I was smiling extra big because Saturday’s sound was such an improvement over Friday’s. I mentioned earlier than Friday seemed generally not be a particularly good day for sound quality anywhere in the show — so many systems sounded cold or just weren’t gelling the way that they should. Burwell & Sons was possible the worst example of this. No matter what their efforts, the room seemed to be swallowing all treble. The Homage speakers ($80,000) sounded boxy and, while they were forceful, they were lacking in the lively sparkle and fine inner detail that I knew they were capable of. Even a series of Tape Project cuts spinning on a Bottlehead rebuilt Otari couldn’t quite bring it all together.
It was a relief, then, when I walked off that elevator on Saturday morning and heard the music emanating from the Burwell’s suite. The guys had elected to swap in the three-way Mother of Burl speakers, which feature JBL slot tweeters, JBL LE85 midrange horns, and, in a switch from the pair that Mal recently reviewed, Altec 803 woofers (the pair we had at home a few months ago was equipped with JBL D130 woofers). Gone was the boxy, claustrophobic feel of the previous day — everything opened up, and the tone and texture were much closer to what I knew from firsthand experience that these babies could do.
Raven Audio provided their Shadow preamplifier ($6,995) and Spirit 300B stereo amplifier ($7,295). In addition to the Otari, the room featured a Wilson Benesch Full Circle turntable with Act 0.5 tonearm (about $4,400 combined) spinning discs, a Mytek Stereo 192-DSD Dac ($1,595), and a Cary Audio CDP-1 CD player. Audio Research and Cary Audio also provided electronics, depending on the day.
Well-recorded music showed off the strengths of the system — the excellent inner detail and realism of jazz percussion, for example, or of Nat King Cole’s voice — but I couldn’t blame the Burwells for just rocking out with whatever came to hand and whatever got the crowds smiling. As I learned when these speakers were in my living room, one of their greatest strengths is the way they make you just want to keep listening. Suddenly, listening to music seems like the best fun you could be having. Which is a pretty great reminder of what this hobby’s all about.