That California sun is hard to forget. So is the Truman Show-esque feel of Irvine. A week or so after the last truck has pulled away from the loading docks of the Atrium and Hilton hotels, I’ve been thinking about the sounds I’m finding hardest to shake. This is how I’m judging my picks of T.H.E. Newport Beach 2013 – sonic prowess that’s hard to forget.
‘Best in Show’ runner-up:
The organisation of formal demos every fifteen minutes at the Magnepan room seems like a good idea on paper but it’s somewhat haphazard in execution. Head honcho Wendell Diller looks run ragged trying to answer post-demo questions in the hallway. His wife Galina is doing her best to dole out stickers to eager attendees. “That’s blue – come back at 12.30pm?”
Inside the room it’s DARK. Everyone: sit down and be quiet. No talking at the back. The Super MMG isn’t a pair of loudspeakers per se, it’s a pair of loudspeakers plus a bass panel (US$1199). Or two bass panels (US$1750). The twin bass bin rig is on show today. And no, this isn’t a pair of standard MMGs with bass panels thrown in. The crossovers have been tweaked to accommodate the hired low frequency help. If you want just a pair of loudspeakers, stick with the ‘new’ MMG.
We hear six shorts excerpts of music, mostly classical or audiophile stuff (none of which is to my taste) but the sound – oh that sound – so coherent, so together, so natural. It fills the room perfectly without any hint of overload. The only shortness of breath comes from the price. That price. The ‘new’ MMG have the sub-$1k loudspeaker market locked down at US$599. If you’ve got the right amplifier, very little else comes close for the money. With the Super MMG system, the Dillers have the $1-2k bracket in a similarly tight stranglehold. If you’re thinking of dropping up to two thousand sheets on loudspeakers, take the Super MMG system for a 60-day home trial first.
‘Best in Show’ winner:
A week prior to landing in LA, I knew nothing of ALO’s brand-new statement headphone amplifier. TONEAudio’s preview of the ~$5k unit piqued my interest. Actually, the price piqued my interest more than anything. $4900? For a headphone amplifier? What have they been smoking in Portland?
I sat down at the ALO table (wearing my fanciest skeptics hat) at which three Studio Six amplifiers could be found, each hooked up to a different array of headphones. Nerds note: this amplifier can drive FOUR sets of cans. Four!
Spying a Mytek DAC, I first ran direct from its own headphone socket into Audez’e LCD-3s with Steely Dan’s Gaucho. Don’t judge me, I love this record. It’s the perfect California album. The sound served up by the Mytek was great, if a bit tight and bright. However, there was no way any headphone amplifier was gonna justify a ~$5k price point. It was nearing the end of the show so this cynics plan was easy to set: I’d listen to the Studio Six, chuckle at his fiscal audacity, point at the egg on Ken Ball’s face before heading home to sleep on a pillow of my own smugness….
…and yet the face egg was all mine. “Waiter, a slice of humble pie. AT ONCE!” Damnit, bring the whole pie. What I heard from the Macbook → Mytek → Studio Six → LCD-3 combination is possibly one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard. Yes, ever. Relaxation, ease, open detail dig from a wide-as-the-horizon soundstage. Nothing short of astonishing. No, strike that: it was BREATHTAKING.
You wouldn’t get close to this sound quality with $4900* amplification plus loudspeakers – no way Jose. If you’re looking for a definitive home headphone amplifier solution, this is it folks.
ALO – Best in show. It rhymes because the Studio Six sound is pure poetry.
*$4900 with Solen Polypropylene caps, add $200 for the fancier Solen Teflon caps.