I think my listening notes speak to the quality of the MBL room in Tampa:
“Speakers disappearing like Houdini.”
“Vocals are realistic with a good amount of chestiness.”
“Great illusion of real performers in a real space.”
I had so much fun in this room but the highlight was a live performance of “Slippery People” by the Talking Heads. I have always loved the percussion and general funkiness of this cut since I watched it performed live on their tour in 1984 in Charlottesville, Virginia where I was going to college. I got to tapping my shoes and David Solomon and Eric Benoit from Qobuz nearby where having great fun too. The source was a tape from Greg Beron played on his awesome UHA tape deck with the trademark red reels. Hot damn, this was amazing sound. I caught Jeremy Bryan smiling and I think he knew the sound quality was at an impressive level. Detail was wonderful.
These MBL speakers use an omnidirectional radiation pattern and that sets up a precise and realistic soundstage. They were positioned out into the room from the back and side walls a bit and the lighting was pretty low adding to the illusion. You could close your eyes and drift fully into the sound. Greg played a Bonnie Raitt selection, “One Part Be My Lover“, and the vocals were spooky real.
We then heard Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street“. There was an immediate setting in of a deep bass foundation setting in. The percussion was truly lifelike and the synthesizers were produced in a realistic fashion. This song has an ethereal quality and it changed the mood in the room a bit in the best way possible.
The MBL speakers and corresponding electronics had a sense of flow and smoothness. The clarity of the system was remarkable. This, my friends, was one of the contenders for Best Sound at the show.
The speakers were the $70,500 MBL 101E Mark 2 loudspeakers. The digital source was a N31 DAC/CD Player ($15,400). Add in a N11 Stereo Preamplifier ($14,600) and N15 monoblock amplifiers ($17,800 per channel) and you are off to the races (560 watts into 4 ohms and 36 amps of current).
Tape deck was the Ultima 4 tape deck ($30,000) from United Home Audio with an outboard power supply that converts AC to DC, so the deck is all DC. No power source in the deck giving off EMI which is helpful for the magnetic tape. All EM sources are far away from the tape now. In this deck, the entire tape path is changed. The tape head had been positioned optimally and then couple with a precision roller. By optimizing the tape path, Greg feels they the slickest tape path out there. Two huge toroidal transformers inhabit the outboard power supply. Greg has thought out the dampening devices for the transformers. The transformers themselves are made from exotic materials. Pretty much every detail has been thought out. Even the resistors have the mineral mica with little components to have, in Greg’s words, a velvet sound. Greg feels proud that his tape machines are very reliable in the field.
Two shielded metal compartments are in the deck. Outboard tape preamps have an issue in that the wire can act like an antenna. You have the shortest wire possible. Full Class A, fully discrete solid state. Greg feels this is the quietest tape pre he can make. He feels a vacuum tape pre adds noise. He wants to pull all the information out of the tape and believes this is the best approach. He also feels strongly about grounding the deck properly to further lower noise. A bank of power filter capacitors feed very gain and EQ stage in the deck.
MBL uses WireWorld cable in their speakers. Eclipse 8 was in the room, this is a copper cable that seems a deal at the price point ($450 for a one-meter interconnect, $1,500 for 2-meter speaker cable).
How did Greg wind up with MBL? Easy: he used to be an MBL dealer. Well, this is good news for us. The combination produces terrific sound. A top room for me and maybe the most fun with Greg manning the primo tape machine.