by Rafe Arnott
As a reviewer, it’s always a treat to be at a high-fidelity trade show, and go into a manufacturer’s room whose gear you’re hot for, only to discover they are showing off not one or two components, but several components in multiple systems. This is exactly what happened with Mobile Fidelity who was showing a number of systems at different price points in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show this year.
A sweet spot in the curated lineups was a Quad/MoFi system featuring the new (and sexy) Mobile Fidelity StudioDeck turntable (by turntable-design legend Allen Perkins, now of Spiral Groove fame) with a StudioTracker moving-magnet cartridge ($1,149 USD for TT w/cartridge), and the UltraPhono phono/headphone amp (designed by the legendary Tim de Paravicini of EAR electronics fame, $499 USD), feeding a pair of Audeze LCD-3s. Amplification was being provided by the Quad VA-One Valve Integrated Amplifier ($1,599 USD) which had its North American debut at CES, which was driving a pair of Quad S1 bookshelf speakers ($799 USD).
This is small-footprint hi-fi, and it has a lot of appeal in today’s modern urban markets. I’m a big fan of Quad products, and have been for many years starting with what I consider one of the greatest, most iconic high-fidelity masterpieces of all time: The Quad ESL-57 loudspeaker. The 303 stereo power amplifier, and 33 pre-amplifier that Quad paired with their award-winning electrostatics were just as impressive as the ’57s to me because I’ve yet to hear a better amp/pre pairing with those speakers. In fact, the 33/303/ESL-57 pairing is still on my list of systems that I must own in my lifetime, just because I know I could live happily with their transparency, and holographic imaging for years. If you’ve never heard them, try to hunt down an audiophile friend who has a set so you can experience the magic for yourself. The VA-One continues the Quad tradition of music first in their electronics designs, and also stays true to their clean aesthetic heritage. The VA-One is a very small amplifier that features one of my favorite all-time output valves – the EL84 – and also comes equipped with a huge amount of modern connectivity inputs (1 x RCA, 1 x OPT, 1 x COAX, 1 x USB B, and Bluetooth (aptX) to assure this is the little amp that could, and can for years to come.
To my ears this was a real taste of what high-end is capable of eliciting – a true emotional connection between the music, and the listener – but at a price point much closer to reality for many of those looking to get into a “real” system, and see what all the fuss is about once you leave the mp3, the iPhone, and the soundbar behind.