The lower level of the AXPONA show held some special audio delights this year. One of my favorites is aways the MBL room but this year the company was somehow able to exceed my expectations even further. Partnered with United Home Audio reel to reel Ultima 2 DC system the sound had just a small dash more of that elusive 10% that can often only be found within the unrelenting steel grip of the very best of the high end.
It was the first public premier of the new MBL N11 Preamp ($14.6k) partnered with the new N15 Monos ($17,8k). The marriage of the two appears to be trailing along better than two honeymooners on vacation in Tahiti. Pushing a pair of the Radialstrahler 101 E MKII loudspeakers ($70.5k) the imaging felt razor tight even against the omni-directional canvas radiating out from 360 driver on top of the main cabinets. The 101 E’s are actually my favorite of the lineup. Lacking the extreme bulk of the larger X-Treme system, the mid tier for the Reference line feel a little more like a real two channel presentation that you might find in an audiophile’s home, even though the accompanying pricetag may restrict it to a lucky few.
The Ultima 2 OPS-DC starts its life as something completely different. Greg Beron of UHA takes down each unit to its frame and rebuilds it from scratch, by hand. In the case of the OPS, he reconfigures the entire structure to rerun on DC instead of traditional alternating current. The new DC only option takes the original $22k proposition up to $28k, and includes a separate block for the isolated transformers. From the UHA site:
“The OPS-DC has two huge torroidal power transformers (in a separate high end chassis) that are made exclusively for UHA. These new for 2017 transformers were redesigned to offer a “Potted Core” the transformer is wound around an inert material to secure and dampen the transformer, many other “secret” features were also employed in the new UHA transformers. The OPS has many banks of DC conversion devices that convert the AC wall electricity to pure DC current. The banks of devices are segregated to different functions depending on the voltage needed by VU meters, motors, lights, transport logic controls and most importantly the audio tape head amps. The audio head amp power circuits are shielded and feed only the UHA tape head amps for complete isolation. A Furutech power filter is also used on the incoming AC power connection to the OPS for complete control of the mains power.”
The total sum of both source and system was really working for me on Friday morning when I stopped by the room. The Dark Side of the Moon album (which is rumored to be no less than a daughter of a studio recording) playing that day had a background so black that it would be very easy for any listener to mistake it for a digital copy. The entire track was squeaky clean and so transparent that the perceived location of instruments and left/right sounds left the listener with a sense of 5.1, even though the experience was clearly only 2-channel. The bar is as high as the price is for this room, but this year they pushed it a little further. The MBL team and Greg were also very generous with their time, as day-long listening opportunities for attendees often progressed into delightful, dimly lit after-hours sessions of shenanigans for dedicated audiophiles. Its a must stop for any Chicago audio lover, day or night.