Black Ocean Audio | THE Show 2022

One of the more interesting experiences I had at the show was in the Black Ocean Audio room. The company founder, Nick Tarnofsky, has a fascinating backstory—a working musician and engineer, he suffered from a collision which ended up rupturing one of his ear drums and bruising the other. After critical surgery to reconstruct his hearing apparatus, he discovered a peculiar sensitivity to upper midrange and high frequencies.

Words and Photos by Grover Neville

Fast forward to covid times, when the life of a professional musician is thrown into confusion—finding himself with some extra time, Nick began taking apart dozens of famous studio monitors to see what makes them tick. Showing at T.H.E. Show were two two-way bookshelf models, the Pro and Studio versions of his loudpseaker creations. The Le Chiffre Pro was tuned flat, and sitting in the sweet spot, the experience reminded me of my ATC SCM20s though with perhaps more snap and punch, and less bass extension and detail.

The Le Chiffre Studio by contrast had a slight bump at 2khz, somewhat emulating an NS10 – while this one may be of less interest to audiophiles who love warmth, this is an awesome tool for an engineer. The flatness of the low end and treble with a slight 2khz bump to keep you from mixing vocals too hot? At the price I can certainly see these being an awesome enjoyment and work monitor.

I’d be remiss not to mention the beautiful hardwood construction and finish, which looked almost Hawaiian, and was excellently done. Eschewing the typical black studio look, the Studio had a fun purple baffle, and the layered almost bamboo-esque look was, to my eye, very attractive.

What was also special was the inner dynamic and liveliness of these speakers, which I think exceeds what an audiophile typically expects from a studio-oriented monitor. These had a sparkle and energy which, combined with the flatness of frequency response was musically involving. Nick mentioned he continues to improve the designs and will eventually offer a larger three-way model—I’ll be sure to check these out more, and if you’re in the market for a brilliant little monitor, give him a call.

System Components and Prices

  • Black Ocean Audio Le Chiffre Studio – $4,500
  • Black Ocean Audio Le Chiffre Pro – $6,000