The Vinyl Revivers AHH Experience Event Featuring Sonner Audio

The Vinyl Rivivers & The Audio Hunters hosted their first of two fall events.  The AHH Experience (The Audio Hunters High-End Experience) featured not only two breathtaking types of loudspeakers from Sonner Audio but also the visionary behind the company, Gunawan (Gunny) Surya, who provided insights, demonstrations, and inspiration behind the relentless pursuit of building a great sounding, attainable speaker in the United States of America.  While the star of the show was certainly Sonner Audio, this event offered phenomenal sites and sounds.

  • Sky Views of Bethesda and Washington D.C.
  • A Plethora of Vinyl and SACD’s for sale
  • 3 Captivating Audio Systems
    • Martin Logan, Sota, Bryston
    • Black Ice Audio and Sonner Audio
    • Sonner Audio and Bel Canto Design

High-Fidelity Audio Sounds Better in a Penthouse

The title of this section is wildly debatable but the view from the 18th floor of the North Bethesda Maryland penthouse was quite remarkable. The room in the video portrays massive floor-to-ceiling windows in the penthouse event room which was complete with an exceptional lunch and snack spread, a hand-selected audio system playing an array of great music, comfortable seating, and a fabulous curated collection of SACDs and vinyl for sale.

The Vinyl Revivers Curated Collection of Vinyl and CDs

Dire Straights "Love for Gold' at the Vinyl Revivers Event

This section was quite popular with audiophiles digging for rare pressings or adding to their cultivated collections.  I debated about picking up “Love Over Gold” as how could an audiophile event be complete without Dire Straits?  Since the Vinyl Revivers does not have a traditional storefront (they are appointment only in their two locations), this is an opportunity to delve into one of the Mid-Atlantic’s best collections outside of Capital AudioFest. My audio-hunting compatriot Jon and I debated over a rare Nora Jones box set but in the end, there was a fantastic selection that doesn’t even cover even 10% of what Russ carries.  Offering vinyl and CD sales is an added bonus addition to an audio event that focuses mainly on audio components.

Martin Logan and Sota in the Sky View Party Room

The first audio system delight was located diagonally across from the substantial record collection.  The system included Martin Logan XT B100 speakers, the Primare CD15 Prisma CD Player, a Bryston BP-26 Preamp (with a discontinued Bryston MPS-2) a Bryston 4B3 stereo power amp, and a Sota Escape turntable.  I was instantly captured by the offset pop of red colors on the NorStone audio stand and the sleek Sota turntable.  The sound of this system filled the large glass-enclosed penthouse party area easily.  It certainly deserves a more intimate listen in one of my future sessions.

System 1: Sota Turntable, Martin Logan and Bryston

Sota Escape Turntable on Red Hifi Stand

The Sonner Audio Legato Unum Powered by Black Ice Audio

While this was a Sonner Audio event, which I’ll cover shortly in the next section, I was pleasantly surprised to meet the passionate owners of Black Ice Audio (Jerred Dunkerson and Jamie DeMarco) showing off a few of their impressive components in conjunction with Sonner.

Sonner Audio Legato Unum - AHH Experience Event

Of course, an audio event like this is about the sound of the components but part of this hobby which I absolutely enjoy is the stories.  Why would someone want to pursue audio manufacturing? What drives them to continually create and innovate in a market that’s seemingly flooded with large manufacturers? I didn’t distinctly attend this event to interview others (otherwise I would have recorded my conversations) but I honestly spent more time discussing audio than I did critically listening. This was justified as an audio event imparts a constantly moving sea of people who swell in and out of rooms at a moment’s notice, which usually is distracting from the listening process. Consequently, I can always return to these locations and visit with Russ Katz to enjoy the components, but the opportunity to discuss audio with manufacturers is somewhat rare (at least for me).

First, Jamie walked guests through the ease of functionality and biasing of the F35.  It is a true stunner of an integrated tube amplifier.  I should be honest and explain that I’m an absolute sucker for anything with tubes and Vu meters but I’m a complete novice at understanding tube amplifier functionality. While I may not be a super tube connoisseur, I’m discerning enough to recognize exemplary aesthetic design and therefore appreciated the contemporary feel of a sexy carbon fiber wrap.

Black Ice F35 Integrated Amplifier Top view VU Meter

Next, we received one of my favorite treats which was to take a peak at the insides of the Fusion Balanced Tube DAC Transport. Regardless of the device, I always enjoy witnessing the thought and detail of the interior of components, especially if it involves tubes in the signal path.

The Tubes inside the Black Ice Audio Fusion Balanced tube DAC Transport

While I was somewhat familiar with Black Ice Audio, I didn’t realize that they are located in Brookville Maryland and I also was uniformed to the legal case that occurred when the company was originally founded and ran as Jolida starting in 1983.  I recommend reading about the history of what occurred since it’s one of the few cases where an American company won a case of IP infringement and stealing in China.  Jerred took the time to expound upon part of the story which has much more detail than the website will reveal (If you’re interested in the full story, the court documents can be procured online).  The condensed version: Jolida settled a countersuit in the U.S. with the Chinese company that stole their IP.  This was due to a health scare from then co-owner and co-founder Mike Allen and the cost and stress of a difficult court case was overwhelming.  Consequently, Jerred, who is the son-in-law of the co-founder Mike, took control of the operations and due to the settlement, renamed the company Black Ice Audio.  The incredibly painful ending is that the stolen Jolida technology continues to be used and sold in products currently under another name.

Black Ice Audio F35 Integrated Amplifier Diagonal View

Even with this adversity, Jerred and Jamie are moving forward with the innovative design and marketing of Black Ice Audio.  It was evident in speaking with both of them that there’s undeniable passion and momentum with the brand.  In my humble opinion, if they continue to facelift all their products to look like the F35 while providing impressive sound, they will continue to impact the audiophile scene.  Selfishly, I also hope they will incorporate a showroom with listening spaces in the future.

Last but not least, the room featured the Sonner Audio Legato Unum bookshelf speakers.  I’ll admit that I did not get enough time to listen to these intimately enough to develop an opinion but the craftmanship is fantastic.

Sonner Audio Legato Unum Book Shelf Speakers

Sonner Audio Legato Duo Powered by Bel Canto Design

Sonner Audio Legato Duo Straight On View

The pièce de résistance of the event was certainly the Legato Duo Floorstanders ($9500 and up depending on finish) and their creator, Gunawan (Gunny) Surya. First, unlike the other rooms, I was able to invest about 20 minutes to experience the Legato Duo’s sound and while I’m biased positively toward most listening sessions, I was surprised by the room-filling bass and detail of these speakers powered by the Bel Canto Design E1X Integrated Amplifier ($8500). The revolving door DJs, every visitor to the room, were provided with the opportunity to test their favorite reference tracks on the Legato’s but in my short stint, songs from Katie Melua were absolutely sublime.

Sonner Audio Legato Duo Side View

Like the Black Ice Audio encounter, this event provided an opportunity for attendees to listen to Gunny talk about the design of his speakers and specifically why he chose the rounded shape.  Initially, he explained that the strength of the cabinet is paramount in improving sound performance (demonstrated below). Secondly, shape plays a role in the strength of the cabinet but also impacts sound.  In a parallel surface (box cabinet), not only is the cabinet not as strong, but the static sound waves can possibly be nullified as they bounce back into the cabinet. In a curved format, the geometry reduces the standing waves coming from the driver’s back wave force.

Russ Vinyl Revivers Standing on Sonner Audio Cabinet to Show Strength

Russ Katz, owner of The Vinyl Revivers & The Audio Hunters, shows off the strength of the Sonner Audio cabinet

Gunny was a former tech guru working outside the industry with Fortune 500 companies. Due to his experience, he brings an unwavering and determined spirit to the craft of building speakers. His goal was to engineer and build in the US and while this does occur, it is rare when talking about non-stratospheric price points. During his process of building in the US, he did hear the usual resistance in manufacturing of “this isn’t possible” or “you can’t do that” but Gunny is not the type of person who sees “no” in manufacturing as a dead end.  He reminds me of many of the engineers I worked with in the past that only experienced the word “no” as a “not yet.”

Sunny explained the CNC machined construction of the Sonner Audio Legato Duo Cabinet

Gunny discusses the use of rear ports on the Sonner Audio Legato Duo cabinets and the CNC machining process

I did inquire as to the types of wood used and Gunny was quick to explain that the secrets of a brand are paramount to it not being copied.  This harkens to the Black Ice Audio story and I certainly respect the protection of IP (Gunny referenced how Coca-Cola strongly hides its super secret formula).  It was clear, though, that the Legato Duo cabinet is made from a multilayered, curved, and jointless ply.

The AHH Experience Fills the Soul

I truly enjoyed myself at the AHH Experience and look forward to future local events.  Beyond the audio components and their creators, it’s fantastic to socialize at these events and connect with local audio enthusiasts who are also obsessed with this hobby.  It’s imperative to thank the local DC, VA, MD audio club, the DC Area Audiophiles & High End Home Theater Enthusiasts, who provide such a vibrant community of audio and videophile interactions as well as support for local events.  Finally, it goes without saying that hosting events like this is physically and financially demanding, especially when you feed the high-end audio masses. Russ and Roslyn Katz provided an extraordinary experience and it’s a true pleasure to be a part of these wonderful events. All of the equipment mentioned in this event recap can be demoed and purchased by anyone local to the area. Russ also offers intimate, appointment-only listening sessions at this wonderful penthouse for potential buyers.  Contact him with questions or inquiries.

Sonner Audio Legato Duo Speakers - Side shot

 

 

 

 

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