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The resurgence of vinyl is hardly a secret. Everything from phonostages with RIAA equalization to mono cartridges has made a roaring comeback. But just when you think every permutation has been explored, along comes Peter Ledermann, the head guru of Soundsmith, to spring a surprise. At RMAF the indefatigable Ledermann was featuring—hold on to your hats—a $7000 Sussurro “Hyperion” phono cartridge with a cantilever made out of cactus (and a 10-year warranty). It sounded devastatingly dynamic on a VPI HR-X. Ledermann claims that the cactus is about as good as it gets for damping excess energy in the cantilever and that it has on output of 0.3 mV. “More than just `hype’,” his poster proclaimed. Based on what I heard, he’s on to something.
Speaking of VPI, its nifty $6000 Classic III ’table was spinning Keith Johnson’s half-speed master LP on Reference Recordings of pianist Dick Hyman’s big band. Wow! Run through the $22,000 Analysis Audio Omega loudspeakers, the soundstage was cavernous, coupled with more ambient detail than you could shake a stick at. Stunning.
At the other end of the price spectrum was the dauntingly expensive and brand new $150,000 Onedof ’table. This snazzy gold-hued record player, coupled with Dan D’Agostino’s new $45,000 Momentum monoblock amplifiers (which possess sledgehammer power in the bass), sounded very promising indeed when playing an Angel LP featuring Maria Callas singing the “Casta Diva” aria. There was no hint of breakup in the treble and the dynamics were excellent. Designer Aleks Bakman uses a belt-drive system and an exotic platter that employs O-rings to stabilize the outer clamping ring.
This year Steve Dobbins’ $24,000 “The Beat White Knight” turntable sounded marvelous, thanks partly to an ingenious new Frank Schroeder pivoted tonearm (price not yet set) that effectively acts as a linear-tracker by moving forward and sideways at the base—a design that I suspect may gain in popularity. The speed stability and clarity of this magnetic-drive ’table were riveting. Kudos to Dobbins. Credit must also be awarded to the superb Allnic equipment, which consisted of a $19,000 L5000 directly heated triode linestage, $11,900 H3000 phonostage, $19,900 A5000 monoblocks, and, not least, the Allnic Purtias moving-coil cartridge at $4950. It wasn’t all Allnic: the loudspeaker was the powerful and refined $27,900 Wilson Sasha.
Another very enticing tonearm was introduced in Jonathan Tinn’s Bluelight Audio room, where Tinn’s new direct-drive NVS ’table was sporting the 12" Telos tonearm, made by Joel-Francois Durand. Very snazzy, as well, was the shiny, gleaming $14,000 Triangle Art Reference turntable in the Gamut Audio room. Garth Leerer from Musical Surroundings was proudly debuting a $24,000 ($32,000 with stand) Clearaudio Master Innovation Wood ’table that, sans pendulum, looks like an endearing version of the massive Statement. I got to listen to it with Jonathan Valin who always brings along good vinyl, including a beautiful Living Stereo Venice LP, that provided a healthy change from my usual fare of gangsta rap. The Innovation and new $15,000 Goldfinger Statement cartridge, which features more magnets, less windings, and an output of .9 mV, sounded absolutely boffo run through Jim White’s Aesthetix $15,000 Io Eclipse phonostage, $19,500 Callisto Eclipse preamplifier, and $16,000 Atlas monoblock amplifiers. The $45,000 Vandersteen 7 loudspeakers created an airy and precise soundstage. The Vandersteens, it must be said, sounded exceptionally impressive when powered by the new $25,990 Audio Research Reference 250 monoblocks, $12,000 Reference 5 preamplifier, and the $11, 995 Reference 2 phonostage, a $25,000 Spiral Groove 1.1 turntable, and the magnificent and almost unattainable Lyra Olympos phono cartridge.
One room I always try to make a beeline to visit is Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound. Catalano is a connoisseur of fine sound. This year he was demoing the fabled Cessaro Horn Acoustics Affascinate loudspeaker, which comes in at a cool $62,000 and, by Cessaro standards, is a bargain. The $25,000 TW Acustic Limited ’table sounded lucid and unflappable. It was, if I may use the term, a non-horny sound in the best sense—not a smidgen of abrasiveness, though the treble was sometimes affected by the room’s low ceiling.