The Voice That Is! Presents John Marks, Zesto Audio and Bricasti Design

I went almost thirty years without traveling back to the Philadelphia area where I once lived, but now thanks to Doug White and The Voice That Is! I’ve been there twice this month. Just three weeks ago I covered Doug’s event for Vertere Acoustics, and Colleen and I had a wonderful time meeting analog legend Touraj Moghaddam of Vertere and meeting up with fellow Part-Time Audiophile writer Richard H. Mak so we could learn more about his analog set-up software, AnalogMagik. This time, Doug hosted an outstanding three-part event featuring John Marks, George and Carolyn Counnas of Zesto Audio and Brian Zolner of Bricasti Design.

The room at the Hampton Inn of Plymouth Meeting PA was the same, Doug’s Tidal Audio Contriva speakers were the same as the last The Voice That Is! event, but nearly everything else was different. (Cabling was Dynamic Design.) In fact, the system changed three times during the day so that each presenter could focus on their products and discussions.

First up was John Marks, formerly of John Marks Records and Stereophile and now representing his blog The Tannhauser Gate. John and I were fellow music reviewers at Positive Feedback for quite a while, and he used to review our gear from Unison Research and Opera for Stereophile. We’ve talked many times–on the phone, by email and even Skype–but this was the first time we met in person.

John’s talk was titled “Everything Makes a Difference,” and he brought plenty of CDs and digital files to demonstrate how the littlest things can make a sonic difference in recordings. For instance, he played two CDs where the only difference was the coloring of the labels–the photo detector in the laser assembly is influenced by the amount of black on the label. Other comparisons involved the more obvious differences between aluminum discs and cryogenically-treated gold discs, and in one detailed comparison he demonstrated four different passes of the original analog tape from Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain where the only difference was the power cord used for the analog-to-digital converter. In most cases, the audience was able to clearly pick out those sonic differences.

Next up on The Voice That Is! agenda was George and Carolyn Counnas of Zesto Audio. I was looking forward to their demonstration since I’ve really come to love the sound of their amplification, and I reminded them of how their room at High End 2019 in Munich was such an oasis for me on a tough day. Using a Reed turntable and tonearm with an Air Tight cartridge, George reviewed the entire analog chain from the tip of the stylus to the power amp, and how Zesto Audio made each design choice along the way. One thing I learned from this demo was that Carolyn is actually the “industrial designer” who came up with the distinctive mirrored look to their tubed phono pres, preamps and power amps. The sound cultivated by George, who started out as a recording engineer, is awesome and all–but Carolyn’s visual template for these products also deserves plenty of attention!

Finally we were treated to an in-depth discussion with Brian Zolner of Bricasti Design. This incredible high-end audio brand was actually borne from Brian’s work in the recording industry and his development of the reverb processors that are used on virtually every modern recording. Brian not only charted the development of the Bricasti Design M1 DAC out of the essential pro recording tools, first from Lexicon and now Bricasti, but he also played a variety of digital files from SACD that still provide a cogent argument for that format’s continued support.

The unsung star of the show, of course, was the system Doug brought from The Voice That Is! The presenters were able to make their points simply and directly because the system was so resolving. Brian Zolner played a few digital tracks of a pipe organ performance and I have never heard low frequencies pulsate with such life and energy. As John Marks pointed out, one of the most rewarding aspects of the pipe organ is that it’s such a three-dimensional instrument, and you should clearly “see” those distances between the pipes. Oh, and we did.

Doug White is known for his ability to set-up an incredible system at high-end audio shows, and serious audiophiles should always make the effort to hear his work whether it’s at those shows, at his showroom in Pennsylvania–or at one of these informative and vital events.