It’s not like I’m all old and jaded, but, well, it’s not common that a room at an audio show surprises me, but the Blackbird Audio suite at Newport did just that.
I heard about Heed Audio a little while back, when I was looking into “affordable” desktop-friendly integrated amplifiers, but the acquaintance was largely in passing. Walking in here was something of an eye-opener — Heed is doing a lot of different stuff. And here it all was …. ha ha!
For example, I was completely oblivious to the fact that Heed makes some very fine-sounding, compact and — relatively speaking, affordable — speakers. Not sure how I missed it as it’s right there on their home page, but then … yeah. Okay, I got nothing. Moving on.
The name of these little $3,500 speakers is “Enigma”, a name probably not referring to its rather empty details page, but that is a bit ironic. I heard the Enigmas described as an “omni”, and it did have some very interesting dispersion — the sound field didn’t really change much as I stood or sat, and I was still able to get stable L/R info even when I moved side-to-side … but … I still wouldn’t call them an omni. Not in the same way that Duevel or MBL are, anyway.
They actually remind me more than a little of the Helsinki speakers from Gradient, with their angled baffles and the total lack of ground-plane interactions and colorations. With those up-tilting drivers, the Enigma must be getting some of the same benefits, because what I heard, off of my now-lost but much-beloved Chris Jones Roadhouses & Automobiles CD was a surprising amount of low/mid-bass energy, a room-filling sound stage, and pulled a level of detail that, at least here at Newport, elsewhere required a much more expensive speaker with much more expensive/exotic — read: “ceramic” — drivers.
My main complaint isn’t one, really, but I feel obliged to note that that cabinet shape will keep your significant other from draping tschotchkes all over it. Be warned.
Heed had a suite of electronics feeding their Enigmas, too. The $1,900 Obelisk Preamplifier, shown here with it’s optional $1,400 PX outboard PSU, was wired into a pair of $4,200 Obelisk PM monoblock amplifiers. Some pretty impressive power outputs for half-width devices
|Power (8Ω, 1kHz, < 0.1% THD):||70W|
|Power (4Ω, 1kHz, < 0.1% THD):||120W|
|Power (1Ω, 1kHz, < 0.1% THD):||200W|
Two paths fed the signals down the chain. Digital first: this came from a CD transport/DAC pair. The $1,900 Obelisk DT is a CD transport with Toslink or RCA S/PDIF for outputs and support for CD/CD-R/CD-RW. The $1,900 Obelisk DA is a 24bit/192kHz DAC that has 5 digital inputs — 2 Toslink, 1 BNC S/PDIF, 1 RCA S/PDIF and USB. The latest version of this DAC also support 24bit/192kHz over USB (Class 2 Audio).
On the analog side of the house, the Blackbird team had set up a pretty schwanky turntuable from Funk — a $1,695 Vector III, here fitted out with a $2,395 FX-R tonearm. I hate to use the term “bargain” for a $4k solution, but hey, this is the high end — and this solution is on the low end of that, so, yeah.
A surprise for me was the $2,450 Transfiguration Axia. There is a brand new version on the way for this cartridge (so this is post- Stereophile review in May of 2011) and it’s upmarket sibling, the Phoenix. From the round-eyes and raised eyebrows, this upgrade is significant. All Transfiguration cartridges are “yokeless“, a rather clever variation on a cartridge design, as a way to improve timing and focus. On the new stuff, here’s Bob Clarke, the US distributor for Transfiguration:
Primarily, they are using a new wire we were able to source here in the US, which is slightly thicker, so that they can use fewer windings, reduce internal resistance and still maintain output … The newer [Axia] will have a bit more openness and a bit more resolution (in a musically relevant way…not in a “detail” way). The Phoenix revision was more extensive, employing the core/coil-former and damper from the Orpheus L, as well as the new silver wire. The performance increases there were simply jaw dropping, actually exceeding the Orpheus L in many respects — something I did not expect. It is now one of the truly premier cartridges in the world at a price that is less than half of anything that could even be considered close.
As a result of the these upgrades, the top of the line Orpheus has been retired.
Heed Audio phono preamps, naturally, wired the ‘table back into the rack — in this case, we had a $1,200 Quasar phono preamplifier, with an outboard PSU.
Here is the last confirmed sighting of my much ballyhooed (by me) Chris Jones CD, Roadhouses and Automobiles. I gave up trying to recover this (whoever swiped it, I hope you like it!) and just reordered the damn thing — direct from Stockfisch in Germany. Ouch.
Heed Audio also had a small can-amp display off to the side. For many, this is how they (most likely) heard of Heed Audio in the first place. A $1,200 Canalot headamp was on offer here, and this was particularly eye-catching to me as the pairing is supposed to be quite good with my pain-in-the-ass AKG K-701 headphones (I somehow missed how bloody particular these headphones are in the Stereophile “Recommended Components” write up).
I asked Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird about headphones he had on display.
Both were from the German headphone company Ultrasone. I started carrying them about 4 years ago, when there was a huge run on the Heed Audio CanAmp headphone amplifiers. I suddenly what “thrown” into the headphone market (happily) and found a link online with a photo of Zsolt Huszti (Alpar’s brother and Heed’s head designer) wearing a set of Ultrasones at a show. I figured I was on to something and turned out I was. They are really very remarkable headphones.
When Alpar saw the Edition 8’s that I set out while setting up our room at the show, he mentioned that they are among the most popular models in Germany right now.
I think one set was up top of the display and may have been the Ultrasone PRO900’s while the all “Chrome” looking ones (actually Ruthenium) are the Edition 8’s. Both were plugged in to the Heed Audio Canalot.
All the cabling in this room came from the Clear lineup of cables from Cardas. End to end, from USB, to interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords — all Clear.
A word about the lovely Trenner & Friedl speakers that sat forlornly at the rear of the room. I still have yet to actually hear what they sound like! Alas and alack, they were not in play on Sunday, the day I finally stumbled into the Blackbird Audio room. Boo. Ah, well, next time. Hopefully Dan will have a room at RMAF this year and I can rectify this unimaginably horrible personal failing.