By John Stancavage
When packing to attend an audio show, the last thing I usually do is pick three or four CDs to take with me for demoing equipment. Two will be long-term references I’ve been using for years and the other two might be something that’s been dominating the home system recently.
It can be a tricky exercise, because I have to admit to myself that not everyone is into The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy, China Crisis or Yo La Tengo as much as I am. These discs have been not-so-politely declined by certain individuals in certain rooms at certain shows, as the power-mad gatekeepers instead reveled in their umpteenth replay of The Sheffield Drum Record.
So, preparing to zip up the suitcase for RMAF 2014 as a badge-wearing member of Audio Traveler/Part-Time Audiophile, I was even more cautious than usual. Dire Straits? No, the remasters suck. Ella Fitzgerald? Too old-school. Bill Frisell? Too eclectic. So, what then?
I decided to go with my two trusty references, a Japanese import of Roxy Music’s Avalon and disc three of the Steely Dan box set. I added to that Beck’s Sea Change, which I’d rediscovered languishing in a drawer recently. And, lastly, I threw in my big find from a trip to Ameoba Music during the California Audio Show, a reissue of The Feelies pastoral The Good Earth.
Day one at RMAF, I stuck to Roxy and the Dan. So far, so good. Perhaps I was feeling a bit overconfident on day two as I reached deeper into my bag and presented Sea Change in a certain mezzanine room. “No,” said the stuffy sales rep, his nostrils flaring as if he’d sniffed something rancid in the air. He handed the CD back to me, spun on his heel and went about playing some 30-minute, audiophile-approved classical piece.
Limping out with my head down, I retreated to the first floor, where I heard the unmistakable phrasing of Rickie Lee Jones seeping out from behind a door. This was promising. Carefully, I tip-toed into the Daedalus Audio-ModWright-WyWires room.
The remainder of the Jones track was superb, with her voice front and center, plenty of snap to the guitars and visceral bass. The record was switched to John Lee Hooker. The veteran bluesman’s slurred mumble sounded menacing, while his guitar growled convincingly on its own.
So, I slowly handed forward my Beck CD. “Oh, Sea Change, great,” was the warm response. “Come sit in the center seat.”
I settled in as the first acoustic guitar chords of “Golden Age” were struck. The decays seemed to still be hanging in the air as Beck started singing, his mournful voice sounding like a wounded coyote alone in the rocky desert hills. As the track progressed, the electric guitar and glockenspiel accents emerged clearly from the mix, and the singer’s synth whooshed like an intensifying sandstorm. I caught a breath and marveled at how the system was conveying the heartbreaking emotion of the tale of lost love with more power than I’d experienced outside of hearing it performed live.
Afterward I inspected the components that had created this remarkable illusion. The speakers were the Daedalus Audio Ulysses, now in new version 2 form ($15,850 a pair) featuring, among other things, better internal bracing. The six-driver system has a quoted frequency response of 28hz to 24khz, with an impressive efficiency of 97 decibels.
I remembered that Daedalus was known for its hand-built (in the USA) crossovers and silver-copper wiring harnesses — two places where other manufacturers sometimes skimp. What I didn’t know was how the company focuses on creating a stable, nearly flat impedance load to be an easy match for almost any top-quality amplifier.
In this case, the front end included the KWA 150 Signature Edition amp from ModWright Instruments ($8,995), the LS 36.5 “DM” tube preamplifier ($9,995), and two new products from the company, the Elyse tube DAC ($6,900) and the PH 150 phono stage ($7,900). The DAC was an all-tube, transformer-coupled design with an internal tube-rectified power supply and the capability to handle 24/192 material. The phono stage, meanwhile, featured passive RIAA-curve equalization and front-panel cartridge loading. A VPI turntable, the new Prime ($3,500, with tonearm), sat on top of the rack.
Last, but hardly least, was cable from WyWires, including its Platinum interconnects ($1,495), Silver power cords ($429 and up) and Diamond speaker cable ($7,995).
The system worked so well, it tempted me to just take it home, as is. The total cost wasn’t chump change, but it’s stunning ability to convey feeling as well as check off all the usual boxes on the audiophile list put it in rare company at RMAF. Highly recommended.