Newport 2014: A Trenner&Friedl double-take, with Blackbird Audio going Viva


hiresnewportlogoforwebThe show guide labelled two rooms down at the end of the hall as “Profundo,” the trade name for Bob Clark’s import business. That wasn’t entirely accurate. The room all the way at the end of the hall was co-sponsored by Santee, CA’s Blackbird Audio Gallery, and alternately filled up by either the size of Dan Muzquiz’s (that’s pronounced “moose keys”) statement system or the sound from Dan’s copious stack of back records.

I like Dan. Despite being a bit of a juvenile delinquent at heart, he has a taste for nuance and a complete intolerance for crappy hotel rooms. If you’re walking into one of Dan’s rooms, you can usually count on it feeling airy and relaxing on top of sounding pretty good. Besides, Dan is one of the few guys at shows that is happy to throw the Pixies or the Clash onto the turntable for a spin. That makes him aces in my book.

Fronting the room were Trenner + Friedl‘s RA speakers ($25k), whose universally appealing looks will not be treated well by my photography. Given my embarrassing Tannoy fetish, I’ve been dying to get my ears on T+F’s take on a classic, 15″ coax for a while. I surely wasn’t going to turn down the chance to hear them powered by a pair of Viva Audio‘s Aurora monoblocks ($45,000).

The Aurora is some kind of impressive mental disorder wrapped in impeccable, high-gloss metalwork. It’s a single-ended triode that parallels two 845 power tubes. Those monsters are driven by a 211 the size of a toddler’s thigh. All told, they pump 36 watts or so into whatever speaker you have on hand.

The Viva front-end here was comparatively budget priced and wallet friendly. The new Numerico DAC and CD player (Compact Discs! In 2014!) handled the silver platters for $10k, and Viva’s Linea linestage ($18,500) tied everything together.

When we walked in the first time… Well, the room was just *packed*. We went back a second time, and the room was packed. We went back a third time, the room was packed, and Dan was trying to shoe everybody out so he could go to sleep.

But the fourth time…

I can’t remember what was playing, but I remember being struck by both how visceral and subtle the sound was. My limited notes say “girl with guitar sounds like actual girl with guitar.” Getting that sound in a hotel room is no easy feat. Heck, getting a recorded guitar to sound anything *near* as complex as a real guitar is no easy feat at the best of times. It was the kind of sound that made me fall in love with absurd stereos in the first place.

So, of course, I had to ruin it. I asked Dan to load up the weekend’s standard Basie track, “C.B. Express,” and crank the knob most of the way to the right.

Folks, 36 single ended watts weren’t enough for that. I apologize to everyone who was in the room. The amp started to keel over, instruments started to blend together, the telltale sound of incipient clipping showed up, and I thought, “oh, crap. Dan’s going to kill me.”

Instead, Dan turned it all the way up. The Vivas didn’t get any more discombobulated. They just powered through.

After everyone had suffered enough, Dan turned the volume down to a more reasonable level to show off what the Viva system is actually good at. It’s good — really good — at pulling out tone, it’s very good indeed at the holographic tricks, and it’s utterly exceptional at getting the last, tiniest bit of tight timing just right — a trick it manages perfectly even when some joker pushes it well past its design spec.

Dan’s one of the good people. This room was one of the good stops. It was good enough that I’m not even a little bit sad to have missed out on listening to Viva’s nutty 845 headphone amplifier.













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  1. I can apologize for the 12″ vs 15″ confusion. That was a silly mistake for me to make, and probably had more to do with my listening to some other speakers while I wrote this up. What can I say? I get confused when something that pretty sounds that good.

    As for the use of the 845s in the circuit, you’ve clarified a bit for me. I appreciate that. I was under the misinformed (read: “ignorant”) impression that two of the three were parallel output tubes. It’s good to know that there’s only one triode pulling that duty. It helps to explain the realism and timing of everything else I heard over the weekend.

    Had I realized that, though, I would not have asked Dan to turn the knob that far to the right. There’s no question that the system in that room was capable of deafening SPLs, but I don’t think you quite grasp the purely *unreasonable* volumes that I was asking Dan to hit. What I heard wasn’t the room overloading. It was the familiar sound of an amp (or a preamp) biting its lip.

    The simple fact is that what we were doing with that Basie track was insane, unreasonable, and actively harmful. I can’t imagine that it’s a regular occurrence in most homes. Not every system can pull off every stunt, and blowing out your eardrums with a lesser Basie track is a stunt that most people would be glad to skip. Missing some weird point of “perfection” in that one stunt by that small an amount is a win.

  2. Just a couple of quick technical notes. The Viva Auroras use one single 845 output tube (with the 211 driver) to achieve their 36 watts. There are, indeed two other 845’s on the chassis, which are used in the power supply. Just to avoid any confusion with the comparison to the 15″ Tannoys, the Trenner & Friedl RA’s are a 12″ coax. Also, as this is the system that I have been playing in my living room for the past few months, I am pretty sure that the effects noted as “incipient clipping” and the amp “starting to keel over” were not artifacts of clipping or pre-clipping. I have played the Viva’s with the RA’s at ear-shattering levels reproducing all kinds of music and instruments and the Aurora’s just go about their business, as evidenced by Dan’s confidence in turning up the music.In fact, at home, I have driven the RA’s to otherwise ridiculous levels with Viva’s 18 watt Solista integrated with only the slightest hints of strain.

    On the other hand, since we have been setting systems up in those rooms at the Atrium for three years now, I can definitely confirm that the rooms come unglued pretty quickly when overdriven. The ability of the RA’s to put serious SPL’s into the room makes this pretty easy to do. The air-conditioning register at the top rear of the rooms seems to play a large part in this, as we have noted its interaction with speaker placement (which also makes it impossible to move the RA’s or the Pharoah’s to a point nearer the wall, which would normally be optimal). Also, the reverberative interactions of the cavity of that AC register come into play when the volume goes up. While, on the whole, the rooms at the Atrium are some of the most natural-sounding hotel rooms I have worked with over the past 20 years, this element does make it difficult to achieve true “concert-level” volumes cleanly, regardless of electronics, power ratings, etc. Room interactions, both at shows and in the home contribute so much more to the sonic picture than we can imagine. Show (hotel rooms) spaces create a series of comprimises with which we must work, in order to try and achieve the best balance of sound for a given system. However, as someone walking from room to room (to room…to room), it is very difficult to know which choices were made for any given system and it is easy to mis-identify the actual source or cause of any non-linearities.

    The CD transport included with the Viva Numerico DAC was also a choice made by the designer, primarily in order to save anyone who might still want to throw a cd into play, from having to go out and buy a separate transport (indeed, a considerable amount of money), as well as the requisite digital interconnect (with its inherent sonic contribution/degradation). The Numerico is primarily a DAC with an added cd drive for convenience.

    Bob Clarke

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