Last month I kicked off this series of three articles with descriptions of two stereo systems I’d like to put together to listen to my favorite music through. I began with the lowest-priced setup, the Small Wonder System, priced at $5700 (all prices USD). Then I moved considerably upscale, to the vinyl-based Warm and Classic System, at just shy of $30,000.
To be clear: I’ve never actually heard any of these combinations of components, but it seemed fun—for me and, I hope, for you—to conduct a little audiophile thought experiment to virtually assemble them in my mind’s ear, following my hunches that synergies among these components might make for compelling listening.
This month I further ascend the price ladder, with two more systems I’d love to make realities that I could listen to.
The Sensitive Type System: Luxman, Klipsch, Meitner, Clarus Cables, Audience
The sweet centerpiece of this system is a forthcoming limited-edition integrated amplifier from Japanese manufacturer Luxman. Last October, Luxman introduced the L-595A, based on their L-570 models of the 1980s. Production of the L-595A (pictured) is limited to 300 units, to be sold only in Japan—needless to say, it flew under the radar of most of the North American audio press. The model Luxman will release in North America will be closely based on the L-595A, limited to only 100 units, and should be available in the second quarter of this year at a projected price of $12,500. (No photos are available as of yet; there may be cosmetic differences between these limited editions.)
What we know about the L-595A: It’s a pure-class-A, solid-state design specified to output a lowish 30Wpc into 8 ohms or 60Wpc into 4 ohms. I’m betting the new Luxman will be a honey of an amp. And though I do love me some front-panel meters now and again, I like the no-metered look of the L-595A.
The new Luxman’s lowish power output means that careful speaker matching will be key—we’ll need speakers of relatively high sensitivity—and I love the thought of pairing a low-powered class-A amp with a pair of Klipsch’s Heritage Cornwall IV floorstanders ($5998/pair). The Cornwall IV is a three-way cabinet with a midrange driver and tweeter loaded by Tractrix horns—those horns largely account for its sensitivity of 102dB/2.83V/m, high sensitivity being a Klipsch hallmark. The huge (15ʺ) woofer at the bottom should provide plenty of bass punch if not subterranean bass depth—the Cornwall IV is specced to go down to only 32Hz. But with this speaker’s nominal impedance of 8 ohms, the Luxman’s 30Wpc should have an easy time of getting this system cooking. I’d get the Heritage Cornwall IVs in the American Walnut finish. These speakers are big—the appearance of their broad top and side panels will matter, and I love walnut veneer. And did you know that Klipsch now offers a ten-year warranty on their Heritage models?
I expect that this combo of Luxman amp and Klipsch speakers will be pretty revealing of upstream flaws, so for the front end, we need something refined. I’d like to try Meitner’s new MA3 digital-to-analog converter ($9500) here. True, the fact that the Luxman is an integrated means we won’t be using the MA3’s integral volume control, but we’ll certainly hear all the experience that Ed Meitner & Co. have put into the MA3’s digital development. The MA3 is also a Roon Ready network streamer compatible with Tidal and Qobuz.
As long as we’re trying to feed the Luxman signals as pure as possible, let’s throw in pure AC as well. To do that job for this fantasy system I choose the Clarus Cables Concerto power conditioner ($3600). With a High Current outlet bank and a Digital outlet bank, the Concerto will send juice to the Luxman and Meitner via independent paths. In theory, this should result in the Meitner and Luxman performing at their best.
For wire, I’m going with Audience AU24 SX interconnects ($2640/1m pair) and speaker cables ($2984/1.5m pair)—tried-and-true designs that SoundStage! reviewers have favored for years for their aural neutrality: they don’t color the sound.
Although the Sensitive Type System’s total cost of $37,222 only marginally exceeds that of last month’s Warm and Classic System, the listening experience should be way different. My fantasy Sensitive Type System should play loud and very close to full range (except for that last 12Hz missing from the Klipsches’ bottom end), and be able to fill a large room despite the Luxman’s low power-output spec. The Cornwall IVs’ horn-loaded tweeters will expose harsh recordings, but I hope not to an excessive degree, due in large part to my other hope: that the digital front end I’ve chosen is as refined as I think it might be. The Sensitive Type System should do justice to any type of music, but Klipsch speakers have always been known for how well they play rock. So cue up some Led Zeppelin first. I’m betting the Luxman will exude that bit of golden glow in the midrange that class-A amplification is known for—so don’t forget to try your jazz singers.
The Deeply Resolute System: Rockport Technologies, Devialet, Siltech
My next fantasy system costs a lot more, and the only thing that can justify spending this much cash—even if it’s only Monopoly money—is a significant increase in sound quality, even of the fictional variety. So we start where the rubber meets the road: the loudspeakers. Better, yes—but better in what ways?
From my Deeply Resolute System I want more in two specific areas of sound, the first area being deeper and higher-quality bass. Among audiophiles, the generally accepted standard for full-range sound includes full bass extension down to 20Hz—hardly surprising, as that’s the lower limit of the range of human hearing—and that’s what I want from my Deeply Resolute System. And in that bass I also want more articulation—in short, quantity and quality of bass.
The second area is resolution. It’s been my experience that two design attributes of loudspeakers, among others, result in higher resolution: lack of audible cabinet colorations; and linear ultra-high-frequency extension, for the reproduction of nuanced upper-range detail.
One intriguing speaker that might well meet these requirements is Rockport Technologies’ Cygnus ($65,000/pair). The Cygnus boasts two 10″ woofers in a big ported cabinet, and Rockport specifies that it reproduces bass frequencies down to 20Hz, -3dB. The large radiating surface of those woofers’ carbon-fiber-sandwich cones combine with the Rockport-designed motor systems to deliver punch and depth and agility and finesse in the lowest frequencies. In other words, it gives you the best of both worlds. At the other end of the audioband is a 1″ beryllium-dome tweeter fitted with Rockport’s custom waveguide for both out-there extension and world-class refinement. As good as this driver’s reproduction of the highs might be, it needs to be supported by vanishingly low levels of detail-obscuring cabinet colorations. There should be no worries on that front, thanks to Rockport’s constrained-layer-mode construction of both the speaker’s MDF cabinet and its multi-layered aluminum baffle. All in all, the Cygnus should provide seriously refined full-range sound.
My choice of electronics for this Deeply Resolute System is somewhat unconventional, for a couple of reasons. First, price. The speakers I’ve chosen cost more than 11 times as much as the Sensitive Type System speakers, but I don’t want to get equally crazy in terms of my electronics budget—even though the Cygnus could easily support überquality electronics. The second reason is one of sonic priorities. The Deeply Resolute System should produce bass that satisfies even the hardest-to-please audiophiles, with resolution throughout the audioband that exposes every fine detail of any recording of any type of music I might care to play.
To accomplish those goals, I choose Devialet’s Expert 1000 Pro Dual mono amplifier ($34,900/pair)—a single component comprising preamplifier, power amplifier, digital-to-analog converter, and streamer. True to its name, the Expert 1000 produces 1000W into 6 ohms—all the get-up-and-go the Rockports could want—and because I know from experience that Devialet makes some of the quietest amps in existence, these elegant little beasts should be resolution monsters. They also should be able to control those Rockport woofers with iron fists—I’ve heard other Devialet amps driving bigger speakers with even bigger woofers, and I know what I’m talking about. And the Expert 1000 Pro Dual’s built-in DAC and streaming mean I won’t have to buy much more—just wire.
Speaking of which, I go with Siltech. I love their materials—that silver-gold alloy is a classic choice capable of incredible beauty. Siltech’s quality of manufacturing is also the state of the art—a quality that perfectly matches that of Rockport Technologies and Devialet. I’d get the Classic Anniversary 770L speaker cables ($6300/2.5m pair).
I expect that the Deeply Resolute System ($106,200) would have world-class bass response—depth, drive, punch, and articulation. It should also sound linear all the way up to the highest highs, where it should sound open and revealing but far from harsh. The ergonomics of Devialet’s funky remote control should find many fans, and the minimalist yet elegant look of this system will make it a fine centerpiece for almost any décor.
Next month, my fantasy systems rise in price twice more. No more integrated amplifiers, even fewer limitations of sound quality—but maybe a few surprises.
I hope that, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll all be listening again in person to great audio gear in dealers’ showrooms and at audio shows. It’s fun to daydream about virtual audio systems, as I’ve done in this series of articles—but it’s nothing like the real thing.
. . . Jeff Fritz