201107_tidal_dbl_smallIn somewhat of a break with the traditional thinking of bigger is always better, The Beauty of Music is not about superhuge speakers and 1000W amplifiers. This system was assembled for one purpose: to get the small details as right as rain, to reconstruct the gestalt of a musical performance without fail, and to bring to the listener all the nuance and beauty that can be wrung from the most stellar recordings. Sure, you can buy bigger, more bombastic sound for less money; but the audible synergy of the components comprising this system is special -- like that perfect family photo snapped at just the right moment. 

The Beauty of Music 

Tidal Piano Cera loudspeakers:    $23,990/pair
Gryphon Audio Designs Colosseum power amplifier:      $43,500
Gryphon Audio Designs Mirage preamplifier:    $25,750
dCS Debussy digital-to-analog converter:    $11,999
Apple MacBook Pro laptop:      $1800
Amarra music player:      $695
AudioQuest Redwood speaker cables: $6900/8' pair
AudioQuest Sky interconnects: $4600/2m XLR pair (two pairs)
AudioQuest Diamond USB cable: $695/1.5m cord
AudioQuest NRG-100 power cords: $1279/6’ cord (two cords)
Grand total:     $127,042

System profile 

For full reviews of the Tidal Piano Cera and Gryphon Audio Designs Colosseum and Mirage, see Ultra Audio’s “The World’s Best Audio System” section, where you’ll find detailed accounts of those components and what’s so special about them. There are also a couple of carryovers from this system’s predecessor, The $30,000 Resolution Monster: The Apple MacBook Pro computer and Amarra music-player software. While a number of new standalone music servers are just hitting the market and look promising, I’m not yet sure whether any of them will be able to demonstrably outperform the old standby of a Mac and some good music-player software -- though I plan to explore that very question on Ultra Audio in the next few months. 

dCS Debussy

So, what else makes up The Beauty of Music? The dCS Debussy DAC was recently upgraded to accept 24-bit/192kHz signals via its asynchronous USB input. Asynchronous means that the DAC extracts the digital signal from the computer while controlling the timing of data with its own internal clock. All else being equal, this means the DAC gets a signal with less jitter to work with -- a very good thing. But the dCS Debussy doesn’t stop there -- its fully balanced architecture and highly regulated power supplies ensure that its analog output is of the highest quality, particularly via its XLR jacks. All this technology and hardware translate into sound that’s a cut above that of any other DAC I’ve had in my system. Given the right recordings, I can’t imagine digital ever sounding much better than this. 

When I began auditioning cables for this system, I had my heart set on less-expensive models, which would have kept down the total system price. But when I auditioned a set of AudioQuest cables, the system’s sound became a smidgen better -- the smidgen that took it from really, really good to Wow, that’s just beautiful (hence the inspiration for the name of this system). Sporting a unique technique to reduce the modulation distortion between the shield and the ground, and some of the finest connectors in the business, the AudioQuest cables are simply superb in every respect; I’ve found that they help tease out that last bit of air and ambience from the music, while keeping each and every aspect of the soundstage ultrastable and precise. They’re not cheap, but neither are they so crazy expensive as to be out of line for a system of this caliber. Their performance is totally in line. 

Additions or alternatives: The first thing that comes to mind are bigger speakers. The Tidal Piano Ceras will satisfy most audiophiles, but they won’t fill the largest rooms with superlow bass and prodigious output. This limitation will be a deal-breaker for some, especially for a system costing $127,000. If it were my money, I’d also listen to Tidal’s larger Contriva Diacera SE ($58,990/pair) -- it goes deeper in the bass, its diamond tweeter has even greater extension in the upper treble, and it can play louder because of its larger drive-unit complement. 

Gryphon Colosseum

Overall sound: The heart of The Beauty of Music could be said to be the Gryphon Colosseum amplifier. It costs almost twice as much as any other component here, but its class-A sound is so glorious, so subtle yet powerful, that it takes the system to another level of performance. In fact, it seems that a greater portion of the Colosseum’s intrinsic sound makes its way through the Piano Ceras to the listener than did that of any other amplifier I tried. There’s just something lush about the class-A biasing of a huge, well-designed power amplifier -- and that is Gryphon’s specialty. 

The Beauty of Music system

Relaxed yet taut, deep yet light on its feet, airy yet subtle -- The Beauty of Music captures what’s special on a recording, and delivers it to the listener in a way that maintains the true message of the artist. 

For me, the litmus test of any audio system is how I answer one question: Could I live with it? With The Beauty of Music, my answer is a resounding Yes -- there were many days when I just couldn’t wait to start listening to this combination of components. At the end of the day, that is the true measure of any system. 

Right now, as I type this, I’m listening to “Loving You Is Easy,” from Sarah McLachlan’s Laws of Illusion (16/44.1 AIFF, RCA), and reveling in her words. In fact, when she sings “wondrous and pure,” she could very easily be referring to The Beauty of Music. It fits perfectly. 

. . . Jeff Fritz