Valve Amplification Co. CEO Kevin Hayes was standing just inside the door. I managed aweak “hello” and followed with a probably incoherent question about one of his preamps, before plopping down on the nearest chair.
The headache was actually starting to obstruct my visual field, so I had to turn sideways and squint to see that the front of the room held a pair of Magico S5 Mk. II loudspeakers ($38,000/pair USD).
This intrigued me, because VAC makes some of my favorite tube gear and I’d never heard it driving Magicos.
Trying to ignore my pounding head, I studied the rest of the rig.
Other associated equipment included the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha Reference Series II DAC ($19,500 USD), an Aurender N10 music server ($8,000 USD), an Acoustic Signature Storm Mk. 11 turntable using a TA-2000 tonearm with a Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge ($17,389 USD) and a SonoruS reel-to-reel deck ($18,950 USD).
Wire was from Synergistic Research, including its Galileo UEF speaker cable ($14,995 USD), Galileo UEF interconnects ($9,500 USD), Powercell 12 UEF SE ($5,995 USD), Atmosphere XL ($3,495 USD), BlackBox ($1,995 USD) and HFTs ($499 USD).
The first vinyl album I auditioned was a familiar one from the last two days of show demos: bassist Ray Brown’s Soular Energy, recorded in 1984. The cut was the jazz standard “That’s All.”
Gene Harris’ busy piano intro had a gorgeous tone, which is always a good initial sign. Brown’s bass solo was deep and tuneful, and Gerryck King’s brush work had impressive impact for a delicate use of the kit.
Next, we switched to rock with the Police. “Spirits in the Material World,” from 1981’s Ghost in the Machine, features Sting’s best-ever bass line, a rolling, start-stop rhythm that drives the song. With the VAC-Magico system you could discern the rapid notes being played, as opposed to just hearing an incessant rumble.
The typical reggae-influenced backing of guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland sounded almost like the two were playing live in the room, and Sting’s high-pitched vocals displayed all the texture of his trademark rasp.
Overall, the rig assembled by Scott Walker Audio delivered an impressive blend of full-bodied tone, dynamics and detail. In particular, it seemed the slight warmth imparted by the VAC gear was the perfect compliment to the Magico S5s, which can lean toward the analytical side on the wrong solid-state front end.