Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, the record-store clerk-turned-internationally known DJ-turned-analog impresario, has set out to change the way we listen, one roomful at a time; based on my experiences at NYAS 2013, she is bound to succeed. I had heard that Ms. Murphy is as sound- and music-savvy as she is lovely, and I can only say those observations don’t do her justice. “Today, music is treated almost as aural wallpaper, as a cheap commodity,” Murphy bemoaned in her opening remarks before spinning the Japanese vinyl version of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory on a truly grand system, including a Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with Centroid tonearm and a Lyra Atlas cartridge; a VTL TP 6.5 phono preamp (with integral step-up transformer); VTL’s TL 7.5 line-level preamp and Siegfried monoblock amps; Wilson Audio MAXX 3 loudspeakers and Opus series cabling from Transparent. (When I visited the Classic Album Sundays room, early on the show’s first day, exact pricing details weren’t yet available; suffice it to say, everything was rather expensive.)
Beethoven understood the pathos of the gap between idea and realization, and the sense of strain put on the listener's imagination is essential.Charles Rosen
Bass, like sex, is something most young men desire in excess: To the novice, quantity trumps quality, and as long as he can hear from his playback system the deepest sounds of an orchestral bass drum or five-string electric bass (low string tuned to B-0 or C-1), he is completely satisfied.
The challenge is biblical in character, if not in scope: A half year after railing, in these pages, against our industry's overabundance of products that cost more than $20,000, fate has given me such a thing to review.
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.
Glimpsed at SSI's Canadian Pavilion (see earlier stories): The 88dB, 6 ohm Dulcet loudspeaker ($1695/pair) from Reference 3A, a brand that began life in Europe, moved to Canada, and always specialized in SET-friendly speakers.
Like a Studebaker Avantior perhaps even the Concordethe shape of an Elipson loudspeaker from 60 years ago is jarring, albeit impressively so, in its anacronicity: The French design and manufacturing firm has been ahead of the curve for that long. At SSI they had a number of fetching designs on static display, including the Planet L seen here, a two-way coaxial design that's now manufactured in China. For 2013 a pair of Planet Ls can be bundled with a similarly stylish (round, of course) amplifier/CD player for $2500, with stands adding another $300.
At SSI I had the opportunity to hear the slightly more comfortable cousin of the Definitive StudioMonitor 45 loudspeaker that recently impressed Stephen Mejias: the same company's StudioMonitor 65 ($1000/pair). Partnered with a 150Wpc Acurus 2002 integrated amplifier and Bel Canto CD player, the 65s were exceptionally well balanced and pleasantly explicit on Diana Krall's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." I added it, on the spot, to my cumulative mental list of good-quality affordable loudspeakers.
Bluebird Music, the North American distributor for Chord electronics (and other lines), along with Totem Acoustics and the Montreal retailer Audioville, put together this superbly clear and punchy yet unfailingly smooth system: a Chord Red Reference Mk.III CD player ($25,000), Chord CPA 5000 preamp ($20,000), Chord SPM 5000 Mk.II amplifier ($25,000), and Totem Element Metal loudspeakers ($13,000/pair). Neil Young's "Look Out for My Love," a song I've only recently come to appreciate (its mildly goofy arrangement put me off for the longest time), sounded especially greatno more so than during the entrance of the backing singers, when the sound of this Chord-anchored system seemed to double. Also in this system but not auditioned during my visit was the brand new Chord Music Streamer ($13,000), a CAT 5-happy player with BNC digital inputs that also contains the full Chord QBD76 D/A processor.
Recalling my very positive experience with the same company's AS-400 digital playback source/integrated amplifier, I found myelf attracted to the Micromega MyDAC ($399), a recently introduced asynchronous USB converter offering 24/192 performance and a color choice of black or, as seen above, Apple white.