LA Audio Show 2017: Rethm, Audio Hungary, Aqua create pleasing sound at attractive price


Looking at price tags at audio shows quickly can start your head spinning. Yes, this hobby is called the high-end, but really?

That’s why I always enjoy finding rooms where the rig sounds great, but might not require a second mortgage. One of those systems at the Los Angeles Audio Show was put together by Springfield, Virginia-based distributor Well Pleased Audio Vida.

laas8It indeed was pleasing to add up all the equipment and get a total of around $20,000 USD. Granted, that’s still a very significant amount of money, but I also visited many rooms where just one piece or gear – or even a 10-foot run of speaker cable – cost more.

You can spend a lot less, of course, but what you are chasing as you plunk down an increasing tall stack of big bills is the 10 per cent to 20 per cent improvement that brings goose bumps.

What is impressive is when you can find gear that gives you a taste of those mega-systems, but costs far less. The components may not be rock-bottom bargains, but they are overachievers. That’s just what Well Pleased brought to LA.

Rethm Bhaava loudspeakers.

The speakers were a model I had not auditioned before, the Rethm Bhaava ($3,750/pair USD). The Bhaava is an interesting design, with a 8-inch full-range paper driver mounted in a horn-loaded enclosure and two isobarically-configured 7-inch custom woofers in a sealed chamber. The bass units are powered by their own internal Class A/B amplifier, and have a level control.

“The sensitivity of the Bhaava speakers is 94 decibels,” Well Pleased’s Mark Sossa told me. “They can run on as little as 8 watts.”

Feeding the speaker was an Audio Hungary Qualiton A20i integrated amp ($4,500 USD). The unit uses tubes in a push-pull circuit that produces 20 watts of Class A power per side. For valve fans, the tubes used are four Tung-Sol 5881s, two Tesla E88CCs and two Tungsram ECC83s.

Ladder DAC goodness.

Digital-to-analog conversion was handled by an Aqua Acoustic Quality La Scala Mk. II Optologic ($7,000 USD). The unit uses discrete R2R ladder DACs and valve/MOSFET hybrid circuitry, including a pair of matched Telefunken ECC81 tubes. The rest of the system featured an Innuos ZENith Mk. II music server ($2,400 USD) and wire by Anticables.

Sossa cued up Buddy Guy’s version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” from the 2005 LP Bring ‘Em In. The track, which features Tracy Chapman joining the legendary bluesman on vocals, had a remarkable balance and rhythmic drive. The performers’ voices were both powerful and textured, and the overall presentation of the song – which also has drums, bass, Guy’s stinging guitar and a hot horn section – displayed that extra degree of cohesiveness often heard in point-source speakers.

laas-2017-triode-banner7For a collection of gear that was near the bottom of many of the makers’ lines, the overall sound had a quality and sophistication that was anything but entry-level. The names of the components might not be familiar, but the sound they can make is definitely worth exploring. You might be well pleased.