Getting a chance to write-up the MBL show presence is always a treat. Whether it's completely superb, mind-blowingly good, or a hot mess of shrieking pain, MBL always, always, always leaves you with something to talk about. The MBL room is even more of a treat when you're lucky enough to get there early enough to have it to yourself for a track or two. That was the position I found myself in when I walked into the room just as an umpteenth-generation dub of a Beatles tape started spinning on Sunday morning.
The good news is that this was nothing like a hot mess. Despite an injured arm, MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan had managed his usual, meticulous setup. Much as with the best I've heard from MBL at shows, you found yourself more immersed in a sound-*field* than anything like a sound-*stage*. And, as with the best I've heard from MBL, the sense of raw, unstoppable power was staggeringly present even at modest volumes.
The bad news, though, is that MBL was showing off their more affordable Corona line of products. Given the well-earned hangover I was nursing, I may have been wishing for something with a little more meat and a whole lot less precision. This system, on the other hand, was mercilessly precise. “Incisive” doesn’t even begin to cover the presentation. If I were still hungover, I might say that everything was just a little lean and sterile for my tastes.
That wasn’t really the problem, though. The real problem was that MBL managed to confound my expectations again. Instead of delivering brute power, or trippy immersion, or a meaty fullness, this system was forcing me to view it as a very serious analytical tool. One of these days, I’m just going to have to stop being so surprised by MBL’s versatility.
As for the system:
- MBL 116f speakers ($32,500 in the piano finish)
- MBL C11 preamplifer ($8,800)
- MBL C15 monoblocks ($12,500)
- MBL C31 DAC/CD player ($9,200)
Tape was played on a United Home Audio Tape Deck. Bits were served from a custom Sonore Music Server running off a Red Wine Audio Black Lightning battery power supply.