Three High-End Setups - Astonishing Music Experiences

By Keijo Tanskanen


There have been plenty of speculations about the destiny of High-End in Finland. Actually, it is a fact that the new and modern ways to listen to music is taking its place, but only in some degree. Most of the young audio enthusiasts will very likely choose mobile applications and/or headset-based systems for music equipment. Naturally, this is reasonable and ok. But there are serious alternatives for music enjoyments. If both, i.e. the quality of the music reproduction and getting live-likeness, are weighted enough, the traditional high quality stereo setups or multi-channel systems will deliver more. In my experience, the well constructed high-end setups will do it specifically, no doubt!

Some time ago, I was able to listen to three very high quality setups during one day. Once again, I did the trip with my colleague, just for having wider aspects into the analysis. All the three setups are presented in this writing with quite tight sonic evaluations. I will not see reasonable to go very deep into the details, just because the time of the visits did not serve it well enough. Anyway, I suppose that this story will reveal the most important features of each setup. Hopefully, you may find some useful ideas for equipment purchase as well.

Setup 1

OPPO BDP-95 EU CD player
Transparent Performance digital interconnects
Naim UnitServe SSD music server
Naim BNC/RCA interconnects
SME 20/3 vinyl player
SME V tonearm with a standard cabling and Benz Ruby 3 MR cartridge
Customized Cello interconnects
Devialet 200 amplifier (were doubled during the listening) with standard power cords
Magico S5 loudspeakers
Jorma Design Origo speaker cables

Firstly, I will describe a couple of features of the listening room. The acoustics was good although no very special treatment was done. Instead, the room had a lot of space, especially height, heavy wooden furniture, big and thick carpet and plenty of diffusive forms and surfaces. Actually, we had listened to several high quality setups in this room and already knew the good circumstances.

It was a great pleasure to listen to all genres of music even by lower volume settings, which the host actually prefers to use in most of the listening cases. Smooth balance, a rich timbre performance, very high micro resolution and micro dynamics enabled that. What surprised us a bit was the extension of low end. In this specific room, Magico S5 went extremely deep. Probably, this was reached by the help of the doubled Devialet amps as well. In every case, we could feel clear body vibrations by a couple of bass rich music samples, but this required also quite high levels of volume, naturally.

When we paid our attention to the area of dynamics, we noticed that attacks and punches of the music were slightly restricted. But, very likely, if we had not had so good references, it would have been difficult to notice this. Also, when we turned up the volume, near to the live-like levels, the sound and the sonic picture did not quite open into as tremendous dimensions as with a couple of other reference setups that we have heard, like the other two setups of the day. Several reasons may affect this, and this is why I will not begin to guess of them. Anyway, this kind of slight restriction is not a significant minus for the host’s way to listen to the music.

The over-all purity of the music reproduction was very high. Instruments sounded very natural and harmonically correct. Especially, the treble performance seemed to deliver very extensive harmonics. These features were particularly useful when classical music was listened to. So, somehow, the sound seemed to be more on the sophisticated side than on the brutal side. I can imagine that, if your main target of listening is to enjoy sonic details and harmony instead of overwhelming muscularity, this may well be your setup, definitely.


Setup 2

Naim UnitServe music server with HD
Naim DC-1 digital interconnects
Oppo BDP-105 CD player
Transparent High Performance digital interconnects
SME 10 vinyl player
SME V tonearm with Vdh MCS-150 tonearm cable and Benz Micro LP-S cartridge
Vdh 501 Silver Hybrid interconnects
Devialet 250 amplifier with standard power cords
Wilson Audio Sasha loudspeakers
Transparent Opus MM2 speaker cables

This setup was in a new house which was not yet totally equipped and treated. The listening room was a part of a bigger room complex, which prevented effectively strong room modes and bass emphasis. On the other hand, there was too much walls and windows without any kind of diffusion or damping elements. Because of this, the room had quite echoic and over-vivid. The electronics were installed into the massive Audiomagic stand which surely gave extra stability for the sound reproduction.

If one looks at the equipment, very transparent, resolving, dynamic, big and powerful sound may be expected. You got it! But, at least in our opinion, the nature of this setup differed remarkably from the first setup. On the one hand, the punch of the music, dynamic contrasts and the size of the sonic picture were now bettered, but on the other hand, the sound was just not quite as relaxed, harmonically detailed and extensive. Anyway, the performance was surely smooth enough, at least for our taste.

When digital amps are examined, I and also my partner have been quite suspicious about their skills in the area of low end and dynamics. But now, at the first time, we were quite totally happy with the amp, also in those specific manners. Sasha W/P is a demanding load, but Devialet 250 seemed to feed it without any problems. There was plenty of power in the music reproduction and especially live rock music was a great pleasure to listen to.
Naturally, the slightly exaggerated sonic picture and spatial information reproduction helped on this.

The cleanness of the sound was two-fold. The setup delivered superbly faithful dynamic contrasts, but also some slight aberrations in tone colours. I strongly believe the previously mentioned very slight negatives existed at least mostly due to room reverberation, which actually disturbed hearing of very low level details of the music as well. But, I know, there are plenty of enthusiasts which actually prefers this kind of “room effects”, because those give also more spacious listening feelings. Anyway, we would have preferred to have a bit better acoustics.

On the whole, the listening results were very rewarding and surely memorable. My partner even thought that this setup had a better over-all performance than the first one. For me, it was quite near a tie, but in the end, it is a matter of weighting and taste. Anyway, completely clear was that the equipment was first class and could deliver a reference level performance hands off, no doubt.


Setup 3

Meridian 808.3 CD player
DIY interconnects
TW-Acoustic Raven AC vinyl player with SME V-12 and Micro Benz LP-S
Hovland MG2 interconnects
Tron Syren II preamplifier
McIntosh MC2301 mono blocks
Acapella High Violoncello II loudspeakers
Nordost Valhalla speaker cables
Nordost Vishnu and DIY power cords

This setup was in a quite old wooden house and room. The listening room was quite small, less than 25 m², but had some acoustic treatments and plenty of diffusive furniture. Just after getting into the room, it was clear, that the decay of reverberation time was very good. The speech in the room was clear and relaxed, but luckily not by the cost of vividness. The room had very good acoustics!

I have really an easy task to list strengths of this setup. The sound was very dynamic, controlled, airy, coherent, fast, clean and extensive. The list could be continued almost endlessly. Actually, the listening results reminded a lot what we have used to experience in our own listening rooms, I had to say this (a smile!). The sound has also an excellent integration between bandwidths, especially between midrange and treble. This has rarely happened with horn speakers, but now it really had. The sonic picture was also big enough, particularly vertically, and well organized. Somehow, it was natural-like and certainly not exaggerated.

After digging out our listening results with a micro stick, we finally found few things which might be bettered. The bass had some emphasis, but the quality of it was very high - the easy load of the speakers had to be a good match to the tube mono blocks. In practice, the slight exaggeration of the low end gave only more body into the music and suited well into our tastes. Additionally, the treble performance, which was otherwise superbly pure, was softened or laid back a bit more than we used to prefer. The host told us that the plasma tweeter was adjusted even lower than the factory minimum. I guess that this enabled exemplary integration of the treble and midrange, but caused a bit too much attenuation, for our taste.

Having heard the Acapella speakers several times before, the expectations were very high, once again. As you have noticed, we were not disappointed. The over-all listening results reached the level, where for example TL Audio’s Triolon Excalibur setup’s performance lies in our memories. The whole system worked and matched together very well and the critics given are more or less niche. In our opinion, the setup simply sounded right and gave an extraordinary mix of high quality values. It is easy to summarize that this setup belongs to the cream of Finnish high-end and delivered one of the best listening experiences we have had during our audio visits.



I must make it clear at once. All the three are pure high-end setups and I think that they will easily beat every ordinary hifi system in over-all performance, no matter of price or brand. Subjectively proved was that if you invest more wisely, you will get more! Anyway, each of the setups had their own sonic stamps, and so it must be. The hosts had the preferences of their own and it would be sorrowful, if it had not been realized in the listening results at all. Even in the area of high-end, there is still plenty of space for individual choices. We have seen it clearly a long time ago, and saw it again during the day. For the hosts, congratulations of your achievements and many thanks for enabling the visits!