Showing Up at a Car Show with a Listening Room
Visitors to the 2008 International Auto Show, currently taking place at NYC's Jacob Javits Convention Center, might discover something different at the Bentley display: a high-end audio listening room. Bentley Motors and Naim have teamed up for the "Naim For Bentley" program, which will be offered as a sound package upgrade for all Bentley models by year's end.
"Bentley wanted to demonstrate the value of a real audio system to its customers," Naim's managing director Paul Stephenson told me. "So we suggested that we set up a real Naim system and allow people to hear what it is we do. At first, they said No, you can't do that in a car show, but then they became wildly enthusiastic about it. They built two dedicated rooms, which will make the rounds of the international car shows."
Stephenson led me into the largish room—it seemed about 12' by 25'—and closed the door. The off-white walls, the indirect lighting, salmon-colored carpet, and leather Barcelona chairs exuded an understated elegance. Along the long wall, a complete Naim system was on display (CD555, NAC552, and NAP500—each with its matching power supply). Nestled against the short wall was a pair of Naim SL2s.
I sunk into a Barcelona chair and let Stephenson do a quick demo. There was detail, loads of timbre, and an effortless sense of power. And that was on a recording of voice and piano! "We audiophiles are used to sound like this," Stephenson noted, "but a lot of people aren't. Time after time, we get the reaction I didn't know my CDs could sound like this!"
It's true. I saw it myself. Two Bentley salesmen came in on Press day and asked if they could listen. I gave up the sweet spot and Stephenson cued a disc. The salesmen fell quiet. They listened intently and finally examined the electronics. When the song ended, one pointed at a Supercap power supply. "Are all those amplifiers?"
"No Stephenson said. "We're listening to two-channel stereo. Those are power supplies. You'd be amazed at how much difference a well-regulated, quiet power supply can make."
"Power is adequate," deadpanned the salesman, quoting an old Rolls-Royce tagline.
Perhaps high-end audio and luxury motoring aren't worlds apart after all.