by Rafe Arnott
Jody Hickson of American Sound out of Toronto, Canada always manages to put a smile on my face when I enter his room at audio shows, and in Chicago at AXPONA it was no different. That’s because he is one of the most genuine, honest, and affable guys I’ve met in this industry, plus he keeps using a Bergmann turntable on the front end for analog paired with various guises of Sutherland phono stages running into Avantgarde amps and semi-active loudspeakers. A few things in the setup are invariably different, but it’s always these same core of manufacturer’s components that make up his curated systems, and keep me coming back. Describing the sound of systems at high-fidelity shows is never an easy proposition, and while I’m able to glean a fair amount of sonic information from show rooms, it has come with experience, so when I say that Hickson’s systems are musical, transparent, and incredibly dynamic, I hope you’ll understand that I don’t say it lightly.
Starting the signal path with a new Phasemotion PP2000 LOMC cartridge ($6,000 USD) being cradled by the Danish Bergmann Galder TT with vacuum hold down, and Odin air-bearing tonearm ($34,000 USD) gets things off to a great start. I’ve listened to this ‘table a number of times, and the Bergmann arm/table combination completely disappears, allowing whatever cartridge is mounted to come through without colouration – a boon for a cartridge with the Phasemotion’s ability to convey scale, weight, and speed. The Sutherland Phono Blocks ($10,000 USD) which have circuit revisions based on the flagship Argentum seem to be another Sutherland pursuit to only add gain to the signal, and nothing else. Few solid-state phono stages translate so much analog information so effortlessly as Ron Sutherland’s designs do, and with more than 20 years of continual circuit refinements, he’s still in the mix for being in the very upper echelons of analog pre-amplification. An Aurender A10 music server/DAC ($5,500 USD) was handling digital duties, but was not in use while I was in the room.
The Avantgarde Acoustic XA Integrated Amplifier with it’s unique design featuring 1.1watts of pure Class A, and 150 watts of A/B ($16,500 USD) was powering the latest iteration of the horn-loaded Avantgarde Acoustic Zero TA Speaker (semi-active, 104dB with eight-Ohm load, $15,000 USD). This newest Zero is based on the Zero 1 XD (fully-active model) but does not include the preamplifier, DAC, and built-in tweeter/midrange amplifiers of the XD. The Zero TA has 500 watts of DSP-controlled amplification for the bass driver and can be configured (via rear controls or computer connection) so the listener can fine-tune, and tailor bass response to their listening room. A feature set that I’m sure contributed to the excellent imaging, large 3-D sound stage, and deep, tight, yet fully-controlled bass response show goers were enjoying in the room. DSP continues to impress me with its capabilities to take the room out of the set-up equation, and makes these types of systems more, and more accessible to urban audiophiles who live in smaller townhomes or apartments in the city where large speakers like the TA might be difficult to properly set up, and get the best out of if wasn’t for the time-alignment, and phase correction that advanced DSP circuit architecture can address.