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The first Valve Amplification Company component I ever heard was in the system of a good friend: a PA-80/80 stereo amp, first made in 1994. He’d invited me over for a listening session with his system, which included Verity Audio Parsifal Encore speakers hooked up to what he called "the VAC." Its looks were retro black with distinctive gold bars and a lightning-bolt logo on the faceplate, and the sound was so gorgeous and involving that I went right to the Internet and bought one used for myself. I still have it -- an old and precious friend.
I’ve recently struck up conversations with Kevin Hayes -- VAC’s founder, president, and chief designer -- first on the telephone about replacement output tubes for my PA-80/80 and then at audio shows. When his new Renaissance Mk.3 preamplifier and Phi-200 stereo power amp debuted at the 2008 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I asked to review them, and Hayes agreed -- although, famously, it took some time for units to be made available. VAC rarely sends products out for review. My review of the Phi-200 will appear in a future issue of Ultra Audio.
I’d long been curious about Accustic Arts, not only for the positive press they’ve received, but also for what I’d heard about the company from audiophile friends. Given the quality of electronics coming out of Germany these days from such companies as ASR, Burmester, and Tidal, I was interested to see if Accustic Arts was up to that standard of performance. So when Jeff Fritz gave me the assignment of reviewing Accustic Arts’ combo of Reference Tube-DAC II SE D/A converter ($11,000 USD) and Reference Drive II CD transport ($12,000), I struggled to contain my enthusiasm. Now I would experience the Accustic Arts listening experience.
When FedEx delivered the Reference Tube-DAC II SE and Drive II, I was a little annoyed that they left them sitting on their sides against my garage door. That’s not how they were meant to be delivered, but once I’d got them into my listening room, all was well. Both the DAC II and Drive II were double-boxed, and packed very carefully and securely. After checking that nothing was missing, I began setting them up.
I was impressed with the build quality and finish of the DAC II and Drive II. Each had a stunning finish of brushed, silver-anodized aluminum that looked attractive in my equipment rack. Both were solidly constructed, and it seemed a lot of attention had been paid to the details: no sharp edges, the lines looked straight, and the layout of the controls and connectors seemed well thought out.
The realization that resonances can affect the sonic performance of audio equipment is an audiophile rite of passage. After not too long in the hobby, it’s inevitable that we confront and accept the not-so-obvious notion that the things we place under and even on top of our components can alter the sounds of those components. That’s the easy part.
Determining how to control resonances so as to not only change but improve what we hear is a bit more challenging. Yes, you can try to understand the often-conflicting technical claims made by manufacturers of isolation devices. However, the conversation can quickly get very complex, particularly if you lack an advanced degree in engineering.
Just look at the materials isolation devices are made of. Some manufacturers claim that resonances are best tamed by such common woods as oak, birch, or Canadian maple. Others assert that only a certain exotic wood will do; e.g., myrtle, teak, jabota, African blackwood, zebrano. Still other companies insist that you shouldn’t use wood at all; that the only ways to go are carbon fiber, acrylic, Sorbothane, or various stones, ceramics, or metals. Indeed, it might not be a stretch to think that, when Thomas Dolby wrote the song “She Blinded Me with Science,” he was buying from some lovely lady an isolation platform for his high-end audio system.
In light of the foregoing, my guess would be that many audiophiles take a scattershot approach to isolation, as I have. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a mélange of stands, platforms, cones, pucks, feet, mass-loading devices, cable risers, and the like. I’ve also spent countless hours tweaking these devices to get the sound just so. I was therefore reluctant to review Silent Running Audio’s new, custom-designed VR fp isoBASE platform. Setting up its feet, particularly for components that tend to be lifted off the rack by unwieldy power cords, can be a major pain in the keister.
The phrase "a man for all seasons" comes from an assessment by Robert Whittington of his friend Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Chancellor of England, author of Utopia, and perhaps the most famous hardhead in history. Whittington said, "More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons."
Appointed to the highest position of juridical authority in England, More, because of conscience, refused to sanction King Henry VIII’s plan to divorce his first wife, the aging Catherine of Aragon, who in 24 years of marriage had borne him a single daughter and no sons, so that Henry could marry Anne Boleyn, the sister of his former mistress and, presumably, as fertile as she was fetching. More would not change his mind despite the counsel of his peers; like him, they were churchmen, but unlike him, they valued life over principle, and urged More to bow to political pressure, both popular and kingly. But More remained steadfast, held out for principle, and, in the end, Henry VIII had him beheaded. British writer Robert Bolt heroicized More in his 1960 play A Man for All Seasons, and the phrase entered popular American speech after the release of the film version in 1966, which won that year’s Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Costumes. So when we use the phrase to compliment an individual’s well-rounded qualities, or adapt it to praise a product’s myriad capabilities, do we forget the expression’s origin in describing a man of principle?
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