I was in the middle of the mezzanine at the Denver Marriot Tech Center, about to break for lunch Saturday at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, when I heard a familiar tune wafting from a room shared by Focal and Naim Audio.
The track, Lambchop’s “Is a Woman,” is a terrific slice of Americana produced by one of the most intriguing, low-key bands in the genre. I love to listen to this Nashville-based collective at home, but I’d never heard them played at a high-end audio show.
I ducked inside and grabbed the open center seat. Lead singer and band mastermind Kurt Wagner’s quiet rasp was floating in the middle of a deep soundstage, while a roomful of players were somehow creating a spare, ethereal backdrop.
Coming out of Focal’s Stella Utopia speakers ($97,500 a pair), the piano was immediate and beautiful, percussion sparkled and the bass was full and tuneful.
The rest of the system consisted of Naim’s Statement amp/preamp ($270,000), a huge, futuristic design that seemed to be based on the black obelisks from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” along with the company’s NDS streamer ($12,995) and Unity server ($4,395).
The massive 350-pound Statement unit looks like it could power a small city. It actually contains a preamplifier and two monoblock amps outputting a circuit-breaker-testing 740 watts per channel.
On the Stella Utopias, all of that translated into a very dynamic, while balanced and clean, sound. Pacing also was impressive, and there was a general sense of ease that the best high-power amps often possess.
I listened to several other tracks, including Mark Knopfler’s “Sailing to Philadelphia” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Although each put different demands on the rig than Lampchop’s gentle stroll, the result in each case was superb sound.
For those with appropriate bank accounts, the Focal-Naim combo revealed what is possible for an almost cost-no-object system.