Red Rose's Burwen Bobcat

As I walked through the corridors of HE2005, I kept hearing audiophiles asking one another, "Have you heard Mark Levinson's demo yet?" Yes, that was Mark Levinson, the man, and the Burwen Bobcat was possibly the most discussed item at the Show.

"One of the problems I had as a high-end manufacturer," Mr. Levinson told me, "was that, with the exception of records and a few well-recorded SACDs, most music people listen to sounds bad. Part of the problem is obviously low-resolution sources, such as 128kbps MP3s, but it's a bigger problem than that. It has to do with the recording spaces, the recording chain, a lot of the equipment used in the mixing process.... It's not just a digital problem."

Enter engineer Richard Burwen with a solution. Dick Burwen is an extremely well-respected audio engineer, an almost revered designer who developed the TNE7000 and DNF1201, audio processors that were years, if not decades, ahead of their closest competition. Levinson explained that Burwen had developed a powerful digital editing suite that Levinson recognized as potentially offering audiophiles a solution to the compromised sources he sees growing in popularity. Levinson's company, Red Rose, is offering a product it calls the Burwen Bobcat, a combination of a Windows Media Player 10 software plug-in and a USB DAC, that retails for $1500.

In his demonstration of the Burwen Bobcat at HE2005, Levinson played three 128kbps MP3 files through a system that consisted of a laptop running the Burwen software, the USB DAC, and what appeared to be Red Rose's entry-level integrated amplifier and two-way loudspeakers. I wasn't overwhelmed by the sound and suspected that we were being played the "before" tracks that would later be followed by an "aha moment" when the Bobcat wrought its magic. This was apparently not the case, nor were A/B comparisons between 128kbps files and Bobcat reconstructions offered at the Show.

I asked Levinson, "What does it do?" He steadfastly refused to say, telling me I could read the patent application when it was published in three years' time—if then. I pressed harder, "Without giving away trade secrets, what does it do?" Again, other than "The answer is fixing the problem at its root," no answers were forthcoming. I left unsatisfied.

Mark Levinson did call later and offered to set up an interview with Dick Burwen that would explain everything—only not for attribution, since he is concerned about the predatory nature of the computer software field. He does not wish Burwen's technology to be pirated. I explained that the whole point of talking to the working press is that the conversation is on the record, and he offered this description: "Without actually altering the sound—I mean negatively—[the Bobcat] combines EQ and reverb in a very special way that requires Pentium processing power because [the software] is very heavy code. What it does is essentially inaudible except it removes the 'digital' sound."

So there you have it. I understand Michael Fremer has had the Bobcat under consideration, and I look forward to reading Mikey's reactions.