Newport 2012: Marten, ModWright, Stillpoints, Dynamic Design

Things that go together:

  • Peanut butter and jelly.
  • Bread and butter.
  • Beans and toast.

Natural matches! Okay, well, everything except that last one — the English are just weird.

Things that don’t match:

  • Solid state and Lowther drivers
  • Solid state and ceramic drivers
  • deadmau5 and conference calls

Yeah, well, personally I think that last one beats the hell out of yet another run-through of “the numbers”, but I’m guessing my boss wouldn’t be nearly as amused as I am.

Anyway, it’s that middle one I want to talk to for a second. Ceramic drivers, and Accuton specifically, are not known for being forgiving. They’re transparent, fast and detailed — the received wisdom is that if you pair them poorly what you’ll get — at best — is cold, emotionless sound that many audiophiles wouldn’t label as “music” regardless of how the high quality of the original source material.

I think this another bit of bunk that has outlived it’s time, but I’m not sure that ModWright is the brand to prove the rule, or it’s exception. Why? Well, honestly, ModWright is hardly representative of “solid state sound”.

Come to think of it, I’m not actually that familiar with the ModWright “house sound”. That is, I’ve heard them at countless shows (okay, okay, it’s hardly “countless” but rather, “I’m not bothering to count” — let’s just move on), but I still don’t have much to say about the sound, other than assigning a relevant superlative. The rooms where ModWright is showing sound good. Some sound very good. But what’s consistent is that what I’m listening to is not the amps. And in many cases, it’s not the speakers either. It’s the music. That’s good, right? Yeah, I think so to. More specifically, if the music is full, the sound is full. If the music is clear and piercingly sweet, the sound is too. If the bass is cavernous, well, we find out how much that speaker can do because it’s not the amps that are holding them back. So, to that end, I really like finding ModWright in show rooms, because, in my experience, they get out of the way. And honestly, what can you say about an amp that’s better than that?

But that didn’t mean I didn’t cringe when I walked into the Marten/ModWright room. I’m as susceptible to preconceptions as anyone and the mere thought of Accutons driven by solid state electronics — even very good or totally transparent ones — gave me more than a little pause. I mean, this could go really badly. Or so I was thinking.

I’m an idiot.

This was perhaps my favorite room at Newport for a couple of reasons. The first, and most obvious, is the clarity and tone. The sound was so open and wickedly extended that when it came time to pull out my Chris Jones CD, Roadhouses and Automobiles, this system blew out my “cricket test” with as much authority as the Estelon system did. And no, the sound was anything but emotionless and cold. Goosebumps all around!

The second reason? The price. No, it was not “affordable”, where that equals something akin to “almost free”. But that said, the sound quality in this room was fully competitive with rooms whose total system cost was in excess of $300k. No, this does not make this system “a bargain”, but it did renew my hope and belief that truly extraordinary sound didn’t have to cost as much as a new home in a posh suburb of Washington, DC. Sometimes, I lose track of that after I wander in and out a couple-dozen of these show rooms.

Anyway, I was really tempted to simply roll up the whole rig and walk out with it. By Sunday, just about every single widget in this room had a “SOLD” sign sitting on it, so I suppose that feeling was shared.

The speakers were the new $20k Getz II from Marten Designs. This speaker comes from their Heritage line, and sports the whole no-parallel-surface thing with the cabinet design. This new, upgraded version brings a:

Cell tweeter designed with the latest Accuton technology. Bass drivers with higher transparency and resolution using the latest Accuton technology. Improved crossover using leading Mundorf components.

The Getz is a 4ohm speaker, like just about every Accuton design, and the spec says its F3 is 28Hz at one end and 40kHz at the other.

Dan Wright of ModWright really does put a tremendous amount of finesse into the fit and finish of his case work. I think the running lights are pretty cool, but I want lasers. Just sayin’.

In room, some spanky aluminum boxes, including:

  • ModWright KWA150 SE stereo amplifiers, run bridged/mono.
  • ModWright LS 36.5 w/ 36.5 PSU.
  • ModWright Truth-Mod for Oppo BDP-95.

All cabling came courtesy of Dynamic Design AV. All the supports came courtesy of Stillpoints, and included some of the brand new Ultras. Amp stands? Who needs an amp stand? Those are Ultra SS and Ultra Bases, pal.

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I run across a heavy, metal remote control. I dunno why. It just tells me that the manufacturer cares, I guess. A cheap, plastic doohickey is a bummer to use, but a piece of machined metal says “I’m paying attention to all the details” and I like that. Nice remote, ModWright!