This is embarrassing. I’m friendly with Emia‘s Dave Slagle. I ate dinner with him on Friday night. I spent more hours in this room than in any other. And yet I have no pictures to share. In my defense, I know that my boss, the good Mr. Hull, was taking good pictures in the tower, so I felt safe in not being an annoying distraction in an always-full room.
In further disclosure, I’m saving most of the pictures I do have for blackmail purposes. So, assuming that Scot took decent pictures, we’ll get started. [Editors note: got you covered, Mal!]
The most visible part of the system here — and the elephant in the room — was obviously the speakers. A fifty year old pair of RCA LC-1A monitors (on everyone’s list of speakers to hear before you die) anchored things. Though they were beautifully refinished by Win Tinnon, they still had the flaws of 60-year-old speakers. In short, they were bandwidth limited, midrangey, more than a bit grainy, and mismatched. And, yes, very little of that mattered when you got to hear Nina Simone sound like Nina Simone. Unfortunately, it all mattered when They Might Be Giants sounded like they were coming out of the window of a clapped-out Chevelle. Anyone who says these were the best speakers at the show is simply misguided. They were magical speakers, but technology has indeed marched on.
By itself, though, that makes the performance in this room even more impressive. Despite the handicap of the ancient RCA’s, this system made some of the most detailed and expressive music at RMAF.
Starting at the top was Win Tinnon’s Saskia II Turntable. If you haven’t met Win, it’s fair to say that he’s a compulsive perfectionist. The Saskia reflects that. It’s 200 pounds of idler drive deck with a plinth water-jetted out of slate. Its speed controller alone makes many modern amplifiers look wimpy. In listening session after listening session, the Saskia II demonstrated unstoppable speed control. Noise isolation was another strength. Even resting on a rack that seemed more Improvisational Ikea than Audiophile Approved, the Saksia II seemed nearly immune to picking up the noise in the room. It is an astounding achievement.
If the Saskia turntable seems like the realization of a Quixotic quest, then the electronics from Emia were the perfect companions. Two watts of Emia’s permalloy 50 amp juiced the speakers. A passive, autoformer attenuator — wired in silver — handled the volume control. The phono section saw silver stepups from Emia running into an Emia phono preamp. Everything about this system handled the cut and thrust of dynamics and decay in a way that was startlingly pure to the source.
I did say that I spent hours here, right?
Those hours included a Saturday night spree in which the Schroeder Reference tonearm, Miyajima Kansui cartridge, and Emia phono section were abandoned in favor of an RS-A1 tonearm, an old Panasonic strain gauge cartridge, and Emia’s strain gauge front end. We may have lost a little modernity there, but the speed and nuance of the strain gauge made it clear why people still spend so much time playing with those things.
So many hours here… In fact, you could find me stumbling out of that room well after the bars had closed. As much as I’d love to hear this stuff on better speakers, the sound here was addictive. Better yet, the people responsible for making the gear were wonderful company. They were kind enough to let me make free with the beer and their record collections. And, honestly, what better way is there to spend a Saturday night?
You probably want to know prices, huh? This is where I’ll ruin it for you.
- Saskia II turntable: $53,000
- Schroeder Reference Tonearm: €5,500.
- Miyajima Kansui: $3600
- Emia SUT: $4200 in silver
- Emia Phono: $4200
- Emia Attenuator: $6000 in silver
- Emia Permalloy 50 Amp: $15,000
- All wiring by Tel-Wire.
Bespoke instruments like these don’t come cheap.