A (short) Visit to Evolution A/V

Today, I found myself wandering around Tyson’s Corner, VA, of all places. For those that don’t know, Virginia has graciously decided to accept stimulus money so that they can pave the entire northern part of the state. All part of the plan to remove the liberals, I suspect. Anyway, most unsuspecting travelers visit Tyson’s Corner for the stores as it’s something of a shopping Mecca (if you’ll pardon the expression), what with the innumerable shopping malls littering the area like not-so-hidden IEDs ready to destroy the bank accounts of the unwary. But with the “Metro Construction” bringing any attempt at quick insertion/extraction strategies to the level of fruitless daydream, I tend to avoid the area. Like it’s a Plague victim.

Anyway, so I found myself desperately wondering what the fuck they did with the onramp to 495 when I remembered I was near Evolution A/V. I’d never been there, so since I was pretty much trapped as it was (NoVA traffic really is terrifying), I figured what the hell. An hour here, or an hour in traffic, to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to ….

The store is tucked back behind the Big Screen Store on Rte 7, which I went into by mistake. Do the same, and you’ll quickly realize that with that many TVs on display, there’s no chance they’re selling high end stereo gear — I backed away quickly from the rather desperate salesman trying to tell me that DefTech speakers are just as good as Magico, and WAY less money.

Once successfully located, Evolution A/V is a pretty nice space. The new-paint smell is still lingering, and there’s a distinct lack of clutter than speaks either to “newness”, OCD, or an extended familiarity with the US Military (which probably isn’t all that different, actually). There’s 4 listening rooms and Dennis, proprietor, has them stocked to the gills with all manner of audiophile goodness.

I went straight for the Magico room.

It’s a big room. Something like 20’w x 40’l x 16’h (I’m guessing wildly). He had a Qsonix (not lovin’ the interface) music server set up to pump tunes into a VTL rig that showed off a pair of VTL MB-450s and a honkin’ big 381 Wadia player/DAC feeding a pair of $60k Magico Q5 speakers. I’d heard the Q5’s at RMAF, and quite frankly, they were showcased in one of the best sounding rooms at that show. Here, it was a bit of a different story, though they filled the room quite nicely. Sound stage was expansive with very good vertical height. The speakers were about 10′ apart, and I was sitting about 15′ back, so I’m not sure if that had anything to do with the fact that the lateral ‘stage was pretty much limited to the speakers themselves. Very helpfully, I managed to find a couple of tracks I was familiar with on the music server, so I did get a chance to hear how the speakers sounded with material I knew well — Jack Johnson’s “Better Together”, Diana Krall’s cover of “Temptation”, and a couple of others. I also found a copy of 11:11 from my new fav Rodrigo y Gabriella, so I got to get the room really moving, too. I was impressed by the quality of the sound, overall. But … yet … I wasn’t swallowed whole. And I should have been for a $100k+ system.

The room was very handily supplied with a second system on the opposite wall, showing off an all-Marantz Reference lineup, with their top of the line monoblocks, pre and SACD player wired up to a pair of Aerial Acoustics Model 9 in silver. In went the Rodrigo y Gabriella CD and I got to sit back and compare the joy of two totally different systems — from the comfort of the same chair.

I found the Aerials to be really nice speakers, but the Magico’s utterly destroyed them. Which means that the Magico’s were clearly and obviously better in every way I could think of to judge them. That said, the separation, while distinct, was not a yawning gap — no more than a 10-15% on any given metric. Of course, some/part/most/all of that had to do with the matching electronics, but still — soundstage was larger, clearer, with better separation and air on the Magico’s. Transients had more snap, decays had a better/longer fade, the backgrounds felt blacker. But … that Marantz system kicked serious ass. I can see why that whole line gets great kudos from the audiophile press. The sound was smoother than my (new) reference all-Plinius lineup, but not Luxman-smooth, if that makes any sense. I think the Marantz house sound would be smack between Luxman and Plinius, if I had to make that call.

Anyway, back to the speakers — I really liked the Magico’s — but I also really liked the Aerials. Yes, the Magico’s were better, but for whatever reason, I’m just not sure they warrant a full 10 out of 10, if you know what I mean. I just couldn’t put that system’s sound on the same plane I’ve already elevated the Joseph Audio Pearl 2s to. Don’t misunderstand me, the Magico’s were very good, but … well, the bass wasn’t subterranean nor as authoritative as “the best of the best”, and quite frankly, the system’s sound left me a bit cold. Curious. Pleased. Happy even. But not enthralled. I might have liked the Aerial + Marantz setup better. Which was odd. But there you go. Maybe it was just that the amps weren’t hot. Who knows. Might have to revisit them!

Dennis has a bunch of neat stuff in there I’m going to try to listen to at some point. Apparently, the place is jammed on the weekends, so if you’re going to visit, lemme suggest a weekday jaunt.

About Scot Hull 1063 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.