May 1, 2009
The Smoke Settles on The Worlds Best Audio
As I write this, Ive packed up the last of TWBAS 2009
components -- at any rate, those that are heading back to their respective manufacturers.
Ive enjoyed the last few weeks. Ive logged in many hours listening to the
system, attempting to ingrain in my memory the sound that has transfixed me both on a
musical level and as an audio reviewer.
First, Ive just loved listening to my music
collection through this system. It "disappears" as well as any Ive had,
and in that respect it has increased my connection to the music. As corny as it might
sound, I feel as if I know the musicians better than I did before.
Second, as a reviewer, I know that Ive now
experienced a new benchmark. I know that aural memory is not infinite -- or even very
long. I also know that, as I move other components into and out of the system, new frames
of reference will evolve. But what I think will remain with me a long time is the
knowledge that transparency, resolution, neutrality, and dynamic capability ultimately add
up to, in the best of circumstances, that oft-cited but rarely defined term: musicality.
If you want to get close to the music, those qualities serve as a direct pipeline to your
recordings. Its like taking a smooth, direct route to your destination that avoids
all the roadblocks and potholes that would otherwise detract from your enjoyment.
I stated in "TWBAS 2009: The Event" that the "effort" of assembling
this system was ultimately what the project was about. In a real sense, that is what
reviewers, and all who are infected with audiophilia nervosa, are challenged with. We
know, even if we dont admit it to ourselves or to others, that the chase for
perfection is a large part of what motivates us. If we ever actually attained perfection,
would we really appreciate it? I cant answer that definitively. Id like to
think so. But in the back of my mind, I wonder if Id say to myself: Can it be
So, in that vein, I continue my quest for TWBAS. I know the
target is elusive, and I know that there will never be a system that all
audiophiles will agree is head and shoulders above everything else. But that matters
little. The point is that I have to chase my TWBAS. Because of my experience
listening to TWBAS 2009, I feel that I have a clearer direction for where I need to point
My reference system has changed because of TWBAS 2009. As
much as I would have liked to keep TWBAS 2009 intact, there were logistical and financial
considerations that strongly opposed that idea. But, Im thrilled to say, some things
First, Ive used Shunyata Research products for many
years now. The addition of the Hydra V-Ray II power conditioner is a clear improvement
over the older design. The King Cobra and Anaconda power cables are parts of a chain that
I would now scarcely consider doing without. They are world-class.
Seldom does a component come along that is so singular in
design and performance as to have no peers, but the Behold APU768 is one of them. At once
preamplifier, digital-to-analog converter, upsampler, and room-correction processor, it
performs all of those functions in a combined way that I have yet to hear equaled.
In fact, it handily outperformed my reference preamp and a host of very good DACs. Add to
the equation the room-correction functionality, which Im coming to regard as an
essential feature of any system Id want to own, and Im left with only one
choice: to do whatever I can to keep the Behold APU768 permanently in my system. If there
were a way I thought I could equal its performance with multiple other components,
Id certainly attempt it, because it would likely be a lot less expensive. But then I
think that perhaps the very fact that all of its functions are built into a single unit,
with no need for all those extra interconnects, might very well be one reason it is
capable of magic.
And, last, the Rockport Technologies Arrakis: Its
just the best loudspeaker Ive ever heard. I frequently read descriptions of new
technologies that will supposedly usher in a new era of loudspeaker performance, and
Im quite sure that, at some point in time, loudspeakers will advance greatly over
what any of us has yet heard. Ive examined the possibilities of digital-active
design, for instance, and most forward-thinking engineers see the promise of what these
new technologies can attain when implemented at the highest level. But in the here
and now, at least from what Ive heard, none of it means a hill of beans. The
digital-active speaker systems I see and hear on the market seem to have other
shortcomings that their designers have not yet addressed: from pedestrian cabinet design
to outdated driver quality to the questionable electronic transparency of the new design
In short, the future is still the future. The Arrakis is
the here and now -- a tremendous concept followed up by equally ambitious execution.
Thats a rarity in any field. Vance Havner once said, "The vision
must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up
the stairs." Andy Payor has done just that with the Arrakis, a product whose
state-of-the-art performance is easy to hear -- for those who would seek it out.
Doug Schneider and Jeff Fritz
So I guess its safe to say that Im not done.
Im already considering ideas that will hopefully bring me that much closer to
fulfilling the promise that is TWBAS. The show must go on, and I can think of no better
place for that show than Ultra Audio. And Im glad to be right in the thick of
. . . Jeff Fritz