01XS CD Player and the Kronos Sparta turntable.
High Fidelity Cables:
At the end of the hall, at the Schaumberg Convention Center, Rick Schultz of High Fidelity Cables was presenting us with a concert. There was so much energy in this space that it seemed to completely obliterate everything else that was going on at the other exhibits.
Included were the Bafflex loudspeakers, open baffle with adjustable side panels. The LS has 4, 12” drivers with a ribbon tweeter and is 102 db efficient. Driving these giants was the MA70 amplifier complete with magnetically assisted transistors. The High Fidelity Cables magnetic based Pro Series cables and Pro Elite cables along with the Pro Elite power conditioner were part of this wonderful spectacle of a system.
We played Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity” a very appropriate track to show off the huge dynamic range, giving us slam and multiple layering.
LSA/Emerald Physics/Core Power Tech A/V:
This year’s AVShowrooms’ Video will feature a listening session with the new LSA-20 Statement floorstanding loudspeakers. We then move on to two listening sessions with the LSA 10 Signature Monitors; one session with the room correction on and one with it off. The room correction feature is included in the preamp and DAC, the DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core driving the monitors. The floorstanders brought Kate Bush into the room with us, front and center. The LSA-20’s threw a huge soundstage with great spatiality and bass. The speakers were driven by the Emerald Physics EP200.2SE hybrid dual mono amplifiers with 200 watts per channel. The DAC/preamp was the new Pure Audio Lotus and power conditioning was the Core Power Technologies Equi=Core 1800.
Especially compelling, and others in the room agreed, was the comparison of the same track on the monitors with the room correction in and the room correction out. With the correction in, noticeably the soundstage expanded, Kate’s voice was very close to what the floorstanders produced (without any room correction), the bass and the separation of instruments was about 85% of what the floorstanders delivered. You don’t have to shell out the big bucks to get great sound.
The Nagra exhibit room at AXPONA 2019 – easily one of the best sounds at the show. The electronics, of course, were all Nagra including the world-class Nagra HD preamp and Rene Laflamme walks us through the system on the AVShowrooms’ video. Along with effortless, delicately revealing sound and brilliant tonality, we were treated to an emotionally involving track from Rene’s recording of “Audiophile Analog Collection Vol. 1” titled “Greek Tycoon Bouzouki Music”. Several cuts on the album were recorded on the 4S Nagra tape deck. Outstanding! The loudspeakers were the Kharma Elegance S7’s and the cabling was by Organic Reference from Denmark.
Next Level HiFi/Borresen 5 Loudspeakers:
Truly, the star of the show was the United States debut of the Borresen 5 flagship loudspeakers. The Next Level HiFi exhibit room was dead quiet with the blackest of black background; the information I’ve not heard before in the Norwegian vocal cut “Liberty” was astounding. Another track, a jazz instrumental put the musicians in the room with us, you could hear the sax player breathing and connecting with his instrument. Michael Borresen explains in an interview on the AVShowrooms’ video, his revolutionary driver design. Driving the Borresen’s were the Aavik monoblock Class A 300 watts per channel (Michael talks about these beauties) along with the “Danish Army Knife”, the C300 preamplifier with a DSD DAC, PCM DAC and phonostage. Cables were Ansuz.
This year at AXPONA 2019, the Odyssey Audio exhibit room, with the newly upgraded Magnan Cables, gave the listeners one of the best soundstage experiences at the show comfortably competing with systems 10X the price. The layering, detail, beautifully integrated sound with the magnificent imaging is what keeps so many reviewers from various publications visiting the Odyssey/Magnan Room at the audio shows.
Equipment included the Kismet loudspeakers; Candela preamplifier and the Khartago mono blocks.
The Magnan cables were the Magnan Signature speaker cables and the Magnan signature interconnects, the upgrade (you’ll hear about it in the AVShowrooms’s video) is about replacing the woven jacketing with cotton cloth. I think this gave the overall sound a deeper texture with more image density. Definitely an improvement. I noticed a more profound emotional connection when playing a Kate Bush track. Next track was the Eagles’ “Hotel California”. I’ve heard this track in the Odyssey Audio room at shows before and nobody denies that the recording is bright. That brightness was toned down without losing any of the punchy, big, but detailed presentation.
Raidho with Audio Skies:
The Raidho TD4.2 loudspeakers pressurized the room to deliver both a musical and accurate sound. I consider the TD4.2 LS to be a hybrid composed of the TD4.1 and the organic signature that Benno Baun Meldgaard, Raidho’s chief engineer brings to the new design, a best of both worlds. Benno explains his design philosophy in the AVShowrooms’ video along with Michael Vamos, the Raidho Sales Director for the U.S. market. Michael talks about the new ribbon tweeter; higher efficiency (tube friendly), lower distortion and increased resolution. A track from the Kraftwerk album presented a full detailed, dynamic sound with a rich and emotionally stirring midrange that harkens back to the GamuT LS designs by Benno.
Everything in the system at the Synergistic Research exhibit room was running through the Powercell 12 SE power conditioner and we played the track “Radioactivity” from the Kraftwerk album “The Mix”.
Simply, when the power conditioner was turned on the soundstage opened up, the sound was more layered and images appeared in space around the room. The room included the Magico loudspeakers; Gryphon amplification and the United Home Audio tape deck.
VAC/Von Schweikert/The Audio Company:
The Flagship Ultra 11’s with the Valve Amplification Company’s Signature 450 iq’s are the must-have uber speakers and amplifiers if you want that live concert sound. When playing the track “Radioactivity” from Kraftwerk on the LP “The Mix”, the Ultra 11’s threw a huge soundstage with multiple layering, and an almost tactile imaging with earth-shifting dynamics.
Of course, the careful attention to choosing the right associated equipment, such as the Critical Mass racks and stands and MasterBuilt Cables is essential to achieve the end result.
The analogue source was the Tech Das One; The CD player was from Esoteric; the streamer from Aurender. Other associated equipment included a mass array of Esoteric electronics and the VAC Statement phono stage and linestage.
Well Pleased A/V:
The sound delivered through the new redesign of the Rethm Maarga v2 loudpeakers left this listener absolutely sure she could live with this speaker for the rest of her days. Jacob George, the designer, has made such monumental improvements delivering more warmth in the mids without sacrificing any of the detail, and in fact, bringing the musical experience closer to me with more overall dynamics. Simply, Anne Bisson’s “Le vent soufflé encore” from the album Conversations, a track I’ve heard hundreds of times over the years, delivered new information that was astonishing. Anne’s vocal mix in the beginning was profoundly more apparent as was her daughter’s at the end of the song. In addition to being in my top three best sounding rooms at AXPONA 2019, the speakers are a value at under 10,000 U.S. dollars (no price increase) and can compete with any speaker five to ten times the price. No exaggeration. A room with this kind of sound reminds me why I do what I do.
Associated equipment in the room, brought to us by Well Pleased A/V’s proprietor, Mark Sossa, include the Qualiton A20i SE Amplifier; Aqua Formula xHD D/A, GigaWatt PC-r Power Conditioner, Swisscables Diamond/Reference Plus and the SGR HiFi Racks Symphony Model 5/3. The source was the excellent Innuos Zenith MKIII Music Server.
Reviewers View, The Florida Audio Expo 2019, Show Highlights
Gated HiFi Distribution:
Easily one of the best sounding rooms at the show. Dana Haskins Mueller, proprietor of Gated HiFi, along with Lars Kristensen of Aavik Ansuz introduced the Borresen 01. This little stand mount speaker is the entry level to the Borresen- Acoustics loudspeaker line. It’s difficult to explain how the sound coming from such a tiny speaker could pressurize the room and deliver spatiality unrivaled at the show; that, along with giving us a tight, lightning-fast transient response. We played a Norwegian female vocalist who could have been standing in the middle of the room and the little woofer delivered low frequency that was startling when the saxophone came in. The upcoming video will give you more details and an excellent listening session.
Amplification was the Aavik U-300 integrated amplifier; cabling was the Ansuz DTC line. Also included in the system was the Ansuz Mainz8 power distributior and the titanium equipment rack.
House of Stereo:
Joe Parvey, owner of House of Stereo put together an exceptional sounding system. One of the best sounds and this was in the morning of the first day of the show. Peter Breuninger and I were both impressed with how the little TAD Labs Micro Evolution 1 loudspeakers packed a powerful punch with perfectly integrated bass. We listened to a track from Dead Can Dance on the Wolf Audio Systems Alpha 3 music server with the Flux Capacitor Clock and the sound was palpable with the proper spatiality and effortless reach from the mids to the highs. We were not the only listeners with dropped jaws, the show attendees who stayed for the video shoot were conversing and extolling the virtues of the sound delivered by House of Stereo. Cabling from Wireworld, Rack and room treatment from Stillpoints, other electronics from Ayre Electronics.
The Audio Company:
These guys never do anything in a small way. The giant ballroom had three systems including the new Von Schweikert Ultra 55 loudspeakers, the smallest of the VS Ultra line, making their world debut at Florida Audio Expo 2019. This indeed was one of the finest sounding systems at the show. Don’t believe for a minute that the smallest and least costly of the Ultra line is in any way “lesser-than” and you’ll learn why in the AVShowrooms’ video coming up next.
Also, one of the AVShowrooms’ videos will showcase Gordon Waters of The Audio Company introducing the new speakers driven by the VAC Statement 450 iQ monoblock power amplifiers sitting on the Critical Mass Maxxum stands with cables by MasterBuilt. Kevin Hayes of Valve Amplification Company (VAC), Damon Von Schweikert and Leif Swanson of Von Schweikert Audio also take the stage and speak in more detail of their own designs and design philosophies. Included, is Leif Swanson explaining the technology of the new Ultra 55 loudspeakers and the advantage of the 525 booster amp in the back of the speaker along with other tasty details.
We played two tracks; first, a vocal by Michel Jonasz. The system’s ambiance along with pinpoint imaging and spatiality gave this listener a feeling of a three dimensional, live performance. Next, we played the first track on the Roger Water’s album “Amused to Death”. Very different but with the same excellent musical experience.
One upcoming video will include Leif Swanson explaining the technology of the Ultra 55 loudspeakers and the advantage of the 525 booster amp in the back of the speaker along with other tasty details.
Associated equipment included in the entire exhibit were the Kronos turntable with the Black Beauty tonearm and the Airtight Opus 1 cartridge, Esoteric digital electronics, Critical Mass Maxxum racks and stands. All cabling by MasterBuilt Audio.
AVShowrooms’ videos will walk you through the systems and all of the components. Grab your favorite beverage, put on your headphones, get comfy and treat yourself to a room full of some of the most prestigious audio equipment in the world along with two powerful listening sessions.
Peter Mackay of Magico tells us all about the entry level, A3 Magico 3-way floorstanding Loudspeaker in the AVShowrooms’ video now in production. Then Joe Lavrencik of Critical Mass Systems explains in detail the benefits of the Critical Mass Rack and the Center Stage footers.
These Magico loudspeakers have the signature sound of the brand and achieved sound way above its relative price to Magico’s more costly speakers. We played the ballad “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” sung by Lisa Gerrard and Gerrard’s voice filled the room with a spatial, atmospheric sound that was so emotionally engaging it took on an almost tactile quality. Brilliant decay and believability,certainly one of the best sounding rooms at the show.
Electronics were the Luxman integrated amplifier, 125 watts per channel and the source was the Luxman CD player sitting on the entry level Soto Voce rack from Critical Mass. Cabling by Audioquest.
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.
Aries Cerat “Genus” Integrated Amplifier: Truly outstanding tube amplifier creates atmospheric, detailed and layered sound with spatiality unrivaled by any other tube integrated audio amplifier I’ve heard. The separation of instruments and the tonal quality of reproduced music is startling in its delivery.
Audionet “Heisenberg” and “Stern” Amplifiers:
A breakthrough in solid state audio amplification. Effortless in their delivery and unintimidated by room size, the Heisenberg and Stern will bring the concert into your home. The sound wraps around the listener creating a listening environment that’s enveloping and both musical and accurate at the same time.
Auris Audio “Fortino 6550” Integrated Amplifier:
Quiet and detailed, this tube amplifier was driving the Triangle Titus EZ loudspeakers giving us room-filled imagining with an extraordinary tight bass. Big, accurate, musical sound from a compact amplifier. The Fortino is one of the most beautiful amplifiers on the market today.
Cube Audio “Nenuphar” loudspeakers:
A breakthrough in single-driver loudspeakers, Cube Audio’s Nenuphar loudspeakers with the 10” cone delivers a coherent, pure and realistic sound unobstructed by a crossover with no compromise in bass. Grzegorz Rulka, from Poland, has taken an unorthodox approach to his design of the “Nenuphar” resulting in an up close and personal sound with perfect clarity and atmospheric image reproduction.
Etsuro “Urushi Bordeaux” Moving Coil Cartridge:
Blossoming sound, the Bordeaux brings the music closer and wraps it around your head. Deep, emotional and seductive; it’s like the best seat at a concert. It is the first cartridge I’ve heard to offer the perfect balance of detail retrieval and musicality. My favorite cartridge, to date, by far.
Synergistic Research “25th Anniversary SR25 Power Cord”:
The 25th Anniversary Power Cable sets the standard for power cables today. Lowers the noise floor, creates a bigger soundstage with more enveloping sound on every location we use it. If you can have only one uber power cord, this is the one.
United Home Audio “Ultima 4 with Power Supply”:
The finest source component I’ve ever heard. Effortless reproduction of music, outstanding dynamics, state of the art soundstaging, perfect tonality. The best of the best!
Zanden “Model 8120” Amplifier, Zanden “Model 3100” Line stage (Modern Line):
Realistic tonality, spatiality and musicality along with that magic holographic imaging tube amplifiers deliver. The most involving sound I’ve ever heard from a push-pull tube amplifier.