RMAF12: High Water Sound presents Cessaro, TW Acustic, Tron, Silver Circle

Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound is not a digital guy. In fact, if you’re looking for a way to rile him up, ask him if he’ll play your CD. Tell him, “Yes, I’m serious.” And then, “What do you mean, you don’t play CDs?” Be sure to tell me when you plan to assault him like this; that’ll be a fun conversation to watch.

He has a point, though. Good digital isn’t as easy as many vendors have made it seem. And while it’s true that digital conversion has come along way, it’s rare that it compares with what truly good vinyl can do. Sorry — it just is. Where Jeff and I diverge is that while I believe that digital has finally figured out what the target is and is steadily making progress (now), Jeff is a bit more sanguine. I can imagine him shaking his head at me and saying, “Whatever you say.”

Walk into one of his demos and you can see why he’s not just blowing smoke. The sound he gets out of his vinyl setups is stupid-good. I remember him scaring the crap out of me at CAF and nearly reducing me to tears last RMAF. The man’s a wizard with gear and rooms.

Part of the success, I’m sure he’ll agree, is due to the extraordinary quality of the products he shows. Starting with the $64k mega-horn Cessaro Horn Acoustics Affascinate 1 SE. This thing is insane. There’s the backloaded bass horn that takes it down to 34Hz. There’s the honkin’ huge spherical wooden mid range horn — which is quite obviously the first thing you notice — that uses a 1″ compression driver. There’s another spherical horn for the tweeter, this one somewhat inset and made of brass, and buries a tiny .5″ alnico compression driver with extension up to 45kHz. Each speaker is 250lbs, is 110dB sensitive and presents an 8 ohm load. They’re also 80 feet tall and have been known to consume worlds. You’ve been warned.

I only jest in part — they are big speakers, and as such, require a little respect. That is, respect enough to put them into a room that can handle them. While they don’t do subterranean bass — and can’t, that bass horn simply isn’t big enough — they do a very respectable 35Hz, and do everything else so well, you’re really not going to care. But — you’re still gonna want a room that gives them adequate room to breathe. The room here at RMAF was deceptively large, and had plenty of lateral space in which to set the monster Cessaros — but bigger might have been even better. So, in an effort to discourage any inopportune and unpleasant room interactions, Jeff had the big horns set up on some Symposium Ultra platforms — wickedly clever, that. Some strategically placed flora provided some front-wall diffusion (and ambiance). A low-slung table set between the loudspeakers kept that center image from losing its rock-solid definition. And then, well, Bob’s your uncle. All I can say is this — these may be the most dynamic speakers I’ve ever been privileged to hear. And that sound? HolysweetMotherMary … wow. In the first 15 seconds I knew I had a Best in Show contender. Top 5, “easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy” as my 5 year old son likes to say.

I’m a huge fan of TW-Acustic, and in all fairness, I really ought to say that I own a Raven AC-3 that I bought from Jeff about a year ago now. It’s my favorite widget in the reference system, by far. Here, Jeff was showing the more affordable TW-Acustic Raven GT ($9,500), on which he’d mounted two TW 10.5 tonearms ($5,500 each). Miyajima Labs Shilabe ($2,600) and Kansui ($4,200) rotated the stereo duties and mono was handled by the Miyajima Premium BE Mono ($1,250) and Zero ($1,995).

Electronics came entirely from Tron-Electric this year. The Discovery GT SE 300B stereo amplifier ($60,000) was the show’s centerpiece, and what a sweet piece it is. OMFG. Anyway, a top-line Tron Seven GT Line stage ($18k) was fed by a Seven GT Stereo Phono ($18k) and a Seven GT Mono Phono ($18k). This front end is as trick as Tron gets. And you wonder why Jeff is dismissive of CDs? Yeah, me neither. Hey, has anyone seen the Lotto Fairy lately? I’m expecting a package. Any day now. Yep. Any day.

PranaWire speaker cables and interconnects wired the rig, as well as providing the power cords and Line Backer Passive Line Conditioners.

Last but not least is the new $10k Tchaik (short for Tchaikovsky) 6 from Silver Circle Audio. The new conditioner incorporates the latest thinking by Thor David Stanard, and focuses on technology developed by Rick Schultz (Virtual Dynamics and now High Fidelity Cables) called “Wave Stabilizers”. There are five in the Tchaik, which also includes a new, upgraded Vesuvius II power cord and Terrastone footers from EdenSound. According to David:

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.

Heady words — and that’s why one of these beauties is heading to Chez Moi as I write this. More soon!

Thomas Woschnick (the TW of TW-Acustic) here with his Raven GT turntable

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  1. I`m contemplating my way with new speakers. Your comments in regards to these speakers got me very curios. If money and “wife factor” were not a consideration, which one of the two (Cessaro vs the Horning) would you choose with same ancillary and on absolute sound a musicality basis alone ?
    BTW – your attractive web site is a joy !

    • All things being equal, the Cessaro are better sounding loudspeakers — to my ears.

    • Wierd how Merlin with Joule OTL are “not in the same league”. So what if they are fifth of the price?
      Could you explain in what way?
      12W 211 based A2 SET with quite large transformer driving horn speakers Vs 80 W OTL driving moderate load box speakers with bass augmentation (BAM?).
      Did you notice a different tonality to the Merlin? What was this difference?
      How was the bass (quality and quantity) between these and the Merlin?
      How was the upper midrange between the two?
      How was the overall clarity between the two?
      P. S I am not a Merlin owner but prefer box speakers.

      • You’re asking to compare a muscle car to a canyon carver — the OTLs with the Merlin is probably about as good as I’ve ever heard the Merlin speakers sound, but it’s still not as pointpoint on the twisties as a high-sensitivity speaker driven by a good SET. It just isn’t.

  2. Had a couple of questions about the HW/Cessaro room. This setup was pretty close to the Highwater Sound room you liked so much at CAF. Obviosuly the main difference being the Cessaro Affascinate versus the Horning Eufrodite, and less so Tron Discovery vs Tellstar amps. So what did the Cessaro speakers bring to the table above the Eufrodite at less than half the price to play? (Not that I could afford the Cessaro’s unless the lotto fairy visits me first! but still curious)

    You had mentioned in “Gear I’d Like To Own” that the Horning’s where right up there, how has this feeling played out through the year of listening to lots of other options?

    Finally, any thoughts on the other Highwater room with the Horning Aristoteles? (I too have visited Jeff’s loft. Initially to check out the TW turntables, but was lured back by the horn speakers. Something my wife even digged. I went back a second time to listen the Aristoteles at Jeff’s suggestion. My grand plan at the time was to upgrade my Merlin TSM to VSM when our house project is finished in a year. Curious to hear the thoughts of a previous Merlin owner who seems to like the sound of the Hornings).

    PS. Keep up the good work. Just found this website while searching for RMAF reports. Some of the most refreshing audio related journalism I have read. I have lost a lot of time in the last week reading through all the posts!

    • Well, if you’ve read all the posts, please allow me to take this opportunity to apologize for all that time you’re never going to get back.

      The new Hornings are very special — both the Aristotle and the Eufrodite. The latter plays bigger with less power required — and the bass is deeper. The former seems to be quite the performer, but I’ve only ever heard it the once at RMAF (I haven’t yet made it up to Water Street).

      The sound of the Cessaro vs the Horning: hard to say as I haven’t had them back-to-back. BUT: I think the Cessaro (properly set up) seems more dynamic, music just feels like it has more “jump” to it. The sound also feels more open, more transparent, if that helps? Tone on both is excellent, as is the treble extension, but the Hornings have better bass. And that’s all I’ve got, other than the obvious aesthetic things. My wife, for example, would never let the Cessaro loudspeakers anywhere near the house. The Hornings, by contrast, she actually doesn’t hate. 😉

      • I appreciate the input! Sounds like Cessaro’s are taking advantage of their true horn design versus the Horning “Hybrid” design.

        i think the wife factor is why you have taken over your basement, and when we were designing our house I only asked for one thing. A room to my own, in which I could do what ever I wanted, decorate however I wanted, and place as ugly speakers as I wanted, as far into the room as I wanted:)

        Any thoughts on how the Horning systems compare to what you achieved at home with the Merlin/Joule-Electra system?

      • I can’t afford the Cessaro, but the Hornings are much closer to “available”. Either way, the Merlins aren’t in this class — but that’s not taking anything away from Merlin. The Hornings, run by Tron, are easily 2x-5x the price. The Tron amps are spectacular, and a bit out of above and beyond the Joule, which are stunning with what they’re best at. The Tron simply takes that farther, and across the entire frequency spectrum.

  3. Vinyl usually sounds better because vinyl *masters* usually are better. Properly digitized vinyl done through a top shelf ADC and played back on a digital rig comparable to these turntable flagships like a dCS system should be extremely close, maybe even identical, even given the additional A-D and D-A process.

    VERY little digital available right now is done with any real care. The Analogue Productions SACDs mastered by Gray and Hoffman, the Reference Recordings HRx series, a very select few of the releases done for HDTracks specifically, not much else.

    I wonder what Mr. Catalano would say if you told him most vinyl done today is cut from high-res digital?

    • I’m sure he’s aware, but I suspect that he’d probably say something like: “New LPs suck!” Maybe. Ask him yourself, right after he’s done with the apoplectic fit from asking him to play a CD.

    • LOL. No, not even close. But I grant you, there are better looking loudspeakers.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. RMAF12: High Water Sound with Pure Sound and Hørning Hybrid | Confessions of a Part-Time Audiophile
  2. RMAF12: Silver Circle and High Fidelity Cables | Confessions of a Part-Time Audiophile
  3. RMAF12: Wrap up — CanJam, the future of high-end audio, Best in Show, and a special thanks | Confessions of a Part-Time Audiophile

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