THE Show Newport 2013 • Best of Show

Overlooked in the news of Brian Berdan's soon-to-be-open audio store was the system he assembled from the brands he represents -- quite an illustrious group with which to launch your venture. This collection of gear presented the music in a decidedly robust, vivid fashion -- no distant soundstage or vague images here. Readers will recognize the VTL MB-450 Series III Signature monoblocks ($18,000/pair), which continue to perplex us with their cost-performance ratio. These drove Sonus faber Amati Futura speakers ($36,000/pair), whose placement Brian tweaked into the wee hours of the show's first morning until everything was just so. The depth achieved was remarkable.

A VTL TL-7.5 Series III Reference preamp ($20,000) and TP-6.5 Signature phono stage ($8500) were also used. The digital gear has been omnipresent in our recent show reports. The dCS Vivaldi four-box stack -- transport ($39,999), DAC ($34,999), upsampler ($19,999) and clock ($13,499) -- has been impressive whenever we've heard it, and this time we pushed its functionality some, playing cuts directly from thumb drive instead of spinning disc. A special area of emphasis for Audio Element is analog, so rounding out the sources was a Grand Prix Monaco 1.5 turntable ($23,500) with Tri-Planar Mk VII UII tonearm ($5800) and Lyra Skala cartridge ($3995), another part of the system that Brian carefully set up and tweaked. Interconnects, speaker cables and digital cables were all Cardas Clear Beyond.

At CES, the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and THE Show Newport over the past few years, VTL has made impressive sound with Wilson, Rockport, Avalon, TAD and now Sonus faber speakers, proving the brand's versatility as well as the ability of its tube amps to take on speakers that present a wide array of loads and sensitivities. Preference being what it is, a sure thing doesn't exist in audiophilia, but VTL electronics seem to be awfully close to it.

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