MBL finished the job that Oracle Audio began with Anne Bisson (below): They spoiled me not only with live music, but with music by a world-class cellist, Montreal's Vincent Bélanger. Jeremy Bryan, the CEO of MBL North America, took the added step of inviting Bélanger to come by early and record, on ¼" analog tape (15 ips), extra cello parts for various pieces in his repertoire; thus when M. Bélanger set about to perform for a handful of fortunate show attendees, he did so alongside his recorded self, the latter portrayed with what can only be described as surprising realismdynamically, timbrally, and spatiallyby MBL's largest hybrid loudspeaker, the MBL 111 ($42,000/pair), which uses, from 600Hz and up, the same driver complement as even their most expensive loudspeakers.
Meredith Gabor shows off a Qv2 “harmonizer,” manufactured in Massachusetts by QRT and distributed by Nordost. The Qv2, which contains both passive and active components, is meant to be plugged into an available AC socket in the user’s listening room, as (electrically) close as possible to the system itself, and is claimed to effectively “clean up” the soundstage and improve detail and resolution. Qv2s, the effects of which are said to be cumulative, sell for $350 each.
Another Coup de Foudre room offered a system built around the curiously named but thoroughly engaging Twenty 23 loudspeakers ($4389/pair) from PMCwhich, I’m told, stands for professional monitor company. The amplifier in use was the less inscrutably named Integrated Amplifier from Brinkmann ($7499), while the source was the Unico CD Primo CD player ($1900). On a vocal number by Andrea Bocelli, percussion instruments sounded a bit compressedthat might be the fault of the recording, for all I knowbut I heard a great deal of realistic texture and color from this detailed but not at all light-sounding system.
John Atkinson is a road warrior: When he attended the DC area’s Capital Audiofest in July of last year, he drove there in his vintage Mercedes-Benz coupe, all the way from his home in Brooklyn. He did the same in 2011, too.
Because I regard night driving with the same revulsion that Dothraki horsemen reserve for travel by sea, and because any round trip between upstate New York and our nation’s capital is bound to include at least some driving after dark, I took the train.
My first reaction to the Prima Luna Prologue One was based solely on looks: For $1095, I might not have been disappointed had it sounded no better than a Bose Wave Radio. Its casework straddles the breach between vintage and modern in a way that little else does, at any price. The dark gray-blue finish, hand-rubbed to a tactile gloss, wouldn't look out of place on an Alfa GTV (the new one, which resembles a drop of oil). And for the first time in my experience, a high-end audio manufacturer has figured out a way to make a protective tube cage easy to remove and replace: with banana plugs and sockets. Why couldn't one of the high-price American brands have figured that out?
The road to hell is paved with good inventions: clever ideas that appear, in hindsight, motivated more by a desire to sell clever ideas than to make musically superior products.
The DiaLogue tube amplifiers from PrimaLuna have, at their heart, a clever idea of their own: an output circuit that is user-switchable between triode operation, in which the screen grid of a tetrode or pentode power tube is defeated by means of connection to the tube's anode; and Ultralinear operation, in which the screen grid of a tetrode or pentode carries a portion of the AC music signal, supplied by a tap on the output-transformer primary, in a feedback-like effort to reduce distortion and increase power. Fans of the former often report a sweeter, more tubey sound, while fans of the latter report a tighter, more detailed, more timbrally neutral sound. Audio enthusiasts are given to reporting any number of things.
At what point does a domestic audio product cease to be an appliance and assume a loftier place in one's home and heart?
We all can agree that a Bose Wave CD player sits at one end of that continuum, a Koetsu Jade Platinum phono cartridge at the otherbut what of all the products in between? Scarcity, mode of manufacture, appearance, even sentimentality ("This is just like the one my father used to have!")each plays a role, but there's no doubt that price tops the list: The more we pay, the more we love (footnote 1).
Among the smaller systems I heard at NYAS, this nears the top of my list: the Resonessence Labs Invicta D/A converter ($3990), driving the Music First Audio Baby Reference preamplifier ($6990; see Sam Tellig’s rave in the October 2012 issue), the Wells Audio Innamorata power amp ($6000), and most recognizably, Audio Space’s BBC-approved version of the classic (imagine that word in gold leaf) LS-3/5a monitor (only $1790/pair) and SW-1a woofer towers ($1190), with cable by Audience. This setup had exceptional drive and impact: qualities I associate with good transformers, of which the passive Music First preamp has an abundance.
Upon visiting the room of Colleen Cardas Imports, I was impressed by yet another small loudspeaker: the Signature version of the model 1920 mini-monitor ($3450/pair) from British firm MAD (for My Audio Design). The 1920 is described as designer Timothy Jung's take on the classic BBC LS-3/5a theme, and while it didn't sound precisely like that hallowed box, it was pleasing in much the same way when driven by the 65 WpcClass-A Monoblock Reference power amps ($15,500/pair) and Control Preamplifier ($9500) from Pure Audio, a company founded by the previous principals of Plinius. Source components were the Platinum Data CD IV disc transport ($3995) and The Analog D/A converter ($6995) from MSB Technology, while cabling and power-distribution products were by Furutech.