Crazy for BAT and Friends
My drop-dead favorite sound of the showI hesitate to call it "Best of Show," since I heard nothing on the ground and 9th floors, and only half the rooms on the 8thfilled the large corner room on the 7th floor co-sponsored by Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) and Music Direct. There, on the physical level, I encountered, as sources, an Esoteric K-05 SACD/CD player & Reference DAC ($8299) and Avid Acutus Reference SP turntable ($25,000) with Avid Pulsare II phono stage ($7000). Both fed a top-of-the-line BAT REX II preamplifier ($25,000) and BAT REX II monoblock amplifiers ($40,000/pair), which sang through Focal Scala Utopia loudspeakers ($30,000/pair). The component list, handwritten in my notepad by BAT's Geoff Poor, also includes Shunyata Triton and Typhon power ($10,000), but I don't see them listed on their website.
The first time I visited the room, Music Direct's Josh Bizar was playing a Van Morrison LP. The sound was brilliant, glistening, and full of life, with open and extended highs, solid and tuneful bass, and a fleshed out midrange. Instruments not only possessed the inner illumination I hear when I listen to the San Francisco Symphony from a prime orchestra seat, but also the naturalness of timbre. As alive as the sound was, nothing was piercing. Just superb.
I don't recall if was Josh who playing Tom Petty's "Refugee"it probably wasbut I was so enthused by its sound that I returned on Saturday morning, before the huge throng ascended the elevators. This time, Geoff told me this latest iteration of BAT's reference amp has two 6H30s as current sources for the driver stage, a beefed-up power supply, and has managed to eliminate all fuses from the signal path. Translation: cleaner, clearer, and better-controlled sound. The single-ended tube preamp has transformer-coupled outputs that enable it to drive very low impedances, and has done away with noise-inducing signal capacitors.
To translate that into sound, Geoff played a CD of my choice, the great Beverly Sills' incomparable performance of Richard Strauss' heavenly love song, "Breit' über mein haupt" (Spread over my head your black hair). I've heard this song through multiple iterations of my home system, but never have I heard it in such a revealing light. The system not only captured Sills' enticing mixture of otherworldly radiance and earthbound pain, but made the three-minute song into a sacred experience. Though I wish Geoff had simply let me be rather than launching into sales mode as soon as the music ended, the glow of the experience that he helped create remains with me. Brava Bubbles (Sills' nickname), wherever you may be, and bravo BAT, AVID, Focal, and Shunyata.