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CAF 2014: The Voice That Is reaches for stars with TIDAL Audio, Bricasti and Aurender

CT6A7566 I'm pretty sure it's a sign of old age when you start referring to your stories by number. Or maybe it's just superior indexing? Ah, well. Anyway, audio story #1,287 is about Doug White at The Voice That Is. Doug is an audio dealer, and brings in several upscale product lines to serve his Philadelphia-centered clientele, including TIDAL Audio, Bricasti, and several others. My story starts with me calling Doug, asking some impertinent question or other, and Doug refusing to quote me a price, much less sell me something. Honestly, I can't even remember what it was I was asking after. But the fact that he refused to do business with me is what really sticks out. A dealer, refusing to make money? Seriously? Seriously. Doug isn't a slash-and-burn sales guy. He's a consultant and takes that role seriously: "If I sell this to you, you're not going to like it and you're going to blame me and never call me again," he explained. "I think I can help you get where you want to be, but we are going to have to spend some time figuring out what that is. When we have a goal, we can work on a solution. That's the value I bring." I'm paraphrasing, but this was perhaps the first time I'd ever encountered a commercial sales rep actually doing this kind of thing -- sacrificing the quick sale for the chance at earning a customer long-term. I was, and still am, very impressed with Doug and his ethical standards and he remains one of the very few audio dealers I can unequivocally recommend doing business with. Now that I've blown all this smoke up in his general direction, we can talk about what he did to all of us at CAF this year. Because it was amazing.

The big TIDAL Audio Agoria SE is a relatively new design coming from the German company. Unlike the massive Sunray he brought last year, the Agoria is all of a piece — that is, it’s a single monolithic speaker that weighs in around 500lbs a side and no, it’s most definitely not modular. There are two side-firing woofers and three passive radiators, two front facing drivers, and one diamond tweeter. The finish on these speakers is so far past “piano black”, it makes most speakers look like they were doodled on by a kindergartener. I’ve honestly seen nothing like it, and after talking with a professional piano restoration expert, apparently not many folks have — especially not piano restoration experts. It’s unbelievable. The build quality overall is appallingly good and the attention to detail is likewise fanatical — take, for a random example, the faceplate, which is 4mm thick and counter-sunk into the fascia to a depth of 3mm. Who does this kind of thing? The binding posts are equal to the best I’ve seen and those all-black drivers are all custom-made-for-TIDAL by Accuton. Bah. I’m going to stop here. You’re not going to grok me until you see one.

TIDAL is “one of those brands” that produces the full lineup. Their Preos preamplifier is a fully discrete volume control system that is engaged with digitally controlled optical decoupling. I’ve had this pre in my home system (all too briefly — write-up coming soon), and I can honestly say that I was flabbergasted by it. Flabbergasted. Now say that 10 times fast. No reason, it’s just a fun word to say. You’re welcome. But the transparency, the speed and the tonal accuracy ranks it as the very best I’ve yet to play with. And play with it you’ll want to, because it’s every bit as fun to look at and touch as the big speakers are.

The rest of the gear in this room was equally top shelf, but not necessarily oligarch-level priced. The highly regarded Bricasti M1 DAC was connected to the reference-quality Aurender W20 server. A TIDAL Audio Impulse amplifier hulked in the rack, if you can ever say that a jeweler-grade machine can be said to “hulk” (even a 100lb one). And the whole was strung with some eye-poppingly expensive cabling from the new Luminist Line of cables from Purist Audio Design. Specifically, Doug was using the following

  • Dominus Speaker Cables – $15,000 (2.5m)
  • Dominus AC Power Cord – $2,870 (2m)
  • Aquilla Digital AC Power Cord – $1,145 (2m)
  • 25th Anniversary XLR IC Cables – $9,970 (1.5m)
  • 25th Anniversary RCA IC Cables – $9,570 (1.5m)
  • 25th Anniversary AES/EBU IC Cables – $4,800 (1.5m)

The increasingly common StillPoints footers and rack were in quiet and understated use throughout. New to the brand are the Aperture Room Treatment panels, which combine diffusion with absorption and resonators to provide a treatment system that scales with volume. Bruce Jacobs of StillPoints shrugged, “When you use panels, you can really do a lot to tame your room, but when you turn the volume down, those panels can really swallow your sound quality. Ours, in part due to the resonators, scales with volume.” Interesting stuff — and something I’m going to want to explore.

  • TIDAL Audio Agoria SE Speaker – $105,000 ( shown in Midnight Black Lacquer finish)
  • TIDAL Audio Preos Preamplifier w/ phono stage – $28,990
  • TIDAL Audio Impulse Dual- Mono Amplifier (190W) – $32,290
  • Aurender W20 Reference Music Server – $16,800
  • Bricasti M1 DAC with USB – $8,995
  • Purist Audio Design Luminist Revision Dominus Speaker Cables – $15,000 (2.5m)
  • Purist Audio Design Luminist Revision Dominus AC Power Cord – $2,870 (2m)
  • Purist Audio Design Luminist Revision Aquilla Digital AC Power Cord – $1,145 (2m)
  • Purist Audio Design Luminist Revision 25th Anniversary XLR IC Cables – $9,970 (1.5m)
  • Purist Audio Design Luminist Revision 25th Anniversary RCA IC Cables – $9,570 (1.5m)
  • Purist Audio Design Luminist Revision 25th Anniversary AES/EBU IC Cables – $4,800 (1.5m)
  • StillPoints ESS GRID Rack $5,400 – $44k, varies w/configuration
  • StillPoints Ultra SS Isolators – $249 each
  • StillPoints Ultra 5 Isolators – $699 each
  • StillPoints Aperture Room Treatment – $650 each (sublimation dye image prints $200 extra)

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About Scot Hull (975 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

6 Comments on CAF 2014: The Voice That Is reaches for stars with TIDAL Audio, Bricasti and Aurender

  1. Being a vendor myself, I went walking through the hallways of the 2014 Capital Audiofest to try to visit as many vendors as possible and wish all good luck for the show before the doors open to the public. I headed downstairs to visit the vendors in the bigger rooms basically gracing the lobby of the hotel. My eye caught a flash reflection at an angle and I turned to see Doug White of the “Voice That Is” scanning through his mobile phone. Greetings fellow vendor I said. Doug immediately waved at me to come in, I praised him regarding his set up and how nicely the live plants makes it stand out. He gave me a lot of insight about the development of the TIDAL Audio products. I learned a lot that morning regarding the processes involved to get these phenomenal products out to the consumer. Doug played some great music for me to see how the TIDAL Audio compares sonically with others. I truly did enjoy how the music was reproduced effortlessly with great transparency and dynamics.

    I then went closer to inspect the exquisite finishes of the TIDAL Agoria Speakers, Preos preamplifier and Impulse power amplifier. The finishes were just out of this world, there is nothing perfect in this world of ours but, these finishes from TIDAL were super close to perfection. Doug then told me to touch and turn the volume control of the Preos preamplifier. I kid you not, my jaw did not drop but literally fell to the floor. Doug had a good laugh at that (wishing he had a camera rolling to record my reaction to a knob). Of all my years in high-end audio, I have never had such “high” from turning a volume control knob. As the saying goes “Smooth As Butter” but this experience was “Smoother Than Butter” that was how that volume control of the preamplifier felt at my finger-tips. TIDAL Audio truly does take care of details and it makes great music. Wow !

    I highly recommend visiting “The Voice That Is” in PA to experience the TIDAL sound. I know it will not be everybody’s cup of tea but, at least go experience what I did and it will be on your wish list. At the end I was so glad to see that Doug’s room was nominated as one of the best rooms at the show. Don’t take my word for it but, make it a point to check out “The Voice That Is” whenever you are in the neighborhood. A true pleasure.

    Koby at HifiLogic.com

  2. Thank you very much for the kind words and for acknowledging my efforts at this year’s Capital Audiofest. I really enjoy meeting the music lovers in the DC area who return to my room every year and multiple times during each show. My sincere thanks to the good people at Purist Audio Design, StillPoints, Bricasti Design for their help to make this show a pleasure. Also thanks to Gary Gill for putting on a good show and to Scot for his ability to capture the beauty of TIDAL’s products in his images. 🙂

  3. PewterTA // August 1, 2014 at 2:35 PM //

    I agree with wkhanna, after hearing the Sunrays… slightly disappointing experience. Though that’s like driving two $1.5m race cars…. you’re still driving the best!

    Doug is definitely a great guy and I would not hesitate to send anyone his direction if they are looking for a killer sound system. The nice part in being that Doug won’t provide them with what they don’t really need or will not like. It is definitely not too often than a salesman will give up sales because he doesn’t think you’d be happy and will turn you to look elsewhere to get you exactly what you want.

    As soon as I get rich, I’ll be coming to see Doug, because that’s what I want! 🙂

  4. Stillpoiints RETAIL product pricing is as follows:

    Ultra SS is $249/ea
    Ultra 5 is $699/ea
    Aperture (one of 3 standard configurations) $650/ea, sublimation dye image prints extra
    ESS with Grid (depending on height, width, number of shelves and shelf configuration) ~$5400 to ~$44,000

  5. wkhanna // July 30, 2014 at 6:42 AM //

    Jeez…..it is embarrassing.
    I am so spoiled.
    I heard Doug’s system with the Sunray speakers ($155k) last year.
    The Agoria’s were V good……but oh, last year………
    It does not change that fact that Doug is one great guy, and one of few dealers I could trust with my money.

  6. wayne patrick // July 29, 2014 at 12:46 PM //

    All I can say is WOW! I am speechless.

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