Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2013 • Best of Show

Just as they did last year, VTL and Wilson Audio put together a system based around the Wilson Alexia ($48,500/pair) that revealed much of what these speakers are about: tonal density, enormous soundstaging, massive dynamic swings, and surprising height information -- among so many other things. The electronics were again the VTL TL-7.5 Series III line stage ($20,000) and TP-6.5 Signature Series II phono stage ($8500), this time with the optional second MC stage, featuring a Lundahl step-up transformer ($2000), but the amp was the new S-400 Series II Reference ($33,500), which looks and sounds like a stereo version of the Siegfried II monoblock.

And just as last year with the Alexia, there was an important debut in this system: Lyra's Etna cartridge ($6995), which might be the little brother of Lyra's Atlas but quickly carved out its own identity within the line -- it just might be the best Lyra cartridge yet. The Etna used in the system was new on the first day of the show, causing Bea Lam of VTL to warn that it usually isn't a good idea to play LPs heavy with strings, violins especially, until it is broken in. Yet with an Anne-Sophie Mutter LP, the Etna delineated the strings without stridency, sounding immensely detailed and silky at the same time.

Also part of the system was the dCS Paganini digital rig -- transport ($16,999), DAC ($18,999), upsampler ($10,499) and clock ($8999) -- a Spiral Groove SG 1.1 turntable with Centroid tonearm ($31,000), and a MacBook for file playback. Interconnects and speaker cables were Transparent Opus MM2, with Nordost filling in the power cords and digital cables.

Needless to say, we've come to expect excellence from this particular collection of speakers, electronics and sources both digital and analog, and once again it delivered.

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