MBL Reference System at T.H.E. Show
Even though hotel rooms are not the best environment to show off high-end audio products, some companies managed to achieve a mighty impressive sound at T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach, CA. Among them was MBL, which set up two systems in adjoining rooms. My first stop was the room with the flagship Reference system, including two 101E MkII speakers ($70,500/pair, profiled here) and two 9011 monoblock power amps, which generate 750 watts per channel and cost a staggering $53,000 each.
Driving the speakers and amps was the 1621A CD transport and 1611F DAC ($28,000 and $28,700, respectively, profiled here) on a shelf above a 6010D preamp ($26,500). Unlike many companies, MBL also used a music server (a Linux-based Sonore from Simple Design) to play files originally recorded digitally by Jürgen Reis, the wunderkind who designs all MBL products, from speakers to electronics.
The most beautiful sound I heard was a solo-piano piece played on an unlacquered Steinway, recorded at 88.2kHz/24-bit and saved in the lossless FLAC format. The sense of space was extraordinary with exceptional clarity throughout the sonic spectrum. Take 6's a cappella version of "Away in a Manger" (44.1kHz/16 bits) was also gorgeous, but I heard a low-mid/upper-bass bump that was caused by a 10dB room peak at 125Hz, which I could clearly see on the real-time analyzer wielded by an MBL rep. I don't know why I didn't notice it with the piano track, but it was pretty obvious with male vocals. Still, this was one of the best-sounding systems I heard at the show.