VTL S-400 Series II Reference Amp, Stenheim Alumine Five Speakers, dCS Rossini Player, Nordost Odin 2 Cables

“OMG, it’s music” is the first thing I wrote down in this room. “So much of what I’ve missed at this show is here.” On master recordist Peter McGrath’s live 24/88.2 MQA recording of pianist Benjamin Grosvenor playing the Sarabande from Bach’s French Suite No.5, I heard the natural ring of his piano’s top notes resounding and decaying in an uncannily realistic depiction of a large, open venue. Given that plans to attend Grosvenor’s performance at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night were scrapped due to the musician’s strike, this was certainly the next best thing.

After that, VTL’s Bea Lam played, from a computer outfitted with Audirvana Plus, the first movement of Ivan Fischer’s DSD128 recording of the Mahler Symphony No.3. This being one of my reference tracks, I sat in envy of this system’s ability to capture the natural brightness of cymbals without ever sounding harsh, and to transmit deep bass like nobody’s business. Save for a wee bit of overhang way down low, the presentation was beyond compare in its ability to convey Mahler’s opening cry of alarm, and then contrast it with the light that emerges during a brief passage for divided high strings and other instruments.

Listening ended with a wee bit of a vinyl track: Cecilia Bartoli’s “Vedrò con mio diletto” from Vivaldi’s Il Giustino. I loved the openness that the combination of VTL’s brand new TP-6.5 Series II Signature phono stage ($12,500), together with VTL’s TL-7.5 Series II Reference line-level preamplifier ($25,000) and S-400 Series II Reference stereo amplifier ($33,500), brought to the music.

“I have one of those amps at home,” said Joe Reynolds of Nordost when I commented that whenever a new version of the S-400 is released, I’d love to have a crack at reviewing it. Joe’s comment was no surprise, given how beautifully VTL electronics mated with the open clarity of Nordost Odin 2 cabling (with Valhalla 2 USB) in a complete Nordost QB8 II 20-amp/QKore /SortKone set up.

Other essential products in the system: VPI Avenger Reference Turntable with 12″ 3-D tonearm ($19,999.99) and Lyra Etna cartridge ($8995); dCS Rossini player and clock ($35,998 total); the excellent and extremely impressive Stenheim Alumine Five loudspeakers ($58,900/pair); and Finite Elemente’s Pagode Reference Equipment rack and amp stand.

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