• Stellar System

    It's Sunday morning, I am in a local Dunn Brothers Coffee shop sipping a nice cup of hot tea. They didn't have my usual Black Vanilla Bean tea so I am going out on a limb with some Black Currant tea. It's not bad, but I won't be ordering it again. To add insult to injury the wireless Internet access is not working consistently here. I just hope when I click "publish" all goes well. I have my Ultimate Ears ue11 Pro earphones in and a little Sonny Rollins on my iPod. The external sounds of the coffee shop are virtually nonexistent, so lets get to it. I was in a local Hifi shop yesterday and listened to a two channel system that was absolutely amazing. I felt like the system just disappeared and I was at a live performance in a small jazz club. This is probably the most transparent system I have ever heard. The listening room was also setup perfectly which is to be expected in a place looking to sell great sounding products. This system as a whole, room included, is very close to the best system I have ever heard. If the best system I've ever heard is a 100/100, I rate the system I listened to yesterday a 98/100. If it only had a disk based source and great DAC instead of the standard disc player, it may have been even better.
     
    The system:

    B&W N802 speakers
    VTL S-400 amplifier
    VTL TL 6.5 preamp
    Esoteric SA-60 disc player
    Nordost cabling throughout

    The first disc I listened to was Diana Krall Love Scenes. I am very familiar with this album so comparisons to past systems was pretty easy. The opening song "All or Nothing at All" is one of my favorite songs and sounds spectacular on an audiophile grade system. When the opening bass lines kicked in the system sounded extremely accurate. The most enjoyable part was when Diana's mic channel was opened and her voice came in, "All or nothing at all .. Half a love never appealed to me." The speakers absolutely disappeared! I couldn't pinpoint highs as coming from the top-mounted B&W tweeters and her voice was perfectly centered. I was floored to say the least. I have owned a pair of B&W Nautilus 802s and my system was nowhere near this transparent. It is quite obvious to me that everything in the chain, from the power source to your ears, matters. Skipping through a few other songs on this disc only provided more evidence of tremendous transparency. I can imagine someone with a good chunk of cash listening to this system and just handing over their credit card & setting a delivery date for the whole thing. Why mess with success. I spent the rest of my time listening to the Analogue Productions reissue of Chet Baker's "Chet." This is another stellar album as evidenced by my earlier review. I did notice some of the transparency was gone when listening to this disc. I'm sure it is because of the way it was recorded. Chet's trumpet often emanates from one speaker as it would from one side of the stage in a jazz club. This does make the listener notice the speakers a bit more in my opinion. Fortunately noticing the beautiful sound and look of the N802s is not really bad thing. I really do like these speakers, can you tell?

    I strongly suggest visiting your local dealer to see if they happen to have a complete system like this one. Don't settle for just the speakers or amp if you don't have to. I am guessing you probably want to know what I consider the best system I have ever heard. I will save the complete story for another day, but what I will say now is Audio Research, Wilson Audio, and Transparent Cable ...

     








    Comments 5 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Interesting. Right out of college I was in the market for some new speakers and I narrow it down to the Revel Studio (as they were called at the time) and the B&W Nautilus 802. The revels were connected to all Levinson gear and Kimber Select cabling. It was the absolute best system I have ever heard when listening to a certain Frank Sinatra CD (wish I remembered what it was). Everything else I heard through those speakers just didn't make me sink into the music. After several days of driving back and forth across town between two dealers I ended up with the B&W 802s.<br />
      <br />
      It is great everyone has an opinion on this stuff. We can all use their opinion however we want and maybe not at all, but it is good to hear from people other than the dealer and the manufacturer who are pushing the stuff.
    1. rgbyhkr's Avatar
      rgbyhkr -
      It's funny that you mentioned Love Scenes in your original post. Those 2 first racks are part of the selection I use when evalutaing new speakers. I have a few custom CDs burned from lossless files for just that purpose. It includes stuff like Diana Krall, Norah Jones, BoyzIIMen, Dave Matthews, Metallica, Brad Paisley, Michael Buble, 2Pac, Ray LaMontagne, some classical pieces, etc. The tracks are all ones I know well and represent the various genres in my collection. <br />
      <br />
      Jeff
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      That's pretty cool, it sounds like we have similar tastes in music. It's hard not to when I am into almost everything. I don't think the value of knowing a track very well can be underestimated. It seems like many people just go with songs that sound good and have been used by a reviewer. I can certainly count myself in that category many many years ago.
    1. rom661's Avatar
      rom661 -
      Hi Chris - I just found your site. I own a high end store that carries B&W and used to carry VTL. I know it is difficult to believe but the 800D's are more than an incremental improvement over the 802's. For the record, we also carry Wilson and Audio Research so I have at least a little insight there as well. It is refreshing to find someone who is acquainted with truly great sound and is knowledgable about served based sources. I am very good at what I do in high end. My personal reference is an Audio Research CD7 disk player. I am on a quest to try to provide our customers with guidance and equipment to enable them to enjoy the advantages of having their music on a server without paying a sonic penalty, even those with superb front ends. I just bought a Benchmark piece to play with today, but, in spite of five days of intense research, I barely qualify as knowing enough to be dangerous. I know what applies in our world. I read a comment by you on another website that the Stereophile guys don't know much about this aspect of things. Frankly anything you read should be taken with a grain of salt but unfortunately, true as your statement may have been, at present they know more than me. We sell Escient music servers, mainly as background, whole house type solutions. We can come out of the digital output into the Benchmark and it is noticeable better. However the digital out of the ARC CD player is far better. I hope your site can help me to understand some of the variables. I did notice that in the Absolute Sounds review of the Sooloos they made much of the fact that they preferred the sound from the server compared to the Esoteric transport, which we don't carry but is quite good. They did not, however, mention that the Sooloos can rip its own disks via a built in cd transport and how that compared. I don't know if the quality of the Esoteric as the source for ripping had an influence. I have used enough pixels - I am just trying to figure out a way to save people enough money on their front end to enable them to buy ARC, Wilson, etc. plus enjoy the convenience and control. Best wishes.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi rom661 - It is really nice to see someone like you on the site. You know your stuff and how it should sound. You'll be a great judge of all the new technology and whether it competes with ARC equipment and items in that category. Right now music servers and computer based audio can get to the quality level of a $10k disc player at a cheaper price and with more convenience. Of course price isn't always proportional to performance but I'm sure you get what I'm saying. For really discerning customers I would always recommend a great DAC to go along with any music server type product.<br />
      <br />
      I still stand by my word about some of the popular audio magazines being a little behind the times as far as the technology goes. But, they are probably on par with most high end customers. Not a bad thing, just an observation.<br />
      <br />
      Wilson and ARC sure do make a great match. My local dealer who carries both has an incredible Wilson/ARC system and I can't get enough of it. On of these days I'm going to finally give in and cut the check.<br />
      <br />
      Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss anything offline.