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Review: (updated) darTZeel CTH-8550 integrated amplifier (with Siltech)
The Avatar Acoustics room was my favorite room at Axpona this year and tied for “Best Sound”. The system produced a lovely, warm, enveloping sound stage that I thoroughly enjoyed rolling around in. Or maybe it was just wallowing around on the couch. Hmm. Anyway, it was really hard to pull the contributions made by the individual components apart — what we had here was a great system.
Love that lit-up Himalayan rock salt!
The speakers were the Siena from Rosso Fiorentini ($24,995/pair). It’s leather wrapped cabinet (… drool …) sports two bass drivers, a mid, a tweeter and a “supertweeter”. While not as extended in the bass as I typically look for in a speaker (F3 is at 35Hz), this was certainly working in its favor at the less-than-ideal room conditions at the Sheraton. The treble was exceptional — extended and sweet. The mids were full and voluptuous. The bass was tight and fast. All in all, it was just delicious. And that leather smelled great. Ahem.
Fronting the Sienas was gear from AMR: AM-77.1 integrated ($10,995), AM-77.1 CD ($10,995) and the new kid on the block, the DP-777 ($4,995 — more on this in a minute). The superb PH-77 was not in evidence, however, having been replaced for the show by a new offering from Monk Audio. I’ve never heard of Monk before, but I did get to chat with the designer a bit, and the new phono preamplifier ($2,995) not only has the proverbial kitchen-sink jammed into the little half-width chassis (there are options for gain, curve, load, as well as capacitance and the thing sports three inputs), it sounded fantastic. And getting the chance to watch Chris Feickert dance to Depeche Mode was a hoot, too.
Speaking of Dr Feickert, this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of making his acquaintance, though to be honest, I had a hard time dividing my attention between him and the entirely precocious Censullo kids who were hilariously in full form that Friday. While spinning disks on his Blackbird turntable (now $7,995), which was sporting the new 12″ DFA tonearm ($1,495), Dr Chris did confirm that the new Firebird turntable, a 3-motor version building on his integrated-plinth designs, will be arriving Stateside “this Fall”. Interestingly, it may well be accompanied by Dr Chris’ own entirely Feickert-designed tonearm. Given the level of quality (rumble well below 80+ db and a wow/flutter that is about .01) of the turntables, I expect nothing less than a stunning tonearm when the perfectionist doctor finalizes the design. What else is on the horizon? Well, how about a Feickert-designed cartridge? Well, funny you should mention that. He’s “about 80% sure” that that project will come together over the next year. Sweet!
There’s a new platform with the turntable, too. Darren Censullo, head of the importer Avatar Acoustics, had pushed a couple of cups of exceptionally nice beer into my hands and, well, priorities are priorities. A follow up email got this:
The platform that was under the Blackbird was a prototype shelf. Chris is considering making a special turntable stand (of which that would have been one of the shelves). This stand would be designed to support a table and the phono preamp. He brought the shelf over for me to look at and I decided to put it under the turntable. It is not a standard item with the table itself. We may even just provide the single shelf as an accessory … Pricing is as yet to be determined.
Well, I think it’s hot. Make it standard for the Blackbird, says I!
Moving back to the gear, the new AMR DAC was on proud display. The DP-777 is a bit unusual in DAC-land as it sports a pair of user-selectable DAC chips. One, a non-upsampling/non-oversampling 16bit/44.1kHz chip that’s recommended for CD-quality sources and another that’s 32bit/192kHz capable that’s recommended for use with your hi-res source material. The high-res DAC supports the following filters: Apodising, Minimum Phase, Linear Phase, Soft-Knee and Brickwall. Interesting, says I. It also sports dual AES/EBU, dual BNC, dual RCA and dual Toslink inputs — and a single 24bit/192kHz Class 2 asynchronous USB input.
Did I mention that DAC has valves?
More info on this over at Digital Audio Blog!
AMR in the ASI rack! BTW, those racks ($2,995) are just gorgeous, with vibration control effected through layered natural woods done up to a superlative fit and finish.
Everything else in the room was ASI. You might say that Darren was a big fan. And you’d be then understating his enthusiasm by a full mile. At the show, he had ASI cabling. Two ASI racks. Everything sat on ASI footers. ASI room treatments, including resonators, diffusers, sugar cubes, and phase correctors decorated the walls. Other than plants, these widgets were all that were treating the room.
Ever seen these little guys? The resonators are little precious-metal cups, like this platinum resonator, below. Each get stuck to the wall at strategic locations to maximize their impact.
The sugar cubes are small rosewood blocks with hole bored into them. They were scattered geometrically across the front and rear wall to help control bass nodes.
Explaining how these things work would take more time and effort than I want to put in here, but let me say this. The room sounded great. Whatever the theory behind it, something was very definitely working to the benefit of the music.
Very successful room. Well done, Avatar!