High End 2017: CP Report – Sonic Impressions Page 4


These massive heat sinks belong to the latest high-end audio newcomer in Block Audio. The company hails from the Czech Republic and have declared war on the status quo. Obviously, they’re not cheap, but at $70k for their mono amplifiers and gorgeously built preamp isn’t really asking too much when you consider cables now are going for that amount!  

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Always a fan of Gauder Akustiks loudspeakers, particularly the 3-way Berliner RC8 loudspeakers, hearing them driven by an arsenal of AVM electronics may have been the magic ingredient or better yet – the elixir – needed to create an experience that will prove hard to forget! Fast as lightning is the first thing I hear when listening to the Berliners’ Accuton ceramic drivers. Yet, their utterly natural sounding which gives them an easy-on-your-ears sensation, which is never easy for a loudspeaker of this size and dynamic prowess. Roland Gauder is quite the designer when it comes to making a loudspeaker that is both vibrant, yet alive and easy on you – the listener. 



ramblingconfessions_2.jpg“The VR ULTRA 11 strapped to the VAC 450 iQ Ref monos, ladies and gentlemen, was a soul shocker! The quality it exudes is reserved for the best high-sensitivity horn designs. So, once again, I was startled by its unusual dynamic response, poise and ebb and flow,” is what I stated in my AXPONA Chicago report last month (May). Here, at the Munich High End marks my second-chance encounter with the VR ULTRA 11s ($295k), strapped to a pair of VAC 450 ref mono amps with some added extra treats like Alex Paychev’s APL digital products took the system sonically further than AXPONA! Featured were the APL DSD-MR: Pure DSD, Reference Digital to Analog converter with tube output stage, the APL DTR-MR: Reference digital audio CD/SACD transport and APL DNP-MR Network Player. Haven’t seen Alex Paychev in what seems likes ages. He still has those charming good looks that belie his killer instincts to create the world’s best digital sources. What was even more of a surprise was when Paychev showed me his “CES 2006 Clement” jazz sampler  that I made for him over a decade ago. In gracious return, after introducing John to both Kevin and Paychev, John reached into his shoulder bag and gave them a copy of his latest CD Rambling Confessions. As much as I admire Paychev’s knowledge in things audio, I admire his admiration for things musical much more!

As incredible sounding as the VAC/Von Schweikert room was at AXPONA Chicago, ultimately, I felt the room lacked the breadth and air that proved one of the highlights here at High End 2017. Perhaps it was all the extensive room treatment used at AXPONA that made the room feel slightly overdamped? One can never be certain. But one thing I am certain of, and that’s the sound here was more open, remarkably liquid and surprisingly well-behaved in the bass: not shy, yet not overly done – which is usually the case when showing off loudspeakers of this ilk. Yeah, in the end, I easily placed this room in my top three.  




Thought I knew Holger Stein. Met his charming wife Gabriel and kids (above) years ago. Was the first reviewer in the US to review his Stein Harmonizers and other tweak-related gadgets and gizmos. Key Kim and I visited his home in Mülheim, Germany (a quaint little town about 6-hours north of Munich) right after 2011 High End show (see that report here). Saw and heard many of his prototype loudspeakers and concept designs while there and though I’ve always known he was a closet-horn lover, I never, ever expected anything close to the SteinMusic Topline Bob XL loudspeakers Holger demonstrated here ($135k without subs $200k with). From the smallest of the bunch (Topline S model at $6k), to their mid-line (Topline model M $50k), the company has designed a product for every budget.  



SteinMusic info sent me this info right before the show: Top Line “Bob” XL Our statement for the most natural reproduction of every kind of music. Top Line XL is a unique combination of horns and open baffle on a small footprint of 25” * 16”. Each speaker has integrated subwoofers with 3000 watt amplifiers, controlled by a DSP to perfectly adapt the bass response to the room.
The rest of the speaker works passive, so that you may use your favorite electronics from 60Hz upwards. A speaker designed for bigger listening rooms with good distance from the listening seat. Well, my listening space is not big by any standard (21′ by 17′) but it’s 8 ft tall ceiling would mate perfectly with the XL line source (as it’s about 7’9″). Heck, I can dream of what life would be like with a pair of these monsters in my space. They’re way too big and it’s too far to ship However, the Model L (photo above, shown in the back), may do the trick as it’s only half the size and weight. I first sat john down in the sweetspot and then asked Holger to play something for him since I had heard them for two days in a row and felt they were among the best sounds here and some of the best sounding loudspeakers I had ever heard period. John just looked at me with this immediate look of approval.

At this stage of the audio game, both John and I  agreed that we don’t need our pants flapping in the wind from super sonic bass wallop or super-duper loud passages. I just want the music to sound as real as all humanly possible. The SteinMusic Bob XL, along with all SteinMusic electronics did an outstanding imitation of life for us. Well enough that I realized in a moment why I chose horns over 10 years ago as the reference for which all loudspeakers should be judged. The way the XL coupled to the space was absolutely superb. There was an ease and a liquidity to their sonics that was surprisingy un-restricted and free flowing. It was as if the loudspeaker was playin in free air. This prompted me to check the rear and ah ha, as I suspected, there was no enclosure. Like a tale of three cities: a horn, coupled to an open-baffled line source. Breathtaking! 



After leaving the SteinMusic suite, John and I went right across the hall and into the Living Voice/Kondo suite. Immediately, before even sitting, you would have thought that someone spiked the air with an hallucinogenic based on how INCREDIBLE SOUNDING this room sounded as soon as you stepped in. ” Hey John, this is the sound I’m after!” I whispered. John, just looked ahead and listened with this incredulous look on his face. Understood, the experience was a lot to take in for this first-time show attendee. He listened and then stated “this is more of what your system sounds like to me!” “Thanks John, that’s because this is the sound I’ve been chasing for a very long time,” I retorted. The remarkably attractive and expensive ($500k) Living Voice Vox Palladian horn loudspeakers, driven by a pair of those exotic looking Kondo Gakuoh push-pull mono amps and model M77 preamplifier combos, appeared to come out of the front walls and not the loudspeakers at all. The ebb and natural flow coupled to a presence factor and remarkably weighty presentation, that was neither too distant or too close. Song after song proved so delightful rich, so wonderfully holographic, tha it was hard to grasp just how impressive this system performed in less than an ideal space. Neodio, CEC and Canary Audio provided digital transfers that were unlike anything else I’ve heard at the show. The only problem with this system was obviously the price. That being said, there were many systems here at the show that were in the same price category but none proved as soul-stirring. 

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