“Two channel with attitude” is what it says at the top of the Highwater Sound room’s gear listing page that Jeffrey Catalano handed me at T.H.E. Show after I had crawled around the room like a spider photographing it. I couldn’t help but smile because it was such a perfect description of the vibe that he consistently imbues his show rooms with. There’s usually a gear theme, with TW-Acustics amps, pres, ‘tables, and arms squatting in the middle of some Silent Running racks, Miyajima Lab‘s groove rakes perched on said tonearms, and for the last few shows Hørning Hybrid speakers were plumbing the octave depths, but not so at Newport this year.
This year saw Catalano unleash the new Cessaro Wagner on the crowds (which debuted at Rocky Mountain in 2015), and I’m here to preach some aural opinion: If you consider yourself not to be a horn person, these may just change your mind. Cartridges, tonearms, DACs, pre-amplifiers, and amplifiers will always play a part in the acoustic waveform reproduction chain, but transducers are the final arbiter (translator, if you will) of what speaks to our brain, and horns tend to get a bad rap IMO. Shouty, honkish, resonant, colored, are but a few of the variations on a theme of how horn speakers usually tend to get spoken about in the general press. I’ve found this to be the exception, not the norm. To me, horns, or horn-loaded loudspeakers tend to have an immediacy, speed, impact, and visceral dynamic to their playback that once heard, is difficult to disassociate from a truly emotionally-engaging music listening experience.
I’m of the opinion Catalano doesn’t carry acoustic curiosities to push on those unable to wrest a deeply emotional experience through musical playback. Catalano is Highwater Sound to me, I can’t separate the two, because I don’t think it could exist without him. To my ears, and my way of listening, my way of hearing music, he is able to force – from disparate manufacturers, and with an obviously deep knowledge, and understanding of electro-acoustic synergy – a confrontation with nostalgia playing old jazz recordings. This is not a system for the emotionally distant to trifle with, because to me its purpose is emotional provocation.
With a sound bordering on spectral, boasting one of the most thoughtfully curated LP collections to choose from for listening, the Highwater Sound room once again challenges the traditional preconceptions of a hi-fi hotel room, instead delivering a hip, laid back living room. Highly recommended.
- TW-Acustic Black Knight turntable ($40,000 USD)
- TW-Acustic TW 10.5 tonearm (x2) ($5,500 USD each)
- Miyajima Labs Madake Stereo cartridge ($6,000 USD), and Zero Mono cartridge ($2,000 USD).
- TW-Acustic RPS 100 Phono Stage ($17,000 USD)
- TW-Acustic RPS 100 Line Stage ($17,000 USD)
- TW-Acustic 300B Mono Blocks ($18,000/pair USD)
- Cessaro Wagner Speakers ($65,000 USD)
- Silver Circle Audio TCHAIK Power Conditioner ($11,500 USD)
- Silent Running, Scuttle Rack, and Ohio XL basese, Symposium Acoustics Super Plus speaker platforms, and Zen Sati interconnects, AC cables, and speaker wire.