Early in 2017 I took two opportunities to hear a very special audio system located in the large listening room at the GTT Audio facility in Long Valley, New Jersey, USA. The system was comprised of YG Acoustics’ flagship Sonja XV loudspeakers; an Audionet preamp, phono stage, and Planck CD player with appropriate outboard power supplies, plus a quartet of Audionet Max monoblock power amps; Kronos Audio’s Kronos Pro turntable and Black Beauty tonearm fitted with an Airtight phono cartridge; and a mix of Kubala-Sosna Elation and Realization cables. It was, hands down, the finest audio system I had ever heard up to that point so it goes without saying that it left an indelible impression upon me. Honestly, in every aspect of performance one might care to name, that remarkable YG/Audionet-based system set performance benchmarks that seemed very likely to stand the test of time—until now.
This fall, Bill Parish, the owner of GTT Audio, invited me to attend a roll-out event for Audionet’s new flagship Stern preamplifier ($45,000) and a quartet of the firm’s new flagship Heisenberg monoblock power amplifiers ($105,000/pair or $210,000 for the set). The event featured the exact same YG Sonja XV-based system I had heard before, but with the Stern and four Heisenberg amps replacing the Audionet Pre G2 and Max power amps that had previously powered the system, and with a full set of Kubala-Sosna Realization cables replacing the partial Realization loom that had originally been in place.
Coming in, Bill told me, “I think the Stern/Heisenberg combination takes the system to a whole new level of performance, but you be the judge.” I accepted Bill’s assessment at face value but also with—if I am candid—a fairly major grain of salt. Bill is, after all, the Audionet distributor for North America and it would only be natural for him to assess the firm’s latest and greatest offerings in a favourable light. Even so, the fact was that the system in its prior configuration (with the previous Audionet flagship components) had been the best I’d ever heard and by a not subtle margin. Realistically, how much better could it possibly get?
The answer, as it turns out, is that the system got quite a lot better and in ways that left me scrambling for suitable descriptors as I contemplated sketching out the sonic improvements I heard. What floored me was that the improvements weren’t the sort of things one had to concentrate or struggle to hear; on the contrary, they were so obvious that within just 20 or 30 minutes of listening it was plain as day that the Stern/Heisenberg electronics had shattered performance boundaries in a major, “there’s no turning back now” kind of way. What changed? Many things.