Do I really need an excuse to ditch Rochester just before the first major snowstorm of the season just to head down to San Diego? As excuses go, I can think on none more sublime than visiting a high-end audio dealer to evaluate a couple of state-of-the-art designs that have just been introduced.
Alma Audio is nestled in the Kearney Mesa area of the city, not far from the airport. It’s a fairly new enterprise, opened in 2015 by partners Alexandre Siufy and Fabio Storelli. Along with Adrienne Alterman, the North American Sales manager for YG Acoustics (website), these folks were demonstrating two rather impressive products: the $250,000/pair Relentless Monoblock power amplifiers from Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems (website) and the $265,900/system YG Acoustics Sonja XV loudspeakers. Beats shoveling snow in my driveway, doesn’t it?
For those of you familiar with Dan D’Agostino’s Momentum line, you know how beautiful this gear is—with their shiny copper surfaces, beautiful glowing green meters and overall steampunk aesthetic, these products are more than just audio jewelry. We’re talking genuine works of art, ones with a serious purpose underneath all those gleaming contours—gripping any and every pair of loudspeakers on the face of this planet and squeezing out every ounce of potential.
No matter how many times you’ve seen Momentum gear in action, nothing will prepare you for seeing the new Relentless monoblocks for the first time. I walked into Alma Audio’s big sound room and was immediately distracted by the four gorgeous towers that comprised theYG Acoustics Sonja XV system—if you know how beautiful the Momentum gear is, you probably also know about YG Acoustics’ slim, shapely aluminum enclosures anodized in a deep and silky black. I walked up to the Sonja XVs and admired the stunning lines and the details of the drivers and out of the corner of my eyes I spotted something on the floor, just to my right—and I did a double take and jumped back.
The Dan D’Agostino Relentless Monoblocks
The Relentless amps are huge, much bigger than you expect. Alex and Fabio had placed a pair of the regular ol’ Momentum monoblocks next to the Relentless, probably for scale. We estimated that four or five of the Momentum amps would fit in the chassis of each of the Relentless amplifiers. They’re big, they’re beautiful and the new larger meters are even more mesmerizing than before.
What’s even more impressive is that the Relentless weighs nearly 600 pounds. Adrienne and Alex had quite a few stories to tell about moving these into place—it’s good that Alma has a staff. I feel for any one-man dealership who gets an order for a Relentless and a pair of YG Acoustics Sonja XVs.
Think about it for a minute—600 pounds. That means suspended floors are probably out of the question, even with hydraulic jacks in the crawlspace. Gravity always wins out in the long term, so act accordingly. We’re definitely talking slab floors, which Alma has. By the way, the four towers of the Sonja XV are also heavyweights, weighing 463 pounds each. I wasn’t just listening to more than a half-million dollars’ worth of speakers and amps, I was listening to more than a couple of tons of speakers and amps. Needless to say, the guys at Alma won’t be telling you to pull around to the loading dock so they can load this stuff up in the back of your SUV.
By the numbers, the Relentless monoblocks have 1500 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 3000 watts per channel into 4. (The Sonja XVs, by the way, are 4-ohm speakers.) The input stage is new and is designed with extremely close tolerances—this helps the amp to cancel any distortion, interference or noise. The gain circuits operate in the current domain rather than the voltage domain—this keeps the gain steady even as impedance varies according to frequency. There is no global negative feedback since the design is linear in open-loop operation.
The YG Acoustics Sonja XV
The YG Acoustics Sonja VXs are equally impressive from an engineering standpoint, which is why they are such a good match with the Relentless. YG Acoustics’ founder Yoav Geva designed the XVs (which stands for Extreme Version) for the company’s 15th anniversary, and it includes a number of new technologies such as a new tweeter made in-house. These tweeters, like most YG drivers, are machined from a solid billet of aluminum. Read that last sentence again—holding one of the airframes for the tweeter is an amazing experience, it’s so light and rigid. And it’s a single piece of aluminum.
Every aspect of the XV is over-engineered—that’s Yoav Geva’s word and not mine. The XVs were designed with one idea in mind—the pursuit of perfection.
The rest of the Alma system was extraordinary as well. Analog was covered by the Bergmann Galder turntable with Odin tonearm ($35,600), an Air Tight Opus 1 cartridge ($15,000) and the Dan D’Agostino Momentum phono stage ($29,000). Digital files were handled by the MSB Select II DAC, fully loaded ($120,000), and the system was connected with Kubala-Sosna’s Realization series of cabling ($60,000/set). (Joe Kubala actually joined us before my listening session was over.) A GigaWatt PC-4 EVO power conditioner ($12,000) was also put to use, and most of the gear was supported by a YG Acoustics 1.6 rack ($26,400).
I’ve been privy to some impossibly big systems over the last few weeks. I covered both the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and the Capital Audiofest in the weeks prior to my San Diego trip, so it wouldn’t be surprising if I felt a little jaded about this system and its objectives. That’s simply not the case, though.
First of all, the big room at Alma is genuinely big—quite suitable for a massive system consisting of massive speakers and amps. The Sonja XV/Relentless combination still amazed me with its ability to energize the large room with ease, and to knock down the rear walls behind the system so that it could stretch out toward a distant horizon. This was not an aggressive-sounding, authoritative system but one that kicked back and relaxed an occupied an overwhelming amount of geography.
We listened to a wide range of music—as many exhibitors are learning, I don’t have a specific set of reference tracks I need to hear in order to gauge a system’s strengths. Alex did hit for the cycle with a few of my favorites such as Dean Martin’s Dream with Dean, the original soundtrack for The Pink Panther and Lalo Schifrin’s original score for Bullitt. All sounded spectacular, possibly richer and more nuanced than I’ve heard from these very familiar tracks. Alex even played some fado for me, and he was surprised that I was familiar with this type of Portuguese music. The magic of fado, of course, is audience participation, and I could hear all sorts of little things going on including the sounds of crickets just outside.
This system also excelled at crescendos—not the kind that give you a migraine, but crescendos that are allowed to naturally develop as they move across the room and toward the listener. This results in something that is thrilling, not shocking, and it’s hard for a system of any level to be this discerning about the physical transportation of decibels. On the other hand, the dynamic swings were one-of-a-kind…at one point during a jazz track I heard the tiniest sound keeping the beat, a sound that turned out to be the lightest brush of a cymbal I’ve ever heard. It was a sound that was just barely perceptible, and it was the most impressive sound I’ve heard in a long time.
Back to the Blizzard
I was scheduled for a four-hour listen; it stretched into six. I don’t do that a lot, even at home. Alex, Adrienne and Fabio were such gracious hosts and they made me feel as if I could rent out a room in the back of the warehouse so I could live there. I was in San Diego for three days, and it was sunny and in the mid-seventies the whole time. This event was the very definition of a respite, especially with the prospect of my third Upstate New York winter at the end of this brief “listening” vacation.
There was a foot of snow on the ground when I returned. On the night of Thanksgiving, it hit zero degrees Fahrenheit. It sounds corny to say I had warm memories from the visit to Alma, so I won’t say it. But that YG Acoustics/Dan D’Agostino system was just what I needed as a memorable coda for high-end audio show season, a reminder that gear like this may be incredibly costly but that it earns its keep as wonderful company.