Wes Bender is a fantastic photographer and he’s way more meticulous about it than I am. He’s shown me some of this work — specifically, the G-rated product stuff — and told me about the process by which he “finishes” it. I think there’s some kind of childhood drama or something, because the vendetta he has against dust is the stuff of legend. Legend! Me, I can barely remember where the microfiber cloth is. Just guessing, but I think he might actually get paid for his photography … anyway, I digress.
I’ve been following Wes’ high-end audio show-systems for a while, only in part because they tend to photograph really well. The rooms are always bright and uncluttered and all the gear is easy to see and “get at”. It’s almost as if he’s, you know, thought about the way it looks on the rack and in the room. Gasp! I kid. Okay, I’m not. I can think of about 200 or so demos that could have used a quick conversation with Wes before they “finished” their demo displays. Hint, hint.
Visual glory aside, the sound of his systems tend to also lean toward the sonically pleasing as well. Kind of a sensory two-fer. I’ve offered to explore the other three senses, but for now, Wes seems content with what he’s offering. I’m there for ya, big guy — you just lemme know.
To wit was his current demo — the US debut of the $23,500 Getz from Marten loudspeakers, shown here in a lustrous piano black, a sharp contrast to the white Accuton ceramic tweeter, mid, and woofers in the angled-sidewall cabinets. Like most of the Marten speakers, the Getz is a 4Ω load, but has a minimum of 3.7Ω, so consider this relatively tube friendly. If you could call 87dB a problem, it’d be in that the speaker calls for something more than the average SET, however.
Shown here was the 60 wpc Bia 120 from Zesto Audio. $12,500 will net you a very slick-looking Class A stereo amplifier featuring a quartet of KT-88 tubes and a quartet of 12AU7 input tubes. The power supply is fully solid-state. The amp is much larger than it first appears, but those swooping design cues are visually captivating.
Aquarius — knew I was writing about him
Matched here with the matching Leto line stage ($7,500) and the new Andros 1.2 phono stage ($4,700). The latter received a whole host of rave reviews, but designer George Counnas felt that it was a good time to share “what they’ve learned along the way.” Here’s the list of updates:
- 10 position MC load, from 20 to 1000 Ohm and more positions in the sweet zone between 200 to 1000 Ohms
- 2 position MM loading, 47K &15K to accommodate a wider range of cartridges
- 67dB of gain
- +6V max output
- Same sonic signature
- Improved circuitry design and component value upgrades
- Enhanced grounding scheme
- Binding post moved to accommodate shorter ground wires
- Lower noise
- New feet
In addition to the Zesto gear, a pair of mirrored bits from E.A.R. also found the rack, including a DAC4 and a Transport4, for all your PCM-to-DSD playback needs. Price for the combo is $13,000.
On the analog side, a couple of new bits too, including the Townshend Audio Rock 7 Mk 2 with Merlin motor ($5,800), still featuring the distinctive head-shell damping system. What’s new — subtle changes, including a dust-cover for the head-shell trough, that $1,900 motor from Merlin, a new clamping mechanism, and other minor changes and upgrades. Friday saw the brand new dynamic-VTF-enabled Townshend tonearm, the Excalibur II ($TBD); a Helius covered it the rest of the weekend. I have a confession to make — I’ve been drooling over this turntable for last five years. That head shell damping system is, as far as I know, unique among the turntables I see at these shows and I can tell you that it very clearly adds dramatic improvements to tone and detail — even if it looks kinda wacky.
In case I miss it, let me add that all the cables are from Waveform Fidelity. the GS MK3 ($2,895 for 3′) were matched with interconnects (starting at $1,495) and power cords ($1,745 each) from the same line. The “GS” marks the flagship offering from Waveform Fidelity (aka, Kaplan Cable). The Alchemist ($4,500) was upended in the corner, providing both power conditioning and distribution.
More audio goodness came from Stillpoints. Massive Ultra 5 footers sat under the loudspeakers ($699 each), and I think by now it’s pretty much assumed that Stillpoints is the company to beat when it comes to isolation systems — I’m seeing their little footers everywhere these days. The bare-framework rack was the Stillpoints ESS 34″ ($8,905) and the ESS 42″ ($10,700). Each of these racks are something of a marvel in suspension design and of course off the full benefit of Stillpoints isolation. Stillpoints Apertures ($650 each) were used on the walls for diffusion and bass trapping.
The most intriguing thing in the rack was the wood box from Entreq. The Silver Tellus is a grounding box — think: your own private power system ground, and one that is not shared with the rest of the house. Given how crappy hotel power is, or how bad urban power can be, I was looking at this box rather carefully. Better grounding schemes means a quieter system, and that’s never a bad thing. It was wired to the components in the rack and also to the rack itself, which despite what I’m told does not create a Faraday cage effect (you need a lot more material in the rack at the very least), but may well help take unwanted interference and ground that out, too.
Okay, so that’s a lot of words to describe what was in the room, but did I mention that it was a most excellent sounding room? There’s a real synergy that came together with this equipment that made me smile and say “This is the kind of system a great dealer would put together,” and I’m not just blowing smoke up Wes’ skirt. Seriously. Great sounding components are easy to find. Great sounding components that work together to create a great system? That’s quite a bit harder. That’s where a dealer is extremely helpful. And given that Wes Bender Studios was one of the very few local dealers to actually support the local audio show, I for one hope that the thronging crowds took especial note of the easy, delightfully rich and wondrously detailed music happening here.
Very nice work. Another contender for Best in Show.