I make fun of Lou Hinkley for a couple of reasons. One, he has an excellent sense of humor. Two, he rarely shows it, preferring by far to phone in his amusement with just a touch of dry remove, a bit of rough grace, and more than a little Jack Palance thrown in for good measure. In short, I’m always pretty sure he’s going to clobber me.
One of the things Lou’s Daedalus Audio products are known for is wood. Specifically, that they’re all solid wood. If you’re a theoretical purist, steeped in the Dark Arts of Forum Knowledge, then you’ll be aware that Wood Is Not Good. You know. For resonance control and stuff. And anyone that uses natural, local hardwood to craft instruments is clearly out of touch at best, and wildly misguided at worst. You know. Like that moron Stradivari. What a total idiot that guy was.
I’ve written before about Lou’s work, his take on wood and loudspeaker design, and all that, so I won’t rehash it here except to make yet another chalk mark on the Empiricist’s Wall of Truth for “Experience Wins Again” and say that the room he shared with ModWright and WyWires had the best resolution of any display or demo at CAF this year. Period.
To say that this was a surprise is a bit mild. I certainly wasn’t expecting it. I’ve heard Lou’s speakers at quite a few audio shows, and I’ve always been impressed. But this new Ulysses, simply named “V.2”, is something else. Lou gets a bit tight-lipped about upgrades and improvements, but did mention that he’s done quite a few things with drivers, crossover components, and bracing, and the results were eye-opening. A 98dB speaker, the Ulysses V.2 currently retails for $15,850 (more for custom woods, and yes, the color/woods chosen for the demo are completely optional — you can have Lou make it look however you like), and features six drivers in a 3-way configuration. The dovetail joins do more than just look pretty, too, and add to the structural rigidity and overall dampening of the cabinet. Note that they’re also rear-ported, so some room around them is probably a good idea.
Daedalus and ModWright may seem like an unlikely pairing, given the high sensitivity of the loudspeakers, but not worries on that front as the ModWright KWA 150 SE ($8,995) is gloriously free of grain and can deliver a full-range load without hiccup or pause. Bass response was very healthy, the mid-range completely holographic, and the treble response was so beautifully clear I was able to hear more crickets throughout that entire Chris Jones track than I’ve ever heard before.
Also from ModWright was the classic two-chassis LS 36.5 DM tube pre ($9,995) and a pair of newcomers.
The Elyse Reference Tube DAC ($6,900) has been creeping toward release for a while now, but is now order-able — features include the typical complement of inputs and support for up to 24/192 PCM files (no DSD), and does in fact sport tubes on the output stage. There’s a lot to love in the box, including some Lundahl transformers on both inputs and outputs, a pair of 6922 tubes, all wrapped up in a direct-coupled Class A zero-feedback design. For power, it’s choke-regulated and tube (an 5AR4) rectified. This is a seriously hot recipe.
The other newcomer is the PH 150 tube phono stage ($7,900), a transformer-coupled pre with an external solid-state PSU and all manner of knobs on the front to adjust loading parameters. There are four tubes, two 6c45 and two 6922. The gain on the MC input is 60/66/72db (adjustable); the gain on the MM input is 46/52/58dB (adjustable). Loading for capacitance and resistance is available on the front panel. Like the Elyse, the PH 150 is a Class A zero-feedback design. Lundahl transformers are used for a coupled/buffered output and a Lundahl SUT is used for MC handling. Both XLR and RCA outputs are standard.
A VPI turntable sat on top of the rack feeding all the delicious vinyl to the system below.
WyWires was a not-quite-hidden partner in the room, providing their newest Platinum interconnects and speaker cables, along with their brand-new Silver Series power cords. A WyWires/Daedalus Audio power distribution system called the Power Broker handled the current.
Short form: great sound and perhaps the best I’ve heard from this team. Easily one of the Best In Show.