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RMAF 2011: Cessaro, TW Acustic, Thoress, Tron, Thales, Miyajima, PranaWire

I’ve never heard room put together by High Water Sound‘s maestro Jeff Catalano sound anything other than stupid-good.

Well, he’s still batting 1,000 in my book. RMAF 2011 was a base-clearing home run.

I’ve never heard (or heard of) the $62k Cessaro Horn Acoustics “Affascinate I SE” speakers before, and when I walked into the room, I was completely taken aback by the sheer size of these monster horn speakers. In physical terms, they’re rather similarly imposing to the big Acapella horns I’d seen earlier on the first floor, but instead of gloss and chrome, the big Cessaro’s were all wood and stone. Definitely a different aesthetic, but a welcome one. Imposing, but organic. And quite a bit more impactful than the horns I found elsewhere at the show.

The Affascinate I SE is a 3 way, truly 100dB sensitive, 37Hz-45kHz capable beast. They’re 5.5′ tall and I think they weigh something like 250lbs each. Yeah. ‘Imposing’ is a good word.

That big horn, which is actually made of hand polished wood, has sidewalls nearly 5″ thick. The tweeter horn has a beryllium driver.

They’re available in a variety of veneer finishes.

Some high-quality $20k Pranawire hanging off the back end.

The $40k Tron Telstar Ultimate 211 is a dead-quiet 12wpc single-ended amp (all Class A). Everything in it is exotic parts and silver/high grade copper wire. It’s a zero-feedback design and is also the most powerful amp in the Tron lineup, supporting a bandwidth of 5Hz-38kHz. The finish is a highly polished stainless steel with a textured black on the transformer/cap covers.

Look at all that Pranawire coming off the back end of that amp! Pranawire actually furnished all the cables for this room, and prices range from $3k up to $20k for the speaker wires.

A $15k Tron Seven GT linestage provided the head end.

Also on the rack (but not in use while I was in the room) was a $20k Thales turntable mounted with two tonearms, a $13.5k Thales AV tonearm with a $3k Miyajima Shilabe and a $10k Simplicity tonearm with a $1,260 Miyajima Premium Mono.

New at the show is the latest phono preamp from Reinhard Thöress. The $9k Phono Entzerrer (that’s “Equalizer” you silly English speaker) looks almost identical to the TW Raven Phono it replaces, but this one has some really interesting options for adjustment.

Check out the faceplate, below. On/off is to the left. Loading has been replaced by three dials: Bass/Mid/Treble. This is an equalizer! So, instead of “loading” a cartridge, you create your own curve (ie, RIAA) and get a customized sound. I was assured that not only will this give you everything “loading” will, but will give you quite a bit more flexibility. Got an older record? Or one with a non-standard curve? Apparently, you’re now good to go. And — get this — you get SIX inputs. That’s support for six tonearms! Six tonearms? Yes. Six tonearms. For those of you with several turntables, each with multiple arms, well, now you’re covered. Gain on this phono stage is a fixed 60dB for all inputs.

Which itself is a bit interesting — the Miyajima’s are all rather low output as moving coil cartridges go, and put out .23mV. At 60dB, you’d think that you’d be cranking the volume all the way over … and you’d be wrong. Jeff says he never turned the knob past 50% over the course of the weekend. Guess 60dB was more than enough, and Jeff added: “you don’t want to throw too much gain at your vinyl — too much and you’ll be picking up a ton of surface noise.” Ok. Given the quality of the sound in this room, and the dynamics we were being made privy to, I really had nothing left to argue there. FWIW, the preamp gain calculator at KAB that I like to reference tells me that the ideal gain for a .23mV cart is 63dB … and that’s close enough for me.

Below is the brand-new TW Acustic Raven Limited w/ Raven 10.5 tonearm — list price for the combo is $25k. And “Limited” does mean limited — only 50 of these are being made and half the run has already been sold. If you’re interested, you’d better get a move on.

The Limited. The design is a bit of a departure for TW, which tends to go for separation of church and state … er … motor, controller and platter. Still, an all in one has it’s place, ja? Beautiful, elegant, and crushingly awesome. Err. Okay, so. Did I mention I like the look?

$3,600 Miyajima Labs Kansui mounted on a $5,500 TW Acustic Raven 10.5 tonearm (included with the Limited). I asked Jeff about the choice in cartridges, and why he’s not showing his expensive tables with similarly expensive tonearms or cartridges. He laughed. He explained that he really goes out of his way to show how even a moderately (!) priced — but still awesome — cartridge like the Miyajima (or the Ortofons he normally shows with) can and do sound totally bad-ass and thoroughly world-class.

That is, when they’re paired with superior gear.

Point taken, Jeff.

Joel Durand, maker of the Talea and Telos tonearms. Mesmerized, like the crowd. Why?

Well, Ying Tan of the Original Recordings Group had walked in carrying a test pressing of his soon-to-be-released remaster of Holst, The Planets with Zubin Mehta and the LA Philarmonic.

Jeff cued up “Mars”, turned up the volume ….

… and the most amazing thing happened.

It was like watching a ripple spread across a pond or a tsunami crash through a village. There were about 20 people in the room at that point. Everyone was talking. Everyone. Well, everyone except me because I’m not rude like that. Anyway. Everyone was talking. As the first notes started pouring out of the big Cessaros, silence hit the first row like a wave. Then it hit the second row. Then the third. Then the sides of the room. Thomas Woschnick (the TW of TW Acustic) was still, like a tree, a half smile almost peeking out of his beard. Jeff Catalano froze, the same near-smile on his face. Reinhard Thöress, the designer of the Thöress phono-pre and the amp on static display by the door, was practically dancing on his tip toes as the silence hit the fourth row. And now everyone in the room was silent, staring. Eyes wide open. Immobile. And then the sound came crashing down on us, and around us, and we were all swept away.

It was the most amazing sonic moment of the show. And for that perfect 10 minutes, the High Water Sound room gets my Best In Show award.

Holy freaking shit.

NOW I know what “they” mean by “dynamic swings”. Mind-blowing. Skull-ripping. Joyous uncaring defiant screaming into the scorchingly cold void.

THAT is why I’m an audiophile. That moment. That single moment.

Best. Sound. Ever.

And I hate classical music. Go figure.

I love this amp. F2A11 single-ended tube amp. Very WWII chic with some incredible sound. Can also do marvelous things for non-winterized rooms without needing to resort to space heaters.

Reinhard Thöress, chatting with an admirer.

Another great room, Jeff. Extremely well done.

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