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Thread: An AXPONA 2017 highlight: BorderPatrol/Triode Wire Labs/Volti Audio

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    An AXPONA 2017 highlight: BorderPatrol/Triode Wire Labs/Volti Audio

    A belated report, since right after the AXPONA show I went on vacation to Europe, but now I'm back.

    Among other great sounds at AXPONA 2017 (for a good part experienced together with WBF member Madfloyd [Ian] and his wife Linda), for me personally the highlight was the room with BorderPatrol electronics and Volti Audio speakers. Cables were by Triode Wire Lab. It was a highlight both in absolute terms, and in terms of performance/price ratio -- the whole system probably did not cost more than $ 25K (!).

    I have been a fan of BorderPatrol since a few years now, since I got the MB external power supplies for my parallel push-pull triode amps, see also my review at WBF here:

    So I was very interested to hear their room, and talk with BorderPatrol's Gary Dews who, as expected, is not just an extremely competent designer but also a nice fellow.

    He specializes in low-powered triode amps that get their magic from those external power supplies (all models come standard with them, in variations) that are intended to drive highly efficient speakers. The pairing with Volti Audio's horn speakers seemed perfect.

    The first thing that struck me was how uncolored the sound was. There was NO typical horn coloration. Seriously. Greg Roberts from Volti Audio (another nice fellow whom I spoke with in that room) does an actual demonstration of the lack of coloration in this video:

    I had already seen the video, but you only believe it fully once you actually hear the music through those speakers. Voice track after voice track, I just couldn't hear the dreaded horn coloration. Voices just sounded very natural, like through a great conventional speaker. Sibilance also seemed very natural, by the way.

    The second thing that struck me was how effortlessly dynamic the sound was. They played Reference Recordings' Symphonic Dances by Rachmaninow, and the climaxes were as dynamic as I have ever heard. My own system (link see bottom of post) is also enormously dynamic, but what stood out was the effortlessness with which dynamics swoops were portrayed. My system has also been called effortless by people who have heard it, but this was yet in another league. A considerable difference between orchestra live and home reproduction is usually that effortlessness of dynamic swoops, and the system in that room came as close to bridging that gap as I have ever heard; that includes very large speakers driven by monster amps (in fact, the gap left seemed to be really small). It might not be quite surprising, given the 100 db sensitivity of those Volti Audio Rival horn speakers:

    which of course can be driven with consummate ease by that BorderPatrol amp (of the dynamics of triode amps nobody needs to convince me ). The amp was the P20, a 2 x 20 Watt push-pull 300B triode design. It was in its most basic configuration, powered by a single MB external power supply. It scares me to think how the dynamic performance would be even further enhanced by dual MB power supplies (I have them, one for each of my triode monoblocks), or even by the monstrous EXS power supplies as the sample in this review:

    The review of the room by Part-Time Audiophile Scott Hull:

    speaks of 'blow-your-hair-back dynamics'. Yeah, that sounds about right, not exaggerated at all (at that link you can also see beautiful pictures of system and room). The dynamics were tremendously helped by three other things:

    1. An incredibly gutsy, ballsy tone, with tremendous power and weight, but not at the expense of pronounced treble extension which was phenomenal. The sound had an enormously physical, visceral impact that I hadn't heard from any of the 'big' systems in the show to quite that extent. It made the orchestra sound quite real. That tone puts most systems to shame. I also noticed how on a jazz track the drums had remarkable power and weight, closer to the real thing than I may have heard from other systems, even though the gap with the real thing was still considerable. That simple drum playing without solo was more impressive than the drum solo that I had heard earlier in the show on one of those 'big' systems (very large speakers driven by high-powered amps).

    2. Phenomenally fast transients, which also made the just mentioned drum playing so impressive.

    3. A really huge soundstage. How that impression could be created I don't quite know. The room was one of the smaller ones, with the system set up on the wide side. This did not allow for much actual spatial depth, something that I enjoy in my own room, but width and height seemed great and ambience information from the concert hall came though.

    Imaging was impressive in its specificity and presence. Center voices were portrayed with great palpability and pin-point imaging -- through speakers that are rather wide. Given that I have monitors in my system, powered by competent and quite refined electronics, I am used to some imaging magic, but this came close.

    Gary Dews told me that this system was all about tone and dynamics, and his BorderPatrol electronics teamed up with the Volti speakers for a highly successful expression of both.

    Saxophone tone was also great, usually a sore spot for digital. And get this: the gutsy and weighty tone, the tremendous dynamics and transient speed, and the large soundstage came all through a BorderPatrol NOS DAC priced around 1400 bucks. No joke. It was really confusing.

    By the way, this is a Redbook 16/44.1 DAC only. The performance from the Redbook CD format surprises me less; I find so-called hi-res completely overrated, all the musicality and resolution you need is already available in Redbook format which I exclusively play as well. If Redbook sounds limited, then recording and or DAC/system are at fault.

    A review of that DAC by Scott Hull is found here:

    The review states:

    If you’ll pardon the hyperbole, at $1,850 with all the bells and whistles, this DAC blows the doors off of just about everything else. And no, not just in its weight class. I mean “just about everything else”. To clearly better it, I have to go to extraordinary lengths (and budgets) — and that’s crazy.
    After having heard the DAC it would not surprise me if that is not an overstatement, but of course I'd need to make my own direct comparisons.


    Was the system perfect? No. Timbral resolution was very high, but probably not on the highest level possible (unfortunately, I didn't bring some of my own CDs to test). Jazz cymbals though, for example, sounded tremendously resolved. As mentioned, spatial depth was lacking, a room constraint. Also, while bass was tight, double bass did not sound quite as free as I would have wanted; but that also seemed rather clearly a room constraint, even though additional limitations cannot be excluded until listening in a better room.

    But while the sound may not have been perfect, the system was to me the musically most involving of the systems I heard at the show (which was an admittedly limited sampling, but did involve some of the 'big' players). Track after track, it consistently sounded 'live' and alive.

    As for amplification, the system was on familiar terrain for me (c.f. also my own system), I didn't need any convincing in that respect. The system though got me seriously thinking about horn speakers. I never thought I'd say that, but here it is. There was a no disadvantage of coloration, but the known advantage of effortless dynamics, coupled with great tone and imaging specificity.
    Last edited by Al M.; 05-07-2017 at 11:27 AM. Reason: grammar

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