Distinctive Stereo, Genesis, VPI, Merrill, Aurender | CAF 2019

After visiting the Distinctive Stereo room at the 2019 Capital Audiofest, I no longer have to hear the question “You’ve never met Herb Reichert?” That’s right–I do not know Herb Reichert, despite the fact that I’ve been reading his reviews since his days at Listener magazine with Art Dudley. Herb is everbody’s favorite audio scribe these days, and I have to say I’m a fan of his writing as well. But I’ve never met the man in person, despite his ubiquitous presence at some of these shows, and I always feel left out because everyone tells me that he’s fascinating.

Tenacious Sound
Capital Audiofest 2019 brought to you in part by Tenacious Sound.
Verdant Audio
Capital Audiofest 2019 brought to you in part by Verdant Audio!

When he walked into the Distinctive Stereo room, the introvert in me said to stick in the background, let him do this thing and then resume after he moved on. But he started talking to me. There was no longer any excuse to not meet this guy.

The Distinctive Stereo room was a surprise–I went in to visit with my friend Gary Koh of Genesis Advanced Technologies, and noticed that Larry Borden was running the room. I’ve worked with Larry before, when he was a reviewer with Dagogo and I was a distributor. Now it seems the tables have turned–Distinctive Stereo is his new high-end audio dealership. He assembled a first-class system with a lot of Gary’s products: Maestro loudspeakers ($30,000/pair), Premium Gold phono stage ($12,000), equipment rack, amp stands and all of the cabling. Larry added the VPI HW-40 ‘table with Fat Boy tonearm ($15,000), a van den Hul Crimson Black cartridge ($5295), Aurender N10 server ($8000), EMM Labs DAC 2x ($15,500) and amplification from Merrill Audio.

The was the first time I’ve heard Merrill amplification since we reviewed Element 118 monoblocks and Christine preamp in Part-Time Audiophile. In this case, the slightly smaller Element 116 monoblocks ($22,000) joined that $12,400 line stage. The Merrills are so unlike any Class D amplifiers I have heard before–the combination with Gary’s fabulous Maestros had sufficient warmth to make me happy, but it was accompanied by plenty of that characteristic deep and powerful bass that Class D delivers with ease.

While finally meeting Herb Reichert was a highlight of the show, this system did not take a back seat in any way. I’m a big fan of what Gary Koh is doing with Genesis, and Larry was always very knowledgeable about audio–so I’m glad I got to hear their work as a team. I hope Distinctive Stereo is a success!