First off, in the old category, was the music itself. The demo disc was a pristine 1947 mono pressing of Duke Ellington’s Liberian Suite (last seen going for $40 to $50 on eBay). This Columbia release was one of the earliest long-players and was cut straight to lacquer.
The newest technology was the speakers playing the Ellington tunes, the Vivid Audio G1 Series 2 ($68,000 a pair). The innovative speaker, built in Durban, South Africa, mounts its five bespoke drivers in a semi-teardrop-shaped cabinet made from a glass-reinforced, balsa-cored sandwich composite that’s coated in high-gloss automotive paint.
Falling somewhere between yesteryear and today were the Jadis JA200 Mark II monoblocks ($33,900 a pair). The new amps use 20 KT120, two ECC82 and two ECC83 old-school tubes to produce 160 watts per channel of pure Class A power. There also was a Jadis JP200MC preamp with phono stage ($32,900).
The first track on Ellington’s Liberian Suite, “I Like the Sunrise,” features vocalist Al Hibbler. On the Vivid-Jadis system, there was an astonishingly, well, vivid illusion of a live big band in the room — soaring horns, shimmering cymbals and Hibbler’s smooth crooning.
Forget stereo affects. The rig decoded the early mono LP to produce a wide, deep soundstage with realistic instrument layering. Hibbler’s voice was focused at center-stage, while the individual band members took their turns precisely playing melody lines and accents behind him.
Also helping send listeners back in time was an analogue front end consisting of a TechDAS Air Force Three turntable ($29,750), outfitted with a Graham Elite tonearm ($12,000) with an Ortofon Cadenza mono cartridge ($1,280). Also on hand was a Koetsu Jade Platinum cartridge ($9,995).
Wire was from Stealth, including its Dream V14 speaker cable ($14,700 for 2 meters), V12 RCA interconnects ($12,000 for a 1-meter pair), Helios tonearm cable ($9,800 for 1.2 meters) and V16 UNI AC power cords ($5,800 for 1.2 meters).
Support was provided by Artesania Audio. In use were its Exotic Tandem rack ($9,990), Exotic Krion turntable platform ($3,390), Exotic Aire amp stands ($3,690) and 4-inch decoupling disks ($170).
Together, the gear in the Kyomi-On a Higher Note room may have been playing an LP made 70 years ago, but it sounded as visceral and immediate as if Ellington were present today. That’s a hard trick to pull off.