CAF12: The Voice That Is presents TIDAL Audio, Audio Power Labs, Purity Audio, dCS, Aurender, PAD

If I stop with “The world is full of things”, I can make out like I’m some kind of philosopher. Maybe a Vienna Circle dude, overthrowing the “metaphysical excesses” of the 19th century. I’m thinking: smoking jacket, swirling bourbon and cigars in the drawing room. It’s a nice image. But, of course, I don’t stop there. There’s this propositional attitude I need to append: ” … that I want.” Yeah. That’s where the whole Wise Philosopher thing falls apart and my self-image resolves back to a more modest, more true-to-life, image of a typical audiophile fetishist consumer. [sigh] Oh well.

So, if we’re going to indulge my weaknesses, the Capital Audiofest seems like a damn fine place to do it.

Which brings me to TIDAL Audio. Again. If this is getting repetitive, I should apologize. I won’t, but perhaps I should. Doug White of The Voice That Is had two rooms at Capital Audiofest this year. This second room was dominated by a couple of very interesting deviations from his standard fare, and as you know, I’m a big fan of deviants deviation. But first, let’s start at the back.

First up is the Piano Diacera loudspeakers. $37,690 gets you a these “entry-level” floor standers from TIDAL, below the big Contrivas, but with the “Diacera”, we still have the fantastically natural and revealing diamond tweeters. A Piano Cera, with the ceramic tweeters, is available for a more reachable $23,990. Yes, this is quite a jump for what is, essentially, a tweeter (and the crossover and all the tweaks required to make it sing like a … like a … well … “something that sings especially pretty”), but that is how upgrades go. All I can say is that the difference between these two is dramatic and significant, but $13,700 isn’t peanuts. My recommendation? Think of them as totally different speakers, not as variations on a theme, and if cost is a concern, just do yourself a favor and never audition a Diacera model. The Cera tweeter, a big 1.2″ unit (as opposed to the 1″ ceramic version in the Marten), is extraordinarily fine as it is — look, don’t kid yourself, that ceramic Accuton tweeter is just great.

… But that diamond Diacera is outstanding …. Okay, sorry. Moving on.

The Piano is a 2.5-way speaker with a pair of 7″ Accuton drivers, at 4.2-6.8ohm, with a F3 (3dB down) at 32Hz. It’s not terribly large (5″ shorter than the Contriva), with a gentle back-tilt to the baffle, and as my wife says, they actually look like speakers (instead of something neo-phallic or “spaceshippy”). The finish is a bottomless piano black.

In an interesting twist, TIDAL Audio announced an interesting option for their Piano speakers at Munich High End, the upcoming X-Tender. Looking nothing so much as another pair of speakers, this rig is a passive “bass extender”, said to extend the reach of the Piano unit down another full octave. Pricing is still TBD.

Back at CAF and one step up the chain is Purist Audio Design, with the top-of-the-line “aspirational only” PAD 25th Anniversary speaker cables offered at an eye-watering $21,200 for 2.5m. Matching PAD 25th Anniversary interconnects ($8,600/1m pair) wired all the components together. These cables feature fancy connectors from Xhadow, use a Teflon dialectric, and a multiple-cryo’d conductor leveraging strands of both silver and single-crystal copper.

The most unusual thing in this bespoke collection of gear is the introduction of the 50TNT monoblock amplifiers from Audio Power Labs. “Crafted” is a great word for the remarkably striking art deco casework. These are 50wpc Class A push-pull designs with 4/8/16ohm taps and feature zero-feedback. The output tube is a 572, a rather unusual choice, but one known for reliability and great audio performance. Much like the 833 tube, also used by Audio Power Labs in their flagship $175,000 2oowpc 833TNT — which was sitting on display in the corner of the room. I found this kinda funny, it was almost like a parent, just there to watch the kids do their first recital and make sure everything went smoothly. All that was missing was constant flash from the Instamatic.

$47,500 is a pile of money for an amplifier, even for one done in small batches with little or no economies of scale to drive down the costs. If this makes you twitchy, I understand, and can only offer the fact that they are gorgeous, and may well be the best looking amps I’ve seen. The big 572 tubes are fun to watch light up and the music made with the TIDAL speakers is absurdly difficult to fault.

As with the other room The Voice That Is pulled together for Capital Audiofest, a dCS Puccini SACD/CD Player and a Widealabs Aurender S10 server were on hand to provide digital playback.

Last but not least is a newish-to-me brand, Purity Audio. Purity is probably best known for their preamps. The Reference is a $10,000 unit that’s won some dramatic praise from the audio press and from some of my own, highly rigorous and scientific sampling (I asked a guy), indicates that this is a top-shelf preamp. Here’s some details, from Purity:

The Purity Reference is a Class A, transformer coupled balanced linestage and is the  result of years of intensive research directed at attaining the most accurate reproduction of recorded music.  Unique topology and application of the most advanced technological resources and processes bring the Purity Reference to a threshold of excellence in sound reproduction.  To add to the main features, the Purity Reference utilizes transformer coupling at both the input and output. Transformer coupling output results in a low output impedance making the Purity Reference a versatile unit that is capable of driving both solid state and vacuum tube amplifiers.

The Statement is their $15,000 “step up”. An all-silver model, the Silver Statement, is offered at $20,000. The top of the line Ultra series starts at $23,000. Pushing for all-silver throughout takes you to the $33k Ultra GT with all-Silver autoformers (more on that last bit in a second).

There are some significant upgrades along the way, but there are some commonalities. The chassis design is an eye-catching and somewhat unusual design, with an all-acrylic chassis where the top plat is larger than the bottom, so the side walls all tilt outward, as if the box is literally bursting with audio goodness. All input and output balanced transformers are custom designed and built by Electra-Print.

The upgrade from Reference to Statement includes a completely different volume control, an autoformer design from David Slagle (the Slagleformer) used by John Chapman of Bent Audio to create the Tap-X. Now discontinued, Srajan Ebaen of 6moons used the Bent Audio Tap-X for years as a personal reference, and as far as I know, it’s still his go-to unit when looking for something to pair with tube amplifiers.

In addition to the autoformer volume control (aka, “AVC”), the Statement models bring a completely separate outboard dual-mono power supply — this PSU was sitting on a separate shelf here at CAF, but many setups have them stacked, one on top of the other. In addition:

The Statement brings to the table Bybee Purifiers in the input signal path and full silver/Teflon wiring throughout. Bybee Purifiers are also found in each of the two power supplies prior to the rectification circuit for the ultimate in residual noise filtering. Teflon tube sockets and a silver plated wired power supply, including filament circuitry, and umbilical connection cord are also found in the PSS enhancements. The Statement is also equipped with Cryogenic Treated Silver audiophile fuses.

The Ultra models adds a significantly upgraded PSU: twin Bybee Purifiers in each leg and an additional Bybee Music Rail per channel, 100% poly caps. The standard pure silver wire with Teflon insulation in the Statement gets upgraded to OCC silver AirLok wire from VH Audio.

In the main chassis, the Statement’s huge Clarity Cap MR-series signal capacitors w/V-Cap CuTF bypass are replaced by even-more-huge Dueland copper foil caps with silver bypass. The pic at the right shows how crazy-huge these things are — this was from an Ultra GT model that Purity Audio’s lead designer, Bill Baker, brought with him to AXPONA this year. Inputs and outputs also gain more silver Bybee purifiers in the signal path and the tube circuit get its V-Cap TFTF cap upgraded to a V-Cap CuTF.

Breaking news from Bill Baker:  “Purity Audio Design will be releasing the Series II for 2013 which includes moving to 1/4″ aluminum chassis and design enhancements for the entire Purity Series of linestages.” Contact Purity for more.

Of all the bits and bobs at the Capital Audiofest this year, for some reason, the Purity preamps are the ones that really caught my eye, my ear and my imagination — and I’m now actively working to bring a unit in for use in my reference system. Fingers crossed — I think a Statement would be a tremendous tool, though, I have to say, I’m severely tempted to sell off everything I own to attempt to finance an Ultra GT. Pardon me while I go to the corner to shake myself like a dog in an attempt to get the sight of those big Dueland caps out of my minds-eye. Ye gods, they’re big.

Okay, anyway.

Let me say, first, that the quality of the sound in this room was outstanding. Second, if I was forced to compare it to the all-TIDAL room around the corner (as I was asked no less than 342 times at the show), I’ll respond now with what I said then — the Contrivas are just unbelievably good.

Sorting out precisely what did what at a show is absurdly hard, but in this case, both systems sounded more alike than not, due in no small part to the fact that both were terminated in pairs of loudspeakers that, again, shared more than they differed. The Contrivas simply and obviously reached profoundly deeper, and as a result, the whole of the image had a bigger, more robust, more solidly rooted sound stage. Both had a stunning degree of detail retrieval but neither made that an emphasis — it was simply there, folded into the program.

I could be happy with either, but I would be more happy with the Contriva Diacera — and with Doug’s pair, with that old-school white-driver and insanely luscious finish, I’d be over the moon.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.