One of the things I always look forward to at AXPONA is seeing how Morton Grove, Ill.-based retailer Quintessence Audio Ltd. chooses to outfit its penthouse-suite space at the Westin O’Hare.
For a number of years now, the dealer has been taking the entire 12th floor for itself, usually filling three rooms with gear that ranges from merely phenomenal to literally breathtaking.
Quintessence owner Mick Survance makes no bones about the niche he covets in the industry. Along with bringing statement-level gear, he usually calls on store friend David Weintraub to help out. Weintraub typically sets the mood for the 12th floor by parking an exotic luxury sedan in a conspicuous hotel valet spot. For 2016, it was a gleaming Rolls-Royce.
It’s always fun to live in Survance’s world for an hour or so at AXPONA. Who wouldn’t want to be around such great toys all the time?
And despite the price tags of some of the products, the Quintessence Audio rooms were refreshingly free of attitude. Weintraub himself often greeted guests at the door, inviting in with a friendly handshake everyone from newbie gawkers to serious shoppers.
I started with the company’s $140,000 system, which featured Focal Sopra No. 2 speakers ($14,000), driven by Pass Labs’ XS-150 mono amps ($65,000 a pair), XP-30 preamplifier ($16,500) and XP-25 phono stage ($10,600). An Aurender N10 music server ($8,000) fed a Berkeley Audio Designs Reference Series Alpha DAC ($16,000). Turntable was Clearaudio’s new Performance DC Wood ($5,000).
Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road,” from the band’s classic Love Over Gold LP, displayed a deep soundstage, authoritative bass and good upper-frequency extension. The system also admirably recreated the song’s wide dynamic range, from Mark Knopfler’s fingerpicked National steel guitar intro to the concluding, Springsteen-inspired climax. The rig’s resolution also exposed the biggest weakness of the song, which was brand-new recruit Hal Lindes’ miserable attempt to back Knopfler’s highly stylized soloing with block power chords that would have fit better on a Toto album.
A trip to Quintessence’s second room put me face to face with a $130,000 system fronted by Sonus Faber’s Lilium speakers ($70,000 a pair). These are just one notch down from the company’s flagship Aida ($120,000 a pair), which Quintessence showed in 2014. The beautifully finished Liliums were driven by a rack of gear from Aethetix, including the Atlas Mono Eclipse amplifiers ($25,000 a pair), Janus Eclipse preamp ($13,000), Romulus Eclipse CD player/DAC ($13,000) and Rhea Eclipse phono stage ($10,000). Turntable was the AMG Viella V12 with 12J2 tonearm ($17,500).
Playing my CD of Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane’s jazz collaboration, the Liliums were detailed and tactile, but yet there wasn’t a sharp edge to be found. Cymbals shimmered, Coltrane’s horn sounded buffed to a shine and Hartman’s resonant voice floated convincingly in space. In addition to the tremendous sense of ease projected, these speakers also could swing. All in all, it was a rare combination of attributes that put the system among my top three of the show.
As for the third room, this one featuring Sonus Faber’s Cremonese speakers ($45,000 a pair) and Audio Research electronics, I’ll refer you to my colleague Rafe Arnott’s recent post. I second his detailed analysis.
Overall, I’d say that for those with appropriate financial resources, a Quintessence system could be a very satisfying, heirloom-quality acquisition. For the rest of us, well, that’s why we play the lottery.