They’ve been showing together for so long that I have a hard time remembering when the last didn’t. Triode Wire Labs, BorderPatrol Audio Electronics, and Volti Audio are, for better or worse, linked in audio recent show mythology as the Three Amigos. It’s kind of remarkable, actually, because Pete, Gary, and Gregg are all rather different, and agree on rather little. Listening to them talk, they sound like siblings — the in-jokes fly fast and furiously, punctuated by constant ribbing, and an impressive amount of laughing — both with and at each other.
Words and Photos by Scot Hull
In contrast to the fussy and meticulous care they bring to room-setup, their demos are almost notoriously laid back — there’s no weird lighting, no tight-fitting sport coats, no endless list of mysterious widgets being un-plugged or plugged back in, no RedBull-fueled monologue riddled with pseudo-science or outright snake oil. There’s only the music. And that, perhaps, is how it should be.
At every show, I visit these guys early and often. For me, their room is a palate-cleanser of sorts. I’m deeply familiar with their “house sound” and I am 100% simpatico with it. In the spirit of full disclosure, I consider these three guys to be friends — and that is, in part, because the consistent quality of their demo rooms over the years has kept me locked in a permanent orbit — but I am also a customer. I have gear from all three and love that gear to pieces.
Let’s start in the middle.
The BorderPatrol SE-i DAC is a converter that PTA readers ought to be rather familiar with by now. To wildly understate the obvious, I quite like it. I find that it “does things” that few converters do — it makes me want to listen. Very recently, Herb Reichert of Stereophile used the analogy of the glass to talk about DACs — and, in one of the most interestingly useful digressions I’ve ever read, talked about the different kinds of glass and how DACs might sound like this or that. To my ears, the BP DAC is the closest I’ve come to no glass at all, and that is something I continue to prize. With that kind of sound, who cares about high resolution?
That DAC was connected to my favorite of the BorderPatrol amplifiers — the S20, a parallel single-ended 300b amplifier, shown here with the “modest” EXD power supplies and a quartet of new 300b power tubes from Western Electric. This amp puts out a modest 20 watts per channel — and if that feels “light”, I will refer the reader to those who are using this amp or a variant to power loudspeakers from Wilson Audio or Tidal Audio. Clearly, it is not the case that every watt is equal. Gary is happy to talk nerd with any who ask, and if you do ask, you’ll likely get a screed on the vital importance of good power — he personally favors the tube rectified choke input filter variety, which he uses extensively.
Triode Wire Labs carries the signals out. I don’t really know what the secret sauce is here with TWL, but it’s pretty clear that there is a secret sauce, and this system sounds better because of it. The Obsession power cords (from $1499 each) have Furutech FI-50 NCF connectors; the Digital American power cords (from $499 each) have a special noise-reducing feature that I am not smart enough to understand; and the American Speaker Cables (from $699 per set) were fitted out with Cardas CAB bananas and the Spirit II (from $399) features OCC 7n copper. The Digital Interconnect (from $399) is a “split power & data” USB cable — and is a personal reference.
And that brings me to the silent partner — Innuos. Two out of three of my personal systems use Innuos servers because of their quality and their ease of use. Here, the Amigos were using the ZENith and the Phoenix Reclocker.
That was the standard gear. What changed, depending on the day, were the loudspeakers.
On my first visit, I heard the Volti Razz (starting at $6,500/pair), which here was finished in a raspberry (colored) veneer. This loudspeaker, which I haven’t spent much time with, comes in a variety of stylish clothes, err, veneers. The cabinets are tall, the speakers relatively easy to drive (97dB), and are fun as hell to use and listen to. Seriously, for this money, this kind of sound is both very difficult to find, and if you do, tends to be rather expensive, vintage, or unobtanium. As a current-production entry-level offering, the standing recommendation from the PTA team has been to run, not walk, and grab a pair while Greg continues to offer them. “A steal” might be not be strong enough wording.
But for my taste, it was the much ballsier New Rival (starting at $14,995/pair) that really tickled my fancy even while it was punching me in the gut — the drive, the bass, and the finesse of this speaker is just excellent. Oh, why “New”? Well, pretty much for a lot of little reasons, Greg says — “new crossover tweaks, new bracing, new this that the other and that thing I could tell you about but would have to put you in a ditch for, wait, are you seriously writing all of this out, Scot?”
After all that, it might seem a bit anti-climactic, but climbing into the sweet spot took me to a pretty astonishing place. I am finding it hard to describe, and to be fair, I’m actually kinda loathe to do it. Seriously, you really ought to do yourself the favor, and find a way to check it out yourself. There’s a reason why this system gets rave reviews, and my words — copious though they are, are never really gonna carry that over to you.
Here’s the short form: I love it. And here in FLAX, this may be the best I’ve heard it.
This room was a best-in-show contender, without doubt or reservation. Brilliantly well done — once again.
If you would like to hear even more coverage from FLAX 2023, check out our recap report and highlights from our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the episode direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunes, Android, Google, Deezer, Spotify, iHeartRadio and more.
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