I recently had the opportunity to attend a private show in Colorado Springs, Colorado put on by Audio Limits and distributor Koetsu USA. Audio Limits is a high end dealer run by the father and son team of Darrin and Gene O’Neil. Koetsu USA is run by Hiram Toro.
Audio Limits uses a model that is gaining increasing popularity by running the business out of two rather exquisite homes whose basements are dedicated to the audio business. Some other notable audio companies such as Aaudio Imports, Kris Goodman’s Goodspeed Audio adopt the same business model. In an increasingly specialized market it makes sense to do a home based business by appointment. Darrin and Gene have done a beautiful job on the build out and the sound was just incredible on most of the systems that were on display. They offer a very relaxing and laid back experience for their clients and they are deeply passionate about the music.
The turnout was a bit disappointing but not unexpected considering the current state of the economy. That being said, the people who did come were knocked out by what they saw and heard. They treated me like some kind of rock star. I don’t often get the chance to have my knowledge tested like that so it was a lot of fun.
I had two days to play with five different systems. They ran the full spectrum from an entry-level system at $34,500 and climbing all the way to well over $300,000. Not a bad sound in the house, or is that houses?
The first system consisted of a pair of Chario Sonnet monitors ($6,000), which I recently finished reviewing. Driving them was a Demidoff Silver Plus integrated amp ($12,000), a Goldnote Koala CD player ($2,200)and topped off with a new Goldnote Piccolo turntable and tonearm combination ($2000) running the Goldnote Tuscany ($5800) cartridge and the Goldnote Pamphilli phono stage. At first, the system was not getting any bass going and sounded very dead. Having just reviewed this speaker, I was trying to figure out what was wrong and so was Hiram. Eventually, we were able to diagnose the problem between us and through some crafty setup we had them sounding as good, if not better than they sounded in my room. The system was very fluid and provided an amazing dynamic range. The Demidoff integrated actually imparted a bit of a tube sound into system. There are a growing number of manufacturers of solid-state equipment who are providing that bit of tube warmth to their amps. The Demidoff Silver Plus is a single-ended “Multi-Powered” transformer stereo integrated amplifier that is handcrafted to ensure the highest performance level. The unit uses twelve transformers and the amp is wired with silver bar. It puts out 75 watts per side and comes with two VU meters on the front face of the unit. It is a nice little retro touch. The new Piccolo turntable was a real surprise. The fit and finish was first rate. The sound and performance was stellar, especially for a turntable made entirely out of acrylic. And at $1200 for the table and $800 for the arm it got a lot of attention by everyone at the showing.
The system sounded great, especially on tracks like Bela Fleck’s “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo”. This particular track has some very low and forward bass notes. I am not sure exactly how low they did go but they were definitely in the lower 30 Hz range. The Sonnets handled them with astonishing competency. Everyone’s jaws dropped.
The second system was just as impressive. The system featured the Manley Labs Shrimp pre-amp ($1,880), Manley Labs Snapper monoblocks ($4,250), a Blacknote CDP 300 transport and the Chario Sovran ($16,000) speakers. The Sovrans are similar to the Sonnets in configuration but added two 8-inch woofers in a floor standing cabinet. The bass was even more impressive than the Sonnets especially in terms of control and speed. At first there was a bit of a muddle to the center image focus. Hiram began to utilize his trusty laser to dial the speakers into their most optimum position. This entailed toeing them in about 60 degrees and moving the listening chair back about 11 inches. Once he did that the center image snapped right into place and the overall imaging took a quantum leap for the better. Overall sound was extremely musical and a bit laid back. This was a reoccurring theme throughout the weekend with the Charios.
The Manley’s were great. At 100 watts per side they provided the Sovrans with great driving capacity. The only issue at all with this system was a bit of a tube ringing out of one of the EL34s. It was an intermittent problem and once the music started playing it disappeared. The Blacknote, which has been reviewed by Phillip Holmes, was fabulous. It proved to be a great source for this setup.
Many people identified this system as their favorite and a couple of the attendees purchased the Sovrans. That is a pretty solid testament to the speaker’s wonderful sound.
After the show there was a switch out of the Manleys and the Demidoff in the two previous systems. To some, the Demidoff was probably a bit more suited to the Sovrans. I did not get to hear things after the change but I was told the overall sound quality in both systems rose considerably. That is saying quite a bit considering how they sounded the first two days.
This was the second most expensive system displayed. It was composed of a set of Venture Reference III loudspeakers ($126,000), Silicon Arts linestage preamp ($29,000), Silicon Arts solid state monoblocks ($20,000) and fronting it all was a PC streaming music to the system. I have to say that this was my least favorite setup. The Ventures are exquisitely made speakers. The cabinets are finished with 16 coats of clear. The book matched veneers are stunning. Unfortunately I found the ribbon tweeters somewhat harsh and fatiguing. So did most of the attendees with the exception of one gentleman who preferred them in part due to some hearing loss. The Silicon Arts pieces are first-rate in fit and finish and I think mated to a speaker that is not so naturally bright it all would have sounded better. I have the suspicion that the Ventures mated with a strong tube amp might actually be a completely different animal than what I listened to. In the end it was hardly played the entire weekend.
This was the kahuna system of the showing. It featured the YG acoustics Anat Reference II loudspeakers ($106,000), FM Acoustics 1811MKII solid state stereo amplifier ($125,000), FM Acoustics FM245 preamp ($28,000), Weiss Jason CD Transport ($19,600), Weiss Media DAC ($16,900) and the Montegiro Lusso turntable ($58,763 for the entire setup with Koetsu Tiger Eye cartridge), and FM Acoustics FM122 MKII Linearizer (read phono stage). This last piece is an interesting item. It features a unique, continuously variable de-emphasis control which allows correct replay curves of any record ever issued, all changeable on the fly. A grand total in excess of $370,000 when you throw in cables, power conditioners etc.
The YG acoustic speakers are marketed as the best speaker in the world. While I am not sure they are the best in the world, since I have not listened to every speaker in the world there is no denying that they are very special indeed.
The Montegiro is a very remarkable turntable and the DaVinci tonearm is a thing of beauty. I have lived with this particular table for an extended period of time and it is on par with anything I have heard in terms of a turntable. Mated with the Koetsu Tiger Eye cartridge it seemed to rule the show.
The FM Acoustics amp is a very special piece of equipment to be sure. From their web page is the following statement:
“Printed words cannot do justice to these products as they cannot transmit the exhilarating experience of recording and recreating musical events with an FM ACOUSTICS.
The information on these pages, therefore, is of general nature to allow some insight in the philosophy, the technology, applications and results. But only when actually hearing an FM ACOUSTICS will you capture the full meaning of all these words.”
Truer words have never been spoken. At 1000 watts per channel into 8 ohms (yes that is ONE THOUSAND) there is power to light a small city! As a side note I was impressed with how cool it actually ran.
This system was one of the top five I have ever heard. The soundstage was amazing not only in width but also in depth! It was lightening fast in the transients, had incredible bass that not only went down to 20Hz but did it with absolute control and musicality! The highs were razor sharp without being shrill and the midrange was like creamy butter. The air around each of the instruments was palpable. I would have sworn that there were some 300B tubes in the system. On Bela Fleck’s “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo and Nils Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” the bass was simply phenomenal. With Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” her vocals were some of the finest I have ever heard and the immediacy and strength were almost overwhelming. Her delivery just shot straight through my soul and brought tears to my eyes! I could not find one thing to criticize in this system. I am at a loss for the right words to describe this kind of sound. Is it the best system in the world as YG would have you believe? No. I have heard some as good and even slightly better, but very few.
I am saving this system for last not because it is the best but rather that it simply blew everyone away. Not only did it sound stunning but some in the audience preferred this system to the $370,000 plus system. This was another Manley Labs setup. This time it was a Manley Labs 300B preamp ($5,250), Manley Labs Neo Classic 250 monoblocks ($9,000), a Blacknote DSS digital streamer ($4,200) and the flagship Chario Serendipities ($32,000). All together $55,000with cables!
The Manley Labs Neo Classics have always been favorites of mine. The preamp was very smooth in delivering the musical signal and the 300Bs did a great job. The Neo Classic 250 amps were well known for their great sound and dynamic punch. With 250 watts in tetrode mode and 125 in triode they offered a good deal of versatility. They were run in the triode mode for the showing.
The secondary star of this system, next to the speakers, was the Blacknote DSS 30 tube streamer. The Blacknote DSS can play any kind of high definition computer audio files like Wav, Flac, AIFF and others, as well as commonly used compressed files such as MP3, M4A, AAC, ALAC, etc. fed into the DSS directly via its USB ports without the need of any digital-to-analog converter or computer connection. Your entire library on a flash drive hooked to a DSS. It was easy to use. Just plug your USB flash device in and sit back and scroll through the songs. The sound is almost as good as vinyl. Marc Cohn’s “Perfect Love” was delivered with so much detail and scale that if you close your eyes the system would take you to a live venue front and center.
On the first day the system sounded reasonably good. I would say it was my third favorite system. By Saturday afternoon, when everyone was arriving, this system settled in. It settled in a way that transformed it from a good system to one of the stars of the show. By Sunday people, including all four of us, were saying that it equaled the YG system and in some respects might have even been better. It was baffling to be sure. Hiram had spent a little time adjusting the speaker position but we are talking about fourth of an inch increments. Darrin used some really stout brass cone feet beneath the speakers to make sure they pierced the carpet and coupled to the concrete floor. Two tubes in the preamp were replaced. That was the sum total of tweaking that took place on the setup. It was fascinating to see and hear people’s reaction to this system as it was the last one anyone would hear on the roundup. We were simply stunned that a set of speakers and electronics that cost 14% of the total of the YG system could equal, and in some opinions, exceed the enjoyment and musical satisfaction of the super star system. The synergy between the electronics and the speakers was simply magical. The Serendipity’s were easily in the top-ten of speakers I have ever heard and that opinion was shared by many. As a matter of fact most people guessed that the Charios were two to three times the actual retail just from the listening. This was truly the highlight for me to hear this kind of magic at the truly moderate cost. I may have to buy a pair of Serendipity’s! In the end, the YG system ultimately won out for detail, depth and overall quality but the Charios got the nod for pure enjoyment and lack of fatigue!
I want to thank Darrin and Gene for their hospitality and Hiram for letting me tag along. It was fun and I got the opportunity to see and hear some truly outstanding HIFI equipment. It was also great to get the opportunity to promote Dagogo to attendees and intermingle with them. I was asked a lot of interesting questions and had a number of in depth and though provoking discussions with some very knowledgeable aficionados. It is always great to meet people who read your articles and get the chance to elaborate on philosophies and just talk HIFI. I am ready for the next Roundup!
- (Page 1 of 1)