Show Reports

Best Sound at T.H.E. Show 2011 – Jeff Dorgay – Tone Audio

Somewhere between the odds and ends at T.H.E. Show, just down the street from the Venetian, where CES is featuring most of the high performance audio, there is a beacon of light. Well, sound, actually.

Should you be attending T.H.E. Show, do not miss the Blue Light Audio exhibit in Room 4044. Jonathan Tinn is has a stellar exhibit, that is by far the best sound at the show.

On display is his new Wave Kinetics reference direct drive turntable with a Durand tonearm and the Ortofon MC A-90 cartridge, the Playback Designs MPS-3 player darTZeel amplification and the amazing Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne speakers.

The most amazing thing is that this six figure reference system is driving a $2,000 pair of speakers (not a typo) and the combination is fantastic. With solid bass down to 35hz, these small but stylish speakers threw a huge soundstage, with a tonality so realistic, you’d be hard pressed not to think you were listening to at least a $10-15,000 pair of speakers.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2010 – This is a Dogma- Free Zone by Miles B. Astor

My first encounter with the Evolution Acoustics speaker line came earlier this year at CES and Jonathan Tinn followed up at RMAF with the debut of the new Evolution MMMiniOne/Two (15K without subwoofer and 27K with subwoofer). Belying its appearance, the MMMiniOne is actually a 2-way bookshelf (a 5-inch ribbon tweeter coupled to 7-inch ceramic midbass driver) integrated into its own high mass stand. Thanks to its modular construction, the MMMiniOne speakers can be upgraded with the addition of the MMMiniSub woofer; to my ears, I much preferred the sound of the MMMiniOne plus subs. The subs added a far more substantial foundation to the music as well as more dimensionality and midrange presence.

Some people might accuse Tinn and company of stacking the deck by bringing along either a modded Studer 810 reel-to-reel machine to playback 15-ips/2-track tapes or a $15,000 Playback Designs MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD player with 24/192 input (the PD was hands down and by light years, the best sounding digital front-end I heard at the show—and unlike the others actually did justice to the music) and a $2500 Music Servers Direct MSD-1 Reference music Server ($2500) to playback high-rez digital files. On the other hand, these sources allowed Tinn to demonstrate the system’s resolution, frequency response and musicality.

And did they ever! The highlight of this year’s RMAF was the simply jaw dropping sound of second generation, 15-ips tape copies of two of my favorite LPs: the first was Solti performing Glinka’s “Russian and Romantic: Overture” from Romantic Russia (original Decca release SXL 6263) and the other, Oscar Peterson’s “You Look Good to Me” from We Get Requests. Neither LPs ever sounded like this! On the Glinka, the low end extension, string delicacy and sense of space, a Kenneth Wilkinson’s trademark, was beyond spooky. On We Get Requests, Ray Brown’s bass was incredibly solid and powerful. It ws almost as if Brown was there in the room. Peterson’s piano never sounded more wooden. The digital was no slouch either though not up the quality of the 15 ips tape playback. Bruce Brown of Puget Sound Studios played some outstanding high-rez digital files from audiophile favorites such as the Muddy Waters “Good Morning Little School Girl” track from Folk Singer. (Muddy Waters as well as Buddy Guy were remastered for Winston Ma’s FIM label and HDtracks.) Of course, all this did is give me a Jones for the original tapes!

Tasked with the job of playing back the front-end sources were the new and the Dartzeel CTH-8550 250 wpc integrated amplifier with phono stage ($20,300), assorted cables from Dartzeel and resonance control footers from Wave Kinetics.

CES / THE Show 2010 – Finishing with Evolution and darTZeel by Jason Victor Serinus – Stereophile Magazine

As John Atkinson and I entered the room at THE Show in which darTZeel electronics partnered Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers, I was immediately struck by the fullness of the midrange. It was as though the system was opening its heart and welcoming us in. That’s how warm and nurturing the sound was.

What was especially wonderful was that this system was about far more than midrange. From a very open, clear and realistic top all way down, the darTZeel/Evolution Acoustics system sang true. And beautifully. Very, very beautifully.

First we listened to a favorite audiophile demo, tenor José Carreras singing an excerpt from Ariel Ramirez’s Misa Criolla. The air around voices and instruments was as wondrous as the clarity of playback.

Then came something very, very special. But first, a description of the system.

This not exactly bargain-priced system consisted of darTZeel’s new NHB-458 monoblocks, whose 1000Wpc will set you back a mere $135,000/pair, and the darTZeel NHB-18 NS reference preamplifier with MC phono section ($29,000). Speakers were the brand-new, just introduced Evolution Acoustics MMtwo loudspeakers ($35,000/pair). Weighing 375 lbs each, these gorgeous babies claim a frequency response of 10Hz–40kHz ±3dB, and a sensitivity of 93dB. They also sound marvelous.

The rest of the system comprised Evolution Acoustics’ DRSC speaker cables ($5000/pair), the LINK-Reference 50 ohm BNC–BNC interconnect ($6000), and PC2One power conditioning power cord ($2000). Playback was from either a Playback Systems MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD player with 24/192 input ($15,000), or the world-premiered Music Servers Direct MSD-1 Reference Music Server ($1995) controlled by an Apple iPod Touch. Other goodies included the Audience Adept Response aR6-T power conditioner ($4600).

Yes, it was an expensive room, filled with equipment I cannot possibly afford. But it’s not about me, John, or Stereophile; it’s about the music that gives us joy, and the equipment that brings it to us in all its glory.

After the Carreras track, Jonathan Tinn of Evolution Acoustics began telling John how much he loved listening to a track from one of John’s recordings, Cantus’ While You Are Alive. (Stereophile’s newest reviewer, long-time audiophile Erick Lichte, was Music Director of Cantus at the time of the recording and produced the CD). As the conversation grew more animated, I quietly mentioned that I just happened to have the CD with me.

I cannot begin to tell you how it felt to enjoy John’s energy as he immersed himself in two tracks from one his finest recordings. What I can tell you was that the sound was little short of heavenly.

On that high, I bid adieu to THE Show and CES 2010. If John, in his talk earlier in the afternoon, both acknowledged the bad year that has past and the good year that he expects to unfold, the Evolution Acoustics/darTZeel demo confirmed that 2011 has the potential to launch a very full, rewarding, and musical decade. With sound like theirs, the admittedly struggling high end gives indications that it is indeed alive and well.

CES / T.H.E. Show 2010 – BEST SOUND AT SHOW by James Darby – Stereomojo Magazine

“There’s no denying that this is an expensive system. We almost passed it by altogether. It was the last room we ventured into just a few minutes before the show officially closed.

We had heard darTzeel components before. We knew they were megabuck icons, not something we’d ever review. And we’d certainly never heard of Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers. Probably just another overpriced speaker system. A couple of ceramic drivers and nice enough lacquered cabinets, but nothing special compared to all the monstrosities we’d seen that weekend and at countless shows before. Not surprisingly, this system was heard at The Home Entertainment Show, not CES. Things just seem to be better at THE Show. Only real hardcore music and audio lovers venture there, not the teaming hoards that populate the massive Consumer show.

The moment we entered the room though, we knew there was something special going on. The room was crowded with several people standing outside the door, peering in as if something cool was happening. When they saw our Stereomojo badges, they eventually ushered Darby to the center chair.

Usually when you go into a megabuck room such as this ( Kondo in particular), you’d think you were at the last green at the Master’s Tournament waiting for the final putt. There’s a hushed reverence. Eerie. Not here. Everyone was so relaxed and jovial, like they had all just smoked some very happy weed. The room’s hosts were playing a selection from Reference Recording’s “Tutti” disk, one we know very well. Though we had heard that track thousands of times before, we had never heard it like THIS!

We’re not even going to try to describe the sound. All we can say is that this was not just the best sound at this show, it was the best sound at ANY show we’ve EVER heard. In fact, we can state that it’s the best stereo reproduction we have ever heard…period. And that friends, is saying a lot.

Yes, the darTzeel amps (NHB-458 monoblocks, whose 1000Wpc cost $135,000, but that’s a pair – not each…ahem), and preamp (NHB-18 NS – $29,000 – but it includes a phono stage…gasp) together cost around $300,000. Cables by Evolution as well and all the other ancillary gear probably added quite a bit more. The Playback Systems MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD costs another $15,000.

However, the Evolution Acoustics model MMtwo speakers were not anywhere close to those numbers, or close to any of the megalithic (we made that one up, too) speakers we saw. The Evolutions weigh 375 pounds (!) and sell for only $35,000 per pair. The “only” is in contrast to all the other six-figure speakers at the show.

They are 53″ tall, 18′” wide and 30″ deep. The tweeter is a 5 inch aluminum ribbon between two 7″ ceramic midranges and one 15″ treated paper cone for the woofer. Frequency response, according to the literature, is 10Hz-40kHz and that’s +/- 3 dB.

At -6 dB. they go all the way down to an unheard of 7 Hz. They claim that impedance is 7 ohms and only deviates by +/- 2 ohms, so no wide swings. Sensitivity is a very high 93 dB. They are phase and time aligned. Woofers and tweeters are user adjustable. An internal amplifier for the low end is rated at 600 watts RMS. Max power handling is 400 watts. Minimum watts, they say, is 5 watts. Hard to believe. But if those watts are only driving the 93 dB sensitive mids and tweeters, maybe so.

As big as those speakers were and crammed into a small room, when the music started they utterly disappeared. Linda said they sounded just as good to her and she was seated next to the left wall, way off axis. For the first and only time at this year’s show, we listened to the entire Stereomojo Ultimate Evaluation Disk. As every track played, we were mesmerized. We have heard each of those tracks thousands of times, but in this room it was if we’d heard them for the first time. No, there wasn’t any new sounds or noises we’ve never heard before, but what we did hear was simply….Wow! And it was not the amount of sound we heard, they weren’t blaring, it was utter realism of the voices and music. Herve Delatraz of darTzeel commented on what a great demo disk it was. The music wafting from that system was better than most live concerts. Publisher James Darby was heard to say to Evolution Acoustics’ Jonathan Tinn, “This is the only system I would PAY to hear”.

Usually we go home and cogitate on our Best of Show Awards, but this experience was so compelling that we told Jonathan Tinn that he and darTzeel had just won our overall Best Sound at Show Award for 2010.


CES / T.H.E. Show 2010: Best of Show by Dave Thomas – Stereo Times

“The best sound at T.H.E. Show came from the darTZeel electronics and Evolution Acoustics room. Just like seemingly everything else at the shows this year, the components in this room were drop-dead gorgeous but monstrously expensive. But darTZeel was also one of the few companies to demonstrate that their gear was actually worth every penny. The system featured the new 1,000 Wpc NHB-458 monoblocks ($135,000/pr), and NHB-18 NS reference preamplifier ($29,000). But the speakers in this system are what struck me the most. They were the new Evolution Acoustics MMtwo. These breathtakingly beautiful 375 lb monsters, had every right to claim a six figure price tag compared to most of the speakers I saw that cost that much. But priced at only(?!) $35,000/pr, they would have to qualify as a definite bargain. They feature two 7” ceramic midrange drivers, one 5” ribbon tweeter, and a 15” treated paper woofer. They have a frequency response of 10Hz–40kHz and are 93dB efficient. They also have one of the most beautiful finishes I’ve seen on a pair of big speakers in quite a while. Oh, I forgot to mention the most important part, they sound fantastic.

The system was fronted by the Playback Systems MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD player ($15,000) and the Music Servers Direct MSD-1 Reference Music Server ($1995). Evolution Acoustics cabling was used throughout and an Audience Adept Response aR6-T ($4,600) provided the power conditioning.”

CES / T.H.E. Show 2010: Select CES Show Stoppers – The Best of the Best by Myles B. Astor

Blue Light Audio – No K-Mart Blue Light Specials in aisle 8 were found in this room! What was present in the room was arguably the best sound at The Show and the CES show, especially considering the size of the hotel room. Jonathan Tinn and company unveiled several new products at The Show including the supersized, (who says big, much less solid-state amplifiers can’t sound good; I certainly won’t anymore!), 1 kW/channel Dartzeel NHB-458 monoblock amplifiers Reference priced at a hefty 135K ($135/watt). Music was played through the exquisite looking, not to mention sounding, $35,000 Evolution MM Two Loudspeakers (maximum musicality). The MM2s are nearly identical to their bigger brothers, the Evolution 3, save for the top woofer. Finished in a stacked Baltic birch wood, the inside of the MM2s cabinet varies from three to six inches thick and is internally damped to reduce standing waves. The woofers are powered by amplifiers rated at 600 watt/channel compared to 1200 for its bigger brother.

Another component in the Blue Light Audio product whose sound took me totally by surprise was the Steve Dobbins modified Technics SP10 direct drive turntable outfitted with the Reed tonearm from Eastern Europe and the fancy new $4200 Ortofon A90 cartridge. Don’t, expect, however, to pick a used Technics for a song on eBay; the last Technics SP10 went for the tidy sum of $9000. Despite the speakers being situated in a relatively small room (actually the amount of equipment jammed into the room may have made the room seem smaller than it actually was) that preventing the system from breathing, the piano was rich, drums were tight, controlled and very dynamic and percussion instruments didn’t break up. Another table displayed but not playing in the Blue Light room that deserves further investigation is the Kodo Audio “The Beat” Reference table (a modified Garrard 301 turntable) equipped with the Reed tonearm.

CES / T.H.E. Show 2010: T.H.E. Show of Shows by Robert H. Levy

“I then raced to the Blue Light Audio suite where Jonathan Tinn, Mr. Playback Designs, was presenting a knock your socks off system sonic show. Powered by the darTZeel Swiss made NHB-458 monoblocks, $135k and 1000 watts per channel, the Evolution Acoustics MM Two loudspeakers were amazing. With gorgeous fit and finish, they sported top notch Accuton drivers and more. They sell for only $35k per pair, but look and sound like they should cost double that!

Also used was the NHB-18NS preamp with phono section selling for $29k. If the Playback Designs MPS-5 CD was not good enough for you, they had the new Ortofon A-90 MC at $4.2k playing as well. All was hooked up with Audience AR6-T Power Conditioning at $4.6k. WOW! What a sound! This was sonically best of show by a very wide margin. Was it the amps? Was it the speakers? Who knows or cares? The end result was an ‘alive with in the room’ performance quality sound. “

CES / T.H.E. Show 2010: by Dean Seislove

“On the other hand… there were the empress’ dowery (or credit line, anyway) products. As I’ve said before, superb materials, engineering, and innovation don’t come cheap. How cheap and how superb is a matter of perspective, but there’s no way of escaping the bitter truth that the rooms that absolutely stun you with an unbelievable level of detail, range, and musicality will set you back 50 large, minimum. I rarely have fifty little, maximum, but that shouldn’t stop me from barging in the queue to listen at the feet of the gods, and it didn’t. I loved the darTZeel NHB-458 monoblocks/Evolution Acoustics MM2 speaker pairing—this is how I’d spend my two hundred thousand (including Evolution Acoustics cables, a Playback Designs Music Playback System 5, a really comfy armchair, and an even comfier investment portfolio).”

CES / T.H.E. Show 2010: by Fred Crowder – Dagogo

“Of the many systems which I heard at the show, this is one of the very few that I would consider owning exactly as it was set up. Jonathan Tinn is closely associated with each of these products and assembled a system that was clearly greater than the sum of its parts. Every component represented something very special from a musical perspective.

The Evolution Acoustics MMTwo speakers, while not their most expensive, were ideally suited to the room size and truly full-range. The powered bass driver integrated seamlessly with the ceramic midrange and the ribbon tweeter. The ability to separately adjust the level of each driver also helped minimize detrimental room interactions. I am not usually fond of ribbon tweeters or ceramic drivers; however, any resonances that might mar the sonics of these drivers were carefully controlled and inaudible. Imaging was excellent, as were dynamics and tonal balance. The preamp was the Dartzeel NHB-18NS; the amp their new flagship NHB-458 monoblocks. Both were beautifully designed and constructed. Digital was provided by the Playback Designs MPS-5. Analog was handled by a 30-year-old Technics SP10 which had been totally and lovingly rebuilt by Steve Dobbins, who replaced all caps and diodes, and rebuilt the motor bearing. It might be more accurate to say that Steve scavenged selected parts from the SP10 but built much of the table himself. The SP10 was mounted in a custom plinth also provided by Dobbins. The arm was a Reed equipped with an Ortofon MC A90 moving coil cartridge. The Reed has a number of unusual design features such as the use of an ebony arm wand and a laser to set VTA.

The sound of the combination was stunning. The best way to describe the sound of this system would be to think of the sound of Quad 57’s partnered with tube electronics but with real bass, extension at the top, dynamics and clarity. The sound was sweet and extended but with excellent slam. The re-issue of Bring in the Clowns by Classic Records was stunning! Male voice was rich, sonorous and harmonically right. Transients and low-level detail were also excellent. I liked this system so well that I requested review samples of the Playback Designs, the Dartzeel mono amps and a new and better ground up turntable effort by Steve Dobbins (the Beat).”

CES / T.H.E. Show 2010: by Danny Kaey – HiFi Statement

“Another Jonathan Tinn and Andreas Koch (both formerly of emmlabs fame) creation, the Playback Design’s MPS-5 disc player with USB input is perhaps the digital reference to beat in 2010. Not satisfied with standard off the shelf components, Andreas and Jonathan designed this player around custom programmable chips, rather than the usual fare of Burr-Browns, etc. Absolutely recommended, the best digital I heard at the show – $15k. Consider the computer USB input gratis.”

CES / T.H.E. Show 2009: “Blue Light Special” by Wes Phillips – Stereophile Magazine

“It was jaw-droppingly real!”

CES / T.H.E. Show 2009: Dave and Carol Clark – Positive Feedback Online

Audio Oasis Award.

CES / T.H.E. Show 2009: Dennis Parham – Stereo Times

“The Evolution acoustics room, whose products are engineered and hand crafted in the USA, demonstrated synergy between their MMMiniTwo loudspeaker ($40k), dartZeel 250 watt integrated amplifier ($20k) and Playback Designs SACD/CD player ($15k). For me, the sound was natural sounding and inviting with plenty of harmonic rightness. A definite candidate for best sound.”

CES / T.H.E. Show 2009: The Groove

“I’m visiting the Las Vegas high-end show for the first time and sitting in the sweet spot in this room and it was as heavenly as 2-channel music reproduction gets. No other room at the show (the Venetian included) had such a level of top-to-bottom balance, scary dynamics, pure realism and sheer palpability of voices, instruments, live recordings were REAL … and they weren’t even playing vinyl! I would say the absolute best matching of components and perfectly setup.

Now, those prototype DartZeel monoblocks … my brain is still trying to comprehend how it is possible to sound SOOOO good, sound from another planet, sound for the Gods! Everyone in the room was shaking their head in disbelief! Most amazing indeed. Nothing compares.”

CES / T.H.E. Show 2009: Fred Crowder – Dagogo Magazine

“Jonathan Tinn was again showing at the Alexis Park and definitely hit a homerun with the Playback Designs Player, the new Dartzeel integrated amp and the new, smaller version of his speakers with powered subwoofers.  The integration between the drivers was absolutely seamless and the speakers were ideally sized for the room.  Tinn had also used a fair amount of acoustic treatment on the walls.  The sound was absolutely stunning.  Space and depth were superb.  Jonathan was showing prototypes of the new Dartzeel monoblocks, which are rumored to be something very special.”