The MBL 101X
LAS VEGAS -- At CES, on the 29th floor. Looking 50 miles out into the Disneyfied high-desert sky.

A single malt scotch -- Lagavulin, if I recall correctly -- and a $500,000 stereo conjuring Neil Young: Heart of Gold as if he were playing, live, right there in the room.

Oh baby, can it possibly get any better than this? I don't think so.

The geniuses at Berlin-based MBL Akustikgerate GmbH have just unleashed a powerful new two-channel integrated reference component sound system (more on pricing and features below).

I was dumb-lucky enough to catch the world premiere of the system in a private suite in the Venetian Hotel here on the Strip.

My verdict?

Get ready to part with that holiday bonus, because this thing is the best damn two-channel stereo sound system I have ever heard.

And that's considering rating and purchasing professional and home audio equipment for the better part of three decades. The MBL is just that good.

The system's statement pieces are the new 101X reference speakers, which run approximately $180,000-$200,000 per pair.

That is not a typo: These speakers run one hundred thousand dollars each.

MBL uses a unique radial speaker design that mounts spherical, flexible metallic elements on a base sitting mostly in open space. The end result looks like little flying metal blimps docked in a speaker-cabinet framework.

These metallic elements expand and contract due to changes in electrical current sent down by the power amplifiers and audio signal processors. Louder sounds move the elements more; lesser sounds move the elements less.

The effect is a speaker that radiates sound in all directions rather than simply projecting sound forward or backward as in traditional models.

Here, check it out . How cool is that?

The 101X is an improved version of the MBL's former top-of-the-line speaker, the 101E.

That model broke the sound train up into four different sections: way-low sounds, low sounds, middle sounds and really high sounds. And then it sent those sound trains to one of four different-sized drivers, stacked on top of each other. The 101E was fabulous.

And the 101X is a supersized 101E. It rips the low sub-bass woofer out of the speaker cabinet and sticks it in its own separate enclosure that is well over 6 feet tall -- about the size of half an old phone booth.

It then uses the space captured by splitting out the low-sounding drivers to double the number of low, mid and extremely high drivers in the 101X. Then the speaker stacks the doubled drivers on top of the other.

The result is much, much more speaker: far more sound energy, a wider range of possible sounds and a cleaner radiating energy pattern due to the increased number of sound elements.

It's all dazzling.

If that isn't sick enough, MBL has developed an entire line of components to match these marvelous speakers: the monoblock 9011 amplifier, the 1621A transport, 1611F digital-to-analog converter and the 1622 compact disc player (approximate total price: $300,000). Each of these was a wonder to listen to, even in my limited demo.

The Price of Perfection

Yes, the 101X is ridiculously expensive. With the components, we are talking about half a million dollars. But the setup is also ridiculously good.

I could go on and on about the system's clarity, transparency and theatricality. I could talk about the sheer power of the system, or its resale value, or its quality. But it is really this simple: The MBL reference sound system brings your favorite artists into your life -- live.

The people who make the music you love are right there, making the music you love. How much would it cost to bring John Legend, Ry Cooder, The Berlin Philharmonic and Prince to your house ? Probably more than $500,000.

When you think of it that way, the MBL is a bargain.



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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.

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