Monday, February 24, 2014

A Day at the Audio Store

I had a special experience last Saturday when I wandered into Paragon Sight and Sound in Ann Arbor. It was early afternoon, and there were no other customers, and the very nice sales staff allowed me to sit and listen to these Wilson Audio Sasha 2, $29,000 speakers. I walked into this lovely listening room, and the young lady asked me if I'd like her to turn it up. They were readying these speakers for their north American debut at a special event later this week. I asked if I could listen to my own music (I just happened to have a CD with some favorites), and she said sure.

But there's so much more. The source was a four-chassis box from dCS that included a CD transport, a DAC, a master clock, and
an upsampler, the four carrying a retail price of right around $108,000. Yeah, I know. Add to that the magnificent and beautiful Dan D'Agostino Momentum preamplifier ($32,000) and twin monoblock power amplifiers ($52,000/pair), and you've got $220,000 worth of stereo. I'm sure there were some crazy expensive cables being used.

What did that sound like?

Maybe right now we have to talk about value, even before the actual sound. I can't buy this stuff, and if I could, heck, I might. But I'd do so with the full understanding that I blew by the point of diminishing returns hundreds of thousands of dollars ago. Did it sound 27 times better than my own system? No way. But it did sound a lot better. I'm pretty sure you could get 98% of this sound for a tenth of the price. But maybe not all of it.

If I had a ridiculous ton of money I still wouldn't buy a Lamborghini or a yacht. Everyone has different priorities. But I might build a special room to listen to some crazy good music system.

And that is exactly what this sounded like. Deep bass, but never overemphasized, and never creeping into that low midrange area that makes Guy Clark sound chesty. Beautiful, searing guitar from Carlos Santana on The Song of the Wind from Caravanseri, but never edgy or too bright. Jane Monheit's Besame Mucho was pure tone perfection. Harry James Big Band's classic Corner Pocket was brassy and in your face, with dynamic range to spare. And The Emerson Quartet's 1st Movement of Hayden's Quartet in G Major was drop-dead stunning. The organ trills near the end of Elvin Bishop's Rock My Soul never sounded more intense, yet somehow relaxed at the same time.
The speakers were unflappable. The difference when you get to the top of the breed is the dynamic range capabilities, and the retrieval of sound you never even knew existed on your recordings. I'd heard Wilson Audio products years ago at an audio show, but this set-up and room were vastly superior, and I wondered how anyone could ask for more from a playback system. I've heard other great systems, and I'd say some of them were this good. But not better in any perceivable way.
No doubt the entire system was working together. The sound from the dCS digital source was so pure, so clean, so specific in its detail retrieval as to be shocking. The D'Agostino gear produced whatever push the music needed to be fully realized by the magnificent speakers, and is some of the most gorgeous stuff known to man. Swiss watch legendary. Clean, unlimited power, effortlessly provided in a nanosecond at whatever level is needed.

Or it just sounded like a blast, and if you heard it, you'd love it. Many thanks to the kind folks at Paragon for letting me experience it.

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