Audio Vision SF’s 20th Anniversary Premiere-filled Celebration

Audio Vision SF, one of San Francisco’s two major high-end dealerships, celebrated its 20th anniversary on September 27–29 with a three-day celebration in two locations. The event included continuous demos with national and local premieres from Moon by Simaudio, Dynaudio, Nordost, Warwick Acoustics, Naim, Chord, Bel Canto, Audiovector, and Raidho/Scansonic. Philip O’Hanlon from On A Higher Note and Lenny Mayeux from Audience were around the corner at the Holiday Inn Golden Gate showcasing the new Giles Martin 50th Anniversary remix of the Beatles’ Abbey Road on vinyl. Their exhibit, headlined by Gryphon electronics and Audience cabling, was set up in a huge, acoustically impossible conference room in the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway.


In the middle of Saturday’s open house, I cornered fast-moving AVSF founder Antonio Long just long enough to learn that his 3800 square foot store has one of the largest collections of audio gear in the United States. With more than 100 brands and 55 headphones on active display, the store’s lineup intentionally includes products from companies that are just beginning to establish themselves.

Long, who studied classical French horn at the University of Texas before getting a second degree in film, video, and performance, began buying, repairing and selling electronics at flea markets at age 12. By age 16, his speakers were Vandersteens and his favorite hangout a hi-fi shop in Dallas. After finding employment at Good Guys, he opened Audio Vision in 1999. Two years later, his best friend, Randy Johnson, joined him as business partner.

“The Bay Area is a unique place to have a hi-fi-store,” Long said. “San Francisco is such an alive city. Our clients are amazing, and culturally interested in what we do.

“When I first came here, I looked all over the city for a $5000 pair of speakers. I could find exactly two. That’s why we have so many products: They allow us to zero in on what our clients want. The strength of our approach is that it’s all here.”

The dedication of AVSF’s clients to music and audio was unmissable. Even before the store had officially opened for its 3-day celebration, Stephen Pavelick of Burlingame arrived to snatch a deluxe edition of the Abbey Road remastering. He was also one of many audiophiles who sat through more than two hours of sometimes lengthy presentations on Friday night, listened carefully to musical selections, asked informed questions, and returned for more presentations on Saturday. Tire-kickers these were not.

Friday evening, one of the store’s three demo rooms hosted local premieres of the Moon 860A V2 amplifier ($18,000), Dynaudio Confidence 30 loudspeaker ($20,000/pair), and Nordost’s QPoint and QSource. Since I reported on the Dynaudio launch at Munich High End, and the Nordost system at RMAF, I’ll focus on the Moon 860A V2, whose premiere I missed at both shows.

Simaudio Moon’s Costa Koulisakis described the 860A V2 as the company’s first new “affordable” power amplifier in 9 years. A replacement for the 878, 880M, and 860A, it outputs 225W into 8 ohms, or, when bridged to mono, 750W into 8 ohms. “It’s pretty new under the hood and uses trickle-down technology from our massive $120,000/pair 888s,” he said.

The sound was pretty consistent with the smooth-topped, powerful presentation I’ve come to expect from Moon electronics. It was at home alongside Dynaudio’s Confidence 30, the new entry-level floorstander in the company’s completely redesigned line, the first in many years. The Confidence 30 includes new drivers, a new tweeter, and a new inert baffle material.

The system also included a top-of-the-line Innuos Statement music server ($13,795) that contains eight linear power supplies for its various internal components, a CD ripper, and up to 4TB SSD; from Nordost, an Odin 2/Valhalla 2 cable loom and lots of Nordost power, resonance control and grounding products; a Rega RP-10 turntable in its final showing before its replacement Planar 10 arrives; and Simaudio Moon’s Reference phono stage, 740 preamp, and Reference DAC/streamer complete with a few 820 external power supplies. I enjoyed the system’s grounded, solid, and listenable presentation of Agnes Obel’s “The Curse,” streamed from either Qobuz or Tidal—I’m not sure which.

At one point in the demo, Koulisakis blew quite a few minds by showing that his electronics did a more than credible job conveying by Bluetooth the musical essence of a Tidal stream of Ghost Rider’s “Make us Stronger.” Via a wired ethernet connection, highs were more vibrant, colors that were previously homogenized into shades of gray emerged from the shadows, bass descended lower, and a marked increase in dimensionality and spaciousness made for a thoroughly high-end experience. Nonetheless, the Bluetooth presentation was solid, musical, and distortion-free.

Even after attending many Nordost demos, I learned something new from Steve Greene’s presentation: The most important power cable in a system is the one connecting a power conditioner or distributor to the wall. The second most important is the cord going to the preamp. For Nordost cabling, longer lengths work better because resonance is said to decrease.

As for the Innuos Statement music server, whose transparency I praised at the last RMAF, Innuos’ new Roon-like software is expected in the first quarter of 2020.

Audio Vision reaches out to younger audiophiles with a headphone bar at the front of the store, flanked by bins of LPs, and a listening room dedicated to headphones and headphone amps. It was in that listening room that I encountered Warwick Audio’s Martin Roberts, who introduced the premiere of the top-of-the-line Warwick Aperio headphone system ($24,000). This closed system contains headphones designed to be matched with the system’s full-feature preamp, DAC, high voltage headphone amp, and high voltage bias generation amplifier. The high voltage bias generation amplifier is essential because both the Aperio and Warwick Sonoma M1 headphones use HPEL (high precision electrostatic laminate) transducer technology that runs at 18,000 volts. The technology was discovered by two professors at the UK’s Warwick University in Warwickshire and can reproduce PCM up to 32/384 and DSD up to DSD256. No MQA, however.

Listening to Philippe Herreweghe’s recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 played on a Technics Network/SACD player, I thought the spaciousness and dimensionality of the Warwick presentation extraordinary. It got even better on Segerstam’s SACD of Sibelius’ Kullervo and a Tidal Masters remastering of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams are Made of This.” The Warwick Aperio headphone system is one I’d love to review.

On Saturday afternoon, Chris Berens of Audeze and Mike Liang of Woo Audio paired relatively new Audeze LCD-4Z open-back headphones ($3995) with Woo Audio’s New York–manufactured WA11 Topaz fully balanced headphone amplifier/DAC ($1495). The WA11 Topaz decodes PCM up to 24/384 and DSD up to 128. Complete with a USB-C connection, the portable unit is claimed capable of “driving about anything.” Its battery can sustain 6 hours of continuous play and recharge completely in 4 hours. It even comes with a handy sleeve that holds both the unit and a smartphone source. Woo suggested that it’s a great device to take to dealerships so that you can audition multiple headphones through the same electronics.

I listened to several tracks through the Audeze/Woo pairing, complete with Nordost Heimdahl 2 headphone cables,. The sound was full but more forward than through the more-than-four-times-as-expensive Warwick system.

Despite impossible acoustics—picture a huge room with multiple spaced mirrors on both side walls, sound-absorbing panels on a ceiling that included several sound-trapping recesses, thick carpeting, and air conditioning that roared (I do not exaggerate) even at its lowest setting—the Gryphon set-up at the Holiday Inn around the corner from AVSF did a more than credible job on LPs of the Abbey Road remastering and George Benson’s The Other Side of Abbey Road. The system included Gryphon’s Pandora Pre, Mephisto Stereo Amp, and Pantheon speakers—the brand new Ethos CD player ($39,000) had not yet arrived, with the very first unit in the U.S. on its way to Port Townsend for review. Also in the system: Chord’s Dave DAC and CD transport, Innuos’ Statement music server, a Moon streamer and phono stage, Technics SP1000 turntable, and a Sonorus/Revox PR 99 tape player.

Connecting it all was Audience’s Front Row cabling, favored (along with Nordost) by Gryphon. According to Mayeux, Front Row contains a dual axial opposed helix ribbon wrapped around inner and outer cores. The wire is OCC copper, double-cryoed, high-voltage–treated, and cold-crimped rather than soldered. The dielectric is XLPE.

Because I couldn’t attend Sunday’s premieres, I spent time Saturday afternoon chatting with Bel Canto’s Michael McCormick about Bel Canto’s new E1X line. The E1X DAC/control preamp ($6500), stereo amplifier ($6000), and integrated amplifier ($8000) have the same inputs and remote as the higher-priced Black units. Audio Vision was spotlighting the class-D integrated, which outputs 180 watts into 8 ohms and 250 into 4.

My last demo, which took place at the other end of the room that housed the Innuos/Simaudio/Dynaudio/Nordost system heard Friday night, showcased an SME Model 15A turntable ($12,900) with Kiseki Blue phono cartridge ($2500) and several Chord components: Symphonic phono stage ($4495), the MScaler outboard upsampler ($4995), the TT2 DAC ($5795), the CPA 500 preamp ($17,900), and two Etude power amps ($5595). Wired by Nordost, those electronics drove Triangle’s French-made Magellan Cello loudspeakers ($13,000/pair), which reside at the top of Triangle’s entry-level speaker line.

The sound was open, colorful, and significantly wetter than on the system I auditioned Friday night. I grooved on the reproduction of the horn on a fabulous Coltrane track, “Out of this World,” and enjoyed clear and lively sound on Bruce Springsteen’s “Western Stars.” The room seemed to oversaturate at high volume, but at lower levels the sound was quite good.

Hats off to Antonio Long, Randy Johnson, and the staff of Audio Vision SF for making it to 20 years. I look forward to joining their 25th and 30th anniversary celebrations—just for starters.

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