Some rooms at hifi-audio shows are infused with synergy. Every component in the set-up works flawlessly with every other component in the signal path. Some call this a curated system – one that is built from time, research, and experience with many manufacturers. Knowing what amplifier works perfectly with what speaker, which tonearm with which turntable, understanding the properties of tubes or cables, and being able to choose those that can add a touch of warmth, timbral accuracy or transparency borders on the religious in its orthodoxy. This is why systems which achieve it are often referred to as ‘the holy grail’ in high-fidelity circles: that moment when every link in the sonic chain is utterly sympathetic, and one no longer has to live life on the audiophile merry-go-round of buying, and selling gear. I thought of all this while spending time in the Linear Tube Audio, and Fern & Roby room at RMAF in Denver recently.
The two men responsible for the system that was in situ were Christopher Hildebrand of Fern & Roby, and Mark Schneider of Linear Tube Audio. In an inspired choice, Chris Sommovigo’s bespoke Black Cat Cable had been chosen to tie everything together, and a gorgeous pair of DeVore Fidelity O/93 loudspeakers completed the tableaux. Having spent some time with Hildebrand recently at his factory in Virginia, I knew of his quest for perfection in everything he tackles professionally, and after speaking with Schneider at the Denver Marriott Tech Centre during the show, that same focus was apparent in him too. So what happens when you get two passionate, audiophile engineers together with their respective gear at a hifi show? You get a fantastic musical-playback experience without any of the bells, and whistles that some rooms push on you. there was no sales pitch here, no Diana Krall or Jennifer Warne in heavy rotation on the turntables (although I did hear an early UK pressing of Pink Floyd’s The Wall twice here over the weekend, for which . was grateful).
I shouldn’t say it was all music though, Schneider did discuss the (zero) output-transformerless topology of his amps, and preamps briefly (based on amplifier legend David Berning’s designs), and Hildebrand did show-off his new phono stage that can go from being integrated in the chassis of his Montrose turntable, to a freestanding unit in literally seconds. Hildebrand also discussed how he was working with Schneider on all-new chassis designs for the LTA lineup, which will be unveiled soon. But this was merely educating me to what was going on in the room, no dark arts here, just practical research & development over many years in the pursuit of sonic excellence. I say that because the sonics were excellent, and ticked-off all the boxes I carry around in my head when it comes to high fidelity: timbral accuracy, true tone, balanced frequency response with the upper registers seamlessly blending through the midrange, and bottom end, and an ever changing sound stage from recording to recording, because that is the province of the source, not the system. A system merely allows you to spatially experience what the recording engineers captured. this was a feel-good room with not only audio synergy, but in personality as well.
Equipment featured in room:
Fern & Roby:
- Montrose Turntable with On-board Maverick phono preamplifier (with our uni-pivot tonearm is $5,450 USD)
- Isolation feet $160 USD & the F&R LP weight $110 USD
- Soundsmith Paua – Low output – Moving Iron cartridge: $3,999.95 USD
- Montrose Heirloom Turntable (with solid bronze 35 pound reference platter) with Schröder CB tonearm $12,500 USD *Montrose Heirloom with F&R uni-pivot retails for $8,500 USD
- Shown with Soundsmith Sussuro – Low output – Moving Iron cartridge: $4,999.99 USD
- Maverick Phono preamplifier: $650 USD
- Record mat: Herbie’s 3mm ($60 each)
Linear Tube Audio:
- MicroZOTL 2.0 (preamplifier) $2,100 USD
- ZOTL10 power amp: $3,200 USD
- Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers: $8,500 USD/pair
Black Cat Cable:
- Airwave Interconnects (with LOVECRAFT RCA) – 3.0mpr: $750 USD each
1 x Airwave Interconnects (with LOVECRAFT RCA) – 10.0mpr: $1,800 USD each
- 1 x a. Silverheart MK. II Speaker Cable – 3.0mpr / XOX BANANAS for $600.00 USD each
- AudioQuest Niagara 1000 Power conditioner: $1000
- AudioQuest NRG 1000 NRG power cable: $1000