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High End 2016: Tune Audio, Trafomatic, Rockna, annihilates boundaries

Dr Karavitis had clued me in early — “You have to go check out our friends at Tune Audio. They’ve done … something. Something crazy.”

Well, if that couldn’t whet my appetite (and by “whet”, I mean “light the sky with fire”), not much would. Given that I had just stepped off the plane from the USA about an hour earlier, the fact that I was vertical, much less able-to-be-interested, said volumes about the glories of caffeine that I will no doubt refer to over and over in what is sure to become a tiresome cavalcade, but let’s put that aside for now.

If you’ll recall from last year, I took a fancy to the delightfully imposing Anima loudspeakers (€32,000/pair) from Greece’s Tune Audio. These are some big horns. They’re also three-ways, if we’re being fussily precise — something that might be easy to miss with that “gimbal-mounted”/hipshot 5” mid-range horn taking up the visual space — but that column is actually the bass horn (concealing a 15″ woofer) firing directly down into the floor. Note that this also means that the speakers take up quite a bit less space than their big-horn competitors. Score! The small glossy high-frequency horn hides a “1” compression driver with neodymium magnet and titanium diaphragm”. The horns are “mechanically time aligned for a time coherent result.”

Want more bass? Well, there are subs available — a pair of Kion (€6,600 each) subs served here, sitting off discretely to the side (that is, as discreetly as six-foot-tall black columns can manage, which, with all the time/space warping eye-candy in the room, was surprisingly quite a lot).

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But in a deviation from the past two years, Tune was showing this year with Trafomatic Audio. And by “showing”, I mean “being given a run for the money”. Look — the Anima speakers are nothing if not visually commanding, but the new Elysium monoblock amplifiers from Trafomatic are enormous. And gorgeous. And did I mention how huge they are? HOLY ALL-CAPS LOCK, BATMAN. In case it’s failing to register in the photos, these amps are somewhat bigger than a breadbox.

From Trafomatic’s site:

Elysium’s embodies Pure Class A DHT single ended utmost refined circuits via Eimac 250TL output tube resolving with 60 Watts of Class A unrestrained power output per channel, implements EML 20b-V4 as most linear DHT and EML 5Z3 rectifier as well. 250TL is directly coupled by the unconventional interstage transformer to EML 20B-V4. This is a unique and so far unseen approach deriving any last bits of sonic information from the most refined audio sources.

award-sighting-smThe Elysium were easily among the most impressive amps I’ve ever come across — and certainly so at this show-of-shows, but at €120,000/pair, I suppose that’s to be expected. Yes, that’s 120,000 in cartoon-colored play-money. I almost had to squish the caps-lock key again. Deep breaths  … So, shocking price tag aside, anyone basking in their thermionic glory would be forced to note that the fit-and-finish was beyond reproach, and I’ll also offer that while wired to the 109dB sensitive Animus, I also heard zero noise — no hum, no crackle, no pings, no nothing — just stunningly sexy music. Clearly, some serious devilry was at work.

The stunningly elegant Klimo turntable up top of the rack was only there for furniture during my visits (I posed it — ain’t it pretty?), as all sonic duties had been delegated to digital.

With “all that” as the end-of-the-chain, it was almost absurdly difficult to pull my attention to the front end of the food chain here, which — seriously — was why I dragged Michael Lavorgna into the room in the first place: Rockna Audio.

The Wavedream Edition DAC (€6,600) is unfamiliar on US shores, and that’s a damn shame. Dr. K raves about this DAC — so much so, that he went ahead and bought one for his personal reference. Given that Dr. K is about as nutty about analog, and vinyl in particular, as a certain well-known evangelist that has graces the pages of Stereophile for the last 30 or so years, I found this to be a telling endorsement.

The Wavedream charts a course similar to, but not identical to, certain other digital pioneers and leverages a software-defined architecture courtesy of an FPGA approach. Femto-clocking with custom digital filtering, with an over-built low-noise linear power supply, the DAC looks like a tank and sounds like a ballerino — grace, power, and speed. Quad-DSD and PCM to DXD are all supported. Audio Prana, a sponsor of the room, is the US-based importer.

Transport duties fell to the Rockna’s new “cousin”, the Wavedream NET (€7,700). A network-based transport system (unsurprising, given the name), NET actually includes a Blu-Ray compatible disc reader, as well as Ethernet. Connectivity to the matching DAC is proprietary, but there are the usual complement of digital outputs to support “legacy” DAC equipment.

I’ll offer that this room, one of the first-stops in my cruise through this year’s High End, was also one of it’s very best. This room is why horns are still around, and why they are still — apparently — impossible to beat. The sheer speed and dynamic slam were, here, just breathtaking — but it was the grace and impossible delicacy that makes you want to curl up and lose the next 100 years.

A spectacle in all senses, and for all senses. Loved it — and all very well done.

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.