It is just a quick day trip down to San Diego via the Pacific Surfliner Rail Car from Los Angeles. The good news is that the seats on the train fair much better than any general airline could muster and the weather was still massively pleasant despite the recent fire devastation in northern LA that had been reeking havoc on the air quality for over a week… which wasn’t very “quality” to begin with in the first place.
Today’s premeditated destination was Alma Music and Audio, just north of the downtown area of SD. Up to bat at the store was a high end combo that just missed us at the LA Audio Show this year. While always impressive, the Sonja XV loudspeaker and the D’Agostino Relentless had yet to make their West Coast debut, at least to us… as their room at the show featured the previous D’Agostino Momentum flagship while the new big dog was lost abroad somewhere in the High End Munich area.
Also swapped out from that show was the Jr. for the Sr. Sonjas, for a total package that eclipse $800k. Not for the faint of wallet, but a solid combo those in the market.
Its high end, high fidelity at its peak. Driving the front end we once again saw an appearance of the new Statement Music Server from Innous, lovingly connected to the MSB Select II DAC ($120k), also acting as the pre. Now, some might raise a curious eyebrow at such a shortcut, but Alma Music and Audio proprietor Alex Siufy swears up and down that his A/B tests against separate top dollar pres prove the “B”s the lesser. Budget wise it is probable that the company took a few $10,000s of the total price and created something special with it. Given the output heard that week, I have no reason to doubt either that logic or his personal observations – the room sounded superb. The Select II actually offers two separate cases for power supply, one for the digital stage and one for analog.
Alex and his partner Fabio Storelli started the Alma venture just three and half years ago with a store in La Jolla, a seaside area just north of downtown. They moved the retail space to Kearny Mesa for better floors/walls and more efficient access to clients. The main room housing the Relentless debut was of new construct, especially designed for high end listening via a collaboration with Tomas Andugar of Nemesis High-End Acoustics. Tomas created the numerous diffusers and absorption materials that lined both the walls and celling. For interested parties, any image can be printed on top of wall supplements, including family photos for those looking for a less intrusive, more familia-friendly route to room management.
The YG Acoustics flagship is modular in nature, offering trade in options and a clear path to customer loyalty with bass appendages, cabinet swaps and driver upgrades that can be done in-house. The difference in the Sonja XV Sr. to Jr. is simply the addition of the bottom bass section, which was specifically brought in here for the event. Also of note: every woofer cabinet is a sealed design, so bass blowback from nearby walls could in theory be alleviated by some measure, although at this pricepoint a dedicated listening room might be assumed… but not guaranteed.
My extended listening session involved both tracks of my choosing and “hosts pick”. Starting with Beck’s Yes, I’m doing fine it was clear that big sound was on the playbill for the day. It’s stands to reason then, that both the Sonja’s and the Relentless amps are big. The new amps are BIG. From press release images, it not a fair judgment for size – as framing and perspective could fool one’s eye into believing that they are somehow comparable to the D’Agostino Momentums. They are not. Each block lined with stunningly beautiful copper and aluminum weighs in at 570 lbs. That’s a four man job at minimum to move them, hernia candidates need not apply. Physically they are XXL-sized, but so was the sound.
The tight acoustics of the system provided a clear take on everything that was fed to them. For fun later in the day, MP3s were played to demonstrate the limitation of the digital format. Naysayers of higher resolution files clearly have not heard this same demo available though the Relentless and Sonja XV. Dimensionality and depth suffered from the lossy track’s playback, but provided a better look at the inverse… solid imaging and a buffered “further back” placement of instruments thanks to the extra information lodged securely in the file. Take away the resolution and all that falls back to a flat 2 dimensional surface. Beck’s high res track offered up a detailed-focused texture, with a clean window to view the odd-sounding snare drum take from engineering on the album. Again, the total system was capable of revealing, not just glorifying the original studio work.
Rodrigo y Gabriela Live from Japan showcased the responsiveness of the entire system with a “shockingly real” attack of the nylon-string guitar pluck. No mush, no slow decay, just great hifi in the manner at which the producers vision starts to eclipse the sonic reality. Does an acoustic guitar sound like a machine-gun barrage of notes in real life? Maybe close if your ear was and inch or two from the strings. In the playback booth? Absolutely. Here we have something that is better than real life, but an wholistic approach to what the mics, room and acoustic capture was moving towards.
My hosts for the evening were a very agreeable bunch with plenty of knowledge to share and a real love for music and its playback. Although based in San Diego, they also service brands like YG Acoustics further up the coast into the Los Angeles area, hence their presence at shows like T.H.E. Show and other events in the Southern California area. Alex and Fabio sit and listen, in more than one respect. Definitely worth a stop if you are in the region, they also carry a good selection of vinyl if that is your vibe as well.
Dan D’Agostino Relentless Monoblocks ($250,000)
YG Acoustics Sonja XV speakers ($265,900)
Dan D’Agostino Momentum Phono Stage ($29,000)
Bergmann Galder Turntable w/ Odin Tonearm ($35,600)
Air Tight Opus 1 Cartridge ($15,000)
MSB Select II DAC – fully loaded ($120,000)
Kubala-Sosna cabling – whole set of Realization series ($60,000)
GigaWatt PC-4 EVO Power Conditioner ($12,000)
YG Acoustics 1.6 Rack ($26,400)