|Back to the business at hand: From a purely sonic point of view only, music playback through the VRS was startling in its realism, energy and naturalness. It wasn't just that there was no sense of listening to a computer; there was no sense of listening to digital at all. I don't mean by that anything so foolish as the claim that the VRS sounded like vinyl. For all its glories, vinyl has its own problems. You wouldn't want a new technology to merely replicate an older one. The VRS doesn't replicate the sound of vinyl. It presents music in its own way, through its own lens - and that way was plenty convincing.
The VRS system presents music with life-like immediacy and energy. I don't recall my room ever feeling or being so energized. We played every kind of music at all manner of volume levels. By comparison to the VRS, other digital playback can seem sluggish and hazy. I am particularly fond of evaluating components at low volume levels though I prefer listening for pleasure at higher volumes. I prefer low volumes for evaluation because a truly highly resolving component doesn't need to be played loud in order to convey inner detail and the micro-dynamic contrasts that are essential to the believability of playback. I like to listen loud because I have spent more than a reasonable portion of my life around live music - pop, rock, blues and electric jazz.
The VRS sounded wonderful at all volumes. There was no etch or edge. One of the great advantages of playing music from a hard drive is that the playback is all byte-by-byte. You are not hearing music through a device that is trying to read a spinning disc in real time. The major source of jitter and distortion is simply eliminated in this hard drive-based process. As I heard it, the net effect is a terrific sense of natural musical flow. The soundstage was very well focused behind the speakers but the sound bloomed into the room and engulfed all of us. Off-axis listening was surprisingly good.
My system is now optimized for listening at 9 feet from the speaker plane. When I am not listening critically, I sit about 16 feet away. When my friends come over, we normally take turns in the sweet spot. It's usually an especially desirable location. This past Sunday and with the VRS in the system, everyone was pretty happy to be just about anywhere in the room. The music was strikingly engaging at all distances and in almost every conceivable physical location within the room. That was a first in my experience.
The highlight of the day came when John located a few Billie Holiday performances on his hard drive. Thankfully, these were hardly audiophile recordings. John cued them up and the five of us sat completely enraptured. I hate it every time some reviewer or audiophile reports that upon hearing the latest Patricia Barber release, Ms. Barber was right there in the room with him. Those discs sound so unnatural to me, with Patricia Barber rendered about the size of California. There is nothing in the least bit natural or real about these recordings. And, at the end of the day, it is still Patricia Barber.
|Embarrassed as I am to say it, I couldn't avoid the sense that Billie Holiday was right there in the room with us. Well, go ahead. Dismiss me for applying a double standard. I know, I know. But at least it was Billie Holiday. By now, it was getting late in the day and everyone had to head back home. For me, there was only one question I wanted to ask John.
When the day began, I had many more questions - like "Tell me John, can anyone learn how to take advantage of all the VRS system can do? Does one need a degree in computer programming in order to take full advantage of it?" To be perfectly honest, my initial thought going in was this: "If it ain't easy to use a digital playback system, I ain't interested. Coz if it's gonna be work to listen to music, I'm going to listen to my music on vinyl." I do CD for the convenience, not the sound, the one exception being the Reimyo. I actually enjoy listening to music through the Reimyo. When I am listening to the Reimyo, I don't crave or miss vinyl.
By the end of that day, I might have been prepared to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science if doing so was necessary to review the VRS Revelation system. My question was, would these folks let me review the VRS? With that in mind, I offered John a strategic drink of water or coffee. Hell, I would have offered him scotch if I thought it appropriate. Worse, as law professor, I knew his consent when inebriated might not be enforceable in court. He followed me into the kitchen where I broke the question to him. "Any chance you and the other principals involved in the company (notice the legalese here which is always useful when begging) would be interested in a review of the VRS on 6moons?"
The best I could get was, "I'll look into it." Kinda spoiled the day for me - just a bit. We went back into the family room for one last round of requests. As I listened, all I could think of was that there hadn't been a single moment during the day when I found myself longing to listen to vinyl. Nor did I miss the Reimyo. Both were firsts for me.
I may have left John Hughes' home completely unsure of what I thought of the VRS sound but I had no such uncertainties when everyone packed up for their respective rides home in traffic now. The VRS is part of the wave of the future. If initial impressions are any indication, the future is looking very bright especially for those of us who value natural, immediate and energetic music playback in our home - those of us for whom music is an integral component of a life well lived.
It had been a satisfying and musically revelatory day in every way, an experience made even better when John called me up a day later to let me know that everyone at VRS would be more than pleased to have me do the first review of their top- -of-the-line Platinum Revelation system. All I can say is, "stay tuned". Better yet, see if you can get a listen yourself or and find a group of friends to listen with you. You can't beat either.
The system we listened to most of the day consisted of:
There is reason to believe that some of the VRS' performance could have to do with the data extraction protocol used during the uploading of digital music files to its hard drive. Our own Marja & Henk in Holland who are IT specialists by day are currently preparing a report on Germany's shareware called Exact Audio Copy that makes ripped copies sound better than their originals. While Jules awaits delivery of his VRS review loaner, I'm preparing an interview with Pierre Lurné of Audiomeca about what variables contribute to audible differences between RedBook transports. Between these three forthcoming articles, we hope to shed further light on this fascinating subject of CD playback. Ed.
VRS' John Hughes comments:
I'd like to thank Jules for allowing us to share the VRS sound with him and with the 6moons readership. I was just as amazed and pleased at the music pouring forth from Jules' house that day. The VRS Revelation Platinum revealed its own voice and character clearer than I have heard it before. If I could, I'd still be there putting just one more disc in the system and listening to just one more track . . We look forward to sending another Revelation Platinum to chez Jules to find out what an extended residency will bring.
If readers would like to find our more about why the Revelation Music System sounds different, visit the FAQ section of our website. The Billie Holiday album played that day is Billie Holiday at Storyville on Black Lion Records, a hard to find bootleg of a radio concert. It's a very telling recording. On lesser systems it sounds like a miniature radio. On the best systems, it is like a time travel back to one of Billies best recorded performances.
VRS Audio Systems
VRS Audio Systems website