Audionet: A chance listen!
When it comes to serious high-end reproduction and appreciation, audio retailer and importer Bill Parish of GTT Audio and Video is at the top of the game. Here on the east coast, GTT is where I go if I want to hear such notable products as YG Acoustics loudspeakers, Soulution and Tenor electronics and Kubala-Sosna cables to name just a few. On my last visit to Parish's Long Valley, NJ showroom,just over a year ago, I auditioned some very interesting Mola Mola products (see my report here and video here). And with all due respect to that splendid sonic encounter, it did not impress me quite like my most recent visit, the subject of this review.
When Parish mentioned he had become the sole U.S. importer of Audionet of Germany, I wasn't surprised. He's been a constant presence at the Munich High End show, the most prestigious high-end audio show in the world. I was expecting him to scoop up somebody from there, sooner or later. I wasn't, however, fully aware of how excellent Audionet products are.
Over the years, I’ve spent a decent amount of time listening to Audionet equipment in a variety of systems. But, no matter how good (or mediocre) a showroom demonstration may sound, it barely hints at a product's true potential. Nothing reveals what a product can really do like auditioning it in a dedicated listening room.
At High End 2012, Ascendo's System M loudspeaker (which debuted in the U.S. in Stereo Times in 2004, here) was being featured alongside Audionet and Finit Element gear. The sonic results were impressive but, of course, in situations like this, one usually gives praise to the products one is familiar with. In this case, I poured praises on Ascendo's loudspeaker, with its new subwoofer and dedicated rear ambient driver (see video here). I got a solid impression of Audionet, but I had no idea as to just to how good their products are until my return visit to GTT a few days ago.
Parish contacted me some days before that and asked if I would like to hear something new and, if I liked it enough, might even do a report on it. I said, sure...why not. A few days later I found myself on Route 80 heading west from Jersey City (where I live) to Long Valley. Upon arrival I noticed some interesting products adorning the equipment racks.
Featured in Parish's smaller Studio Suite (one of five dedicated listening rooms, photos above) was the Audionet PAM G2 MM/MC phonopreamp with External Power Controller ($16,800), the Audionet DNP (Digital Network) Preamplifier ($20,300,with optional external EPX power supply, $10,000) and the Audionet AMP mono amplifiers ($18,250 a pair), rated at 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms; 750 watts into 1 ohm. Another rather big surprise for me was the analogue source.
Parish is the U.S. distributor for the Canadian-built Kronos turntable.The affordable Sparta shown here ($21,500) features a Kronos Helena tonearm designed by André Theriault ($6,400). It is made of carbon fiber and has a ball-joint unipivot. The Helena's innovative arm design stabilizes the stylus in the record's groove which in turn relieves torque at the cantilever and thus avoids the need for anti-skating correction. The cartridge Parish used was the fabulous-sounding Air Tight "Supreme" ($11,000).
YG Acoustics' Hailey loudspeakers ($42,800) were driven by a pair of Audionet AMP monoblocks using all Kubala-Sosna Emotion-series cables ($3,000 speaker/interconnects, $1,100 per AC cord).
Parish pretty much knows my tastes by now so he pulled an LP of Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus. The calypso-styled first track, St. Thomas, proved to be more groovy and emotional than I had previously heard in this room. Grooving to the nuances of Rollins style, I thought to myself, "What's different here?"Obviously the Kronos table and Hailey loudspeakers were providing great sound. But there seemed to be something extra special going on. I found the music much more alluring and captivating than on my last listening session (with Soulution electronics). "These amps are only $18k and are doing this?" I said to Parish. He just smiled. I remembered commenting on the incredible resolution I heard with the Soulution gear using these identical loudspeakers and cables. Now the system had what I would describe as densely filled holographics, with oodles of front-to-back layering. Nothing sounded slow, lethargic or overly damped down either. I wondered to myself, “Is Audionet this good?" But before I could answer that question, Parish summoned me join him in auditioning Audionet's reference series electronics on the big rig located downstairs.
As you can see from the above photos, this is not just a big rig, it's a big rig in a big room. The Kronos Limited Edition Pro turntable ($35,000) featuring a 12" Helena tonearm and Air Tight “Supreme” cartridge were already warmed up. The electronics were the Audionet Pre G2 linestage ($23,500) and Audionet PAM G2 with EPC phono preamp. The tall and majestic sounding YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3s ($108,000) were powered by a pair of Audionet MAX monoblock amplifiers ($30,500) using Kubala-Sosna's top of the line Elation series cables (speaker/cables $6,000, $1,800 per AC cord).
This big rig looked quite similar to the smaller system upstairs. I hoped the sound wouldn't be too dissimilar. But I was wrong. First off, the larger room made a big difference. That the larger Sonjas played with much greater ease and dynamic prowess wasn’t much of a surprise. What did surprise me was the organic quality and three-dimensionality of the sound. The level of extreme detail—which I think of as a virtue rather than shortcoming—was not as pronounced as I remembered in this room with a Soulution rig. Yet the music seemed just as resolute and fast. Weird. The breadth of the system, soundstage and depth, had changed dramatically as well. The idea that real musicians were playing in front of me was more realized than I had ever heard in this space.
I started peering around the room looking at Parish's vast collection of LPs and noticed Sam Cooke peeking at me from across the room. Just as I was going to request it, Parish asked me if I enjoy Freddie Hubbard? Do I?! I want to go on the record that FREDDIE HUBBARD is my favorite trumpet player of ALL TIME. Miles Davis has him beat in terms of style and/or sophistication (and certainly popularity), but Freddy Hubbard's my kind of jazz trumpeter and I'll give you two good reasons: First Light and Red Clay. Good Enough?
Both these LPs were recorded in the '70's and are widely considered Freddie's most provocative (First Light earned him his first Grammy back in '72). I saw Hubbard live a few times early in 2005 and maybe a few times thereafter before his death in 2008 at age 70. I was at his memorial in NYC some weeks later. I loved the man and his music.
Parish proceeded to take out the LP, with a slightly incredulous look on his face (as though he had hit the Lotto in pulling out this particular LP), and played the title track, Red Clay. I could tell this LP has been remastered quite well, but the overall fidelity of the music coming off this big rig was totally impressive. An all-star cast that features Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock gives this performance a most melodic sense throughout, but hearing it on this system enhanced this sensation. Could anyone who grew up with this LP avoid grooving to it? Impossible.
Then I realized that I’d heard this band on the big Soulution amps ($150,000 a pair) and wasn't as emotionally drawn into the performance as now. Wait a minute. The total Audionet system package is less than half the price of the Soulution reference monoblocks alone. Price is not an invariable indicator of superior sound! I wasn’t sure how to say it, but I felt compelled to express my feelings to Bill Parish.
"I easily prefer the Audionet products over the Soulution setup I heard in the past. There's just too much of a good thing here with regard to capturing the essence of a live performance with zero apologies. Soundstage, imaging and the sense of bloom is remarkably impressive while the top end is detailed but somehow presents a tube-like glow and richness.”“If you feel that way about it, why not write a story on it?" Parish said.
So I have.