HiFi Meditations- Wilson Sashas and Ayre Components take Joe on a Ride.
Last week I asked for some suggestions for movie or music pieces that really make your day or are your go to scene/song to show off your system! I got a lot of great responses but there are two that I was surprised by and thought I would give a listen to. I also rediscovered an album that sounded just fantastic at home!
As promised I listened to the two songs on a pair of Wilson Sashas connected to an Ayre system of the following components; Ayre’s KX-R preamp, MX-R mono blocks and the Ayre DX-5 universal player. All interconnects and speaker wires are from some of Transparents best offerings. All in all a pretty serious system packing some serious horsepower! The Ayre MX-R mono block produce 300 watts into 8 ohms a piece and 600 watts into 4 ohms! As is true of all of Ayre’s gear the MX-Rs have a zero feedback design that stops unwanted timing errors in the music. What you get is more space between instruments and a much more coherent sound stage. But more on that later….The Ayre KX-R preamp is itself a work of brilliance, so much so that, Wes Phillips of Stereophile believes it should be considered one the eighth wonders of the world. What makes it so special? The KX-R uses a Variable Gain Transimpedance circuit which replaces the traditional attenuator based gain control used in nearly every other audio product in the world. The Variable Gain Transimpedance circuit sends the music directly to the amp/s without any coloration or alteration of any kind. The KX-R has such a low noise floor and is so transparent that it literally disappears in a system.
And finally the Wilson Sashas, at nearly 200 pounds per speaker and as the heir and replacement of the legendary Watt/Puppy the Sasha has big shoes to fill and fill them it does with grace, poise and power. Wilson has built its reputation on having speakers that have an extremely low noise floor and little to no internal resonance to color the sound.
What we have here is a system designed from the ground up to get out of the way and just let the music be the music. That begs the question, how does music sound through this system? After all we got into this whole mess because I realized I was stuck in a listening rut. And the two suggestions that I choose to write about are certainly going to be breaking me out of that rut via the way back machine. As you can imagine and I have mentioned before most hifi sales people can be a bit snooty about music. We always want to pick something that is easy to listen to and is recorded exceptionally well. How often have you gotten a hard rock demo in a hifi shop? My point exactly, which brings me to my first reader’s suggestion.
Welcome to the Jungle by Guns and Roses. I never in a million years would have picked this piece for a demo or show off piece. Guns and Roses? Really? However……It sounded fantastic! What really blew me away was how wide and deep the drums were. The Kick drum was centered in the room and was clearly on the floor, the snare (which had just an amazing attack) was slightly above and to the left of the kick with the hi hats just a little higher and little farther over. With my eyes closed it was like Steven Adler was in the room pounding the hell out of that kit! I certainly wasn’t expecting great imaging from Guns and Roses! I have always been a fan of great rhythm guitarist and I always complained a bit about not being able to clearly hear Izzy Stradlin’s guitar parts. On this system that was no problem at all. All of the guitar parts were clearly defined and had plenty of room to breathe. In fact I was so impressed that on my next day off the entire album got a spin on my home system. As many of my generation did we listened to Appetite for Destruction until we couldn’t stand the sound of it anymore. Overplayed is a gross understatement to the amount times that album was played. But surprisingly I found myself both at home and on the system at work discovering new things and getting fired up by an album that I haven’t heard from start to finish in over 20 years.
To me that is the best thing about hifi. It really is a time machine, due to a small suggestion and some good stereo equipment I got to be a teenager again. Thanks go out to JoAnna for the great suggestion!
The next demo suggestion I picked is from Bob Pursell. I asked for a song and got an entire album; Terrapin Station by the Grateful Dead. In my younger days I was a big fan of going to see the Dead play. Unlike today when most big live shows sound exactly like the album and there are more dancers on stage than musicians you never knew what you would get from the Grateful Dead. I saw shows that were brilliant and I saw shows that made me want to curl up under my chair and go to sleep. Many of the people I know that enjoy the Grateful Dead focus mostly on their live material and it seems as though the studio albums are in the category of “those are nice but did you hear the 2nd set from JFK in the summer of 86?”. For the record I don’t know that there was a show at JFK in 86, but you get my drift. On the other hand I have always enjoyed the Grateful Dead’s studio exploits and I have long thought Terrapin Station was their crowning achievement. I am embarrassed to say I haven’t REALLY listened to in a few years and never on a system as open, alive and musical as the Ayre/Wilson system we discussed above. The second half of Terrapin Station for those who haven’t heard is one long song with recurring themes and is very dense musically. There is a lot going on and for years I thought that maybe there were just too many overdubs, because as much as I love it there didn’t seem to be much in the way of detail or space in the recording.
The Ayre/Wilson combo crushed that preconception quickly and efficiently. Suddenly there was space between all the instruments, Bob and Jerry’s guitar parts were clearly separate and the insane amount of percussion instruments each had a home in the sound stage. What I was really impressed with was the sense of depth. Most system that image okay will give you good L/R separation and imaging, in other words you can tell the guitar player is on the right and the vocalist is in the middle. Better systems will take that a step further and more accurately place L/R imagery and give you a sense of vertical separation like I talked about with Steven Adler’s drum kit. The Best systems give you a sense of depth. In this instance I could clearly hear that some instruments were closer to me and some were further back. Then I heard Jerry’s guitar come OUT of the back wall. And no this wasn’t a squeeze my eyes shut and hope I was hearing what I heard, it was a, yeah this sounds pretty good. Wait, WHAT the HELL WAS THAT? kind of moment. Out of nowhere Jerry’s guitar came out of the back wall about five feet up and moved across the room to disappear outside the right speaker. Just stunning, over all the entire song sucked me right into until I had forgotten what time it was and just moved with the waves of music. Then, too soon, it was over…..
The longer I am around hifi the more I have come to respect and appreciate the power of a great system.
Want to do some time traveling? Hifi has you covered?
Want to rediscover great music that you’ve forgotten about? Hifi says, “No Problem!”
Want to drink from the fountain of youth? Hifi will open the flood gates for you.
Want to hear Deep Purple play live in Japan. Hifi says, “I can take you THERE!” It just did for me….
As I close up this week’s Hifi Meditations I just want to mention on a more somber note that the album I rediscovered was Deep Purple’s Live in Japan. I pulled it out when the news of Jon Lords passing hit. My copy is an old, beat up, I listened to it a million times double album that I have had forever. What struck me is that even though Jon Lords has passed from the Earth, we can still be amazed, stunned and blown away by the power, grace, virtuosity and melodic complexity of his playing. I find it amazing that for a relatively small investment we can keep the greatest players, composers, singers, songwriters and bands alive and vital. Some may think that my statement about the power of hifi is hyperbole, but I truly believe that we have created time travel, we have unlocked a fountain of youth , we are able to let a part of a person live on after they are no longer with us. So the next time you hear John Lennon talk about being a jealous guy, or hear Stevie Ray Vaughn make a Strat scream, or hear Jon Lords tear through an organ solo with grace and power. Remember to say a small thank you to hifi….
And always remember; the proof is in the listening!
Do you have questions, ideas, or products you would like to see reviewed? Let me know what you want to see in this blog in the future! Contact me at JHeld@hifihousegroup.com