|Speakers||Stenheim Alumine Three|
|Turntable||Reed Muse 1C|
|Cartridge||Air Tight PC-1 Coda|
|Phono Preamplifier||Aesthetix Rhea|
|Step-Up Transformer||Air Tight ATH-3s|
|Interconnects||Schnerzinger Essential Line interconnects at the required lengths|
|Speaker Cables||Schnerzinger Essential Line speaker cables at the required lengths|
|Power Cables||Schnerzinger Essential Line power cables at the required lengths|
How does it sound?
One of the joys of having the opportunity to play with high-end audio bits and pieces is experiencing that moment when it all comes together and you hear that magic for the first time. It’s very much like the ‘unboxing’ moment when you finally receive something special that you’ve been waiting a long time for and you are overcome with anticipation. You slowly start to open the wrapping, doing it ever so slowly to keep that feeling of apprehension and mystery alive. It’s like on a deeper level we know that once we’ve opened it and lived with it for a while, it will be impossible to feel exactly this way again so we prolong that feeling, staying in that ecstatic zone for as long as we can.
As an audiophile, we crave those magical moments and when they happen, we remember them for a long time. When that moment happened with this system, it created a joyful reaction that we will never forget. It was like the feeling of being very hungry and then being served the most expertly prepared, delicious, succulent, tasty meal. Your taste buds are exploding, a kaleidoscope of flavours exaggerated by the prevailing hunger, your mind jumping from the enjoyment of one sensation to another.
Here is a deliciously rich sonic palette, infused with layers of interwoven harmonic beauty. If you are an appreciator of dry, lean, detail-oriented, monochromatic sound then read no further – this system is not for you. If you are sensitive to tone, timbral quality, nuanced complexity and want to feel like an artist is gracefully applying their sonic brushstrokes on a blank canvas of creative potential, then you should rejoice for you have found your redemption in this fusion of Swiss masterpieces.
This sound is a celebration of music in the most enjoyable way. Not by analysing the sound but by simply FEELING it. It has a palpable liquidity to it, flowing from one note to another and exposing the emotional underbelly of the artist. All of the elements are there but it flows with a sense of abundance and luxuriance. It’s not trying to emphasise the structure of the music or any individual elements. It’s not dissecting the music and acting like an audiophile tool, stimulating your cognitive sensibilities. Instead, the music is one entity with a sense of ‘wholeness’. The rhythms and melodies playfully dance around the beat and engage your senses. We found ourselves smiling, tapping our foot and closing our eyes, surrendering to the musical journey.
This system is medicine for the soul. Recently, a visitor to our listening rooms said ‘I’ve only got a few minutes, can’t stay for long’. He sat in front of this system and we left him alone until it was time to close up, five hours later.
Why does it work so well?
It is easy to make the obvious connection that darTZeel and Stenheim are both based in Switzerland or that these two brands frequently exhibit together at shows, but there’s more to this story. Both designers have a similar set of design priorities so when you add the speakers to the electronics, they’re on the same wavelength. This is one of the secrets to assembling a special music system – synergy.
So what is the main sonic priority in this case? The designer of darTZeel instruments (as they like to refer to their equipment), is Hervé Delétraz, one of the most respected audio designers on the planet. The reason that this boutique Swiss company shot to fame many years ago was their unique sound. The global audio press was shocked at how pure solid state electronics could sound so organic. If audiophiles could not see the electronics, they would bet their bottom dollar that they were listening to a high-end tube amp that somehow had significant grip and control. This was the first time a solid-state amplifier could express tonal colour & harmonic richness in this way. To this day, people are still in awe of this phenomenon.
Such is the rarity of this sound that many well known reviewers in the USA have all recently switched to darTZeel amplification in their personal systems, citing that they have never enjoyed music so much. So the sonic priority here is to convey the naturalness and warmth of real instruments and voices so that they appear to be real, and the darTZeel team have developed the electronic wizardry to bring that ideal to life.
Stenheim loudspeakers are owned and designed by Jean-Pascal Panchard who is so passionate about music that he has a section on his website called ‘acoustic sessions’ where the Stenheim team record and produce the music of various artists to a high-level of quality. Jean-Pascal is a man who has a clear understanding of acoustic engineering principles but believes that all of that knowledge and know-how only exists to serve the music, to bring it to life in the most realistic way.
Based on this conviction, Stenheim place enormous attention to detail on every small detail of speaker design. Visually, their speakers are elegant and compact, not drawing attention to themselves. It’s the sort of efficiency in design that makes the speaker look just as good 5 years from now as it does today. To the trained eye, there is evidence of quality everywhere – the drivers, the absence of any rivets or join lines, the weight and the finish.
The sound is equally elegant. This speaker is completely coherent, meaning you cannot identify a tweeter separate from a midrange driver, etc. It all sounds like one driver, a testament to the Swiss perfection in the engineering of the crossovers and the overall quality. This is not a speaker brand that you buy and flip a year from now. This is an heirloom piece, a destination product. Jean-Pascal’s reverence for music is immediately obvious here as the speaker is a music lover’s delight. There is an immediate recognition of an open, full-bandwidth sound. The sound is punchy, energetic and communicative.
Then you start to notice a more subtle quality of the speaker, its ability to project the ’nature of the instrument’. Those that have grown up playing or listening to piano will tell you that most hi-fi systems do an OK job of reproducing a piano but in truth, the piano doesn’t really sound like a real piano. Then they listen to this system and their jaw drops – that’s what a piano REALLY sounds like!
Combining electronics that have been designed IN THAT WAY with speakers that have been designed IN THAT WAY produces something special. There’s another unexpected benefit to this system – it is only one box and a pair of compact speakers, so the footprint does not get any smaller than this for true high-end sound.
The darTZeel LHC-208 is a streamer, DAC and integrated amplifier in one box! You can usually find these one box solution type products in your local hi-fi store, but we’re not talking about low grade made in China low-hi products that sound like a transistor radio immersed in a bucket of water. No, we’re talking about a one box solution made in Switzerland by the same people who make the $370,000 NHB-468 mono block power amplifiers that grace some of the world’s best music systems. They are the people that make this one box solution. The sound is luscious and harmonically rich, with natural tonality and vibrancy. In a one box solution! Are you kidding? Amazing!
Now you don’t want to spoil this party by connecting these devices with some average cables. In fact, the cabling system is just as important as any of the other items individually as the whole system behaves as one entity. Cables vary tremendously depending on their conductor material, conductor geometry, dielectric, shielding technology, termination method and so on. We find that getting the cabling and power delivery right is often just as significant (or even more in some cases) as doing a major amplifier or speaker upgrade.
In this case where the design priorities are so aligned, you need to add a cable designed with the same ethos. We found that the Schnerzinger Essential line was perfect for the role and allowed the music to flow with an ease and naturalness that allowed the whole system to be the best version of itself sonically. Make sure that you definitely include the power cables in your system because they were vital in our critical listening sessions. Perfect recipe – just sit back and let the music wash over you.
Now if you are going to be attracted to this system, you are going to be a connoisseur of sorts. You are probably the sort of person who appreciates the finer details, like when a pasta dish was truly al dente, or when the colour of the leather on a piece of furniture has the right shade or appreciate an architectural feature in a building that most people don’t notice.
So if you’re one of those unfortunate souls (like us), then you are likely going to be an analog junkie with a serious record collection. In that case, you’re going to need some seriously good analog gear to do this system justice. We experimented and decided that a Reed Muse 1C turntable with a 3P tonearm sporting a Cocobolo armwand is heavenly. Add an Air Tight PC-1 Coda cartridge, an Aesthetix Rhea phono stage with an Air Tight ATH-3s step up transformer and you have an analog system that’s all about the music.
This system is for those who find normal hi-fi to be dry and boring. It is like a rich dollop of cream on top of a chocolate tart. It is for people who want to feel the music inside their being and want to celebrate it.
What changes could you make to the system?
If you wanted to save money, but maintain the sonic qualities and synergy of this system, you can try:
- You can replace the Stenheim Alumine Three with the Alumine Two SE. This is also an exceptional speaker and will save you a lot of money. It will result in less bass and less scale, however the character of the sound will remain similar.
If your budget extended a bit further and you wanted to upscale this system, you can try:
- You can upgrade the speaker to the Alumine Three SE. This has the highest quality crossovers and some other changes which results in an extraordinary sound. The standard Alumine Three speakers are superb however the SE versions have even more coherency and naturalness.
If you have more budget, buy more music!
If you could close your eyes, click your fingers and be transported to any place on the earth, where would you go?
I’m sure that everyone has a different answer to that question but what came to us was to go to a place that was magical, so different to the familiar, so far removed from our normal experience that it would be a wonderland of beauty and intrigue.
Cappadocia is an ancient district situated on the rugged plateau north of the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. Millions of years ago, ancient volcanoes erupted in the region, forming spectacular pillars, minaret-like mountains, eroded valleys and a landscape that many describe as ‘alien’ or otherworldly. If you travel to Göreme, you can have one of the most amazing experiences – Hot-air ballooning over Cappadocia!
At the moment, everyone wants to experience the exclusive Cappadocia hot-air balloon ride. Seasoned travellers say it the most thrilling thing that they’ve ever experienced. It has suddenly become top of everyone’s bucket list but these hot-air balloon rides are booked out months, sometimes years in advance and actually getting a booking is considered extremely fortunate.
Can you imagine how that would feel? Imagine gripping the basket and looking out over this scenery. Standing in a balloon overlooking an astounding ancient landscape, heart racing with an acute awareness that this is a special moment – the thrill of being human. We named this system after Cappadocia because it evokes similar emotions of wonder, amazement and intrigue. This equipment is boutique, rare and exclusive, just like booking a seat in the balloon.