Newport 2012: Neither odd nor an end — Audience, Wilson, VTL, dCS, Gradient, DSPeaker, Marten, Modwright, PBN, Magico, Soulution and everything else

Newport 2012 was a really big show — the biggest of the regional shows I’ve yet been to. Something like 50 rooms and 10,000 tickets sold, with Dean Peer, Tierney Sutton, Anne Bisson, and Mike Mercer live, in person and doing their musical thing, the experience was just that — an experience.

Best in show? T.H.E. Show. No question.

So, let’s begin the tear-down — we’ve got a backlog building and we need to clear the deck for the next in line — Capital Audiofest.

I did not make it to every room this year. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but there was simply too much to see and hear, so I had to make some choices. Hopefully, you’re down with that. If not, well, maybe we can talk about finding some additional bodies to pitch in from RMAF.

To all those I missed — my apologies! And now, on to the last few.


I’m surprised by how many line source speakers I’m running across these days. Bob Carver has one, Scaena has one, the Audio Artistry team has one — and Audience has several. Shown here at Newport is the ClairAudient 16+16 MkII, Audience’s new $72k flagship.

Here’s what’s cool. Of all those line sources I just mentioned, this is the only one you don’t need a subwoofer for. Flat to 30Hz? Yes! This is an 8ohm, 99dB sensitive speaker that can support sustained output at levels that will cause severe, permanent brain damage.

It also looks hot.

Brooks Berdan presents Wilson, VTL, dCS

It’s an odd day when Wilson and VTL don’t show well, and here at Newport, this room was reference quality sound. Want to know what a system is supposed to sound like? Start here. The giant Siegfreid amps ran into some Wilson Saschas and were fronted by my favorite bit of ear-candy, a full dCS Scarlatti system. I can’t tell you how much lust and envy gets rolled up and chewed on every time I see a dCS system playing.

Hey — John Quick (of Tempo High Fidelity, the US distributor for dCS), if one of these systems needs to find a home for a few months, just in case, well, you know, if you just need to clear out some space or something, I’m confident that I can find them some room. Just temporarily. Anyway. Just wanted to put that out there.

Most impressive piece of equipment in this room, however, was a soon-to-be-released bit of homegrown tech from the Berdans, the Cosmic Damper. Currently a one-of-a-kind unit, this tasty little gem has been described as having the creamiest mid range you’ve ever bit into while not sacrificing any almost unnaturally textured frequency extremes.

DSPeaker and Gradient

The Gradient demo at NYAV was the most convincing of the show, and SimpliFi‘s Tim Ryan was able to create stunning sound using a combination of external crossovers and dipole bass systems.

In Newport, the focus moved to the little $1k DSPeaker system, also leveraging the Gradient speakers. Tim was running the unit as a preamp, a DAC, a DSP, and a crossover system. The sound wasn’t as blow-you-away as NYAV, but the room here at Newport was crap compared to what he was working with there. That said, I remain convinced that this dipole bass systems, leveraging Bladelius gear and Gradient speakers, is a stunningly powerful tool. I’m trying to get Tim to send me a pair of dipole woofers to try out with Magnepan 3.7s. Wouldn’t that be sweet? I think I’m now 578th on his list. Hmm.


I don’t have a lot of experience with PBN — never heard of them before this show. I also have no notes from this room — I mean, I took them, I just no longer have them — but the giant $85k Quintessence Acoustics Stealth 6 speakers they were showing with produced the most prodigious bass this side of the monster Hsu subwoofer in the Audio Artistry demo. Crazy, huge, blow-out-the-room stuff. Another candidate for that giant room Sony was showing in. PBN was showing a bunch of their phono preamps, which had all the look of quality-made gear — and gear I’d like to get quite a bit more friendly with at some point in the future.

PBN Audio GrooveMaster Classic Turntable with a Ortofon 309D carrying a NOS Ortofon MC70 ($10K – $2295 – $990 )

Digital front-end:  PBN Audio Olympia DX digital to ANALOG converter with separate power supply, features RCA/BNC/BAL digital input and USB OR I2S input. MSRP is $17500.  The DX is fed by a modified Denon 3910 Transport via the BNC input.

Preamplifier: Olympia L, a fully differential design with separate power supply. Features 3 Balanced inputs and 2 RCA inputs. Outputs are RCA, Balanced and 75 Ohm BNC for use with our power amplifiers. This Impedance matched inter connecting system eliminates any cable related smearing of the delicate audio signal and enables use of VERY long interconnects if needed.  MSRP $12000

Phono Preamplifier:  Olympia PX Fully differential Phono Preamplifier with separate power supply. Features internal selection of 6 different MC loadings, selection  between MM-54dB/MC-70dB and 4 different Capacitive loadings for MM. MSRP $20000

Speakers on day one Montana Liberty MSRP 15000

Magico and Soulution

The Gold Standard for many audiophiles, the ultra-awesome Q5 from Magico may well be one of the best speakers ever made. Or so I’m told. I came through off-hours with Peter from AVShowrooms, so I didn’t really get much of an earful. I will never overcome my grief and sorrow at this loss. Okay, that might be a bit strong, but some approximation of the sentiment is there — they’re techno-sweet in all the right ways and what little I did hear made me want to sit and pay attention. But, to borrow a phrase, life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

Shown here at Newport with equally upper echelon gear from Soulution.