One day with the VRS Audio Systems Revelation Platinum: World class playback from an audio computer?
About a month ago, I received an email from one John Hughes of VRS Audio Systems who was planning a trip to New York City to set up a system for a client and organize a couple of auditions of the VRS Revelation system. John inquired whether I would have an interest in attending one of his demonstrations. Events intervened and John's trip was unexpectedly postponed.

As luck would have it, I had a trip scheduled to the Bay Area where John lives. We agreed to meet on a Monday afternoon two weeks ago. John picked me up at Hastings Law School late in the afternoon and we drove through familiar territory on the way to his lovely home in the 'Twin Peaks' area of San Francisco. I'd started my teaching career at UC Berkeley and my fondness for the Bay Area has not waned with the passage of time. San Francisco is a breathtakingly beautiful city.

The ride to John's place was short but gave him time to fill me in on the VRS Revelation system. We arrived at his place long before I had a full understanding of what I was about to hear, however. After a quick tour of his home, John offered up some welcome refreshments and we headed into the living room to walk our way around the system. But for the VRS Revelation, John's set up would have been right at home in any respectable audiophile's listening room: Well Tempered Reference; ASR battery-powered integrated amplifier; Audio Note Kondo interconnects; Argent Audio speaker cable; Vandersteen 5 loudspeakers.

The VRS is a computer-based music playback system. It's not a CD player in the ordinary sense nor is it a computer in the usual sense. It is not a computer that plays music in addition to its usual tasks. It is a computer optimized for music playback and more. Put simply, the VRS is a music system that takes advantage of computer technology, not a computer system masquerading as a music playback system. It works through Windows and is thus PC based.

Not surprisingly, John was very high on the sound of the VRS but he wasn't in the slightest bit arrogant, pushy or 'certain' - enthusiastic but modest. I found the combination very attractive. He made me feel comfortable and I was glad I agreed to come by for a listen. In anticipation of my visit, I'd done a bit of research on computer-based playback systems and read posts and discussions of how the VRS works and what it sounds like. I figured that many of both the positive and the negative posts were exaggerated. That would be par for the course when it comes to the range of opinions any audio component generates.

I was expecting upgraded computer sound. Anything beyond that would have surprised me. I certainly wasn't expecting HighEnd high-resolution digital playback. Frankly, I was startled by what I heard at John's that night. Still, I didn't quite know what to make of it. The sound was incredibly detailed, transparent and resolute. Nothing sounded like I expected it to. Vandersteen speakers aren't really known for their ultimate transparency and the ASR electronics are, if anything, a bit warm and soft around the edges. There was nothing soft or warm about the sound I heard. The only component in John's system with which I was intimately familiar were the Kondo cables. I would have been surprised had the Kondo cable been able to exert this much of an influence on the sound.

I had never heard the VRS before and so I asked John if what we were hearing was typical of the VRS sound. John in effect said 'yes' and 'no'. The resolution was familiar as was the transparency but the system sounded less natural and relaxed to him than he was accustomed to.

I had heard reports of the sound of the VRS compared to that of the Audio Note UK DAC 5. I have never heard the DAC 5 but have owned Audio Note DACs, preamplifiers and amplifiers. The UK Audio Note sound is all about tone and a certain warm and lovely presentation. Music through the VRS at John's place was anything but warm and lovely so I left more confused than confident in my judgment. In fact, I formed no judgment at all.

My interest was definitely piqued though and I found myself calling lots of audio friends upon my return to describe what I had heard. I had heard a lot but felt that what I'd heard was not what the system was really all about. 'Inconclusive' is how I would describe my listening session at John's. Impressive sound, even extraordinary perhaps but unsettling. John allowed that he would be rescheduling his trip to NYC at some point and that he would be happy to set up the VRS at my place if the opportunity presented itself.

Within the week John contacted me to let me know that his NYC client was ready for his date with the VRS system.

Since I had left his place, John had purchased a headphone setup to listen directly to the VRS. It seems he too was a bit unsure of what to make of the sound we had heard at his place. He called to let me know that whatever amusicality we heard, it was not the VRS. Played through the headphone setup, the VRS was, he assured me, as he had remembered and experienced it: Refined, natural and detailed. Hoping that John was right, I offered my system for demonstration purposes. At least I would be familiar with the ancillary equipment. I also wanted some other ears in case my previous experience at John's was going to be repeated.

John had an interest in Shindo electronics and Horning loudspeakers, both of which were in my reference system. He had heard reports of the extraordinary Reimyo CD player which was also a part of my system and wanted to know how the VRS might compare with it. So we settled on a plan. John would demonstrate his VRS on Saturday to his client, then to Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound. On Sunday, Jeff would meet up with John and Jonathan Halpern of Shindo and they would drive the VRS up here for a demonstration in the context of a Shindo/Horning system that John was independently interested in. For good measure, I invited Ted Lindblad of HighEnd Audio to join us.

Ted is involved in a new venture that's still hush-hush at this point. The name of the venture is NOS and also involves the extraordinary talents of Serguei Timachev of Stealth and Jerry Ozment of Audio Logic. Among their many prospective products is a new series of digital components designed by Jerry that are intended to challenge the current frontiers of CD playback. Jerry is an amazing guy who was the man behind the digital offerings from Jadis, Thor and Altis among others, in addition to releasing products under his own Audio Logic label.