B&W 800D3 loudspeakers throw an imposing shadow of iconic design, knife-edge resolution and neutrality over any room they’re in, and while the 800s once again dominated the landscape (just beating out the enormous Transparent Cable Opus loudspeaker cables) , there was push back for attention from the behemoth McIntosh MC1.25KW mono blocs and the multi-box D1100 DAC/C1100 preamplifier pairing driving them.
Only drawing attention to itself by how conspicuously quiet a background it was supplying to the McIntosh DAC was the two-box Lumin U1 Streaming Transport (separate dual-toroidal power supply). With native support for DSD512 and PCM 768kHz, the Roon Ready and MQA-capable U1 seems to be another upper-echelon option for those looking to pair an existing DAC with a digital transport done right.
The first notes struck like a cathedral bell in the room, and one innately understood that a formidable bond had developed between the 1,250-watt McIntosh amps and the 800-level drivers. Drivers meant to hand off incoming signals without imparting any sonic signature of their own.
Indeed, the most notable scribble from my listening notes was the ‘frog in a pot of boiling water’ effect with this system. I kept turning the volume up thinking there’d be deeper bass, harder slam – more something – but there never was. It's not like there was a lack of high-frequency air, midrange texture or guttural bass, but before I knew it, like the frog, I was boiling in dB levels. It didn’t matter how much power the big Mc amps were churning out, the two 800D3 never lost their composure or added anything to the recorded event. Whatever was on the track was conveyed without embellishment or any distortion. This system was a great reminder that many aspects of today's high-end audio isn’t about adding to, or subtracting from what’s being played. It’s about laying the recording bare – whether good or bad.
Thunderous bass-forward power electronic soul/post-funk grooves like “Up All Night,” “Let Me Go,” or “Don’t Shoot” off Sault’s 2019 breakout album Five had intimidating scale and some of the deepest sound stage imaging I’ve experienced listening to these cuts. And with that large, deep stage came immersive percussive textures and guitar/bass fret slide and string pluck resolution. Clarity of tone and timbre popped in stepped colours with razor-sharp delineation between every vocal or vocal overdub, supporting vocal track and every instrument in the mix. There was a quiet power and immediacy relayed through this system regardless of genre that was at once cerebral and emotional in its connection with the listener.
This was an all-digital streaming setup, and I would not describe the sound as romantic or overly warm, so tube lovers won’t be assuaged here. But, those with an ear for a distortion-free, resolution-first prioritization to sound and large-scale presence will be in heaven. While listening to Pablo Color’s La Calle Roja album I wrote of the system “a dispassionate view of colouration with the emphasis on neutrality to incoming converted ones-and-zeroes. Revealing, like hearing a track's source as if an X-ray.” A definite nod to transparency to source and a sound I encounter more and more over time in high-fidelity. I would describe it as the new hi-fi: focused on the abolishment of measured distortion. This is a system about exquisite imaging, detail, speed, impact and an onus on neutrality above all.
Read the next Virtual Audio Festival post covering Gryphon, Sonus Faber, Lumin and AudioQuest HERE.
More information on these products HERE.