|Streamer||Taiko Audio Extreme|
|CD Transport||Ypsilon CDT-100|
|DAC||Ypsilon DAC1000 SE|
|Pre-amplifier||Ypsilon PST-100 MK2 SE|
|Power Amplifier||Ypsilon Hyperion|
|Speakers||Wilson Benesch Eminence
Wilson Benesch Torus x 2
|Turntable||Döhmann Audio Helix One Mk2|
|Cartridge||My Sonic Lab Platinum Signature|
|Phono Pre-Amplifier||Ypsilon VPS-100SE|
|Step-Up Transformer||Ypsilon MCL-SE-NL|
|Interconnects||Stage III Concepts Gorgon interconnects at the required lengths
Stage III Concepts Analord Master interconnects at the required lengths
|Speaker Cables||Stage III Concepts Medusa speaker cables at the required length|
|Power Cables||Stage III Concepts Leviathan power cables at the required lengths|
Note: This system is on permanent demonstration at our Melbourne showrooms. It is also available to experience in California, USA at the showrooms of Aaudio Imports (excluding the analogue section).
How does it sound?
Have you ever wondered what a system could sound like if the brief was simply ‘experience what is possible in high end audio?’ Not constrained by budget, just show me what is the best sound that can be achieved. No limits.
Naturally there is no definitive answer to that question and there are many roads that lead to the summit.
We decided to travel one of them… all the way to the top!
According to Greek mythology, at the summit of Mount Olympus live the twelve Gods, the major deities of the Greek pantheon. Such is the other-worldly sound of this system that we feel there just HAS to be divine inspiration at work here. We thought about naming this system after a city as we normally do but it didn’t seem appropriate as this sound seems to take the listener to the realm of the Gods.
If you have an opportunity to audition a system of this calibre, you naturally anticipate that the sound will have all the required characteristics without lacking anything. But that doesn’t even begin to describe it so let’s build the description of the sound layer by layer. The soundstage is expansive in all directions and has great depth behind the speakers which gives you such a feeling of openness and space that the listening room disappears. Images have body and three dimensionality and elements of the music can be tracked individually while still being part of a cohesive whole. A piece of music with three guitars playing will sound like three individual guitars, each strummed by an individual musician with a unique style and personality but the three guitars will nevertheless integrate to communicate their part of the story. This level of resolution is rare but it’s the way that the detail and resolution exist to communicate the whole more accurately, not as an entity to themselves.
The next level of sonic excellence can be described as tone and texture. The sound has definition and location in 3-dimensional space with each note being well-rounded and the music is expressing its tunefulness, melody and intention effortlessly. Instrumental & vocal timbral qualities abound where there is a lot of information but it’s not etched or artificially enhanced in any way. The midrange has a visceral, vibrant, ‘alive’ quality. So far so good but here’s where things start to get special.
The system has an ability to deliver instant dynamics, an agility that is very rare, even in high-end systems at this level. The music can be so subtle, so soft and nuanced in one instant and then wham! The doors nearly come off their hinges from the astounding dynamic ability of this system to charge the air in a room. And during ultra-dynamic passages, you experience absolutely zero aggression or fatigue. We played some specially selected electronica pieces that bring 99% of systems to their knees because they have simultaneous fast switching high frequency pops, multi-layered multi-melodic synth, deep bass drop notes, ultra-rapid bass lines and delicate piano melodies all happening in the one track. This system played these pieces so effortlessly, that we just kept giggling like children in a playground at lunchtime. Now we have already surpassed most mortal systems but there are further talents that this system possesses which start to re-program your definition of what is possible.
While this incredible speed & dynamic ability is happening, you realise that this system is communicating the musical essence, the meaning, the artist’s intention to you. All of those characteristics described above are simply just the system’s capability. It uses that capability to communicate music honestly with the emotional drive and intention laid bare. A singer goes from sounding ‘really good’ to sounding vulnerable, sultry, sassy, indignant, furious, seductive, naughty… Everything takes on a palpability, a visceral emotional quality, just like a live performance. In our experience, this is VERY rare, regardless of cost.
This system really messes with your perception and understanding of bass. The bass is exceptionally fast and deep so you hear it and feel it but there’s a complete absence of bass bloat and overhang. There’s a complete absence of that boomy, woolly bass that we have come to associate with large scaling hi-fi systems. In fact, initially you may think ‘it’s a bit lean in the bass’ but then you listen some more and you feel pressure in your chest cavity and you realise that very low frequency bass is present– nothing is lacking – it’s just lightning fast and clean. Your brain then starts to re-calibrate as you keep listening and you then hear that the bass is so agile, that it’s tuneful. Tuneful, melodic deep bass!
Very low frequency notes form the foundation of that moment’s musical structure and then in the next instant the foundation of the note has subtly changed its pitch & definition. It dawns on you that you are normally used to hearing a melody from the upper bass to the treble supported by a doof doof thump thump below – and you thought that was great. You now realise that the whole frequency range can work as a cohesive whole, top to bottom. This is quite a revelation and has to be heard in person to be reconciled. Once you have noticed the bass, you will be searching for that quality in all subsequent systems and you will find it difficult to be satisfied. So here’s some advice that can be either considered to be wisdom or reverse psychology – DO NOT listen to this system because it will create an on-going chronic dissatisfaction with bass performance in your future listening sessions. Completely re-defining.
What we love the most about this system is that you just seem to get to know the artist personally. You start to wonder things like ‘wow, I wonder what happened in their life to inspire that song?’, or ‘man, that is one serious broken heart’. That is the ultimate aim of a music system, isn’t it? This is addictive.
Why does it work so well?
Streamers are a rapidly evolving technology that is now hitting its stride. If you’re aiming to create a high-performance audio system, you soon realise that using a Mac or PC to stream your music has its limits. Computers are great at being computers but when it comes to propagating an audio signal with high fidelity, they’re not great at doing that because inherent in their design is a high noise, high jitter environment that’s not ideal for audio. The next step is to create what is essentially a specialist computer that has all the non-audio bits stripped out and then has special attention paid to the power supply and signal handling components so it is dedicated to managing audio files with less noise, less jitter, better timing, better precision and host of other features resulting in better sound quality. This defines the music server and they come in all shapes, sizes & prices, depending on how much audio related engineering you care for.
Now imagine that someone decides to build the very best music server possible. Sonically, they set the bar in the stratosphere and in order to achieve those standards, virtually no commercially available part from a mainstream computer is used. Every part is either custom made or sourced from cutting edge space/military industry applications. The circuit design is uncompromising, the materials used are NASA-grade and the build quality is ridiculously over-engineered. Imagine if this new server made all the previous reference products sound diluted, lifeless and the after sales support was 5-star. Now you have understood the nature of the Taiko Audio Extreme. The mind and hand of Emile Bok… our first resident of Mount Olympus – digital divinity in action.
The handful of DACs that sit at the upper echelon of audio all implement an incredible level of technology, including discrete R2R and fast logic. But what sets the Ypsilon DAC-1000SE apart is the custom-made naked foil resistors with virtually no temperature drift and the use of a single-ended tube transformer coupled at the output of its analog stage. But not just a any quality transformer. A hand made pure silver, nanocrystalline core transformer made in-house by Ypsilon. These transformers are the secret ingredient to the Ypsilon SE range and really set them apart. It is just not possible to obtain this level of purity using any other technology.
This purity theme is continued with the PST-100 MK2 SE preamplifier which is the soul of this system. When Ypsilon decided to embark on using transformer technology in their designs, in some ways it was a big risk. To begin with, it is not easy to do (technically) as the art of transformer winding at this level requires a rare expertise. One of the Ypsilon founders, Fanis Lagadinos decided to make it his life’s ambition to learn this lost art. The disciple eventually became the master as he bought the old traditional winding tools & formed relationships with specialist suppliers of very pure metals. The other risk that Ypsilon took was that it is very expensive to build amplifiers using this technology. The raw materials costs alone are so high that many amplifier manufacturers, even if they had access to the know-how and the transformer technology, would shy away at the sheer cost.
But as they say, someone had to do it! Surely there has to be someone on this planet that will build amplifiers in this way because to be frank, they just sound amazing. For example, in the PST-100MK2 SE preamplifier, just the volume control alone which is a stepped attenuator (transformer) made by hand from these exotic metals is itself worth more than most high end preamplifiers. But why go to such lengths? Because normal volume controls use resistors and no matter how much they say the resistors are high quality, all resistors degrade the signal (big time!). Imagine all the care that has been taken up-stream in the source components, all the expense, to bring the signal as uncorrupted as possible to this point, only for the volume control mechanism to cause losses and degradation due to its design. To not let this happen, Ypsilon have gone to a lot of effort.
Many experienced audiophiles have considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of power amplification to be an amplifier that can produce the delicacy, transparency, tone and realism of a single ended design but with real world power output that can drive virtually any modern loudspeaker. Until now, this has been attempted but without ideal results. The Hyperion not only achieves this ideal, but it has set a whole new standard that was until recently, considered impossible. Considered by many in the world’s audio press to be an absolute game changer, the Ypsilon Hyperion is now used as the power amplifier of choice in many of the world’s reference systems.
Demetris & Fanis, the two creative forces behind Ypsilon, had the audacity to make these designs a reality… in our minds firmly entrenching themselves at the summit of the home of the Gods.
Speaking of divine inspiration, the seamless blending of art and science that has been emerging from Wilson Benesch since 1989 is the result of another resident of Mount Olympus, although in practice he prefers his beloved home of Sheffield, England. Craig Milnes has not only pioneered the use of carbon fibre in audio applications, he’s managed to apply solid scientific solutions to loudspeaker design thus creating some of the most accomplished and desirable musical story-telling devices known to man. The flagship Eminence speakers won the 2019 Absolute Sound Product of the Year and the 2019 Golden Ear awards, inspiring reviewer Robert Harley to use words such as ‘unequalled’ and ‘revelatory’. After hearing them in the USA, Nirvana Sound owner George Moraitis just HAD to have them in his life and the fact that we can share these speakers with the Australian community is a privilege.
Please read the data on this speaker on our web page. Beholding the Eminences is like walking around Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car. Everywhere you look, there is evidence of advanced thinking & design. Of particular note is their bass performance as described above. Instead of employing large diameter bass drivers in the speaker cabinet as most flagship speakers have, the Eminence has 2 x 7” Tactic Bass Drivers and 4 x 7” Isobaric Bass Drivers per speaker. It moves even more air than having large drivers but the smaller drivers are faster and more accurate. This is part of the ‘agility’ that we refer to.
The Torus Infrasonic Generator could easily win a ‘product of the century’ award in our opinion. It’s a low frequency revelation and is a major contributor to the sound described here. The combination of the Eminence and the Torus scale to the heavens and down to the bowels of the earth.
Joining Craig at the summit is Luis de la Fuente from Stage III Concepts. There are many famous audio cable manufacturers out there and the chances are that you’ve heard of a few due to years of advertising, promotion and exposure in the global audio media. Stage III Concepts is not so well known because they literally advertise minimally if at all. But here’s what they do better than anyone. They have the audacity to make audio cables that few even dream of attempting, thus gathering a plethora of ‘world firsts’.
Vacuum dielectric, Aerostrand conductors, cryo-treatment, tri-silencer shielding, in-house terminations… the list goes on. If you are one of those people who believe that cables do not make a difference, then we suspect that this type of system may not be of interest to you in the first place, but it you’ve witnessed the transformative qualities of great cable design, then Stage III Concepts will become your Mecca. Put simply, these cables disappear sonically and facilitate that purity which these types of systems cultivate.
On the analogue side of the ledger, this system is simply in another dimension. The Döhmann Audio Helix One Mk2 is a turntable created from the mind of one of the most influential analog designers of the last 20 years. Mark Döhmann is one of those designers who has made a trademark out of thinking ‘outside the square’. He identifies specific challenges in analogue playback and then searches the globe looking for solutions. As a result, his products incorporate technologies sourced from aerospace & science lab applications. The result is a technological tour de force turntable that provides the perfect palette for a rich, emotional musical experience.
Joining Mark at the summit & enjoying the view is Frank Schröder with his hand made LT (Linear Tracking) tonearm which is not only an object of desire for its elegance & beauty but is also a work of genius. Its unique double pivot design provides that moment of “why didn’t anyone ever think of that before?”. The global audio community is so fortunate that this gentleman decided to apply his genius to tonearm design. If fate dictated that he designed watches, rockets or vases, the venerable LT arm would not have existed. Sliding doors…
Finally, one of the most humble and under-rated geniuses in audio history is Mr. Yoshio Matsudaira who, after designing masterpiece cartridges for so many other brands for decades, finally offered the world his very own brand ‘My Sonic Lab’ in 2004. All that we will say is that we could have chosen any cartridge to front this mega-system and we chose the My Sonic Lab Signature Platinum. The unique SH-μX magnetic core allows MSL to use fewer coil windings than other moving coil cartridges, minimising distortions that degrade the signal while at the same time not sacrificing signal output. This high efficiency approach results in a wide dynamic range, fast transient response, low distortion and high signal-to-noise ratio. Superb. Take your seat at the top of the mountain, Mr. Matsudaira.
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:
- Replacing the Ypsilon DAC1000 SE with the Ypsilon DAC1000.
- Replacing the Ypsilon PST-100 MK2 SE with the Ypsilon PST-100 MK2.
- Replacing the Ypsilon VPS-100SE with the Ypsilon VPS-100.
- Replacing the Stage III Concepts Medusa with the Stage III Concepts Typhon.
- Replacing the Stage III Concepts Leviathan Power Cables with the Stage III Concepts Proteus or Kraken.
If your budget extended a bit further and you wanted to upscale this system, you can try:
- Replacing the Ypsilon Hyperion power amplifiers with Ypsilon SET100 amplifiers. This is a matter of personal taste. The Hyperion amplifiers have more power, grip and authority. The SET100 amplifiers have a greater transparency & liquidity in the midrange (we have not heard anything better than this) and since the active Torus units are taking care of the lower registers, you may be happy to sacrifice some of the Hyperion’s power & grip for an extra dose of that ethereal midrange magic.
- Replacing the Stage III Concepts Medusa speaker cables with the Stage III Cerberus. This is for people who are aiming to achieve the best possible performance and have attended to all of the other fine details such as dedicated purified power delivery & custom-designed room acoustics.
Why Mount Olympus?
Ancient Greek mythology envisioned their Gods with human traits. The deities in the heavens had appetites and desires, emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger and wrath. The heavens were filled with drama involving infidelity, vengeance, jealously and love. They were powerful Gods but they embodied the full spectrum of experiences of what it means to be alive. This system electrifies you with that same sense of ‘isn’t it great to be alive!’.
You know that you are in the presence of something rare and extraordinary. Uncommon. Special. This system combines the cumulative work of some of the most talented designers in audio today. A perfect storm of talent, opportunity, creativity and means. Maybe a bit of luck thrown in for good measure! These people devoted their lives, risked all and focussed on a vision that must have appeared to be absurd to most ‘normal’ people. And the result? Products that plug you in to the very essence of music, the very emotional core of the artform.
This didn’t remind us of a city. Instead, we had images of floating up to the top of Mount Olympus and meeting the Gods. We drunk nectar and discussed the affairs of mortal man below. Perhaps in our sentiment is a respectful nod to Ypsilon’s Greek DNA, who’s electronics provide the heart & soul of this listening experience. If you get a chance to sit in front of this system, here’s the instructions:
(1) Strap yourself in, (2) Lower the fuel rods, and (3) See you on the other side!