Quintessence Audio makes up half of the floor space under the escalators at AXPONA, opposite two rooms which Paragon takes, both in a prime space. Usually they have three great rooms and this year was no different. But before we talk about the rooms, I have to tell you about their customer service. I was helping a friend of mine buy some premium speakers and Quintessence really delivered excellent service taking into account some very specific challenges by the owner and the music room the system was going in. I won’t get into the details but suffice it to say their level of service was exemplary. Both the owner Mick Survance and manager David Weintraub really impressed me. I’ve heard stories from others talking about the excellent service as well. And I’ve gotten to know David and he really has some strong opinions on what the industry needs to do to provide the level of service demanded at the luxury reaches of high-end audio. More importantly, this is simply how Mick and David do business. David used to work for Rolls Royce and spent a fair bit of time in the luxury car business. I believe this experience has helped create one of the better stores in the Midwest.
So it comes as no surprise that Quintessence can select complementary gear, set it up perfectly, and create an inviting environment. I witnessed this in three different rooms in their corner of the escalator space. These rooms also offered high-performance sound in the prior year’s AXPONA where they debuted the Audio Research Reference 160 monoblocks and Wilson Audio Alexia 2 speakers.
The Sonus Faber-lous Room
- Pro-Ject Extension 10 in Olive Wood ($4,300)
- Sumiko Starling Cartridge ($1,700)
- Sonus Faber Aida ($130,000)
- McIntosh 1.25kw ($25,000)
- McIntosh C1100t Preamp ($7,000)
- McIntosh D1100 Digital Preamp ($7,500)
- McIntosh Music Streamer MS500 ($6,000)
- McIntosh Transport MCT 500 ($5,000)
- McIntosh Power Controller MPC 1500 ($5,500)
- Basso Continuo Equipment Racks
- McIntosh cables
Helmed by Will Kline of Sonus Faber, this room rocked. Will had brought in a bunch of McIntosh Labs gear and was really playing the Aidas to full volume. No polite, medium decibel classical foo-foo stuff here. Will was showcasing all sorts of great beats in this room which had a sublime Pro-Ject 10 turntable. Also, Sonus Faber had added in a Gravis subwoofer at the back of the room. Bass was thumping. As one would expect, and as I hope my photos show, the Gravis sub is another beautiful piece of art from the Italians with the wooden boat-like design we see on their other speakers.
Will cued up some new music for me from Baaba Maal with Mumford & Sons, “There Will Be Time”. I loved this track. Crisp, clear vocals, but a huge bass foundation from the Aidas. I find the Aidas have superb bass. This was evident when hearing them back in Atlanta at Evolution Home Theater and a prior demo from Will. Those 1.2kw McIntosh amps are certainly helping. Awesome!
The Casting Crowns were up next with Broken Together. A beautiful song that the system reproduced magnificently. Fantastic vocal presence and great timbre on the piano and strings. We then heard a Julie London cover with deep bass. Again the Aidas just sung on this. There was that chestiness you hear only on vocals that are perfectly rendered. We ended on a song by Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traore. Magnificent vocals full of emotion. This was beautiful music that I had never heard before.
Special thanks to Will, not only for a great demo as usual but also for introducing me to some excellent music.
The Simaudio Room
- AMG Giro 5th Turntable ($13,500)
- DS Audio E-1 Phono Cartridge System ($2,750)
- Simaudio 850P Preamplifier ($35,000)
- Simaudio 760s Mono Amplifiers ($16,000 per pair)
- Simaudio 780 V2 Streaming DAC ($15,000)
- Simaudio 820S Power Supply ($8,000)
- Kubala-Sosna Interconnect and Speaker Cables
- Critical Mass Systems Component Stands
This room was filled to the brim with top quality SImaudio gear and Sonus Faber speakers. We listened to Chris Jones, No Sanctuary Here. Good, clear bass and a very realistic guitar. Next up was Sara K singing Stars. The quality of the bass was quite evident. Super clean sounding recording and playback. Some really nice detail on the guitar strings. Finall,y we heard Paul Stephenson’s Captain of the Loving Kind from Stockfisch Records. Beautiful, clear guitar and wonderful natural vocals. The Sonus Fabers sounded really terrific with the Simaudio gear.
And finally, the Wilson Sasha DAW Room
- AMG Viella 12 Turbo Black Laquer Turntable ($20,000)
- Fortissimo Armboard ($2,000)
- 12JT Turbo Tonearm ($4,500)
- Clearaudio Jubilee MC Phono Cartridge ($6,000)
- Hana SL Phono Cartridge ($1,200)
- Wilson Sasha DAW ($37,900 per pair)
- Audio Research Ref 10 Line Stage ($33,000)
- Audio Researcn Ref 10 Phono Stage ($33,000)
- Audio Research Ref 160 Monoblocks ($30,000 per pair)
Oh my, you know I like the Wilsons paired with primo Audio Research gear. Match made in heaven if you ask me. Is it because the ARC Ref 160 mono blocks just work great with Wilson products? Is it because Warren Gehl, the head tester at ARC, uses Wilson Alexia 2 speaker? It doesn’t really matter as it just sounds natural together. Add in the two box Reference linestage and phono stages and yep great sound.
But you need a great source for analog. I got ya covered there. Garth Leerer was everywhere in this space with a Clearaudio lineup on tables outside the Paragon area and AMG tables inside the Quintessence rooms. In the Wilson room, we had the AMG Viella with a Clearaudio ? cartridge. It sound fantastic. Also cool was a beautiful record rack off to the side with staggered bins for easy access. And filled with real music as well, not just hokey audiophile stuff. For digital, we listened to the hot new dCS Bartok.
We listened on digital to Sly & Family Stone’s If You Want Me to Stay. The bass was full and the vocals and horns were spot on. Really wonderful sound. Next we cued up an old favorite of mine from my Chesky recording days: Joe Henderson on solo sax followed by some McCoy Tyner piano work on the Thelonious Monk song Ask Me Now from the album New York Reunion. The Bartok nailed the presence of Henderson’s sax and all the quiet between notes. nice dynamics and a big piano sound. This recording proved yet again that the new Sasha DAWs are very special. The Sashas were getting at the essence of this music, just like I heard in the studio. Daryl Wilson’s creation is the perfect tribute to his Dad and the Audio Research monos are the most complementary match possible. A true combination of power and finesse. The thing that I hear that impresses me about my Alexias is the speed and dynamics. The Sashas have that as well, if on a slightly smaller scale. I think the Sashas may now be the sweet spot of the Wilson line.
So there you have it. Quintessence, to the surprise of no one who has experienced the store, pulled off a perfect trifecta of great sounding rooms. Combined with the hospitality I was shown and the unbelievable professionalism they showed a prospective customer, it’s clear that Quintessence is one of the best retailers in the Midwest. Chicago is quite lucky to have Mick, David, and the rest of the team available and the brands they carry are very well represented in this central location. Quintessence customer service is Exhibit A in why you need to have a great dealer in the increasingly complex world of high end audio. Thank you Mick and David for the sublime sound and great service this year!