Not too far from me on the town square in Marietta, Georgia is The Audio Company, a wonderful upscale store with several of the best high-end brands. For the past few years, this team of audio professionals led by Keith Sequerra, Jim Kumpe, and Gordon Waters has been working with Leif Swanson and Damon Von Schweikert from Von Schweikert Audio and Kevin Hayes from VAC to bring a mega-system of VAC Reference gear and Von Schweikert flagship speakers. Last we saw them, the team had the flagship Ultra 11 speakers at Axpona and the sound was simply magical when playing the famous Royal Ballet LPs. Now the team has distilled down that Ultra 11 reference sound to the Ultra 9 speakers but the other twist was a new VAC reference product in the form of a new integrated from Kevin Hayes.
I was most interested in seeing what Kevin could do with his new tower integrated amplifier that I first saw on a factory tour in Sarasota over a beach vacation (article forthcoming). A jewelry-like piece of state-of-the-art amplification, the VAC Statement 450 iQ integrated has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated but I do hope my photos at least give you an idea of the build quality I witnessed in person in Denver.
What Kevin has done is build an amplifier that dissipates heat perfectly as the tubes attach horizontally behind a cage of black bars spaced a few inches apart. The preamp controls in chrome are at the top and include a phono stage with many settings. The base houses the power supplies. The usual VAC handwork on the boards applies and the speakers and sources attach, RCA or XLR to the back of the tower. The tower is done up in a kind of muted candy apple red with highly polished chrome accent panels and the VAC “lightning rod” logo on the side. One of the better looking audio pieces out there.
The supporting list of gear was equally impressive:
- VAC Statement 450i iQ integrated amplifier ($150,000)
- Von Schweikert Ultra 9 loudspeakers ($200,000)
- Von Schweikert V12XS Shockwave subwoofer ($11,500)
- Esoteric Grandioso P1 transport ($38,000)
- Esoteric Grandioso D1 monoblock DAC ($19,000 each, system uses two)
- Esoteric G-1 rubidium clock ($20,000)
- Esoteric N-1 music server ($20,000)
- Critical Mass Olympus Luxury Rack ($61,500)
- Kronos Pro turntable ($51,500)
- Airtight Opus 1 cartridge ($15,000)
- Masterbuilt Cables are used throughout (prices vary on length) and ASC tube traps were used strategically for room treatment.
A few press release details on the Ultra 9 may be warranted given the newness of it:
Extremely low distortion, class-defining clarity, three-dimensional image focus, and lush harmonic structure set a new world standard.
MasterBuilt Ultra Internal Wiring comes standard on the ULTRA Line. Each signal path is individually shielded and damped with point-to-point connections. Designed by leaders in the Aerospace industry and made with rare and precious alloys. It’s simply the most transparent signal path available!
All-new exotic drivers such as ceramic woofers and midranges, Beryllium tweeters, compound woven subwoofers and ribbon super tweeters.
Point to point hand built networks with isolated architecture that protects crossover parts and wiring from electrical noise contamination.
Version 2.0 Aktive Cabinet Vibration Control, eliminating cabinet noise with new materials and layering techniques.
Time Alignment, Phase Consistency, and adjustable bi-polar sound radiation pattern for room-filling sound. The ULTRA 9 design employs one 15” powered subwoofer per channel to achieve full-range response from 10Hz to 45kHz.
No doubt this is a lot of money, so one may wonder how it sounded.
Leif asked me if I wanted to hear anything and all I could think of is how the ribbons would handle vocals so he cued up Dream with Dean. I know this recording very well as it is a demo track for me at home. When things are working properly, Dean’s voice should be a bit large and very present with some gentle jazz guitar riffs off to the side. Yep, the Ultra 9s were getting it done well. We listened to I’m Confessin’ and Fools Rush In. Marvelous. The super low noise of the system allowed every note to breathe. That towering integrated from VAC must have almost zero noise. I got to thinking how cool the VAC would be: you get a phono stage, line stage, and powerful amp. You eliminate at least two sets of cables and at least one equipment rack. Getting back to Dean Martin, the guitar tone was dead on. Next we heard Andreas Vollenweider’s White Winds album, a sonic spectacular from the 80s I had not heard in a long while. Wowzers. So much going on here in both the strings and percussion. But what I noticed was how deep and wide the soundstage was. The Von Schweikerts and VAC gear were creating a very believable panorama of sound.
Finally we were treated to Roger Waters’ Amused to Death on 200 gram vinyl from the wizards at Analogue Productions. This sounded terrific. Bass was strong and super clean. Roger’s built-in Q-Sound-like sound effects were presented perfectly. I walked away impressed on Saturday morning wondering how another RMAF room was going to top this.
Let’s cut to the chase here. The sound from this system was widely whispered to be among the best at the show for good reason. It made my Top Five list in a very competitive show atmosphere.
The Audio Company is hosting an Atlanta Audio Club meeting on the 21st of this month. Boy, are the members in for a treat. Keith, I hope you are saving me a seat!