A Day in the Life With Dr. Jim and Abigail Langham, Behold electronics and The Magical Magico Ultima loudspeakers
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area, which we call the Twight Zone
Where does one start when attempting to write about the audio experience of a life-time? Fresh from all the sights and sounds of another busy and hectic CES, I set my sights further west to Oakland, CA as a guest of music connoisseur, Dr Jim Langham (who, in his spare time, is a long time and well-respected ophthalmologist whose worked in the San Francisco - Bay area for over 40 years).
My experience, when it relates to listening to something this visually and sonically imposing - not to mention the obvious HUGE financial outlay - proved utterly humbling. It also served as a very rare glimpse and a true example of what is possible in the here and now if your musical passions runs this deep (and you've a wallet to match).
Designer Alon Wolf's Magico loudspeakers, in whatever model, became industry darlings overnight. And for good reason: they have a refreshing look, are designed flawlessly and more importantly produce a magnificent sound. Wolf's most radical design is a multi-driver horn of which only three-pair exist and Dr. Langham is one fortunate owner. With a retail price of nearly $400k, one can only imagine what these behemoths sound like if Wolf's least expensive Magico (model V2s @ $18k) gained high praise in the press along with a huge fan base.
Now, try to imagine my experience of hearing the Magic Ultimas strapped to FIVE of the most versatile high-end amplifiers in the world: The Behold BPA-768 stereo amplifiers and the super-sophisticated 12-channel APU-768 preamp replete with its own Digital to Analogue converters (DACs), room-correction and an active 10-channel digital crossover with manual phase and time alignment capabilities. All these features dear reader are nestled inside a single chassis. More impressive is each Behold amplifier houses eight DACs per-channel: All eight DACs are designed to cascade and thus upsample to 768-bit resolution. Steve Balliet of Reflection Audio serves as Langham's setup genius and trust me, after dinner with Balliet and Langham discussing their goals and sonic objectives via mathematical equations - and the ensuing brain cramps the came ala Behold's Ralf Ballmann - there' s no question Balliet's qualified for the job of syncing this system together and getting it to sound its best.
Best sounding electronics ever? What's the best wristwatch? Automobile? That's a silly question often asked in this hobby. The reality is, there's no such thing because "best" is totally subjective. Besides, there's always something on the horizon that's going to up the ante anyways which makes the entire notion slippery and elusive at best. Most versatile? Now that's a good question. And yes, I would qualify the Behold series of high-end electronics as the most versatile I've ever seen. It's no coincidence that both Jean Yves and Dr. Langham employ room correction in otherwise excellent acoustic spaces (Yves using my former reference Tact 2.2XP). Moreover, both their rooms seem more than adequate when it comes to size. Both, if I guesstimate, are about 25' feet across with about 40' deep while the listening chair and sweet-spot was still about 10' to 12' (max) from the loudspeakers.
The Behold amplifiers in Dr. Langham's system are totally inconspicuous as they're housed below in his basement directly below each loudspeaker (I did get the chance to give them a peak but with a very low ceiling and no hard-hat, I dared not venture past the doorway) Serguei Timachev's Stealth Audio Dream Series cables are shown going through the floor to the sublevel where five Behold amplifiers are housed.
There's Langham discussing more tweaks with the tweak-miester himself Jack Bybee.
A set of Bybee Golden Goddess Speaker Bullets are used to great sonic consequence on all three Ale compression drivers, and the huge TAD mid-bass horn. Shakti Onlines and Hallographs were also used to great extent.
The sheer width and depth of the Magico Ultimas is far more intimidating when you're standing next to them. Pictures do very little justice.
The Langham's nicely decorated ranch-style home is adorned with fine African art.
When I last visited Paris back in the fall of '04, I had the unique opportunity to hear Jean Yves Kerbrat's 6-way horn system. This provided a performance benchmark from a horn system as far as I was concerned. Clearly, the best sounding system I've heard... until a few weeks ago when I sat before the mighty Magico Ultimas.
Back in 2000, I visited Singapore and Japan to hear the new series of tube electronics from Zanden Audio. Here, they were strapped to a pair of 99-dB sensitive Sawada Audio Tutankhamen loudspeakers which employed four lowther drivers employed, by design, to excite the listening space more than the listener ala the Bose direct/reflect slant. In many respects, and mostly with classical music, I never heard a more honest and harmonically true transducer.
My most recent experiences of walking the halls at the Venetian and the S.H.O.W. - reliving all the wonderful exotic sounding setups I heard are duly documented in my show coverage. By comparison to what I heard listening to the Magico Ultimas with Behold electronics, everything I heard at CES, in Paris or Japan pales by comparison.
Using a Wadia and Goldmund CD as dedicated transports, the life-like sense of scale Langham's system is capable of proved absolutely astonishing. Dynamics? I never heard anything this dead quiet and then instantly LOUD. I heard voices so delicate, yet so "there" while simultaneously other instruments appeared further recessed into the soundstage yet so tangible. Hard to describe. After hearing this for more than an hour, I developed a new-found respect for the term three-dimensional. Big, bold and musical, I would qualify it as the sonic equivalent of an IMAX movie. It got to the point where I began second-guessing if certain sounds from songs I knew intimately were actually coming from the loudspeakers themselves.
Yes, it got really spooky quiet.
Insomuch, even as I attempt to share the experience with you I'm just lost for words. Both Jack Bybee and I just sat there after each song looking at each other just mumbling to ourselves. There are no words that can ever fully explain what I actually felt while listening to this system.
And to think, Langham says he's not finished. There's new Behold software updates and Scaena subwoofers on the horizon for an even more tight and tuneful low-end. When those are implemented he wants me back for another session.
Most people would say I'm fortunate to have owned Behold as my reference for more than five years. Yeah, life has been good. Not as good as the Langhams but I'm having so much fun, I've no time to complain. Shucks, whenever I want IMAX sound all I have to do is give the good doctor a call.
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