CAF12: High Water Sound

Expectation bias is pretty much just what it sounds like — it’s the predisposition of a human being to judge incoming data in light of prior experiences, data, and beliefs. This is a universal issue for every empirical endeavor and generally makes mockery of most analytical approaches — data are whatever they are, but what hay gets made of them, well, that’s almost arbitrary.

Welcome to Science.

I’m going to make a ham-handed move here and say that this applies — just about everywhere. Science is, at root, somewhat error-prone. Mistakes get made. Things go awry. At the very least, every where we go, and with everything we do, we’re analyzing current experiences in light of past experiences. Which makes demoing the same thing, the same components, over and over again, something of a tricky move, because if you have one of your to-to demos go pear-shaped, well, the legacy of that may haunt you. Similarly, have a bazillion go right doesn’t get you off the hook. You damn well better make sure the next one does too — or Jack McGee will be right there, capturing it for the local paper.

I do wonder if Jeff Catalano feels any of that pressure when he sets up at an audio show. Jeff’s a cagey dude — he’s smart enough not to fall into the monotonous demo trap. Every show, something is different. Something interesting. The problem here, however, is the same — because the result tends to be the same. That is, it’s good. Really good.

I’m curious about Jeff, because my expectations are absurdly high every time I’ve walked into one of his demo rooms. I’ve even heard myself say to myself, “Self, this is gonna be awesome!” Self likes to refer to self as “self”, but I’m not entirely sure as to why, though I do have some suspicions. Personally, I blame gamma radiation. Moving on.

I’m not sure what the high water mark was for Jeff’s High Water Sound demos, but it may well have been RMAF in 2010 when he showed with both Aspara and Hørning speakers; I  might have lost 7.75lbs in his sauna simply loved the sound in this room. Or perhaps it was RMAF in 2011, when Jeff showed with the big Cessaro speakers. That was absolutely astounding. Anyway, these kinds of experiences do set a bar, a threshold for expected excellence, so that should I walk into the room and it sounds like total ass, I’m not only disappointed, I’m actually angry. Like, really angry.

No pressure, Jeff, but yes, the safety and well-being of several thousand people rest entirely upon your ability to make your systems sound phenomenal. Dont’ make me angry.

Which is why everyone in Rockville, MD was exceedingly lucky that the Capital Audiofest went off without a hitch or a single sighting by Mr Purple Pants.

More seriously, I want to take a sec to talk about the new and improved Hørnings. Jeff calls these guys “Series 4”, recognizing that this is the fourth major revision of this speaker. However, the official name is still the “Hørning Hybrid Eufrodite Zigma Ultimate”, which is, of course, the same moniker used for the last version.  The price is also exactly the same ($24,000).

What’s not the same, is, well, most everything. Except the drivers. Those are the same. But they’re now spaced differently. In this model, they’re much closer together, which is supposed to help integration. The folded-horn configuration is also completely redesigned. There’s a new crossover, now using some audiophile parts like Dueland resistors.

But for those of visual-types, the cabinets are probably the most notable difference. Now made entirely in Denmark, the level of fit and finish have jumped up two or three notches. Shown here in a sapele wood veneer, the cabinets were both startling and gorgeous to the touch — so I promptly ran my palms all over the sides when Jeff wasn’t looking. Smooth, baby, smooth.

Jeff had fitted a set of Track Audio Isolation Feet to the speakers. They’re nifty little  contraptions with mechanism for leveling, coupling and de-coupling. I may have to get some, but they’re a pricey $1,300 for a set of 8.

The $10k TW Acustic Raven GT is now in full production. I say this because the ones shipping from Germany look a bit different from the one sitting in Jeff’s room — they have a visible stainless-steel sub-platter set into the billet-aluminum plinth. All GT models are pre-configured for two tone arms, which are sold separately — here we had two of the $5,500 Raven 10.5s, one mounted with a $2,600 Miyajima Shilabe and one with a $1,250 Miyajima Premium Be Mono. The turntable’s motor assembly is embedded into the plinth, but according to Jeff, there is absolutely no sonic difference between inboard or outboard motors — both are absolutely silent with zero rumble.

On a side note, the Raven One is still being offered. Now $7,000, up from it’s introductory price of $6,500 due to increases in materials costs, it competes pretty squarely with just about any table in the sub-$10,000 price point.

The GT isn’t a replacement, exactly, as the Raven One is actually the more upgradeable table. While both can be fitted for two arm boards (and the GT actually comes with two), more motors can be added to the Raven One (creating a Raven Two, for example), by adding a motor “pod” to the one that came with the table. The GT is limited to the one motor, but is designed for those folks that don’t want the sprawl that a multi-motor-pod Raven might entail. I own a Raven AC-3, and trust me, that ‘table needs some space.

The other differences between the two tables are, of course, parts quality. The GT has the same motor as all of the other tables, but the GT carries an upgraded motor controller borrowed from the Raven AC — just in a smaller case, as all this controller will ever need to support is the single motor. There’s also some special coupling/de-coupling feet borrowed from the $25k Raven Limited. And of course, the GT also has that more expensive two-tone/dual-material plinth I mentioned.

Jeff’s a big fan of Silent Running Audio platforms, and this show (like past shows), all of his gear was carefully perched atop some Ohio XL plinths. I’ve asked him about SRA, and he claims they provide the best isolation that he’s aware of. Each platform is fully custom and designed for exactly the one component it supports, whether it’s a speaker, a preamplifier or a turntable, and further tuned based on that component’s design, footprint, weight distribution and materials composition. This is state-of-the-art stuff.

The components were all Tron. A magnificent $40,000 Telstar Ultimate, a 211-based SET pushing a whopping 12wpc. Jeff tells me that this amp is one of his all-time favorites, but personally, I can understand why many people have trouble with amps that costly. Jeff shrugged, “it’s expensive, sure, but for what it is and what it can do, it’s a bargain”. I pressed him on that last bit, the “bargain”, but Jeff was adamant — and he’s a stickler about value. Value isn’t all about price, it’s about whether or not you can get that same performance for less — or, more properly, for significantly less. If this is sounding a lot like the Julia Rule, well, I’m not surprised — it did to me, too. And here, with the Telstar, Jeff believes there is that kind of value. “Not much out there can touch it.”

Tell you what, I’ll agree to suspend my natural disbelief, but this is one of those times that I wonder if I’ve missed the latest Megamillions drawing.

Fronting this big amp were some more gear from Tron, including an $18,000 Tron Seven Line GT and a matching $18,00 Tron Seven Phono GT. The “GT” designation marks a new level of fitment for the brand. With all of Tron gear, the circuits are all same, regardless of the level — it’s the parts quality that changes. Moving from “Standard” to “Reference” gets you better, higher quality parts. Silver wiring, silver transformers, and silver taps takes you to “Ultimate”. The GT line came out last year, and adds some trickle-down technology from the top-of-the-heap “Nemesis” line, including some serious upgrades to the power supply.

Power conditioning came courtesy of a hungry-looking $7,500 Pure Power One 5.0SE from Silver Circle Audio. The SE adds GTX-D(G) receptacles from Furutech, HiFi Tuning Fuses, and some upgraded internal wiring, including double-thickness gold plating on terminals and internal jumpers.

I did just learn something interesting — a new, top shelf power conditioner is coming from Silver Circle Audio. The Tchaik 6, at $9,500, represents the latest and greatest from David Stanard’s bag of tricks. And yes, it comes in any color that you want all black. Description borrowed from The Cable Company:

Just as the new Furutech GT-XD receptacles helped spawn the pure power one 5.0se, the development of Magnetic Innovations’ new Wave Stabilizers have helped spawn our new TCHAIK 6. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote 6 symphonies, the sixth of which was also named the “Pathetique.” The third movement of this symphony encompasses all that is great in music: delicate strings and woodwinds, flowing sweeping strings, powerful low brass and percussion. It is the only time I have heard and seen an audience almost burst into cheers at the conclusion of a single movement that was not the finale.

The Wave Stabilizers were developed by Rick Schultz of Magnetic Innovations. Five are installed in the TCHAIK 6: two (positive and neutral) on the input side, two on the output side, and one on common ground to IEC input. When we started experimenting with this new technology, we were astounded at the sonic improvements. It took the pure power one 5.0se to a level we never dreamed possible. This presented the challenge with which we were presented with the Furutech GT-XD receptacles: upgrade or new product?

New product was the answer. This new product includes the following:

  • Five (5) Wave Stabilizer modules; 2 on the input (hot and neutral), 2 on the output, and 1 on the ground.
  • 2 Audio Magic fuses
  • An upgraded Vesuvius II power cord – FI-52(R) IEC connector and FI-50M(R) power connector.
  • Eden Sound TerraStones footers

The TCHAIK 6 will debut at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest this year. Two units will be in a room hosted by Silver Circle Audio and High Fidelity Cables (another fabulous design from inventor Rick Schultz). One of the TCHAIK 6s will be in the Estelon room. Others are pending, but as word gets out, we expect demand to be great.

Cables came from two sources — Zen Sati provided some spectacular (and spectacularly priced) Seraphim speaker cables ($29,120 for 2m pair) and several sets of High Fidelity Cable interconnects ($1,600 for a 1m pair).

So, let’s talk about the sound in this room.

The sound was, well. Hmm. It’s almost hard to say. It was dynamic, delicate, forceful, rich, detailed, fast, yes, all that was there … but, above everything else, it was musical. I just stopped listening to, and for, the sounds. For me, all of that got unzipped, scrambled, and then, finally, discarded. It wasn’t really about that. Not here. Jeff had music in his room.

Maybe it’s the gear, maybe its just his taste in music combined with his enthusiasm and passion, or maybe it’s all those green plants Jeff stuffs in the room boosting the oxygen levels, but whatever it was, I kept coming back. And when I wasn’t there, I was comparing other rooms to that High Water sound. Expectation bias. It’s a bitch.

In my Enjoy The Music coverage, I mentioned a particular track that Jeff used to show off the dynamics of the speakers:

It was Percussion in Colors, by Sumire Yoshihara that knocked my teeth in. Long out of print, this disc is really hard to find, which is a shame because the dynamic range on this LP is incredible … the first track has this drum strike about 45 seconds in that nearly caused me to drop my camera. Freaky.

This was one of a long series of LPs that Jeff had, just lying about, ready to pull out. In fact, Jeff apparently has something like 30,000 LPs stuffed into his place up in Manhattan. A friend joked at the show, “man oh man, if Jeff would give me his seconds, my record collection would be 10 times as big as it is now — and ten times as awesome.” Next time you see Jeff at an audio show, ask him about music, if he isn’t already. His taste is all over the map, so chances are, if you’ve heard of it — Jeff owns it. Twice. And one of them is in the original mono. I’m gonna have to schedule a trip up to The City, it seems. I want to see and hear all this for myself.

And that, in itself is an interesting reaction. In a world where brick and mortar dealers are becoming a fast-fading fad, High Water Sound is a happy reminder of why some dealers are still making waves. I’ve written some nonsense that it’s all about the value a dealer can provide, but whatever your take, it’s quite clear that Jeff brings value. Piles and piles of value. Which is why there’s actually a “thing” called a High Water Sound system and customers actually tell Jeff that what they want to create a system of their own with “that High Water sound”. This sound warps folks at audio shows. It magnetizes them. It’s a hard effect to shake. Which is what it’s about. Find that magic, make that kind of mark, and you’re now in for the long haul.

Kudos to Jeff. Again. I look forward to the next show!