You can say two things for certain about high-end audio dealer Doug White: He has terrific ears and is very discerning.
White runs The Voice That Is, a Philadelphia-based shop. He is a fixture at most of the big shows, and is one of those exhibitors you can count on to consistently be making a good sound. In White’s case, it’s usually a great sound.
I visited the Voice room on Saturday at the Los Angeles Audio Show and auditioned White’s system, which featured Tidal Audio speakers and electronics. I walked out impressed, as usual, but I got an email late the next day from the retailer. White, by now catching his flight at the airport, was worried that I didn’t hear his rig at its best.
“In typical show fashion, and despite running a burn-in signal and music all day since Thursday, the sound fleshed out around 3 p.m. Sunday,” he wrote. “Imaging opened up more and bass was more extended with impact. Too much new in the system (cables, amp and preamp) and too little time for everything to settle in after transport, ” wrote White.
This gives you an idea of the extremely high expectations White has for his sonics — even in a show environment. When I demo rigs during events, I try to factor in that this is far from a perfect setting. People are talking, crowds are rumbling down the hall, the door keeps banging, acoustics are challenging and the hotel power typically is a nightmare. I realize it’s going to be impossible for an exhibitor to dial everything in to the degree he or she could in a showroom or a buyer’s home. Still, I’ve found that the best equipment usually is the least finicky.
I will argue that the overall character of a particular component or system stays roughly the same, from show to show, room to room. A system with very good balance, dynamics and a smooth high end, for example, isn’t going to suddenly lose that presentation. It might sound a little sweeter at show A than show B, or a particular room may cause bass issues, but it’s rare that conditions change its entire sonic fingerprint.
So, I believe that White eventually was able to fine-tune his setup near closing time in LA, but what I heard the day before still was pretty darn good. I wasn’t the only audio scribe to have that opinion, either, as The Absolute Sound’s Neil Gader named the Voice room as one of his Best of Show.
White did assemble a fine rig. Speakers were the Tidal Contriva G2 ($65,900 USD/pair in veneer). They were driven by Tidal’s Preos preamplifier ($32,900 USD) and Impulse dual-mono amplifier ($35,200 USD).
The turntable was a TW-Acustic Raven GT/SE ($13,500 USD as shown) with a TW-Acustic Raven 10.5 tonearm ($5,500 USD) and a Transfiguration Proteus cartridge ($6,000 USD). An Aurender N10 server ($8,000 USD) was on hand for digital sources. Connections were made with Dynamic Design’s Heritage line cable.
White selected a pristine Pablo pressing of Duke Ellington and Ray Brown’s 1972 collaboration This One’s for Blanton. He dropped the needle on side two’s “Fragmented Suite for Piano and Bass.”
It may have been that the spare recording – consisting of just the two musicians – didn’t call attention to any of the slight deficiencies White later bemoaned, but what I heard, for the most part, was laudable. Ellington’s piano may have had a touch of hardness, but this is an old recording and my copy at home doesn’t really sound much different.
Still, the imaging stood out as being exceptional, as was the pace of Ellington’s spirited playing and the depth and texture of Brown’s low notes. Bass solos are always a difficult test for a rig, but the Tidal gear produced a convincing aural image.
As I heard the two legends chatting quietly during the number, as well as the reverberation of their instruments in the studio, I wrote in my notes, “It’s almost like sitting on the end of Ellington’s piano stool.” So, you needn’t have worried, Doug. Even if you weren’t wringing everything you thought possible out of what unquestionably was a great system, the 95 percent you did get still was amazing.