RMAF 2015: The Cold War tapes of Charles King with Audio Note UK

Stellavox behind the Iron Curtain
Stellavox smuggled out.

It was like being behind the Iron Curtain somewhere in East Berlin, circa 1973. The lighting, the color palette of the hotel – mein Gott, the effing furniture – the sense of secrecy. The feeling that I was privy to something very few would ever know was happening, but also that the door could be smashed open any minute and the small, dimly lit room stormed by an angry mob of comrades demanding to hear das tapes.

Run silent, run deep.
Run silent, run deep. 1970 called, they want their carpet back.
“We have ways of making you talk…” East German interrogation room.

So it seemed to me at RMAF as I sat and listened to Charles King, a plainly spoken, unassuming gentleman with a mischievous smile who had brought some dupes of several master (or remastered) tapes to the Audio Note UK room on the 5th floor of the Marriot Tech Hotel in Denver to play for us.

Don't be fooled by that kindly face, King is peddler of heinously-addictive and expensive analog tape wares.
Don’t be fooled by that kindly face, King is a peddler of heinously-addictive and expensive analog tape gear.

rmaf-2015-200x200This wasn’t the first time I’d heard King’s wares though, I’d heard this same Stellavox deck (A heavily-modified 5i-KC approx. $3,000 USD) at Newport Beach for T.H.E. Show teamed up with a Technical Brain integrated and Silverline speakers. I gave Covenant Audio the nod from Newport for Best Sound with that set-up, so I had pretty high expectations for this demonstration in the Audio Note room at RMAF because I’m a big tube fan, and use AN UK gear in my home reference system. So running the 5i-KC with this kit was presumably right up my sonic alley.

I was not disappointed. Let’s be honest, I was downright moved.

Stellavox 5i-KC
Stellavox 5i-KC

David Cope was breaking in a brand new pair of Audio Note AZ-2 D speakers (estimated price $3,250 USD) which are updated hemp-driver versions of the AZ folded quasi parabolic horn-design floorstanders. Like most AN loudspeaker designs, the AZ likes to be near corners or room boundaries to help reinforce bass response and properly pressurize a room.

860x300 PTA NOBLE RMAF-01
RMAF 2015 coverage brought to you by Noble Audio! Click for more ….
The new entry-level AN UK floorstander
The new entry-level AN UK floorstander

There was also a CDT Three/II ($11,775 USD), and a DAC 3.1x/II ($9,900 USD) with the venerable P3 Silver amplifier with attenuated volume control ($10,000), which was wired up with one of Dave Slagle’s brilliant Autoformers.

The kit in full form
The kit in full form

This set-up just sang. I mean, look at it: No fancy hi-fi racks or isolation footers, no room treatments, sweet Jesus, the Stellavox is sitting on a crappy, padded chair and the sound being produced literally made the hair on my arms stand on end. Once again (like in Newport), I laughed nervously several times during the session and died a little inside thinking how much I have invested in vinyl, and also how expensive some of the turntables/arms/carts are that I’ve heard that couldn’t hold a candle to the sound I was hearing out of this relatively modest analog rig. For roughly $18,000 all-in on hardware (Stellavox, P3 and AZ-2 D speakers) you can have a system that, IMHO, is literally a time machine.

This is something you have to hear for yourself to really get. I can pump out a sh**-ton of rhetoric on the air, and space around instruments and voices, timbral realism, texture, harmonics, dynamics, soundstage etc. But unless you’ve heard a tape as close as King’s are to the master or remaster, you just have no comprehension of how mind-blowing hi-fi can be. It’s in a whole other league, and if there’s ever any chance of swinging a Stellavox and some tapes for review Mr. King, I’ll climb through barb wire and scale 20-foot concrete walls to make it happen.

Snipers be damned. This is real music comrades.

The Stasi had nothing on Charles King
The Stasi had nothing on Charles King

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream