Zesto Audio always manages to make a great sound, in part because of good electronics, but also because they know what works. The system, sporting a Merrill Williams Audio REAL 101.3 turntable, a pair of Tri-Planar U2 arms and a Benz stereo or Ortofon mon cartridge, culminating in Marten Django L loudspeakers, with Stillpoints racks and feet, and Fono Acoustica cabling, was a great partner for the Andros Téssera phono stage, the Leto 1.5 preamp, and pair of Eros 300 mono amps from Zesto Audio. AXPONA was the launchpad for the company’s $2,995 Allasso step-up transformer, and while trying to single out a SUT from a wholly new system in a new room is all but impossible, the whole system sang sweetly, so things were working well together.
Bruno Putzey’s $11,500 Kii Three loudspeakers with matching $1,600 Kii Control controller are not exactly new, and the lecture you get before you get to hear the loudspeakers is long, and very, very thorough. But, now I know the name of the soccer team supported by the guy who does the soldering for Kii, I can also tell you he is doing a very good job. This unique digital active loudspeaker design with its intelligent DSP and CAT6 intercommunications makes for a sound that few conventional audio systems (irrespective of size of speaker or bank balance) can match.
There are some systems that work, and there are some that work magic. When I heard the Chord and Raidho room, it was very much the latter. It was also a fine example of putting a system together intelligently, with an SME 15 and Ortofon Black analogue front-end being driven by a Chord Symphonic phono stage, a Blu II transport and DAVE on the digital side, a Chord CPM 3800 integrated amp, a pair of Raidho D-4.1 tower speakers and a lot of Chrod Odin 2. Put simply, there was an operatic aria played, bumps were thoroughly goosed, and there must have been some tear gas involved.
Conventional wisdom suggests MartinLogan speakers need a big room to come to life. The Continuum/Constellation/MartinLogan room begged to differ. This was a standard sized, not too large bedroom, with the loudspeakers supposedly too close together and too near to the listeners. However, whether it was the company they kept in Continuum’s turntable and arm combination, and a good mix of Constellation’s electronics, the music played (but this wasn’t the first time I’d heard Dean Martin sing that day), or the number of people who stayed in that room for the longest time, but it was doing something very, very right!
Paragon Sight And Sound
Michigan-based Paragon Sight And Sound represents some of the greatest names in high end audio. In one of its many rooms, the system comprised a full dCS Vivaldi stack, D’Agostino amplification, and Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF towers in a large room. This was the launch of the MQA upgrade to the dCS Vivaldi stack (expect a review of the dCS Rossini MQA upgrade in an upcoming issue), and once again, Wilson Audio’s recording studio in residence Peter McGrath was able to play recordings that he had made in high-resolution PCM and replay them reworked through MQA. And in each case, the MQA version sounded a lot more physically ‘real’. Whatever you think about MQA (and I remain ‘undecided’), this is the most compelling demonstration out there and ends in some serious head-scratching on all parts.
The Best need not be the most expensive. OK so the system came to well over $100,000 but in a world of million-dollar systems, this was fighting above its weight. The fine sounds coming from the Cardas Audio/Doshi/Jeff Rowland/Joseph Audio were varied thanks to extremely catholic musical tastes, and extremely good too. This was the launch pad for the new Cardas Clear Beyond XL power cord, but the full system (with Jeff Rowland Daemon, Joseph Audio Pearl 3 loudspeakers, Mara Tape Machine with Doshi Audio tape stage, Aurender N10 server and lots of Cardas Clear Beyond) sounded just so much fun it was hard to drag yourself away. And also, anyone who has the stones to play a Shpongle track at an audio show deserves praise.