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Have you ever been to a rock festival and started imagining your dream lineup in a hoped-for ending jam? What would it sound like to hear singer X with guitarist Y and drummer Z?
Thoughts similar to that pop into my head as I approach each major audio show. You can never tell which brands are going to band together. Some companies tend to have long-term personal friendships or at least business ties that result in them making music together at almost every event, where others seem to change partners frequently.
Even with 100-plus rooms and all the combinations they present, I find myself thinking, “Someday, I’d really like to hear those speakers on that amp, with this line stage.”
The La Jolla, Calif.-based retailer was showing a system built around a set of Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Progression monoblocks (500 watts per channel, $39,000/pair USD), an Audio Research Ref 10 preamp ($30,000 USD) and YG Acoustics Sonja 1.2 speakers ($72,800/pair USD).
That, to me, was the kind of dream team I might have assembled myself if I played in that rarified price category. (I don’t, alas – I write for a living, for gosh sake.) But just the thought of it made me practically drool with anticipation – superb high-current, solid-state amps, drawing a signal from a state-of-the-art tubed line stage and powering an extremely detailed, balanced and low-distortion pair of loudspeakers.
The rest of the rig wasn’t too bad, either: A Linn Klimax network music player ($27,500 USD), an Innous network player ($2,400 USD) and power conditioners from IsoTek Systems (the Mosaic Genesis, $11,995 USD, and the Aquarius, $1,995 USD).
Wire was by Kubala Sosna, and included its Elation speaker cable ($6,000 USD for the first meter, plus $1,200 for each additional meter), Elation XLR interconnects ($6,000 USD for the first meter, plus $1,200 for each additional meter), Elation power cords ($1,800 USD for the first meter, plus $500 for each additional meter) and Realization USB cables ($3,500 USD for the first meter, plus $800 for each additional meter).
I glanced at my handout and noted the quality of all this associated equipment, but I was itching to hear it. Soon, one of the servers began playing a jazz track featuring trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Ben Webster.
The sound was lush, full-bodied and detailed. The two men seemed locked in a friendly battle over who could draw the most beautiful notes out of their instruments, with Davis taking his usual unexpected twists and turns on the melody, and Webster answering while throwing in a nasty honk or grunt every so often.
The combination of tube warmth and solid-state resolution and bass control made me wonder why this type of combination isn’t heard more often. In particular, when the gear is at the level of what I was auditioning, the resulting sound can be quite breathtaking.
This suggests to me that the Alma folks responsible for assembling this show rig are creative, free of many audiophile biases and – most of all – have exceptionally good ears. Well done.