Kyomi Audio Goes Extreme with MBL!!!

I'm not one for abusing punctuation, as in ending every sentence of a press release with an exclamation point. (It happens more frequently than you may wish to know.) But when MBL named its top-of-the-line loudspeakers X-treme ($398,000/pair), they weren't kidding. These speakers are as huge as they are imposing.

Nor were the speakers the only extreme element of a system auditioned after hours at Chicago-area retailer Kyomi Audio. Two MBL 9011 mono amplifiers ($128,200/pair), two more MBL 9008 mono amplifiers ($70,200/pair), an MBL 6010D preamplifier ($32,400), Zanden 1200 Signature phono tube equalizer ($29,500), Ideon Audio Absolute DAC-Epsilon ($47,000) and Absolute Time Reclocker ($10,000), Vertere Reference Groove turntable($33,495) with Vertere New Gen tonearm ($59,995) and Vertere Mystic MC cartridge ($3495), and a good $100,000 worth of Stealth cabling made this was one of the more expensive systems I heard during my time in Chicago.

It took a while to get things going. Multiple attempts to play files back from an Audirvana-equipped computer using special DSP failed until, in a last-ditch save-all effort, a USB to S/PDIF converter and cable (cables) of unknown provenance were called into play. Hi-rez files sounded quite good, but 16/44.1 sounded far flatter than I would expect from MBL, a company known for its breathtakingly spacious, three-dimension presentations.

Thankfully, I asked for LP. When Kyomi's George Vatchnadze showed me his collection, I enthused over a recording of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert's Schwanengesang with Gerald Moore on piano. It was the first stereo version, from the early 1960s when DF-D was in his early 30s.

I immediately picked one of my favorite late Schubert songs, "Die Taubenpost" (The Carrier Pigeon.) The presentation was mesmerizing. Breathtaking, really. Voice and piano were set way back in space, and tonalities were gorgeous.

Even more significant to this lieder lover, the music-making was on the highest level. Fischer-Dieskau often overthought his interpretations, changing emphasis and tone so many times during a phrase that he drew more attention to himself than to the music. But here, his interpretation seemed alive to the moment, fresh, and virtually spontaneous. As the recording played, I felt I had been invited on the most wonderful Easter egg hunt ever staged. "What is he going to do here? Wow, listen to how beautiful his voice sounds. Oh my gosh, listen to what he's doing with that." Such was my internal dialog as every word and phrase seemed more wondrous than the one before. I'm sure my mouth was agape and my eyes wide as the recording played. Only one of the finest sound systems on Planet Earth can present vocal artistry on this level.

After the session, George Vatchnadze told me that two of the secrets to the system's success with LP was that the Zanden 1200 Signature phono tube equalizer has a special EQ curve for EMI LPs of a certain vintage. George also learned from Zanden that those same LPs were often recorded in negative polarity and required phase reversal to sound as intended. Based on what I heard, the assets of both device and advice were vindicated.

Anton's picture

Very cool of him to have taken the time to elucidate some factors that could add to the experience like that!!!

Somewhere out there has to be a secret MBL prototype ribbon woofer.

It probably looks like that portal in "Stranger Things" or the device in that series "Dark.".

Great report on the sound, I was drawn in. Now, if Mega Millions would only go my way.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

When you win the Mega Millions jackpot, as you go Extreme, I only ask for enough to enable us to enlarge the music room. You'll hardly notice it. And here's a pledge. In the next year, if I win either Mega Millions or the perpetually available Special Olympics Dream House that anyone in their right mind who cannot pay the property taxes would ever accept instead of cash, you'll be receiving a gift in the mail. Hint: It will not be a property tax bill.

Anton's picture

I will build you the Serinus Mahal of listening rooms!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

a check and a visit. You can save your hands to type more comments.

johnnythunder1's picture

So beautiful. Now I will have to seek out a vinyl version. Of course my humble system won't be at the level of what you just experienced but the beauty of that performance will still be there. I always appreciate and learn from your musical selections and observations.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

For your streaming pleasure:

Gerhard Hüsch, Nazi he may have been, but he was also an extremely deep musical thinker with a gorgeous voice. His interpretation is unique. Search under his name and you'll find it. The ideal voice for Papageno, which he recorded with Beecham.

I'd also check out Mark Padmore (still singing)—he has recorded it twice, with the Uchida version very recent—the ever-fascinating Brigitte Fassbaender and Nathalie Stutzmann, and Matthias Goerne with Alfred Brendel. Goerne wasn't happy with this partnership and made an equally vital recording with Eschenbach, but the singing and feeling on both are so wonderful. Compare the tempi embraced by Goerne with Brendel and Christoph Pregardien with Michael Gees and you'll have a field day.

Other great "modern" singers who recorded it and specialize in lieder: Florian Boesch, Roderick Williams, Thomas Quasthoff, Wolfgang Holzmair, and Christian Gerhaher. I expect that Elly Ameling recorded it, but I can't find it online. Bass-baritone Hans Hotter is in a class by himself, but this wasn't the best song for him to tackle.

johnnythunder1's picture

I didn't know that it was Schubert's final song. And oh, that final stanza! It brought a tear...Now I know why you like that song - it's very JVS.

JRT's picture

My understanding is that, in that system, there should be a stereo pair of six foot tall subwoofers mated with the six foot tall floor-standing satellite monitors. Each subwoofer has six twelve inch woofers, a dozen twelve inch woofers in total.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

We left ours in Port Townsend.

I know - the fiery flames of hell are licking at my heels. But the other answer is, I don't know. I'll see if I can find out.


Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The photo doesn't show them well at all, but the subs are "strategically" placed behind the towers and included in the price. The middle woofers in the towers are powered internally by MBL's $41,600 N15 Noble Line mono blocks—again, part of the package.

Sorry, but this wasn't explained on the post-event price email I received, and there was no equipment list because this was an off-site private event. I'd already covered eight hours of the show, and was a bit too worn to remember that I saw them in the room. Color me human.

JRT's picture

I just didn't see the two six foot tall subwoofers (kennels?) in the picture.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

No one can be more critical of my efforts than myself. And, hey, I didn't see them either in the photo. they are hidden, in part, because I intentionally was not using flash to avoid reflections on shiny black components.

Glotz's picture

I am sure this room was an absolute treat! I was nicely impressed with MBL's own showing, but this looks incredible! Nothing like a great Omni!

hiendmmoe's picture

After spending countless hours listening to a full reference system made up of all MBL equipment and the supposedly best cables money buy I never felt a connection to the music. Though it had all the accolades MBL is known for; I found it to sound boring and un-involving every time I listened to it.