All it takes is a quick glance at some rooms that you walk into at hi-fi shows and you just know it’s either going to connect with you, or it’s not. Surprises do happen of course, that’s why it pays to listen. But after hitting a few shows this year I’ve started to see patterns in what gear is getting used a lot. Wilson speakers get used a lot, oh and Lyra cartridges too, especially the Atlas ($9,499 USD). Which is good, because they usually create an emotional connection with me.
Wilson loudspeakers produce big, pressurized, room-filling sound. They’re a commanding presence due to their size, but that’s a small price to pay because they scale big orchestral works or rock effortlessly when paired with fat amps and I’ve found them to be very timbrally and harmonically sensitive to amplification, as well very as transparent to whatever source is feeding them (I far and away prefer Wilson with an analog rig fronting them). A big Wilson will blow out room windows if you’re not careful with the volume knob – especially when said volume knob is connected to enough Dan D’Agostino amplification to power an aircraft carrier.
The Audio Alternative set-up at RMAF featured so much glossy copper D’Agostino amps that it set the color palette for the room, and with the gorgeous Brinkmann gear supplying the analog front end (that’s all I heard), including a RoNt II tube power supply (approx. $4,435 USD) through the D’Agostino Momentum Phono Amplifier (approx. $28,000 USD) the sound had a real emotional Oooomph to it. Cabling was by Audioquest and the stands and bases were the excellent Harmonic Resolution Systems.
To my ear, solid state is never as pleasing as tube gear is (no, I don’t love everything I hear, I think it’s better to know the sound you love rather than love everything, but there’s nothing wrong with focusing on what gear does well, rather than on what it isn’t doing for me), but D’Agostino is a masterful engineer and can wrest an awful lot of emotional connection from an analog rig, especially of the caliber the Brinkmann and Lyra were providing.
Harmonics, acoustic instrument tone and timbre, especially strings and percussion (yes I talk about timbre and tone a lot, it’s what I listen for in music, not the nth-degree of air around a cello or a cough in the audience in a live jazz performance) had real heft and weight. The sound stage was deep and wide and well out of the speaker boundaries. Instruments and vocals didn’t get smeared together in the upper registers, and percussive hits had great impact, not quite as much decay on cymbals or high hats as I would prefer, but this rig grabbed me and shook me around with it’s muscular presentation.
Not a system (IMO) for someone with small-scale aspirations, but if scale, power and big dynamics, coupled with timbral realism is your jam, then the system Audio Alternative out of Fort Collins, Colorado put together will connect with you in a way not many can.