AXPONA 2015: Classic Audio, Atma-Sphere, Purist Audio Design


Scot Hull likes to accuse me of being too negative. I keep trying to tell him that I’m not negative, it’s just that people keep shoving half-empty glasses at me. He tells me that I should try to concentrate on what I like. I tell him that I really like complaining. That’s usually about when he hangs up the phone in disgust. You have to admit, though, that complaining can be a lot of fun. That’s one of the hidden joys of audio. Since everything is a compromise, you can always, by definition, find something to complain about. Sure, complaining isn’t much of a hobby, but, sometimes, it’s just about the only fun I get in a day.

Which is why I have it in for these guys. They make it almost impossible to complain.

Let’s ignore the Classic Audio T-1.5 speaker. We’ve all seen show reports with it, and, frankly, those of us who write show reports have all heard it. It’s lovable, it’s excellent, and it’s $73,000. Yes, I want a pair. Yes, so do you. We’re going to skip it.

Let’s move on to a much rarer treat, the Classic Audio Hartsfield Reproduction ($72,000). For starters, I think we can all agree that nothing should be allowed to look that good. Certainly nothing that looks that good should be loaded with enough field-coil drivers to peg the audiophile lustometer. Never, under any circumstances, should something that cool and lust-worthy ever — EVER! — be played for a guy who likes to complain.

If you’re going to break those rules, you most definitely shouldn’t power those speakers with a custom pair of Atma-Sphere Novacrons ($19,200) featuring a quad of 7241 tubes each and kicking out 100 watts per channel. “I’m not selling you the tubes, and I’m not going to warranty the tubes,” says Ralph Karsten. “If you want ’em, you’re on your own.” Definitely don’t front the system with a discontinued Stahl-Tek DAC and a loaded Atma-Sphere MP-1 (just over $20k with options). You probably don’t want to wire the whole thing together with close to $40k of Purist Audio Design cables, come to think of it. Whatever you do, don’t hand your tablet over to some complaining jackass who’s going to dig Basie’s “The Daly Jump” right out from under the seat cushions of your playlist, because the first thing that jackass is going to say is “these aren’t audiophile speakers.”

Because they’re not. They are in no way audiophile speakers. Are you looking for a razor-sharp soundstage? Go look somewhere else. Are you looking for a heightened sense of detail? Go look somewhere else. Look fast, though, because a couple of minutes listening to this system is enough to tell you that audiophile speakers are just plain wrong.

Soundstage? Who cares about that crap when a big band is, as far as you can tell, jumping up and down on your lungs from right over there? Heightened detail? Who cares about that when actual detail is so obviously sufficient. Dynamics? Take your puny, little, drivers and go play with your other toys. This kind of stuff will rewire you. You’ll need to have entirely new standards.

In fact, systems like this are exactly what complaining is meant for. You have to dig to find complaints. You’re not looking to talk about the system’s strengths, because that’s just going to take too long. You’re looking to put your finger on weaknesses just so you can figure out if it falls short. Not even “how.” If.

I think I’d enjoy listening to this system long enough to be able to really complain about it. That seems like a pretty good goal. I know for sure that I haven’t listened long enough to be anywhere close to reaching it.