The romantic Pestana Palace Hotel, former town house of the Marquis de Valle-Flor, has been the venue of choice for Lisbon Audioshow organiser Audio magazine since 2012. It’s a small, growing event with 25 hotel rooms and also large public areas, both in the Palace itself and the nearby horse stables (the stables are a small palace in itself, and yes, even the horses were treated like royalty by the Marquis; the stables are now Lisbon’s Congress Centre). This year saw the Audioshow extending to one of the new modern wings, which connects to the main building by a long glass corridor across the beautiful gardens.
Built in the early 19th century, the Pestana Palace was designed by the Venetian architect Nicola Bigaglia in a mix of Romanticism and Revivalism. It has strong 18th century French influence with some decorated ceilings, stained glass, exotic wood floors and opulent furniture. The paintings in the lobby lounge ceiling are by the naturalist painter Domingos Costa.
In and of itself, the venue attracts a large number of visitors, especially when the unexpected cold and rainy weather precludes a walk in the park or a stroll by the beach with the children. Entire families showed up, with Grandma pushing the pushchair while the young couples listened to music in some of the tiny rooms on the third floor. Regrettably, although the hotel might be the venue of choice of the rich and famous, room acoustics were generally poor, no matter how much treatment was applied.
Nevertheless, in Portugal high-end audio gets the royal treatment!
Portugal is not known for its audio industry, mostly comprising a few tube geeks and horn loaded or open baffle loudspeaker cottage brands. However, three home-grown products stood out, one analogue and two digital, all aiming to better control time in music reproduction, and an attempt at the simple-is-best hybrid solid state/tube phono preamplifier.
The analogue side was Rui Borges ‘Pendulum’ turntable (€30,000), fitted with Kuzma 4Point tonearm and Ikeda Kai cartridge, shown here in the context of a system comprising CH Precision electronics, which drove a massive pair of Stenheim Reference Ultime loudspeakers in one of the two large rooms occupied by Ultimate Audio. An Aurender W20 streamer and MSB Select DAC fulfilled the digital duties in this system.
Every single piece – each of different materials to further eliminate resonances – is precision machined to zero tolerance. As the name implies it uses a heavy pendulum at the back to keep the belt tension at bay and avoid slippage and the consequent wow and flutter due to speed variation.
V-Acoustics Ultra Precision Master Clock VA-MLCK-01, designed by Vasco Soares, uses an ultra high precision 10MHz reference signal to synchronize D-A converters and transporters with perfect timing accuracy. Mounted in the loop of an Esoteric K01-X player, it increased the spatial location perception, improved the sonic clarity and texture characteristics, dynamic range, tone quality, and soundstage transparency.
In case you didn’t know, the promising Audolici AVP-01 audio phono preamplifier tube drive technology (€5,300) actively demonstrated at the show (with a Music Hall MMF 9.1 turntable by Absolut Sound & Vision), is also designed and built in Portugal. It’s a simple but highly capable hybrid phono/line preamplifier with just three inputs: MC-LINE-MM.
The MC section is based on low-noise high-linearity design with just one active bipolar unit. The MM section is hybrid and consists of one pair of low-noise discrete semiconductors and one tube. The output buffer section offers ‘hi’ and ‘low’ modes, either directly from a tube or through the buffer stages.