Those that frequent the pages of Audio-Head.com no doubt know that we like to focus a little more on the “obtainable” products of hifi and less on the aspirational side of things. But every once and a while we come across something that really impresses the heck out of us and this year some of that hold-on-to-your-socks-because-they-are-about-to-blow-off sound was perfectly encapsulated on the 12th floor of the Westin in Rosemont.
In more reasonable terms, we usually look for, and report on, items of perceived value in audio. But if we were to just put those ideals on the shelf for a moment and look at something in the raw since of “how good can we get this to sound” without any heed to the cost, well, that’s where the rooms by Quintessence Audio and Musical Surroundings begin.
The O’Hare 2 room contained a Sonus Faber setup that once again was one of my top picks for best show sound again this year. While the speaker may look very similar to the flagship Aida from last year’s show, it is in fact a brand new model called Lillium ($70k/pair). The Lillium features 5 drivers in the front and a 10″ subwoofer in the back. With all that size and shove the loudspeaker’s projection was just as big, if not bigger than the physical space it took up in the fairly large room at the top of the hotel. The realism and dynamics from the SF’s were second to none at the show. The outstanding clarity and tonal balance was as smooth as butter, without a hint of grain or edginess. The frequency response even managed to dodge the all-to-often overcompensation of treble to appease the dwindling sound receptacles of those who could possibly afford the upper income bracket of audio. My room notes reflect a few simple adjectives: balanced, full, alive.
The back end of the setup was driven by an Audio Research GS Pre ($15k), GS-150 Stereo Amp ($20k) and REF CD9 DAC/CD player ($13k).
The O’Hare 1 room was really the big dog in terms of price tags for the floor. The Magico Q7 MKII run a mighty $229k a pair. And even that wasn’t truly the high prince of extravagance within the rig. Supplying the analog feed to the system was a Clearaudio Statement V2 Turntable with TT1 Tonearm and Goldfinger Statement Cartridge for a eye popping $200k.
Still, the piece is quite endearing with its obvious conversation-starting, eye candy looks. The rest of the chain was filled in with Pass Labs XS Preamp ($38k) and Aestietix Atlas monoblock amplifiers ($16k). The sound from the room was nearly just as sweet as the Sonus Faber room with telekinetic-like sound staging, the ultimate in firm but balanced bass and liquid midrange. The only reason it didn’t seem to trump the Sonus setup was that at times it felt as though it still achieved all of the previously mentioned sonic bliss, but was trying just a bit too hard. The O’hare room 2 was somehow able to deliver more by making it all look easy, and with much less effort involved. Still, the entire top floor was filled with top tier performers all around, nicely done Quintessence.