AXPONA 2012: Audio Power Labs, Tidal Audio, Laufer Teknik, Silver Circle Audio

I think big tubes are a whole lotta fun. And short of a Kronzilla amp, the Audio Power Labs 833TNT 200wpc monoblocks are showing off some of the biggest guns on the block. Offered at an eye-watering $175k for a pair, the big amps threw an evil glow into the room that was already lit up like an always-moving super-secret government lab hidden in a rail car, you know, like in an X-Files episode. As I took these pictures, I kept wondering who it was that was sitting so calmly in the corner, shrouded in the shadows. I knew he was watching me. All that was missing was cigarette smoke and I would have started babbling incoherently about the Erlenmeyer Flask. Creepy.

The uber-expensive amps were plugged into a not-quite-as-stratospherically priced pair of $65k Contriva Diacera SE from Tidal Audio with the signature black Accuton ceramic drivers that are unique to Tidal. On Day 1, an Audio Research preamp connected the $25k Laufer-Teknik The Memory Player 64 to the rest of the kit. Power filtering and distribution came courtesy of three Silver Circle power conditioners, one 5.0 SE ($7,500) and two 5.0 ($5k ea).

Cabling was pretty much impossible to see without blinding the Smoking Man, which was entirely out of the question, but my handy cheat sheet tells me that we got to hear Klee Acoustics’ $9k Grand Illusion speaker cables and $4k TruBalance interconnects. Kaplan Cables provided the power cords, and both the $1700 GS Mk II HC (high current) and GS MkII SRC (low-current source) were in play.

Stillpoints were used throughout to provide isolation. For those of you keeping track, the Ultra 5s are $718ea.

I’ve heard various Tidal speakers over the last year or so and I have to say, they’re on The List Of Things To Get When I Become Rich Enough To Afford Them. Actually, from that lineup, the Sunrays take top billing on that list. Doug White, of The Voice That Is, is a Tidal dealer and has a pair of those magnificent speakers in his showroom in the Philly suburbs. I’ve already warned him to expect me at some point with some large alien-human hybrids so that I can haul them off to my evil lair. Someday, Doug. Someday.

At Axpona, things went pear-shaped on Day 1. They weren’t bad, per se, but things were off enough that one had to wonder what all the fuss was about. Yanking the ARC preamp late Friday night led to a much less problematic Saturday. I visited both days, but I only settled down for a longer stay on Saturday.

The sound in this room, then, was pretty and remarkable. Bass wasn’t the deepest I’d heard at AXPONA (that was the Martin Logan room), but it was tight and fast. In fact, everything was tight and fast. And luscious. Imaging was spot on, detail was there when it was there (if that makes sense), and air was extensive and enveloping. I do love that Tidal sound. Mmm, mmm.

There really is something about a glass-driven system. Personally, I’ll confess that I’m a bit allergic to tube systems as they are always in flux between breaking in and breaking down. But while you’re in transit from one to the other, there’s really nothing like them. I wish there were.

And then there’s that look. Big tubes are just awesome. And the Audio Power Labs tubes are way more awesome (in many ways) than most. I still can’t get over the price, but I’ll cheerfully acknowledge that if you’ve got Mitt Romney money, this is probably a non-issue. Of course, if you have that kind of cash just lying around doing nothing useful, I’d love a moment to chat about my humble efforts here in audiophile land … Okay, moving on.

This is the second or third time I’ve run across Laufer-Teknik’s Memory Player 64 (top photo, dead center of the rack). Another expensive piece, the version on display was the “analog version”, which can operate as a digital audio source (ie, you don’t need an external computer), transport, and DAC. Here, the ‘Player was used in this total combo mode and was driving the amps directly. Clever trick, actually, and while $25k is a shit-ton of money for a computer these days, for a preamp, DAC, transport and computer server, it makes a devilish kind of sense. All I can say is that it was doing a fine and dandy job at AXPONA.

Great room, great sound and one that I was happy to return to over and over again during my too-brief stay. Well done.