Reviews and Awards


  • Editors Choice Award 2019 (The Absolute Sound)
  • PF Brutus Award, 2018: Center Stage
    (Positive Feedback)
  • Best Sound - Capital Audiofest 2017 (AV Showrooms)
  • PF Brutus Award, 2017: Black Platinum Mk. III Filter (Positive Feedback)
  • PF Brutus Award, 2017: Black Sapphire Mk. III Filter (Positive Feedback)
  • PF Brutus Award, 2017: QXK Rack System (Positive Feedback)
  • PF Brutus Award, 2017: Center Stage Feet (Positive Feedback)
  • PF Brutus Award, 2017: Black Diamond Mk. III Filter (Positive Feedback)
  • Audio Oasis Award - Axpona 2017 (Positive Feedback)
  • Best of Show - Munich High End 2017
  • Editors Choice Award 2017 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Golden Ear Award 2016 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Editors Choice Award 2016 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Super AV Award 2015
  • Golden Ear Award 2015 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Editors Choice Award 2015 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Product of the Year 2014 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Editors’ Choice Award 2014 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Golden Ear Award 2014 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Product of the Year Award 2012 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Editors’ Choice Award 2012 (The Absolute Sound)
  • The Brutus Award (Positive-Feedback)
  • Best of Show (Cost-No-Object) - Rock Mountain Audio Fest 2012
  • Best Sound (Cost-No-Object) - Rock Mountain Audio Fest 2012
  • Best Cost-No-Object Systems - Rock Mountain Audio Fest 2012
  • Munich High End 2012 Best of Show - Munich Audio Show 2012
  • Best of Show - CES 2012
  • Best Sound (Cost-No-Object) - CES 2012
  • Golden Ear Award 2011 (The Absolute Sound)
  • Best of Show - AXPONA 2011
  • Best of Show - CES 2011
  • Best of Show Finalist - CES 2011
  • Best of Show - CES 2010
  • Best of Best - CES 2010
  • Show Stoppers - CES 2010
  • Best of Show - AXPONA 2010
  • Best of Show - CES 2009
  • Best of Show - CES 2008



HiFi+ reviews the CenterStage2.

Read The Absolute Sound's January 2018 interview with Critical Mass' Joe Lavernick!


Audiotechnique (Chinese) - Jan, 2018 (PDF)

Editors Choice Award 2017
Sotto Voce: “By getting what AT calls “random energy” out of the sound, the SV delivers a less electronic, less hurried, less blurred presentation of the music. This rack you can buy and live with happily ever after.”

Maxxum: “…quite simply the ne plus ultra in component stands……Transients are lightning quick, low-level detail is clear as a bell, pitch definition is superb, and timbre is rich and dense in color from bottom to top."

Maxxum Amplifier Stand: “Sonically, this amplifier stand allows the system to better resolve low-level information, reveal music’s transient structure, and interestingly, seems to make the loudspeakers “disappear” more easily. Once heard, it is impossible to resist.”

QXK:  “… second only to CMS’ Maxxum in efficacy…If you can’t afford a Maxxum, you’re certainly not going to be disappointed with this number."
The Absolute Sound (issue 271, page146, 148)

Interview with Critical Mass System's Joseph Lavrencik in Hong Kong (PDF)

Taiwan International Audio Show
Audio Art - 2016 (PDF)

Critical Mass Systems Accessories of the Year
The Absolute Sound - January, 2015 (PDF)

Critical Mass Systems Maxxum Amplifier Stand
The Absolute Sound - January, 2015 (PDF)

Critical Mass Systems Sotto Voce Equipment Rack
The Absolute Sound - January, 2015 (PDF)

Critical Mass Systems Review
New Audiophile (Chinese), 2014 (PDF)

Audiotechnique, May 2013 (PDF)

“The ne plus ultra of audio component support systems. JVs references”
-Jonathan Valin (The Absolute Sound)

 “Obviously, I highly recommend the Critical Mass MAXXUM stands and racks, indeed, they are my references.”
-Jonathan Valin (The Absolute Sound, Issue 226, p.96)

PXK Architecture with Black Platinum and Black Sapphire Filters 
Audiotechnique, April 2013 (PDF)



Best In Show (Cost No Object) Axpona 2018
Part-Time Audiophile

I would like to thank Greg Weaver for taking the time to review Center Stage for Positive Feedback. Greg’s professionalism, work ethic and thoughtfulness are the trademark of his character. We installed 30 Center Stage feet in Greg's system and here is a portion of his review.

".... Dear readers, I would never dream of suggesting that $9000 worth of footers is either an insignificant investment, or in any sense of the word inexpensive. But the degree of improvement that their installation alone wrought in a system with a retail north of the $300K neighborhood was so extraordinary as to render their contributions a bargain! I can assure you that I know of no other way to invest so little, what in this case was less than 3% of the total system value, to reap a sonic result that would otherwise unquestionably take a near doubling in price, or greater, to achieve..." Greg Weaver, Positive Feedback,Issue 96

The full review of Center Stage has been published and can be found at the following link:

"The CMS QXK Mk. III rack and filtering system is a truly worthy design accomplishment by Joe Lavrencik. Its fine performance matched its striking appearance. Certainly, this is a component framework in which visual beauty meets aural beauty, and both live in contentment." David W. Robinson reviewing the QXK/Mk. III filters (Positive Feedback, Issue 90)

"The effect of the Center Stage Feet once the system stabilized was to create a serious enveloping effect. It was extraordinary; it was if a two-channel system was shape-changing into a surround system. Greater depth, too. More gob-smacking audio space voyaging!" - David W. Robinson reviewing the Center Stage Feet (Positive Feedback, Issue 94)

“Given my extremely favorable experience with the Mk. III generation CMS Rack and Amp Stand, configured as described, I'd have to say that Joe Lavrencik and company have once again proven…all these years later…that they still belong in the very front rank of audio rack and stand designers.” Dr. David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief (, Issue 90)

"Exceptional transparency with its related clarity, excellent details, and dynamics without smearing, plus harmonic integrity and (especially noticeable with the brilliant Zodiac loudspeakers) an incredibly organic presentation of the music. This is a smashing great result! I won't be making any changes in this setup for the foreseeable future.” Positive Feedback

“… beautiful tonality … fast and clean but with a touch of warmth. … vocal image seem to be larger than real life …” Richard H. Mak, Mono & Stereo (

“The detail, the clarity were amazing. The sound stage was not only wide, but deep and tall. The bells and other instruments sounded very real … as I sipped some champagne. I thought to myself, ‘This is heaven!’…” Alex. G. (

“There’s no doubt about it in my mind: Joe Lavrencik is one of the most gifted rack designers in the world. ... Critical Mass Systems QXK is the best rack system I’ve ever heard.”
-David W. Robinson, Ph. D. (Positive Feedback Online)

“If you crave Bugatti’s, Chateau L’Tour, tartufo bianco, Renoirs and never seeing anyone’s taillights except as you sweep past them … there is the PXK. This is something you must hear. EXTRAORDINARY”
-Dr. Sardonicus (Positive Feedback Online)



Capital Audiofest 2017

" far, the best sound I’ve heard at an audio show far exceeding any runners up...the beautiful racks were from Critical Mass and you’ll learn more about them when you watch the upcoming video."
Terry Eringi (AV Showrooms)

"...It is the most intimately communicative, authentically musically expressive system I've ever had the pleasure of sitting down in front of in my three decades as a professional reviewer. This system does not merely raise the bar, it IS the bar today..."
Greg Weaver (Enjoy the

"I’ll spare you my description, as words can’t quite adequately describe the vast beauty of sound I heard. Near perfection? Pretty much."
Todd Anderson (Audio Nirvana)

"Think 'ultra high end IMAX audio' if there were such a thing..."
Eric Franklin Shook (Part-time Audiophile)


"What a sound! ... the depth of bass ... I was amazed, ... they really wowed me ... this one sucker-punched me out of the blue ..." Joseph Lavrencik "was chuckling, naturally … he knows that I'm looking at his new reference rack... " 
David W. Robinson, Positive Feedback 

Munich High End 2017

“ of the best-sounding demos at the show, full of incredible presence and coherence, combined with high-resolution realism... All gear was seated on Critical Mass Systems’ brand-new, top-line Olympus equipment racks..." Julie C. Mullins, The Absolute Sound, June 1, 2017

"... it was Rockport’s $60k soulution ... and mounted on Joseph Lavrencik’s new Critical Mass Systems Olympus stands—that won my heart...sound was fantastic right off the bat, with superb dynamics, color, transients, and three-dimensional body... a second visit...proved to be just as terrific, with wonderful resolution of detail...and real ease on fortes...with superb body and color on the vocals and the best reproduction of standup bass...I heard at the show." Jonathan Valin, The Absolute Sound, May 28, 2017

"The Olympus-V12 doubles the Critical Mass Maxxum’s ability to lower the noise floor by doubling the number of damping stages from 6 to 12. The sound of the system was stunning, producing silky-smooth massed strings and terrific detail, clarity, and transparency." Jim Hannon, The Absolute Sound, June 8, 2017

"The sound in this room was utterly natural, eerily enveloping dimensionality, with blistering transients, crushing dynamics, vivid tone color, and complex and distinctive texture. I made several visits to this room, and it was always full." Greg Weaver, Positive Feedback, Issue 91


CES 2017

"..absolutely solid, full-range, and musical...we all sat in awe at the presentation's absolute top-to-bottom control and musicality."  
Jason Victor Serinus, The Absolute Sound

"This was simply the best reproduction of piano I heard at the show."
John Valin, The Absolute Sound

TAVES Consumer Electronic Show 2016

“… this cost no object approach … did result in sound that was mind-blowing to say the least. It was the most neutral and true-to-life sound at the show and it gets our ‘Best Sound of Show’ vote.”
Malcolm J. Gomes, Positive Feedback

“Their equipment has always played impressive at every show I’ve attended and they pulled out the stops with this stuff of dreams assemblage, making it a short list contender for best of show.”
Glen Wagenknecht, Six Moons

“… one system which can be described as the “Bugatti” of TAVES … The sound was warm, musical and laid back. As they cranked up the volume, the elegant composure of the sonic image was maintained throughout the entire frequency spectrum, I could have easily listened to the system for hours without any listener fatigue.”
Richard H. Mak, Part-Time Audiophile


BEST OF SHOW “… supported by nonpareil Critical Mass Maxxum stands sounded just plain wonderful. This exhibit wasn’t a little better than previous Sonus/ARC pairings; it was much better—and, IMO, better than anything else at AXPONA.”
Jonathan Valin, The Absolute Sound

BEST OF SHOW “The best I heard ...”
Michael Fremer, Analog Planet

“I was especially thrilled … There was something special going on in that room that was easy to hear.”
Robert S. Youman, Positive Feedback

“The sound was staggering in its smoothness, and instruments, and voices were thrown wide open across the entire frequency range, with incredibly powerful dynamic swings in the music ... a powerful, deep presentation ... regardless of where you sat.”
Rafe Arnott, Part-Time Audiophile

“… color, range, slam, beauty: this system has it all. The sense of space is supreme, the control of different instruments, including percussion, excellent ... The huge soundstage is as airy as can be, and communicates the music’s openness and optimism. Every sound is beautiful”
Jason Victor Serinus, Stereophile

“My favorite this year”
Robert S. Youman, Positive Feedback

“Here are two systems represented by a notable distributor and dealership, to which I had strong reactions. Both systems used Kubala Sosna cabling and Critical Mass racks…Here was a moving audio experience! This was one of the most memorable systems of the show, and also in the minds of my colleagues and friends at the show.”
Doug Schroeder, Dagogo


“The VAC Statement System on Critical Mass Systems racks…lovely, a gigantic music-making machine!”
David W. Robinson, Positive Feedback

"Using Critical Mass racks and Nordost Valhalla 2 cables throughout doesn’t hurt, and this was a system that achieved considerable musical coherence and dynamic integrity -- even on Metallica. "
Roy Gregory, The Audio Beat

“A pair of Focal Stella Utopia EM loudspeakers, with amplification by Accuphase, Air Tight, and Soulution, racks by Critical Mass Systems, turntable by Transrotor, Graham, and Air Tight, and cabling by TARA Labs…this year sounding great to me!”
David W. Robinson, Positive Feedback

“Driven by over $500,000 worth of Soulution, Accuphase, and Air Tight electronics and sources, using all Tara Labs cabling, resting on Critical Mass stands and footers in the Blanca Peak room, this speaker literally spoke to me.”
Greg Weaver, The Audio Analyst


Best Sound (cost no object): After its disappointing debut a few weeks ago at AXPONA Chicago, Magico’s $229,000 flagship—the massive, aluminum-enclosed, five-driver, four-way Q7 Mk II—performed a volte-face in München, where it sounded, well, great. Indeed, this may have been the best I’ve ever heard a Magico loudspeaker sound at a trade show—which is to say that this may have been the best I’ve ever heardany loudspeaker sound at a trade show. Sensationally beautiful, powerful, and lifelike on vocals and those wonderful brass and Hammond organ accents from Leonard Cohen’s “Slow,” the speaker was equally gorgeous, majestic, and fool-you realistic on Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Jaco Pastorius’ system-bustingly dynamic and wildly busy punk-jazz romp “Crisis” (off Rhino’s 180-gram Record Store Day release Anthology). Like Alon Wolf and Yair Tamman’s limited-production M-Project speaker (and for some of the same reasons—the new diamond-coated beryllium tweeter and improved graphene-carbon midrange driver both speakers share), the new Q7 boasts a marmoreal solidity in the bass and power range and an upper-midrange/treble sweetness that have eluded previous Qs, and yet the Q7 Mk II (like the M-Project) somehow achieves this more concert-hall-like balance without sucking out the presence and brilliance ranges and without sacrificing the speed, resolution, and transparency that Magicos are famous for. I hate to let the cat out of the bag this early in a show report, but as wonderful as the other contenders inMunich were (and, as noted, there were a whole bunch of wonderful speakers at the MOC), nothing else was quite this top-to-bottom beautiful, powerful, detailed, and lifelike. Congratulations to Wolf and Tammam, to Cyrill Hammer who provided the superb Soulution electronics (the 701 monoblock amplifiers, the 725 preamplifier, the 760 DAC, the brand-new 755 phonostage) and the one-off turntable/tonearm (which he may soon be manufacturing), to the folks at Vovox for the excellent cabling, and to Joe Lavrencik for his (IMO) incomparable Critical Mass Maxxum amp and equipment stands. Take a collective bow, gents. Your exhibit was a good as hi-fi gets—at a show, or anywhere else. 
Jonathan Valin (The Absolute Sound)

Best Sound (cost no object): The makers of the extraordinary electronics that were named TAS’ Overall Product of the Year in 2014 have turned their attention to digital conversion with the 760 DACSoulution's new DAC employs a custom upsampling filter running an Anagram Technologies algorithm on a SHARC DSP. The unit features Soulution’s Zero-Phase-Technology, a circuit that removes phase errors introduced by the analog low-pass filter. The clock appears to be quite sophisticated, and unlike those used in other high-end DACs. The power supply is massive and elaborate, with more than 500,000 microfarads of filter capacitance—more than that of some power amplifiers. The 760 was featured in the system that I thought was easily the best sound of the show—Soulution 725 preamp, 701 power amplifiers, Magico Q7 Mk II loudspeakers, and Critical Mass Systems Maxxum racks and amp platforms. We did some comparisons with Soulution’s CD player, and the new 760 DAC was clearly superior. As with other Soulution products, the 760 is premium-priced at $55,000.
Robert Harley (The Absolute Sound)

Best Sound (cost no object): The bar was set high, and set early. Simply put, this room started off my Munich show experience with unmatched slam. The first tune on the ’table was Leonard Cohen’s “Slow,” but the presentation was anything but: perfectly lifelike, gravelly vocals, open and spacious sound, big yet well-defined bass. The winning combination of the l Magico Q7 Mk IIs driven by the Soulution 701 amp impressed JV and me so much we went back for seconds the following morning. Jaco Pastorius this time: The system tore through the wild dynamics and multi-instrumental, rapid-fire cacophony on his “Crisis” tune with ease, conveying its explosive energy and drama sans smear. Such grip and attack! Chills-inducing. Soulution also introduced a brand-new 755 phonostage here, mated to a new prototype turntable. Word has it Soulution is planning to manufacture and market this ’table under its own brand. 
Julie Mullins ( The Absolute Sound)

Best Sound (Cost No Object): I call it a tie between the lightning quick, deeply resolvingSoulution/Magico Q7 II/Critical Mass system and the less ballsy, smaller scaled, but more relaxed presentation of the Vandersteen room. 
Alan Taffel (The Absolute Sound)

Best Loudspeakers: The Magico Q7 Mk. II ($229,000/pair) was being exhibited simultaneously with the S7, but in the room of Swiss electronics manufacturer Soulution, of whose products I grow fonder by the day. To get an idea of how the two Magico models compared, I listened to them back to back -- well, as quickly as I could move through the crowd to get from room to room! It was fascinating. I’ll start with the bass: Although the S7 produced the tightest, fastest (not technically ​ ​but sonically faster), most articulate bass of all the speakers I listened to at High End 2015, the Q7 Mk. II was in another league altogether. Yes, it was frighteningly athletic -- even more so than the S7 -- but its bass just seemed to . . . happen with no apparent effort, or even any connection to the speaker itself. This wasn’t the kind of effortlessness you hear from a large, four-tower, line-array system -- which can be impressive -- but an ease of sound more qualitative than quantitative. For those who believe there’s little difference in bass below 150Hz outside of level, you won’t believe your ears when you hear the Q7 Mk. II. It could seemingly unravel every ounce of detail, in the bass and everywhere else. And that was the thing about the Q7 Mk. II: the music just . . . appeared. At any volume, it made other speakers, even the best ones, sound labored. As for the highs, the new tweeter might be all that Magico has been cracking it up to be. And when highs of that quality are combined with the Q7 Mk. II’s completely artifact-free midrange and electrostatic-like bass, the resulting sound is, well, calming. And therein lies the flummoxing juxtaposition: how can it sound so easygoing, so relaxed, so even, yet reveal more detail than anything else? That secret is what separates it from the other speakers on this list, including Magico’s own S7. My takeaway: Read my full upcoming review to find out.
Jeff Fritz (Sound Stage Ultra)

A​XPONA 2015​

Best Sound (cost no object): The Magico M Project loudspeakers ($129k) were spectacular on Friday (but not as much on Sunday for mysterious reasons. Like a game of Clue, it seems someone did something somewhere in the chain.) 
Julie Mullins  (The Absolute Sound)

Most Coveted Product: Wish I were one of the few to own the limited-edition Magico M Projectspeakers. The sound was simply breathtaking in the Hanson Audio room (with system elements fromOctave/dCS/Clearaudio/Nordost/Critical Mass).Jim Hannon  (The Absolute Sound)

CES 2015

Best of Show My sixth top contender also comes from an old marque. In addition to its flabbergasting turn in the Lamm room, the $52k, four-driver, three-way Wilson Audio Alexia was being shown in several other spots, most notably in the Soulution room, where it was driven by Soulution’s Product of the Year Award-winning 711 stereo amplifier and 725 preamplifier, and sourced by a Soulution 560 DAC. All gear was mounted on Critical Mass stands. Alexias haven’t been my favorite speakers in the past, but after this show…well, let’s just say my opinion has changed. Along with the Lamm room, the Soulution room made the best sound I’ve ever heard from these Wilsons—terrific tone color, transient response, and bass definition. Terrific, overall. Jonathan Valin (The Absolute Sound)

Best of Show In a system with Soulution electronics sitting atop Critical Mass’ Sotto Voce stands, the Wilson Alexia speakers sounded better than I’ve ever heard them, with outstanding transparency, bass power and control, low coloration, and no smearing of the leading edge of transients.
Jim Hannon (The Absolute Sound)

Best of Show The new Air Tight PC-1 Opus/Transrotor Tourbillion/Air Tight ATE-2001 and Ref Mono /Isophon Berlina RC 9 speakers/ ACROTEC 8Nines system played my classical music LP with good body and macro-dynamics, and a full soundstage. There isn’t much more to add other than I’m looking forward to listening to this cartridge again. Real soon! (Critical Mass’ Sotto Voce racks and Black Platinum amplifier stands on MXK spikes)
Andre Jennings, (The Absolute Sound)


Best Sounds Focal Grande Utopia EM and Stella Utopia EM speakers on the Peak/Mezzanine level of RMAF. These systems consisted of the DS Audio / Tri-Planer / Clearaudio / Aesthetix / Nordost / Critical Mass Systems, the Air Tight/Graham / Transrotor / Soulution / Tara Labs / Critical Mass Systems rooms.
Andre Jennings, (The Absolute Sound)

Best of Show (Cost no Object) Focal Utopias EM with Soulution electronics, Transrotor Orion/Graham Phantom Elite/Air Tight PC-1 Supreme, Critical Mass Systems and TARA Labs cabling produced big sound in a big room without strain.
Andre Jennings, (The Absolute Sound)

CES 2014

Best Sound (Cost no Object) “......the Focal Grand Utopia EM with full VAC Statement IQ electronics and Critical Mass Systems equipment rack. Effortless and seamless from top-to-bottom, this was, in my view, a Utopia that more than honored the name. ”
 Neil Gader (The Absolute Sound)

Best of Show“My first highlight came as far and away the biggest surprise of this show—in fact, maybe, of any show I’ve attended. I have heard the gigantic $190k Focal Grande Utopia EMs on several occasions, and unlike their stellar little brothers, the $90k Stella Utopia EMs, I’ve never liked them. To my ear, the Grandes have always sounded slow, stolid, and bass-heavy, with poor resolution and sluggish transient response. Of course, in your average-sized hotel room a seven-foot-tall, two-foot-wide, three-foot-deep, six-hundred-pound giant has a whole lot lined up against it from “go,” even if its parts do articulate to optimize “focus time” (whatever that means) and its sixteen-inch woofers are controlled by adjustable sixty-pound outboard electro-magnets. Here, driven by top-of-the-line VAC Statement electronics (including VAC’s marvelous, two-box, $70k Statement Phonostage) on Critical Mass Systems stands and platforms in a huge suite on the 35th floor of The Venetian, the Grande Utopia EM was one of the two or three best loudspeakers I’ve heard at a trade show. I’d have to hearken back to the Rockport Hyperions to summon up the memory of another dynamic-driver box-speaker that impressed me this much at CES. Whether it was The Doors or Keb’ Mo’ or Ravel, the Grande Utopia EMs driven by VAC were phenomenally realistic, with gorgeous timbre top to bottom, genuinely lifelike transient response, tremendous weight and impact from the bass through the power range, outstanding soundstaging, lifelike imaging, and superb resolution”
Jonathan Valin  (The Absolute Sound)

Top Twelve Sounds at CES and The Show: #1 - Focal Grande Utopia EM speakers/VAC/Trans Rotor/Critical Mass Systems “BEST of the BEST, Big speaker, biggggg sound! Focal's new, cost no object, $180K Grande Utopia EM speakers in combination with VAC's Statement iQ self biasing tube amplifiers and new VAC Statement line and phono stage, was arguably one of, if not the best, sound at the Winter show. The four way Utopias are rated at a very amplifier friendly 94 dB and features Focal's new 16-inch, self powered, electromagnetic woofer. Despite their size, the speaker absolutely disappeared—and at the same time produced a huge soundstage. On Alan Parson's I Robot, the system dissected and separated the densely produced recording absolutely effortlessly. Voices on works like Bach's Quodlibet occupied their own space in the back of the stage; at the same time, one truly felt like there were actually people standing and singing. And unlike many large speakers, small scale recordings were not bloated out of proportion to reality. Oh, and this was the only system that didn't in same way or another didn't veil or obscure Ella's voice on the "Desafinado" track from Ella Sings Jobim. ”
Myles Astor  (Positive Feedback)


Best of Show “In Blanca Peak, the four-driver (13” electro-magnetic woofer, twin 6.5” midrange, and beryllium tweeter), three-way $90k Focal Stella Utopia was paired (once again) with Soulution’s phenomenal 500 Series electronics and sourced by a Transrotor ’table with the Graham Phantom II Supreme ’arm and Airtight cartridge. The Focal/Soulution combo, which has won Best Sound of Show Awards numerous times, was (once again) stunning: big, full, solid, and gorgeous on full orchestra in Kije, though (like the Wilson Alexia) not as room-shaking on the explosive timp and bass drum strikes during “Kije’s Birth” as I’m used to hearing from these same Soulution electronics with the Walker Mk V phonograph, the Goldfinger Statement, and the Raidho C 4.1 in my (admittedly far more congenial and highly treated) listening room. Still and all, the Stella Utopia was my first Best of Show contender.”
Jonathan Valin  (The Absolute Sound)

Best of Show “BEST OF SHOW, One of the show’s best sounds was again the Focal Stella Utopia EM in the room of Denver retailer Apex Audio. But this year the Focals were driven by the new Soulution 701electronics, a significant upgrade over the 500-series they used at last year’s event. Equipment racks were the state-of-the-art Critical Mass Systems. This system did everything—transparency, soundstaging, timbral realism, and dynamics..”
Robert Harley  (The Absolute Sound)


Best of Show “Despite hearing a wide range of products that were entirely new to me, the show’s best sounds were produced by familiar companies that have created great-sounding rooms at recent shows. The Focal Stella Utopia driven by the new Soulution 700-series electronics with support from Critical Mass Systems isolation racks and amplifier stands was stunning in its transparency, bottom-end weight and clarity, and its high resolution without treble etch. This system (but with Soulution 500-series electronics) got my vote for best sound at last year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. ”
Robert Harley  (Apex Audio)

Best of Show “Incredible neutrality, transparency, speed, resolution, and (above all else) realism. A slam-dunk BOS contender at this (or any other show I’ve attended), and some of the most realistic (and powerful) electronics on the market. ”
Jonathan Valin  (Apex Audio)


Best of Show (Cost-No-Object) “However, I thought Focal showed even better with its $90k Stella Utopias, driven by Soulution 700 Series electronics and sourced by a Turbillon Grand II turntable with Air-Tight Supreme cartridge, all mounted on those fabulous Critical Mass stands. On the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto, the system made the best overall sound I heard at RMAF, with fantastic staging and wonderful timbre. There was just a little room-induced tubbiness in bass but the sound was superb, nonetheless. Another BOS contender.”
Jonathan Valin  (The Absolute Sound)

Best Sound (Cost-No-Object)  “Denver retailer Apex Audio produced the best sound at the show from Focal Stella Utopia EM loudspeakers driven alternately by top-of-the-line Soulution or Air Tight electronics, with both systems fronted by Transrotor turntables and sitting on Critical Mass Systems racks. The sound was extremely engaging and well balanced, even in a notoriously difficult room. This was the best I’ve heard the Stella Utopia sound.”
-Robert Harley  (The Absolute Sound)

Best Cost-No-Object Systems “Apex Audio – Focal, Graham Engineering, Running Springs Audio, TARA Labs, Soulution, Transrotor, Critical Mass Systems, Accuphase, Air Tight. … They had an Alison Krauss LP spinning which was sublimely sweet and airy. This should not be taken as faint praise since I often hear Alison’s voice with a nasal pinched quality. This was one case where the glorious excess of a megabuck system actually delivered the goods. Later in the day after official closing time, a number of folks were hanging out here. The system was cranked up full tilt and there was no sign of distress or tonal imbalance. Quite a feat and one of my best sounds of the show.”

“With seemingly unlimited dynamics and a broad, detailed stage, the system sounded august, sophisticated, refined, dignified, expensive. I remind myself that this stuff exists for good reasons: It appeals to (and satisfies) some in a very serious and meaningful way; allows some to dream, others to scoff; and may even pave the way for high-performance, affordable products through trickle-down engineering. “
-Stephen Mejas (Stereophile)

“Two unrelated moments stand out for me this year... The first occurred in the Apex Audio room on the upstairs mezzanine. Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings was DJ-ing analog aboard a Clearaudio table (Aesthetix electronics and Focal Maestro Utopia speakers). He placed an ancient Sheffield direct-to-disc LP of Harry James & His Big Band. Ka-Pow! The blast of brassy, percussive energy seemed to envelope the room in a way that made the system seem extraneous. Whether you were a lover of big band swing or not was no longer the question. We all just stood, gob smacked in amazement at the authenticity and scope of the presentation. Later I joked with TAS Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley about the experience saying, “this was equal to any master tape I’ve ever heard.” RH quickly answered, “Better than any master tape because there is no master tape.” Amen to that. “
-Neil Gader (The Absolute Sound)

“On the mezzanine, Musical Surroundings was showing Focal’s $50k Maestro Utopia three-and-a-half-way, four-driver floorstanders driven by Aesthetix electronics and sourced by a Clearaudio Master Innovation Wood ’table. The presentation was big, full, dark, and spacious, with excellent dynamics and nice resolution (although it was not the last word in detail on the Argenta Espana). Another very enjoyable exhibit.”
-Jonathan Valin (The Absolute Sound)



Munich High End 2012 Best of Show
“Focal’s $95k Stella Utopia EMs, driven wonderfully by Soulution’s outstanding new 500 Series electronics (seated, along with a Feickert Woodpecker turntable, on my refernce Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM stands), were extremely neutral and finely detailed, with superb bass extension, definition, and impact. They had lovely treble, too, and great staging. This was perhaps the most realistic sound I’d heard thus far at the show (only the second time I found occasion to use the “r” word). A definite BOS contender, with truly breathy, lifelike vocals. Marvelous!”
-Jonathan Valin (The Absolute Sound, Issue 225 p.52)



Best of Show
“... you were literally transported back to the venue and the time of the recorded event. Ambient information, imaging and staging cues, and the complex layering of compositions were effortlessly sorted out and presented with a coherence, articulation, and a voicing that utterly moved me emotionally.”
-Greg Weaver (Positive Feedback Online)

“... I went to this room three times for no reason other than the fact that it was one of the nicest sounding room at the CES. If not the best sounding, it is certainly ranked up there with the very best in my book.”
-Richard H. Mak (Dagogo)

“... world class reference system.”
-Pete Davey (Positive Feedback Online)

Best Sound (Cost-No-Object)
-Robert Harley (The Absolute Sound)

The music was vibrant, transparent and so natural you could see the performers in the room. Listening to the Nashville Bluegrass Band’s rendition of Roll Jordon Roll was definitely one of the highlights of the show for me. You could literally place each band member in their respective place and the fidelity was stunning. “
Gary Lea (Positive Feedback Online)



Best of Show
John Atkinson (Stereophile)



Best of Show
-Michael Fremer  (Stereophile)
-Ken Tarazska (Home Theater Review)
-Jim Saxon (Soundstage Network)

Best of Show
“This was one of the best systems I’ve heard at any show. It was also significantly better in every way compared to the sound in my previous room … This system transcended hi-fi”  
-Robert Harley(The Absolute Sound)

“... so beautiful that it brought me in tears.” Beautiful sonics of this caliber are why I am an audiophile.”
-Steven Stone (The Absolute Sound)

“It displayed appropriate scale, copious detail, wide bandwidth and, for lack of a better term, lifelike exuberance.”
-Marc Michelson (The Audio Beat)

“Everything I heard, including Peter McGrath’s beyond-superb live classical recordings, had life-sized images of lifelike density existing in the exact space in which they were recorded. It was fascinating and bewitching.”
-Paul Bolin  (The Audio Beat)

Best of Show Finalist
”This was a very good show for Critical Mass Systems.”
-Jonathan Valin (The Absolute Sound)

Standout Demos
-Sound Stage Network



Best of Show
-Paul Bolin (The Audio Beat)
-Robert Harley (The Absolute Sound)
-Marc Michelson (The Audio Beat)
-Alan Taffel (The Absolute Sound)

Show Stoppers
-Sound Stage Network

Best of the Best
-Myles B. Astor (Positive Feedback Online)



Best of Show
-Ray Seda (Dagogo)



Best of Show
-Marc Mickelson (The Audio Beat)
-Dick Olsher  (The Absolute Sound)

Top 10 Most Impressive Demonstrations at CES/T.H.E. Show
-Adam Goldfine  (Positive Feedback Online)

Most Intriguing Source and Most Svelte System
-Doug Schroeder (Dagogo)



Best of Show
-Jonathan Valin (The Audio Beat) - 630.640. 3814-