Toward the end of three hectic days covering the Los Angeles Audio Show, I was coming down with a nasty migraine as I entered the large Scott Walker Audio room at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel.
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.
The VAC products included the 200iQ monoblocks ($28,000/pair USD), the Signature Mk. IIa SE preamp with phono ($26,000 USD) and a Renaissance phono stage ($9,900 USD).
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).
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.
I hung around and listened to another jazz ballad. The sound was soothing enough that my headache began to ease. That, in itself, is a pretty good recommendation.
I’ve been seriously into audio for many, many years. Have worked closely with respected dealers on both the East and West coasts. Scott is hands-down the best dealer I have had the pleasure of working with. He knows how to get great sound whatever the budget.
How did the digital front end stand up? Did you get a chance to hear it?
And VAC amplification rarely disappoints…
Having spent three days at the LA Audio Show I completely agree with your listening experience in the Scott Walker Audio Room. He has exhibited with Magico Speakers for a number of years and his rooms use Synergistic Research cables and Synergistic Research room treatment products.
I believe he is one( if not the best) experts in setting up Magicos to sound their best. He also has the most experience of any Audio Show Demonstrator – Dealer with the optimum use of the extensive Synergistic Research product line. His rooms sound great because of experience, attention to detail,preparing and then auditioning the entire system before it is installed at the show venue.