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

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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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