Exclusive audio presented in a truly titillating environment
Cayetano Castellano, whom I know from his work for Artesania, called me up a while ago. Would I be interested in covering an audio show at a very exclusive show room he asked. The location would be at Bodega Sommos in Barbastro, near Barcelona in Spain. The futuristic building of this upmarket winemaker would be host to the demonstrations of various exclusive audio brands.
You bet I was interested! I am really glad that I went for not only did I hear some audio systems perform like I have not heard them before, the mesmerising environment and the beautiful food and wines also added immensely to the experience.
These SOMMOS letters move horizontally in a parallax-like manner when driving up to the building.
Audio Club Premier is a venture brought into existence to help promote high end audio in Catalunya Spain as well as abroad. Selected products were demoed in an architecturally utterly captivating show room of the Sommos Winery. The location in Barbastro is two hours from Barcelona and four hours from Madrid.
The astonishing building that reminds of superlative buildings from Sci-Fi movies is designed by Spanish architect Jesús Marino Pascual and sits in the middle of the Sommos vineyards. It’s an almost magical experience driving on the main road and seeing this building rise from the vineyards, with the Sommos company names sliding left and right in 3D in front of the building.
This is where superlative audio, food and wine are combined into a sensuous high end experience.
The first room I visited also contained the most upscale system with the visually striking Elac Concentro speakers. The Concentro cabinet is made from a sandwich of machined MDF layers glued together. Each speaker features four side-firing 10″ woofers, a 7″ front-firing woofer, and an AMT tweeter mounted concentrically inside a 5″ midrange. It reminded me of a Kef Blade with a big appetite:-) Soundwise it was something else though. These speakers had very deep and very solid bass along with a very coherent, clean and upbeat sound with explosive dynamics. Apart from some colouration in the bass (which I attribute to the room and placement) the way that they prevented sounding like a box speaker made me think of big Apogee ribbon speakers, such as my own Divas, only more coherent and much more dynamically expressive.
Left to right: mr Artesania José Luis Lafarga, Cayetano Castellano and SAT’s Marc Gomez.
The electronics in this room were primarily Accuphase (DP-950 and DC-950 transport and DAC) with special mention for the CH Precision P1 and RMD PH-1 audio Phono preamps and the stunning TechDAS Airforce III turntable with a Graham arm as well as the very exclusive SAT arm. Cartridges were Kiseki Purple Heart NS and Ikeda Kai. Alternatively the Aurender W20 was also available as source but I only heard the Accuphase CD player and the TechDAS turntable and both sounded excellent. Especially noteworthy was the exceptional speed stability that I heard, or rather not heard with this turntable. The racks are of all Artesania Exoteryc.
Miguel Carvalho of Ultimate Audio Elite, changing the CD.
TechDAS Air Force III with Kuzma tonerarm (left) and SAT tonearm (right) with Kiseki Purple Heart NS cartridge on top of an Artesania Krion Turntable Platform
Taking the Micro Seiki performance several notches further while operating like a dream and really looking the part, the Airforce III is THE turntable to have. Next to perhaps the Walker Audio Proscenium.
SAT stands for Swedits Analog Technologies. As Marc Gomez, owner of SAT puts it, “The great majority of audiophiles believe the turntable plays a leading role on the sound reproduction compared to the arm. Consequently, they get as good a turntable as they can afford and do not put as much attention and budget into the arm. The arm however is potentially responsible for far more distortion than the turntable and an improvement in the performance of the arm has a bigger effect on the overall reproduction accuracy of the system”.
As you would guess, the SAT arm’s price sticker is also amazing, but it is apparently something very special. Michael Fremer noted for Stereophile: “The SAT’s sound quality so far exceeded, in every parameter, that of any other arm I’ve heard…”
While this arm is placed in a price category that I can only dream of, one must admit that this is a very, very precisely made and beautiful looking arm.
Miguel Carvalho of Ultimate Audio posing with the TechDAS turntable.
Next to ongoing audio demos, there were also tours around the facility with explanations on how the wine is made. Knowing virtually no Spanish I could make out zero of what the kind lady said but luckily Cayetano and his friends were kind enough to slip me some info here and there. What I learned later was that the soil was not really very good but the company has made huge efforts into making it perfect. We would taste the results moments later.
This is a very modern facility. For example this is the wine cellar where only fully automated robotised vehicles are allowed.
Everywhere you look, there’s luscious luxurity.
The tour lady also had lots to say about this area but what it was… beats me.
Ah yes, this was also a very interesting part: the wine tasting. In this futuristic interior we were poured 3 glasses each accompanied by a very nice piece of haute cuisine.
In case you’re wondering: those lamps at the right hand sides of the tables are for judging wine colour and substance.
Ferran Navarro of FN Acoustic Works and Salvador Dangla, audio journalist. Both these kind gentlemen helped me find my way and provided more than a few translations.
It might as well have been a science lab, or a place where they test make up or something, right?
This unassuming setup sounded superbly coherent and amazingly transparent. With the big Elacs it was almost as if the speakers had no enclosure but with the Gryphon Mojo S speakers, this feeling was further intensified. I was really stunned by their neutral yet excitingly dynamic and well-paced performance. Amplification was also by Gryphon, naturally placed on an Artesania rack.
Jorge Gaspar of Ultimate Audio, operating the Gryphon setup.
The Mojos’ treble output can be adjusted in the purest of ways: using externally mounted high precision hot-swappable Duelund graphite resistors.
Aurender A10 (server with integrated DAC), Gryphon Diablo 120 (integrated amplifier with DAC) and Isotek power isolation on an Artesania rack. Simple looking this setup may be, but the sound was simply superb. I will definitely try to get some components from this brand in for review.
This was the third setup that I heard. Seemingly unassuming these Boenicke Audio speakers really surprised me with their super wide and deep soundstaging. They has a smooth and creamy presentation but were also agile and dynamically expressive and the amount of bass coming from these very narrow enclosures was incredible.
Luxman D-08u SACD player, Luxman c-900u preamp and Luxman M-700u power the Kubala Sosna Elation. I’m still relatively unfamiliar with the Luxman brand but I really like what I’m seeing and judging from what I heard in this demoe these are super-smooth operators. BTW notice the special wood version of the Artesania rack? This version will go into production and will be introduced on the Munich audio show.
Boenicke W5 left and W11 right.
The secret to the amazing amount of deep bass that the W11 can produce is visible on its side panel where a massive woofer is placed.
The cabinet has a complex maze internally, which works to stiffen the cabinet as well as to provide a special kind transmission line loading for the woofer. The upper driver is a special coaxial design. The same construction is upheld for the tiny W5, so also a coaxial two-way driver, a woofer on its side and also a labyrith inside.
The W11 is a very modestly sized speaker and the W5 is positively tiny.
After listening to the W11’s the Ultimate Audio guys swap to the tiny W5’s and while I’m preparing for thin sound what I am presented with instead is full, sonorous, lifelike sound. Naturally they don’t go as loud or as deep as their large brothers, but what they achieve is truly surprising.
Look! They are not small, they’re super-tiny!
Special plated versions of Artesania accessories
The wine shop. I swear: of I did not arrive by plane then I would have brought me more than a few bottles of wine.
In the middle of the wine tasting and audio demos we found time to walk to a restaurant for some nice tapas. Someone recommended a place where they served a special mushroom in rich cream sauce and he brought this story so vividly that I was immediately sold. He explained this mushroom’s name 5 times to me but alas I can’t recall…
Barbastro has a very intimate, romantic feeling about it.
I almost finished the dish when I remembered to take a photo of it. It may not look much but this dish had a rich taste like you would not believe.
Update 18 april
Ferran just mailed me to confirm the very rare and exclusive mushroom name: Morchella, or Colmenillas in Spanish and Múrgola in Catalan.
Make sure to visit Victoria Gastrobar when you’re in Barbastro!
And thus ends my Audio Club Premier adventure. I don’t know for sure, but it sure felt like the people of Ultimate Audio, Artesania, SAT and all the others worked extra hard at making their demos top notch. Never before have I attended an audio show where I walked away feeling scared to listen to my own system again.
And many others.