I am always happy to argue against “the fact” that audio show sound quality is always crap because, well, it’s just not. In point of fact, it’s just the opposite. But what might be true is that rooms at audio shows tend to look the same. More specifically, they tend to fall into one of two camps. The first is the “all-out assault” — this room has every last little audiophile doojabber possible, on full display and neatly labeled. To me, these rooms feel a bit like crime scenes, but whatever. Anyway, the other type of room is a bit more … ah … relaxed. Shit is just piled on whatever happens to be convenient. Boxes. Tables. End-tables. The floor. And labels? We don’t need no stinkin’ labels! Pshaw!
And then there’s an Avatar Acoustics room.
At every show Daren Censullo sets up at, he creates a certain atmosphere. Relaxed. Embracing. There’s mood lighting. Lit crystal hunks of Himalayan rock-salt. The delicate scent of vanilla wafts through the air, out the door, and down the hall, like an inviting come-hither. It’s almost sensual. You’d be forgiven if you came to the room with some trepidation, wondering if you’d just made a wrong turn. Anyway, if you ever do get to one of their rooms, you’ll know what I mean. Darren believes in the full-sensorium approach to audio, and, hey, it works.
Avatar is a family business and Darren brings in AMR from the UK, ASI from Asia, and Feickert and Monk from Germany — and more besides — but that’s what he had here at Newport. I went through a couple of times and managed to catch his delightfully frank and viciously funny wife Bonnie running the store. She’s my cousin, by the way, so watch the smirky comments or I’ll have to smite you. Their son, Shane, was indefatigably fetching water, handing out cookies, and generally running errands — I heard a cheerful “hey, man!” lobbed my way at least 10 times a day as Shane was making his rounds. I even managed to catch a glimpse of Naomi a couple of times. Like I said, it’s a family thing.
And quite a thing it is. The room here at Newport was as seductive and alluring as ever I’ve heard this gear sound. Bass wasn’t thunderous, but it was appropriate, tuneful and deep. The mid range was luscious and the treble had some of the sweetest extension I found at the show. Remember the Cricket Test? Flying colors.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the $13,000 Volterra speakers from Rosso Fiorentino that fronted the system. According to Darren, these beauties just got/are about to get a face lift on par with the far more expensive Sienna. This is an unadulterated good-thing, as that means finer cabinet finishing and some of that eminently-touchable Italian leather. Mmm, mmm.
Dr. Feickert’s new $13k Firebird turntable was on display spinning discs. Here it sported only the single tonearm (but it can capably handle two), a 12″ DFA from Feickert. This tonearm, a fully-modded custom job from Feickert, is $1,495 when purchased with the table.
Other bits were from the familiar en-tuben-ated AMR line, including the $11k CD-77 CD player — here used as a transport into the $5k DP-777 DAC.
A $3k Monk Audio Phono preamp, not used while I was touring, shared shelf-space with a slick Purist HDR “Mini” D/A Music Server/DAC from AMI Hi-Fi. Prices vary as you can get this with or without the onboard DAC module, but as shown with all the trimmings, it was $6,500.
The remote control app for the Purist server, shown here on Darren’s iPhone, is extremely simple and straightforward. Drilling in gets you to a very familiar iTunes-like clone.
Phono preamplification came by way of the AMR PH-77. This $12k phono pre is a Swiss army knife of a phono preamp — it has a million EQ curves and an on-board AD/DA converter, solely for capturing your vinyl. Nice feature. Have I mentioned lately that I want this? Yeah.
Amplification, unusually, came by way of a single amp — usually Darren runs these in bridged for shows when driving his big Siennas, but the Volterras were very capably brought to heel under a single $10k AMR AM-77 integrated.
I find AMR to be an interesting line of gear. Tubes and solid-state coming together in elegant packages for non-stratospheric prices makes me happy. I’m hoping to get some of the more modestly priced gear in at some point to give you monkeys a deeper look-see.
All in all, this was a very successful room. I’m very keen on seeing the Volterra in it’s new skin, and it was great to see the Censullo clan in action again. Kudos, Darren!