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!