RMAF 2013: Blackbird Audio presents Opera, Trenner & Friedl, Unison Research, and more


Dan Muzquiz of San Diego’s Blackbird Audio Gallery is a musician, a cook, and an eclectic audiophile — the various components I see him show at the various audio shows on the circuit are always unique to him. Obviously, this makes his room a must-see on my tour!

I was in this room twice (I think), and he had two completely separate rigs going each time — starting with the latter first, I found a pair of the captivating Opera Callas loudspeakers ($4,995/pair). Looking at these photos I captured, you’ll see what I see and if you do a double-take, you’ll be forgiven — yes, these guys have five tweeters. That’s two that are front-firing and three that face the rear. Obviously, you’re going to want to give these speakers some space — and if you do, you’ll likely be as thrilled at the insane sense of spaciousness that these small, but absurdly well-appointed loudspeakers throw into your room. Oh, did I mention the beautiful wood enclosures and the leather-wrapped front baffle? What else would you expect from an Italian brand? This pair is molto bella

No, I’m not Italian, nor do I play any Italians on TV. That’s Google right there. Love that thing.

Anyway, about the room!

With the mighty Callas was paired with some more lovely Italian “cousins” from Unison Research, including the P40 Integrated ($4,995) which carries a tube complement featuring EL34s as the output pushing a total of 40wpc. The “hand-blown” Murano glass face-plate is standard. The Unico CDE ($4,495) is a CD player with a tube stage; an additional $225 opts you in for the dual-mono DAC inputs for use with your outboard computer audio rig. Furutech Speakerflux speaker cables, Lineflux RCA interconnects and Alpha PS-950-18 power cords rounded out the cabling. An FTP-615 line conditioner handled distribution.

This is another ~$15k full system that would pretty much rock in any small-to-medium space it was situated in. I’m really starting to dig this price point! The Callas had oodles of grace, elegance and charm, with great tone and outstanding sound-staging. Oh, and they look fantastic — I think I might have mentioned that a couple of times while I was sitting in the sweet spot. Great sound, great looks … just put a bow on this set, wouldya please? Thank yew ….

So, I wanted to put that system first because it was awesome, at a “realistic” (which is different from “affordable”) price, and I didn’t want it to get lost behind the system I actually heard first, which was the Trenner & Friedl Pharoah loudspeakers ($13,000/pair). These rather blank looking obelisks are totally “lifestyle” in their design — they have a very elegant, minimalist and mod look to them that’s a step or three up from Ikea (aka, “Northern European”), if that means anything at all to you. They’re also designed to be positioned up against your front-wall, which means it’ll get a bit of a bass-boost, and the closer you can get, the better the overall timing will be. The grill hides an 8″ driver and a 1″ tweeter, with a 92dB sensitivity and a bass extension into the mid-30Hz region, the Pharoahs are just a hair over 3′ tall — so, “not very”. Sitting in my sweet-spot seat along the long-wall in the room, my worry about soundstage height was laughably dismissed after the first note. I have no idea how they do it, but these tidy little room-friendly designs throw a huge stage, with detail and tone aplenty. I think I might have actually laughed out loud (and not just in my head). It’s crazy. I know more than a few friends that really ought to dump what they have and build around these speakers. And with their near-wall placement, the typical audiophile can get back at least 4 feet of their living space. Talk about WAF — that’s it, right there. Ska-doosh.

The rest of the gear in this room is also noteworthy, so let’s review:

On the digital side, we have a Heed Audio Obelisk DT Digital Transport ($1,900) wired up to its matching DA DAC ($2,100). This paralleled a Basis Audio 2500 Signature turntable with a Vector 4 tonearm, mounted with a Transfiguration Proteus cartridge ($6,000). A Heed Audio Quasar Phono pre ($1,200) made the hand-off. On the power side, it was also all-Heed. An Obelisk PRE linestage ($1,900) with the external PX Power Supply ($1,400) sent the signals over to the Obelisk PM mononblocks ($4,200/pair). If you’re looking through the photos, the Heed gear is all those tidy little black-acrylic boxes. All cables were from Cardas’ Clear lineup.

This was a fun room. I heard that Dean Peer showed up and played at set on Saturday afternoon, using the Pharoah’s as part of his PA system. I’m hoping my fellow PTA’ers caught that!

















Bob Clark of Profundo demos an audio show classic on the Trenner & Friedl Pharoahs

About Scot Hull 1039 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.


  1. haha! @Norman: The Art are an eyebrow raising experience!
    Anshul: I’m looking forward to seeing you on the 25th (just around the corner)!

    The Devore speakers are really quite nice. One cannot take anything away from them and though I don’t carry that brand, I have a healthy respect for many brands that I don’t carry, Devore being one of them.
    The Trenner and Friedl line have been a really interesting speaker line for me to carry. While as a business, I’m torn between the “status quo” to “bring people in brands” and carrying brands that speak to me, as a musician and artist at heart, I’ve chosen the latter. I’m paddling against the popular current but it’s an enjoyable way to do business when surrounded by quality music. You’ll see soon enough. 🙂


  2. Hi Scott,
    Thank you for covering this room. The Trenner & Friedl Pharoah are one of the brands that has caught my attention. It would be very helpful if you could say a few words about how they compare to the Devore Orangutan 0/96 speakers (same price range) based upon your RMAF observations. I know the Devores need to be placed a few feet away from the front wall.

    • Ah, hell. I have no idea how they compare. I think the DeVores are very SET friendly (a handful of watts is fine), but not sure how the T&F would do there. I’m a huge fan of the O/96 (I own a pair), but I’ve never heard the Pharoahs in anything other than a Blackbird Audio Gallery demo, so I’m completely unable to make serious comparisons. I will say, however, that I did enjoy the RMAF demo quite a bit. Maybe I’ll get the chance to do more at some point, but it’s not on the calendar at the moment.

      • So you finally hear your first T&F speaker! I have been telling you about them for ages now. The little bookshelf one is incredible.

  3. I’ve known Dan for a long time, he’s a real good guy to do business with. This looks like a fabulous room, I’d love to have heard this gear!

  4. Thanks a lot for covering our room, Scot. Great photos too!

    I’d like to acknowledge my show partners as they are always so generous with their time, money and efforts to help make attending these shows a success for us. In attendance with me (In the same order as your article) were from Colleen Cardas Imports, Marc Phillips and Colleen Cardas herself. CCI distributes the Opera and Unison Research gear that we used in our room. While we had the P40 on static display, it was actually their hybrid Unico Nuovo (I believe retail is 3195.00) that was actually driving the speakers in that system and shown in your photographs.
    The second system’s distributor is Bob Clark of Profundo, who brings in the Heed electronics, the Trenner & Friedl speaker line and the Transfiguration Cartridge line. Great people, all of them and their products and dealer support certainly help to make the wheels go ’round for Blackbird Audio Gallery.

    Mr. Simpson, you’re absolutely right about the dust. Digital SLRs bring out the worst of any little flaw. Our equipment was wiped down each morning with a microfiber cloth and windex yet simply moving about or having to fire up the air conditioner unit to keep show goers reasonably comfortable would have any dust in the room circulating and landing everywhere again. I can appreciate your comment on an otherwise lovely setup, placed in a very unusual environment.

    Best regards,

    Dan Muzquiz
    Blackbird Audio Gallery

  5. I’ve often wondered why audio dealers don’t seem to clean up (dust and wipe) their gear at audio shows. These photos really show that the gear is very dirty (Heed gear especially), which really takes away from their looks!

    • There’s really not a lot you can do. Dust is everywhere — and black acrylic/piano black finishes are the absolute worst things to wrap your electronics in, IMO. That is, for photography. The photos you see that are totally “clean” are completely retouched — and that takes forever. Best finishes, at least for photography? Matte or satin finish on wood. That’s easy.

      • Or … looking in the converse, that blasted big ole camera rig you’re toting around, takes far ‘too good’ photos! Eh, eh??? A back handed compliment, eh, eh!? … my 2 pennies. The large single driver (?) speaker, is quite interesting too!

    • Actually, we had quite a problem with dust at the Marriot this year…it was constantly gathering on our equipment. We were dusting several times a day. So I certainly wasn’t a matter of us not keeping our gear clean.

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