The first was anchored firmly in MBL’s product line, something local dealer Greg Beron of United Home Audio really likes to show off.
MBL is different. A lot of brands talk about a 3-D sound stage, or about it’s depth or width. When you hear a well-put-together MBL system, these modifiers suddenly seem to have actual meaning. This is what a reviewer is most likely referencing when he tosses such terms around. Look, don’t get all prickly — it’s just important to recognize who does what, and MBL “does” the 3-D imaging thing in a way that a non-omni speaker can only dream about. It’s really quite entertaining.
Here, Greg had set up the $32k 116F MBL loudspeakers. They were driven by a largish, but not Volkswagen-sized (MBL amps aren’t known for being “compact”), $42,800/pair MBL 9007 mono amplifiers, in turn fronted by the $26,500 MBL 6010 preamp with more buttons and more inputs than a home theater preamp. As I alluded to, I found the imaging kinda freaky, like looking out of my window box to find the orchestra. Like, right there. Hanging. In space. In front of my seat. Like I said, freaky.
I’ve been having an argument (with myself, mostly), with potshots called in from the Peanut Gallery (okay, by Greg, mostly), about the inherent superiority — or lack thereof — of analog tape over analog vinyl. My comments on Greg’s demo at Newport, sparked this response:
“Theres nothing inherently superior about the format over, say, vinyl.”
Regarding analog recordings that are 100% in the analog chain and cut to LP, they were recorded to reel-to-reel tape originally. A simplified process is listed in these 4 steps, and the recordings were put through some or all of these processes on the way to being an LP record.
- If multitrack, they would be mixed down to a stereo tape by the recording engineer.
- That stereo master would then be EQ’d for cutting an LP on the RIAA EQ, or other EQ’s that were used by various record labels.
- The resulting tape would then be put through a lengthly process to cut a metal master for pressing vinyl. See here for details.
- The vinyl is heated and then pressed on a metal master to an LP.
I guess the point is that bypassing all that and just copying the tape is a purer way to get closer to the original recording, without these distortion points that have to be inherent in the processes.
Okay, fine. The man has a point. Enter the $14,500 dual-mono UHA-Q Series Phase 9PB Open Reel Tape Deck. This is the current top of the United Home Audio reel-to-reel line. And it was courtesy of this flashy machine, shown here in white and a stunning red, that I was treated to some of the most liquid, effortless, and extraordinary sound I’ve ever heard at a show. Feel free to quote me on that.
I almost feel compelled to point out that $14,500 is peanuts compared to some of the turntables I’ve run across lately — turntables that still need tonearms and cartridges in order to do what the UHA deck does. The question then is can this sound compete? The answer, at least for me, is a resounding “yes”. Easily.
One of the reasons for this has to be the source material. Sure, reel-to-reel may be less altered than vinyl (okay, okay, it most probably is less altered), which may be a very good thing. But doesn’t everything in playback come down to the actual quality of the recording? Don’t bother answering that — the answer is a resounding “yes”. Ass on a great system, still sounds like ass. But a great recording, that is, a high quality capture from the hands of an engineer worth his salt, well, put that on a great system, and the result can be pure magic.
The question, then, is where to get such things. I feel, again, compelled to point out that this is the rub. There just aren’t that many sources out there, and what there is, is wickedly expensive. $250? Yes. And up. Per album. Anyway, here’s a quick list of some well-known sources for super-high quality reel-to-reel material:
On this system, Greg was using some rather special cabling for his MBL rig, some big $15,000 Tara Labs Zero interconnects, a pair of $12,000 Tara Labs Omega speaker cables, and some interconnects of his own design, Celtic Silver Dragons.
Silver Circle Audio gear provided all the power distribution and conditioning for the room. A single (for both those big ass MBL amps!) $7,500 Pure Power One 5.0SE was in play on the MBL side and a single $2,900 Pure Power One 3.0 lurked on the Vienna Acoustics side.
The second system United Home Audio was running featured the $6,000/pair Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grand Speakers. A $1,299 Jolida JD 302 integrated at 50wpc courtesy of a quartet of EL34 tubes, provided the power.
In the rack, but unused on my trips through the room, was a full vinyl rig with a $5,500 Clearaudio Ovation turntable with a$1,200 Benz Micro Glider cartridge, wired into a $2,500 Fosgate Signature phono preamp. An $1,100 Jolida JD-100 CD player also stood idle. All tunes came from a $9,600 UHA-Q Series Phase 5 PB tape deck.
Coming off the MBL side of the room, this system was, well, rather different. It was warm, for one thing, with a lush sound that was quite cozy and easy to listen to. With the lights turned so low, we had some serious mood sneaking around. Hello, baby. How you doin’?
My personal preference was for the other side of the room, but of course, why wouldn’t it be that way? I tend to believe that adding $100,000 to the cost of any system can do quite marvelous things.
So, here’s the net-net. Greg Beron has the best quality music I’ve heard at an audio show. Yes, I’ve heard the Tape Project demos, and yes, they’re quite good. Greg has those. What Greg has, that perhaps no one outside of Bruce Brown at Puget Sound Studios has, is access to some of the world’s greatest audiophile titles — and when I say “access”, I mean that Greg has piles and piles of one-off masters. Yes! Let’s just say that this gives him an enormous advantage over his fellows and call it a day. Add that to a superlative rig, set up well, in a room that doesn’t bring the hate, and you’ll have what I had during the Capital Audiofest here in 2012 — true joy. Of course, some would call that expression a “shit eating grin”, but those people are crass and boorish.
It’s a good thing Greg is such a nice guy. I feel a bit like Oliver, “please sir, can I have another?” waiting for him to beat me around the head and face with a large, wooden spoon.
Which is good. Because it’s like the machine says.