Guest Article by Steve C
I spent time on Sunday listening to the 3 or 4 rooms that I had singled out from Saturday’s recon. I wanted to hear four speakers, but only got good time in the sweet spot and under good conditions for two of the four.
After reading Harry Pearson’s review praising the Reference 3A Grand Veena speakers, I spent 90 minutes – almost all of it in the sweet spot – listening to these, as I am very interested in something so highly praised AND which I might possibly actually someday afford. They did not disappoint; I loved them. They were shown with a front end and pre-amp of which I had never heard, though I do not think they are cutting edge or state of the art, and on Sunday, Arion Audio 500 watt digital monoblocks, which were part of what I though was a great sound. I was listening to Diane Krall, and other female vocalists, and jazz trios.
I could not get good quality time in either the Hansen room or the Focal room. People talking or laughing, or no seats, or bad source material.
Though I thought that I wanted the Benchmark DAC, the system was one being used in was unimpressive in the time I was listening, (and there has been almost a retraction of the very amazing initial review in TAS). I heard one, the Hegel HD-10, for less ($ 1,200) in an all Hegel system (with Dali Mentor speakers). This system sounded SO good that I figure if the DAC is the worst / weakest link, it is still way good enough. According to the rep, Hegel is just entering the American market.
But, the highlight for me, and best sound I heard at the show, and the best sound I have EVER heard…
…is the new mbl model 111. Here, demonstrated in a system fed by the mbl CD transport, mbl DAC, mbl preamp, and mbl monoblock power amps – 880 watts, “at this load” per side. The rep was using cd’s, alternating with an Apple G5 computer used as music server. Actually, there were computers used as servers in almost EVERY system at the show. Some also used cd, and fewer also spun vinyl, but everyone had computers. And some show attendees brought music they wanted to hear on portable hard drives! Some were also asking to copy one-of-a-kind demo material onto their drives.
I don’t know where everyone was Sunday – they were at the show in great numbers – but they were not where I was. It was ideal. I had more than 90 minutes in the best chair in the mbl room. Occasionally, others would come in, and if they sat, I would offer up the best seat in Denver. Most declined, and a few took it, but it was only a few minutes before I could once again have it.
I cannot wrap my head around the fact that there are TWO speakers above this one in the mbl line, especially when this one is SO good.
According to the rep, all midrange and high frequency drivers – the pulsing spheres – are identical throughout the mbl line. At the bass end of the spectrum, this new 111 speaker is flat down to 20 hz, according to the rep. I do not doubt him.
I can tell you that I was listening to a pop singer with acoustic guitar from a recording made in an LA FM radio station studio. While listening with my eyes shut, I heard someone else in the room start singing, and in one of those “sounds-too-much-like-bullshit-to-really-have-happened” moments, I opened my eyes to see who was rude enough to do this, and – say it with me – it was the backing vocalist from the recording. The reproduced voice was indistinguishable from a live person directly in front of me, which was my immediate assumption.
My hand to God, I was fooled.
The show was to end at 4 on Sunday, and at 3, the gloves came off. The rep said “the other manufacturers always complain about the mbl display, but you have to have some fun, right? Besides we are the only ones who CAN do this.” He brought the volume. The pre amp display said 65 out of 100. It was perhaps louder than I have ever heard music, but FAR more clean. The bass just never stopped coming – there didn’t seem to be any limits to anything. Yet, the high hat was just as it had been at volume 30; no detail was lost whatsoever.
Kick drums threatened to blow out windows. It was louder than I had ever heard music, WAY louder than most anyone would ever listen, yet, bad-auto-accident compelling – just as you know you should look away, you cannot; here, it was probably not good for one’s hearing to subject your ears to sounds at this level, but I could not leave.
He played more or less two minutes of many things, during this end of show binge. Led Zeppelin (from II or III, I am not that familiar with this stuff, but it was a I – I V – V that I have heard many times) was in there, and while it was certainly not among the best of recordings, it was still amazing. There is so much detail revealed with this system, you can tell when the singer last showered.
Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” was the closer. Evidently, word has gotten around and it has become notorious from the previous shows, and is the crowd pleaser (the huge volume brought people streaming in). Staggering, amazing. To my ears, this system isn’t just better than anything else I have heard, it is also different than everything else. The more I listened to this system and these speakers, the more I wanted to listen. Instead of slowly becoming accustomed to the quality, they become better and better, for as long as I was lucky enough to hear them.
They are like music, only better. God’s loudspeakers.