[Editor’s Note: Intrusive editorial insertion begins here] The room here was filled expensive gear. The Baetis Audio Reference Media Server ($14,000), features a custom PCB that allows for a native AES connection, running off a shielded and isolated connection, coming directly from the motherboard. That’s pretty nifty, and according to the design brief, AES is the best way to get sound out of a computer. I’m going to shrug my shoulders here; many new computer servers have opted to pursue USB for its ubiquity and that interface has made great strides, but AES was how we all did it when PCI cards from Lynx were the state of the art. Baetis claims that new isn’t always better — and quite frankly, that’s hard to argue with. The Reference also features a two box external power supply, but interestingly, they’re not linear or battery-powered. Instead, each Reference comes with its own UPS from Cyber Power for clean power. Again, the design brief maintains that a low-noise SMPS fed from an active UPS is superior to a linear approach or a battery one — the choice comes down to sheer grunt in terms of amperage. Computers, especially ones with optical drives, may need to draw several amps. Like up to 15. And that’s hard to find in most outboard “audiophile approved” kits — but fairly simple for a high-end SMPS. Still, no linear power is sure to raise some eyebrows.
Another unusual bit was the approach taken with DSD files — in essence, there isn’t one. Instead, the vastly preferred approach — coming from Berkeley Audio Design — is to transcode DSD into WAV, and to do that on the computer before sending it to the DAC, in this case, the newest from Berkeley. There’s still not a ton of info on the ground about the new Berkeley Audio Design Reference DAC ($16k), unfortunately, even though they’re now filling orders placed back in November. I’m told the website will be updated within the week. For those able to wait, a full review will be forthcoming in the next issue of TAS.
Lamm is infamous for putting forward some pricey and lust-inducing electronics; I know them best for their low-power tube amps. Shown here was the $38k/pair ML2.2 mono block amps, built around the Russian Foxbat vacuum tube, the 6C33C, in a single-ended solution good for about 18wpc. I love this tube. Pardon me while I fan myself. Stereophile’s Art Dudley has an excellent review, published last year, for those seeking more details.
Teresonic makes single-driver loudspeakers, built around Lowther “full range” drivers. The top of the line $20k Ingenium is, ah, visually striking, like some kind of 6′ wooden standing-wave. The frequency response is listed as 30Hz-22kHz, ± 3dB, which seems optimistic, but the new DX4 driver, with it’s silver-wound voice coils is supposedly revolutionary. Swapped in and out were the bitty $8k/pair Magus — these feature Lowther drivers like the bigger speakers, but with the choice of a DX55, A55 or DX65. I should note that Teresonic also makes cables and amplifiers; more details can be found at their website. [Editor’s Note: intrusive editorial insertion ends here].
Cables and accoutrements rounded the system out to about an even hundred grand.
This is the kind of stunt system that draws people to audio shows. Between the unalloyed tone of Teresonics with silver voice coils, and the almost solid-state kung-fu of Vladimir Lamm’s paralleled 6c33c tubes, you’d expect magic. Throw in Baetis digital and a Berkeley Reference DAC, and you’d know that the source would be unimpeachable. When we sat down on Thursday night to divvy up the room duties with John Stancavage, I offered to step outside and fight to cover this room. I offered to fight dirty.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so excited. These folks won the show conditions lottery. Between spanking new amps, wonky power, and, apparently, a pantheon of angry, pagan gods arrayed against them, something terrible happened to the sound. First Aid Kit’s “Shattered and Hollow” was reproduced in a way that fit its title, with bonus points for “Muffled and Screeching.” It was nothing short of bizarre. It was so bad that I considered simply skipping the coverage here.
But that wouldn’t be right.
Here’s the deal: these folks are some of the best in the business. I’ve never heard any of them present a show room that didn’t — at the very least — move me. Are their products perfect? No. Given their strengths, and given the setup acumen of everyone involved, that imperfection rarely gets in the way of creating a memorable experience. Yet here they were, suffering through a weekend with very nearly the worst sound at the show, and wandering the halls muttering about what they could do to fix it short of a large fire.
There’s a lesson here.
A show is a very small glimpse of what’s on offer. The rooms are unfamiliar, the power may be significantly worse than usual. Your partners may show up with a product (or a pair of forty kilobuck monoblocks) that haven’t broken in at all. Your unshielded unicorn hair interconnects may pick up radio signals from Atlantis. Every exhibitor is going to try his best to do well, but sometimes Show Conditions will gang up and beat them senseless.
This, people, is why a show report is not — NOT — a review. If something sounds good, you have a good chance of making it sound even better in your own house. If something sounds bad, there’s a very good chance indeed that you’ll have a much easier time of making it sound better anywhere other than that room. Shows just kinda suck.
Some of the more snarky folks on the Interwebs would take this opportunity to belittle the products. They might also claim that everyone involved is an unprofessional scam artist. The players in this little tragedy, thankfully, have a track record of such consistent excellence that those forum trolls can be dismissed out of hand.
In some ways, it’s no different from being a Bob Dylan fan. Anyone who’s spent the money to see him perform knows that buying tickets is a bad gamble. Nine out of ten shows will be godawful garbage, featuring Bored Bob phoning it in from his personal hell. If we judged Bob by Internet forum standards, he’d be a scam artist hawking overpriced goods. A simple ABX test would show that people prefer Katy Perry ….
That tenth show, though … That will rewire you. And, hell, it’s Bob Dylan. Cut that man a break.
So this room sucked. I’m glad this room sucked. It gave me a great excuse to tell you why you should go back and listen to all of this stuff again. And it gave me the perfect chance to remind you that a show report is not a review.