It’s rare for me to sit down in front of an unfamiliar system and melt into a puddle. But that’s what happened to me in retailer Filtronique’s larger room. I’d just sat in front of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of Nagra gear playing through a pair of Wilson Audio Alexia V speakers, all fully wired up with Siltech cables.
You’re probably thinking, “Well, obviously this setup sounded great.” But that’s not the point. I’ve heard plenty of supersystems during my 23 years with this publication, and I like to think I’m immune to tying a system’s cost to my reaction to the music it produces. I tend to handicap/bell-curve/prorate (anyone got a better term?) my responses. If an inexpensive system can evoke a small emotional response, I give that far more weight than the same quantitative reaction to a much more expensive system.
And an over-the-top system like this here combo of Nagra, Wilson Audio, and Siltech? Well, sparks better shoot out of my ass for it to be newsworthy.
Sparks shot out of my ass.
In reality, it wasn’t that incendiary—remember, I melted into a puddle. Rene Laflamme, a perennial fixture at Montreal Audiofest, was spinning vinyl, and he played “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday” by the Holly Cole Trio, which dropped a huge chunk of nostalgia out of the sky and glued me to my seat. The Wilson Audio / Nagra / Siltech system was astonishingly delicate with Cole’s voice. And it rendered the double bass and piano with lifelike size, and with resolution that bordered on the miraculous.
On my second visit to the room, I walked in as Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” had just started to slink out of the Wilsons. It sounded fabulous. And when the colored girls swung in with their “do de do” bit, a huge cavern opened up at the front of the room, like a portal transporting me right into a seedy New York bar. Moments like this make it worthwhile traipsing around an audio show while carrying a laptop.
The system was fronted by Nagra’s Reference Anniversary turntable ($250,000), which was making its Canadian premiere at Audiofest. The Reference Anniversary turntable is physically imposing to the extreme. It’s large, heavy, and so full of tricks I hardly know where to begin. The platter is made from Exium AM, an esoteric aerospace alloy with exceptional damping qualities. The turntable features two motors that feed a belt system inspired by Nagra’s reel-to-reel tape machines. The fluid-damped sprung suspension has self-resonance of less than 3Hz. As Laflamme demonstrated by a hard knock on the shelf supporting the ’table, nothing gets through.
And because fuck you, that’s why, Nagra topped the platter with a clear methacrylate surface in order to display the côtes de Genève and Soleillage engraving, which is typically seen on really expensive Swiss watches.
Laflamme told me that the Reference Anniversary is Nagra’s first turntable, and the company almost set its sights too high, with the project taking over four years to complete.
I asked Laflamme to take a guess at the total cost of the system to which I was listening. After some back-of-the-napkin addition, he stated that it was “well over $790,000.” That’s some serious bell-curving I had to do, but I guess in some sort of upside-down parallel universe it could be considered well worth the money.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!