RMAF 2009 - Best of Show

High Water Sound's two rooms should have been nicknamed "Analog Heaven." Both rooms featured TW-Acustic turntables, Tron electronics, Horning speakers and Silent Running Audio racks, and both had people waiting to play their demo LPs. One room featured the brand-new TW-Acustic Raven .5 turntable ($4000), under which was a TerraStone platform from edenSound, a new manufacturer. Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound said that all 50 .5 'tables made in the first run were sold.


HWS's other room had the analog rig Marc Mickelson most wanted to see and hear -- the TW-Acustic Black Night turntable ($40,000) with Graham Phantom B-44 II tonearm ($4900) and Dynavector XV-1T cartridge ($9000). Along with a Tron Syren Reference preamp ($22,000), a Tron Telstar 211 stereo amp ($28,000), Horning Eufrodite speakers ($18,000/pair) and more Silent Running and edenSound products, the Black Night / Phantom II / XV-1T combination sounded lively, forceful and a touch sweet. Played on this system, one fellow's 45rpm Charlie Byrd LP was an unforgettable musical treat.


Underneath the laptop is Ayre's soon-to-be-available DX-5, which will play CDs, SACDs, DVD-As, DVD-Vs, and Blu-ray Discs. The DX-5 also has a USB input, so it can function as a DAC for a laptop-based music server. The unit's price is still to be determined, but it should fall into the $8000-$10,000 range.


Wadia's 151 PowerDAC Mini ($1195) is a 25Wpc digital integrated amp that uses Wadia's own interpolation, resolution-enhancement and digital-volume-control technologies. It has four USB inputs that accept up to 24-bit/96kHz data. Add the nearly ubiquitous 170 iTransport and you have a minisystem with an audiophile pedigree.


Though the Tidal Contriva Diacera SE speakers seemed too large for the room in which they were used, the sound they produced -- big, fast, and musically detailed -- overcame any preconceived notions. The electronics were all from Ypsilon, including a CDT 100 CD player/transport ($25,000), a DAC 100 digital-to-analog converter ($29,000), a VPS 100 phono stage ($25,000), and a PST 100 preamp ($36,000). The Ypsilon DHT mono amps ($75,000/pair) use the big Russian GM70 output tube. All cables were from Stage III, the rack was from Acapella, and the power products were from Isoclean. The turntable was a Bergmann Sindre ($20,000).

We expect a particular sound from speakers with ceramic drivers -- one that's unnaturally uptight, often constricting dynamics and instrumental bloom. But these Tidal speakers seem to be of a different breed, as the sound billowed from them with ease and natural dynamic flow. Hugh Masakela's "Stimela," a demo-music staple, was as forceful and quick-paced as ever on LP. Some great sound in a small room; what could all of this equipment do in a larger space?

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