rian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports invited Marc Mickelson and me to visit his showroom/residence in Parker, Colorado, just south of Denver over a weekend late last month. Brian is the importer and distributor of, among other lines, Ypsilon electronics, Lansche speakers, B.M.C. components and Bergmann turntables. Also in-house for this fact-finding visit was Carlos Candeias, the CEO and chief designer of B.M.C.
Paul Bolin (left) talks with Carlos Candeias of B.M.C. . .
Candeias explained every aspect of his design philosophy and how it is implemented, which was fascinating all by itself. The son of a Portuguese father and a Spanish mother, Carlos was raised in Germany, where B.M.C. is headquartered. These days he spends most of his time in the city of Hangzhou, China, where B.M.C.s wholly owned factory is located. Fluent in a half-dozen languages and even more technical disciplines, Carlos is one of the brainiest and most impressive people I have met in any field of endeavor, anywhere. He loves to talk audio and has a knack for the teaching aspect of the process; he is able to explain why he does what he does, and how it works in a manner that makes his concepts immediately accessible and understandable even by people like me -- my degrees are in political science and law -- for whom most engineer-speak may as well be Sanskrit. On top of that, he has wildly eclectic and wonderful taste in music.
Brians main listening room is something in and of itself -- purpose-built for auditioning the highest of high-end components, it is comfortable, spacious and possessed of the most imposing array of acoustic treatments I have seen in a private home.
On a Saturday evening that stretched into the wee hours of Sunday morning we were treated to a B.M.C. system consisting of the BDCD 1.1 belt-drive CD player/transport ($5990) and fully loaded DAC 1 PRE DAC/preamplifier ($6290), AMP M2 mono power amplifiers ($15,980/pair) and the new Arcadia loudspeakers ($36,300/pair in satin finishes, $40,300 in glossy piano finishes). The system was hooked up with Stage IIIs Gryphon interconnects ($7100/meter pair) and Mantikor speaker cables ($14,900/two-meter pair), and Stage III Minotaur and Zyklop power cords ($4600 and $6600, respectively). Also present were B.M.C.s MCCI phono stage ($3890) and Bergmanns Magne air-bearing turntable/tonearm combination ($13,000), which were not auditioned. Power distribution in the form of an HB Cable designs Powerslave Acrylic ($6995) and a three-shelf Tandem Audio Statement Series rack ($16,100) and amplifier stands ($4500 each) completed the system.
The Arcadias are worth some exposition all by themselves. This narrow-baffle, bipolar speaker has an 11" woofer mounted on each side of its cabinet and sports an external crossover that weighs a hefty 37 pounds. The midrange drivers and Air Motion Transformer tweeters take up the top third or so of both the front and back of the cabinet, which is made of cast ceramic. To say that the Arcadias cabinets are dead is to understate the case. A soft, quickly decaying "tk" is the only sound produced by a sharp rap. Carlos designed all of the drivers.
While quite expensive, this system delivered a level of sonic excellence and completeness that can be legitimately compared to systems costing three to four times as much. The B.M.C. components have as fast and lithe a character as even the most exotic solid-state competition but do not sound skeletal or unnaturally thinned out in the least. The systems dynamic performance was simply extraordinary; with one of Carlos recordings featuring a Tibetan ensemble, the impact of the Kodo drummers thunderous entrance was like being hit in the chest with a hammer. With my own music, the B.M.C. system effortlessly peeled open the multi-layered remix of Ayumi Hamasakis "M" on Ayu Trance 2 [Avex Trax 10135] like an onion. "O Fortuna" from Orffs Carmina Burana [Naxos 8.570033] let the system, particularly the Arcadias, throw an immensely broad and deep soundfield in which every instrument and singer was placed precisely as a fully dimensional image. As the night wore on, Marc, Carlos and I selected track after track with the same results.
The B.M.C. gear has a resolution floor the likes of which I have not heard before, dynamics that sit at the top of any class you might care to name, Usain Bolt-like speed to burn, and a full-bodied presence that consistently hit "electrifying." The Arcadia is a soundstaging champ and delivers controlled deep-bass thunder which seems utterly incompatible with its modest footprint. Though I have spent more than twenty years as a high-end hobbyist and journalist I cannot recall any company that has exploded onto the scene with the impact of B.M.C. Every one of their products is superbly finished, sonically distinguished and thought through with a relentless fanaticism. In value terms, Ive not heard anything that can touch them. These are world-class, top-level components at what have to be seen as bargain prices when compared to their sonic competition. Mark my words: Carlos Candeias is a lead-pipe lock to be one of the faces of high-performance audio for the next couple of decades.
The other system in Brians big room was truly all-out and cost-no-object. This monster consisted of Bergmanns top-shelf Sleipner turntable, which sports an air-bearing tonearm and air-bearing/air-centered platter ($54,000) carrying a Lyra Atlas cartridge ($9500), Ypsilons VPS100 tube phono stage ($26,000) and accompanying MC10L moving-coil step-up transformer ($6200), CDT100 CD transport/player ($26,000), DAC100 tubed D/A converter ($29,000), PST100 Mk II hybrid preamplifier ($37,000) and the striking SET100 Ultimate monoblock power amps ($125,000/pair) all feeding Lansches No. 7 loudspeakers, which feature a plasma tweeter ($108,000/pair).
Cabling was all from Stage III Concepts: five Minotaur ($4600 each), three Zyklop ($6600 each), two Kraken ($8400 each) and one Vortex Prime ($2800) power cords, an Analord Prime tonearm cable ($3100), a Chimaera digital link ($5900), three pairs of Gryphon interconnects ($6400 each) and Mantikor speaker cables ($14,900). Power distribution was with Powerslave Marble units ($8995 each), and Symposium Acoustics three-level ($5000) and double-wide four-level ($10,000) racks were used in addition to nine Acapella platforms ($3200 each). All of this adds up to a boggling $587,990, if my Minnesota math is correct.
The sound of this very big and very imposing system was quite different from that of the B.M.C. system: a bit lusher and more rounded. Only on a bit of sustained listening, particularly with analog sources, did the true excellence of this system become forthrightly evident. Images were gloriously life-sized, with tonalities that were burnished yet totally extended on top (that plasma tweeter is rated to 150kHz) while remaining utterly relaxed. This system was as coherent in every way, dynamically, timbrally, and temporally, as anything I have ever heard. This kind of superiority is only to be expected when a system carries such a stupendous price tag, though that by itself is no guarantee of excellence. Few things are easier to do in audio than throw together a random group of megabuck components and emerge with sheer mediocrity in sonic terms.
. . .and listens to the half-million-dollar Ypsilon/Lansche big rig.
Such was assuredly not the case with this system, however. Brian fired up the beautiful Bergmann Sleipner and played "St. Thomas" from Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus [Analogue Productions 7079]. When the track ended, Marc and I were actually standing and applauding. Riffling through Brians LPs, Marc found Dean Martins Dream With Dean [Reprise RS-6123], which Brian had commended to him a while back. This rather unusual album featured the crooner with a jazz quartet led by guitar legend Barney Kessel. The intimacy and lifelike quality of this album were enough to make me swoon. Dino was there, sitting between and about a foot behind the huge Lansches, the quartet laid out perfectly in space behind and around him. Nirvanas Live Unplugged in New York [DGC/Original Recordings Group ORG 034] was every bit as compelling. Sades "Smooth Operator," from Best of Sade [Music on Vinyl MOVLP-130 ], was like slipping into a skin-temperature Jacuzzi. As Billy Crystal used to say in his Fernando Lamas character from Saturday Night Live, "simply maaah-velous." Initially it seemed to me that the B.M.C. system was faster, but on extended listening this proved not to be the case. The speed and resolution were there, but they were combined with a suave and relaxed quality that only the finest, best-balanced systems can achieve.
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