14 Pages of Hot Product Previews

S T E R E O • M U LT I C H A N N E L A U D I O • M U S I C

levinson’s triumphant No.436 Amplifier

redefiNiNg value Nad’s New amp & cd Player wadia resurgent!

NHt classic tHree
world’s Best $1k speaker?

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Contents February 2007
Cover STory

64 NHT Classic Three Loudspeaker

Chris Martens on an $800 three-way monitor with refinement, resolution, and imaging. Jonathan Valin, Robert Harley, and Neil Gader report.

45 High end returns to its roots: The Third Annual rocky Mountain Audio Fest 88 Mark Levinson Nº 436 Monaural Power Amplifier
A 35-year tradition of excellence continues, says Sue Kraft. equipment reports AbSoLuTe ANALog:

38 London reference Phono Cartridge

Jonathan Valin on a new reference with an old pedigree. Tom Martin gets a solid glimpse of the state of the art. Neil Gader with a sneak preview. Robert E. Greene reports on something different.

70 Tannoy Autograph Mini Loudspeaker 7 Plinius Sb-301 Amplifier

74 NuForce S9 Loudspeaker

80 Wireworld Audio Silver electra and Stratus 5 Series Power Cords
Neil Gader plugs in.

8 Pioneer S-eX Loudspeaker

Bridging the divide between home and studio speakers, by Neil Gader. Jim Hannon on the latest classic elecrostatic; Paul Seydor comments. The Cutting edge

94 Quad eSL-805 Loudspeaker

104 Wadia 70se CD Transport, Series 9 DAC, and 581 CD/SACD Player 10 Krell LAT-1000 Loudspeaker

Alan Taffel auditions Wadia’s reference and entry-level players. Anthony H. Cordesman on an open challenge to the status quo. 

February 2007 The Absolute Sound

Contents
06 118 16 18  6 Letters Manufacturer Comment From The editor Industry News Future TAS Start Me up
NAD C 325BEE Integrated Amplifier and C 525BEE CD Player; Nuforce P8 preamplifier Barry Willis and Chris Martens.

founder; chairman, editorial advisory board editor-in-chief editor executive editor managing and music editor acquisitions manager and associate editor art director

Harry Pearson robert Harley Wayne garcia Jonathan valin bob gendron Neil gader Torquil Dewar

senior writers John W. Cooledge, Anthony H. Cordesman, robert e. greene, Chris Martens, Dick olsher, Andrew Quint, Sallie reynolds, Paul Seydor, Alan Taffel reviewers and contributing writers Soren baker, greg Cahill, Dan Davis, Andy Downing, Jim Hannon, Jacob Heilbrunn, Sue Kraft, Mark Lehman, Ted Libbey, David Mcgee, bill Milkowski, Derk richardson, Don Saltzman, Max Shepherd, barry Willis hp’s equipment setup Danny gonzalez web producer Ari Koinuma Absolute Multimedia, Inc. chairman and ceo Thomas b. Martin, Jr. vice president/publisher Mark Fisher advertising reps Cheryl Smith (512) 891-7775 Marvin Lewis MTM Sales (718) 225-8803
reprints and e-prints: Jennifer Martin, Wrights Reprints toll free: (877) 652-5295, Outside the U.S.: (281) 419-5725, jmartin@wrightsreprints.com subscriptions, renewals, changes of address: phone: (888) 732-1625 (US) or (815) 734-5833 (outside US), or write The Absolute Sound, Subscription Services, PO Box 629, Mt Morris, IL 61054. Ten issues: in the US, $36; Canada $52 (GST included); outside North America, $71 (includes air mail). Payments must be by credit card (VISA, MasterCard, American Express) or US funds drawn on a US bank, with checks payable to Absolute Multimedia, Inc. editorial matters: Address letters to the editor, The Absolute Sound, PO Box 1768, Tijeras, New Mexico 87059, or e-mail rharley@absolutemultimedia.com. classified advertising: Please use form in back of issue. newsstand distribution and local dealers: Contact IPD, 27500 Riverview Center Blvd., Suite 400, Bonita Springs, Florida 34134, (239) 949-4450 publishing matters: Contact Mark Fisher at the address below or e-mail mfisher@absolutemultimedia.com. Publications Mail Agreement 40600599 Return Undeliverable Canadian Addresses to Station A / P Box 54 / Windsor, ON N9A 6J5 .O. e-mail: info@theabsolutesound.com Absolute Multimedia, Inc. 4544 S. Lamar, Bldg. G-300 Austin, Texas 78745 phone: (512) 892-8682 · fax: (512) 891-0375 e-mail: tas@absolutemultimedia.com

35

iTAS
Polk Audio I-Sonic. Robert Harley on the Swiss Army knife of desktop audio.

150 131

Music recording of the Issue
Tom Brosseau: Grand Forks

120

Jazz
The scoop on the newest discs from Charles Tolliver, Steve Swallow, Exploding Star Orchestra, Joe Zawinul, and Muhal Richard Abrams. And, two hybrid SACDs from Chesky and a 200-gram Horace Silver LP.

139

Classical
Boris Berezovsky tackles Hindemith, Paul Lewis interprets Beethoven piano sonatas, Simon Rattle and Szymanowski’s Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess, Ryan Brown on Sacchini’s Oedipe a Colone, Kronos and Mogwai team up for The Fountain, and the Capucons plumb Inventions. Plus, three SACD reviews and LPs from Speakers Corner.

35

149

rock etc.
Reviews of the latest CDs and LPs from Ghost, Clinic, Eric Clapton, Vince Gill, Yusuf, Kellie Pickler, Tartit, Jay-Z, Menomena, and Neil Young. Plus, the Beatles on DVD-A.

159

records of the year
Cast ‘em in stone. Bob Gendron, Andrew Quint, and Derk Richardson pick 2006’s best albums.

www.theabsolutesound.com

160

TAS back Page
11 Questions for Michael Hobson of Classic Records Neil Gader.

160

2007 Absolute Multimedia, Inc., February 2007. The Absolute Sound (ISSN#0097-1138) is published ten times per year, $42 per year for US residents. Absolute Multimedia, Inc., 4544 S. Lamar, Bldg G300, Austin, Texas 78745. Periodical Postage paid at Austin, Texas and additional mailing offices. Canadian publication mail account #1551566. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Absolute Sound, Subscription Services, PO Box 629, Mt Morris, IL 61054. Printed in the USA.

4 February 2007 The Absolute Sound

SACD Better Than CD?

Letters
And never once have I seen Jon Valin make the statement “SACD is better than CD,” until now. With the possible exception of the Mark Levinson-produced recording that he so dearly loved awhile back. JV has always praised CD, starting in the year 2000 with the MBL gear. Maybe it’s the recordings. I listen to Red Book only with Hyperion, Harmonia Mundi, Chesky [discs], etc.—recordings that have 20-bit dynamic range, even on the 16-bit consumer release. I’m a very happy listener. John Harnick
Jonathan Valin replies: While it is true that I had and have problems with the treble-range noise artifacts of certain SACD players and SACD discs and did not and do not think that SACD beats out all other playback media (as Mr. Mankiewicz does, and many others do), that does not mean that I think CD playback is superior to SACD. I quote from the very review that Mr. Harnick mentioned: “The EMM Labs and the Krell [SACD players] share certain generic virtues: Their overall clarity is markedly superior to CD, and in the [EMM Labs] DAC6e’s case to vinyl; their dynamic range and scale is superior to CD and, in the DAC6e’s case competitive with vinyl; their bass is significantly better defined and more extended than it is on CD or vinyl; and, minus the noise problem, their treble range extension and detail is much better than CD… The EMM Labs is in a class of its own, quite literally. It simply doesn’t sound like anything else, and what it does well, it does unparalleledly well. While it doesn’t beat out analog disc or tape in musical realism, it is competitive on its own terms. I just wish more SACD software was worthy of it.” Having said this, let me also note, in defense of Mr. Harnick’s position, that in spite of its superiority to CD I simply haven’t found SACD a compelling enough alternative to vinyl to make it my primary source and that when I listen to digital (and I do listen to digital once in awhile) I tend to listen to CD, partly because I have many more CDs than SACDs and partly because CD playback, as I noted above, has improved enough, both on the software and the hardware side, to make it a pleasant alternative to LP.

As a subscriber who goes back to the very beginning of The Absolute Sound, I have come to the conclusion that my ears— occasionally described by friends as “golden”—must have turned to “dross” (from old age?), because I don’t get it. I listen to, say, Ivan Fischer’s new recording of Mahler’s Second Symphony on Channel Classics, and am so stunned by the awesome sonics of this SACD—and this has happened so often with other SACDs from Channel, Harmonia Mundi, Pentatone, even Abbado’s Mahler Sixth on DG—that I can’t believe people are still debating whether it’s superior to Red Book CDs. Have I suddenly become deaf ? It’s clearly time for the industry to adopt SACD for quality music recordings and leave the television, computer, and movie junkies to argue about other things important to them. Music lovers should unite behind SACD and inevitably improve it with time. Further debate will only exacerbate the economic woes of the industry. Christopher Mankiewicz

SACD Worse Than CD?

What can I say about Red Book CD? It’s definitely improving, as you confirmed with your Meridian CD player review: It “invites a comparison to a live microphone feed.” Other reviewers in highend audio are reporting similar findings. A few highlights: Positive Feedback’s Robert Levi recently reported that the 20k Metronome CD system surpassed Ed Meitner’s top-notch gear—even when it played SACD. Even Levi didn’t think this was possible. Then there are the Soundstage boys—with the Zanden gear up against Esoteric’s latest SACD player. The verdict? “With (Red Book) sounding this good, who needs new formats?” Even Jules Coleman, a respected on-line reviewer (there aren’t too many), spends most of his time with digital via the Reimyo CD player, a big change of heart for an analog-kinda-guy. But his finding wasn’t aberrant. Even Mr. Analog, Michael Fremer, likes Red Book, especially after hearing the Zanden system in a recent issue of Stereophile: “For the first time, I no longer cared about the format.” Now that’s really saying something. Fremer liked Red Book almost as much as his big-time reference LP! None of these reviewers prefers SACD. I don’t know how they feel about DVD-A, since there are so few titles. SACD can’t fall back on this excuse. Oh, well, enough of that. What we might need is a little more clarity in what we report. You say that DVD-A is “vastly better” than CD in the previous Letters section of TAS, yet two issues ago you reported that DVD-A, through the Meridian, was (only) “a step beyond” its very laudable CD performance. Which one is it?
6 February 2007 The Absolute Sound

A Couple of Mistakes

Reading the November issue of TAS, I unfortunately could not help noticing a couple of, uhm, errors. Robert Harley’s reply to John Harnick’s letter is truncated—to my eyes even before the middle of the reply. Too bad as this is a very interesting matter and [RH’s] full reply is sorely missed. Second, I am afraid that the rating boxes on the Shostakovich SACDs on page 142 are incorrectly placed, because they do not really reflect the qualifications in the text. The better rating would actually come closer to my own impression at least of the RCO Live recording, and intimately knowing the qualities of Everett

I am also a die-hard fan of jazz and classical music and have been a musician for a number of years. I discovered that the bass is actually excellent. People who know metal. one day I wanted to wear a hat and use the little Stax at the same time. I’m not suggesting Mr. wide. Same experience with a friend’s Meridian/Pass Labs/Audio Physic setup. know that most metal bands have some serious chops and do have the ability to play technically. Mr. While trying to get this to work. I would say that they did another superb job on this recording. the text seems to indicate that the Symphony No. Our apologies. and all of the audiophile community. I applaud you for putting these reviews in your magazine when other publications simply ignore the genre altogether. Martin should wear a hat when testing this particular headphone. Often I see snippets of analysis on the sonic characteristics of certain pieces of music while reading album or product reviews. and airy. I actually have the means to afford some of the higher-end gear and buy all the music that I love so much. for RH’s truncated reply. metal is looked on by most of the public. Another observation: I’ve now heard several stereo systems. have a more skilled reader base which will appreciate your product reviews even more. imagine my surprise when I saw album reviews of two of my favorite metal bands. The reason for my letter to you is simple: It is very rare that a magazine of The Absolute Sound’s caliber prints a music review of anything but a jazz or classical album. a review of Tom Petty’s new album Highway Companion mentions “the soundstage is open. for that matter). that sound a lot better when the expensive power cords are replaced with the cheapest non-twisted kind. Are they reversed? Wendell Driggers Bob Gendron replies: You are correct: The music and sonic ratings were accidentally switched on the discs when the book went to layout. but I believe significant value to your readers could be added by offering a section that went into more detail on what to listen for in certain pieces. I am probably what some would consider to be an “older metalhead” at the ripe age of 36 and have been listening to metal since I was around 10. Anyone can try this at minimal cost. Mastodon and Iron Maiden are just two great examples of excellent musicianship in metal (or any music. Croese. The new section might take one album and go into detail about two to three tracks [in regard to] what to listen for and what separates great systems from good systems in reproducing their sound. In my system . a fine TAS issue it is. Rob (last name withheld) I just wanted to drop you a line about your November 2006 issue. so I know what to look for the next time I am listening to a new piece of music. as well as to write technical compositions (unlike most of what has been forced down our throats on radio).” It would be educational for me to understand which songs best display these characteristics. Mastodon and Iron Maiden. until This is addressed to Wayne Garcia: Wayne: I’ve enjoyed your work for many years and have great confidence in your judgment and integrity. as just a bunch of tattooed punks screaming and slamming on their guitars. It don’t doubt for a moment that you’re describing exactly what you hear from the NuForce amps [Issue 166]. That error cropped up in pre-press and should have been caught. but the music and sonic squares seem to indicate the opposite. 7 has the better review. For example. Keep up the great work! Jim Pusso Of Hats and Headphones 8 February 2007 The Absolute Sound Another Opinion of the NuForce Class D Amplifiers In the November issue Tom Martin complains about a lack of bass with the Stax SR-001. All too often. Shostakovich Symphonies 7 and 11). since terminology will now resonate with them from their past experiences. Cees Verhoeven Metal Lovers Unite More Detail on Sonics in the Music Section I am relatively new to the world of hi-fi and enjoy the education I am getting from reading your magazine. but that he should try different positions for the headband. Now that I am a bit older. including my own (modified Audio Note/Avantgarde). As I was going through the music review section. Music Ratings Reversal In the December issue (page 142. on average. What you point out in your review is something that most metalheads have known forever—jazz and classical influences are the backbone of metal music. I used to have the same problem.Letters Porter and the PolyHymnia team. Marcel Croese Wayne Garcia replies: Apologies. and they are the opposite of what they should be. Maybe he just needs a different size earpad. Nonetheless. This would give newbies like me some insight on what to listen for and how to better understand what our systems are doing well or poorly. It seems to me that only flawed systems (or rooms ) need specialist power cables. It’s just that what I hear is so incredibly different. At the end of some time I believe you will.

if not thousands. 10 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Rotel. the three titles Mr. I have grown to be a fan of the Sunfire product line. James Citti JV replies: Mea culpa. I replaced a very expensive Naim amp with the NuForce amps and I can tell you. I purchased the Sunfire Signature 7 and saved thousands of dollars. and Tom Evans phonostage) all I hear is magic. but it seems as if the magazine has relationships with or prefers some companies over others. I have noticed that there are some companies’ products which are regularly reviewed by you and/or your staff. These are marvelous speakers. There’s none of the flatness and brittleness you heard. especially with regard to value for the dollar.” They are just plain ol’ CDs. and Sunfire. “So what?” you are asking yourself. To me they are simply the best deal I’ve ever encountered in audio. so sensitive to equipment that they can be spectacularly good in one system and appallingly bad in another. 52/Supercap. we listed the incorrect price for Hansen Audio’s The King v loudspeaker. I love my 3A Sigs and a logical upgrade for me would potentially be the Quattro. I have used the information in your magazine to help me research a number of my purchases and have found your reviews to be very helpful. the Quattro. the Naim piece was mortally humiliated. may sound better! Bottom line. as well as our print coverage in this issue). made by Tony Moore of Ambience Audio in Australia. yet Sunfire is largely ignored by your magazine. Playing Favorites I enjoy reading your magazine and have been a subscriber for the last few years. Thanks in advance for your thoughtful response. Just thought you might be interested. Valin and Mr. I’ve heard the Quattro at shows where it sounded superb (see our live coverage of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest at www. Earlier this year I told him I wanted to purchase an expensive multichannel amplifier. I know there are hundreds. Though the catalogue numbers are right. I’m glad my system is one they like.com. yet rich and musical. when all is said and done. These recordings include “best” numbers 71.000 per pair. and have a review planned of Sunfire’s Theater Grand controller and amplifier in the next issue. I wonder if my experience has anything to do with my speakers: They’re Ambience 1800 ribbon hybrids. We have favorably reviewed Sunfire products in The Perfect Vision in past issues. 73. of offerings in each product category.avguide. In your open letter in last month’s magazine you spoke of having dinner with Bob Carver. The correct price is $65. www. and I must say I was shocked! In the last three years I have not seen a reference to one Sunfire product in your magazine (except possibly a sub). My wish is that those and any other classic Living Stereo and Living Presence recordings will be released in the SACD format. Name withheld by request Wayne Garcia replies: The more we work with Class D amplifiers. Additionally. I guess I’m just curious as to how products and companies are selected for review by your publication. perhaps in TAS. If my dealer had tried to take them back. The first review I read in your magazine was of the Vandersteen 3A Signature speakers (which I subsequently purchased). but perhaps more important. I would have fought him. Keep up the good work! John Connor RH replies: We’ve been trying to get a review sample of the Quattro for some time. It is for that reason that I am surprised that you haven’t reviewed the newest addition to the Vandersteen line. whoever you are. I have done business with this gentleman for over twenty years and have come to truly respect his opinion about high-end audio equipment. you respect and admire the man. I have noticed that each year in your Editor’s Choice Awards that the 3A Signatures and the 5A Signatures are given recognition. I guess it’s possible that these amps are chameleons. Citti mentioned are incorrectly identified as “Hybrid SACDs. then I’m sure you have a marvelous match.com Watch for our live coverage of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show beginning January 9 Join the discussion with TAS editors and readers at our forum Tune into Robert Harley’s new weekly blog errata: In the last issue. Those recording have never been released in the SACD format. among others in his store. The NuForce amps are remarkably detailed.Letters (Naim CD3/XPS2. If the Ambient speaker designer does use the NuForce to voice his speakers. stunningly dynamic. Lingoed LP12 with Dynavector 17D3 cartridge. it may last longer because of its design and. and 77. My point being. the more convinced I am that these designs are generally more sensitive to speaker and cable interfaces than we’re used to from linear amplifiers—hence. Not on SACD Please inform Mr. He strongly dissuaded me from doing so and told me that not only was the Sunfire a better value. I do business with a dealer who sells Krell. And thanks for the note. Classé. Lehman that several of the RCA and Mercury recordings in their “100 More Best-of-the-Century Classical Compositions” article (Issue 166) are erroneously listed as released in the SACD format.AVguide. while others go largely ignored. We intend to look at other Sunfire products in the future. I believe Tony is using the NuForce amps to voice them. his company manufactures some great value products. the widely different experiences we reported in Issue 166’s Class D feature.

5 cartridge . but you could apply scientific methodology to your evaluations. But ‘a congestion and harsh odd (order) harmonics borne of a synthetic tone’ is not one of them.Letters Cheap Tabloid Journalism? Open mouth—insert both feet! Re: “Robert Harley Comments on the Memory Player” (Issue 167. Having e-mailed you numerous times over the years. it is pretty obvious that there is a good deal of subjectivity involved. Specifically. There are many instances in high-end audio where an audible change exists that cannot be explained by our limited understanding of the science.” Upcoming in TAS • Comprehensive subwoofer feature • Wilson-Benesch Torus and JL Audio F113 subwoofers • Creek integrated amp and CD player • Rotel RMB-1077 Class D amp • Updated PSB Alpha speaker and sub • Lyngdorf Audio DSP room-correction system • Amphion Ion and Mirage speakers • Avid Acutus Reference turntable • Mobile Fidelity Carbon 3. 121). with the evaluation given to the manufacturer rather than for publication. see this issue’s “From the Editor. this is a potential conflict of interest. however. It would have been a disservice to TAS readers (and to the truth) to withhold my opinion and allow those claims to go unchallenged. my responsibility to alert readers when manufacturers invent far-fetched hypotheses to explain why their product works. Listening to audio equipment is by definition a subjective experience. we are often offered products for evaluation in advance of production. What I propose is blinded evaluation and scoring of products by your contributors in a group setting. or other potential conflicts of interest related to high-end audio companies. which should be above such childish fray! You could have found a way to air your opinion without being confrontational. I must disagree with your view that I should have discussed my technical critique of the Memory Player’s claims in private with Mr. It would be important for your readers to know if your contributors serve as consultants. Reviewers cannot be consultants to the industry. I wrote: “This isn’t to say that the Memory Player doesn’t improve the sound. We decline all such requests. You fail to note that my Comment stated unequivocally that the Memory Player might indeed produce a sonic benefit. nor can they have any financial involvement with high-end companies. but necessary. I would not use the pages of TAS to pursue a “personal issue. despite my belief that blind listening tests are fundamentally flawed. The company is making public technical explanations for the Memory Player that are. Makes me think you have a personal issue with [Memory Player designer] Mark Porzilli. It seems to me that you unnecessarily painted yourself into a corner.” Finally. and can tell you that they are extremely difficult to set up and run correctly. There were any number of ways to raise questions. have ownership interest. And it would be a lot of fun for you guys involved. which I have not known you to be over the years. cheap tabloid journalism comes to mind. Here.” I do. I found the experience most interesting. December 2006. or express your concerns as to the technologies employed in the Memory Player without resorting to making your sidebar come across as a diatribe. but more importantly I would like to know if your contributors have particular components because they really like them or because they got a deal on it. pg. Porzilli. Lehel Somogyi rH replies: I’ve participated in blind-listening tests. “You know the claims Mark makes are contrary to what I have been taught (your teachers could have been wrong!). Such methodology would significantly improve the credibility of your publication and serve your readers better. the Memory Player. Indeed. I don’t mean electronic measurements in the lab. other mechanisms might be at work. Robert Hart RH replies: I have never met Mark Porzilli nor had any contact with him of any kind. As for the source of reviewers’ reference systems. The other issue I would like to bring up is the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. purchased at a significant discount or received for free. [With regard to your Comment]. How are you going to respond if the Memory Player blows away anything you’ve ever heard? Wouldn’t it have been wiser to wait and hear.…” I suggest you start figuring out how to get all the egg off your face. I find this one especially tough. then say something like. I believe it is not just within my purview to point this out. in my view. The claim put forth for why the Memory Player improves the sound is totally baseless. Obviously. Even if I did. I recommend you take it up with him in private and not air your dirty laundry in TAS. object strenuously to a manufacturer making false technical claims about how a product works. I have no “personal issue” with him as you suggest. Nonetheless. 1 February 2007 The Absolute Sound Blind Listening and Numerical Ratings After finding your book [Robert Harley’s The Complete Guide to High-End Audio] rather insightful I have subscribed to The Absolute Sound. And if that is why you slammed him as you did. Finally. but nevertheless. simply false. indeed. In fact. While the reviews by individual contributors and the Editors Choice Awards are somewhat useful. I would like to know if the reference systems listed by your contributors were purchased. but is.

The reality is that reviewers have access to long-term loans on just about any product they want. Readers 16 February 2007 The Absolute Sound FROM THE Do Equipment Loans Corrupt the Review Process? would not expect us to compare a new power amplifier to what we considered the reference five years ago. but essential to publishing accurate and informed product reviews. I can see how this system might at first glance seem suspect. for example. There will always be a few cynics who see this system as fundamentally corrupt.com (main thread: “High-End Audio Industry. there’s no incentive to provide biased coverage in a quid pro quo arrangement. there’s often a conflict with a manufacturer when a reviewer wants to return the gear. why would a reviewer want to keep in his system any product that he or she didn’t believe was truly reference quality? Remember that we don’t just use our systems as test beds for reviewing. and review samples reveals that no favoritism or bias could possibly exist. starting January 9. but the fact remains that long-term equipment loans are not only a win-win-win arrangement for readers. We’re exposed to a wide variety of gear. manufacturers. the product is discontinued. either when the manufacturer wants it back. the more precise. complete with video segments on the most important product introductions. I don’t say that in a boastful way. our hi-fi systems also provide us with musical enjoyment when we’re not specifically conducting listening evaluations (which is most of the time). If you see a product listed under a reviewer’s Associated Components month after month. and Prices”) suggests that the reviewing process is somehow corrupt because reviewers routinely accept long-term equipment loans. Robert Harley Editor-in-Chief . but serve the readers’ best interests. Furthermore. if that front end were driving a low-resolution. I start with the fundamental quandary that long-term loans solve: Reviewers need reference-quality equipment to accurately judge the component under review—reference gear that they couldn’t possibly afford to buy. and accurate the description of the component under review. it’s just the reality of the industry (which I believe is far too review-driven). and reviewers. While you’re on AVguide. How could one evaluate a top-notch digital front end. manufacturers. which debuted December 1. It’s simply impossible for reviewers to continually buy the latest reference-quality components—in every product category—so that we can do our jobs. Long-term loans also benefit the reader in that they alert the reader to those products the reviewer believes to be reference quality.com. It would be a great disservice to everyone involved (particularly readers) if reviewers tried to evaluate a piece of equipment in a system whose colorations obscured the qualities of the component under test. A key idea to making this system work is that the product is eventually returned to the manufacturer. But what about the forum-poster’s assertion that this system is ripe for corruption? Do reviewers really give overly favorable assessments to those companies who agree to lend the equipment for months or even a few years? Absolutely not. The forum-poster posits that reviewers provide favorably biased coverage to those manufacturers willing to leave the equipment in the reviewer’s home for an extended period of time. or when the reviewer is ready to move on to another product. Moreover. I could pick up the phone right now and have virtually any piece of high-end audio equipment delivered to my home for an indefinite period. Moreover. less-than-transparent preamplifier and power amplifier? The greater the review system’s transparency. a little insight into the reality of the relationship between reviewers. But a more considered and thoughtful analysis suggests that long-term equipment loans are not only essential to delivering accurate reviews. the manufacturer would rather see it stay in the reference system—and have the product mentioned every month. tune into my new weekly blog on high-end audio. reviewers need access to the latest gear to make comparisons to the product being evaluated.Editor A recent post on the reader forum at our Web site AVguide. you can be assured that the product is special. and here’s why.” sub-thread: “Reviewers. only the crème de la crème remains in the reference system.com for live coverage of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show. ___________________________________________________________________ Be sure to join us on the Web at AVguide. Manufacturers. Sharp-eyed readers can identify the truly exceptional products among all those that pass through our listening rooms. detailed. In fact. With reviewers having long-term access to nearly any piece of equipment.

actively fighting for his life. USA (602) 674-4901 • Direct deposit: Terry Cain Medical Fund. in turn. Thiel’s research on subwoofer design has yielded three patents. secure in the knowledge that a clear-cut percentage of the purchase prices paid will go directly to Terry’s account. Bank of America. Thiel’s research has touched on a number of areas involving loudspeaker enclosure construction and design. McIntosh tapped British audio writer Ken Kessler as its chosen historian. Bank of America. Account # 4570 0033 9418 • Wire Transfer: Terry Cain Medical Fund. AZ 85051. may purchase equipment. At the same time. and there are essentially two ways in which readers can help.Industry NEWS Chris Martens Thiel Audio Celebrates 30th Anniversary The year 2007 marks the 30th anniversary of Lexington. From the beginning. • Personal checks: Make payable to Terry Cain Medical Fund and mail to: Bank of America.6moons. To research and create the text. For further information on how you can help. Buyers. Founded in 1976. Washington-based firm of Cain & Cain. and is. Account # 4570 0033 9418 Note: All monies deposited into the Terry Cain Medical Fund accounts. Terry Cain Health Fund Drive: Taking Care of Our Own Many TAS readers know of the beautifully made highsensitivity speaker systems produced by the Walla Walla. Wire Routing #0 2600 9593. founder of Cain & Cain.” At this point Cain has sold his business to an associate. was diagnosed a little over year ago with what has been described as a “debilitating combination of Lyme disease and progressive amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. will be exclusively used to support Terry and his wife Leslie in their fight for Terry’s life. and marketing strategy. including the innovative use of materials such as aluminum. based in Binghamton. a well-respected manufacturer of high-end loudspeaker systems. the Terry Cain Health Fund has been established. with support from his wife Leslie.html. moved from his home to a special care facility. titled For the Love of Music. Under this program. and as past Chairperson of CEA’s Audio Division. make a direct donation to the Terry Cain Health Fund. health care costs are such that Cain badly needs help from the high-end world to which he has been. a significant part of Thiel Audio’s longstanding business success is attributable to company president Kathy Gornik.and phase-coherent loudspeakers. What they may not realize is that Terry Cain. has announced the impending release of a factory-approved company history. A Factory-Approved History of McIntosh Laboratories McIntosh Laboratories. follow this link: www. McIntosh assisted Kessler wherever possible in his research. who is responsible for the firm’s vision. concrete. policies. pledging a clearly marked percentage of the price of their equipment to the Terry Cain Health Fund. who has worked tirelessly to create ever more sophisticated and refined designs for time. Attention Freddie Young 10459 N. McIntosh sources told The Absolute Sound that the decision to work with Kessler on this project was influenced by widespread appreciation for the work Kessler did in crafting his masterful 2003 book Quad: The Closest Approach—a history of the British hi-fi firm Quad and of the legendary Quad electrostatic loudspeaker. Gornik was the founder and first Chairperson of CEA’s High Performance Audio subdivision. Thiel has been lead by chief designer Jim Thiel.6moons. Readers can submit contributions via any of the methods shown below. 28th Drive Phoenix. above. New York. and marble. Thiel Audio now offers a product line of 15 models that are sold in over 30 countries worldwide. Gornik has also served as Chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). which she helped to create. First. participate in a new/used audio equipment sales program conducted for Cain’s benefit under the auspices of the 6moons Web site (www. and as a result For the Love of Music brings to light fascinating historical details that even die18 February 2007 The Absolute Sound continued on next page .com). Kentucky-based Thiel Audio.com/ showcase/terrycain/terrycain. such a vibrant contributor. until now. Second. sellers may offer new or used equipment for sale. As a means of rendering assistance to Cain. However. Along the way.

available for a dollar more. To produce these downloads. as well as several other performances from Philadelphia associate conductor Rossen Milanov.99). and Sawallisch. these MP3s are quite listenable. and required forcedair cooling. In comparison to the MP3s. The Philadelphia project addresses this concern head-on. thephiladelphiaorchestra. For $0. 314-page book that will soon become available through McIntosh dealers. By interviewing the designers of the Woodstock system. Andrew Quint The Absolute Sound February 2007 1 . we may see symphony orchestras taking both the record company and the record store out of the equation.net enterprises. McIntosh amplifiers. noniPod—listening conditions. and the Dave Matthews Band. are the FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) versions. including performances of all nine Beethoven symphonies conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Kessler also reveals that McIntosh at one time supplied special kilowatt vacuum tube amplifiers to the U. however. the Philadelphians have turned to nugs. each unit modified to have its traditional RCA jacks replaced with mil-spec connectors. Riccardo Muti. which we then dither to 16 bits for download release. provided all the power needed for sound reinforcement at what was arguably the most famous (and influential) rock music festival of all time: Woodstock. The Philadelphia Orchestra Online Music Store’s initial offering features 27 selections. for example. The Philadelphia Orchestra itself was without a label affiliation until Ondine began issuing some live performances on SACD in late 2005. for example. For example. audiophile-grade rock band sound systems ever assembled.” Of note. McIntosh products reveals that the Eishenhower-era Air Force One—then a propeller-driven Lockheed Constellation—featured a McIntosh MR55A tuner and MC40 power amplifiers. Kessler takes us back to a time when high fidelity was still young.e. those monster amps used just two output tubes apiece (dual EIMAC 4-400As). the Philadelphia Orchestra became the first major American symphonic institution to sell its recordings as downloads. Many of our clients do in fact send us 24-bit masters of their live recordings. This is twice the data-rate of an iTunes file and. founder and CEO of nugs. “We believe there will be more demand in the classical market for high-resolution recordings than in the live rock market. a user can download a 256 kbps MP3 file. while no one will confuse the format with the absolute sound. from Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits. grew up in Philadelphia and observes. even on a high-end system. releases of orchestral music by labels big and small are ever more infrequent. providing two options for the consumer.com. “The Orchestra has a long history of being on the cutting edge and was the perfect orchestra to launch its own direct-to-fan download service. In addition. All of the festivals we work with. so we are sitting on a high-resolution archive we can tap into in the future as 24-bit playback becomes more userfriendly. Brad Serling. Eugene Ormandy. Now. Significantly better. Roughly half are from recent concerts. Interestingly. the PO’s current music director. 9. Also available are readings of Schubert’s Symphony No. measured only 8" deep.99. depending on the length of the program (a typical symphony costs $4. Later. The Philadelphia Orchestra Downloads This past September. namely. the distribution of classical recordings is increasingly problematic with the disappearance of “deep inventory” retailers such as Tower Records. The current Philadelphia Orchestra downloads are available through the PO’s Web site: www. a chapter specifically dedicated to rare.S. Navy for use in submarines. a company that has provided “band-to-fan” distribution for rock artists like Phish. Kessler also details one of the finest.” DVD-Audio/SACD-quality recordings for sale over the Internet? Sounds like it’s coming. for economic reasons. and high-performance sound-reinforcement systems were in their infancy. Kessler devotes a chapter to McIntosh’s sometimes reluctant role in the evolution of the giant sound-reinforcement systems used by rock bands worldwide. Audiophiles are typically skeptical of music downloads.net (and a long-time reader of TAS). This comes at a time when. The remaining 13 selections are taken from the Orchestra’s celebrated Centennial Collection and present archival material led by Leopold Stokowski. The Philadelphia Orchestra is its first classical client. expecting compressed music files and inferior sonics under critical—i. The repertoire ranges from Brahms (Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn) to Respighi (The Pines of Rome) to Penderecki (Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima). these sound like a good compact disc burned from your computer to CD-R.800watts worth of McIntosh MC2300 power amplifiers! For the Love of Music is a lavishly illustrated. Metallica.. the Grateful Dead’s famous “Wall of Sound” line-array system. which was driven by a whopping 28.99 to $9. a Shostakovich Fifth led by Wolfgang Sawallisch. capture everything in 24 bits. Suggested retail price should be around $150. and in some cases one-of-akind.Industry News continued from previous page hard McIntosh aficionados might find eye-opening. Serling has plans to offer 24-bit FLAC files in the future.

we can say these new vinyl finishes can be.acousticsounds. and WMA decoders. white. The Limited comes in any color you’d like.” nadelectronics. however. have the option of switching off the video outputs for “the cleanest audio possible. Though construed primarily as a twochannel player.1-channel speaker system configurations. plus an extensive set of bass-management options. including new CCAM (ceramic-coated aluminum/magnesium) tweeters and MMP-Mk2 (metal-matrix polymer) midrange and bass drivers. The Ultra provides variable electronic platter speed and suction controls. but provides two user-selectable suction levels (70% or 100%). Ultras are offered in a broad range of stylish colors including black. To facilitate use in multichannel systems. and feature automatic cleaning-fluid dispensers. store. revised crossover networks. NAD sources told TAS the new M5 sounds “substantially better. the M5 can play multichannel SACD discs either in stereo or in 5. has announced its next-generation Bronze Series loudspeakers—the most affordable of Monitor’s high-end speaker families. the M5 provides video outputs so that set-up menu and MP3 playback options can be viewed on screen. There are seven Bronze models in all. the M5 provides pre-sets for various popular 5. mistaken for real wood veneers. and. The new Bronze models have a host of updates. which by tradition has named its top three lines of speakers after precious metals. walnut. plus a special chromeplated disc-label-protection puck. MP3. and improved cabinets offered in black oak. ranging from the BR1 two-way monitors ($299/pair) up to the 2 ½way BR6 floorstanders ($799/pair). The only catch is that Hannls are quite expensive ($3299 for the Aragon model and $2499 for the Mera cleaner). frosted red. however. The Limited model is similar to the Ultra. clear ice blue. blue. The M5 features completely separate CD (PCM) and SACD (DSD) circuits. NAD has announced a new audioonly SACD/CD player called the M5 ($1799).com ACOUSTECH ULTRA AND LIMITED AUTOMATIC RECORD CLEANING MACHINES Many TAS readers have at least passing familiarity with the beautiful and robust automated record-cleaning machines from the German firm Hannl. and probably often will be.Future TAS Chris Martens NExT-GENERATION MONITOR AUDIO BRONZE SERIES LOUDSPEAKERS The British firm Monitor Audio. in the interest of achieving greater flexibility. and clear (as shown). as long as it’s black. or cherry “pearlescent vinyl finishes. Unlike most audio-oriented players. the folks at AcousTech have made the cost of owning a Hannl a bit more affordable by offering two new Hannl-built machines—the Ultra ($2199) and the Limited ($1899). purists. monitoraudiousa.1-channel format. Now. and a fixed platter-rotation speed.com  February 2007 The Absolute Sound .” Based on firsthand observation. includes HDCD.com NAD MASTERS SERIES M5 SACD/CD PLAYER Hot on the heels of its A/V-oriented Masters Series M55 universal player.” Good though NAD’s M55 universal player sounds. Both compact (15" x 15" footprint) cleaning machines are unusually powerful and quiet.

high-accuracy NPC SM5866A5 DACs. which feature a 25mm Nautilus TM tube-loaded dome tweeter.Future TAS B&W CM7 FLOORSTANDING LOUDSPEAKERS British speaker manufacturer B&W says its CM Series loudspeakers offer “best-of-both-worlds” appeal.com SUTHERLAND PH3D BATTERY-POWERED PHONOSTAGE Many audiophiles are familiar with Sutherland’s $3000. the Ph3D features a somewhat prosaic but perfectly effective on/off toggle switch. marantz. an allusion to the fact that the CM’s combine the gorgeous. the soon-to-bereleased SA-7S1 ($6999). but are equipped with drive units based on 21st-century Nautilus-derived technologies. Marantz’s phase-errorcompensation system. battery-powered PhD phonostage. but what they may not have anticipated is the firm’s new Ph3D. One simple way in which the Ph3D cuts costs without cutting performance is by foregoing the PhD’s automatic signal-sensing/automatic-shutoff circuitry. the player features a copper-clad chassis with a doublelayer floorplate. and a 165mm paper/Kevlar bass driver. and a low-jitter clock. and provides user-adjustable gain and loading settings. a 130mm Kevlar midrange driver. Marantz stresses that the player features “completely separate digital and analog stages. and a special “Digital Isolator” said to improve D/A converter ground separation.com MARANTZ SA-7S1 REFERENCE SACD PLAYER Marantz has announced what can only be considered a new “Statement Class” SACD player. or maple). Instead. said to be good for about 800–1200 hours of use.” The SA-7S1 also incorporated a newly designed aluminum transport mechanism.” bwspeakers. Interestingly.acousticsounds. The Ph3d is powered by 16 D-cell batteries. and a phase-inversion switch. The flagships of the CM range are the new CM7 floorstanders ($1800/pair). The Ph3D leverages design insights drawn both from the more costly PhD and the Sutherland-designed AcousTech PH-1P—both of which are well-regarded performers at their respective price points. store. A faceplate-mounted LED serves both as a power-on indicator and voltage monitor. a $1000 battery-powered phonostage that promises to make many essential aspects of the Sutherland sound available at an unprecedented low price. a toroidal power transformer with a copper shielding case. Many design features of the SA-7S1 aim to minimize noise and vibration. understated appearance of “old school” wood-finished cabinets (available in wenge—as shown—rosenut. To this end. The speakers feature what B&W terms “ear-tuned first and second order crossover networks. Marantz includes two other features not commonly seen in most high-end players: a feature that allows the player to sync to an external clock.com The Absolute Sound February 2007 5 .

I was completely unprepared for both the degree of detail and sheer musicality that the NADs delivered. can be had on a painfully tight budget. real soul-satisfying musical sound. Using Nordost SPM interconnects and speaker cable—I’ve previously justified this “not-in-the-realworld” hookup by explaining that SPM is so transparent that it reveals all of the components’ contributions to the soundscape—the NAD/DALI system delivered stunning detail and layered harmonic textures that were completely unexpected from equipment in this price niche. Also implied in that announcement was NAD’s commitment to the huge market of budget-minded music lovers. PART OF MY PITCH TO TAS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ROBERT HARLEY AND Senior Writer Chris Martens about joining the Absolute Multimedia team was my enthusiasm for affordable high-performance components. After extended and enthusiastic listening. “And somebody ought to be covering affordable excellence. The Best of Boubacar Traore [Wrasse] was the first CD I popped in the player. The gear that provoked this revelation is the NAD C 325BEE integrated amplifier and C 525BEE CD player. Chrissie Hynde’s heartbreaking live cover of Ray Davies’ “I Go to Sleep” from The 6 February 2007 The Absolute Sound .Start Me Up NAD C 325BEE Integrated Amplifier and C 525BEE CD Player barry Willis New benchmarks for affordable audio TWO YEARS AGO.” I’ve just come away from a marathon listening session involving a $299 CD player and $399 integrated amp. and I’m more convinced than ever that great sound. I believe this claim is not mere marketing hype. right out of the box. who was intimately involved in the design of both products—the two components are claimed by NAD to establish new benchmarks for affordable audio. to wry smiles. Perhaps subconsciously expecting a flat lifeless soundstage and a bit of cheap hi-fi shrillness. Incorporating many technical advancements—the “BEE” suffix stands for engineer Bjorn Erik Edvardsen. Launched at the CEDIA Expo in September.” I asserted. new entry-level two-channel components that. and what an eyeopener it proved to be. The world-weary voice of the Malian bluesman and his backing chorus overlaid with alto-relievo plucked strings and drums emerged in the room like an orchestrated swarm of butterflies. “The difference between ultra-high-end gear and mass-market stuff is smaller than ever before—and shrinking. had a compelling synergy with a pair of DALI IKON 6 loudspeakers. the NAD pieces were heralded as the latest evidence of the manufacturer’s commitment to two-channel playback.

and a simply amazing amount of musicality at a ridiculously low price. and seemed as immediate as it must have been for the audience that sat in rapt silence through her performance. The digital output’s 75-ohm impedance is. for lower contamination of the analog output by digital noise.6 lbs. I suppose. This ability is enhanced by the “PowerDrive” technology found in all NAD C 325BEE Integrated Amplifier and C 525BEE CD Player the machine to market at under $300. improves grounding. The amp comes with an easy-to-use remote control that also includes all the transport functions for the CD player. an experiment worth trying. . Unlike its sibling. with improved optical tracking circuitry and a 20-bit BurrBrown DAC chosen for low-level linearity and resolution of detail. in addition to high-quality Burr-Brown op-amps in the output section. and eliminates subtle magnetic distortions. Nordost SPM interconnects and speaker cables. allowing precise adjustments to listening level without abrupt changes. the C 325BEE is claimed to have dynamic power of 210Wpc into 2 ohms. The player handled every factory-issued CD perfectly. Its volume control operates smoothly and in small increments. The remote offers no backlight at this price point. the C 525BEE has separate power regulators for the digital and analog sections.5" x 11. The pair offers superb detail. Canada (905) 831-6555 nadelectronics. Borrowing from much more upscale designs. every drum whack and every plucked bass string fully articulated by the NADs and DALIs. meaning it can deliver enormous bursts of current into very low-impedance loads without bogging down. and warns about potential playback glitches using off-brand recordable blanks. IR input and output. as NAD claims. The amp was also tremendously dynamic. The optimized circuit layout lowers internal impedance. The chassis design is a classic NAD black box and looks almost identical to products the company built 30 years ago. Price: $399 C 525BEE CD Player Outputs: Analog stereo pair on RCA. “adds huge reserves of dynamic headroom without adding cost by ingeniously matching the amplifier to the speaker load . reducing the potential for jitter or timing errors. but an observation that the right decisions were made about where to cut costs to bring 8 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . effortless sonics. providing expansion options not otherwise possible.Start Me Up Pretenders’ The Isle of View [Warner Bros. you could also use the pre-out signal to drive a subwoofer. tremendous dynamics.” In use. In addition to using the C 325BEE as a preamp feeding a separate power amp. adjusting the power supply parameters of the amplifier to best cope with the actual musical signal and specific speaker loading characteristics. which NAD says. On Shadowland [Sire]. You may. Like the remote for the amplifier. Tributaries TX500 power conditioner NAD amplifiers. pre-out/main-in connectors. The drawer is undamped and makes some noise as it slides in and out. Pacing and bass impact were great too. it doesn’t operate the amp. K.25" x 4" x 11. excellent soundstaging. digital coax. Her three-piece band works up a lather in this extended improv. .” and a “patented distortion-canceling circuit that uses both feedback and feedforward to reduce distortion and improve amplifier stability. The C 525BEE disc player is good sounding but a tad rough ergonomically. Price: $299 Associated Equipment DALI IKON 6 loudspeakers. and club diva Kitty Margolis makes an admirable attempt in Heart & Soul/Live in San Francisco [Mad-Kat]. But where it counts the player is very well executed.” The amp’s good sound can also be attributed to “trickle-down” improvements derived from NAD Masters Series products. but got a bit balky with one of my Memorex compilation discs—one that’s played in every other disc player without a problem. including a now very long-in-the-tooth Marantz CC-65SE changer. too.4 lbs. I found them not only easy to listen to for many hours at a stretch.D. Although rated at only 50Wpc. the CD player’s remote is simple and easy to use.5" Weight: 10. and digital optical (TosLink) Dimensions: 17.25" x 3. ideally matched to digital cables. and the blue-and-white backlit display doesn’t have enough contrast to be read across the room in high ambient light. The player also features metal-film resistors and polypropylene capacitors in key areas for accurate frequency response. 12V trigger Dimensions: 17.] had a dimensionality that we normally associate with much more expensive electronics. including a “new DC Servo that eliminates sound coloring capacitors in the signal path. but also downright compelling. NAD’s C 325BEE/C 525BEE combo is one of the best bargains in audio today. unfortunately. But with high-sensitivity loudspeakers like the IKON 6s. there was never any need to push the volume control beyond the 10 o’clock position. Ontario L1W 3K1. NAD engineers buffered the coaxial output with a transformer from the converter itself. the C 325BEE was very quiet— residual noise was barely audible with an open input and the volume control turned fully clockwise. The owner’s manual says the C 525BEE plays standard CDs plus CD-Rs. and also without a backlight. This isn’t a serious criticism. with open. Putting the Gershwin classic “Summertime” through the up-tempo jazz blender is.5" Weight: 17. by replacing the pre-out/main-in jumpers with Y-adaptors. TAS Specs & Pricing NAD ELECTRONICS INTERNATIONAL 633 Granite Court Pickering. Lang’s thumping country tearjerker “I’m Down to My Last Cigarette” picked me up and carried me along like a high-rolling big rig on an open stretch of interstate. A nice feature is the removable jumpers between the preamp and power amp sections. Recognizing the likelihood that the C 525BEE might be used as a transport feeding an external DAC.com C 325BEE Integrated Amplifier Power output: 50Wpc into 8 ohms Inputs: Seven line-level inputs on RCA jacks.

then the NuForce P8 is its complementary opposite—a solid-state preamp that offers certain tube-like virtues. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to live with some excellent affordable preamps. However. the P8 maintains the sort of sharp focus and taut control that are the hallmarks of good solid-state designs. listeners naturally seek out the best entry-level (or near-entry-level) preamplifiers they can find. MANY AUDIOPHILES-IN-THE-MAKING BEGIN their quests for great sound with modestly priced integrated amplifiers or receivers.Start Me Up NuForce P8 Preamplifier Chris Martens FOR OBVIOUS REASONS. Not only does the P8 sound good. offering a noticeably lower noise floor than the Metis. Both the Metis and P8 are sonic overachievers that offer different but complementary interpretations of the absolute sound. the P8 instead exhibits an extremely subtle and engaging touch of warmth. the Metis exhibits evenly balanced frequency response and nearly the level of control you might expect from a good solid-state preamp. as they gain experience and develop a passion for more revealing sound. then you’ll love the P8. The second is the solid-state NuForce P8. but with a twist. tonal balance. a tubepowered unit that I reviewed in Issue 160. I’ll first recount the sound of the Rogue Audio Metis as a means of setting the stage for discussion of the NuForce P8. but is most noticeable through the bass and lower midrange. The first is the award-winning Rogue Audio Metis. But if the Metis is a tube preamp with some solid state-like qualities. As the P8 breaks in. When that happy moment arrives. I should also mention that the P8 proved as quiet as the proverbial tomb (though nowhere near as. sterile. offers almost magical harmonic richness and rightness in the midrange. Unlike solid-state designs marred by a cold. However. which is the subject of this review. deadsounding). imparting some of the refined harmonic complexity associated with tube preamplifiers. The preamp The Absolute Sound February 2007 31 A splendid introduction to the world of high-end separates . this quality of warmth evolves. er. there often comes a time to take the plunge into the world of separate components. The Metis. you find that setting exactly the right volume level is one of the keys to achieving great sound. like me. unlike tube designs that sound rolled-off or softly focused at the frequency extremes. Over the years. At the same time. The P8’s sonic signature centers around traditional solid-state clarity. it is also a joy to use. definition. like many good vacuum-tube-powered preamps. or hyper-analytical sound. which affects the preamp’s presentation from top to bottom. If. but two in particular stand out in my mind. and control.

and it offers greater definition.5dB increments! There are so many settings possible that the P8’s remote control offers “jump ahead” controls that let you fast-forward to 25%. With the chorus present. comparisons with tube preamplifiers such as the Metis reveal areas where it might be improved. the P8’s highs tend to sound slightly dry and two-dimensional relative to the sweeter. but if so it’s a coloration that brings listening sessions alive Which preamp sounds more musical? The answer depends on your priorities. Linn Sondek LP-12 turntable and Ittok LVII tonearm. textural. analog resistor-based volume control that offers settings ranging from -70dB to +30dB in . and Mirage OMD-28 loudspeakers.5" x 1. those tonal colors may even be a form of coloration. In fact. Either way. Epos ELS 303. On the other hand. NuForce Reference 9 Special Edition and Kharma MP150 monoblock power amplifiers. accurate imaging and soundstaging cues. the P8 is most in its element when playing material that incorporates rich layers of inner details just begging to be revealed.com Type: Solid-state stereo preamplifier Inputs: Four stereo analog audio inputs (three RCA. and spatial details. which offered an eyeopening contrast to the higher but thinner and more diffuse sound of Mitchell’s voice from the original recording. so the entire back wall of my listening room was filled with voices supporting Collister on stage. adding an intriguing new dimension to the song. know that the Metis and P8 both serve music well. with a few voices entering initially and then a full chorus arrayed in a broad semi-circle behind her. the P8 never fully captures the vivid. and when fed recordings that offer precise. probably because the 3 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Even the wind effects worked well. TAS Specs & Pricing NUFORCE (NPHYSICS) 356 South Abbott Avenue Milpitas. Good though the P8 is. vibrant tonal colors that tubes. or 75% of maximum volume. headphone output (mini-jack) Dimensions: 8.2 stereo power amplifier. more flexible. earthbound richness that the P8 captured beautifully. 50%. and either would make a splendid introduction to the world of high-end separates. things became even more interesting as backing vocalists join Collister on stage. The song opens with Collister singing alone at center stage. California 95035 (408) 426-4165 nuforce. What first struck me was the textural depth and focused sound of Collister’s voice. NHT Classic Three. effortlessly delineating complicated. Price: $1195 ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT Wilson-Benesch Full Circle analog system. What I didn’t anticipate was the P8’s ability to reproduce the voices of the backing vocalists with essentially the same precise focus and spatial localization I had observed on Collister’s voice. this little preamp thoroughly explores discs. and it provides an onboard mm phonostage. and more revealing of subtle inner details. For example. the P8 is quieter. one single-ended RCA).” and there discovered a small treasure trove of musical riches. Paradigm Reference Signature S8. First. at their best. her solo voice joined only by a faint wash of wind noises appropriate to the song’s aerial theme. Musical Fidelity Tri Vista SACD and kW SACD players. and unequivocally superior bass.5" Weight: 6 lbs. At its best.75" x 16. more three-dimensional treble response good tube units achieve. Benz Micro ACE L phono cartridge. Musical Surroundings Phonomena and Sutherland Ph3D phonostages. can reproduce. I put on Christine Collister’s Love… [Rega. The Metis is arguably more magical and involving in the midrange and treble region. Furutech Alpha Reference interconnect and speaker cables.Start Me Up NuForce P8 Preamplifier transparent P8 let me hear how artfully the producer had added them to the mix. Where Mitchell’s voice soared up and away like the spirit of the departed Amelia Earhart. Second. In practice. Collister’s voice has a beguiling. As the song unfolded. LP] to sample the artist’s thoughtful cover of the classic Joni Mitchell song “Amelia. one mini-jack) Outputs: Two stereo analog outputs (one balanced XLR. interwoven timbral. Both preamps compete effectively with models twice their price. Audio Research D330. the width and depth of the soundstage became apparent. RPG and Auralex room acoustic treatments supports precise volume adjustments via—picture this—a digitally-controlled. broader frequency response.

compact enclosure. A dual alarm clock completes the package. peaking the midrange for greater “presence. The I-Sonic is also compatible with Picture CD so you can display photos on your TV monitor. HD Radio’s multicasting feature allows local radio stations to broadcast many “hidden” channels of different music. The most impressive aspect of its sound was its extremely smooth and flat tonal balance. meaning that it can function as the video source (via S-video and composite-video outputs) for a small home-theater system. FM. I particularly like the I-Sonic’s informative and useful front-panel display. and curvaceous. Find HD Radio stations in your area at www. the I-Sonic’s user interface and overall design are exceptionally well thought out. In addition to the I-Sonic’s ability to deliver music and video from a wide range of formats (AM/FM/XM/HD Radio/CD/DVD). particularly when playing CDs. it can be connected to an external source such as an iPod or other music player through its stereo line-level input jacks. top-mounted “soft” buttons that change function depending on which source is selected. I replaced my The Absolute Sound February 2007 35 . (HD Radio is a free radio service delivered digitally by your favorite local terrestrial-based stations. nine-pound I-Sonic might look like a “table radio. offering greatly improved sound quality compared with your TV speakers. The $599 I-Sonic is much more than a good-looker. XM. both in terms of format capabilities and fidelity.com/hd_radio/hdradio_find_a_station/SA. The curvaceous. or HD Radio. None of this versatility would matter if the I-Sonic didn’t satisfy musically. It would not be an overstatement to say that I was shocked by how good it sounded. This smoothness translated into a natural presentation that I could listen to for hours at a time (in my office while working) without fatigue. A nice feature allows you to store up to 30 radio presets in any combination of AM. In fact. In addition to including an AM/FM tuner. such as boosting the upper bass to conceal the lack of low bass. In fact.” but appearances are only skin deep.iTas Polk Audio I-Sonic Desktop Audio System robert Harley The Swiss Army knife of desktop audio POLK AUDIO’S NEW I-SONIC BRINGS A WIDE RANGE OF MUSIC SOURCES TO A DESKTOP OR BEDROOM AUDIO SYSTEM—and does so with surprising sound quality.” or brightening the treble to add “clarity.” Instead. the I-Sonic sounded like a high-quality minimonitor in its overall balance. Polk apparently didn’t play tricks with frequency response to appeal to a mass audience.ibiquity. it is XM-ready (antenna and XM subscription required) as well as HD Radio-ready.) The I-Sonic’s integral disc drive lets you play music CDs and even DVDs.

headphones (mini-jack). The I-Sonic’s combination of attributes is compelling: compact size for a desktop. swinging bass playing was clearly evident and musically coherent. After I’d had the I-Sonic for a few weeks.75" x 9. I wondered how I’d ever lived without it. it far exceeds expectations.0 15. S-video Format compatibility: AM. Even with the lowermost octaves missing. Polk’s Paul DiComo sent me its frequency-response plot. Peter Washington’s marvelous. access to music from a wide range of sources.75" Weight: 9 lbs.) The plot is flatter than that of many freestanding speaker systems—and sounds that way. FM. The I-Sonic has other qualities going for it beyond a smooth and natural tonal balance.0 100. XM. TAS Specs & Pricing POLK AUDIO 5601 Metro Drive Baltimore. For instance. and seeing how flat it was. The I-Sonic is one of those products I never wished for. composite video. the I-Sonic provides enough information in the bass to be musically satisfying. The engineer told the surprised DiComo that the response was that of the I-Sonic. Price: $599 . The treble was also surprisingly clean and free from tizz. HD Radio.0 135.polkaudio.0 140.iTas 165. FM antenna.0 160. MP3 (on CD) Dimensions: 14.0 office separates system (which included a pair of $600 mini-monitors) with the ISonic. but in the office or bedroom. weight. CD. DVD-Video.Hz 1000. The I-Sonic obviously won’t be the main audio system for any of us.0 log Frequency . line-in (stereo mini-jack) Outputs: Audio line-out (RCA). I’ve enjoyed a lot of music through it—and discovered some great new music (on XM’s Channel 72. line-in (RCA).com http://isonic.0 150. and reasonable price. the I-Sonic’s four speakers (two forward-firing and two rear-firing) deliver remarkably similar tonal balance and spaciousness from anywhere in the room.polkaudio.0 auto 30.0 155. and definition are mind-blowing for such a compact system. on the terrific new piano-trio CD Jan Lundgren in New York (a Japanese disc imported by East Wind Imports). In addition.0 115. simultaneously sounding airy and extended. (He was in the R&D area and noticed a response plot on a computer screen. assumed it belonged to one of Polk’s upper-end products. Photo CD. great sound quality.5" x 4. I would even go so far as to describe the treble as having a sense of delicacy and refinement.0 10.0 145. but after just a few days with this tabletop marvel.com Inputs: XM mini-USB tuner. Maryland 21215 (800) 377-7655 www. The I-Sonic is that good. It says much about the I-Sonic that I’ve described its sound quality in much 36 February 2007 The Absolute Sound the same way I would a high-end product. AM antenna. for example). Bottom-end extension.0 1000.0 130.

which sold the rights to the cartridge’s design and manufacture to former Decca engineer John Wright and Presence Audio in 1989. the damping effect of the rubber fulcrum. which. It was Decca’s contention that the resonances of the cantilever. in turn. and the sheer mass of the magnetic engine at the far end of this virtual “see-saw” caused losses of clarity and dynamic range—what Decca called “cantilever haze. All phono cartridges convert the physical motion of a stylus into an electrical signal.. and has always set. is glued at its rear to a rubber block (to keep it centered) and further held in place by a tie-back cord (to prevent the angled-iron armature from moving forward). (The current London Reference cartridge has no connection to Decca Radio & TV Ltd. It has been around in one form or another since before the stereo era—the result of some extraordinarily ingenious and enduring engineering by the Special Products group of the Decca Record Company.Analog ABSOLUTE London Reference Phono Cartridge Jonathan valin THe LoNDoN (ForMerLy “DeCCA” or “DeCCA LoNDoN”) CArTrIDge has the longest and most distinguished pedigree of any piece of phonographic gear currently on the market. Here’s how it works.” To sidestep these problems Decca came up with a cartridge without a cantilever. Most use a cantilever—a long thin metal tube equipped with a flexible rubber ring that acts as a fulcrum—to transmit the vibrations from the stylus at one end to the moving magnets or coils at the other.) What sets. A new reference from London London Stylus and Armature 38 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Decca cartridges apart is the way they generate sound. A diamond stylus is mounted at the tip of a small flexible piece of slightly angled iron.

higher compliance. inducing a voltage (a variation on the moving-iron or induced-magnet design). it has four output pins (rather than three). if enough dirt accumulates. It only took a few bars of the Schnittke Quasi una sonata [EMI] for me to realize that the pizzicatos. Many audio manufacturers make claims for the technological superiority of their designs.) . I think I was imagining something like a really good Grado on steroids. Deccas have always been very picky about tonearms. At $5295. “positivescanning” cartridges were indifferent trackers. there is no haze-inducing rubber damping ring at the cantilever’s pivot point. I knew I was hearing something I hadn’t heard before— something remarkable. although its magnets are now made of rare-earth materials. the Decca moving-iron cartridge is a very-high-output device. let me note the not-so-good news about “positive-scanning” pickups. (Finding a “good” Decca used to be an audiophile pastime back in the seventies. insuring superior rise times. in part.” (See illustration below.) Second. unlike the early Deccas. in my opinion. But let’s look at the latest iteration. and its stylus. The mass of magnets or coils do not have to be leveraged at the other end of a cantilever. slight variations in their construction can also cause variations in flat frequency response. You will also have to live with the louder reproduction of tics and pops. as noted. largely because it doesn’t use a rubbery damping ring on a cantilever. and its movement causes lines of magnetic flux to cut through the coils. the Reference is housed in a gorgeous two-piece aluminum chassis to provide better damping and shielding and. and the motion of the stylus is translated directly to the coils and magnets that literally surround it. though not enough. I hadn’t had a positive-scanning cartridge in my system for years. From the moment I dropped the stylus into a groove. Well…I was wrong. in this case. although a new model Decca tonearm will be available in the near future).Absolute Analog The armature is then situated directly within the magnetic field. however. its internal wiring is audiophile-grade. Decca’s own damped unipivot arm was once considered best. although recent-vintage Londons have been far more uniform in sound quality. outright mistracking.) Unlike the plastic-bodied Mk V. the only moving part in a Decca cartridge is the tiny anglediron armature that holds the stylus. The London Reference reproduced string transients with such “fool-you” realism that I felt—and I seldom feel this way—that I’d been carried substantially closer to the absolute sound. It still uses the “positive scanning” technique. the Tip Pole Pieces As you can see. is an expensive ultra-low-mass fine-line diamond. to be anything like a disqualifier. Deccas are clearer and faster than much of their competition.” This adds to its aliveness but can. most analog rigs tend to screw up the speed and duration of plucked and forcefully bowed strings (and other transients).) Magnet Pole Piece Plastic Support beam Lateral Coil Magnet Pole Piece vertical Coils Armature Magnet London Reference Phono Cartridge I could go on—and on—about the practical and theoretical plusses and minuses of these fascinating beasts. Where a moving coil will plough through dirty or severely scratched grooves (thanks. internal damping. Though that has changed to an extent with the London Reference (which is equipped with a superior ultra-low-mass fine-line stylus). before I turn to the first new “Decca” in 12 years—the London Reference. but “breakthrough” better. the Decca cartridge is relatively “undamped. which could make them unsuitable for use with certain contemporary phonostages that may overload with signals that strong. As I’ve written before. to its greater mass. the claims are mostly justified. a Decca cartridge will not. The innards of the London Reference cartridge are essentially the same as those of the Decca Mk V that was reviewed in Issue 2 of TAS. and heavier tracking force). As Deccas were (and continue to be) hand-made in relatively 40 February 2007 The Absolute Sound small quantities. also add treble-range brightness and aggressiveness. The current London models generate 5. Outside of the used market. because Deccas essentially use one (large) magnet to translate vertical modulations (stereo information) into electrical signals.0mV (you read that right—five millivolts). in some instances. making them sound either too abrupt or too stretched-out in tone and time. Any instrument played percussively—the mighty Bösendorfer on Grazyna Bacewicz’s Kleines Triptychon [Muza]. channel separation is inherently not as high as it is with movingcoil and moving-magnet designs with separate magnets for vertical modulations. The fact that Decca “positive scanning” cartridges have been around for better than fifty years should tell you that. Otherwise dust will pile up on the stylus. Decca arms are no longer available (and I would not recommend that you try to find one used. Decca called this system “positive scanning. I listen to a lot of twentieth-century chamber music in which strings are snapped or played with vigorous bow strokes. Fourth. and martelés on this remarkable LP were being reproduced with breathtaking realism—not merely better than what I was used to hearing. (The London Reference can also be ordered with a 78rpm or mono LP stylus. ricochéts. (Be sure to keep this in mind when contemplating a purchase. with the magnet and coils that generate the signal from vertical modulations of the stylus immediately above it and those that generate the signal for horizontal modulations of the stylus immediately to its sides. what has not changed is a positive-scanning cartridge’s sensitivity to dirt and groove wear. it is also quite expensive. Third. Lest this turn into a love fest. You simply have to clean your records if you plan to replay them with a positive-scanning cartridge like the London Reference. The iron armature is magnetized by these stationary magnets. causing audible mistracing and. First. Happily. collés. the London Reference’s virtues did not stop with strings. so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the London Reference. Even in Decca arms. As a result soundstage width suffers a bit in comparison to the best conventional cartridges.

for the first time.8gm) Price: $5295 4 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . which landed on my doorstep a week or two after the London Reference and. fast. (This relationship between electricity and magnetism was discovered in 1820 by the Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted.0mV signals without overloading (in my experience. as my reference. very close.A. but overall a properly functioning London Reference is. the stinging cymbals on Roberto Gerhardt’s Libra [Decca Headline]—was just that much more realistic than what I’d come to expect from typical moving coils. The innovation in the London cartridge is obviating the need for a cantilever. along with the Air Tight PC-1. you’ll be hard put to find a more lifelike phono cartridge. one female—going “ah. But when you listen to a song you’ve heard a hundred times. “induced magnet”).” [Warner]. the Lamm LP2. long-standing claim of superior transient speed—which. exceeds—typical moving-coil transient speed. and the Aesthetix Io all fit the bill). (3) you will need to clean your records and the London Reference’s stylus regularly (a gentle sweep with the Decca 2+2 Record Brush should suffice for the stylus). that’s pretty darn amazing! The London Reference is far and away the best non-moving-coil cartridge I’ve ever heard and would’ve been TAS’ 2006 High-End Cartridge of the Year. While I wouldn’t say that the London Reference was quite the equal in very-low-level resolution of my thenreference Clearaudio Titanium “Fingers” moving coil—the more expensive Clearaudio Titanium is a veritable sonic vacuum cleaners when it comes to picking up fine detail and an unaparalleled soundstager—it was very. frankly. less good with the Walker air-bearing arm). TAS Moving-Iron Cartridges The London “positive scanning” design is a variation on the littleused moving-iron (also called “induced magnet”) principle. But in a moving-iron cartridge. If you’re willing to live with these idiosyncrasies (and I grant that several can be annoying). But the London Reference cartridge wasn’t just preternaturally quick. to hear a cartridge that doesn’t have the slight rise in the uppermidrange and treble or slight suckout in the upper bass and lower mids of most moving coils but that still maintains— and. which is moved by the stylus in the groove (thus the alternate name. 10x10-6cm/dyne vertically Input impedance: 47k Ohms (optimum 33k Ohms) Input capacitance: 100 to 300pF (optimum 220pF) Output: 5mV at 5cm/sec Recommended tracking force: 1.5 to 2 grams (optimum 1. it was also downright natural in timbre. the Decca has always been famous for its way with voices. Ah. I thought would be invalidated by the performance of contemporary mc’s— still held up. It is weird.Absolute Analog through-the-floor bass drum on George Crumb’s A Haunted Landscape [New World Records]. and deep) and treble (which was sweeter and airier than the Clearaudio. in the case of instruments played percussively. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about its quirks. All of the provisos that I mentioned above about earlier Decca cartridges still apply: (1) You will need the right tonearm. a conductor. In his honor. even in the bass (which. and (4) you will have to put up with less clean tracing on well-worn discs and occasional mistracking on really deep scratches. a reference-quality pickup—and I use it. —Robert Harley Specs & Pricing MAY AUDIO MARKETING INC. AH!” in the chorus. though a bit softer and less extended). some will beat it out here and others there. but can also. New York 14304 (800) 554-4517 mayaudio. The stationary magnets instead magnetize a piece of soft iron. the Audio Research PH7. tell from the timbre of their voices that one is Lindsey Buckingham and the other Christine McVie (as the album jacket tells you)…well. indeed. and rather astonishing. preferably a damped unipivot or damped straight-line-tracker that is happy with a relatively low-compliance cartridge and a relatively low VTF of 1. Decca’s famous. On vocals…well. full. the magnets and coils are both stationary. When a conductor cuts through magnetic lines of flux. The results are uniquely “right”: a presentation with the lifelike air. AH. Now for the bad news. and suddenly realize that you can not only distinctly hear the two back-up singers—one male. is naturally round. the coils are fixed and the magnets attached to the cantilever move back and forth in response to modulations in the LP’s groove. body. if it didn’t have the bad luck of coming up against the Air Tight PC-1. and fullness of tone color of a great moving-magnet or moving-iron cartridge without the comparative sluggishness or opacity of either. frankly.com Type: Moving-iron cartridge with positive scanning Compliance: 15x10-6cm/dyne laterally. (2) you will need a phonostage that is capable of handling 5. as noted. and relative motion between the two. superior realism on transients and timbres. electrons in that conductor are put into motion. like Randy Newman’s “I Love L.8–1. All operate on the principle that a voltage is induced (created) when there’s a magnetic field. and instead connecting the stylus directly to the moving iron. Oh. with. 2150 Liberty Drive. the unit of magnetic field strength is the oersted. Such cartridges have very high output voltages.) In a moving-magnet cartridge. I would have to say that the London Reference is still the more natural in timbre and very nearly the PC-1’s equal in speed (though not in soundstage width London Reference Phono Cartridge or low-level resolution). Even at that. marginally outdid it in transient realism. with the Reference. How it works is less intuitive than the workings of a movingcoil or moving-magnet cartridge. on the order of 2–7mV.9 grams (I’ve had good luck with the Kuzma Air Line. Unit 7 Niagara Falls.

esoteric marquees (deHavilland. attracting exhibitors and attendees from all over North America. Robert Harley. Eben). VTL. We covered the show live at our Web site. This show has expanded from its home-grown beginnings to become a major event.com. Mark Levinson. JM Lab. and quite a few enthusiasts/designers looking for their first recognition or showcasing outrageous inventions that will likely never become production-line products. and bring you here the most significant and best-sounding products. Linn). —Robert Harley Rocky Mountain show-goers get registered Text and photography by Jonathan Valin. and Neil Gader The Absolute Sound February 2007 45 . The Rocky Mountain show has a distinctive vibe all its own— one that serves as a reminder that the high-end audio industry sprang from passionate enthusiasts working in garages or on kitchen tables. Thiel. this year’s show featured an interesting mix of “mainstream” high-end brands (Wilson. As with the previous two events. was held October 21–23 at Denver’s Marriott Tech Center hotel. Audio Aero. AVguide. DarTZeel. along with a sampling of interesting prototypes and curiosities. now in its third year.High-End Returns to its Roots: The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest T he Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

a handful of CDs. an abundance of fine detail) Art Audio/Gill Audio/ Omega Room Speakers you can smoke? The Omega Max Hemps 46 February 2007 The Absolute Sound I’m a big fan of any speaker that sounds like a single-driver sound source. The Omega Max Hemp could be one of those great bargains that come along once in a paper moon—or it could be a boondoggle. As if to seal this point.T.5-way floorstanding A. and $2250 Schroeder arm. and for many the hi-fi show is the place to travel to—the only stereo store where all the new goodies are on display. like paper. With select LPs. I’ve not been a fan of Wilson-Benesch loudspeakers. Cordesman in Issue 168 of TAS. This year I finally came around—or the speakers did. and a wonderful CD-R of the Copland Third Symphony in hand. and analytical. has very little sonic signature of its own. With its added strength it makes for a superb driver material. The Gershman three-way Black Swan ($30k). they were rewarded with a very-good-sounding mix of mainstream and exotic. As was the case in 2005. I did think that two Torus subwoofers should have been used for best imaging—the folks at Sounds Real Audio used only one and it should have been turned down a bit in amplitude. with visitors coming in from every corner of the country to hear what couldn’t be heard elsewhere. I plan to review a pair in the near future to find out which. attendance was way up at this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. is far and away the finest transducer Eli Gershman has designed. But…you can’t sound more like a single-driver source than a. with a soundfield that was big and spacious (though darker and not quite as boxlessly open as that of the MBL 101 Es—for which. so beguilingly and effortlessly natural on voice that it made me think it might be a poor Pretty as a picture: Wilson-Benesch A. supremely open and airy. but W-B’s newest entry. My beats were the big exhibit rooms on the ground floor and mezzanine of the Marriott Tech Center. the A. Driven by the $7000 Art Audio Diablo SET amp. and omnis to hybrids and multiways. with a front-to-back layering that was scarce on the ground at RMAF. Here are the highlights. $2350 Sheu-Analog ’table.. (The Black Swan was reviewed by Anthony H. which. which is one of the chief reasons why I prefer two-ways. I traveled from room to room to room. maybe it was deHavilland’s $10k GM70 amps and $5k Mercury preamp (plus Cardas cable). with its ingenious sub-alignment system. planars. see Best of Show). uh. in the past. and terrific bass. Driven by Red Rock Audio monoblocks and the Exemplar DAC/preamp. good transients. hemp. the $15k 2. had all of the virtues of W-B’s former entries (little-to-no box or driver coloration.C. and the smaller suites on the second and some of the fifth and ninth floors. single-driver source—and that is precisely what the $2695 Omega Max Hemp loudspeaker is. passive. Stiffer than paper. rich timbres. it was virtually colorless and boxless-sounding in the midband. but it may be one of the purer. then go out and audition it at your local audio emporium. Though not quite as analog-oriented as it was in 2005 (or quite as uniformly fabuloussounding).C.C. (or poorer) man’s MAGICO Mini. Maybe it was the addition of W-B’s own $9500 Torus Infrasonic Generator (soon to be reviewed by moi). speakers without many of their flaws.The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest Jonathan Valin on the Show’s Highlights L ong gone are the salad days when high-end stereo stores flourished in virtually every large town and you could read about something fabulous in TAS. Now. most of us have to travel to hear the latest and greatest. the Swan showed very well on a variety of music. The Omega Max may not—by its very nature— be one of the fuller-range speakers on the market.) As was the case with the Gershman Black Swans. Sweet and lovely in balance. have sounded sumptuously detailed and extremely free of box coloration but overly cool. .T. Sounds Real Audio Room Gershman Acoustics Over the years I’ve respected Gershman Acoustics loudspeakers but never really warmed up to them. The folks behind the Max Hemp actually use hemp for their single full-range driver (with whizzer tweeter).T. $6500 Gill Audio Design Alana preamp. Nonetheless.s were impressive. the 2006 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was still a feast for the ear. this was one of the better sounds at RMAF. ’stats.

The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest “I ain’t likely to review this number—it’s just too big and weird. I found myself impressed by the $48k Wilson MAXX 2s—speakers that have not always impressed me in the past. We probably could have been listening to Dixie Cups and strings. But it’s worth an audition if you have a wide room. Bi-amped by Welborne Labs DRD45 and DRD300B SET amps and fed from a vintage Studer tape deck. including simply phenomenal recordings of the Copland Third Symphony. in that spot it had remarkably lifelike presence on voice. rolled. . though they tended to be a bit bright. masterdata recorded to hard drive). The $58k Cogent True-to-Life is a two-way horn loudspeaker—a genuine giant combining Wilson MAXX 2s with recording engineer par excellence Peter McGrath single “sweet spot” loudspeaker. and clinical in the treble). the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto. brass fanfares. Audio Unlimited (Maroon Peak Room) True-to-life. On less demanding material. piano. in a show where the sound was slightly less acrossthe-board fabulous than it was last year. and can find the Cogents at a hi-fi shop (or much more likely) at another hi-fi show. and guitar. Still. however—like Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” from the great DCC LP test pressing of Blue—they were rather lovely on voice and dulcimer. As it was—driven by very powerful but somewhat analytical $40k Boulder 2060 stereo amp. indeed: The Cogent horn loudspeaker system a horn-loaded mid/bass field-coil driver that is said to work from 300Hz down to about 50Hz with a horn-loaded mid/tweet field-coil driver that works from 300Hz up to 20kHz. tonal sweetness. in this case. Clearly part of the MAXX 2s’ newfound appeal (for me) was attributable to the source material—the great recording engineer Peter McGrath’s fabulous mastertapes (or. Though definitely a 48 February 2007 The Absolute Sound Jonathan Tinn’s latest offering—the mammoth Evolution Acoustics MM3 ($33k) three-way—sandwiched a central ribbon tweeter between separate curved enclosures housing two ceramic midrange drivers and two giant woofers in a quasiD’Appolito configuration. But it’s worth an audition if you have a wide room. Here is another—slightly more extreme—instance. are “into” horns. and the Brahms Piano Quintet and Viola Sonata. and the $37k Boulder 2020 DAC (fed from Peter’s hard drive).” Welborne Labs/Cogent Loudspeaker Room What would an audio show be without a few genuine oddities? I’ve already commended one exceptional-sounding example—the Omega Max Hemp speaker. violin. the MM3s were either underdriven by the $18k 100Wpc Dartzeel NHB-108 amps Jonathan was using or inherently polite because they were sorely stressed by the plucked strings. Evolution Acoustics MM3 loudspeaker (Larkspur Room) In yet another turnaround. the MAXX 2s stood out. Although capable of considerable delicacy. and big bass drum thwacks of the Copland Third Symphony. the $40k Boulder 2010 preamp. the “True to Life” rather earned its name. the MAXX 2s had tremendous dynamic authority and slam in the bass (and everywhere else. I ain’t likely to review this number— it’s just too big and weird. and lifelike imaging. and I still would have been wowed by the McGrath sound.

freed-up and alive than it did through other speakers I heard at the show—more The system included the Majik CD like the real thing and less like reproductions coming out of a box or a screen. you couldn’t extremely engaging and find two more different presentations. when all Charles van Oosterum with Kharma’s That’s a good sign.” preferring the MBLs because. The Tara Labs’ Zero interconnects ($2650) driving a pair of Linn’s Ninka and Omega speaker cables were reviewed in Issue 157.) loudspeakers ($2000). and Chakra power amplifiers) evidence this year in Denver.900 four-way omnis from Berlin’s Wolfgang Meletzky that lay fair claim operation. which made its and “Omega” speaker cable. the $21k MBL 1621 A CD transport. Majik Kontrol preamp once again. analytical. In the demo. a pair of Majik 2100 amplifiers drove the Ninkas in active runner-up gTT Audio/ (or AKTIV. and dynamic excitement. stunning CD12 CD player. and Majik 2100 power amplifier of the Year—were reviewed by JV in Issue 154. Both are because I kept wanting to great transducers. High-Value Systems.The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest Jv’S beST oF SHoW Tara Labs/MbL of America Robert Harley Reports on Significant Introductions. communicative. highly Van Oosterum’s Midi-Exquisites are like detailed without being exquisite miniatures—all subtlety. Everything I listened to through them sounded more into mid-priced products. Linn Debuts New Majik Line Best of Show: The great MBL 101 Es L 50 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . So. neutrality. the 101 Es earn my Best of Show. Wolfgang Meletzky’s MBL listening in the Linn room 101 Es are like giant landscapes—all bloom. But what’s a reviewer supposed to do when Meletzky’s North American debut at the show. player ($3500). the $75k fourand one amplifier driving way floorstander I extolled in Issue 152. but for the terrific sound they produced. with Linn’s outboard The reformulated versions of Dutch electronic crossover splitting speaker designer Charles van Oosterum’s up the frequency spectrum Kharma Midi-Exquisites. I spent more time and fine detail. coherence. they sound less like for a full review of the Majik Midi Exquisites loudspeakers. to use Linn’s video room terminology) configuration. However. and $21k MBL 1611 E technologies developed for its more DAC). his attendant electronics (the $74k MBL 9011 monoblock amps. resolution. the $19k is an attempt to bring Linn’s flagship MBL 6010 D preamp. the 101 Es’ astonishing openness. simplicity of $47. Klimax imaging. than in any other. to being the world’s best loudspeakers—and Tara Labs’ “Zero” interconnect The Majik line. and Interesting Curiosities In a show dominated by fairly esotericlooking gear. and cable guru Matthew Bond’s sensational wires keep showing so well at expensive products (specifically the hi-fi expo after hi-fi expo? If anything. simply scope. and mainstream appeal. speaker. grace. but I ended up slightly hear “just one more track. the same MBL electronics that sent the The sound I heard was 101 Es into orbit. the new Linn Majik products stood out not only for ord knows I’ve raved before about the MBL 101 E Radialstrahlers—the their “ordinary” looks. and dynamic nuance and clout were even more in preamp. components—they just might live up to their name. both woofers and the other sounded gorgeous driven by exactly amp driving both tweeters. (The MBL 101 Es—TAS’s 2005 Product ($3100). Watch is said and done.

low price. a huge soundstage. complete with the Stratos 180W monoblock power amplifiers ($2395 per pair). and Odyssey’s floorstanding loudspeaker. Channel D Software has the solution with its Pure Vinyl software for transcribing LPs.The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest LP with a mouse. by Ultimate Audio Video in Deerfield. But in a strain-gauge cartridge. The $1195 system includes two horn speakers. A horn-loaded desktop audio system? That’s right—Ferguson Hill Studios has scaled down its large horn system for the desktop with the FH007 mini-system. this Mac-based program takes in a digitized signal. Tempest preamp ($1125). two direct-radiating mid/bass drivers in spherical enclosures. and high value. The transparent enclosures and horns make the system seem to disappear—very cool. with some clever tricks to reduce the build cost. $995 Ron Sutherland shows off his age battery-powered Ph3D phonost An Affordable BatteryPowered Phonostage? Acclaimed designer Ron Sutherland has taken the circuit ideas from his terrific $3000 Sutherland PhD battery-powered phono preamp and created a $1000 version called the Ph3D. As everyone knows. Finally. seemed destined for the hi-fi museum until the concept was resurrected by Soundsmith and demonstrated at the RMAF. high-quality input and output jacks.S. The products are built to a high standard and produced a sound that was better in many ways than more expensive systems I heard at the show. Ferguson Hill is distributed in the U. and the dynamics of a much larger system. Illinois. This standmounted two-way had a highly refined presentation. the highly regarded Audio Physic line of speakers. performs RIAA equalization in the digital domain. respectively. and access a host of other functions. The amplifier puts out 65Wpc into 8 ohms and can double its output power into 4 ohms. I was also taken by a new loudspeaker from Joachim Gerhard the founder of Rip Your LPs For those of you who want to archive your LP library to a music server or portable music player. The system was $5800. the battery holder is formed by bending the chassis metal rather than requiring another internal component. The Sonics were driven by the Belles Soloist 3 preamp and Soloist 3 power amplifier that retail for just $795 and $995. Watch for a review. a phono cartridge works by moving coils within a magnetic field (or vice versa in moving-magnet cartridges) to induce a voltage. For example. Price: $129. I was greatly impressed by the value offered in the Odyssey room. You can select start and stop points by “scrubbing” across the virtual The strain-gauge phono cartridge makes a comeback— no extra charge for the blue LED The Absolute Sound February 2007 53 . and a 16Wpc stereo amplifier that can accept linelevel input from an iPod or other source. which is particularly important in a phonostage. and high-end parts. Inventions. A Great-Sounding Affordable Gear Three rooms at the show stood out for the combination of great sound. which let it languish. The array of conventional “D” cells last 1250 hours. and allows you to edit and compile music tracks from LP. delete and rearrange tracks. A Windows version is in the works. Horn Speakers on your Desktop Prototypes. The company is about to introduce a matching subwoofer with an 8" driver and 100W amplifier for about $250. What’s special is the cool user interface that lets you see an on-screen graphic representation of the LP you’ve digitized. and Curiosities A 1960s Idea Resurrected The strain-gauge phono cartridge. invented in the 1960s and soon thereafter sold to Matsushita (Panasonic). the moving cantilever applies a varying pressure on a tiny silicon rod. The unit has adjustable gainand cartridge-loading. Battery power results in lower noise. The first was the $1500-per-pair Dragonfly loudspeaker from Soundsmith. When used with an outboard analogto-digital converter.

the Emerald Physic CS1 sounded shockingly good— and for $4950 complete 54 February 2007 The Absolute Sound World’s Most OutrageousLooking Amplifier The most outrageous-looking amplifier I’ve ever seen had to be the Amber Waves Audio monoblocks. and time alignment. equalize the system. wide bandwidth (response to 50kHz). although the amplifiers can be low power owing to the system’s high sensitivity (100dB/1W/1m). The designer was closedmouthed about technical details. designer Peter Ledermann couldn’t resist adding a bright blue LED on the cartridge to help locating tracks in the dark. These massive. but did say that some aspects of the ribbon are With DSP crossovers. the Symposium Acoustics Panorama might be for you . wide dynamics. A New Twist on PlanarMagnetic Loudspeaker Technology Along with the Amber Waves monoblocks. and terrific bass extension without the bass lumpiness one often hears in hotel rooms. the CS1 is a fascinating product and at a list price of $4950 could represent a stunning value (the dual-woofer-column version is $6750). and no hum or susceptibility to electromagnetic interference. Because the constantcurrent source is in the phono preamp. The price of the monoblocks: $42k per pair. along with a compression-driver tweeter and massive dipolar woofer arrays. a highpower device used in the 1940s as RF If Spouse Acceptance Factor isn’t a factor. the CS1. which confers outstanding trackability). The advantages include extremely low moving mass (no coils or magnets to move. the manufacturer claims that there are plenty available on the open market. a new company with a most unusual product. The demo I heard produced a superprecise spatial presentation.” The world’s most outrageous power amplifier—the Amber Waves Audio monoblocks based on an RF transmitting tube power transmitters. A DSP unit from DBX provides the electronic crossover and other processing. meaning that it has rather utilitarian cosmetics and finish. The Power of DSP in Loudspeakers Digital signal processing (DSP) in loudspeakers is such a good idea that I’m surprised so few designers take advantage of it. Six amplifier channels are required. Full production is scheduled to commence in January. a designer can create any crossover slope he wishes. the strangest-looking (and lowest spouse-acceptance-factor) product at the RMAF had to be the giant four-way quasi-ribbon-based Panorama loudspeaker from Symposium Acoustics. equalization.The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest constant current (supplied by the phono preamplifier) flowing through the silicon rod is modulated by the cantilever’s motion. The downside is that the CS1 is a “form-follows-function” design. With DSP. The advantages of DSP-based loudspeakers were demonstrated by Emerald Physic. two rear-firing). A pair of 304TLs is used in push-pull configuration to deliver 200W. The four-piece system employs a 1" compression-driver tweeter mated to two 8" midrange units in one flat open panel. “The DSP-based Emerald Physic CS1 is a fascinating product and at a list price of $4950 could represent a stunning value. creating an electrical replica of the audio signal. With a current source right there at the end of the tonearm. smooth and flat tonal balance. Nonetheless. 200-pound units are built around a 304TL tube. a strain-gauge cartridge must be used with a companion phonostage. coupled with another open panel consisting of four 15" woofers in a dipole configuration (two forward-firing. and time-align the drivers. Although the tubes have long since gone out of production.

and a Wadia 521 DAC ($6k) provided digital-to-analog conversion. Except for my inability to stop humming John Denver tunes. and a Halcro dm10 preamp ($18k). as well as the byte-heads and tech geeks lining up to lay hands on gear that ran the gamut from the heavenly to the hopeless. direct. driven by two Halcro dm38 amplifiers ($19k). and delivered deep bass extension. which was rich with spatial cues. . . RMAF is a gathering of fervent true believers. The company plans to bring the technology to products “under $10k. single-driver Creation 650 loudspeaker.5" driver is mounted in a deep enclosure with an 8"-square baffle. an audio designer. and very powerful magnets (neodymium). On an absolute level (without regard for price). Music Giants is the only company offering full CD-quality. The entire system was connected with $115k worth of XLO’s reference-quality Signal Delivery System cabling. This system was so alive. But all were united in a common cause—the pursuit of great sound. In addition. Crowding the halls are audiophiles of all persuasions: the vinyl junkies. Music Giants. XLO. Topend extension and dynamics were surprisingly good for a single-driver system. and terminal digiphobes. and former Director of Engineering at Bozak The Absolute Sound February 2007 57 . Vegas is Big Audio—trade only. including very loose diaphragm tensioning. Single-Driver Speaker A small but passionate company called Stereo Dave’s Audio Alternative demonstrated their crossover-less. The system’s intent was not only to show off the sound quality of Halcro electronics and XLO cables. The prototype (estimated price: $60k) had a sensitivity of 93dB. The 6. For the record. long way from Vegas. buttoned-down. The sound I heard from the Stereo Dave’s systems was amazingly immediate. With this system. and convincingly musical on a wide range of material. and let me tell you this show is a long. extremely light diaphragms (Kapton). the atmosphere is relaxed. Conventional cone drivers loaded into a transmission-line enclosure provide the bottom end. A Rives Audio PARC room equalizer ($3k) n a show of many terrific sounding rooms. the file format was Windows Media Audio (WMA) lossless. Crossover duties (between the MAXX2s and the subwoofers) were handled by a Pass Labs XRV1 ($6k). and the consumer prevails. its funky. downloaded music! A tablet PC on a WiFi network accessed music files stored on a computer that had been downloaded from Music Giants. the system included Wilson Audio MAXX 2 loudspeakers ($48k) driven by two pairs of bridged Halcro dm88 power amplifiers ($86k).400. The Swans threw a huge and open soundstage. and communicative— probably the result of getting the crossover out of the signal path. The source for this cost-no-object system was . where the faithful rededicate themselves to that old time religion of High End.” fixed some of the room-induced bass problems. and XLO Electric. Two Talon Thunderbird passive subs ($22k) helped out in the bass (as if the MAXX 2s needed it). inventor. cottagehigh-end vibe made it a sheer pleasure to attend. his business is purely consumerdirect—a euphemism for Internet distribution and zero dealer network. baby. Fact is there are few contrasts in high-end audio as bold as the comparison between CES and RMAF. The $2300-per-pair Creation 650 can be mated to the company’s Genesis 12 subwoofer ($895) for extended bass response. there were a few standouts. What follows are examples of sound that to these ears was nicely dialed in. At Rocky Mountain. the speakers completely disappeared into the soundstage. Occupying the show’s largest room (34' x 60'). with the buzz of business tension in each airless room. RMAF is exactly like CES—sonic quality was all over the place. But in at least one sense. Soundsmith is a cooperative of designers who ply their skills under the mentoring eye of Peter Ledermann. and was demonstrated with 12W power amplifiers. but that downloaded music doesn’t always equate to mediocre sound. spacious. which has never failed to sound wonderful at shows. Total system price: $322. As one local loudspeaker designer said.The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest novel. the monaural flat-earthers. comprising all of XLO’s Limited Edition cables. and Music Giants The show’s most ambitious system had to be the room put together by Halcro. uncompressed downloads. I’ll have to say the MBL 101 E loudspeakers driven by MBL’s top-of-the-line electronics gets my top vote. Neil Gader Wraps it Up This was my first Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF). I also greatly enjoyed the Gershman Black Swan ($30k). rH’S beST oF SHoW I $300k+ Megasystem from Halcro. dynamic. It’s also a world where small companies exist under the radar and even prosper on the crumbs of word-of-mouth and user newsgroup buzz. you could access through the tablet PC a huge music library with uncompromised sound quality and have it reproduced at the highest level. Crossover-less.

). The larger Monarch uses a 6" woofer (a 4. and rounded aluminum top cap are aggressively eye-catching. The new Thiel CS 3.The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest warm (not bloated). Its silver-ribbed woofers.500/pr. aircraft-grade aluminum chassis with circuitry that improves upon Ayre’s zerofeedback fully-balanced designs. “We have seen the future…and we can fix it. It produces MOSFET minimum-feedback amps. the MB-450 monoblocks . and some speakers that perked up my ears.5" woofer is used in the Dragonfly). They reminded me of the compact British studio-monitor tradition at its best. Not overpowering in scale. both Firefly models offer the option of ribbon tweeters for $700 a pair. the system had “star” written all over it. Orchestral microdynamics were exceptional. sparkling concentric mid-tweeter array. both of these two-way compacts sport a wide-bandwidth 1" soft-dome tweeter. I especially like Soundsmith’s “have-it-yourway” mindset regarding upgrades. With the Mx-R outputting 300W into 8 ohms and doubling that into 4 ohms and analog courtesy of the Linn LP12.7 alongside VTL’s latest. and detailed. However driven by the silky new VTL MB-450 Signature monoblocks ($13. Traditional in appearance.500/pr. with great dynamic punch and acceptable extension. spaciousness— get it?) is the brainchild of retired McIntosh designer Roger Russell. the Vandersteen Quattros ($6995/pr. it was pure musicality in its ease and spacious soundstaging.) exhibited a sense of control and liveliness that was stunning. a straingauge cartridge and preamp with corresponding circuitry for the straingauge cartridge.5" wovenfiberglass drivers per side. Marantz SA-11S1 SACD player The Absolute Sound February 2007 59 Fresh Ayre: Debut electronics from Ayre plus Vandersteen Quattros equaled some of the show’s sweetest sounds Thiel debuted its all new and striking CS 3.5' tower design that houses an in-line array of twentyfive 3.” in part to the twin power transformers.) is a striking departure for Thiel. depth. soundstaging along the long wall of the room was excellent with a strong central image on a Lindsey Buckingham solo recording featuring his incredible fingerpicking technique. balanced. No wonder Soundsmith’s motto is. The new Ayre Mx-R monoblocks ($16. The sonics were “The IDS-25 (image. In this instance. The Mx-Rs’ platform is an ultra-rigid. It’s a 7. no doubt due Soundsmith made quite an impression on NG and RH with its $995 two-way minimonitor Corporation.) and K-1xe preamp ($7000) represent a stylistic departure for Ayre—their narrow width and increased depth are today’s popular profile.” Even though Ayre Acoustics and Vandersteen were shoe-horned in a small room. Although I was sitting well off-axis.7 loudspeaker ($9900/pr.

a new kid on the block. It also produced the kind of natural soundstage on some Mark Knopfler tracks that is rare in this kind of show environment. Its greatest strength was a boxless. spaciousness—get it?) is the brainchild of retired McIntosh designer Roger Russell. the MB-450s demonstrated solid bass control and pitch definition. The new Thiel is an arresting improvement over its predecessors. The sound was articulate without being edgy. demo’ed its 25-driver. unified character with near-electrostatic transparency. Beautifully turned out with a luxurious extruded aluminum panel that frames a complement of eight 6550 (or KT-88) output tubes.000/pr. it didn’t spoil the debut of Verity’s new modular speaker the Rienzi ($7995/pr. It’s a 7. Internal connections 60 February 2007 The Absolute Sound Paired with jewel-like Nagra electronics. yet boasts frequency response down to 20Hz when used in conjunction with its outboard equalizer. and Cardas wiring this system was both dynamic and delicate. Expect pricing in the $19. But a good deal of the credit should rightfully go to VTL. Low bass was a bit light but I expect room optimization might improve performance.5" woven-fiberglass drivers per side.).The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest IDS. and exceedingly clean. depth.5' tower design that houses an in-line array of twenty-five 3. as well as an MS300 server. tonally of a piece at any height position. range. MCD1000 transport. including the massive MC501 monoblocks. and MDA1000 D-A. Because the drivers are full-range. With . Not surprisingly the IDS-25 was being propelled by a room full of McIntosh gear. the system is essentially crossoverless. Verity Audio premiered the modular and popularly-priced Rienzi are all Cardas wire. crossover-less IDS-25 loudspeaker ($3500). The IDS-25 (image. Although the Verity Audio and Nagra exhibit was moved to a much larger space than planned. These products promise to be key releases in 2007.

The CDC is equipped with output. The Nagra CDC-CD Player ($14. It joined Bybee and its roll-out of a new line of power conditioners due to hit the market by early ’07. the perennially musical Audio Aero Capitole CD player ($9000). Audio Analogue of Italy has recently revamped its lineup to stunning effect. The micro. The company’s PA-S1 preamp ($1595) and DADM310 180W monoblocks ($995 each) smoothly reproduced an eclectic mix of musical genres. But it was the meat-onthe-bone lower-mids and bass that were the real surprises. But think of it this way—it’s a steal when you consider that it sounds like a million bucks.000/pr. yet capable of high performance. The Bybees will be priced in the $995–$3495 range.) sitting atop a sub-bass module. Aided by Silversmith Audio Silver interconnects and speaker cable (interconnect. it was one of the prettiest speakers at the show.). Paired with the right compact speaker. Noteworthy. What turned the tide for the Kharma was the experience of hearing a particular piece of familiar music. and electrifying transients. the skins of the drum kit. I began hearing details and dynamics I’d never noticed before—the punch and ring of each guitar string. was yet another stunning exercise in miniaturization from the Swiss company known for its film-industry recorders. level. The top end was particularly effortless and had the kind of bloom that I sometimes miss from digital playback.995). I knew the Kharma line could sound beautiful. Driven by Joule Electra VZN-100 amps ($18. “Black Magic Woman” was playing—a song as loathsome as the “Macarena.000/ pr. Also impressive were the Flying Mole digital electronics. it was a standout with translucent highs.and macro-dynamic interplay was stunning.The Third Annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest Ng’S beST oF SHoW gTT AuDIo/ vIDeo rooM fter much teeth gnashing the Kharma room featuring the Midi Exquisite MkII got my nod for best overall sound over the MBL room—by a nose. the Midi Exquisite system provided a combination of high end and high excitement like few consumer or trade show encounters I’ve experienced over the last few years. and came away with an 1/4 PAge AD appreciation for the system’s expressive midrange detail and microdynamics. and balance controls. Its all aluminum looks are to die for. and JPS cabling. A its two-way head unit (also available separately at $3195/pr. When I sat down. and both XLR and RCA outputs.) that was clean and fast as can be. $2500 for a six-foot pair). $1400 for a three-foot pair. the Digital Link 3 with a fully discrete output stage and USB ($1000). speaker cable. But the Enigma is something else! It’s a 54Wpc CD-receiver with a tube preamp section that’s designed to be inconspicuous on a shelf. it should give new meaning to the term “lifestyle high end. a wide open soundstage. True. Especially the Maestro integrated ($3495) and its companion CD player ($2495). but the lighter balance of smaller models made me wonder if they could rock. was the Amphitryon. (Not an issue at the MBL exhibit!) Truth is. which boasts 85% efficiency and 1500W output ($2195). I’d like to hear this system again in a room more suited to the scale of the Rienzi. its system price will make anyone lacking the surname Gates or Buffet gasp aloud. ranging from the subterranean blasts of Kodo drums to the buttery lilt of Jennifer Warnes. a full-range planar-ribbon speaker from Analysis Audio ($24. a Class D design boasting 100Wpc ($1795).” The VSM-MX is the latest iteration of Merlin Music System’s floorstander. when Carlos Santana launched into his solo. TAS 6 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . and new Power Plant Premier. I listened to a combination of vocal favorites from Lyle Lovett to Rosanne Cash. playing through Nagra’s PL-L line stage and PSA amplifier ($8495 and $6595 respectively). the sound was smooth and coherent with excellent lowlevel detail. too.” However. Other gear that caught my eye and ear were the new PS Audio Trio control amplifier.

TAS Cover Story NHT Classic Three Loudspeaker More honest than finicky by Chris Martens • photography by AdamVoorhes 64 February 2007 The Absolute Sound .

TAS Cover Story The Absolute Sound February 2007 65 .

) By comparison. too. however. I would direct your attention to NHT’s brilliant new Classic Three—a three-way. This is a hotly contested market segment. Reveals subtleties with effortless grace Many of us instinctively think of the audio spectrum as having three main constituent frequency bands—bass. resolution. midrange. neatly sidestep this problem by covering the middle range of the music with dedicated 2" dome midrange drivers that offer excellent transient speed. Instead. NHT’s switch to the three-way format pays sonic dividends at the top end of the audio spectrum. “pingy” quality some listeners associate with aluminum-diaphragm-equipped drivers. as if their woofers are being forced to go higher and tweeters to go lower than would normally be optimal. allowing use of an incredibly light and responsive small-diameter (. But if you wanted my opinion. many affordable two-way speakers can sound somewhat compromised. stand-mount monitor that reproduces music with refinement. the speaker I’d propose wouldn’t be a two-way model at all. the ability to resolve details well. This driver offers terrific dispersion and captures highfrequency details with disarming ease and a near-complete 66 February 2007 The Absolute Sound .75") dome tweeter. and a healthy measure of dynamic punch. The Classic Threes. and treble—and a clear-cut advantage of the Classic Three is that it provides three anodized aluminum drive units specifically optimized to cover each band (the anodizing process is said to eliminate the hard. so there are plenty of attractive and sensibly price options to choose from.TAS Cover Story A sk any veteran audiophile to suggest good speakers in the $800 price range and odds are that he or she will name one of the many fine two-way bookshelf models now available. and imaging specificity that few affordable two-way speakers can match.

the Paradigm Studio 20s). At the same time. Finally. This design choice makes perfect sense given that the last thing you would want to match up with the Classic Three’s responsive midrange/ tweeter would be a sluggish. the speakers offer more than sufficient resolution to show why higher-performance ancillary components might be a worthwhile investment. passive subwoofer that pushes bass response down to the mid-20Hz range. the Classic Threes are more honest than finicky. it sounds like a natural integral extension of the voice of the midrange driver. meaning good affordable amplifiers and A/V receivers can drive them effectively. which is as things should be. built-in. Bass extends down to about 45Hz. but add an excellent.g. and marveled at the way the Classic Threes showed Hatch’s amplified harmonica dancing along The Absolute Sound February 2007 67 . The one criticism I would offer of the midrange driver/ tweeter array may actually be a backhanded compliment: These drivers are truth tellers that will faithfully report shortcomings. LP]. Just be sure to take time to install the NHT-provided. The Fours are based on the Threes. instead. sometimes exhibiting traces of edginess or momentary hardness on abrupt transients. But the good news is that. in associated components or program material. lugubrious-sounding woofer.. Put these elements together and you’ve got a bookshelf speaker that reveals subtleties in music with the effortless grace typically associated with more expensive designs. if any. Once the damper is in place. X-shaped. however. the tweeter rarely sounds like a separate driver at all.TAS Cover Story freedom from treble histrionics.5" woofer housed in a sealed enclosure. completing the picture is a 6. I put on “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home” from master blues harpist Little Hatch’s Rock With Me Baby [Analogue Productions. foam-rubber dampers that go between the Threes’ midrange drivers and tweeters. in spirit. but enthusiasts who crave deeper bass response should perhaps consider NHT’s Classic Four floorstanders ($1800). This driver doesn’t offer as much low-frequency reach as I’ve heard from the best competing bass-reflex twoway systems (e. but it compensates through extremely good pitch definition and control.

Nuforce P8 preamplifier and Reference 9 Special Edition monoblocks. The point. just as musicians often hear their own performances. The Threes also showed how the bandleader uses the spaces between notes to create unexpected pools of silence that showcase distinctive phrases about to be played by other band members. partly to perfect their tone and partly to respond to fellow players. whether listeners are spending $800 or $80. picking and choosing moments where he deftly pushes the amplifier into momentary distortion. really. Kharma MP150 monoblocks.75" dome tweeter. In fact. listeners feel they are being let in on precious musical secrets—as if granted the privilege of hearing the music from the inside out. First. 2" dome midrange driver. Furutech Alpha Reference interconnect and speaker cables. RPG and Auralex room acoustic treatments 68 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . reedy voice of Basie’s electric organ. Best of all. as solos are traded back and forth.com Type: Three-way monitor loudspeaker Driver complement: . the Threes nailed the cool.375" Price: $800 ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT Linn Sondek LP-12 turntable and Ittok LVII tonearm. Sutherland Ph3D phonostage. is that the Classic Threes show the myriad small ways in which master musicians make choices and adjustments as they perform. they want the same thing—namely. No other affordable bookshelf speaker I’ve heard does a better job of that than NHT’s Classic Threes.75" x 10. I’ve enjoyed this experience with fine mid-priced and expensive speakers before. 6. to get as close as possible to the heart and soul of the music. TAS Specs & Pricing NHT 6400 Goodyear Road Benicia. Many affordable speakers would have homogenized Hatch’s harmonica sound. but the Threes instead caught all the little details that show Hatch’s true mastery of the instrument. but his microphone and amplifier as well.5" woofer Frequency response: 45Hz–20kHz Sensitivity: 86dB Impedance: 8 ohms Recommended amplifier power: 150 watts maximum Dimensions: 7. LP].TAS Cover Story the fine line between a saturated but clean sound and a deliberately raw and overdriven one. but rarely with ones that cost as little as the Classic Threes do. Sanus Steel Foundation stands. and gently highlighted the economical yet soulful accents and fills Basie contributes throughout the song. Musical Fidelity kW SACD player. As I see it. the Threes created rock-solid images of the ensemble on stage so that. Even more impressive was the way the Threes handled the sound of Count Basie’s ensemble on “One-Nighter” from Basie Jam [Pablo. the listener comes to appreciate the song as a roundtable conversation between performers who not only play but also listen with great intensity.000 on a new pair of loudspeakers. California 94510 (800) 648-9993 nhthifi. Benz Micro ACE L phono cartridge.5" x 13. When speakers get this good. the Threes made it obvious that Hatch not only plays the harmonica.

The extensive debate on the AVguide.” then smaller speakers that “do less” should be rejected out of hand as bad values and poseurs. As you can see. except that they’re only 13. Rather than creating a fashion statement.com forum about the MAGICO Mini illustrates the emotional problems created by small speakers. Consider the Tannoy Autograph Mini. The cabinet finish is impeccable. and the Autograph Minis are $1800 per pair. Tannoy has wisely decided not to try to make the Mini sound like a miniature Wilson MAXX II.Equipment Report Tannoy Autograph Mini Loudspeaker A solid glimpse of the state-of-the-art Tom Martin first auditioned a pair of BBC LS3/5a mini-monitors in the 1970s and was shocked to find that they ran toeto-toe with a set of giant electrostatics.5" tall. It has loaded the Mini with the smallest dual-concentric (tweeter placed at the center of the woofer) driver ever. The sound from these little guys is plenty impressive. Some of our readers have argued that if there are speakers at similar prices that “do more.e. everything has a price. The tweeter is made of titanium and response goes out to 54kHz.. The Mini has a midrange-dominant sound that is lively and clear. then this review is not for you. Of course. If this logic appeals. Fortunately. Tannoy has taken the design seriously. these look like a giant Tannoy floorstanding speaker from the 1950s. seemingly flat from 20Hz to infinity. I’ve tried to be careful ever since about bringing too many assumptions to the reviewing table when it comes to small speakers. but not 70 February 2007 The Absolute Sound I . Duly chagrined. there is a real speaker backing up that price. Very cool. The speakers and crossover are integrated in a way that reduces phase errors. i.

with a very natural dynamic flow for each instrument.25" x 13. so you’ll want to use a good front end.com Type: Two-way bass-reflex loudspeaker Driver complement: 4" fiber-pulp woofer and . I think the Mini works musically for this reason. This is easily the best desktop monitor I’ve heard. though like most small speakers soundstage height is restricted. These speakers are not going to fill a large room at 105dB (though maximum SPL is rated at 111dB at one meter). though. On the other hand. The Mini’s imaging is amazing. Impressively.5" x 8. The tweeters are very revealing.25" Weight: 8. let’s be clear—midbass is light and low bass non-existent. Usher S-520. However. again allowing each instrument to sound open and dynamically real. Naim Nait 5i and Sonic Impact Super T amplifiers.8 lbs. I simply didn’t find that these limitations got in the way of a lot of the music (though this is not the speaker for hip-hop or the White Stripes). the Minis are expensive for their size and application. the bass roll-off of the Minis doesn’t result in a thin sound or bass-bloat at certain frequencies. Onkyo D-TK10. From 2 or 3 feet away they sound phenomenal. and I think this is partially because the distance from the tweeter and woofer to your ear is always the same no matter how far away you are. but how many other sub-$2000 audio products give you a solid glimpse of the state-of-the-art? TAS Specs & Pricing TANNOY LTD.75" titanium tweeter Frequency response: 68Hz–54kHz (–6dB) Sensitivity: 88dB Nominal impedance: 8 ohms Dimensions: 5. the Minis are an exercise in artful trade-offs. In the bass. This speaker gets the midrange right. and also because it is so coherent. The high frequencies are smooth and naturally extended. Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects and speaker cables. Panasonic DVD S27 DVD player. with the sound rarely seeming to be trapped in the boxes. and PSB Alpha B speakers The Absolute Sound February 2007 71 . Suite 1 N2M 5E1 Kitchener. Music really swings on the Mini. Canada (519) 745-1158 tannoy. The upper bass is emphasized. NORTH AMERICA 335 Gage Avenue. sure. Ontario. So. Price: $1799 Associated Equipment Naim CD5i CD player. both dynamically and harmonically. the dual-concentric driver arrangement makes them ideal as nearfield monitors. leading to very good definition. too.Tannoy Autograph Mini Loudspeaker harsh or brittle.

is not only harmonically more extended but sweeter (a characteristic that seems hardwired into the SB-301’s personality). without which a presentation is dulled and diminished in texture and complexity. The Plinius unlocks the tendency of the ATCs to compress mid. and the MBL 6011. as well as Class D amplifiers like the Spectron 7 February 2007 The Absolute Sound Musician III and Rowland Model 201 monoblocks. often with excellent results. especially in the mid and upper bass. I was fairly confident that I’d extracted as much of their potential as I could. was my compact loudspeaker reference. I knew the ATCs. including shortcomings that resided mostly in the treble octaves. and it remains to be seen just how good the SB-301 truly is.Equipment Report Plinius SB-301 Amplifier A Sneak Preview Neil gader T he Plinius SB-301 has been in my system only a week. but it applies. Over the months they’ve been driven by the crème de la crème of high-power amps. How the amp fares driving the demanding MBL 121 will be its next test. Solo violin. I wrote the ATC review in spite of a feeling that there was still untapped performance to be had from a treble that seemed slightly crimped at times rather than expansive. It creates dimensionality and openness with soloists and orchestral sections alike. including integrateds like the Plinius 9200. These conclusions are preliminary. layering air and images to the back of the hall. This is all a roundabout way of saying that the SB-301. and dynamics that sounded constrained. as if the arteries that send treble information to the tweeter had received a sonic angioplasty. the micro-halos and comet trails that can cling to transients have all but vanished.and upper-bass dynamics. They’d all taken their best shot. Bryn Terfel’s rosewood baritone now emerges with unbridled gusto. “Transformational” might sound like too strong a word. by far. What I do know is that thanks to the Plinius the ATCs are without doubt a better speaker than I gave them credit for being. and had accurately described them. TAS ELITE AUDIO-VIDEO DISTRIBUTION (800) 457-2577 x22 eliteavdist. Thanks to a lowering of the noise floor. The largest beneficiary of the Plinius’ charms. the Chapter Précis. an acoustic-suspension design with 83dB sensitivity. a high-bias Class AB solid-stater has permitted the ATCs to finally and fully (I think) clear their throat and shrug off the dynamic handcuffs. for example. hungered for power in the same way that a Hummer craves fossil fuel. At the time I wrote the review of the ATCs. It extracts midbass extension and clarity from the system and by doing this increases the scale of the soundstage. but even in that short time span this 310Wpc New Zealander has reignited music in ways that are nothing short of enthralling.com Price: $4995 . the ATC SCM202. But it was not as if they’d been wanting for powerful amplification. It sculpts an orchestral soundstage with confidence and grace.

Equipment Report NuForce S9 Loudspeaker A matter of some controversy robert e. and some of SP Tech’s other models run the tweeter down even lower). 74 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . although similar “waveguides” are more common in pro monitors such as those from Mackie and Genelec. it is not the way most consumer speakers treat their tweeters. you know this one is something different. This may seem like techno-babble. But what is this with the tweeter? It is down in a round hole. Moreover. with the carefully damped cabinet presumably contributing here. is basically still a box. and they will also play really loudly for a speaker of moderate size—without losing that cleanness. like a horn. Their ability to reveal the details of sound expanding into ambient space is startling: Try the Delmoni Plays YsaÿeKreisler-Bach recording from Water Lily (reissued by John Marks Records) to hear something stunning along this line. The waveguide makes the tweeter transfer energy to the air more effectively at lower frequencies so one can use a lower crossover frequency (the S9s are fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley at 1. But whatever you call it. though a little unusual in shape and visual texture. but it works. The S9s are extraordinarily clean-sounding. greene b efore you even hear a sound. the more efficient coupling of the tweeter diaphragm to the air makes for lower distortion and greater output capability. The measured distortion levels are comparable to electrostatics.25kHz. the $5500 S9s have a very “black” background. There is logic behind it. and the cabinet. In addition. Designer Bob Smith of SP Tech and co-designer Casey Ng of NuForce like to call this “waveguide-loading” rather than horn-loading or even shallowhorn-loading. Symmetric driver array speakers are common enough. and the listening impression is of ultra-pure sound.

Live music usually has very little top end in the reverberant field. as always. But the S9s are rather more different from other speakers of similar overall frequency extension than such simple descriptions of bass and treble would suggest. Incidentally. like a live concert. Perceived transient behavior is excellent. But only a centered listener can hear correct stereo anyway (time of arrival is wrong for off-center positions). for example. 24dB/octave roll-off) for a smallish speaker. and the bass integrated nicely into my room. you will need to listen for yourself. You will notice the increased “air” in high percussion. The extreme top of the S9s takes off into the wild blue yonder. too—indeed. But it does make the S9s sound different from those with less control of dispersion in the top end. the S9s are down something like 4dB or more from 4kHz on up.NuForce S9 Loudspeaker The S9s are not phase-linear. so the sound arrives at the listening position unimpeded. To my mind—and ears—this is very much to the good. For absolutely deepest bass. without large dip-and-return phenomena. as it were—compared to what is on recordings. you will need a subwoofer. and for a centered listener imaging is better if the speaker is spreading less high-frequency energy around the room. Beware the careless demo! You may never hear what the speaker is capable of unless you position yourself exactly right. The mid-tweeter-mid arrangement minimizes bounce off the floor. a little more than all there. but for most music most of 76 February 2007 The Absolute Sound the time the bass is covered. but the recessed tweeter time-aligns the drivers. (I wrote about this in TAS many years ago. The S9s also have good bass extension (–2dB at 40Hz. but rather of a natural in-room balance from reduced higher frequencies and freedom from room effects. where many box speakers have hardly changed from onaxis except in the extreme top.com. You can see my original article on how this works in concert halls.” on regonaudio. the roll-off is very regular. Treble is all there. the controlled-dispersion S9s image superbly for a centered listener.) And the S9s’ combination of essentially flat response on-axis but rolled off-axis behavior sounds natural. too. These differences are enough to make the speaker a matter of some controversy. especially horizontally. as well. aided not only by their controlled radiation pattern but also by their coherence: . On account of their steep off-axis roll-off. We are not speaking here of induced colorations. For listeners sitting off to the side there is some modicum of truth in this. In practice. Since this is an aspect of the waveguide and thus a deliberate part of the design. Things like drum kits are remarkably convincing and well defined. First of all. “Records and Reality: How Music Sounds in Concert Halls. from the extra energy in the top octave. At 30 degrees off-axis. It is often said that speakers with wide radiation in the higher frequencies image better. you need to listen almost exactly on-axis horizontally—and vertically. the S9s put less high-frequency energy in the room on the whole than do “wide-dispersion” speakers. the S9s are directionally sensitive. Cymbal crashes come across well—too well.

(Don’t even think about the switch on the back of the speaker that ups the 2–3kHz range. as well. One might hope for a bit smoother mid/upper-mid/lower treble. reproduced-versus-live music. will the controlled radiation pattern and the associated approach to overall room sound seem as wonderfully natural to you as it did to me? Listen for yourself. and people sounded like people. Instrumental presence could be superb. Both the cello and the big Steinway here were fantastic. I think you will come away as impressed as I did. they were convincing on largescale music like full orchestra. The S9s were really convincing in this nearly direct comparison with live music.com Type: Two-way stand-mounted loudspeaker Driver complement: Two 6. the vocal in “I’m Ready” was especially convincing. Benchmark D-to-A converters. And on Crusin’ with the Desotos [Wilson Audio].NuForce S9 Loudspeaker They really do function essentially as a point source. though the cello was slightly less “soft” tonally than usual. And with their unstrained dynamic behavior. The famous Byron Janis Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto on Mercury was very well done from top to bottom. and be sure that you listen positioned correctly. 356 South Abbott Avenue Milpitas. Voices were surprisingly realistic in their natural timbre and precise positioning. for instance. And with the ultra-low diffraction of their smooth waveguide. California 95035 (408) 627-7859 nuforce. I had an almost immediate memory of the real sound of a string orchestra. How good to hear the top piano notes so free of distortion. The only significant tonal caveat is that they are somewhat irregular. INC. In any case.5" aluminum mid/bass drivers.) I know that acoustician Vilhelm Jordan determined years ago that musicians typically like a little extra zing around 2kHz. Few speakers fail to be humiliated by such a recent memory of reality. more natural and accurate. The S9s do many fundamental audio things superbly well. But that aside. waveguide-loaded Frequency response: 40Hz–25kHz Recommended amplifier power: Up to 200Wpc Sensitivity: 89dB Nominal impedance: 4 ohms Dimensions: 9" x 22. Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra) was preparing for a concert. regardless of tonal balance. Even test CD announcements (“left channel”) could be intriguing in their realism. Z Systems rdp-1 digital preamp and EQ device. So when I listened to things like the Sitkovetsky/Bach Goldberg Variations. they are basically flat and neutral. TAS 78 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Then think about what live music really sounds like. Bryston 14B ST and Nuforce Reference 9 amplifiers. As it happened. but a little cut in the 2–5kHz range with the Z Systems rdp-1 made string sound. I was doing much of my listening to them during a time when my orchestra (St. 1" textile-dome tweeter. with some ups and downs in the 1kHz–10kHz range compared to the smoothest speakers. Liberty Audio Suite and Liberty Praxis measuring equipment beautiful on. with all that provides for imaging behavior. the intrinsic resolution of the S9s enables one to hear into the action and ambience of complex music in a very rewarding way. The gorgeous recording by cellist Ofrah Harnoy of Schubert’s Arpeggione sonata [BMG] all but put the cello right in front of you. To me the S9s embody so many effective and unusual ideas that they unquestionably need to be heard and thought about. The S9s did well on the ultimate test. too. they do a good job with recordings like the somewhat playful outside-the-speaker images of Tiden bar gaar [Opus 3]. Dvorák’s “Silent Woods” [Dorian]. and indeed quite magically Specs & Pricing NUFORCE. Plinius 12 and Bryston BP-25 preamps. say. but how do they actually sound? In overall balance. in an arrangement for string orchestra [Nonesuch].5" x 17.5" Weight: N/A Price: $5500 ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT Classé CDT-1 transport and DAC-1. so clean and natural was the sound and precise the imaging. There is a dip in the 1–2kHz range and comparatively a bit of extra zip in the octave or so above 2kHz.

TAS WIREWORLD 12349 SW 53rd Street.” The Silver Electra has a balanced midrange. when a player’s hand glides up the fingerboard of a string bass the metallic growl of the strings is not quite as pronounced. president and chief designer for Wireworld.95/2m .Equipment Report Wireworld Silver Electra 52 and Stratus 52 Series Power Cords Counter to conventional wisdom Neil gader W ireworld has taken a fresh look at the power cord. a rich bass response that’s 80 February 2007 The Absolute Sound solid and well defined in pitch but not overly controlled.” In other words. the high-octane rhythm section wasn’t presented with quite the pinpoint imaging I expect from this track. and hard transients are lightly rounded rather than honed to a razor edge. The Silver Electra uses OCC (Ohno Continuous Casting) silver-clad copper conductors and silver-clad brass contacts in a composite insulation. Wireworld’s AC cords are defiantly lightweight and flat in profile. but at a fraction of the price it imparts the essence of its more expensive sibling in a slightly warmer. while the Kimber seeming to be pitched a little higher and crisper. Although it doesn’t quite capture the full impact of the snare from Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” on Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy [Island]. And that goes for the Silver Electra. with a more compact spread. The Wireworld Stratus relies on less expensive materials than the Electra. it should be matched with components proportionate to its price. cymbals suggested a different flare pattern and pitch with the Wireworld than with the Kimber—the Wireworld imparting a broader spread and slightly deeper tonality.com Prices: Silver Electra. or the sustained piano notes during Tom Waits’ “Take It With Me” on Mule Variations [Anti/Epitaph]. while attenuating other frequencies to prevent line noise and harmonics from “infiltrating the component’s power supply. Soundstaging is unerringly neutral. The Silver Electra elegantly balances the qualities of two of my favorite power cords—delivering the hard-charging dynamism of the Virtual Dynamics Reference and the naturalistic spatial qualities of the Kimber Palladian. explains. during Patricia Barber’s “Hunger” from Mythologies [Blue Note]. neither laid-back nor forward. However. In keeping with the Silver Electra’s slightly darker personality. Suite 201 Cooper City. As a result. softer version. in both instances the differences are subtle. I listened to two of the new models—the secondfrom-the-top Silver Electra ($700) and the entry-level Stratus ($100). Stratus.95/2m. The five models in the 52 Series bear little physical relation to the heavy and unwieldy things audiophiles are used to. The Silver Electra is mellow and dark in overall character. As David Salz. and in so doing has produced a line that runs counter to conventional wisdom. the flat geometry reflects a coiled conductor design which “exploits inductive and capacitive filtering effects. sibilance is kept in check. Florida 33330 (954) 680-3848 wireworldcable. As it’s not as lively or open as the Silver Electra. which was chosen over single-material insulation for its ability to absorb high-frequency energy. Backgrounds and silences between notes are as quiet as I’ve experienced. and pliable enough to negotiate corners—critical when hunting for outlets. the point is to pass only the 50/60Hz AC power signal. and excellent dynamics. $99. $699. too—an excellent power cord that consistently performed at its best when coupled to the best gear.

however. Although it’s a dead ringer for the M-1’s driver.Equipment Report Pioneer S-2EX Loudspeaker Bridging the divide Neil gader b y offering qualities we typically associate with audiophile speakers as well as those from the pro-monitor world. as well as a backward slope. its $40. and TAD technology informs 8 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . the cabinet is bolstered by multiple layers of laminated MDF. rigorous construction quality. The baffle has a gentle curve in it. Andrew Jones. Weighing in at over sixty pounds. a concentric driver unifies the tweeter and midrange transducers. The $6000 S-2EX is a three-way. Pioneer’s EX Series bridges the divide between two distinct listening cultures. was critically acclaimed. The more down-to-earth EX Series was designed and built at Pioneer’s Speaker Design Center in Paris by a team comprised of TAD and Pioneer engineers. technology plucked directly from the playbook at Pioneer’s pro-audio “skunkworks. In either case. and most significantly. the side panels are curvilinear to reduce internal standing waves. and the EX Series also received feedback from sound engineers at London’s legendary AIR Studios. the chief designer of the M-1. standmount compact in a bass-reflex enclosure. break-up modes don’t appear until well into the ultra-sonic range. served as sound advisor. the EX midrange cone is magnesium rather than the M-I’s far more expensive beryllium. It combines a recordingstudio ethic. With its massive internal bracing.000 tag priced most of us out. As with the TAD M-1. the enclosure’s resemblance to a ship’s hull is striking. is pure TAD. The beryllium tweeter. 2003’s M-1 speaker.” the highly regarded TAD (Technical Audio Device) division. ranging in thickness from 30mm to 100mm. that serves to time-align the transducers at the listening position. Though TAD’s first home-audio effort.

Pioneer S-2Ex Loudspeaker the bass cone. Concert grand pianos are not submissive instruments—at close range the energy and transient attack from any Specs & Pricing PIONEER ELECTRONICS P. and a cappella specialist Laurel Massé. Sound Fusion Turntable stand nine-footer will churn your insides. Orchestral scale is remarkable for a speaker of this dimension. the S-2EX is designed to play at prodigiously loud levels that would harelip any number of sophisticates from the high end. Kimber Kable BiFocal XL.com Type: Stand-mounted. either. the sound was effortless and expansive. California 90810 (800) 421-1404 pioneerelectronics. In terms of tonal balance. Sonically. The trombone and brass sections 84 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Plinius 9200 and MBL 7008 integrated amps. Box 1540 Long Beach. but it speaks with the voice of a three-way through and through. Shure V15VxMR cartridge. Both jazz singer Claire Martin. the S-2EX isn’t hobbled by the usual constraints of a compact speaker. Even familiar recordings take on a greater complexity and a physicality bordering on the tactile. the elegance of massed strings decaying into the acoustic of Music Hall. Wireworld Silver Electra & Kimber Palladian power cords.12" woofer Frequency response: 34Hz–100kHz Sensitivity: 86. In this regard. exhibited good body and chest resonance. Cabinet resonances and port anomalies are so low that you quickly forget this is a bass-reflex design. There is also a sensation of weight in the mids that deepens the presence of male and female singers. this is one of the more neutral speakers I’ve heard in some time. its treble is highly extended if a little dry at its limits.5dB Impedance: 6 ohms Dimensions: 11. the speaker resolved the bronze waves radiating from the cymbals and the tenderness of the celeste with low-level detail I’d never heard before. on Feather and Bone [Premonition]. The S-2EX doesn’t subdue dynamics. with the walls of the venue seeming to breathe like a bellows. to the ripeness of plucked strings. 5.5" x 22. symphonies spring to life. its character is mostly determined by the recording. Here the diaphragm is of one-piece construction (as opposed to the more commonly found separate center-cap). Simaudio Moon Supernova. MBL 1531. as if I’d unknowingly acquired a newly remastered version. Nordost Baldur. From the opening bars of Järvi and the Cincinnati Orchestra’s reading of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra [Telarc]. Its midrange seems spot on. the only other speaker of this size that compares is another compact threeway. micro and macro.75" Weight: 62 lbs. which Pioneer feels adds greater rigidity while pushing resonances outside of the cone’s audible frequency range. each orchestral section is clearly defined in space. from Linn’s Too Damn Hot. Price: $6000 ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT Sota Cosmos Series III turntable. Even familiar chestnuts seemed completely refreshed. Tara Labs Omega. It may sit on a stand.5" concentric midrange. Its upper bass and lower mids (the bugaboos of compact speakers) never seem to run short. During Vaughan Williams’ Antarctica [Naxos]. Even difficult-to-sort-out cello lines or the rumblings of the organ were multifaceted. As its high-powered studiomonitor bloodline implies. and Sony DVP-9000ES digital players. From the immediacy of lowlevel drums and winds. and later. The S-2EX communicates a precision sound geared to resolving details at all levels. The downside is that bad recordings are not enhanced by syrupy colorations—the S-2EX exposes every blemish.O. Like any great speaker. the huge 65mm voice coil has been engineered for extreme power handling and dynamic headroom. SME V pick-up arm. and bass response extends deep into the midbass with perceivable reserves below 40Hz.4" concentric tweeter. not just undefined throbs. Richard Gray line conditioners. Finally. the MBL 121. bass-reflex loudspeaker Driver complement: 1. The upside of such resolution is that the best recordings have never sounded better. as well.25" x 16. 7. as if illuminating them in high definition.

This was the one area where I could foresee the fur flying—enlivening the debate of studio monitor versus audiophile speakers. and clinical. though this one has won me over. It’s also tailor-made for reproducing the soloists and the deep layers of voices in a large chorale—in fact. if I had to single out a performance characteristic of the Pioneer that trumped all others it would be image focus. Some will find the tweeter a revelation in terms of resolving detail. nonetheless. However. because of the transducer’s relatively shallow throat and the fact that the midrange cone behaves as a waveguide for the tweeter. this point-sourcelike performance nails the exact position and angle of something like a concert grand on stage. 74. others will regard it as a bit too business-like. Its remarkably uniform off-axis response offers a wider than normal sweetspot. My only regret is that I didn’t have the new Plinius SB-301 on hand. but with the bone-crushing power of a three-way. The kudos goes to the concentric driver—a design that I’m often not a big fan of. controlled. I found amplification and cabling were crucial as well. I think its response is near deadbang neutral. The benefits are improved power response and the absence of hollowness (the cupped-hands effect). It’s not a flowery romantic. the Pioneer S-2EX should be required listening for any self-respecting audiophile. or the top strings of a violin can seem exposed.Pioneer S-2Ex Loudspeaker assaulted me with energy. the rattles of a tambourine. Sinatra’s smoky voice on “Angel Eyes” from Only the Lonely [Capitol] exhibited a slight hardness and a less yielding character. Also. But with Rutter’s Requiem [Reference Recordings]. and the crescendo was so horrifyingly powerful that I needed to trim the volume.) I’ve nothing but profound admiration and respect for the Pioneer S-2EX. the transducers match each other’s directivity at their respective crossover points. the more voices the merrier. While there will never be one speaker that suits everyone’s taste. And because there is no beaming. but its brand of musical truth is seductive. Tonally. I’ve never experienced a larger envelope of performance from a stand-mounted speaker. It’s an amplifier that has already made me reassess the performance of other components in the audio chain. cello transients. lacking a cushion of air for harmonics to ride upon. (See my Sneak Preview on p. It possesses a driver coherence comparable to the best two-way minimonitors. Andrew Jones of TAD explained that. The only area where there might be a “cultural” disagreement about the S-2EX is the character of its treble. including speakers. TAS 86 February 2007 The Absolute Sound .

Equipment Report

Mark Levinson Nº 436 Monaural Power Amplifier
A 35-year tradition of excellence continues Sue Kraft

o

f all the gear I’ve had the good fortune to own over the course of the past two-and-ahalf decades, the Mark Levinson Nº 31 Reference CD transport, Nº 35 digital-toanalog converter and Nº 38S preamplifier easily stand out as some of the finest components to grace my listening room. Few will disagree that the Nº 31 was an absolute work of art when it came to both sound and build-quality. (Still makes me grin to think about how incredibly cool it was to show off that motorized lid to all my audiophile buddies.) In combination with the Nº 30 DAC (as well as the more affordable Nº 35), these two stunning pieces made for arguably the best CD playback available at the time. The Nº 38S was also beautifully crafted, and while it embodied the same kind of sonic sophistication that has been the hallmark of Mark Levinson products since the company’s inception back in the early 70s, I found the preamplifier to be a bit less engaging than expected,
88 February 2007 The Absolute Sound

and perhaps too polite. It was all-in-all still a nice unit, though, and one that I never had any remorse about buying. The only thing I did regret back in the earlyto mid-90s is that I never completed the system I had worked so hard to assemble with Levinson amplification. So it was with much anticipation that I awaited the arrival of the Mark Levinson Nº 436 monoblock power amplifier for review. I was also quite excited at the prospect of hearing how these $12,500, 350Wpc brutes would mate with the stellar imaging and accuracy of a loudspeaker like the B&W 800D. Would my decade long wait to finally hear a pair of Levinson amps in my system meet my expectations? At the risk of ruining the ending for those who are actually able to resist reading the conclusion first, I’m afraid I knew the answer to that question nearly straight out of the box, and have heard nothing in the months to follow that would change my mind. The 436 is easily one of the best and most pleasurable

amplifiers I’ve had in my system. The 35year tradition of excellence continues. One aspect of the Levinson’s performance I did have a change of heart about over time was whether or not this amp was as “laid-back,” as my initial impressions indicated. After first listening with the Focus Master 3 loudspeaker, I paired the 436 with the B&W 800D. While it still didn’t have the fireworks of, say, a Krell amp, the presentation seemed more dependent on the recording than on any inherent characteristic of the amplifier. Another contributing factor could very well have been the more up-front nature of the B&W versus the Focus Master 3. Whatever the reasons, the match between the 436 and 800D seemed particularly good. Listening to Aaron Neville’s rendition of the Sam Cooke classic “Respect Yourself,” from Bring it on Home…The Soul Classics, [Burgundy Records], the last thing you’d describe this amplifier as being is laid-back. The 436 can crank

Mark Levinson Nº 436 Monaural Power Amplifier

Technical Info
The Nº 436 monaural power amplifier has been designed as a singlechassis unit to accommodate the needs of both the discriminating music lover as well as the current trend towards home-theater applications. In an effort to appease the space conscious, the 400 series has been made more compact than previous Levinson amps (3" lower), while still maintaining an overall appearance that is unmistakably Mark Levinson. The 436 can be mounted precisely in any standard equipment rack or placed on any standard shelf. For trickier custom installations, Levinson also offers shelves made specifically for the 436, affording proper ventilation and cable routing. Anyone who has sliced a finger on a razor sharp external heatsink will appreciate the 436’s thermal management system. It utilizes a new crosscut internal heatsink whose extrusion are visible only from a 3" x 10" opening in the top panel of the chassis. At lower temperatures, convection-cooling causes currents to flow vertically through the chassis. As temperatures rise, two thermostatically-controlled variable-speed whisper fans located at the front and back of the heatsinks draw cool air from behind the faceplate and through the horizontal channels of the tunnel-like heatsinks, exhausting out the rear panel. (The tunnel is isolated to prevent dust from settling on and possibly damaging any of the amp’s internal circuitry.) I’ve never been particularly keen on amplifiers that use fans for cooling, as they are invariably noisy and can often be heard during quiet musical passages. In the case of the 436’s whisper fans, I never noticed they were running, not even when the amplifier was being pushed hard. And I did listen for them. In addition to the safety afforded by the internal heatsink, the 436 also provides a pair of handles on the back panel for lifting the unit, as well as for protecting the rear connections. (The trend among manufacturers not to offer any means to lift heavy amplifiers has long been one of my pet peeves.) The back panel also includes a pair of custom loudspeaker binding posts, XLR and RCA input connectors, and a variety of control devices and communication ports. The front panel sports a spiffy pair of silver aluminum wings attached with standoffs to the main black chassis, as well as power and standby buttons and the classic Mark Levinson logo. When it comes to internal circuitry, the 436 shares many design features with previous versions of Levinson amplification, as well as “trickle-down” technology developed for the flagship Nº 33 and Nº 33H. Based on a truly balanced topology, the 436 houses a massive power supply with a highcapacitance, low-noise toroidal transformer and four large capacitors totaling a whopping 80,000pF of energy storage. For power distribution, oxygen-free copper bus bars improve the efficiency of the amplifier and eliminate variances commonly found with typical wiring harnesses. To help maintain the signature Levinson “house sound,” the carefully chosen output stage is the same as that used in previous iterations—eight matched pairs of bipolar output devices. In addition, ”adaptive biasing” is used to manage the output stage’s power source for enhanced Class AB operation without excessive heat build up or wasted energy. And rather than compromise with less costly circuit board materials, Levinson chose Arlon composite, as it is said to allow for a more precise transmission of the AC signal. SK

Specs & Pricing
MARK LEVINSON A Division of Harmon Specialty Group 3 Oak Park Bedford, Massachusetts 01730 (781) 280-0300 marklevinson.com Type: Solid-state monaural power amplifier Power: 350Wpc into 8 ohms; 700Wpc into 4 ohms Number and type of audio inputs: One each, balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA Dimensions: 17.75" x 7.65" x 20.21" Weight: 85 lbs. Price: $12,500 ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT Meridian 808, G08, and Marantz PMD320 CD players; Van Alstine Ultra DAC; Meridian G02 control unit, Sonic Euphoria passive, and Van Alstine Ultra preamps; Meridian G57, Atma-Sphere Novacron OTL, and McCormack DNA-500 power amps; Coincident Super Eclipse, Von Schweikert VR4jr, and B&W 800D and 704 speakers; Coincident TRS, Paul Speltz anti-cable, and Harmonic Technology speaker cables; Harmonic Technology and Audio Magic interconnects; Cardas RCA to XLR adapters; Elrod and JPS power cords; Bright Star Audio and Symposium Svelte shelves; Chang Lightspeed Encounter, PS Audio Ultimate outlet; Echo Busters and ASC room treatment

90 February 2007 The Absolute Sound

Mark Levinson Nº 436 Monaural Power Amplifier

with the pros. Even at the highest volume levels my ears could tolerate, bass control was absolutely rock-solid. Images were locked in place as well, with no hint of congestion or smearing. The equally impressive midbass was punchy and robust, while vocals were as full-bodied and textured as I’ve heard from this artist. What I enjoyed most about working these amps hard was that I never felt assaulted afterwards. As contrary as it may sound, there was an overwhelming sense of effortless power that was invigorating yet relaxing at the same time. And I loved the precise definition, tight control, and authoritative dynamic punch in the deep bass as well as the midbass. The 436 seemed to make music “pop” from the loudspeakers. And when you’re talking about making a speaker like the B&W 800D “pop,” that is one special treat, indeed. Shifting gears a bit, Aaron Neville was certainly fun, but it was Keith Jarrett’s The Carnegie Hall Concert [ECM] that impressed me the most, revealing the true finesse and sophistication of the 436 and its abilities to adeptly draw the listener into the music. Three-dimensionality was sensational. The wall-to-wall spaciousness was infused with a wealth of rich detail that didn’t seem to have a beginning or end, along with images as beautifully
9 February 2007 The Absolute Sound

sculpted and layered as I’ve heard. Listening to track three, separation was superb; each key-strike of the piano was clear and distinct, effortlessly flowing as if on wings across the space in front of me. The first time I listened to this recording with the Levinson amp, I’ll have to admit to backtracking the Meridian 808 CD player at least a half dozen (or more) times just to verify I wasn’t imagining what I was hearing. This is the closest I’ve felt to recreating the wholeness of a live performance in my listening room. Makes me wish I could have been at Carnegie Hall to actually witness the event. As seductively and involvingly as the 436 rendered Latin guitarist Jesse Cook’s “Cancibn Triste” on Obsession: New Flamenco Romance [Narada], I never found this amplifier to be too polite. (In my view, excessive politeness can ofttimes equal boring.) Once again, three-dimensionality, resolution of detail, and separation were superb. I also found the violin to be especially natural with nice texture and tonal color. As amplifiers go, I’d give the 436 very high marks for musicality. And listening to old favorite Nickel Creek [Sugar Hill], I’m not ashamed to admit the vocals on “Out of the Woods” brought a tear to my eye. They were absolutely gorgeous—full, natural, and textured— the best I’ve heard on this recording. The robustness and definition of the midbass

also deserve another mention, as they added a whole new dimension to the bass fiddle. The detail and pinpoint imaging of the string plucks were also the best I’ve heard on this disc. It’s tough to find any fault with an amp like the Levinson. In a side-by-side with the McCormack DNA-500 I did find the high frequencies of the 436 to be just a tad soft. This explains my initial impression that the 436 leaned just a bit to the dark side. (Funny thing, though, after listening to this amplifier for just a day or two it doesn’t seem dark at all.) The McCormack actually performed surprisingly well against the 436 and is in my view a top contender at its price point. But the Levinson in pretty much every regard easily justifies its $5000 premium over the DNA-500. For me, this hobby has always been about connecting to the music. As ruggedly built and aesthetically pleasing as the 436 may be, it would just be another cold hard piece of machinery full of parts without the emotional connection that it provides, and that I believe we all seek. The exceptional performance of this classic Levinson amplifier will surely impress, but it will be the masterful ability of the 436 to engage the listener that earns it a permanent home in your system. If I were a rich woman, I would buy this amplifier in a heartbeat. TAS

Equipment Report

Quad ESL-2805 Loudspeaker
Compelling and addictive Jim Hannon

H

ave you ever had a reference component in your system for years and sold it because you felt that something else just had to be better? Perhaps my biggest audio regret is selling my Crosby-modified Quad ESL-63s with their matching stands. The major Crosby modifications to the stock ESL-63—designed by Richard Lees and implemented by Jerry Crosby—included a much stiffer frame, far better internal wire, parts, and connectors, a thinner dust cover, a more transparent grille, and other improvements. Crosby’s beautiful woodfinished floor-to-speaker stand raised the speaker about 18 inches off the floor, so the panels were at ear level, and the stands could be mass loaded with sand or shot. The full Crosby modifications vaulted the very good performance of
94 February 2007 The Absolute Sound

the stock 63s to reference quality. Sure, I’ve lived with speakers since then that have moved more air or were better in certain specific areas like macrodynamics, frequency response at both extremes, and bass authority, but in each case I sacrificed some of the musicality, coherence, transparency, and realism I had grown accustomed to with the Crosby Quads. Within their limits, both that speaker, as well as my latest pair of original (recently refurbished) Quads have given me more moments when I thought I was listening to the real thing than any other speakers I have owned . . . and perhaps that I have heard. Many thought the Crosby modifications were able to wring the last ounce of performance out of Peter Walker’s brilliant design, but now comes a new version from Quad itself, the ESL-

2805, that may very well execute the “old man’s” design even better. To be sure, the ESL-2805 is far more than just a welcome cosmetic upgrade to the already excellent (and still available) ESL-988. One of the pleasant surprises offered by the ESL-2805 is that it reduces the already low distortion of the ESL63, yielding even better transparency, coherence, soundstaging, and transient quickness. Instruments and voices sound even more natural and lifelike. For example, the timbre and inner detail of the cello is absolutely striking on the Bach Suites for Unaccompanied Cello [Mercury/Speakers Corner], performed by Janos Starker. The cello is a very telling instrument for loudspeaker evaluation, and on the 2805, as Starker traverses its range, you’ll notice there are none

was the original’s equal. even if the sound is a bit dynamically compressed. you’ll need to spend some additional time with placement and perhaps room treatment to realize the full potential of this speaker. or many of the Lyrita recordings. an added bonus with the 2805 is that full orchestras sound not only richer but also more powerful. possessing phenomenal transparency and clarity in the midrange. Additionally. but with limitations elsewhere. With this new Quad. I preferred the heavy-duty floor-coupling system. While I did expect the 2805 to excel in the acknowledged areas of Quad’s strengths. the most obvious external change is the speaker’s new and greatly improved cosmetic appeal. and weight. as well as in the latest versions of the 988 and 989. but are now manufactured by Quad. The 2805 has a rear brace and stiffer frame that keep the panel firmly in its place (see sidebar). but listening to Giulini conduct the “Dies Irae” of Verdi’s Requiem [EMI] on the Quad is still quite thrilling. it falls . For example. While the 2805 is superior to the ESL-57 in many other areas.) Hearing what the panels were capable of when manufacturing constraints were removed. Patching asked the Quad engineers to come as close as possible to the structural integrity Aikman had achieved. to the flat feet that Quad also includes. in the Quad’s case. These changes not only keep the speaker from rocking back and forth. Quad has continued to improve the quality of its ESLs by bringing most of the component manufacturing and production in-house. You can also use the spiked feet to change the rake of the speaker to raise the height of the image. the cello sounds like the real thing and so do guitars. Image focus is another improvement over the 63. or discontinuities between drivers that plague virtually all multi-driver designs to some degree. a large horn system or great dynamic speaker like the Eben X-3 is even better at reproducing hard transients and macrodynamics than the 2805. the delay lines used to be outsourced to a third party. You won’t hear aberrations in timbre between drivers. and pianos. The panels themselves are now capable of higher excursions and sound pressure levels. Because the Quads are dipoles. suck-outs. and are now used in the 2805 and 2905. Eric Clapton’s guitar soared through the Quads on Cream’s Wheels of Fire [Polydor/Simply Vinyl]. while adding a damped connecting brace from the top of the speaker to the base to tighten up and triangulate the structure. whereas the Crosby Quad. While Quads of all stripes get massed Design Elements The inspiration for the 2805 came from several visits by Quad’s David Patching to the legendary listening room of SME founder. The low end of the piano benefits from added power and weight. but at somewhat higher volume levels than with the 63 or Crosby. and the 2805s even acquitted themselves quite well on electronica selections from the Barcode Brothers’ Swipe Me [Universal]. I found myself pulling out rock albums that I typically keep in their jackets when I’m listening to Quads. between panels—just a stunning musical naturalness and realism. the mounting of the panels within the frame has been reinforced. Quad: The Closest Approach. the soundstages are breathtaking. and topped off by hundred-pound weights. The images are rock-solid and particularly on the Lyritas. 9 [Everest/Classic Records]. Most large panels flap in the breeze a bit. or. where two sets of nude ESL-63s were set up at right angles. control. This. providing a better foundation for that instrument. see Ken Kessler’s excellent ode to Quad. The welcomed higher dynamic ceiling of the 2805 makes it more suitable for a wider range of music beyond small-scale classical and jazz. where the lightning-quick impact of the kick drum and percussion propel the music forward. bass extension. which causes images to smear. I was unprepared for the improvements in dynamic range. the late Alistair Robertson-Aikman (also see last issue’s Industry News). (For more on this fascinating set up. Admittedly. improving reliability and preventing arcing of the panels. Besides the rear brace.Quad ESL-2805 Loudspeaker of the crossover distortions. In many respects the ESL-57 is similar to an excellent SET amplifier. In terms of midrange performance alone. Stand-up bass on a wonderful jazz recording like Basie Jam [Pablo/Analogue Productions] is spot-on—full-sounding yet without any bloat or sluggishness. without any upper-bass leanness but with a natural richness one associates with that instrument. but in a product that could be manufactured. Microdynamics on these speakers are first-rate. voices. The Quad team-effort significantly increased the mass of the frame and base. but one can still cause the panels to occasionally lose their composure on a fortissimo from something like the Beethoven Appassionata sonata [Harmonia Mundi]. a brace has been added to the metal grille. is first-rate performance. too. trombones. JH 96 February 2007 The Absolute Sound strings and voices right. the stock ESL-63 was somewhat veiled compared with the stunningly beautiful and open ESL-57. Just listen to the new reissue of the Shostakovich Symphony No. reducing clarity and focus. and it may even better the fine performance of the Crosby. with its massive spiked feet that ground the speaker securely to the floor. but also improve bass response and dynamic range while reducing distortion and smearing. The most likely question for Quad aficionados is how the ESL-2805’s midrange compares with that of the original Quad (57). and the grille apertures have been widened to reduce rear reflections from the back grille. The cello sounded even better on these speakers than on my beloved Crosbies. their panels rigidly mounted on high-mass custom frames. particularly on its matching stand.

Quad ESL-2805 Loudspeaker Paul Seydor comments Not long ago while evaluating another speaker. the 2805 is still not for headbangers. perhaps hundreds of times to check some aspect or other of equipment performance. even allowing for Quads’ high resale value. descendent. every time the speaker attempts to reproduce a signal—muddy or otherwise contribute to the reproduction. and I’m glad they didn’t. and all but genuflects before the 63/988 and the 57. i. of which the 988 is the direct. the 63/988’s neutrality and vanishingly low coloration—remain unchanged. then you owe yourself an audition of this new one.) So what is different? Jim Hannon—with whose evaluation I concur in almost every particular—has already described how much heavier. which itself has one of the lowest around. no. including the most jaded and cynical. who has heard these new speakers in my listening room has remarked upon this effect in one form or another with absolutely no urging from me. cabinets. clearer. then. The sonic consequence is a noise floor lower than that of the 988. more rigid. For structural strength and integrity.1%.e. Inasmuch as no speaker makes a sound if no signal is present. Quad 988s. If you own and love the 63 or 988. even every plausible product. Can’t they just leave well enough alone? No. But on an initial purchase—the 988 remains in the Quad lineup—go for the 2805 if you can at all manage the additional $2350/pair. usually to its detriment. When I hooked them back up. any attempt to improve upon what I have elsewhere called Peter Walker’s masterpiece—the ESL-63. the housing of the 988 represented a welcome and substantial improvement over both previous Quad ESLs. this is really low coloration. Almost every experienced listener. I am not exaggerating. 98 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . 0. (Quad’s Dave Patching claims a reduction by half of the distortion from the 988. let me reassure you that yours are still among the small handful of the finest loudspeakers ever made for home use. As for loudness.” That may help explain why I greet with apprehension. and more substantial the housing is. that of the 2805 is by an order of magnitude superior still. how can it have a noise floor as such? Because all speakers are made from materials that have resonant characteristics and other vibrational properties that once excited—in other words.. as rhetorical strategy rather than literal claim. which already boasts figures more typical of amplifiers than speakers. if not dread. as there is no way the 2805s are being returned— the best speaker of the twentieth century is now the best speaker of the twenty-first. I’ve listened to cuts on this albums dozens. the changeover cost large. let me conclude by stating that for my money—no idle phrase here. and mounting. so I’m not about to suggest you replace them with this one: On most music the differences are quite small. they couldn’t. Indeed. the 2805 is the best Quad speaker ever made—this from somebody who owns. To give you some idea of how special this speaker really is. either. “Man. the new model is even more transparent—subtly cleaner. it took maybe about ten seconds of listening before I thought. though much better built and thus superior. Two other aspects of the 63/988 are also improved: bass response and ultimate loudness capability. but if you’ve been tempted though never quite persuaded by past Quads because they play almost loud enough. loves. Inasmuch as no one can truly say he or she has heard every product. My principal worry proved groundless: the overall tonal balance— that is. The 2805 still cannot overwhelm a room with the kind of pressurized bass you get from woofers—no dipole planar can—but there is a noticeable increase in both bass extension and power that while not dramatic is not subtle. This is why good designers pay so much attention to materials. In that spirit. one evening I put on Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. And so it went with favorite CD after treasured LP. but that night I wound up doing something I had not done in over fifteen or twenty years: listening to it all the way through for the sheer pleasure of it. bracing. for almost a month. and purer. I deliberately didn’t listen to my long-standing references. In my opinion. reproduced sounds now emerge from a background of almost digital-like silence and blackness. as do its transparency and that legendary disappearing act. the phrase “the best” should be used strictly subjectively. These are henceforth my reference monitors.

Koetsu Black and Sumiko Celebration cartridges. if you are a headbanger. Prepare to get sucked into the music—and into the soul of the performance.94" x 15. as it also has a wonderful midrange. or like to have your speaker system move so much air that it flaps the legs of your trousers. Admittedly.16" Weight: 76. The natural timbre. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give any speaker is that the ESL-2805 made me lose track of time again and again. The addition of mass. it would be their equal in the midrange. the 2805 produces music with a realism and naturalness that are compelling and addictive. you should look elsewhere. and to the essence of the composition. Nordost Valhalla slightly short of the original’s “reach-outand-touch-you” midrange magic. and subtle details that one hears in a live performance kept me transfixed until my reverie was interrupted by the sound of the cartridge hitting the end of the record. like the Crosby. The dynamic ceiling and bass-performance envelope have been extended. Graham 1. Mind you. It sounds so “right” that I found myself drawn to the music. or must hear the deepest notes of a pipe organ or synth.36" x 40. bearing.6 lbs. those hooked by the ESL-57’s midrange may be unwilling to give it up— even though the 2805 is a better overall speaker. VPI Aries (TNT V platter. Quad II Classic and PrimaLuna Prologue Six amplifiers. Price: $9000 ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT SME 20-12 turntable. However. TAS 100 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . to the artistry of the performer.5 (w/2. Moreover. as even the very good subs I tried impinged on the Quad’s purity. The Quad ESL-2805 is a superior execution of Peter Walker’s groundbreaking design and vaults the performance of the Quad even higher up in the reference category. as well as improvements in the manufacture of the panels produce a result that is one of the most musically satisfying in high-end audio at any price. but I was never completely successful doing this with the Crosby or the original.Quad ESL-2805 Loudspeaker Specs & Pricing TAIGA LLC 310 Tosca Drive Stoughton. so that the Quad may be a viable alternative to people who listen to more than smallscale works. Yes. Art Audio Vinyl Reference and Quad 24 phonostages. you could add a subwoofer or two.2 bearing). Massachusetts 02072 (781) 341-1234 taigallc. clarity. and bracing to the frame. SDS). Quad ESL-57 (PK modified) and Hyperion HPS-938 loudspeakers.com Type: Full-range electrostatic loudspeaker Frequency Response: 37Hz–21KHz (-6dB) Impedance Variation: 8 ohms nominal (range: 4–15 ohms) Sensitivity: 86dB Dimensions: 27. MFA Venusian preamp (Frankland modified). and perhaps. coherence. Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 21 DAC. without its grille cloth and raised on floor-to-speaker stands. or try the larger ESL-2905. rigidity. it’s only in comparison with two of its brethren that the 2805 suffers. better parts.

solid slabs of brushed aluminum. or a perpetual calendar that takes into account the varying days of the months. IN MANY CIRCLES. The pride of owning a Patek accrues both from its superb craftsmanship and from an understanding of the skill required to make one. have something more than heft—they have gravitas. The 270se transport and Series 9 Decoding Computer and Dual-Mono DACs are. operate with a divinely silken sensuality. The chassis are hewn from thick. a case can be made that the 270se/ Series 9 is the most technically advanced digital front end extant. right down to the nicely organized remote. Pateks are entirely mechanical. switches gives authoritative tactile feedback. beautifully turned out. Within these luxurious confines reside the aforementioned anachronistic elements. such as the CD drawer. In a world of electronic quartz movements. You see. on the contrary. despite the fact that most of these devices never need winding and offer functions that can include moon phase. to say the least. seems a disservice—reminds me of nothing so much as a Patek Philippe timepiece. This is not to say there is a dearth of technology. and moving parts. TO PRODUCE the finest timepieces on earth. and 581 CD/SACD Player Alan Taffel PATEK PHILIPPE IS A SWISS WATCHMAKER BELIEVED. that makes these watches something one rarely encounters: a highly advanced anachronism.Cutting Edge THE Wadia 270se CD Transport. Wadia’s flagship digital front end—to call it a CD player. Even the most humble sub- The Patek Philippe of digital audio? 104 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . These components. particularly in light of functionality to come. multiple time zones. Series 9 DAC.

Furthermore. When CDs were an embryonic format. Consider. thermally compensated master clock within the 931. one master clock controls everything within a rigidly accurate synchronous environment. the flagship system announces the company’s conviction that ultimate sound quality can only be achieved with separate chassis. Since then. to handle digital switching and volume and system control. as a bevy of designers have discovered. but by cleaving the latter into a mono pair and by interposing a fourth chassis. the filters available in off-the-shelf chipsets were crude and sonically deleterious. Similarly. Utilizing a proprietary signaling scheme called ClockLink. which I will address in a moment. it is incontrovertibly an expensive one. By and large. Unfortunately the industry standard. and meticulous implementation. Nonetheless. Separate chassis 106 February 2007 The Absolute Sound require some means of interconnection. creative design. for example. the other chassis’ clocks are slaved to the master. the proliferation of separate transports and outboard DACs now seems so very 90s.The Cutting Edge component—such as the digital volume control that most manufacturers dispatch with a chip—is the object of intense analysis. Well-designed digital inputs and outputs are surprisingly . There are sound reasons for this reversal. it is also true that these products hew to a set of technical principles that have long since been abandoned by virtually every other high-end manufacturer. The cost of fabricating separate high-end chassis—here amplified by the quad-chassis configuration—is only the beginning. Single-chassis players circumvent this problem entirely. such an arrangement is a prescription for jitter run rampant. Wadia has gone even further in this direction by separating not only the transport and the model 921 DAC. which is not to be confused with the sonically wretched TosLink plastic fiber. asynchronous nature and to the fact that the receiving unit must derive an imbedded clock signal. the matter of filtering the digital signal. and AES/EBU inputs. In one last technical flourish that had me doing the time warp again. the 931 Decoding Computer. but Wadia counters that by means of a high-precision. only the fiber option supports ClockLink. but which was overtaken by subsequent developments—in this case highly improved drivers for coaxial interconnects. chipsets have incorporated most of those advanced techniques and are used in even very expensive units. Of course. Wadia was a pioneer in the use of softwarebased algorithms to do the job far more accurately and benignly. the Series 9 relies on an abandoned means of digital audio connectivity: ST glass fiber. are manifest. Wadia remains confident that its software-based filter algorithms trump all other approaches. However. At the same time. virtually eliminating inter-chassis jitter. another school of digital design advocates the simplest possible signal path and has done away with filtering altogether. the industry has shifted to all-in-one players at every echelon. The sonic benefits. Regardless of the potential merits of Wadia’s approach. fiber is mandatory between the 931 and the dual 921 DACs. Indeed. Wadia believes glass is still the best available bit-transport medium. Wadia wears the connoisseur’s suit While Wadia does build integrated CD players (see below for the separate review of the model 581). For its part. S/PDIF. So while the 931 controller. in its role as a digital source switch. Here again is a technology which showed early advantages. coax. offers fiber. is inherently prone to jitter due to its serial.

Next. But moving the DACs beside the Controller made possible a dramatically shorter fiber run. a manufacturer’s recommendations for achieving the best sound should not be considered sacrosanct. I have found that many components are happier with reversed AC polarity and/or having their ground floated. and represent yet another savings enjoyed by single-chassis designs. optical transmitters and receivers are far more costly than their electrical counterparts. I can best describe this philosophy—and its contrast to others—by referring to Issue 166. The lengthy interconnects had been necessitated by Wadia’s directive to place the DACs next to their associated power amps. fiber is supposed to be immune to length-based sonic deterioration. but my experience proved otherwise. is actually a sonic detriment. I therefore plunged into determining the proper orientation for each of the six cables. Likewise. and bypassing my preamplifier in favor of connecting the DACs directly to the amps via long electrical interconnects. Well. but at about this time Tommy Dzurak of Aural Symphonics opined that his Optimum v2. the sound finally achieved a level of realism and liveliness—and more importantly. then. modern-conventionflouting architecture fare when it comes to sound? After all. All of which. When that was done. of course.2006 interconnects would be markedly superior to the Wadia links. but is.The Cutting Edge Tweaking Excellence You might rightly expect a $40. for instance. Is it also true. the sound far exceeded what I had achieved with the Wadia fiber in virtually every parameter. As shipped. Likewise. strong-mindedly adheres to a particular philosophy. and dynamically stunted—a pale shadow of what it was to become. The question. one data) and four between the 931 and the 921 (one clock and one data per channel). Since there are four chassis in the system. rather than a theory or owner’s manual. they were gumming up all the rhythms. AT dear. in particular. I achieved excellent results using Aural Symphonics Optimism v2. 108 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . let your ears. each with four possible polarity/ground combinations. I found that its sound. scrupulously engineered components require diligent effort on the part of the owner or dealer to sound their best. fiber cables. It turns out that good optical cable isn’t cheap. accounts for the system’s staggering circa-$40. which don’t need them. Far from it. and is radically less in a two-box coax rig (my reference coax interconnect costs $85). like its technology.000 CD player to sound its best right out of the box. shouldn’t be so. This. With these last tweaks. like their electrical counterparts. the Wadia flagship’s sound was flat. But there’s more. The DSP’s softwarebased filters are a lot more expensive than standard chipsets. Also. combined with its nocompromise build-quality. The manufacturer and distributor suggested and supplied the obvious fixes: audiophile-grade power cords and vibrationisolating feet. boring. is how does Wadia’s extravagant. Initially. I swapped out the long fiber run between the 931 Controller and the 921 DACs. So I got serious. the music crossed a threshold of engagement and lucidity—that had been previously unattainable. First. that the Wadia’s commitment to a largely bygone approach translates to inferior sonic performance? Or is Wadia simply the only company left willing to make the considerable investment necessary to bring difficult and costly but ultimately superior technology to market? To answer these questions. Up to this point I had been using Wadia-supplied fiber. in which Jonathan Valin eloquently describes the dichotomy between two excellent speakers. he states. like sharpness and noise-reduction video circuits. However.000 price tag. That line item is entirely absent in all-in-one players. Simply floating the ground to the 931. be the final judge. As always. a set of six is required: two between the transport and the 931 (one clock. The MAGICO Mini. yet doesn’t mark their cables for directionality. These made a welcome but minor improvement. a Patek Philippe is a less precise timekeeper than any $5 watch from Target. and I wouldn’t dream of owning this system without them. However. this one didn’t.2006. Just as with separate components in a hi-fi system. for all its skillful design and craftsmanship. have a correct directional orientation. placing Goldmund Cones under the transport in place of the ceramic feet supplied by the distributor. But the required halfdozen adds a cool $6000 to the grand total. I began fiddling with AC polarity and grounding. I listened to the Wadia first as a system. A few final tweaks included: turning off the 270se’s “Resolution Enhancement” feature which. then piece by piece. The moral of the story? Even expensive. theory is just that. too. as I ruefully discovered during the course of optimizing the system (see sidebar). In this case. it was well worth the effort. the 270se/ Series 9’s multi-box approach behooves owners to invest in the best possible interconnects. He sent me the required set of six and I promptly hooked them up. Aural Symphonics is fully aware of this phenomenon. which in turn made an immediate sonic improvement. Mind you. had a remarkably positive effect on the sound’s openness. performing this tweak was mind-numbingly tedious. there is no substitute for determining reality through actual trial. I found them to be a step backwards.

” Listening to it is a different experience. Suffice it to say.” from Come Away with Me [Blue Note]. the MBL 101 Es. but never spoils them through exaggeration or edginess. Yet the reference is much more of an “excitement machine. stereo analog single-ended Dimensions: 17" x 7" x 16" Weight: 48 lbs. listen to the first line of Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why. A triangle being played behind an orchestra emanates from waaay behind the speaker plane. Meanwhile. then mainlines the music into your cortex. Empirical Design cables and power cords. which appears to garner the same benefits as do similarly wrought speakers: a lack of any sonically extraneous elements. BNC S/PDIF coaxial digital (2). (each 921) Price: $27. Where the reference fills empty space with something akin to real air. Nonetheless.” On the reference it sounds more like. It is also deeply resolving. This is undoubtedly due to the Wadia’s massively overbuilt construction. but the fiber was clearly better. My reference front end is not up to the Wadia’s standards in any of these areas. chair. Also. I still haven’t touched upon its most distinctive (and addictive) characteristic: its “planted” quality. I prefer this experience. How and why the reference does what it does is difficult to say. is far more emphatic on the reference. while definitely present through the Wadia. Specs & Pricing WADIA 1556 Woodland Drive Saline.25" (931). There are some obvious sonic factors. images wandered and resolution deteriorated markedly. For instance. “I waited ’til I saw the sun. The two proved to be fairly close. the reference for its more direct and visceral presentation. I was surprised to discover that the transport was a heavy contributor to the system’s reduced energy level.” largely due to its exemplary neutrality and resolution. The Wadia invites you to approach it and appreciate its considerable charms. Through the same DAC. Now. with greater separation of musical lines. more tonal sonority. which through the Wadia unfold at neither a hurried nor a laggardly pace. I was curious how much of a difference the fiber was making in all this. the Wadia for its purity and intricacy. but also astonishingly deep. The 270se’s standing suffered even further when I connected both transports to my reference DAC. but not everyone will. These factors help explain the reference’s greater vitality. and when it was new fifteen years ago. none of the Wadia transport’s virtues were left behind. Though it may seem that I’ve showered the Wadia with every possible accolade. Like Baby Bear’s bed. it is significant that the 36 proved superior in every respect despite having neither ClockLink nor a TosLink to aid it. though.25" x 16. though less pure. Price: $6950 ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT Goldmund Studietto turntable. On the Wadia. Arcam FMJ DV-27A DVD/DVD-A player. (931). Metaphor 1 & 2 speakers. Own the Wadia. AES/EBU digital (1). Graham 2. the Wadia wears the connoisseur’s suit. Price: $9950 Series 9 Decoding Computer Inputs: ST glass fiber-optic digital (2). bass with the whomp of a pile driver (but perfectly defined). AES/EBU digital Dimensions: 17" x 7" x 16. is slightly less Technicolor in its portrayal of timbres. it cost more than the 270se does today. so I compared fiber and coax links the only way I could: between the 270se and the 931 Controller. B&W ASW850 subwoofer. 17" x 4. opens your receptors. yes. the reference relaxes you. the 36 had none of these problems. I was able to significantly amp up the vitality quotient by substituting my Goldmund Mimesis 36 reference deck for the 270se. are “excitement machines (that) bring every kind of music to irrepressible life. Goldmund Mimesis 22 and Aesthetix Calypso preamps. In contrast. the Mimesis 36 is one of the best CD transports ever built.5" Weight: 52 lbs.The Cutting Edge are “a connoisseur’s speaker. the Wadia transport’s sound just fell apart. and. the Wadia fills it with… nothingness. Michigan 48176 (734) 786-9611 wadia.4" (each 921) Weight: 40 lbs.2 tonearm. Put these together and you have a player that extricates the smallest details. more subtle sonic differences as well. singleended stereo analog Dimensions: 17" x 7. but from shear granite. that both systems are extremely engaging.4 power amplifiers.” The very same dichotomy applies to the Wadia flagship and my reference CD player. Personally. “I WAIT-ed ’til I saw the sun” There is a dynamic spike on the first syllable of the second word that. The 110 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . In this case. As a familiar illustration. Goldmund Mimesis 36 CD transport & Mimesis 12++ DAC. and you will hear every previously cloaked reverb of every vocal on every one of your pop CDs. There are other. The Wadia mercilessly exposes its aging design and concomitant flaws. 43 lbs. more excitement. they are just right. BNC S/PDIF coaxial digital. yes. she sings. and tightly focused imaging without a trace of the peach fuzz haze we usually hear. the Wadia. for example. and porridge. “Oh My Soul” from Richard Thompson’s excellent Front Parlour Ballads [Cooking Vinyl] became significantly less restrained. Then there are the rhythms. Soundstaging is another area of great faithfulness to the source.850 581 Integrated CD/SACD player Outputs: Stereo analog balanced. After doing so. in keeping with its generally more austere presentation. but not why it imparts a more relaxed listening experience. Goldmund Mimesis 29. The 270se/Series 9 is supremely pure— it lacks any trace of noise and is absolutely neutral. Denied ClockLink and fiber. the dynamic range of the reference is markedly wider than the Wadia’s. Clearaudio Insider Gold cartridge. Goldmund cones.com 270se Transport Outputs: ST glass fiber-optic digital. The sound seems to emanate not from wood or metal. TosLink digital (1) Outputs: Balanced stereo analog. ASC Tube Traps Its most distinctive (and addictive) characteristic is its “planted” quality When I deconstructed the Wadia assemblage and listened piece by piece.1" x 13. The stage is wide.

But thanks to the pioneering efforts of companies like Wadia itself. Twenty years ago. Wadia in 1999 purchased UltraAnalog. and a more natural rendition of details. To scale up manufacturing capacity and to broaden the product line. which enable the 270se to perform far better than it otherwise would. the modest development team was forced to divert its attention away from core products. At the same time. glass-fiber connectivity. and invested in sales and marketing. is highly compelling while still true to its intended connoisseur character. In an effort to build on its initial success—and to deliver some profit to its venture capital investors— Wadia undertook an aggressive expansion of product lines and research initiatives. By 2000. and its output stage is pure Class A. In came a new management team led by entrepreneur Steven Jeffries.The Cutting Edge coax connection was thinner sounding. dedicate himself to technology development. But the components were so favorably received. streamlined its organizational structure. has plenty of power. fuller timbres. Even today. Once more Wadia tumbled—this time. and profits flourished. better imaging. The first is that. The highly regarded maker of digital chipsets also built high-quality CD players that were sold under a variety of high-end brand names. development resources. Hales Design Group. Wadia applied resources to launching its PowerDAC product. reputation. This time. This is not because the Wadia doesn’t sound wonderful. These results confirm the efficacy of both ClockLink and fiber. Still. Management. And a year later. modernized manufacturing facilities. Yet in the Wadia’s case there are other factors that may mitigate the extraordinary investment it commands. assuming all your sources are digital. my view is that it is not. multiple product initiatives. But integrating the newly acquired businesses proved just as arduous and expensive as had organic growth. harder and farther. The Series 9. there are now several players in the $7000 range—including the T+A 1245R. Wadia Resurgent! Mistakes and misfortune can befall even the most decorated of people— or companies. the sound achieves a level of coherence and drive that. Wadia’s output. products from this era trade for robust premiums within high-end usedequipment circles. knowing you will gain some back by foregoing a separate linestage. Its first stumble occurred shortly thereafter. and disparate business models. But these setbacks proved temporary. the 270se needs these features. all but one of Wadia’s remaining investors had lost faith in The Absolute Sound February 2007 113 . and software-based upsampling filters that blew away the crude chipsets then available. Indeed. Given time. following in the footsteps of companies like Meridian and Goldmund that had transitioned from source-component to full-system providers. though. and details were slightly etched. Wadia’s first products were intended merely as proofs of these concepts—test beds for technology destined to be licensed to others. Along with its main rival. By the early 1990s. proprietary clocking schemes and mechanical isolation to minimize jitter. But the results also point out that there is no substitute for getting the bits right in the first place. it embarked on an acquisition binge. The new thrusts strained limited financial resources and nuked the balance sheet. the company was a founding member of a movement to transform the nascent. and money all became too thin-spread to handle the dispersed facilities. Wadia was once again anxious to expand. you can confidently spend more on the front end. however. causing a slowdown in new releases. the Goldmund SR-DVD. Quite a few CD players on the market with an extra input or two and a volume control make the same claim. The company’s recovery began when. Hindsight now makes clear that these efforts were premature. the Asian stock market chose this moment to crash. if all your sources are digital. Theta Digital. the fiber—at least with the benefit of ClockLink—offered cleaner rhythms. sonically unpalatable compact-disc format into something the high end could embrace. Don Moses. although its presentation was also a bit airier and more relaxed. Wadia had become a firmly established builder of statement digital products. and Wadia’s own 581—that offer virtually all of the 270se/ Series 9’s strengths (minus that inimitable “planted” quality). Consider the tumultuous history of Wadia. the skilled management team may well have righted the situation. simplified the product portfolio. casting into a depression the region that accounted for nearly 50% of Wadia’s revenue. when combined with all of the Wadia’s previously noted virtues. and is quiet as a tomb. for in so many ways it does. Did I mention that it sounds glorious? So this is the rare case where. since their internal output stages and volume controls can’t match those of a good linestage. Jeffries and crew upgraded the firm’s core digital technologies.000? In purely sonic terms. most such players actually benefit from linestage intervention. Unfortunately. With the Mimesis 36 driving the Series 9. Wadia advanced a raft of innovations that made CD’s transformation possible: outboard digital-to-analog convertors. So is the 270se/Series 9 worth $40. Its volume control is incredibly sophisticated. the Wadia requires no intervening linestage between it and the power amps. plus some. In practice. Wadia completed its lineup by purchasing a speaker maker. in the mid-90s. the company was obliged to manufacture them in earnest. rather than overtaxing internal growth. Buoyed by success. is an entirely different story. This division of labor ushered in Wadia’s second golden age. revenues. Likewise. the frustrated but dogged investors opted to let Wadia’s founder and President.

Internally.S. the digital landscape has altered significantly during the company’s half-decade of limbo. the just-released 581 CD/SACD player leverages much of the Series 9’s technology within a more form-and-price-friendly package. the 581’s sound is big and The Absolute Sound February 2007 115 . Meanwhile. though the $27. There are virtually no operational differences. the events of 9/11 sent financial markets cowering. given the price spread. in its characteristic over-the-top manner. vividly illustrating that even while the company was silent running. the 270se transport and Series 9 DAC/digital preamplifier (see review). extravagant design.000 digital front end. Just like a Patek Phillipe timepiece. From a U. The high end is a decidedly crowded place. eagerly stepped into the breach. John Schaffer. they use the same DACs. a stripped-down Wadia—still oriented toward licensing technology—focused on R&D. it is exquisitely intricate. and performance that stands as a benchmark within its chosen philosophy. Let us. Yet despite all these physical. To be sure. But this is where the two diverge. This plan attracted both potential customers and new interest from the venture community. A small group of the company’s executives and employees decided that they themselves would take ownership. The idea was to create a technology partnership between the firms. flawless operation. but a recuperating Asia bought enough existing models to maintain a pulse. therefore. but of subtle events taking place in the deep background. 581 CD Player I Wadia Resurgent! the company and bailed out. and topological similarities. employs eight per channel while the $6950 581 gets by with a mere two. and despite nearly unfathomable setbacks. no matter how humble (XM radio. either. the 581 retains many of the Series 9’s qualities. But just as it about to launch. but Wadia is aware of these and promises they’ll be corrected in production units. And both illuminate the rear of the soundstage like nothing else. its commitment and creativity never abated. Having witnessed past problems firsthand. anyone?) receive the full Wadia digital treatment. but on the video side. and the plan unraveled for lack of funding. Both units encompass significant upgrades over Wadia’s past products. its DigiMaster upsampling filter software. In January of 2006. The sole holdout. operational. Michigan. As for Wadia’s crown jewel. the buyout was completed. the last investor wanted out. Shared Ventures. it never lost its pioneering spirit. Competitors. became President. For them. It presents music with modest scale and dynamics in order to ensure that nothing gets out of hand. and the remotes are functionally interchangeable right down to the handy reverse-polarity button. The 581 I tested was a pre-production prototype that exhibited a few tics. For the next five years. perspective. took control of the company and moved it to Ann Arbor. in 2005. AT f Wadia’s flagship Series 9 is the family patriarch. the 581 gets a less sophisticated but conceptually identical version. Further. In contrast. it will accommodate any digital signal up to 96/24. But Wadia is taking bold steps to re-establish its eminence. and ClockLink jitter reduction is standard on both.The Cutting Edge Another mitigating factor is the Wadia’s current and future capabilities. Wadia simply disappeared. As expected. it is clear that these components were spawned from the same gene pool: They share identical digital volume circuitry and Class A output stages. Wadia began as a pioneer. Both share a marvelously unhurried sense of “inevitable” pace. be grateful for Wadia’s return to the fold. the 581 can’t quite match the polished smoothness of the $9950 270se dedicated transport’s drawer. They have introduced a flagship $40. whose research paralleled that of Wadia. Yet what could have been Wadia’s death knell proved instead to be its resurrection. for the Series 9 is all about purity. one that would allow Wadia to re-emerge in accordance with its original business plan as a licensor of advanced technology to other manufacturers. too. Within these self-imposed bounds. and Wadia promises support for any higherresolution formats that may come along. the Wadia is first and foremost a product of superb craftsmanship. The Series 9 is not presently limited to CD source material. There resided Digital Imaging. But I suspect all this value-oriented talk is largely beside the point for those in the market for such a costly component. the new 581 CD/ SACD player is the renegade son. refinement. the Series 9 was built with upgradeability in mind. Schaffer and his team have their work cut out for them. Schaffer decided to play strictly to Wadia’s strengths of sophisticated digital processing and high-end products incorporating that technology. who had been the firm’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. But the user interfaces are identical. Finally. And those signals. and hopeful that this resurgence proves permanent. and control. The two bear obvious physical similarities and both are built around massive. But it will always accommodate firms with a passion to explore the limits of audio technology and which bring the fruits of those labors to products both extreme and moderate. of course. Money for marketing and new product development was non-existent. as well as resolution not only of primary details.850 Series 9. the Series 9 and 581 offer radically different presentations of music. chiseledfrom-solid-aluminum chassis. Nor would anyone mistake the more affordable machine’s remote for the flagship’s bricklike hunk.

when 116 February 2007 The Absolute Sound I listened to the same track through my reference player. the 581’s imaging is more approximate. It also has a distinct “white” bias to its tonal coloration. and requires the listener to make the initial approach. The 581. the reference—which isn’t remotely closedin—sounds nearly cloudy. the effect was literally breathtaking. I was running the 581 and all other sources through my linestage to facilitate comparisons. afraid even to swallow lest I spoil the moment. say. with a penchant for grand gestures—even if that means things occasionally become a tad unruly. Consequently. on all three front ends. but along with it came the full emotional wallop the reference had delivered. The sound is in no way thin. a full-throated Anita Baker cuts loose. and orchestras do not sound quite as ravishing.The Cutting Edge boisterous. The recording isn’t bad—choruses are notoriously difficult to capture with anything approaching realistic scale and sonority—and there is no beating Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Chorus’ complete mastery of the form. Listening to the 581’s phenomenal dynamics. At this point. and even more so. I sat riveted. These distinctions were made plain when I listened to my favorite choral piece. and though both get the music right. The 581 can also get a little ragged when. Overall. the 581 has some sonic limitations worth noting. We are all aware that CDs theoretically possess tremendous dynamic range. and unlike the myriad CD players that support but fail to benefit from such an arrangement. I found that I didn’t care about any of that. for instance. on the other hand. in a direct comparison the reference sounds more realistic and is smoother and easier to listen to. it became apparent that the 581’s dynamic range is so broad. it bears a far closer resemblance to my reference Goldmund transport and DAC than to its own elder. grabs you immediately. So although the 581 is a near dead-ringer for my reference player. the 581 is so open. every line of the “Kyrie” was perfectly delineated. the Duruflé Requiem [Telarc]. effortlessly. it makes my reference—which I’d thought irreproachable in this area— sound almost compressed in comparison. All of which translates to very different listening experiences. it possesses a musical ease that the Series 9 lacks. there is not quite enough oomph and warmth at the low end to balance the ultra-clear top. and relentlessly. Because this player takes itself less seriously. Likewise. The Series 9 is rather shy about its charms. Instead. Through the Series 9. but pianos. Compared to both the reference and the Series 9. though. and its soundstage narrower. However. However. I felt for the first time that the format’s promise was fulfilled. The nuance of the Series 9 was fully intact. In such a configuration. have less weight than they might have. gave a performance I’ll not soon forget. The piece was a cerebral feast. The 581. I was completely taken over by the movement’s sublime beauty. the 581 incorporates an absolutely superb output stage and a completely benign . all of my quibbles with the 581 vanish when it is connected directly to power amps. Like the Series 9. as was every orchestral and vocal nuance. but we hardly ever hear it. As the movement progressed. when the final orchestral and choral lines swelled and dovetailed beyond anything I’d imaged possible.

though it did have a slightly more distant perspective. I have come to expect multi-format players to founder with one medium or another. In this configuration. many SACD players fail to sound as good as a top-notch CD player. And when things got loud and complex. The sound becomes far more natural and pure. The result is irresistibly compelling. too. especially if you use the 581 as its own linestage and hook it directly to a power amp. but combines them with a newfound sense of musical freedom. Even then. is gone. But they do. the SACD layer was quieter. And the narrowish soundstage now stretches comfortably across the room. for example. the 581 rivals any CD player I have heard. the 581 is one of the few players I’ve heard that will do them justice. you’re stuck buying a linestage. Based on serial disappointments. TAS 118 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . to the Telarc hybrid disc of Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony. Listening. the 581 richly deserves a serious audition. more true-to-life colors. Wadia’s new 581 is a landmark release. It incorporates the strengths of the company’s most sophisticated designs. In particular. and AES/EBU). This player is happiest when there is no linestage standing between it and a good amp. with greater air and imaging authority. Need some analog inputs. and lovelier than the CD layer. The whitish cast. replaced by warmer. nothing collapsed or broke up as CDs are wont to do. If you are collecting discs in this format. as well as a digital out. more expressive. The 581 is itself a topnotch CD player. BNC coax. too? Well. albeit in two channels only. In sum.The Cutting Edge This player is happiest when there is no linestage standing between it and a good amp digital volume control. which is identical to the 581 but offers four digital inputs in four formats (glass fiber. so it has its work cut out for it if SACDs are to sound even better. The 581 also plays SACDs. TosLink. Need another digital source? Consider the 581i ($8450).

The LAT-1000 is not designed to be all things to all amplifiers. raises a question that deserves far more attention in the high end: Is it the purpose of the high end to create the most technically accurate component in each link of the audio chain. this is not a simple box.25" magnesium-cone midrange drivers. Its complex mix of second. however. the LAT-1000 slides easily enough on a carpet to allow one person to experiment with different room placements and setups. Cordesman THE KRELL LAT-1000 IS DAN D’AGOSTINO’S EFFORT TO BRING THE SAME KIND of no-holds barred approach to speaker design that he has brought to his Evolution Series electronics. It is deliberately voiced very differently from most speakers on the market. the drivers include three 8" custom-made aluminum-cone woofers. Not only do dynamics become restricted. isolating them from the main cabinet.and third-order crossovers also seem to put more strain than usual on an amplifier.6" high by 14. as a result. high-current Pass X600. however. and major peaks below 50Hz that rise well above 30 ohms. or to create the most realistic and enjoyable illusion of listening to live music? As you might expect for the price. He led the design team and voiced the speaker using Evolution gear— some of the best equipment around—and though the LAT-1000 is by no means the most expensive speaker ever made. that very musical realism makes the LAT-1000 highly controversial in terms of accuracy in frequency response and timbre. but I could hear small changes in imaging and coherence. and aircore inductors. WIMA capacitors. indeed. the LAT-1000 worked perfectly with Krell’s new Evolution series electronics. the speaker does. It has a nominal impedance of 3-4 ohms. Its cabinet. The crossovers are divided among three different circuit assemblies—one each for the woofer. work well with solid-state amplifiers that do not have high-current as well as high-wattage capability or have trouble with very low or complex loads.7" wide by 14. midrange. weighs 250 pounds. Happily.7" deep. it can be one of the most musically realistic speakers around. With the right amplification and setup. the LAT-1000 is a physically imposing speaker. which is a lot for an enclosure with a relatively modest size of 54. It did not.The Cutting Edge An open challenge to the high-end status quo Krell LAT-1000 Loudspeaker Anthony H. at $55. In practice. As might be expected. and equally well with my high-power. two 5. made of incredibly solid extruded aluminum. but a three-way dynamic speaker design pushed to the state of the art.000 it is costly enough to put it firmly in the “superb or failure” category of high-end products. but this includes areas between 1kHz and 2kHz that drop to nearly 2 ohms. and a 1" neodymium tweeter. However. You will have to log on to the Krell Web site and download the manual to get a clear picture of just how complex the enclosure and crossover design are. come close to being superb. A special aluminum sub-enclosure houses the midrange and tweeter. Low-to-medium-power tube amplifiers are simply out.5s. and. Just watching it being carried up my front stairs made my back ache in sympathy. and all using 4-ounce copper traces. They can’t properly drive this 10 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . and tweeter networks.

To get the very best results. Transparency. Speaker cables can also be an issue. that I’d recommend such adjustment for virtually any serious monitor. if you give setup the right attention. but it became obvious that this speaker sounds best with the height of its tweeter nearly at ear level. You might consider removing them. deep bass. and Straightwire cables worked fine. The Krell rep (who came with the speakers) did very well simply placing the LAT-1000s in my usual room location. excellent smalland large-scale dynamics. at a reasonable listening distance (10 feet or more). Like Sonus Faber’s and Wilson’s. the speaker “grille” consists of thick rubber strands. You also don’t get the high . I can’t tell you how well it will work with more modern high-power tube amplifiers. extended frequency response over most of the spectrum are sound qualities you can take for granted. and with its “feet” adjusted to the angle recommended in its instruction manual. I’ll touch upon the sonic impact of this frequency response in a moment. but they’re real. The differences may be slight. and getting this right is slightly more difficult than usual.) Krell did not provide vertical and horizontal dispersion data for the LAT-1000. but—like all speakers with truly deep bass—the LAT-1000s need a bit of attention to room boundaries.The Cutting Edge speaker and can’t control its bass with the damping needed to show just how tight and accurate it can be. and no frequency adjustments. without reinforcing the peak around 60Hz. These are very attractive but vibrate constantly when the speaker is playing loud. the LAT-1000 is one of the few speakers that does come close to reproducing the illusion of live music. however. As I have explained earlier. having none on hand. One other point in passing: The LAT-1000s have no provisions for bi-amping or bi-wiring. The Krell LAT-1000s have an unusual frequency-response curve. but there is a +2dB peak around 60Hz. though my experience indicates that lots of clean power solves most tube-amp drive problems. You don’t 1 February 2007 The Absolute Sound get accurate deep bass in real-world listening rooms unless you are willing to work for it. Finally. (Let me stress. I got the proper result in a few hours listening by ear. and in about an hour using a one-third-octave frequency-response meter. Discovery. The speakers are obviously not designed for tweaking. unless you are willing to sacrifice microdynamics and a bit of detail to make the load easier on the amplifier. but what really makes the LAT-1000 sound different is its unique timbre. My Kimber. It is also far more coherent. This means the overall response of the LAT-1000 is “warm” by the standards of most of today’s speakers. Krell’s speakers are voiced more to sound like music than to meet some laboratory standard. and have some impact on the smoothness and dispersion of the upper octaves. and then a very gentle drop of about 2–3dB to 20kHz. It definitely has been tuned to give more of the kind of deep-bass power you hear in a concert hall or club than to win a race for flat response. far enough from the side walls to limit reflected energy to reasonable levels. The manufacturer’s specifications for their nearfield response shows a -5dB down point of 30Hz in the free field. and smooth. I needed to find the rear-of-the-speakerto-rear-wall distance that provided just a touch of bass reinforcement in the 30–40Hz range. but I’d advise against speaker cables with load networks or with minimum impedance and capacitance. and has far better imaging stability. the manufacturer’s frequency curve does not claim flat response and—within the severe limits of home measurement— the curve Krell specified is the frequency response I got and heard. a slow drop of about -5dB from 130Hz to 800Hz. Though you will get very musical sound out of this speaker even with minimal setup.

complexmixdown CDs. that Krell is right and the other designs are musically wrong. The speaker does raise the energy level of the deep bass without providing the kind of added energy below 40Hz that some audiophiles who use subwoofers have gotten used to. Relatively little music takes you down to the true acoustic depths. a grand piano can fill the room without suddenly changing its timbre on high notes and losing much of its warmth. and far too many systems now lack natural musical energy below 60–70Hz. In short. needs reference equipment that can act as a reference and not simply provide the most musical sound. As someone who travels enough to hear concert halls and live performances all over the world. A reviewer. DVDs. I found the sound of RCA Red Seals do a good job of getting the timbre right from Row D backwards. without having had the analog LP experience and without spending a great 14 February 2007 The Absolute Sound This speaker provides real musical pleasure with virtually every decent recording deal of time listening to live. A speaker like the LAT-1000 not only brings back the music in music.The Cutting Edge levels of dispersed treble energy you hear in many competing speakers. I also found it to be as realistic with my older LPs as with modern. Forget about reference recordings. The low midrange and upper bass have the warmth they should. unamplified acoustic music. This may sound strange coming from a reviewer who uses TAD-1 and Thiel 7. This is particularly true of highenders who have grown up listening to CD. A lot of jazz recordings on CD suffer from the same problem. Audiophiles who obsess over bass below 45Hz miss the point. this kind of response does have musical virtues with the right room setup. speaker and listening-position layout and the choice of warm electronics and/or warm eq can provide the same musical realism as tuning the speaker. It also requires careful placement. Both measure flat and both are capable of extraordinary detail. not the frequency response that measures well in a lab. Having grown up listening to Reiner in the old Orchestra Hall the Chicago Symphony used in the 1950s. I want the timbre I hear live.2 speakers as references. it gets the best out of a far wider range of CDs. and really listen. even though most clubs do use sound reinforcement systems. Moreover. and the midrange does not have the punch and detail of speakers that have flatter frequency-response curves. I did find the deep bass voicing of the LAT-1000 somewhat controversial. my interest lies in reproducing the live listening experience and not what has become an obsessive interest in upper-octave detail at the cost of anything approaching musical realism. and you do want a bit of room reinforcement below it. The character of individual instruments becomes much more apparent. however. Most CDs are mixed in ways that provide far more close-miked upper-octave information than you are ever going to hear in a live performance. I believe. you don’t want to reinforce standing wave energy in 50–60Hz region. female voice becomes balanced and aspirants natural. . close-miked. or SACDs than a speaker that exaggerates the upper octaves. Strings and brass do not glare or harden. As I already noted. If you don’t listen to a lot of live acoustic music you are going to be conditioned to listen for more upper-midrange energy and more upperoctave “air” than you will hear with these speakers. But. Go out to any good orchestral hall or decent acoustic jazz environment and listen carefully to the bass energy you actually hear live. the LAT-1000 offers audiophiles something they really need if they listen to live acoustic music Other audiophiles may have a very different reaction. I rarely hear a CD that has the same bass content as a club. Almost all music depends for much of its aesthetic impact on the bass between 45Hz and 100Hz. most classic LPs were mastered using speakers with this kind of timbre—not today’s brighter-sounding designs. After all. These choices aren’t necessary with the Krell LAT-1000. flute sounds the way it does live. however.

INC. the LAT1000s become truly musical and “alive. and solo instruments come together with equal realism and warmth. Pass X0. Transparent Audio Reference XL. PS Audio Lambda CD transport (modified). 45 Connair Road Orange. make it a real point to listen to the LAT-1000s simply to hear one of the speakers that dares to be different. Therefore. I’d also adjust the space between them so a naturally miked solo grand piano recording. electronic music.2X digital preamp-room correction. and we are very glad to have Robert Greene’s recognition. can be done with ease. TAS Specs & Pricing KRELL INDUSTRIES. further enhancements.2 linestage. or a dynamic speaker’s integrated tweeter and mid/bass drivers. I would. that with most such music you’ll find the LAT-1000s sound remarkably natural.” This speaker provides real musical pleasure and does so with virtually every decent recording. I would do so after listening to live acoustic music rather than “hi-fi. The LAT-1000 is scarcely a mini-monitor and does not provide the same kind of driver integration and coherence at close listening distances that you get with a fullrange ribbon. but they’re great for hours of actual listening. and the odd note or passage below 40Hz. They may not be the ultimate speaker if your goal in life is to spend a few minutes of listening to low-frequency test tones. You. not just a few that suit its timbre. however. a full-range electrostatic. Pass Xono phonostage. We would like to take this opportunity to mention the contribution of SP Technology Loudspeakers as the primary designer and collaborator of the NuForce S-9 speaker project. however.75" midrange. such as a passive crossover upgrade or converting to an active crossover. and depth.2 loudspeakers. Connecticut 06477 (203) 799-9954 krellonline. With this kind of set up.000 ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT VPI TNT HX-X turntable and HWJr 12.The Cutting Edge For organ. there are bigger speakers that do provide more energy and more realistic sound at the true bottom of the bass.com Type: Three-way floorstanding bass-reflex loudspeaker Driver complement: One 1" tweeter. Also worth pointing out is that the S-9 comes standard with an external crossover. Jason Lim The Absolute Sound February 2007 17 . may well not agree with me that the high end has tended to drift away from musical realism and become obsessed with upper-octave detail and energy.5 tonearm. Jazz. Like every speaker in this price range. Pass X600A power amplifiers. TAD Model 1 and Thiel 7. You do need to give the LAT-1000s space: a big listening room and enough distance between the listening position and speakers to allow the drivers to blend seamlessly. I believe it shows it’s time we went back to creating high-end systems based on core values: Reproducing the actual sound of music and not seeking maximum information at the cost of music’s soul.equalizer-D/A converter. Sumiko Celebration and Koetsu Onyx Cartridges. you would be insane not to listen and buy on the basis of your own taste and judgment. and Wireworld Super Eclipse and Eclipse interconnects and digital cables Manufacturer Comment NuForce S-9 Loudspeaker The design goal of the S-9 was for it to be one of the most faithful reproducers of live music.” You get the kind of Row F sound that anyone who loves live performances almost inevitably prefers to what you hear sitting in the front rows. or string quartet. three 8" carbon-fiber woofers Frequency response: 28Hz–30kHz Sensitivity: 89dB Nominal impedance: 3 ohms Recommended amplifier power: 200W or greater Dimensions: 14. two 5. One other caution.7" x 54. Tact 2.6" x 14.7" Weight: 250 lbs. Kimber Select. Price: $55. Van den Hul Black Beauty. and many of my fellow reviewers. have natural width. image size. vocals. McIntosh MVP-861 SACD/DVD-A/DVD player. I suspect.

brilliant big-band recordings from the 70s on his own Strata-East label. Bill Milkowski Further Listening: Charles Tolliver: Impact. Tolliver adds fuel to the fire with a stinging post-bop trumpet solo of his own that is. Andrew Hill: A Beautiful Day Excellent Good STEVE SWALLOW WITH ROBERT CREELEY: SO THERE. seamlessly melding hard bop and avantgarde while still holding the reigns on his powerhouse large ensemble. Tolliver makes judicious use of dissonance and edgy solos. Tolliver’s writing tends to be busy. almost sounding distorted through the sheer force of his urgent blowing. whereby the trumpeter blows blistering. swirling around Lewis’ bombastic pulse like separate swarms of bees circling the hive. The separate horn sections engage in a fierce three-way conversation from the outset. well-oiled-machine aesthetic of the Buddy Rich or Maynard Ferguson aggregations and the ragged-around-the-edges. like the recording itself. Impact) opens with an intriguing. unconventional.” is a perfect distillation of this potent group’s appeal. “Rejoicin’. That same bursting-atthe-seams energy can be felt on “Right Now” (which he originally recorded 40 years ago on a Jackie McLean Blue Note date) and on the adrenalized closer “Hit The Spot. Charles Tolliver and Michael Cuscuna. wedding them with precision hits and tightly synchronized section playing. jazz bassist Steve Swallow teams up with poet Robert Creeley (who is reported to have written to the music of jazz pianist Bud Powell). white-hot lines over an off-to-the-races uptempo section. fueled by drummer Victor Lewis’ muscular bashing and sly syncopation. pianist Steve Kuhn. Creeley’s reflective readings are the heart of this work in which words and music play against one another. And the solo sections groove just enough to allow for some unrestrained blowing by a crew of killer soloists. producers. That is to say. Tolliver’s inventive take on Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” includes some dramatic mid-song shifting. He strikes this tight/loose balance throughout his audacious and always stimulating Blue Note debut as a leader. Tolliver’s trumpet solo here is bristling with energy. producer.” featuring an incendiary alto sax solo by Handy. unerring. Here is a working big band that expertly straddles the great divide between the intelligent. Tolliver and company Music Sonics Extraordinary come out of the gate swinging hard in 3/4 time. The rambunctious opener. shortly before the completion of this project. On his fourth release in six years. alto saxophonists Craig Handy and Todd Bashore. chamber-like intro for woodwind quartet before resolving to a dynamic modal section that turns Billy Harper loose on a probing tenor solo. stimulating. Swallow has said that he tried to Fair Poor The Absolute Sound February 2007 131 . and always swinging.Music Jazz CHARLES TOLLIVER: WITH LOvE. including pianists Stanley Cowell and Robert Glasper. Blue Note 69315. baritone saxophonist Howard Johnson. ECM/xtra/Watt 7932. In an effort to transcend the music-and-poetry genre. Indeed. Swallow. who died in 2005. marked by lots of harmonic movement and intricate interplay between the trumpets and trombones (left speaker) and saxes (right speaker). freewheeling aesthetic of the Sun Ra Arkestra or Cecil Taylor Orchestra. and the Cikada Quartet for a set of evocative and introspective pieces that stand as a heartfelt homage to Creeley. and the great Trane-inspired tenor saxophonist Billy Harper. For those who weren’t already acquainted with his quirky. the re-emergence of trumpeterbandleader Charles Tolliver on the New York scene in recent years has been a revelation for jazz fans. His stirring “Mournin’ Variations” (originally recorded on Tolliver’s 1975 album.

Throughout. The late Sun Ra might have recognized reflections of his own intergalactic visions. Soft Machine. Josh Berman. Rob Mazurek and John McEntire. Heads Up 3121 (two CDs). quality about the recording. make for pleasantly disorienting headphone listening. roaring. And at age 74. as well as echoes of his Arkestra’s “solar-myth approach” in the sound of the ESO. producers. former Weather Report and Syndicate bassist Victor Bailey. Thrill Jockey 181. Greg Cahill Further Listening: Steve Swallow/ Ohad Talmore Sextet: L’Histore Du Clochard: The Bum’s Tale. this is one of Swallow and Kuhn’s finest performances and sets the benchmark for similar projects. At times. Over the course of 18 tracks. Frank Zappa: The Yellow Shark JOE ZAWINUL: BROWn STREET. frantic “Badia/Boogie Woogie Waltz” medley (which first appeared on 1978’s Grammy Award-winning live album 8:30). drums. the Austrian-born maestro revisted pieces from his past. and creativity as a synth soloist. marimba/tubular bells. Sonically. and former Weather Reporter Alex Acuna on percussion. Jeff Parker. and John McEntire. Zawinul and Joachim Becker. trombone. The shifting emphases. plus reeds. That Swallow and his cohorts capture that feeling without the slightest hint of sappiness is a testament to their artistic talents. yet despite these slight constraints. Rob Mazurek has taken his cornet and electronics ever deeper into interstellar regions where composition and improvisation fold back upon each other in a time warp that colMusic Sonics Extraordinary lapses the decades that ostensibly separate the late 1960s from the early 21st century. is a distillation of every peaceful Sunday afternoon you ever spent curled up with a good book or soothing cup of tea. and postrock scenes for this recording’s 14-piece ensemble (notably Nicole Mitchell. synths. the premier fusion band of the 70s.” Kuhn sounds like Vince Guaraldi on his best Charlie Brown recordings. Frank Zappa. But through speakers. producers. as on the playful bassand-piano duet “Miles. and the cosmic travels and transfigurations of a sting ray. bass. Originally organized for a Millennium Park concert for the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute. the sonics sometimes blur into a molten mass that has more Excellent Good A co-founder of Weather Report. In the decade since he teamed with drummer Chad Taylor in the Chicago Underground Duo (which morphed into a quartet and an orchestra). Courage: The Way Out is via the Door momentum and emotional force than fine detail. flutes/voice. Kuhn and Swallow produce a wide range of sounds and styles that perfectly compliment Creeley’s gentle ruminations. chugging. cornet. There is a welcoming cozy. and Philip Glass on the way down uncharted wormholes of its own devising. Joe Zawinul is now celebrating his 20th year as leader of the Zawinul Syndicate. Swallow has opted for a somewhat narrow soundstage that still leaves plenty of room for Creeley’s poems to breath. which doesn’t undercut the band’s current status as the most exciting hybrid orchestra in the universe as we know it. as heard here on blistering tracks like the aptly-titled “Fast City” (from 1980’s Night Passage). Derk Richardson Further Listening: Chicago Underground Orchestra: Playground. Joe has not lost a step. Exploding Star Orchestra becames the audio vehicle for Mazurek’s fanciful multimedia sci-fi narrative involving supernovas. brimming with a youthful exuberance that belies the maturity of the music. With a core group consisting of Syndicate drummer Nathaniel Townsley. and “March of the Lost Fair Poor 13 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Creeley muses on life’s beauty and frailty while Swallow and company provide a soft bed of sparsely arranged sound. these newly expanded renditions of familiar Zawinul compositions from his Weather Report years take on a decidedly new flavor while losing none of the intense momentum and drive that were signatures of that swaggering fusion juggernaut. guitar. electronic music. Corey Wilkes. and drifting through the seamless threesection suite—from the collectively improvised “Psycho-Tropic Electric Eel Dream” (inspired by Mazurek’s recordings of electric eels) through Jim Baker’s pretty piano feature “Black Sun” and into the diverse “Cosmic Tomes for Sleep Walking Lover”—the orchestra triumphantly traverses pathways cleared by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Jeb Bishop. and from reeds to brass to keyboards to percussion to lead guitar. electric eels. despite a wide soundstage.” The resulting warmth and intimacy reveal that Swallow has admirably succeeded. dexterity. buoyed by gorgeous string-quartet charts and melodic bass lines. Snaking. “Return. He still burns with unparalleled speed. Mazurek tapped Chicago’s free-jazz. For instance. from sections to solos.” a poem about the quality of quiet. flugelhorn. and percussion). But for this ambitious two-disc set. vibes. ExPLODING STAR ORCHESTRA: WE ARE ALL FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE.Jazz “get inside Bob’s breathing as he spoke the lines. recorded live in October 2005 at his Birdland club in Vienna with the WDR Big Band Koln.

“it would be a lot easier for them to understand and to hear this music. producers. a whirlwind on the kit.” Outstanding soloists from the ranks of the big band include alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer. as the resonant boom of the kick drum and crisp slam of the snare are essential to propelling the kinetic music. ROSCOE MITCHELL: STREAMInG.Jazz Children” (from 1988’s The Immigrants). the drums tend to get buried in the mix. Often in concert. Scott Kinsey: Kinesthetics MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS. “If people could fall back on the fundamental primordial aspects of their own human nature. the triumphant shuffle-swing flag-waver “Night Passage. the intensity of Townsley’s precision playing is preserved in tact. Zawinul is also able to conjure new and better sounds. supplies the kind of muscular. Abrams.” and on the ambient intro to “Procession” (title track from Weather Report’s 1983 album). and certainly in large ensemble situations. And Townsley. with the exception of “Procession. recorded by Tom Hamilton and Rich Lamb. BM Further Listening: Zawinul Syndicate: vienna nights. quick-handed. All the music on this ambitious collaboration was adapted and arranged by Vince Mendoza. Pi 122. the “letting go” of prejudices about how sound “should” 134 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Mitchell. Bailey provides a remarkably unerring time feel and eminently funky bottom throughout the proceedings. who digs into the heavy groove of “Black Market” with uncommon post-bop authority and wails with funky abandon on “March of the Lost Children. a marvelous outfit that has collaborated on several occasions with other prominent musicians. GEORGE LEWIS. But here. And equipped with new digital synths and sampling technology that didn’t exist during Weather Report’s heyday. which were originally arranged on banks of keyboards but conceptualized in an Ellingtonian fashion by Zawinul. crisply interactive groove playing that Zawinul adamantly requires of drummers. The 15-piece WDR Big Band Koln.” and New Yorker John Marshall. lends a majestic lift to the compositions.” Indeed. Lewis.” Kudos to WDR recording engineer Gerald Ernst for capturing the present drum sound heard throughout.” George Lewis said in a recent interview. heard to particularly good effect on a moving rendition of “A Remark You Made” (from 1977’s Heavy Weather). who offers some beautifully lyrical trumpet work on the anthemic “In A Silent Way.

They hear. SAM YAHEL. Jones. veteran jazz pianist Hank Jones plays those 88s like no one’s business.and Mark Rothko–like canvasses into postCalder mobiles. Chesky 321. add an expert production team. his West of 5th aptly harkens back to the goldenera New York clubs located between 5th and 7th Avenues that spawned the bebop revolution. are intimately familiar with one another’s musical vocabularies and temperaments. and shape-shifting electronic beds—is the pregnant silence of listening. and pleasurable partaking of. reedy bleats. tapping into an endless fount of ideas. producers. now 75. Hybrid stereo. who is joined here by former Miles Davis drummer Jimmy Cobb and young-lion bassist Christian McBride. It’s formulaic. Representing three different generations of the jazz avant-garde. Chesky 313.be organized to qualify as “music” is essential for entry into. BILLY DRUMMOND: MYSTERIOuS SHORTER. But it’s abundantly evident throughout this outlandishly ingenious trio session that Lewis (trombone and laptop). That gives them a leg up on those who depend on raw intuition and unfiltered reactivity. What you hear in the four extended tracks of Streaming—beneath the dense tonal clusters.” Well said. but of in-the-moment awareness of the aural stimuli that comes at them in the trio and duo settings. CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE. David Chesky and Eleana SteinbergTee. Abrams. but by mutual respect and affirmation. At 88. and wait for the results. Bob Belden and David Chesky. but what a formula! Gather together world-class jazz players and firstrate tunes built around a solid theme. JIMMY COBB: WEST OF 5TH. superficially chaotic jumble of sound has a wondrously natural flow and spaciousness. from the deepest rumble of bass piano keys to crystalline tinkling of bells. It all blows up what could have been aural equivalents of Jackson Pollock. A convivial session of standards. Muhal Richard Abrams (piano and percussion). 66. hop-scotching and pinnacleconquering runs. JOHN HART. The Absolute Sound February 2007 135 . brassy splatters. held together not by wire. And the latter are exceptional on a pair of new discs from the Chesky label’s New York Sessions series. DR Further Listening: Muhal Richard Abrams: Spihumonesty. producers. SACD HANK JONES. Mitchell. and possess deep knowledge of musical and cultural history. and Roscoe Mitchell (saxophones and percussion) rely on more than “primordial” instinct to remain compassionately engaged and responsive. and respond so instantaneously that even the most fractured. Clarinetist Eddie Daniels once remarked that Jones “is the synthesis of jazz piano from stride to bebop. The latter quality is amplified by exceptional sonics that capture a realistic spectrum. 53. and Lewis. the “dissonant” conundrums of free jazz. BOB BELDEN. George Lewis: Conversations NICHOLAS PAYTON. process. Hybrid stereo. These men are masters not only of their instruments and individual lexicons of extended techniques.

Puccini to Prince. his smooth solos unfurling like so much smoke.” Mastered by Bernie Grundman on a tube mono cutter. Walker” gets an airy Latin-tinged workout as Jones lays down long lyrical lines in a bluesy chat with his partners. the edgier sensibilities and adventurous musical vision of tenor and soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter— the former Miles Davis sideman and longtime Weather Report member— fuels Mysterious Shorter. which range from an eight-minute rendition of the spry Ogden Nash/Kurt Weill showtune “Speak Low” to Thad Jones’ tender ballad “A Child is Born.” and Cobbs’ own “Eleanor”—that really stand out. Never mind this minor complaint. But it’s the intimate ballads—especially Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom.” in which the musicians really get a chance to stretch their stuff. Check out the interlocking solos on the nearly nine-minute version of “Footprints” or the dreamy harmonies on “Teru. Thanks to Chesky’s commitment to highquality sonics. Classic Records’ outstanding series of Blue Note mono reissues continues with 1957’s The Stylings of Silver. reminiscent of Clifford Brown and Blue Mitchell. followed by Silver’s own “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”-themed piano solo. Fans of vintage Blues Notes and especially of Silver and his excellent horn players will find Classic’s release a welcome place on the record shelf. a lovely and mellow take on the WoodMellin ballad “My One and Only Love. tooclose feeling recorded trumpets often have. Hank Mobley’s tenor has a throaty. and while the bass and drums are also nicely captured. Art Farmer’s trumpet is likewise natural. “Soulville” is a playful minor blues that begins and ends with a start-stop beat and Kotick’s cat-walking bass line. HOT WAX The instrumentation caresses the listener. The dynamic range ebbs and flows with a natural balance. down-home number with plenty of sass and swing. while highlighting the inventiveness of five young players who succeed in their quest to be worthy standard-bearers. engineer.” which also showcases Cobbs’ deft percussion skills. warm. Classic Records/Blue Note 1562 (200-gram mono LP). Mysterious Traveler does what every good tribute CD should: It showcases all the strengths of the original material and invites the listener to explore Shorter’s works. Wes Montgomery’s light-hearted romp “Mr. And the players meld surprisingly well. you’d be hard-pressed to find a recording of light brushes and cymbals that possesses more realism. keyboardist Sam Yahel (on Hammond B-3 organ). thanks to the warmth of these recordings. this is the first time Belden has set his sights on a jazz composer. which generally lacks body and weight. red-hot band led by tenor and soprano saxophonist Bob Belden. However.” Victor Young’s “Stella By Starlight. bell-like tone. the exception being “Masquelero” from Miles Davis’ Sorcerer.” And the blues is never far away. the sound of Stylings is notably rich. Hank Mobley: Hank Mobley (Classic mono pressing) Fair Poor 136 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . without the bright. and is joined by trumpet star Nicholas Payton. “Home Cookin’” is a funky. burnished quality. especially in passages when the full ensemble is playing.” wherein tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley Excellent Good while “Metamorphosis” adds a dash of samba-infused spice. Ultimately. The horns in particular are strikingly natural sounding. Wayne Garcia Further Listening: Horace Silver: …and the Jazz Messengers (Classic mono pressing). which finds the Hard Bop pianist/composer and his bandmates in terrific form from start to finish. that’s a ticket to ride.Jazz has a buoyant touch that suits these tunes. A rousing pace is immediately established with the minor-key workout “No Smokin’. swinging 70s vibe that is particularly well-suited to Payton’s clear. Van Gelder had mixed results with Silver’s piano. and rather midnighthued. and continues with “The Back Beat. Jones digs even deeper to unleash brilliant soulinflected blues chops on Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce. The tunes provide the framework for a Music Sonics Extraordinary HORACE SILVER QUINTET: THE STYLInGS OF SILvER. GC Further Listening: Charlie Haden/ Hank Jones: Steal Away and Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter and trumpeter Art Farmer trade excellent solos over the Teddy Kotick (bass)/ Louis Haynes (drums) rhythm section. bridged by a middle section where once again Mobley’s and Farmer’s horns take flight. The album ends with the record’s only non-Silver-penned tune. This set of eight Shorter compositions features tracks culled from the reedman’s mid-60s and early 70s recordings. Rudy Van Gelder.” This cohesiveness is due largely to Yahel (who has played in the Yaya 3 organ trio with saxophonist Joshua Redman) and Drummond’s ability to provide the right amount of rhythmic glue. guitarist John Hart. and drummer Billy Drummond. spitty. who during the past 15 years has released a series of similar jazz recordings that re-imagine the works of everyone from the Beatles to Rachmaninoff. The breezy arrangements often bear a light. Meanwhile.

Excellent Good Fair Poor The Absolute Sound February 2007 139 . The longest though. Dan Davis Further Listening: Berezovsky: Chopin-Godowsky Etudes. The release at hand. We start with the premise that. engineer. is the second installment of a complete cycle. when the young Hindemith was considered a scandalous avant-gardiste. 79.05 (three CDs). The subdued Prelude and peaceful first Fugue draw the listener into the music. 101. which accommodates ten more sonatas on three CDs. 90. The interludes include some the work’s most riveting music. Its five pieces include movements called Boston and Ragtime.” but the Latin title doesn’t inspire confidence in pleasurable listening. Philipp Knop. Berezovsky’s playing throughout is superb. and with the Hindemith’s Ludus tonalis isn’t often heard. Martin Sauer. thoughts of “where has this music been all my life” surface. the seventh Interlude marked Molto largo. gently delicate when called for. for example. individually and especially collectively. monumental weight. But when played with the easeful virtuosity and vitality pianist Boris Berezovsky brings to it. so a newcomer has a lot to contend with when he goes into the studio: What Beethoven put on paper. and a flashy. piano. Liszt: Transcendental Etudes Music Classical Paul Lewis recently stepped into the fray with a disc devoted to the three sonatas of Opus 31. dashing in the virtuoso sections. Add to that its technical challenges. interpretive benchmarks have been laid down for these works by some very great artists. like the longest. Lewis comes to the task with strong credentials. 53 (WALDSTEIn). Paul Lewis. 22. and the listening perspective is that of a good seat in a decent hall. perhaps because its name doesn’t help. timbres are accurate. with a spicy. Like a great chef. indicating a Bachian exploration of polyphony and tonality. having coached with Alfred Brendel. Hindemith mixes and matches the flavors on offer. piano. percussive Shimmy. The Suite “1922” was written 20 years earlier. Anna Barry. and what the several generations of keyboard giants have engraved for the record. The piano is solidly located in the aural picture. Nevertheless. engineer. its release timed to coincide with Lewis’ concert performances of the canon in Europe and the United States during the 2005–2007 seasons. Harmonia Mundi HMC 901903. SUITE “1922. producer.HINDEMITH: LuDuS TOnALIS. and by the time the playful second Fugue comes around. nor does the work’s complexity. 14. is the poetic Night Piece.” Boris Berezovsky. Music Sonics Extraordinary BEETHOVEN: PIANO SONATAS OPP. there’s always room for new views of this music. 13 (PATHéTIquE). others crushing energy. and always with a firm line holding the structure together. Neil Hutchinson. it’s hard not to want to hit the repeat button. Which in turn means they cannot be over-recorded. some offer quicksilver fleetness. Berezovsky’s performance of Ludus tonalis reminds us that Hindemith wore his composing technique with a grace that enables the most complex sections to sound eminently musical. Warner Classics 63412. The CD’s booklet freely translates it as “Game of (musical) notes. light-hearted march interlude. This is one of those CDs where you don’t think about the sonics because the engineering does what it’s supposed to do—stays out of the way and lets you hear the music. still others. which Berezovsky plays with consummate tenderness. Its prelude and postlude flank a dozen fugues that alternate with 11 interludes. 106 (HAMMERKLAvIER). all done with the requisite ferocity. following the serene sixth Fugue. daunting for pianist and listener alike. new responses to its opportunities and challenges. 78. producer. Beethoven’s piano sonatas are works about which no one pianist can say everything there is to be said.

Engineered in 2006. Opera Lafayette. Recorded in 2002. Serkin. producer. the surprising turns of phrase. the tinkling of bells. and violent rhythms. is well-detailed. which Antonio Sacchini set the following year. There he began his desertion of his earlier Germanic hyper-Romantic style for more exotic musical climes. Wilcox and Antonio d’Urzo. including full-blooded choral sections. inspired far more 18th-century operatic settings. captures a lot of breathing and vocalizing in addition to the ample weight and bright tone one expects from a modern Steinway. the Songs Of A Fairytale Princess also lack immediacy. the unorthodox structural gambits. and comes nowhere near conveying the dynamic scale Beethoven calls for in these scores (a real drawback in the Hammerklavier). Max Wilcox. along with sections like the depiction of a misty mountain pasture. to judge from what is here. Excellent Good SACCHINI: ŒDIPE à COLOnE. Soloists. fragile coloristic writing. now it’s one of the easiest. Harnasie (Wit) A fortuitous injury exempted Szymanowski from service in the killing fields of World War I.660196-97. Soloists. from that same cycle. It used to be the piano was one of the hardest instruments to record. as though the goal were to make Berlin’s Teldec Studio sound less studioish and more like a recital hall. Sandwiched between the two song cycles is one of Szymanowski’s most popular scores. The mike placement. and a leading opera seria composer in the second half of the 18th century. and the overwhelming forcefulness of the argument—but his rationality. and Gilels. On the other hand. Fair Poor 140 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . If they seem to have less impact than the Love Songs. and musical brilliance to make an impact in a crowded field— precisely what Beethoven himself was trying to do when. the ballet Harnasie. the composer’s great exponents—among them Kempff. What shines through is not Beethoven’s brilliance—the daring harmonic feints. The plot concerns the eponymous bandit band’s abduction of a complicit bride from her wedding feast. EMI 64435. conductor. light bass. Mike Clements. and a veiled recording that obscures details. full of impressionist. Based on translations of medieval poetry. conductor. The six Songs Of A Fairy-tale Princess utilize texts by the composer’s sister.Classical support of an outstanding label that has an excellent record of identifying young talent and backing it for the long haul. Naxos 8. punctilious. Ryan Brown. engineers. City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. engineer. Ted Libbey Further Listening: Beethoven sonatas (Gilels). too often allows the drama of Beethoven’s long-range harmonic action to fizzle (for example. as a young pianist. the eight Love Songs are lushly sensuous. But the Love Songs Of Hafiz. Stephen Johns. not far off the strings and just in front of the pianist’s face. with firm bass and a nice bloom to Karnéus’ voice. he wrote the earliest of these works. the three on this disc orchestrated years later. permeated by flutes and harps. 101). the poise. producing the two song cycles on this disc. The sound on these discs is close up and very good. Rattle’s orchestra and chorus are up to the music’s demands but a weak tenor detracts from the whole. whose lovely mezzo adds further sensuality to the luxuriant orchestra. You haven’t? He was a contemporary of Haydn. All he lacks. it’s primarily because soprano Iwona Sobotka’s uningratiating voice makes their abundance of wordless melismas sound more effortful than luxurious. While Antigone. having come to terms with the terrible deeds of his young adulthood. personality. and perfumed orchestration typified by muted violins and delicate washes of color. The playing is deliberate. DD Further Listening: Szymanowski: King Roger (Rattle). though there’s a bit too much room reflection for my taste. hyperactive percussion. It was written in the 1920s and explores another exotic terrain. While it’s hard to reconcile the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses in this music. uninvolving. Lewis can be commended for bringing out the smooth connections between ideas. and the joyful command of the piano’s sonic resources that are to be found in these pages. Of course you’ve heard of Sacchini. Beethoven sonatas (Serkin) Music Sonics Extraordinary SZYMANOWSKI: HARnASIE. which he spent at his family’s estate in the Ukraine. Songs Of A Fairytale Princess and Love Songs Of Hafiz. even Pollini and Brendel (on a good night)—have been able to do so. LOvE SOnGS OF HAFIz. and to a great extent. The music largely replaces the composer’s hothouse impressionism with more muscular stuff. he has little use for rubato (how dryly he ends the second movement of the Pathétique). Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. producer. the march in Op. But they make their full impact through the singing of Katarina Karnéus. made in 2004 and in the same venue. Harnasie suffers from a reverberant setting. the highland music of the Tatra Mountains. Simon Rattle. SOnGS OF A FAIRY-TALE PRInCESS. are the imagination. You remember Oedipus at Colonus? You don’t? It was the last of three dramas by Sophocles based on the story of Oedipus—the one in which that quintessentially tragic figure reaches the end of his road. Oedipus at Colonus eventually made it to the musical stage thanks to a 1785 libretto by Nicolas François Guillard.

which with its dignified manner and emotional restraint harks back to Gluck and the style of the 1760s. BEFFA. rumbling blur. and evocative listening— especially without accompanying visuals. The sound has immediacy and an appealing naturalness. the real problem with Œdipe à Colone was not so much conceptual— quite a few masterpieces are flawed—as circumstantial: 1786 was also the year of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. By then. came just weeks after Marie Antoinette reneged on a promise to have this opera. that is also where it departs from the tragic grandeur of Sophocles. Jerry Goldsmith. droning. Notwithstanding that sad denouement to Sacchini’s career. Etienne Collard. engineer. the end result is tremendously powerful.” Like most film scores. where the libretto aspires to the noble language of Corneille. Paris—and suffered his share of disappointment along the way. the score boasts the built-in classical-crossover appeal of almost anything Kronos lays its bows to. But Mansell’s simple melodies burst with emotion when stretched to their dynamic extremes. reverberating soundstage in which individual elements inch forward with striking clarity and then recede into a chiming. Berlioz was right to admire it. Œdipe à Colone entered the repertory of the Paris Opéra and survived long enough to earn the praise of Berlioz. one still had to bring an opera to a happy conclusion. however. and works like Œdipe. EISLER. TL Further Listening: Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice (Opera Lafayette). Virgin 32626. producer. pleasurable. producer. and doing the spade work to prepare a performing edition of Sacchini’s score. The recording. BARTóK. The Fountain does not range too far afield from a few fundamental themes. With no gratuitous pop song tacked on. Credit first of all Ryan Brown. made from a concert performance with additional sessions. and pieces ordered in a logical narrative. With credits ranging from CSI episodes to the films Doom. were already outmoded. and there is much to admire in this recording. cello. detailed image of the orchestra and principals (the chorus. should exponentially increase his following. Craig Armstrong: Film Works 1995-2005 InvEnTIOnS. But this amalgamation was less than live. Frédéric Briant. occasionally comes off sounding a bit indistinct). Fair Poor 14 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Nonesuch 79901. and Sahara. Pi. KREISLER. “Together We Will Live Forever. Of course. who particularly liked the way the title character’s conflicting emotions are limned in the penultimate scene of Act III. Renaud Capucon. and James Horner (as well as legends like Morricone and Rota). Mansell’s third score for director Darren Aronofsky. perfect for this music. no doubt hastened by dissipation. admirably captures the ambience of a medium-sized hall. Clint Mansell had transformed himself from alt-rocker—as guitarist/vocalist for the British band Pop Will Eat Itself—into serious composer. KLEIN. Sacchini’s masterpiece. but falls just short of the bite and weight needed to produce a truly arresting sense of presence. opera had headed in a new direction. Although inhabiting a tier below such Oscar-toting big guns as John Williams. Solo turns are de-emphasized in a mix that strives for cumulative effect and achieves it on a huge. Brown conducts an affecting performance. violist Hank Dutt. and second using San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet. Mansell may soon be considered a top-shelf film-score stylist by genre aficionados who prefer darkly romantic atmospheres á la Angelo Badalamenti and Gabriel Yared to megaorchestral blockbuster bombast. and affords a solid. which effectively brings the opera back into circulation after more than a century and a half. placed slightly distant. But in late 18th-century France. a relatively recent arrival on the early music scene in the nation’s capital. Mogwai recorded its parts in Glasgow the month before Kronos went into Skywalker Sound in Northern California. and a vocal chorus was tracked independently in New York City. The twain do meet in nine tracks that reach an eight-and-a-half-minute climax in the breathtakingly dramatic “Death Is the Road to Awe.Classical He bounced around—Naples. despite occasional little insecurities in the string ensemble. Venice. Gautier Capucon. The Fountain makes for rich. substituting a happy reconciliation of Oedipus with his son Polyneices for the altogether grimmer conclusion of the original. Unfortunately. London. Excellent Good Beyond the cachet of the science-fiction adventure flick itself. For all the long-distance runaround. with standout work from the two tenors (Robert Music Sonics Extraordinary Gretchell as Polyneices and Tony Boutté as Theseus) and well-realized accounts from François Loup in the role of Oedipus and Nathalie Paulin as Antigone. and cellist Jeffrey Ziegler—leads the chamber world in exotic collaborations.” which gives Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) a run for his money before yielding to a reflective solo-piano denouement. The Fountain. including a particular repeated five-note motif (the backbone of “Stay With Me”) that echoes in one’s memory like tubular bells. Scott Fraser. for creating a first-rate period-instrument company in the Opera Lafayette Orchestra and Chorus. Kronos—violinists David Harrington and John Sherba. Derk Richardson Further Listening: Philip Glass: The Hours: Music from the Motion Picture. and end it with a ballet. the trendy post-rock allure of the Scottish band Mogwai. Mozart: Die zauberflöte (Christie) KRONOS QUARTET AND MOGWAI: THE FOunTAIn. His tempos are well judged and the playing is energetic and shapely. violin. as close as the “déluge” was to coming. MUSIC OF BACH. performed at Fontainebleau. and the intrigue generated by the wedding of the two. deep. Still. The singing and French diction are excellent across the board. MARTINU. His death at age 56.

Rimsky’s version is far more musically and dramatically cogent. Aside from Bach and contemporary French composer Karol Beffa. even if it’s accurate as hell. Likewise. is a powerful. Brahms: Piano Trios (G. producer. DD Further Listening: Capucon Duo: Face à Face. not the dangerously depraved aura it should generate. Andrés Villalta. Trombone glissandos aren’t nearly lewd enough. in 2003. “a history. pack a punch beyond their length with catchy tunes. Andrew Litton. “The Augurs of Spring” isn’t sufficiently emphatic and “Spring Round Dances” should be far more terrifying.” For the classic 1940 animated film Fantasia. The first movement of his Duo is full of fiery contrasts. Balances are good and the musicians are closely placed center stage. Andrew Keener. The Capucons begin with Bach. The performances are first-rate. Esa-Pekka Salonen. an entirely different piece than the familiar Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement. 2. conductor. Sid McLauchlan. OP.3 played by a pair of strings. endowed by Disney’s widow. Hybrid multichannel. Hans Eisler’s two-movement Duo opens with an attractive minuet followed by a puckish vivace movement. performed by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Walt Disney Concert Hall. The surround option doesn’t add much to a feel for concert hall. indulging in a sometimesanimated kind of minimalism that rather vanishes from the mind after listening. At first it seems odd to hear familiar pieces like the Gavotte from the English Suite No. 2. a brief. The Moravian Gideon Klein left few works in a brief life that ended in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. Dallas Symphony Orchestra. the power of the supernatural. all those bass drum thwacks in Le sacre—and smooth instrumental sonorities. engineer. the power of nature. ends in mid-phrase. the second. It’s fascinating but. DG’s sound features a robust bottom end—organ at the beginning of the Bartók. opened Excellent Good BRAHMS: PIANO CONCERTO NO. Le sacre was on the program when Disney Hall. There’s a slick homogenization to Salonen’s interpretations that is only heightened by the LAPO’s brilliant but sometimes bland virtuosity. Andrew quint Further Listening: Stravinsky: L’histoire du soldat (Järvi) (SACD). all the composers here were refugees or victims of Nazism. If the solid engineering may very slightly harden the violin’s upper reaches. Beffa’s Masques I and II. there’s atmosphere but little air. BARTóK: THE MIRACuLOuS MAnDARIn. Capucon) The shadow of Nazi Germany hangs over much of this disc. its unfinished state adding to the music’s emotional impact. as they say. but the music takes on an extra degree of expressivity along with elegance in this fine recording. playing seven of the 20 Duos for Violin and Cello arranged by Frederick Neumann from a variety of the master’s works. oddly. tend to the dolorous. The beginning of the Stravinsky work lacks a sense of organic awakening. Fred Vogler. The disc ends with Fritz Kreisler’s Miniature Viennese March. Fellow Czech Bohuslav Martinu’s 1958 Duo No. Of great interest is the rarely heard original version of Night on Bald Mountain—for all practical purposes. the iconic producer distorted both the meaning and musical substance of The Rite of Spring. The Miraculous Mandarin evokes only a generic sense of menace. Hyperion 67550. works that occupy almost a third of the disc’s 73 minutes. Stravinsky and Disney had. Missing is the last word in direct emotional potency—erotic power. conductor. This live concert recording from last January doesn’t quite make full amends for the ancient transgression. sweet dance movement in which the Duo becomes a trio with the addition of pianist Aude Capucon. its rhythmically supple Adagio is notable Music Sonics Extraordinary SACD STRAVINSKY: THE RITE OF SPRInG. and wide emotional range. Marc-André Hamelin. Marc-André Hamelin is still best known for his “super-virtuoso” technique and interest in off-the-beaten-track nineFair Poor 144 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . engineer. Even multichannel devotees may choose to listen to the very good DSD stereo mix. infuriating the composer. avoiding the unrealistic soundstage spread often heard in chamber recordings. seven miniatures adding up to about six minutes. a Lento. like his first essay in the form. it must be said. piano. it also gives us a sound picture full of vitality and captures the colorful playing of the Capucons. Mussorgsky: night on Bald Mountain (Reiner) (SACD) This SACD release—an increasingly infrequent event for Universal Classics— brings together three orchestral showpieces known for their elemental energy. Hybrid multichannel. A transcription of Bartók’s early Popular Hungarian Melodies.119. compact work that explores the coloristic and dramatic possibilities of the two stringed instruments. Part Two’s Introduction is short on the misty mysteriousness that so many other performances possess. rhythmic thrust. FOUR PIANO PIECES. both played fetchingly by the Capucons. producer. MUSSORGSKY: nIGHT On BALD MOunTAIn.Classical for soulful expressiveness. Deutsche Grammophon 289 477 6198. Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

is beautifully shaped. often provided as a filler on concerto recordings. always performing with nuance. who is a powerful player in person. slowly building her sorrowful song.) Here. especially the winds. Hamelin and conductor Andrew Litton achieve a kind of mind-meld in their reading of the Brahms Second Concerto. producers. still only 23. though. Every note is carefully considered. solo horn and piano define the character of the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. It’s followed by two much shorter pieces. Even if Fischer’s style isn’t as flamboyant as others. Excellent Good HOT WAX vILLAnCICOS. Fischer starts almost reticently. Yakov Kreizberg is a sensitive partner on the podium and at the keyboard. Clemencic Consort. There’s not great musical substance but Tchaikovsky fans will be happy to make its acquaintance. SéRénADE MéLAnCOLIquE. Harmonia Mundi/Speakers Corner HM 1003 (180-gram LP). The 5. but it will be hard for anyone to resist Fischer’s exquisite rendering of the central Canzonetta—sad and soulful without becoming sappy. Aq Further Listening: Scharwenka/ Rubinstein: Piano Concertos (Hamelin) (SACD). Sérénade mélancolique. Aq Further Listening: Khachaturian/ Prokofiev/Glazunov: Violin Concertos (Fischer/Kreizberg) (SACD). conductor and piano. Fischer is a profoundly lyrical player. never just pounds away.and twentieth-century keyboard material. Julia Fischer. For the finale. Pentatone 5186 095. there’s correct scaling of the violin.” as the liner notes put it. yet these readings never seem fussy.0 multichannel is naturally spacious. The program closes out with Souvenir d’un lieu cher. that have the feel of recital encores. vALSE-SCHERzO. and in the Concerto’s finale. He carefully shades the accompaniment to the Canzonetta. Yakov Kreizberg. three Intermezzos and a Rhapsody. The disc is filled out with the four pieces of Brahms’ Op. Julia Fischer. René Clemencic. near Amsterdam) with sonics for the violin/ piano work describing a smaller acoustic. the warm sound and mid-hall sonic perspective wear well. her technical execution does not disappoint. This is music-making of the highest order. possessing plenty of air around the soloist. engineer. with the gentle autumnal quality of much of the composer’s late music. Jean-François Pontefract. 119. Likewise. Stein. material ranging from a genuine warhorse (the Violin Concerto in D major) to infrequently encountered material. These recordings were studio jobs (Moscow and Hilversum. Harmonia Mundi/ Speakers Corner HM 1025 (180gram LP). plasticity of tempo. one fast and one of moderate tempo. with the Valse-Scherzo. Pentatone’s encoding is gentle on top. Above all else. Fair Poor 146 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . Job Maarse and Sebastian Stein. and subtle variation in tone color. performs with an emotional depth that belies her age. (See the TAS interview with Hamelin in Issue 129. As they play the Music Sonics Extraordinary TCHAIKOVSKY: VIOLIN CONCERTO. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto (Bell/Tilson Thomas) (SACD) This disc presents all the music Tchaikovsky wrote for solo violin. The Op. DAnSES AnCIEnnES DE HOnGRIE ET DE TRAnSYLvAnIE. The RNO reaffirms its status as one of the world’s great orchestras. 119 pieces were recorded in an obviously smaller venue in Suffolk. Russian National Orchestra. He’s quite willing to share the center stage with Dallas’ superb principal cellist in the gorgeous Andante. intensely communicative and attuned to the composer’s mastery of narrative form and structure. capturing Hamelin’s carefully shaded yet assured touch. They collaborate to realize both the quasi-symphonic nature of the piece—the expansive Allegro non troppo in particular—as well as the intimate character of the two interior movements that indeed come across “like chamber music writ large. you’d never know it from the lack of audience noise and Hamelin’s note-perfect execution. as subtly as Fischer shades her dynamics and tone color. They’re beautifully shaped. two-thirds of which is a “Méditation” that was the original slow movement of the Violin Concerto. Alberto Paulin. Gregorio Paniagua. Atrium Musicae de Madrid. engineer. violin. Hamelin. The outer movements of this excellent version of the Concerto may be too low in voltage for some tastes.Classical first bars of the opening movement. director. the pianist’s extraordinary technical facility can’t help but reveal itself as the Concerto is brought to an exhilarating conclusion. Hybrid multichannel. engineer. The eight-minute Valse-Scherzo was composed just before the Concerto— all of Tchaikovsky’s violin pieces were written within a three-year period—and is overtly virtuosic. he demonstrates his authority with core Romantic-era repertoire. director. Although Concerto No. Godowsky: Complete Studies on Chopin’s Etudes (Hamelin) teenth. 2 is a live recording. SOuvEnIR D’un LIEu CHER.

Back in the day—that is.” Now that’s a deal. brass. recorders. and Polish folk dances. Clearaudio virtuoso Wood cartridge. as in the “Ötödik Tanze” that begins the program. The vocal selections here deal mostly with love. such as the courante and sarabande. The constant variation in texture and timbre makes this an absorbing listening experience. gallo Nucleus reference3 loudspeakers. (“Kiss me and take me in your arms. The recording is breathtaking in its clarity but believable as a real-time performance. have a wonderfully earthy tone that brings to mind American bluegrass as much as European classical music. We hear an intriguing blend of familiar “international” dance forms. Sony SCD-Ce775 SACD player. my darling husband/and in the morning you shall have a clean shirt. dulcimer. Sonically. crumhorns. be matched even by high-resolution digital audio. zither. the string instruments. things get a little murky—but still. and Audioquest cables and interconnects.and sixteenth-century examples. a wide range of striking instrumental colors are rendered in the service of a program designed to give a sense of the music performed in Eastern European feudal courts. and a dizzying array of percussion. as yet. purely instrumental pieces as well as accompanied songs. The disc begins with a percussion cadence that convincingly moves from the middle distance to the foreground. In addition to the Renaissanceera material. “Ritka”. The 11-member Clemencic Consort renders all the dances stylishly. Bells jump out at the listener with a life-like purity that can’t. When the full ensemble plays. organ. higher-class courtiers elaborated on the genre during the Spanish Golden Age (“Siglo de Oro”) while maintaining its popular character. complex sonority of the bombarde alone is worth the price of admission.5 rack The Absolute Sound February 2007 147 . Speakers Corner gives us two marvelous specimens recorded in the late 1970s. Germany. etc. harpsichord. especially with drums. On the LP. Originally music of the peasants. The orchestration includes conventional forces of the sort that would have been heard in seventeenth-century France. The villancico is a centuries-old form of popular Spanish poetry and song. Atrium Musicae de Madrid—four of the six multi-instrumentalists/vocalists are members of the Paniagua family—perform fifteenth.—but also more exotic flavorings. is played. viols. Dances Anciennes de Hongrie et de Transylvanie was resident on Harry Pearson’s TAS Super Disc List. these grander selections have an undeniable sense of occasion.) An astounding variety of period instruments are utilized. One delightful selection toward the end of Side A. Monster Cable. keyboards. lute. Clearaudio Champion turntable. gamelan-like flavor to the material. imparting an almost Indonesian. Aq MuSIC eDITor bob geNDroN’S SySTeM bAT vK-300x integrated amplifier. notably bagpipe (bombarde). The unique. bright Star Audio Isorock gr3 speaker supports. Synergistic research. The same goes for the metallophones that appear in several pieces. SolidSteel 5. Panasonic DvD-rP91 DvD-A player. the day before the compact disc—Harmonia Mundi was known as an early-music label and its superbly produced LPs. Like the Villancicos record. Twenty years ago. including guitars. MIT. along with Hungarian. Gregorio Paniagua incorporates a few of his own brief compositions that are entirely in keeping with the character of the old music. Czech. the best moments occur when textures are relatively spare. rotel rSX-1065 receiver. on a xylophone. or England—strings. including that of the marital sort. Slovakian. unexpectedly enough. in a rhythmically vital fashion. over all too soon.

Ade Blackburn’s horror-film coo. members coming and going. Taishi Takizawa. Now four albums into its career. theremin-esque tones. chimes-ringing. somewhat overlong creation presents Ghost’s trademark mingling of Eastern and Western forms. lacking finesse yet compensating with explosive depth. and Kubrick-inspired cinematic bombast. though its latest obsession is the “springer. frame drums. Here. the Tokyo act’s peak moment in a career without a misstep. freeform jazz. The record also marks a return to Ghost’s improvisory roots. Though the lyrics are obscured. producers. The collective’s personnel has embraced similar flux. Beginning with death-raygun zaps and unfolding into an incense-scented sortie where noise-rock cozies up to meditative Asian currents.” tympani-led marching tracks that hypnotize in their refusal to deviate from a set. Clinic hasn’t drifted far from the template it laid out on its debut. Clinic. and tabla. and art-rock without permanently settling into any one field. When Clinic burst onto the scene in 2000 with its still-startling debut. locust-swarm guitar enveloping Blackburn as he yelps desperate incantations. Ghost’s achievement in attaining body-shaking physicality without turning to ear-deadening heaviness. and rotating machine to emanate heavy albeit fluid. the Liverpool quartet was viewed as something of an oddity. “Family” is an ominous introduction. refusing to dance with any single partner while tracing a creative arc that has spanned Krautrock.” a fusion fused of segments recorded at concerts. and propensity for donning surgical masks during its live performances. a resonance box. ghoulish blackmetal orchestration.Music Rock saxophone squeals teaming with reversefeedback swirls before the cacophony verges on the edge of meltdown. In Stormy Nights features the same fiveperson cast responsible for 2002’s Hypnotic Underworld. appearing and disappearing. sounding old and new in its blending of modern electronics and traditional instruments. Music Sonics Extraordinary CLINIC: vISITATIOnS. foot-pounded pianos. Sonically. Such components factor into “Water Door Yellow Gate” and “Gareki No Toshi. In Stormy Nights ends as it started—with mellow. howling melodica. the message is clear. And while seams occasionally show. a reaction to what the band perceives as martial governmental policies. recorders. wander-the-hills folk that relaxes as it exhales. prog. Ghost has stayed true to its mysterious and peripatetic moniker. Bob Gendron Further Listening: Kousokuya: 1979 First Live. This circle is altered on LP. With its tightly-coiled guitar drone. The group’s current arsenal includes contrabass. the experimental “Hemicyclic Anthelion” bests the bulk of similar attempts at stringing together segments. Until now. each of its seven prior albums has been accompanied by at least one lineup alternation. producer. Visitations is awash in fuzzed-out guitar. The challenging. and creep-show organ.” constructed by guitarist/ vocalist Masaki Batoh. Domino 128. the band looked and sounded like a holdover from the 60s garage era. yet the stamping Excellent Good pianos are authoritatively captured. Amon Duul: Tanz der Lemminge GHOST: In STORMY nIGHTS. Drag City 313 (CD or two-LP). while the sister song embraces the bamboo-snapping pulse of whisked cymbals. echoing 1992’s pieced-together Temple Stone in the 28-minute “Hemicyclic Anthelion. Since forming in 1984. The former leans on fuzz-cutting guitars. recurrent percussive rumble. The nightmarish ”Children of Kellogg” is a midnight chase Fair Poor The Absolute Sound February 2007 149 . which incorporates metal springs. the inner tonalities of the wood and wires coming across with reverberant body and presence. Pending on the format. a plasma ball. the quintet again twists the knob on the sonic kaleidoscope and brings into focus a fresh array of cosmic colors. the acoustic studio material fares best. A riotous cover of the Cromagnon’s “Caledonia”—complete with bagpipes from on high—completes the sequence. folk. where the ordering is slightly different due to the bonus presence of a sing-a-long version of “Caledonia”—a total gas. the outré collage echoes with manipulated frequencies before segueing into free-jazz territory. Internal Wrangler.

but six other musicians whose accompaniments imperceptibly support. The soundstage is surprisingly threedimensional.” a weepy ballad that seems to dust off an old brown bottle of liquor as it progresses. Brosseau further solidifies and deepens this relationship while taking listeners to a land that’s accustomed to being ignored. and small studio echoes hover in the distance. Fewer still have current itvirtuoso violinist Hilary Hahn as a guest performer. the words a Noah’s Ark of information. Grand Forks transfixes with uncanny presence. the quartet favors a raw sound. Not many artists invite both a former town mayor and state governor to pen liner notes to their album. delivered from moss-caked dungeons and whispered like a dying man’s last pleas. And while not traceable to any particular place. TAS 156). Brosseau keeps arrangements sparse. vocals are comfortably warm. and jazz-flecked folk (“Down on Skid Row. getting occasional assistance not only from Hahn. the band catching one last breath before an unavoidable end. Brosseau is a small fish in a what’s the biggest ocean in the music industry. straight-shooting. however. wherein Brosseau’s singing and playing retain an in-front-of-you simplicity that’s devoid of any sonic veil or interruption. guitar notes have lifelike decay. Pockets of air surround the percussion. his repeated finger-picked figure paralleling the river’s stubborn flow. Charlie Patton was with Mississippi. and every aspect is resoundingly natural. Excellent Good yet the sweltering weather triggered an uncanny sense of focus.” Brosseau’s foreheadline-rippling falsetto disappearing into thin air as it persuades and soothes). and Blackburn’s speakingin-tongues chants close in. and connected to history in the same way Doc Boggs was with Appalachia. the subdued instrumentation functioning as a miniorchestra. is fair at best. but instead concerning everyplace. “Plaid Lined Jacket. creating an undeniable sense of claustrophobia. ribcutter guitar. Hahn’s deft playing in happy marriage with co-producer Doe’s sympathetic harmonizing vocals). “Animal/Human” opens like a field recording from an ancient Druid ceremony before time-traveling guitarist Hartley lets loose a flurry of off-kilter funk guitar. The production aids in this feel. the batch directly and indirectly relating to North Dakota. producer.” but with Visitations Clinic has refined a style that’s wholly its own—a primitive. “97 Flood” belongs to the same folk songbook as Bob Dylan’s “High Water. whose under-the-radar status Music Sonics Extraordinary as one of the best American originals to emerge in the past three decades will shock anyone who comes into contact with his singular timbre and gorgeous narratives. “Dark and Shiny Gun” leads on with curiosity-killed-the-innocent themes. Brosseau brings a panhandler’s physical being. True. an event with obvious parallels to Hurricane Katrina. He’s an oddly beguiling figure. A sinister “Harvest (Within You)” finds drummer Carl Turney pounding out a tribal rhythm as wind-strewn organ. haunting murmur that sounds as if it’s obscured by centuries of cobwebs. Loveless 24. and bruised emotions to life.” arresting with eyewitness description and majestic minature-blues fills. The North Dakota native is in touch with his geographical roots. The proper follow-up to 2005’s What I Mean to Say Was Goodbye (Recording of the Issue. Longtime collaborator Greg Page helmed the sessions. There’s no sense of the heat that baked its makers. On Grand Forks. Musically. in love with his homeland. Primarily recorded during the summer of 2006 in a garage in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa. with X member John Doe assisting. though even it adds to the quartet’s mystery. fireside-lit croon. There are poignant waltzes (“Fork In the Road. gadgetry. The band follows suit.” the slight cymbal taps kicking random pebbles in a road). and with a compassionate Fair Poor 150 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . And an even smaller number are in the same echelon as Tom Brosseau. Brosseau subtly quivering and pausing during key moments. the album offers little innovation for anyone familiar with the band’s previous work. and old-fashioned soul whose effeminate voice and timeless compositions occupy a parallel universe in which the early 20th and early 21st centuries coexist and where technology. the 29-year-old uses the new record as a platform for his remembrances of the devastating 1997 flood. The imaging. a modest. and Lou Reed is with New York. Yet it’s the four closing tracks that numb the mind. stepping quietly and foreshadowing death with ominous grace. reveling in a dissonance that is as mesmerizing as it is unsettling. Brosseau’s calmness reflecting how at times humans must concede they have no control and yield to higher powers. country-flavored shoe-tappers (“There’s More Than One Way to Dance.” devours with universal pathos and uncommon humanity. sweeten. Blackburn’s vocals are run through woodchippers. Gregory Page. and advancements seem equally unnecessary and outdated. and flesh out the acoustic-guitar frameworks and pure. serene vocals. daily routine. Can: Monster Movie Recordinge of the Issu TOM BROSSEAU: GRAnD FORKS. By its nature. The self-explanatory “Here Comes the Water Now” gives into inevitable disaster. and there’s nothing that hits the emotional highs of Internal Wrangler’s “Distortions. which last year was bookended by the reissues of Tom Brosseau and the collection Empty Houses Are Lonely. cocooning Blackburn with reverb-heavy guitar and a low end that can best be described as menacing. A singer-songwriter. Andy Downing Further Listening: Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat.Rock through darkened catacombs that closes with a brief coda. The richness is palpable. Brosseau also takes opportunities to ink vivid character sketches that tie into personal folklore as well as elicit romance via his plaintive. particularly when their identity is virtually unknown.

but like the music. organ. desperate. Audacious on the artist’s part and courageous on the label’s part. One might say they waited thirty-five years too long. The southern rock ‘n’ soul on Disc 1’s The Rockin’ Record is lean and driving. musically. Besides the fact that Cale’s lyrics are lame and singing weak—not that Clapton’s aren’t. with no sharp edges or dynamic bite. Cale wrote 11 of the album’s 14 songs. lonesome. Gill’s lone misstep in that the title hardly does justice to the often turbulent emotional content here) is suitably majestic sonically on the orchestrated. harmonica. Lou Reed: new York VINCE GILL: THESE DAYS. As noted above. who wrote two of Clapton’s biggest hits. given the results. honky tonk. and poor. “Cocaine. by and large. it’s obvious he’s been there before. with the Del McCoury Band sitting in on two numbers) are right where they need to be thematically. bass. balladoriented second disc (titled The Groovy Record. producers. and features the sweetest guitar playing on the disc. bluegrass. all exquisitely crafted in terms of form and content. MCA Nashville 7334-7337 (four CDs). all idiomatically on the money as Gill works his way through southern rock ‘n’ soul. Faith Hill). and yet. BG Further Listening: Tom Brosseau: Empty Houses Are Lonely. is probably Fair Poor 15 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . gospel. Clapton is also responsible for one truly embarrassing song. Gill. The ClaptonJohn Mayer penned “Hard to Thrill” is another winner. traditional country. contemporary country-pop (which in Gill’s sure hands owes more to the Beatles than to. so casually and dispassionately tossed-off that the record’s 57-minutes seem twice that long. producers. and brushed snare. Vince Gill’s four-disc These Days set—four albums of brand-new music—is at its most mundane a country-music milestone. Justin Niebank. No artist in the genre’s history has ever simultaneously released four new records. Every track cannot be as transcendent as “The Reason Why. and all rendered instrumentally with consummate skill and electrifying commitment by a team of crafty veterans. grants pride to the homeless. rather than being made to stand out. Reprise 44418 (CD or LP). They’re pretty much all variations on blues or country shuffles. John Hobbs. CALE & ERIC CLAPTON: THE ROAD TO ESCOnDIDO.” but Gill’s remarkable achievement is in making 43 songs meaningful on some level. and western swing. and the guitars are firmly embedded in the mix. manages to keep an identity. and sonically.Rock twist. which. “Three Little Girls. are altogether a little too smooth and sterile. both gents seem like they’re doing all they can to not have their voices heard. Like these. whether he’s going for a dance-hall scorcher or exploring the soul. with the redoubtable Big Al Anderson as his most frequent collaborator). The stirring.J. socially conscious entreaty “What You Give Away.” in which he more than competes with Paul McCartney for the “sentimental slob” crown. Although J. classic American pop. things are clear enough.J. humming organ in the right channel even as the Floyd Cramer-style slip-note piano on the left evokes the spiritual drift Gill articulates in his self-flagellation. David McGee Further Listening: Jim Lauderdale: Bluegrass. Cale and Eric Clapton have Excellent Good a long history together—it was Cale.” and devastatingly melancholy in shaping a sludgy soundscape for the winsome mea culpa “The Reason Why. producers Gill. Music Sonics Extraordinary Moreover. which is a large part of the problem with Escondido. Clapton and Cale. either fastpaced or slow. Sonics are not bad. the discs subtitled The Country & Western Record (a honky-tonk album) and The Acoustic Record (mostly a bluegrass album. between the two of them the vocals are so reticent they might as well have been singing into their shirtfronts—there is little variation to the songs. Upon hearing Brosseau’s dignified coo.” seductively spare in evoking the ballet of a last-call come-on in the piano bar ballad “Faint of Heart. John Hobbs and Justin Niebank have framed this breathtaking sweep of American music as well as could be imagined. listeners get 43 songs—all written or co-written by Gill. Even the slowed-down guitar solos are very nice. For a fairly modest retail price. and the rhythm sections keep the groove steady and centered.” on which Gill’s Sophoclean agonizing is lent spiritual resonance by the deep. his bluebird falsetto striking a match of respectability for everyone who’s ever known what it feels like to be down-andout. guitars snarl all around the tracks or soar Allmanlike into the ether. Rodney Crowell and Del McCoury. Bekka Bramlett clears the field with a gritty southern soul workout on “The Rhythm Of the Pourin’ Rain”). gospel-styled backing vocals are suitably heated but in proper perspective to the fevered leads (note that on a disc that includes guest vocalists Gretchen Wilson. Oh. The tracks are also. There are a few highpoints: Brownie McGhee’s “Sporting Life Blues” showcases Clapton’s vocal (he actually sings on this one) against a sparse background of piano. with both men sharing or trading vocals and by-rote guitar riffs. after all. say. Ralph Stanley: Saturday night & Sunday Morning J. for the same reasons.” and “After Midnight”— The Road to Escondido is their first “official” collaboration.

and John Storm Roberts have become virtual superhighways. but beware of the city after dark. Myanmar. Pickler has a serviceable. Mongolia. filled as it is with preachy lyrics. producers. David Lewiston. friends. J. producers. Thus the greater purpose of Small Town Girl as pure product designed to maximize profits. just like all the others. Cat Stevens) has done many a good deed for any number of excellent causes—from AIDS to world peace to fund-raising for victims of the 2004 tsunami—and been widely recognized for humanitarian efforts. and thundering drums and call it country. And his lyrics set the tone for the album. such as “Maybe There’s a World. Wayne Garcia Further Listening: John Mayall: Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. and while the bottom end is quite punchy. wait’ll she gets a load of the cynical debut album of American Idol finalist Kellie Pickler. 19 Recordings/BNA 01797. and walking in the rain. some truly cringe-inducing passages (“…though day and night outwardly appear as enemies. Yusuf Islam (a. warm. But she’s merely working on a set list.a. just remember to carefully program the CD player. meaning you throw a crying pedal steel or a screeching fiddle into the midst of screaming guitars. and upfront. it doesn’t reach down very far. only the scripted between-songs patter is missing. Stevens fans will find a few nuggets in here. producer. Separation is rather wide. and Excellent Good TARTIT: ABACABOK. be very insulted. A couple of songs that begin on reflective notes (“I Wonder” and “My Angel”) soon devolve into bombast. It remains a smooth. dynamically lively. For his part. by and large. Vincent Kenis and Michel Winter. Slayer: God Hates us All By and large. and music that. A steadfast Fair Poor 154 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . reedy voice (think Dixie Chick Natalie Maines without the soul. And the songwriters are completely uncredited (except generically). Mutt Lange. No music. it seems. The opener. Rick Nowels and Yusuf Islam. Since his return to music in 1994. As an IPO. Blake Chancey. Shania Twain: Come On Over KELLIE PICKLER: SMALL TOWn GIRL. WG Further Listening: Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman. but too many are either bland love songs (to woman or God is unclear) or embarrassingly awful. like “When Butterflies Leave” and “Whispers From a Garden. DM Further Listening: Carrie Underwood: Some Hearts. and even hints of air around instruments and a touch of depth. not sings. who’s done exemplary work in his career (especially with the Dixie Chicks). didn’t 80s rock really suck? So why does it keep coming back disguised as mainstream country and biting us on the ass? If Faith Hill (who bears some responsibility for this disturbing trend) could freak out at the selection of American Idol alum Carrie Underwood as the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year. howling strings. A few tunes.k. yet both serve one purpose—each seeking the other”) against a world-music backdrop.J. crossed with Jennifer Nettles without the attitude). and prominent in the mix. recording some religious and children’s albums. “Midday (Avoid City After Dark). YA/Atlantic 94550. simply isn’t very interesting. and BNA staffers. Maybe not as sweet and effortless as it was in his youth. connecting Manhattan. The trails blazed by such globetrotting “world music” pioneers as Alan Lomax. Corny stuff about children playing in the park. trite emotions. Crammed 230015. Nor is credit. it’s mellowed too. Chancey’s done a great job crafting an aural assault that can be easily transposed to the stage for a roaring concert extravaganza.” isn’t a poorly crafted tune. is out of listeners’ reach anymore. Cale: Anyway The Wind Blows: Anthology with volume. The recording is quite vivid. and the first thing you’ll notice is that Yusuf ’s singing voice has changed little over the years. Be insulted. Subtlety and nuance are not in the playbook.” in which Yusuf recites. warmly captured. You’ll need a magnifying glass to find the musicians’ names amidst Pickler’s encomiums to family. finds his point of reference in 80s arena rock as channeled into the country mainstream by Shania Twain’s Svengali. Yusuf ’s vocal is smooth. friendly sounding instrument. Producer Blake Chancey. it’s a must to avoid.” sound like the old Cat Stevens. There isn’t a moment that indicates she can do anything but blow you away Music Sonics Extraordinary YUSUF: An OTHER CuP.Rock not such a bad thing. with tightly placed images. But the man’s first major-label release in 28 years is still tough to stomach. and Mali.

but this veteran “desert blues” band—founded in a southern Sahara refugee camp during the Tuareg uprising of the early 1990s— delivers a rougher. indigenous hand drums. et al. Tartit may be lesser known than the electrifying Tinariwen. Friend and Foe. Ali Farka Toure: The River New Yorkers proclaim to produce the best and most pure form of rap. Kanye West. drums. whose catalog of hits (and ever-expanding business ventures) is thicker than a Chicago deep-dish pizza. the sonics lack the typical punch and precision of his earlier recordings. Soren Baker Further Listening: Common: Electric Circus. Of the ensembles hailing from the troubled border territories of Algeria and Mali. Just Blaze. created a computer program. like archeologists reconstructing the skeleton of some ancient beast. Similarly. and Jay-Z is viewed as their ruler. skittish drums giving way to bowed guitar notes before a momentary spring shower of piano douses the track. Unfortunately. the band singing.” The two R&B stars deliver cheesy. Too bad those moments are in short supply. We may know only through the liner notes that the soloists are singing morality tales about loyalty to family. JAY-Z: KInGDOM COME. Menomena. corkscrew lead phrases enhance the hypnotic effect and spark additional voltage into the already transfixing performances. Music Sonics Extraordinary inspired funk of the title track work well with Jay-Z’s chest-thumping. midtempo instrumental swirls cast a mesmerizing spell.” “Air Raid” finds the spurned trio baring its teeth. and the miraculous power of music. Def Jam 804502. the inevitability of impermanence.” “Tihou Beyantene. Vocals. On the reflective. as much of Kingdom Come finds Jay-Z going through the motions. There’s plenty of buzz and expectation surrounding the return from feeble retirement of the highly regarded Brooklyn rapper. vapid choruses that match overwrought beats and uninteresting rhymes about strip clubs and being a celebrity. The wailing samples and horns on “Oh My God” and the Rick James- U Wanna Ride. Friend and Foe is as torn as the title suggests. Rhymefest: Blue Collar MENOMENA: FRIEnD AnD FOE. that allows the band to record sound fragments and piece them into larger compositions. piano-propelled “Lost One” provides a revealing look into the unraveling of Jay-Z’s business relationships with his former partners in the Roc-A-Fella company he helped build.Rock engineer with a mobile recording unit and a committed record label are all it takes to bring nomadic musicians from TimbuktuintoanAfrican-musicaficionado’s home in Paris or San Francisco. “Muscle ’N Flow” is indicative of the approach. the necessity of political solidarity. interrupting the momentum and highlighting the superfluousness of the emcee’s commentary and the R&B artist’s singing. guitars. which hits the types of highs associated with Jay-Z’s better material but also contains uncharacteristically sloppy songs that seem listless and uninspired on both the lyrical and production sides. and saxophone surfacing briefly before being dragged back below.” featuring John Legend. Instruments play hide-and-seek in the mix. Dre. Oregon trio. mostly acoustic sound that creates the sense of culture and place that has been creeping back into the music of African superstars of late. pitch-challenging voices. On its third album. The mellow. Brent Knopf. they hold the tunes together and offer a sense of continuity that might otherwise be lacking. Jay-Z seems largely uninterested in his own music on Kingdom Come. single-string gourd fiddle. on several tracks. Deeler. producers. and the pulsating. “Here I stand a broken man. Derk Richardson Further Listening: Tinariwen: The Radio Tisdas Sessions. Barsuk 60. fidelity to tribal traditions. “I got a stranglehold on indecision”. guitarist for the Portland. we-made-it meditation “Do Excellent Good Menomena songs are fractured by design. But the singers convey tremendous emotional depth and nuance. provided by all three members. respectively. the band turns its ADD into something both beautiful and ominous. flute) in a virtual semicircle— rendering them distinct even while they overlap in a natural-sounding array. unpolished.” “Al Jahalat. it’s easy to picture Tartit’s five women and four men making music for themselves by firelight in a tribal encampment. producers. Much of the same can be said for Kingdom Come.” and the title track. The most egregious errors occur when JayZ teams with Usher on “Anything” and Beyonce on “Hollywood. Listening to such songs as “Eha Ehenia. rawer. That’s not to say that the lyrics are any less shattered or conflicted than the music. electric guitarist Mohamed Issaag Oumar’s insistent. Dr. calculating delivery. and uncluttered mix situates the chant-like. A dry. As a bonus. a king who isn’t bashful about proclaiming his own greatness. the tunes showcasing two of Jay-Z’s biggest assets: ingenious wordplay and cold. aren’t recorded until the musical backdrop is complete. “I once believed you were my savior”. Jay-Z talks over almost all of Legend’s crooning. and stringed instruments (threeand four-string lutes. lashing out with a guttural bass Fair Poor 156 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . as well the seeming dissolution of his romance with R&B and film starlet Beyonce.

archiFair Poor 158 February 2007 The Absolute Sound . But then. has an authoritative rumble— surprising when contrasted with the relatively small soundstage. buzzing duke-it-out solos. the serious jaw-scraping occurs during the extended workouts of “Down By the River” and. Cerebrally riveting and impossibly heavenly. unreleased songs.” The latter. BG Further Listening: Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsies. the album’s lack of separation makes the songs sound compressed. where the music effortlessly assumes an organic posture that allows it to flow with the ease of a dripping spring. seemingly hinting every year about plans for soughtafter historical concerts. Imaging is slightly above average and the low end. Issue 162). the bass shapelier. pensively hopeful (“Wonderin’”). producer. and dreamy chorus that drifts in like a fleet of paratroopers. A unique. Young and Whitten don’t so much duel as they harmoniously embrace.” Whitten’s signature tune). Just as it is on the depressive genius of Tonight’s the Night. Young finally got serious about committing to the venture. Yes. And there’s more. AD Further Listening: Volcano!: Beautiful Seizure. lay claim to a natural chemistry that prematurely ended with Whitten’s overdose in 1972. particularly. benefiting from the extra care given to the out-front vocal harmonies. Augmented with electric pianist Jack Nitzsche and guitarist Danny Whitten. Young and his four-piece backing band holed up for a handful of shows at the famous New York hall. this has classic stamped all over it—there’s little need for introduction. Shortly after issuing 2005’s Prairie Wind. Young has at last released the first installment of the Neil Young Archive Performance Series (NYAPS). The Canadian legend planned to package the first volume as a giant CD-DVD box set. The veritable looseness. If the forthcoming installments are anywhere close to what’s here. the crackling tones sharper. Neil Young has been promising to open his archives for well over a decade. 1970. and carelessly addictive (the prophetic “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown. Paul Rothchild. had just hit. Back then. No longer sidetracked. a truly transcendent performance on which Young and Whitten seem to be in each others’ heads while Nitzsche reads beExcellent Good tween the lines. Apple/Capitol 79810. a single-disc compilation of he and Crazy Horse’s stand at Fillmore East on March 6 and 7. the burnedember tones splattered on agreeable country-rock canvases that are melancholically gorgeous (“Winterlong”). as the soundstage heightened and widened. eccentric. enamel-rattling bass and the lockstep march of military drums providing the snarling soundtrack to a grainy snuff film. the details more focused. and melodious exchanges hitting not only a sonic level. is purely hypnotic. Wilco: Kicking Television: Live in Chicago DVD-A THE BEATLES: LOvE. and oven-baked soul that transpires amidst these 43 blissful minutes are on a par with the top-notch ensembles of John Coltrane. instruments bumping up against one another like guests at an overcrowded party. and eggshell piano. Other times. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. By contrast. The schizophrenic nature of the tunes means that sometimes the band abandons an idea before it can fully develop (the too-brief sax-ual tension on “Weird”) while others linger in harbor a shade too long. albeit in a different manner. and the long-anticipated box is to soon follow. and this disc confirms. finger-plucked guitar. and recorded his guerilla Living With War (review. “Cowgirl in the Sand. here. and Bob Dylan and the Band. There’s a reel-toreel tape feel. though neither format solves the slightly blurry imaging wherein the players occasionally overlap.Rock line. Sonics are likewise hit-or-miss. George Martin and Giles Martin. Grateful Dead. simpatico understanding. especially the basset-hound howl of the saxophone. though first up is a “raw” edition of Living With War. foghorn saxophone. but one that’s physiological. stripped of background gospel vocals. The Beatles’ Love underscores Cirque du Soleil’s eponymous show. Young again leans on 96/24 DVD-V technology for optimum sound. “Weird” is even darker. the disc’s twentysix tracks weaving rebalanced tunes. As he did with Greatest Hits. consider the reissues landscape cornered. duck-neck grooves. The results are a modest improvement over the CD edition. Young was not even two years removed from going solo while his mesmerizing debut with Crazy Horse. Can the 200gram vinyl pressing be far away? Probably not. the musicians’ caution-to-thewind phrasing. the tender “My My” tiptoes on church organ. Morphine: Cure for Pain NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE: LIvE AT THE FILLMORE EAST. the always-enigmatic firebrand got upset with how the Iraq war was being (mis)handled. Music Sonics Extraordinary and scrapped demos. Reprise 44499 (CD and DVD). and occasionally extraordinary addition to the band’s catalog. the tragedy is again magnified. Of course. his near-deadly brain aneurysm sending a reminder to get a move on. taking advantage of high-resolution sound and video capability. scuffed rawness. keeping everything a-bob with murmuring organ chords. Volume II of NYAPS is allegedly being readied for a late spring date. producers.

5. DG. 8. The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls In America. In 2003. or the ornate transition that seamlessly links “Sgt Pepper”/“In My Life”/“Penny Lane”/ “Piggies” or “Hello Goodbye” melting into “Within You Without You. BIS. The Hat. (TAS 169) 5. Harmonia Mundi. Thirsty Ear. The Chair The Fact. Kenny Garrett: Beyond the Wall. Ben Goldberg: The Door. (TAS 163) 5. (TAS 166) 3. Cryptogramophone. (TAS 168) 7. Clipse: Hell Hath No Fury. 6. Thus. Nels Cline: New Monastery. envelopes the listener with the buzz-saw guitars of “Revolution. Keith Jarrett: The Carnegie Hall Concert. Codebook. And for those who’ve committed to memory the sequencing of each album. Love premiered at the Mirage in Las Vegas in June 2006. Evan Parker: Time Lapse. Naxos. Golijov: Ainadamar (Upshaw/Spano). 4. and samples and remixes that achieve an effect unlike anything the Fab Four and “fifth Beatle. avoid the stereo-CD edition and opt for the deluxe set with the high-resolution 24bit/96kHz DVD-A multichannel mix. odd segues and multi-song transitions. (TAS 162) 8. Born of the longstanding friendship that George Harrison and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Lalibert shared. Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar. the concept survived Harrison’s 2001 death. (TAS 167) 4. Joanna Newsom: Ys. George Lewis.” If you have multichannel playback. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Nonesuch. Pi. Mastodon: Blood Mountain. Blue Note. The hi-res stereo mix is curiously missing. Back Porch. Theater of Voices/Fretwork: The Cries of London. Muhal Richard Abrams. Lacking the visual panache of the stage performance makes the repurposed Beatles music initially disorienting. (TAS 163) 9. Ringo. Reprise. Beethoven: Symphony No. the hi-res multichannel version tri- umphs with channel separation. That said. Joel Fan: World Keys. 1. (TAS 163) 7. Patricia Barber: Mythologies. (TAS 165) 2.” After receiving endorsements from Paul. (TAS 162) 7. He maintains the haunting beauty of “Eleanor Rigby” by delicately shifting double-tracked vocals and harmonies to the rear. (TAS 165) 10. Hännsler. (TAS 167) 6. (TAS 166) 1. Scott Walker: The Drift. (TAS 164) 2. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain. Martin returned to Abbey Road to begin in what in his words was “a soundscape of around one-and-a-half hour’s length using any sound I needed from the original Beatles multi-track recordings. Greenberg: Symphony No. Sony. Merge. Music Editor 006’s best ClassicalAlbums By Andrew quint 006’s best Jazz Albums By Derk Richardson 1. (TAS 164) 8. Jive. Matador. (TAS 167) 10. Sound Grammar. DG. neil Gader Further Listening: The Beatles catalog BEST ALBUMS OF 2006 006’s best rock Albums By Bob Gendron. (TAS 165) The Absolute Sound February 2007 159 . and dynamics that are hallmarks of the format. snippets of familiar vamps and intros.” There are also clever track pairings—vide. Although the CD is good. Tzadik. the spiritual contrasts of “Within You Without You”/“Tomorrow Never Knows” and winking political ironies of “Revolution” and “Back in the U. Brahms: Piano Concerto No.R. (TAS 165) 6. Interscope. a first for any Beatles title. Paganini/Spohr: Violin Concertos (Hahn). Mission of Burma: The Obliterati. it can be downright weird to hear truncated songs.val matter. M. (TAS 169) 10. (TAS 167) 5. 2 (Hamelin/ Litton) Hyperion. Virgin. (TAS 167) 3. (TAS 166) 2. but this disc offers a tantalizing glimpse of things to come. Renaud and Gautuer Capuçon: Inventions. ECM. Ward: Post-War. there are some enormously creative elements.” producer George Martin. Anti.S. Rorem: Flute & Violin Concertos. (TAS 164) 3. Pi. the back channels are fully engaged and yet so tastefully balanced that vocals are never left in the shadows. Roscoe Mitchell: Streaming. Matthew Shipp: One. low-level detail. (TAS 169) 9. Berlioz: Requiem (Norrington). and Olivia Harrison. Vagrant. Yoko Lennon. (TAS 166) 4 (tie). ever produced.S.” and engages in some playful fun during “I Am The Walrus” by diagonally panning the menagerie of voices from corner to corner. Martin understands the subtleties of multichannel etiquette and knows that the center-stage is paramount. 4AD. Def Jam. Reference. Rudresh Mahanthappa. 9 (Vänskä/ Minnesota). Alejandro Escovedo: The Boxing Mirror. & Ghostface Killah: Fishscale. Drag City. It’s exhilarating to listen to rough takes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” morph into the final version. Cryptogramophone. 9.

your Jack russells. Analyzing the proper VTA and enjoying the music are separate processes. I think five years. There was more [analog] hardware being developed and further advances on the phonostage level and on the record level itself—certainly from us. Even though it’s a business. and a Shinon Red cartridge with boron cantilever. it’s sitting down with my children and listening to something that. Also during the digital format wars. And the first system you put together? It was a pair of Apogee Duettas run by a PS Audio solid-state amp. while the LP continues to enjoy such loyalty? The obvious things that come to mind are the Beatles.” Of course. and to please keep doing it. So even though I’m trained as a statistical economist. a Sumiko FT3 tonearm. My original prediction was. And that was happening even before there were advancements on the higher-resolution digital fronts. so there was a special thrill in that. a SOTA Star Sapphire with vacuum hold-down. Classic records Neil gader Classic records is now 13 years old. Someone once said to me that what makes you good makes you bad. What is your earliest memory of high-end audio? I was always a hi-fi buff. so I don’t spend a lot of time tweaking when I want to listen. Are you surprised at the resiliency of the vinyl market? different parts of the room. I got introduced to the high end. Is it generational nostalgia or is there something else going on? The first was with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. TAS . a CJ PV-5 preamp. I was kind of an early surround-sound proponent. Annie and Mugsey. After I got out of graduate school and had few nickels to rub together. The lesson to be learned is that with any technology it takes time for us to learn how to process it. but I guess it was really mid-fi. And when I heard Zarathustra. and know it wouldn’t just fall by the wayside. that was when there weren’t many turntables and sales were going down. One of those blissfully ignorant things—like running four speakers at once with an A/B switch. I’ve developed a degree of patience in terms of finding the right time and the right approach. but I will admit that I’m not a super-tweaker record-to-record. in my opinion is as good a job as we could do—a phenomenal job in many cases. The market changed in a positive way—a way I hadn’t originally anticipated. It seems like LP mastering and playback keeps improving. In the early 90s I was asked how long I thought this was going to last. How do you explain how advanced formats like DvD-A and SACD have fallen to the wayside. For the analog klutzes among us. But it’s always timing that’s important. It’s only recently that we’ve been truly able to get off the disc everything that was on there. And there are Dylan titles that we’d want to get to. On a more selfish level. all formats seem to follow the same path. Is there a lesson to be learned from this? Interacting with people who say they love what I do. for me the musical experience makes it worth the effort and inspires me to continue to do this. That was the first thing we ever did. It’s been said that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at the breed of dog they own. the LSC-1806 with Reiner conducting the CSO. and that’s absolutely. “I don’t know. with a format that’s familiar and makes us feel warm and fuzzy.BACK PAGE 11 Questions for Michael Hobson Founder and President. You could buy this format. I always say that it’s easier to encode than to decode. And there’s still a lot of that going on with digital. analog became a safe place to be. do you still adjust your own vTA? I do actually. What’s the biggest “get” you’ve achieved with vinyl reissues? I am actually. upgrade your playback. For me it’s the relentless pursuit to make the best possible records. even though it was only two stereo pairs in 160 February 2007 The Absolute Sound Jack Russells are known to be relentless. with overhead and all that stuff. I guess I did a fairly miserable job. Is there a dream reissue that you haven’t nabbed yet? There is definitely a segment that’s about men like us trying to recapture a little bit of their youth—maybe a simpler time. That gives me a lot of inner satisfaction. What still inspires you about your work? There’s the nostalgia standpoint and what I call an analog revival to a stable point—not dying or growing but merely stable over time. positively something I’m guilty of. are a breed noted for energy and tenacity. Do you think this says anything about you? Interestingly.