Josh already spilled his enthusiasm all over the floor about the big room featuring Volti Audio‘s speakers. Nobody should be surprised by this. I suspect that the sound in that room represented the Platonic Ideal for a good portion of the attendees at AXPONA.
There was something interesting about Josh’s writeup. Josh is new to the audio game, and, like so many attendees, he lay all the credit for the achievement at the burly feet of the Volti speakers. I actually felt the need to call him phone and ask “are you mad?”
That’s not just a rookie mistake, though. That is the most popular mistake at these shows. You always hear guys talking about how good the new BlitzenHorn DeepSmash Superspeaker is, but you never hear anything about how the the Dual Mono Unlicensed Nuclear Accelerator affected the performance. And sources? Fuhgeddaboudit! If it’s not a Rube Goldberg Special spinning sparkly vinyl, nobody even notices the dang things.
Which brings us Gary Dews, BorderPatrol, and the absurdity inherent in forgetting to notice what he’s done.
I’d like to start by saying that Gary brings this trouble on himself. He’s a reserved, well mannered gent who’s unlikely to interrupt someone’s fun just to brag about how awesome his products are. At AXPONA, you could usually find him quietly piecing jigsaw puzzles together in the hallway instead of running a sales pitch in the show room. He doesn’t put himself forward all that much. You might never even notice he’s there unless you go looking for him.
His gear is generally the same way. It looks like a motley stashed haphazardly on a low slung rack and some spare amp stands. It’s quiet, it stays out of the way, and you never even notice it’s there — unless you think about it.
Take this show’s system. A few chassis of amp (the fully loaded,$27,750, S20 EXD+EXS Parallel SET in this case), a dac (BorderPatrol’s new DAC2, an old school NOS dac with a 6sn7 output stage, $9,750), and a preamp (the EXT1, $12,250 before a couple of grand worth of phono stage got added in).
In short, that low slung rack is carrying the bulk of the price in this room, and the gear on that rack is responsible for nearly everything you hear. And, not to put too fine a point on it, you hear everything. I think I at least stuck my head in the door here every time I went for a smoke if for no other reason than just to hear a system that made me happy.
Friday night, for instance, saw Greg Roberts cue up Transformer on the Well Tempered Amadeus GTA Mk2 and drop a Dynavector 20×2 into the groove of “Perfect Day.” Mick Ronson’s piano came out the other end with an almost uncomfortable intimacy, with an emotional cut that made me forget to note the audiophile attributes because I was too busy trying to keep myself from laughing out loud in my excitement. That’s what you expect from SET, though. What you don’t expect is just how defined, how perfectly resolved, John Halsey’s drums to be from a SET.
Digital had the same effect — repeatedly. And this is where it gets fun. I had stopped in — again — on Sunday afternoon, and got into a chat with another guy who’d listened to the system too much. “I don’t think the vinyl sounds better than the digital,” he said.
“Of course,” I thought. The Dynavector 20×2-H is one of my favorite cartridges, but it always sounds just a touch mechanical to me. Gary’s gear maintained that sound perfectly. You didn’t even have to look at the gear list to see what cart was playing. His digital, meanwhile, extracted as much organic joy from Redbook as you’re likely to find anywhere.
That’s what finally nailed the BorderPatrol approach for me. You may get what you pay for, but you sure don’t get less. I wasn’t surprised at all when I finally looked at the price sheet and discovered that the analog front end, in total, was cheaper than the digital front end.
Of course it was. I would have put that together myself if I’d ever actually thought about it.
I never did think about it, though, because — like I said — ignoring the gear isn’t just a rookie mistake. Gear with this kind superlative competence is almost wholly invisible, especially when speakers that good looking are in the way. Everything seems so effortless and matter-of-fact that it all seems like no big deal.
This may not have been the only system knocking on the $100,000 price point at the show, but it was just about the only system at that price that made everything look easy.