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Capital Audiofest 2016: BorderPatrol and Triode Wire Labs, home away from home

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If you wanted to know what my “house sound” was — the BorderPatrol Audio room at CAF built around it.

Years ago, at the very first Capital Audiofest, I ran across Gary Dews of BorderPatrol and his unabashedly retro 300b-based tube amplifiers. Then, as now, he was showing them off with a pair of Living Voice Avatar loudspeakers (here, it was the OBX-RW, the top of that particular line), and I nearly wept. The sound was fantastic, my kids — who were 3 at the time, I think — loved it too. But that’s not why I was distraught. I was weeping because I had just sent a very large check to a different set of audio companies for different components and speakers. A mistake that I realized, there, in that room. A mistake it took me a full fiver years to rectify.

But rectify it, I did. And I’ve now had a version of that 2010 system, here at home, for about a year. And I love it. Yes, still.

And here it was. At CAF 2016.

The Living Voice Avatar OBX-RW are, in most ways, an incredible speaker. There’s just this sense of timbral rightness and full dose of gorgeous tone that I’ve found only ever-so-rarely in my exploration of the world of high-end. I have only two nits — one, they can look a bit drab compared to the newest and fanciest tower speakers “out there”. It’s just a speaker — but I will say, this walnut finish was quite posh. Second, they don’t quite reach to subterranean depths. I miss that — but that’s a room-dependent thing. My room is rather large — the room here at CAF, not so much. Guess what? Better fit. At home, I tend to run the Avatars in almost near-field, but here, there was plenty of room assist to create a very convincing sound-stage, with eerily-accurate renditions of some very tough-to-imitate piano, string, and vocals.

Paired with the BorderPatrol gear, the sound is heaven. Well, to this audiophile, anyway.

award-sighting-smFirst thing to know, the BorderPatrol gear is deceptively not-300b sounding. Paired here with a quartet of EML tubes, the S20 EXD integrated amplifier ($16,750) is quite extended both in bass and treble reach. There’s a muscularity in the sound that is also unexpected; 300b tubes just aren’t supposed to sound like this. Gary says that the results he gets are partly due to the tube, partly to the circuit, but that the “secret sauce” is his massively overbuilt tube-rectified and choke input filtered power supplies. This amp had two, one per channel. And yes, they’re big — each case is completely separated and isolated, and separate integrated power leads head into the amp — but they can be snuggled together to only consume the space of an additional single regular-rack-sized component.

Gary was also showing off his newest DAC. As shown, the “Il Bambino” DAC (as shown, $1,500 — prices start at $995) is a non-oversampling/non-upsampling design based on the TDA1543 R2R converter and CS8414 receiver chipset. And yes, there’s a sophisticated version of the classic BorderPatrol power supply built right in. USB and S/PDIF inputs are options. Mine should be coming soon. The DAC was used with an “old” CEC TL3N transport.

Triode Wire Labs provided all the cables in the rig, including:

  • Obsession power cable: with latest, “state of the art” Furutech FI-50 NCF(R) Power Connector series along with conductive silver mylar and patented conductive carbonized external sleeving to assist in maintaining clean signals as well as providing interference & RF filtering being on the PI Audio UberBUSS – $1299
  • The Silver Statement power cable: with silver NEMA5 and C13 conductors and carbon fiber “Lightning” connector shell bodies with conductive silver mylar and patented conductive carbonized external sleeving to assist in maintaining clean signals as well as providing interference & RF filtering being on theTL3N CD Transport – $1199
  • The Gold Statement power cable: with Copper over 24kt plating NEMA5 and C13 conductors and carbon fiber “Lightning” connector shell bodies with conductive gold mylar and patented conductive carbonized external sleeving to assist in maintaining clean signals as well as providing interference & RF filtering being on the DAC – $999
  • Seven Plus power cords: audiophile 7 AWG cables used on the BorderPatrol twin external power supply units – $549
  • American speaker cables: Bi-wired, terminated w/premium Cardas CAB bananas – $1099/set, with “American Speaker Cable” cross-over-speaker jumpers- $299/set
  • Spirit RCA interconnects: hybrid material design utilizing Ohno Continuous Cast Copper – $399/pr
  • Spirit 75, a true 75Ω SPDIF cable – $299

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