Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blackbird Audio Gallery and Profundo at the Newport Beach T.H.E. Show

As I said in part one of this report, CCI partnered with Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio Gallery for the Newport Beach show last week. Dan also partnered with our good friend Bob Clarke of Profundo--US distributor of VivA, Trenner & Friedl, Transfiguration and Heed--in two additional rooms next door at the Atrium. Colleen and I didn't get a chance to see many other rooms during the show, but we did get to spend a lot of time on set-up day with Dan, Bob, Alpar Huszti of Heed Audio, Alan Fong of Syncopation (a dealer in Stockton, California) and Edwin, one of Alan's favorite clients. In other words, I did get to hear some great sound at the show--other than mine, of course, heh heh--courtesy of these guys.

You might remember that CCI, Blackbird and Profundo partnered up at last year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. We had two separate systems in that room and offered kind of a "dueling distributors" theme--we played our system for an hour, and then Bob would play his system. Dan acted as sort of the mediator and kept the music flowing. Well, we all had such a great time doing that room that we may repeat the set-up at this year's RMAF in October. In fact, it felt sort of odd to be at the same show with Dan and Bob this time--but separated by a parking lot.

Of course it helps that Dan and Bob are both vinyl lovers, which is why we all get along so well. Dan is a Basis Audio dealer, and Bob is a huge Basis fan--and owner. I'm pretty sure he'd be the US distributor if they weren't already made here in the US. In one of their two rooms at the Atrium, Bob and Dan included this Basis 2200 Signature turntable, with a Basis arm and the new flagship Proteus cartridge from Transfiguration--my current favorite manufacturer when it comes to cartridges. I'm also a big fan of the Basis turntabes--ordinarily I'm not in love with acrylic plinths, but Basis TTs always extract the light from the music in a masterful, confident way.

The big news at Profundo, however, is the introduction of the latest speaker from Trenner & Friedl, the Isis. The Isis is cut from the same cloth as the Pharaoh and the RA Box--wide, shallow cabinets and efficient designs--but the Isis is a 3-way design with a 15-inch woofer. It offered a sonic presentation that seemed without boundaries, effortless and thoroughly engaging. It reminded me of Trenner & Friedl's flagship, the Duke, which I heard at the 2011 CES. That's saying a lot, because the Isis costs less than one-fourth the amount of the $175,000 Duke. More than one person in the room commented that the Isis gives you a big hunk of the Duke's sound in a much smaller footprint. But as you can see from the photos, the Isis is still an imposing loudspeaker.

Amplification in the room was by VivA, another stellar brand imported by Bob. The VivA amplfiers offer some of the most beautiful designs available among tube amps, with rich, sexy curves, big tubes and gleaming surfaces. Of course they do--they're made in Italy! Cables were from Cardas Audio--enough said. This was an absolutely amazing room.

In the second room was an all Heed Audio system. As great as the first room was, this room really caught my attention because it made such a compelling sound from relatively affordable equipment. Those unique-looking Heed Enigma speakers are only $3800 per pair, but they offered full, impressive bass response and a huge soundstage--the kind of sound that you usually expect from speakers over $10K. You know how I feel about Heed electronics--the Obelisk integrated amplifier with X2 power supply is my first choice for solid state amplification for less than $5K. Here, Bob and Alpar brought their top-of-the-line monoblocks, preamp, phono preamp and digital transport and DAC. Dan also included his excellent Funk Firm turntable and arm with another Transfiguration cartridge. This was a system I could easily live with for the rest of my life.

These new equipment racks from Audio Strata were gorgeous as well. Dave Neilson, formerly of Splintr Design, made these racks specifically for the show. He was going to make one for us, but we all ran out of time. We should have one for Rocky Mountain and CES, so come on by and see these lovely pieces of furniture in person. (That's an in-joke--Colleen thinks racks should always be called racks, while Dave prefers audio furniture.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again--Bob Clarke has exquisite taste when it comes to representing product lines in the US. Although I don't have any seat time with VivA, I do own a pair of Trenner & Friedl speakers, I've reviewed Heed Audio and I've used Transfiguration at other trade shows. All four of his lines are just musical beyond belief, and that's coming from a "competitor" in an industry where "if I don't carry it, it must be crap" is almost a motto. And this speaks doubly well for Dan Muzquiz, who carries Bob's lines as well as ours--lines that I'm very proud of, too.

I recently had someone call me on this at a recent trade show--he was listening in as I told a retail customer that I carried the lines I did because I loved them. I'm not a salesman by trade, and I don't think I could sell something I didn't like. "That's a great sales line," that person said, and we laughed. But it's absolutely true. I think Bob is the same way--he loves his brands, and his system at home (which I've heard a few times) is made up of these brands and it sounds great.

As I've said more than once, I have the best job in the world. And I get to hang out with the best people.

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