THE Show Newport Beach 2014 • TABlog
by Marc Mickelson | June 8, 2014
Covering an audio show is an act of dispassionate enthusiasm. On the one hand, you attempt to remain objective and focused on finding the most newsworthy products and systems at the show. On the other hand, “newsworthy” often boils down to personal preference — we photograph and write about the products that interest each of us. It’s folly to think that you can cover every inch of a show the size of the one in Newport Beach, even with three days to do it. And that adds another issue: the luck of finding the best needles in the audio-show haystack.
For this blog, I’ve put all of these considerations aside. Here, in no particular order (except for the last entry), are the best systems I heard in Newport Beach. That each includes products that I’ve written about very favorably in the past should come as no surprise. I’ve never been one to latch on to some brand-new and unknown speaker or amplifier just to make a name for it or myself. It’s also the case, at least by my ears, that presence and naturalness trump excitement and bombast every time, even though the latter are more ear-catching during a short demo. I therefore pick systems I could (and often do) listen to for the long haul, not what immediately, and fleetingly, catches my ear.
First up was the full-B.M.C. system assembled by US distributor Aaudio Imports. The interconnects, speaker cables and power products were from other manufacturers, but B.M.C. can supply the first two of these as well, the mind of Carlos Candeias, B.M.C.’s head, remaining perpetually fertile. B.M.C. electronics — Amp CS2 integrated ($8390), BDCD1.1 CD transport ($5990) and DAC PRE HR preamp/DAC ($6290) — fronted B.M.C. PureVox speakers ($6490/pair), Thales interconnects and speaker cables connecting everything, Stage III Concepts power cords and an HB Cable Designs power distributor providing the power.
The sound was detailed but not sterile, powerful yet easeful. The B.M.C. system proved that inspired design and careful execution can be achieved at prices that don’t rival the cost of a summer home. If you simply want a really good system without having to fret over every piece of it, this would be a perennial contender.
Nola’s Metro Grand Reference Gold speakers ($33,000/pair) were set up in a standard upper-floor room, but on the long wall, which meant a closer listening seat. Used with an Audio Research Reference 10 preamp ($30,000), Reference 75 amp ($9000) and Reference CD8 CD player ($9995 when still available), along with a full system of Nordost Odin cables, the Nola speakers delivered wide-open space and natural tonality in abundance. It was easy to become lost in the sound here.
Of interest in the Nola system was the Audio Research Reference 75 with KT150 output tubes, the swap from KT120s requiring no modifications to the amp. Audio Research is testing the KT150 right now, and the results are promising. Aside from any sonic considerations, the ‘150s increase power output by 15 percent and have a much longer operational life — a win-win situation.
As has been a constant at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Volti Audio and Border Patrol put together a system that was space-filling and blazingly dynamic. This was, in fact,
almost the same system demonstrated in Denver last year: Volti Vittora speakers augmented by a Volti ELF “subwoofer” ($25,000 system price) driven by a Marchand MB42 amp/crossover ($1900), BorderPatrol EXT1 preamp (top shelf, left, ranging in price from $9750 to $15,500 depending on the power supply), BorderPatrol S10 amp (front three chassis) with EXS power supplies ($25,750), BorderPatrol DAC2 (middle left, $9750), which does no oversampling or filtering, TentLabs kit CD transport, and Triode Wire Labs interconnects, speaker cables and power cords.
Finally comes my pick for THE Show Newport Beach’s best sound, and frankly it wasn’t close — or perhaps a surprise to readers of The Audio Beat. As he did last year, Brian Berdan of Southern California dealer Audio Element not only assembled a system of well-known products but expertly set it up, achieving sound that, despite the dreaded “show conditions,” would honor a great many dedicated listening rooms. The clarity and dynamic expression of this system were immediately apparent, but it was the sense of space — especially the incredible depth — that elevated it into legendary status, at least for me and two other listeners who were in the room when I was there and couldn’t stop complimenting the sound.
The combination of speakers and amplifiers might seem odd, given the price (and weight) disparity, but once again the VTL Siegfried II amps ($65,000/pair) proved that they can bring out the best in any speaker, in this case the new Wilson Audio Sasha Series 2 ($29,950/pair). The preamp was VTL’s TL-7.5 III ($25,000), used along with a TP-6.5 Signature II phono stage ($12,000). A Grand Prix Audio Monaco 1.5 turntable ($23,500) with Tri-Planar SE tonearm ($7500) and Lyra Etna cartridge ($6995) handled analog. Digital was from another constant “best of” product: the dCS Vivaldi stack, comprising transport ($39,999), DAC ($34,999), upsampler ($19,999) and clock ($13,499). All electronics were supported on Grand Prix Audio racks or platforms. Cabling was Transparent Opus MM and Reference.