The A90, which was discontinued some years ago, was an incredible feat of both engineering and general sound quality. Using a then-new process called “selective laser melting”, the A90 was fast-fast-fast, and to some ears, rather unforgiving — I’m pretty sure Stereophile’‘s analog guru Michael Fremer used it as reference for this reason (well, that and it’s sound) — and “they” didn’t always mean that in a good way.
The A95, then, as a successor to this polarizing and somewhat controversial reference-level cart, has quite a hill to climb.
Finding it in a system constructed out of High Water Sound’s resident wizard, Jeff Catalano, was something of a stiff finger in the eye of any doubters.
The new housing is made of titanium, welded together rather precisely the “particles of titanium”, creating an “extremely high internal damping”. Using a neodymium magnet structure that is both lighter and more compact. The coils are all six-9’s OFC and the mechanism leverages Ortofon proprietary technology, including their “Field Stabilizing Element” to improve the performance of the magnet, and the “Wide-Range Damping” system, to improve response. The resulting system, using the Ortofon Replicant 100 diamond mounted on a boron cantilever, tracks at 90μm at 2.3g tracking force.
- Output voltage: .2 mV
- Channel balance: < .5 dB
- Channel separation: > 25 dB
- Frequency range (F3): 10 Hz – 50 kHz
- Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz @ +2 db/-1 dB
- Compliance: 13 μm/mN
- Internal impedance: 7 Ω
- Recommended load: > 10 Ω
- Weight: 6 g
- Price: $6,500
Yes, there were other things in this room, too. Including the magnificent Black Knight turntable from TW-Acustic ($40k), here mounted with two TW tonearms ($5,500 each) — for the record, the other cartridge on this table was the Ortofon Cadenza Mono ($1,219). That table is an absolute monster, and that giant copper platter is about as eye-catching as bling gets in audio today, without tipping over into the oddly overdone or artistically suspect. In other words, I wept like a baby just looking at it. My wallet also made mewling sounds as it tried to melt into my pocket. Happily, TW also makes less pricey tables (note that I didn’t say “inexpensive”), the case in this particular point being the GT SE ($12,500) sitting next to the Black Knight. You still need tonearms for that table, and this one was carrying a pair of Ortofon 309D ($3,400), one mounted with an Ortofon SPU A95 ($3,500) and the other a Quintet Black ($1,000).
For the rest, a quick look turned up the new TW-Acustic RPS 100 phono stage ($17k) introduced back at RMAF. This phono is pretty interesting in that’s it’s actually digitally controlled — something of a first for the brand — and as such lets you choose a whole mess of alternative curves for your analog playback pleasure. Most of my vinyl exploration tends to be of the modern variety, so it’s all RIAA for me all the time, but for those of you with vintage discs, this could be really interesting.
The mono block amplifiers –the SE Monos ($18k/pair) — were also from TW, and rocked out the almost absurdly low output 45 tubes. Played into the newest iteration of Tommy Hørning’s Eufrodite Ellipse loudspeakers ($30k/pair), you’d be forgiven if you thought the amps were anything but flea-powered — the big Lowther-featured towers were hopping in this room.
A Tron-Electric Syren GT preamplifier ($55k) was the most expensive thing in the room and not by a little bit. Jeff gets pie-eyed talking about how big a jump the Syren is over the more pedestrian (and more affordable) gear from Tron is, but not having had the pleasure of a side-by-side, I’ll have to trust Jeff’s ears. Not hard to do, actually, since I’ve been a happy and satisfied customer for most of the last decade.
Other bits? The seemingly ubiquitous Silver Circle Tchaik 6 ($10,500) line conditioner and Silent Running Audio Scuttle Rack and Ohio XL component shelves. In an interesting turn, Jeff is now heavily leaning on Symposium Acoustics for their Super Plus speaker platforms instead of any fancy set of outriggers or footers — he just stands the achingly heavy Eufrodites directly onto the platform … and that’s it. He shrugs his typical New Yorker shrug at me when I raise my eyebrow. “It works,” says Mr Laconic.
Tel Wire provided the power cords; Ortofon provided the signal cables. The amps sat on textured blocks of Terrastone from Edensound. Shun Mook footers sat under most of the equipment — another decision that drew a raised eyebrow, as the brand is very well-known to charge an arm and three legs for what seem to be rather simple widgets. Jeff didn’t get defensive, though, “Look, a lot of the products in this space are complete bulls***. But some aren’t. These aren’t.” There you go.
So, finally, lemme get to what I loved about this room — none of this stuff comes from your run-of-the-mill audio brand. That is, most of this stuff, you’ll never find anywhere but High Water Sound. Jeff is really careful about what he carries and how his rooms are put together. Wouldn’t be all that interesting, except he’s got great taste in music and an excellent ear for setup — this room was definitely one of the better I’ve heard Dr Strange produce. Tubes fronting these tower speaker is a magical thing, and yes, you have to run them with vinyl. It’s getting me all Zen just thinking about it. Of course, I have a pair at home, so maybe I’m biased.
Biased. Get it? It’s a tube joke.