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