Mark Sossa of distributor Well Pleased Audio Vida always is one of the most enthusiastic exhibitors I visit at shows. I’m not sure what his daily caffeine intake is, but even at the end of a long day midway through the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Sossa was still brimming with energy and eager to show his wares.
Much of that ebullience likely is due to his desire to get the word out about some of the uncommon brands he brings with him. The components may not have names listeners will be immediately familiar with, but Sossa always seems to be using them to make – I can’t help myself – a pleasing sound.
In Denver, the Well Pleased system included an Audio Hungary Qualiton A50i tubed integrated amplifier ($7,500 USD), Aqua Acoustic Quality Formula DAC ($14,700 USD), Innous Zenith SE music server ($7,000 USD), Qln Signature 3 loudspeakers ($7,500 a pair USD) and a mix of wire from AntiCables.
That was a mix Sossa gathered from around the world, with the Qualitron, as you might guess, coming from Hungary; the Aqua Acoustic DAC originating in Italy; Qln a product of Sweden; and AntiCables being made in the USA. Well Pleased itself is based in Springfield, Va.
Before I could study my press sheet or squint in the dim light to examine the rack of equipment very closely, Sossa had me get up and move to the rear center chair, which he’d identified as the room’s sweet spot. He placed the music server’s interface in my left hand and the integrated’s remote in my right.
Sossa, who’d slid into the seat beside me, learned over and cued up a track by Mino Cinelu. The performer, I later found out, is a French jazz percussionist and composer. The Latin-flavored song Sossa chose also featured bass and some wordless vocals. The percussion sound, in particular, was impressive, with quick transients and little smearing.
I looked closer at the Qln speakers, which were stand-mounted monitors that visually reminded me somewhat of the old Spica TC50s — basically a smallish box with a front baffle that tilted backward to time-align the drivers, In this case, the Oln bass/midrange and tweeter, built by ScanSpeak, were raked at a less severe angle than the Spica’s drivers and the cabinet was deeper.
After the Cinelu number, Sossa let me indulge myself. I went straight to the Dire Straits list, and chose “Telegraph Road” from Love Over Gold. This song begins quietly with an eerie synthesizer setting the mood, some crashes of thunder and a beautiful descending piano line by Alan Clark. Then Mark Knopfler begins his tale of the opening of the American West with some simple picking on his National steel guitar and a plaintive vocal. As the track continues, the dynamics and musical complexity both reach furious peaks, as Knopfler switches to a Schecter Stratocaster and then-new rhythm player Hal Lindes begins bashing out power chords.
The Well Pleased system didn’t buckle as the sound grew louder. Instruments still were clearly defined and Knopler’s voice retained its texture as he strained during the 14-minute song’s climax.
For something a bit more consistently understated, I switched to the Cowboy Junkies’ “Rock and Bird” from The Caution Horses. The alt-country number has a brisk pace, with Margo Timmins’ hushed vocals blending into the rhythm section, which included her brother, Michael Timmins, on electric guitar. The pace of this track, in particular, was spot-on, and the Qln Signature 3s did a good job of throwing a wide, deep soundstage.
I looked at Sossa, smiled, and called up a song that is one of my favorites, but which I never hear anyone else play at audio shows. It was the English Beat’s dancehall stormer “Save It for Later” from 1982’s Special Beat Service. The frenetic track includes dueling rhythm guitars, driving bass and a spirited horn solo by the underrated Saxa. Again, the Well Pleased system got my foot tapping. While the Oln’s low frequencies understandably couldn’t match a typical floorstander, the speakers also did not try to “fake it” with a lower-midrange bump. This left Dave Wakeling’s enigmatic lyrics clearly open to interpretation.
I totaled up the equipment on display and got roughly $38,000 USD, not including cable. (No worries: AntiCables are some of the best-value wire products out there). Considering that I saw plenty of individual components — and even wire — that went for far more during RMAF, an audiophile shopping at this price level could be well pleased indeed.