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Impressions: More of My 2022 Brutus Awards, Part the Second

02-11-2023 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 125

Time for some real fun!

I, like many others who work in high-end audio publishing, spend a lot of time at my desktop. Just because I'm working, though, doesn't mean that I don't want the best possible sound in the near-field conditions of desktop audio. On the contrary…

Years ago, I put a pair of Audioengine powered desktop speakers in place for commonplace usage, but the experience wasn't the most satisfying. So I added some large Focal Sopra One monitors driven by the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE integrated and DAC…a fantastic combination, in a wildly different price/performance category for great room-filling music…but this solution was hardly in the camp of "near-field desktop products."

Then, while at the Pacific Audio Fest 2022 last July, I heard some near-field desktop monitors that really caught my attention:  The Vanatoo Transparent One Encore (T1E) loudspeaker.

The Vanatoo Transparent One Encore Loudspeakers with remote (image courtesy of Vanatoo)

The T1E are a powered loudspeaker with a number of desktop-pleasing features. (For a general description, visit the Vanatoo site HERE; note also the specifications tab there.) For a listener interested in very generous sound at their computer workstation, the T1E proved to be a very pleasant companion to my work here. Any listener/budding audiophile with restricted space will find the T1E to be a real blessing when it comes to great performance in small spots.

Not only this, but the T1E come with a clean and very handy remote control, which not only includes obvious functions like muting, but also bass and treble adjustment. Nice.

I focused on Qobuz streaming, which sounded surprisingly good via the T1E. The Class D amplification, with 100 watts per channel on the woofer side, and 20 watts per channel on the tweets, with nominal -3dB cutoffs, comes in with a respectable frequency response of 48Hz – 20kHz. The sound is smooth and continuous, very pleasant in the near-field.

Vanatoo's recommended IsoAcoustics Desktop Speaker Stands (image courtesy of Vanatoo)

There are some things to note with the T1E's. Given the price point, I would expect this.

This is really a PCM-only solution; nothing too surprising about that. The internal DAC maxes out via USB at a moderate rate of 96kHz/24-bit, and then resamples down to the internal 48kHz/24-bit of the T1E. It's not a higher-resolution PCM solution, but it does yeoman's work for its flexibility, and sounds good given the limit.

The IsoAcoustics short desktop stands provided a pleasant degree of elevation and isolation, particularly important on my current desktop setting. I would say that you should invest in these if you intend to purchase the T1E. There are even a tall set of these for those who would like to try the T1E as their main monitor speakers in their larger listening spaces.

Rear view of the T1E (image courtesy of Vanatoo)

More good news:  the T1E also support Toslink, Coax, Bluetooth, and Analog Inputs. This provides a high degree of flexibility for the listener, and for nextgen Millennials who want to be able to stream wirelessly from their source of choice directly to their loudspeakers.

Overall, the Vanatoo Transparent One Encores provide a surprisingly good scoop o' sound at a retail price (a remarkable USD $649) that no one can quibble with. Heck, a college student or coffee shop barista can afford this!

Such price-performance is very worthy of one of my 2022 Brutus Awards.


SVS SB-3000 Subwoofer

The SVS SB-3000 Subwoofer with iPhone-based control app

But wait…there's more!

As part of the Vanatoo T1E project, I knew that I would want to find a good powered subwoofer match, to fill in the lower frequencies. Regardless of the capabilities of the T1E's, their surprising bass drivers do drop off noticeably below about 48Hz. Me, I really prefer to be down to near 20Hz.

The folks at Vanatoo don't provide subwoofers, although their T1E do provide an RCA coax out for subwoofer use. They remain relatively "agnostic" about powered subs.

This freed me to do my own thing…which I did by immediately getting in touch with Nick Brown over at SVS, and seeing what he would recommend from their product line. I was looking for a combination of performance and price point, so that the total system of Vanatoo powered speakers and an SVS powered subwoofer would be a reasonable purchase.

After some discussion, Nick said that their sealed-box SB-3000 would be excellent in combination with the Vanatoos. After looking over the SB-3000 product description at the SVS site (which you can see HERE), I agreed with Nick: this was a very fine price/features/performance match.

The SB-3000 arrived soon after, in its rather large shipping box. Son John and I took the subwoofer out of its packaging carefully, and got it placed in my desktop reference system. We used the simple RCA coax connector with a JENA Labs Duo Cryo cable betwixt.

After that, I installed the SVS app on my iPhone, to allow me to control parameters without having to crawl about to access the back panel of the SB-3000. Bloody handy, that!

SVS's specifications indicate that the frequency response of the SB-3000 with its front-firing powered 13" driver is from 18Hz-270Hz plus or minus 3dB. The powered amp is rated at 800 watts RMS, peaking at 2500 watts. It tips the balance beam at a respectable 54.5 lbs., unboxed.

Given the 48Hz lower end of the T1E, I kept the crossover of the SB-3000 at 50Hz, and thus far have been satisfied with what I am hearing…though tweaking continues.

The result:  in a word, remarkable! After hundreds of hours listening to our desktop server system while working, I can say with confidence that the synergy between the Vanatoo T1E's and the SB-3000 is really notable. Regardless of the type of music…ranging from acoustic to ambient music to classical to jazz to rock (including alternative and progressive rock of various flavors)…I was pleased from the very beginning with the experience that I had with this combo of entry-level, affordable, high-end sources.

The SVS SB-3000 is a real killer at its retail price point of $1099.99, and should be within the purchasing range of most audiophiles who are looking for bang-for-the-buck performance. And the combination of the Vanatoo T1E's with the SVS SB-3000 is an affordable full-range combo!

I can recommend it quite highly, and do so with enthusiasm.

A definite winner of one of my 2022 Brutus Awards!

Ayon Audio S-10 II Streamer/DAC with RS-9 Music Server

The Ayon Audio S-10II Signature Streamer/DAC and remote (image courtesy of USA Tube Audio)

Charles Harrelson and I have known each other for a number of years now. His company, USA Tube Audio, handles a number of impressive brands from all over. Of particular interest to me have been his various tubed-based products from Ayon Audio. I've caught his rooms whenever we were at the same show, although that hasn't been as frequently as I would like.

As my regular readers know, I have a longstanding interest in state-of-the-art SACD playback. I had checked the USA Tube Audio site a couple of years ago, and noticed the tube-based (2x 6H30, 2x 5687, 1x GZ30) Ayon Audio CD-35 Signature reference SACD/CD/etc. with external Roon Rock RS-9 Music Server. Cowabunga! I was intrigued.

So, I contacted Charlie to see if a review sample of the CD-35 Signature could be arranged. Unfortunately, that did not come together (yet!), but Charlie had another idea. Would I like to try the Ayon Audio S-10II Signature Streamer/DAC with their Roon Rock RS-9 Music Server?

Well…given the quality that I had evaluated earlier with their Ayon Audio HA-3 triode headphone amp, and given one of my Brutus Awards to a few years ago…sure!

It took a while for the S-10II Sig/RS-9 to arrive, and by the time it did, a number of goodly products had jumped into my review queue ahead of it. That's always frustrating, to me and the distributor or manufacturer, but that's the way that things are sourced, shipped, and arrive these days.

When their time came, unpacking was very straightforward. There are two elements and two boxes in the S-10II Signature. One is for the RS-9 Music Server; the other is the solid box for the S-10II Signature.

Roon Rock RS-9 Music Server (vertical and horizontal orientations; image courtesy of USA Tube Audio)

Front view of the S-10II Signature Streamer/DAC (image courtesy of USA Tube Audio)

Unpacking was easy, and cabling with Synergistic Research SRX interconnects, together with Furutech's LAN-8 NCF (CAT8) Ethernet cables, made for superior power and interconnectivity.

The setup was straightforward, and the accompanying instructions were clear. The one place where I had to double-check with USA Tube Audio tech support (which was very knowledgeable and quite helpful) was in making sure that I understood the initialization of the Roon license. No problem; the Roon on my iPad was the solution, and after that all came together.

Note that the S-10II has a number of playback options available, as you'll see HERE. In fact, the extraordinary flexibility of the S-10II/RS-9 makes it one of the best options for those who are looking for maximum scope when exploring different playback systems.

Specifications are sitting over HERE. And they are impressive.

With the S-10II/RS-9, I took the output to brilliant Vinnie Rossi L2i SE Integrated Amp with DAC and SET tubes in play; the isolation system was a Stillpoints 5-shelf ESS Rack with Rail Grids and Ultra II V2 Isolation Feet. From there the signal flowed to a pair of the Focal Sopra One monitors via the exceptional TARA Labs Omega Concerto SP loudspeaker cables, with power cabling by Kubala-Sosna Elation! AC's. This is a high-performance, compact system.

In extended use, the RS-9 was completely silent. No fans, no airflow creakies…nothing. It has its own power supply, simply sat there without drawing attention to itself, and streamed the feed to the S-10II. Pleasantly, that unit is tube based, using glass that I've appreciated over many years now:  the 6H30. This tube is quite neutral, with transparent, clear sound, and yet with just a kiss of tubey deliciousness. Ayon Audio showed excellent judgment in going with this tube in a high-resolution Music Server/DAC.

Speaking of which, the S-10II does both DSD out to DSD256, and PCM out to 764kHz. There is an option to convert PCM to either DSD128 or DSD256. Splendid! I chose to convert all PCM to DSD256, which made the listening experience even better.

Cutting to the chase:  I put several hundred hours on the S-10II/RS-9, listening to various NAS-based recordings on our LAN, as well as streaming sources via Roon linked to my underlying Qobuz and TIDAL accounts. I listened to a broad range of musical types in different formats, far too many to cite. In every case and every resolution, I was taken by the excellence of the seductive music that the S-10II/RS-9 produced. I especially appreciated the lightest kiss of tubely deliciousness without the compromise of transparency and detail that the 6H30 provided. I've loved this tube from the first time that I heard it in BAT gear, and I heard no reason to fall out of love with the Ayon Audio use of the same tube.

Bring on one of my 2022 Brutus Awards! It's well deserved!

Ayon Audio S-10II Signature price:  $9250 (sale price; check with USA Tube Audio for current pricing)

Roon Rock RS-9 Music Server price:  $2895 – $3395 (depending on configuration)

And there's more to come...

Alice in Wonderland drawing by Sir John Tenniel, in the public domain.