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Accuphase DP-570 CD/SACD Player

The display is configurable, and can show sampling frequency and quantization bit depth when using as a DAC, and count-up or count-down timer for each track, or the complete disc. Output level can be adjusted from full, to -80dB of digital attenuation and you can programme the order of play for a disc. Or, you can just press ‘load’, bung in a disc and press ‘play’…

Back to that Beethoven Arietta, and after the quiet, almost meditative opening, there’s a busy, syncopated variation on the theme that has never quite gelled for me. It used to sound a little like the accompaniment to a silent movie, and the contrast with the opening section felt a tiny bit crass, slightly inappropriate and brash. I’m not saying I’ve been turned around entirely now, but the Accuphase has shown me another side to Brendel’s interpretation, his phrasing is less overtly bombastic, and the music is now teasingly fugue-like in places. There’s still plenty of musical contrast, but now it belongs together better. An altogether more cohesive and satisfying experience.

And that’s the particularly interesting thing about this player – it has a remarkable ability to give me new insights into music I thought I knew well. It’s not about mere detail, I’m not talking about those ‘oh, never heard that before’ moments, it’s more the sheer number of ‘oh, now I get it’ moments. Graham Fitkin is a modern, British composer of often fiendishly rhythmically complex music. Usually, it’s piano-based, but he’s done an album of electronica, Kaplan [Black Box]. ‘K1’ the first track on the album, is over 15 minutes long. I’ve tended to think of it as 13 minutes building up to a great 2 minute payoff, and the 13 minutes is just what you get through to enjoy the payoff. I believe I may have been mistaken. The opening couple of minutes was always good, a slow-burn build to something, but I always felt a bit short-changed by what the something turned out to be. This time, however, I was captivated, and what often seems like a long-ish 10 minutes was over in what felt more like three. There’s variety, tension, and that slow burn comes back, redoubles itself, and urges you forward.

I admit, I was surprised, because my dCS player is better than pretty much anything I’ve heard at unravelling complex music. So what’s going on? Well, 10 years has passed and current DAC chip technology is clearly as good as dCS’ discrete tech of that era. But I’m putting my money on the way Accuphase handles the signal once its out of the DAC. The obsession with low noise technology, preservation of the phase relationships, and their undoubted skill with analogue stages just takes everything up a notch.

Timing is exquisite. I try not to over-use superlatives, but it feels like the right word here. The various parts of the music integrate so precisely, yet effortlessly, you can’t help but be drawn into the experience. It’s like your conscious brain is bypassed and this plugs directly in to the bits that respond to music. Instrumental and vocal timbre also goes up a level. The way the DP‑570 resolves textures off regular CDs reminds me of what I value from SACD. There’s more three-dimensionality and solidity to performers and instruments. I’m not talking about the old hi-fi tropes of imaging and soundstage, though these are also effortlessly rendered. It’s more that it’s easier to conjure up a solid person, playing a solid instrument in a real place, rather than the more usual holographic but ultimately two-dimensional construct within that soundstage. And again, your brain does this without apparent effort. It’s as though the player has found an extra bit or two of resolution from the disc. An old favourite, any track, but let’s go with the title from Laura Jurd’s, Landing Ground [Chaos Collective]. The string quartet backing veers from woody, stringy, string-quartetty stuff, to choppy, urgent, stabby stuff, all the better for Jurd’s trumpet to float over, or cut through, and all compellingly enriched by bass, piano and drums. Here and now, I’ve never heard the percussion exude such physicality, and the trumpet’s phrasing is loose and liquid; this is a living, breathing ensemble creating a vibrant and compelling musical event.

As you’d expect, SACD replay takes this to another level. ‘What a Shame’ from Patricia Barber’s ‘unmastered’ SACD pressing of Café Blue [Premonition] had almost uncanny levels of realism – real raising the hairs on the back of your neck and arms stuff – and while I already knew these were consummate musicians, the way this quartet works together, playing off each other, creating textures, complex rhythmic interplay, and rich and interesting timbres, is just a constant source of delight. On ‘Mourning Grace’, piano, bass and percussion have never sounded so tangible, connected and coherent, and Barber’s vocals were startlingly ‘present’.

Norma Audio Revo IPA-140 Integrated Amplifier

It doesn’t really matter how you configure the Norma Revo IPA-140 though; what you get regardless is an extremely consistent, elegant-sounding and communicative amplifier. There must be something in the water in Cremona (where Norma comes from) because the magic of those wonderful Cremonese violins made by the likes of Amati and the Stradavari family rubs off here. The amplifier is like a highly enjoyable music lesson; playing the melody, harmony, tone and form of music extremely well and teasing out the playing and the composition with ease. In particular, though, the Revo IPA-140 is especially good at understanding the texture of both the music and the musicians playing on record. While elements like counterpoint are easy to follow when you are listening to a Bach invention, they are not so easy to find in prog-rock, even when listening to the pop-pomp of ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ by Yes [Fragile, Atlantic]. Often, the complex layering of organ, Mellotron, synth and piano (all played by Rick Wakeman) blur. Here the synth still dominates, but its place in the musical whole does not overpower.

I generally find you use a series of recordings as test discs, even if none of them cause the product to trip up, usually some are better than others and it’s rare to find a device that copes equally well with the dynamics of an orchestra wigging out to Mahler or Wagner, the delicate interplay of a string quartet or a jazz combo, the pounding rhythm of rock or dance music, the subtle layers of detail needed to process a female vocal or solo piano, and the spatial soundstaging qualities of well-recorded choral or live folk. The Revo IPA-140 gets closer than many at achieving that balance. If you laid these elements out on a radar chart, you’d get almost a perfect circle, with just a slight uptick in soundstage presentation, and half a point away in the ‘pounding rhythm’ part. But even at its weakest aspect, the Revo IPA-140 is still very strong, and it’s only the likes of ‘Change the Formality’ by Infected Mushroom [Vicious Delicious, BNE] that highlight the mild limitation to the sort of high-speed leading edges that end with speeding tickets and broken drive units from all those square-waves played at ear-splitting levels. But even if you are not quite grown up enough to leave techno out of your listening pleasures, the Revo IPA-140 has much to offer. But when you play something more open and live sounding, like ‘Satin Doll’ by The Three [Inner City] – which is audiophile dinner jazz at its worst but shows up the spatial qualities and coherence of a system with ease – you are met with a holographic and easy to love sound.

A great thing about the Revo IPA-140 is it is not so powerful as to need a safe-cracker’s touch at the volume control, yet beefy enough to shake the drivers of bigger fish in the loudspeaker sea. I used a selection of loudspeakers from the regular Wilson Audio Duette 2 and Audiovector R1 Arreté fixtures to upcoming superstars like the Børresen Audio B01 Silver Supreme Edition. At least one of these should be outside the comfort zone of an amplifier like the Revo IPA-140, and yet it achieved the same effortless, entertaining and enticing performance throughout.

There’s not a lot to dislike here. I guess if you are into bragging rights, then the absence of DSD and MQA might rankle, and the name ‘Norma’ is more about ‘indie’ cred than mainstream brownie points. Also, if you are into box-swapping and like to change your amplifier with every season, the long-stay enjoyment of the Revo IPA-140 might not make it your first choice. At 25kg, it’s also heavier than you might expect given its size and those of us with the scar tissue from bad lifting moments know how that can pan out. Finally, I guess not changing the product’s appearance means if you buy on the second-hand market, you might not know precisely which iteration of Revo IPA-140 you are buying. Then again, it’s an amplifier, not a wine… it doesn’t have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years, it doesn’t need ‘laying down’ or ‘drinking up’ so if you get a good amplifier irrespective of when it was made, but as these amps are extraordinarily well built, you might be unable to differentiate an amp from 10 years ago with one from today. If that sounds like not much of a criticism, you are absolutely right… I’m struggling to find fault here.

Melco S100 Network Switch

Initial impressions of the S100 were based on a contrast with a Netgear GS108 powered by a Longdog Audio linear power supply, a rather more affordable package that made the newcomer sound very sumptuous indeed. The obvious benefits were better timing, a much stronger sense of body to the sound and a significant reduction in coarseness through the mid and treble. It made the Netgear sound flat and hard by opening up the soundstage and putting space between the instruments and voice on Michael Chapman’s Rainmaker [Harvest] and making it sound like a much better production than was previously apparent. It also made me wonder why this man’s earlier work is not better known.

With Keith Jarrett’s Budapest Concert [ECM] the piano notes are remarkably clean bright and shiny, as if a veil of grunge has been removed so that the purity of the recording can come through. This also means that the quieter sounds like audience coughs are apparent and that the solidity of the piano, its presence in the listening room is that much more palpable. More important perhaps is that the melodies he plays are that much easier to appreciate, the reduction in noise lets you hear the nuances of playing clearly and you feel a stronger connection with the player. In truth this switch will be a revelation if you are still using a IT peripheral like the Netgear.

With a Cisco 2960 which is a well regarded IT switch in audio circles and using files from Qobuz rather than local ones as above, the results were similar to the earlier showdown. Here the Melco opened up the sound allowing the highs to sparkle and the imaging to solidify, and the hard edged nature to ‘digital’ sound was largely eliminated to let the music flow in a highly natural, vinyl like fashion. The Cisco times well but the S100 bettered it in this department by introducing greater rhythmic sophistication. I stuck on what has become a bit of a bass reference track in Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ‘Natural Mystic’ (Natural Mystic (The Legend Lives On), [Island} and was impressed with just how gorgeous the bass is on this recording and just how much shape, depth and texture it can offer up when the system allows it.

Up against the current crop of high end network switch competition things are much more closely fought and the differences become nuanced, however the Melco’s inherent musicality helps it to shine even in pricier company. I particularly like the way that melodies, grooves and rhythms are so well delivered. It achieves this by giving the impression that there’s all the time in the world to present the notes in the correct order and at precisely the right time. Devices that time well are often described as fast but while the S100 could never be called slow, it has a sense of effortless coherence that makes a very strong case for its approach. It allows the drive and power of William Tyler’s ‘Fail Safe’ [Goes West, Merge] to come through in full effect but without any sense of grain or digitality about it. The syncopation that the Grateful Dead achieved is delivered superbly, the relatively rough nature of the recording on Europe ’72 [Warner Bros] is evident but in no way emphasised as is often the case with a recording that captures the band at their finest tight but loose selves. Once they get rolling with the Melco feeding an Auralic Aries G2.1 streamer and Métronome Le DAC converter you just have to go with the flow, there is no inclination to do anything else.

This Melco really does bring many of the qualities of good analogue replay to digital streaming. It doesn’t turn your music files into the sonic equivalent of vinyl but gets pretty damn close if the rest of the components are up to the job. There are a number of albums that I failed to discover before the vinyl revival caused prices to skyrocket, Europe ’72 among them, but this switch goes a long way to making up for this unfortunate side effect of an otherwise good thing.

Monitor Audio Bronze 200 Floorstanding Loudspeakers

At the rear of the cabinet there are a couple of Monitor Audio’s carefully rifled HiVE II bass reflex ports – one is quite near the top of the cabinet, the other quite near the bottom. The lower port is positioned just above the gold-plated biwirable speaker binding posts, which join the crossover via oxygen-free silver-plated copper cable.

Each speaker stands on four individual ‘outrigger’ spiked feet. They’re a nice colour-match for the cabinet and they do their job admirably, but they add a little to the 22 x 30cm footprint of the cabinet itself. Nevertheless, if you take colour, finish and dimensions into account, the Bronze 200 are among the most unassuming and easy-to-position floorstanders around. And there are foam bungs for the reflex ports in the packaging, too, in case you’re tempted to push the Monitor Audios up hard against a rear wall.

Behind the magnetically attached grilles, the Bronze 200s feature a 25mm C-CAM gold dome tweeter and a couple of 140mm C-CAM mid-bass drivers. Monitor Audio has been convinced of the efficacy of ceramic-coated aluminium/magnesium as a driver material for almost thirty years now – it will happily rhapsodise about the material’s lightness/rigidity ratio. Here the mid/bass drivers are in a continuous profile arrangement – and while I don’t for a moment doubt the rigorous engineering principles behind this, it also adds to the rather tastefully understated aesthetic of the speaker as a whole.

The gold dome tweeter has been a Monitor Audio favourite even longer – it was first introduced all the way back in 1986. It too is an aluminium/magnesium alloy coated in ceramic, which is then gold-anodised for ideal stiffness and damping – the company reckons the first order of breakup is beyond 35kHz and up into dog-whistle territory. Here the tweeter is sitting behind the company’s Uniform Dispersion Waveguide – it’s a hexagonal arrangement, broadly speaking, acoustically transparent and visually quite dramatic.

Monitor Audio is claiming a frequency response of 35Hz to 30kHz, which – on paper, at least – looks quite a big ask of two very modestly proportioned mid/bass drivers. Crossover frequencies are an unremarkable 700Hz and an interestingly low 2.4kHz.

As far as performance goes, it’s important to a) keep price uppermost in your mind and b) not partner the Bronze 200 with anything wildly inappropriate. Therefore b) is taken care of by all the critical listening being conducted using Marantz’s evergreen PM6006 stereo integrated amplifier as the engine. Sources extend to Rega’s Planar 1 turntable (with Planar 2 tonearm, admittedly), a venerable (for which read ‘elderly’) Arcam CD73 disc player and an AudioQuest Beetle Bluetooth DAC for use with both Android and iOS smartphones. The connection between Marantz and Monitor Audio is made using QED XT25 speaker cable.

And because a) is equally important, the suggestion of tonal warmth and absolutely bog-standard level of detail retrieval when listening to a 180g vinyl reissue of Pink Floyd’s Meddle [Pink Floyd Records] needs to be put firmly into context. The Bronze 200 may err on the side of caution, but they’re nevertheless an engaging and musically adept listen.

Certainly they’re not short of bite or attack at the top of the frequency range, that hint of heat notwithstanding. The combination of gold dome tweeter and Uniform Dispersion Waveguide serves up a wide, yet properly focused, top end – and it has the body and substance to prevent the treble attack becoming wearing.

The story is pretty similar in the midrange. The tonal balance is skewed, slightly but definitely, towards the warmer side of neutral – but, if anything, it rather suits the overall sound of Fearless in general and David Gilmour’s vocal in particular. This heat doesn’t translate to a lack of rigour, either – the Bronze 200 demonstrate good control of the midrange, particularly where attack and decay are concerned. And there’s plenty of dynamic variation on show when the band begins to politely force the issue as the song reaches its Anfield Kop conclusion.

Switching to a CD copy of Life Without Buildings’ Any Other City [Tugboat] allows the Monitor Audio to demonstrate an equally authoritative way with the lowest frequencies (as well as confirming the claim for a 35Hz frequency response as optimistic in the extreme). The repetitious, locked-groove attack of New Town is given proper propulsion by the speakers’ ability to snap into and out of bass sounds with real positivity – rhythmic expression is, as a result, very decent. There’s worthwhile texture to low-end sounds, too.

The soundstage the Bronze 200 describe is hardly what you’d call ‘expansive’ but it’s cogently laid out and never sounds crowded. And while they’re not quite from the ‘whisper to a scream’ school of dynamic potency, they breathe deeply enough to make the peaks and troughs of a recording plain. And it’s a trait that lends itself to more modest listening environments – these speakers do what they do without demanding a huge amount of space in which to do it.

Music Interview: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Who or what were your main influences for the sound and feel of this record?

There’s a lot to that question. I guess I could say everything. We have songs inspired by artists like the Ohio Players, Willie Mitchell, The Roots, Stax, Motown, etc. Then we’ve got songs inspired by our daily lives, like walking down the street and hearing all the different sounds all at the same time, or dealing with friends or family dramas, which can produce amazing music. Some people just can’t or don’t hear all that noise around them, but I do.

How were the recording sessions? What can you tell us about how the album was made? 

Our sessions are super-chilled. We’re on the road so much that we write our tunes during sound checks, and, depending how it goes, we’ll try to play them at the end of the night. What is music without taking some chances?

Most of the tracks on I Told You So weren’t even complete songs when we got to the studio. Being that we all live in different cities and states, it’s hard for us to get together and rehearse, but when the opportunity arises for us to do so, we get a lot done in a very short amount of time.

Prior to recording the album, we were on a tour of the US, Canada and Europe for a little over two months. A lot of this album, and then some, was written during those sound checks, but they were just one-chord grooves when we got home. We had three days from the end of the tour until the recording session, so we had to finish most of the tunes right before recording them.

Was the album recorded live? 

We recorded everything in the same room, close together with no headphones. Everything on it was played straight through – mistakes, noise and all. There’s no separation of our instruments whatsoever. It’s just how we do our live shows. I love that sound.

Where did you make the album?

It was recorded in Seattle, at Blue Mallard Studios, with owner/engineer Jason Gray, who is also the bass player of the band Polyrhythmics. He knows exactly how to capture the feeling and vibe that I love.

Also during the studio session a guitarist friend of ours, Ben Bloom of Polyrhythmics, just happened to stop by, so I asked him if he had his guitar with him and he did. So I said, “grab it!” He had to be somewhere in 15 minutes, so I said, “let’s see what happens”.

The song he played on is called ‘Right Place’, ‘Right Time’, and we literally wrote and recorded it in less than 15 minutes. It was just a bassline groove and it had no melody, no bridge, and no parts, but it turned out fantastic. Ben’s solo on that tune is nothing short of amazing.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest will be no more

The following is a press release issued by Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

September 2, 2021 – A year and a half ago, our hearts were aching as we made the hard decision to cancel our 2020 show. Back then, we somehow imagined that as a country, we could band together and transcend COVID-19, and our lives could return to normal. We hoped we could ride out a year in isolation and emerge healthy and ready to gather again. Here at RMAF, we spent the year improving our business by producing new room layouts with all the outlets marked, and created a handbook to guide exhibitors as they learned yet again to navigate their exhibitor accounts. We imagined ourselves enthusiastically greeting our audio industry friends in a few weeks, and we’ve held onto that dream in spite of our nervous fears and scary news reports.

Even though some parts of the United States are fully open, the number of people contracting the virus, and the number of deaths attributed to it are still rising, and the CDC is projecting an even more deadly Lambda wave this fall. We are frightened on behalf of our friends in the audio industry on many levels. The very worst thing that we can envision is for someone to fall ill because they came to our show, whether as an exhibitor, a journalist, an attendee, or a volunteer. Good health is a precious gift, and we are learning that although recovery is possible, the residual effects of COVID-19 and its variants can be profound, and we are unwilling to risk even one case. Up until now, we have held onto the possibility that our October show could be produced as planned. After reading and listening to the news concerning the Coronavirus pandemic, and watching the cancellation of numerous other shows, we no longer hold that hope. In spite of our initial optimism, we have read and listened to all of your thoughtful comments and then looked at the numbers and made the difficult decision to cancel RMAF 2021.

As is our policy, RMAF will be issuing refunds to those exhibitors who have made payments for their rooms. We understand that in times such as these, finances can be a delicate balance, so you may expect to see your refund within the next 7 to 10 business days.

This has been a wrenching decision, and along with it comes the added impact of deciding that we are no longer able to envision RMAF as our hearts delight. RMAF was our founder Al Stiefel’s dream, and we’ve done our best to nurture his vision for 12 years, along with help from the Colorado Audio Society and all our volunteers from around the world. Now, we are off to new adventures! And so it is with both sadness and anticipation for the future, we announce that the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest as we have all known it will be no more. It has been our very great pleasure to have served this community of audio professionals. We have learned so much from you! Thank you for 17 years of friendship and support. It has meant more than you can possibly imagine.

We offer you our heartiest wishes for good health and great happiness.

Your Friends,
Marjorie and Marcie

Marjorie Baumert and Marcie Miller
Rocky Mountain International Audio Fest
October 8-10, 2021

Audio Enthusiasts Get Together in London – Sunday September 19th

German Physiks will be demonstrating their HRS-130 omnidirectional loudspeakers at an audio get-together organised by the Audio Enthusiasts Facebook group. Also participating will be Gekko cables, Funk Firm turntables and our London dealer Ajay Verma of Art+Sound, who will be supporting us with electronics from Pass Labs, Canor Audio and Matrix Audio.

The venue is:

The Bedford Pub

First Floor Private Dining Room

77 Bedford Hill

London SW12 9HD

Doors open at 3 pm and close at 8 pm. The Bedford Pub is 2 minutes walk from Balham station.

If you would like to attend, please register your interest on the Events section of the Art+Sound Facebook page at https://fb.me/e/Ztb77mfQ.

Copland CSA-150 Hybrid Integrated Amplifier

Driving my Wilson Duette 2 speakers the CSA-150, like other quality integrated amplifiers before it, found willing partners in musical expression. Such an expensive speaker with a high performance plateau would seldom be used with the Copland but it is a useful microscope into its performance. The feeling of space and the lack of any sort of grain or edge was welcome in that it lends a feeling of confidence in the system. It treads the line between being incisive, fast and articulate and expansive subtlety and nuance extremely well. During one of my lengthy listening sessions where I was concentrating on listening to trios I stumbled across Garden Of Expression by Joe Lovano, a classic three piece of sax, drums and piano. This is a classic ECM recording through and through. Lots of space, inky black backgrounds and an uber-clean production approach allowing the musicians the space and resolution to move beyond the studio and into your listening room. These elements played right into what the Copland does so well. The playing is often very minimal, the melodies stripped of embellishment and a sense of atmosphere and an ethereal mood that few producers can summon. Manfred Eicher is a master of the genre and has been producing music flavoured like this for decades now. Within the framework of what seems like such a simple acoustic Eicher’s gift is that he creates space and within that is a placement and dimension that reveals unstated rhythms and moments of rare interplay that are most definitely not built around drum patterns. The players do not dance to the tempo of the bass drum but rather find their space and lean off each other. The superbly recorded cymbals seem almost part of the reverberation as they lay down glistening metallic textures and micro crescendos that the Copland floats across the room. What is so impressive is the way the CSA-150 finds form and shape in the music. Yes, the band is free but not quite freeform in any avant-garde kind of way. The piano always shapes the harmonic direction and the Copland has the control and the sense of width and depth to bring the atmosphere to you and fill the room with black space.

Copland CSA-150 Hybrid Integrated Amplifier

I love the way that the Copland sounds so clear, open and dynamically free. There’s no sense of over-damped electronics here. The rhythms flow with clarity and purpose. Listen to the quite amazing Andy McKee playing ‘When She Cries’ [Common Ground, Razor & Tie EP] to hear what I mean. I’ve owned an ex-McKee Michael Greenfield guitar and know that it is so, so sensitive that it can run away with you if you don’t have the chops to simply keep the thing under control. Tonally its possibilities seem close to miraculous. It’s the Formula 1 car of the custom acoustic guitar world and is, at the same time, among the most rewarding and dispiriting of any instrument I have ever played. I couldn’t ever really get the saddle on, let alone ride it. The sheer intensity and intricacies unfolding within the dynamic themes he can conjure on a solo steel-string guitar and the polyrhythms he creates can have many amplifiers wiping their foreheads while tripping over themselves to get it all out, but not here. Set within a super-focussed acoustic, he just lets rip and the notes are flying everywhere. There are bass lines, percussive elements and amazing melodies, all interweaving with machine-gun complexity. I’ve seldom heard this balance between control and free-flowing musical expression so eloquently expressed and with such comparative ease too. The Copland simply loves these challenges and somehow finds both the space and the temperament to bring them to a completely understandable whole. It’s that sense of dynamics within a broad space again. The pure dimension this amplifier operates within is just one of the things that make it different.

It also has an uncanny way with vocals, virtually any vocal too. It unsticks them from the backing track and projects them forward into a rock solid central image with real natural clarity and this is one of its most attractive attributes. If you like a sense of close intimacy from your system and through that, perhaps even a sense of involvement then give the Copland CSA series some consideration. Gillian Welch’s Boots No 2: The Lost Songs Vol.1 {Arcony], the MQA version streamed through Tidal Masters has an entrancing sense of calm and melody about it. The Copland puts it all together with considerable charm by capturing the atmosphere of the songs and the beautiful contrasts. Her voice is liquid and colourful and free of any sense of processing. Just a straight microphone technique aimed at giving her interpretation of the short songs a full colour rendition. The Copland is in its element here. Full of body and space, the acoustic relies on subtle contrasts as Gillian’s voice has that beautiful but essential loneliness and this is one of the things that defines the CSA-150. The way the vocal touches you emotionally is so typical of this amplifier.

Cary Audio DMS-700 Network Audio Player

One potential concern is the AKM chips themselves. After the fire at the AKM factory I asked Sales Manager Daryl Berk how they were set for supply. “We were lucky, he said.” “We had a significant supply in house and so we are not experiencing any delays or shortfalls with our production.” Good to know that it is full steam ahead for the DMS-700.

In an interview I conducted with Enno Vandermeer of Roon I asked him why he and his team developed their product. He said it was to remove the tyranny of choice when his friends could not decide on what song to listen to next. I chuckled remembering this as I connected the DMS-700 and logged into Roon, Tidal and Qobuz. Here I am with a state-of-the-art streamer connected to virtually unlimited music access. Now what? I was at the true square one of the tyranny of choice. Ha!

Cary Audio DMS-700 Network Audio Player

Starting with the letter A but not too close to the beginning I queued up Audioslave’s I am the Highway [2002 Epic – Interscope]. Any listening session with some Chris Cornell is a good one. This slow driving song features guitars with some great reverb. The file I selected through Roon came from Tidal and was a 16/44 FLAC. My initial impression was it had a great sound. Full of great depth and space. But wait, the DMS-700 is also a DAC and an incredible upscaling DAC at that.

Cary Audio has spent years working on taking the chunkiness (Technical term!) out of upsampling via their Trubit DSD & PCM upscaling and PCM to DSD conversion process. A 16/44 PCM file can be upsampled to 32/384 or DSD 256! (The DMS-700 can process DSD 512 files as well) What I enjoyed was using the remote to go step by step through ten levels of upsampling with PCM files. You can also set a particular sampling rate, and everything will be set to that rate until changed. PCM conversion to DSD is made simple should DSD be your choice. What I found interesting was that different files sounded better at different sampling rates. Just cranking things up to DSD 256 was not the universal nirvana. Playing a PCM file in FLAC at a native 16/44 could be best at 24/176.4. It was fun to experiment.

But what about your large personal collection? The DMS-700 can render via DLNA/UPnP using JRiver or several other external software-based devices from their PC or Mac’s rather than use the Cary app. You can also plug in your NAS, hard drive or even an SD card and the Cary will sort your files using the app to allow file choice and playlist building. However, you choose to access a song either locally or remotely from a service it will all flow in a very natural way through the DMS-700 and once accessed you can apply whatever DAC settings to it that you choose. This is control and flexibility to a high standard.

Bluetooth connectivity was also easy. Press Bluetooth on the remote control and the DMS-700 went into Bluetooth search mode. I had my iPhone 12 Pro Max connected in seconds. I queued up Pink Floyd’s Dogs from their Animalsalbum [1977 Harvest, EMI] and sent a native 24/48 signal to the DAC. Seventeen minutes of fun later it was obvious the Cary was right at home with Bluetooth as one of its many sources. Sonics were full and gave no hint of their origins from my iPhone. There is also a Bluetooth send function to output to your wireless headphones. My VModa Crossfades quickly became best friends with the DMS-700.

Queuing up some Leonard Cohen ‘Almost like the Blues’ [Popular Problems, 2014 Columbia] via Roon I was rewarded with Leonard’s deep gravelly voice being offered up from between the bass guitar and piano. I upscaled the native 16/44 FLAC to 24/176.4 via Trubit and the fit was wonderful. The sense of room space was very lifelike. The presentation had depth and positioning that suggested an intimate club atmosphere. By the way, remotes can be somewhat hit or miss. The DMS-700 remote gives easy control of a complex device. The remote and the OS work cleanly and allow for you to not have to focus on the remote, just control the music. I appreciate the work that went into this by the Cary Audio engineering team.

Tellurium Q Silver and Silver Diamond Power Cords

If cables are a controversial topic in audio, then power cables raise that controversy to the nth power. The idea that a signal cable can make a difference in audio is sometimes stretching the credulity-gland of some audiophiles, but the idea that a power cord makes a significant difference too is a struggle. Worse, when that power cord is backed up by almost no background information in support, and instead places reliance on ‘go out and listen to the damn thing!’, those who take an objective line on audio are fit to burst, screaming “it’s all subjective!”

Tellurium Q ultimately argues for an observational approach to audio and does so right across its ranges. Rather than back up its products with either ‘fluffy’ claims or controversial calls to materials and architecture, it posits that its Blue, Black, Silver and Diamond ranges represent a ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘best’, and, er, ‘bestest’ performance. It develops cables through observational listening, and those who do the same observational listening in demonstration will come to the same conclusions. Silver and Silver Diamond represent the ‘best’ and ‘bestest’ power cords in the Tellurium Q line, and in terms of things outside of direct observation, that’s about as much as there is to say here.

Those of us paid by the word might not take to kindly to that approach, in part because the “here comes the science bit” in a review begins to look very sparse. Moreover, it means we have to do the job instead of ‘phone it in’ and ‘pad it out.’ On the other hand, in an audio sector where objectivity often takes a back seat to a spot of Star Trek, having no “science bit” to speak of is something of a refreshing change. So, from a materials science perspective, the Silver Power uses conductors made of ‘metal’, surrounded by a dielectric made of ‘stuff’ and wrapped in a black braid made of ‘material’. Meanwhile, Silver Diamond is made of similar things and is slightly thicker. Both are terminated in robust Furutech connectors at both ends and have a white heat-shrink identifier telling you what the brand is at one end and what type of cable you are using at the other. The two power cords are more flexible than previous Tellurium Q power cords thanks to innovations by the company’s R&D team. However, the nature of those innovations, like all things Tellurium Q, remain a secret, and the company’s R&D team have all taken a vow of silence.

Tellurium Q Silver and Silver Diamond power cords

It might not be the most significant ‘sell’ in audio, but a power cable adds nothing to a system’s sound; it can only take from the overall performance. The better the power cord, the less it detracts from the component itelf. As you can only reduce compromises with a power cord goes some way to explain why so many place great importance on the power cord as core to a system’s sound. Tellurium Q’s Silver’s take on this ‘first do no harm’ approach focuses on the midrange clarity and drive. While frequency extension – particularly in the bass – is excellent, the first aspect you notice when listening with Silver is the clarity of voices, the expressiveness of midrange detail and a more pronounced ‘in the room’ energy to the sound. Tellurium Q could be hoist by its own petard here, as it tries to eschew the base notion that cables that use silver conductors sound bright, only then to call its cable ‘Silver’. But this Silver is neither bright nor tarnished.

The Gold Standard for midrange clarity tests are female voices, but instead, view Silver from a nuanced piano recording perspective. I’m usually reluctant to use ‘audiophile’ recordings, but Nojima Plays Liszt [Reference Recordings] highlighted what Silver does so well. It’s not just the playing dynamics (although these are impressive) or the accuracy of tone. It’s that it conveys the sense of an instrument as a complex musical entity in its own right; the sound of hammers hitting strings, of the resonance of the piano itself and the little taps of a nail on a key. Over-excited versions of a real piano are standard fare in audio, but here they join forces to make a gestalt piano sound.

Silver Diamond takes this midrange clarity and energy and builds significantly on it. There’s more than a touch of Tellurium Q’s ‘Statement’ cable to Silver Diamond, and that means more space around the instruments, more frequency extension (top and bottom, but with that, yet more of that energy and clarity of Silver), and more dynamic range let through. And with that comes a caveat of sorts; Silver is a little more forgiving toward what it feeds. Suppose your component isn’t quite as open-sounding at the top-end or as dynamic as its contemporaries. In that case, the Silver will be more accommodating, where Silver Diamond detracts less from the power feed, and that can show up inconsistencies in the source or amplifier. Interestingly, this is not just an exercise in expense; I used Silver Diamond to affect significantly a Leben integrated amplifier that cost only slightly more than the cable itself. But if all your audio ducks are in a row, Silver Diamond can make an already singing system sound like it just got Aretha and the Monteverdi Choir stepping up to the microphone.

These are top-flight power cords that are resolving and ‘get out of the way’ enough to let the music sound really good. Silver is perhaps the more universal of the two, but in places where Silver Diamond can shine. While that is dangerously close to using the name to define the product – something Tellurium Q is abjectly trying not to do – it’s hard not to make ‘diamond’ analogies when Silver Diamond makes a system sparkle.

Price and contact details

Silver Power 

  • Price: £1,200/1.5m
    (£200 per additional 0.5m)

Silver Diamond Power

  • Price: £2,200/1.5m
    (£387 per additional 0.5m)

Manufacturer: Tellurium Q

URL: telluriumq.com

UK Distributor: Kog Audio

Tel: +44 (0)24 7722 0650

URL: kogaudio.com

Leben CS 300F Integrated Amplifier

The amp has five line inputs (technically four line inputs and one dedicated CD input) and it has a tape loop. Both the front and rear panels (and the four-page, not quite comprehensive enough) manual have this as ‘tape’ not ‘Home Theatre’, perhaps anticipating the revival of compact cassette, but more likely tapping into the Open Reel movement. The front panel controls are from a time before minimalism stripped amps of any tone shaping, and the Leben has a two-step bass boost that fills in +3dB or +5dB below 100Hz, and is switchable from the front panel. There is also a 6.35mm headphone socket, with a large black rocker switch to move between loudspeaker and headphone use. Retro ends with the terminals themselves, as the speaker terminals are solid WBT models and the amp is switchable between four, six and eight ohm speaker loads.

However we like to look at it, 15W is not a powerhouse by modern standards. In some parts of the audio world, 1.5kW is an acceptable power output to be considered a ‘powerhouse’ and an integrated amp of 150W or more might get that title. Modern loudspeakers are often designed with the expectation that they will be fed by a more powerful amplifier than the Leben CS 300F, but strangely it doesn’t seem to matter too much in the listening. Sure, if you have desperately insensitive loudspeaker designs or are wanting to play at ‘bombastic’ levels in a huge room, the CS 300F might not be the best choice, but I found no problems partnering them with speakers like the Audiovector R1 Arreté, for example, and even the Wilson Duette Series 2 proved an excellent combination.

Leben CS 300F integrated amplifier

It’s clear we collectively missed a trick with this Cold War computer tube because it gives the CS 300F a speed and finesse that is all too rare in audio. What’s more, usually when that sort of speed happens in electronics, it’s often accompanied by a bright, brash and forward sound that can all too easily tip ‘speed’ over and make it ‘over-exuberant’ and ‘lean’ in presentation. Here, however, the speed is accompanied by a more ‘creamy’ sound, meaning the Leben combines many of the good parts of the sonic characteristics normally associated with solid-state and valve electronics in one. While this is one of those “I wish I’d worded it better” sentences, recently I’ve become obsessed with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom [Branford Marsalis, Sony]. It’s a fabulously recorded soundtrack from a Netflix movie of the Jazz Age, sometimes orchestral and distinctly modern jazz, other times sounding like you’d like to think some old Okeh 78 would sound if well recorded in the modern era. A track like ‘Levee and Dussie’, which is just syncopated piano shows what the Leben CS 300F does so well; it brings out the sense of the music ‘breathing’ yet highlights the quality of both the piano recording (and its acoustic space) and the musicianship behind those keys. It has that late-night pianist improvising while everyone is cleaning up around them vibe, which can so easily be lost in the syncopation itself.

Meanwhile, the very next track – ‘Levee Confronts God’ – is almost like something from late-era Coltrane, and the linearity of the amplifier stops the track from becoming too self-absorbed and introverted. The interplay between sax and percussion is gossamer-delicate, and the deft touch of the Leben CS 300F lets this music through with elegance and passion. A warmer sounding amplifier would over-emphasise the sax, while a more bright or forward sound would exaggerate the percussion leading edges. The Leben sits in the goldilocks spot, of making this sound just creamy enough to draw you in, but not so creamy you feel like the music has enveloped you. It’s an attractive, enticing sound that lends itself to a wide range of music, not just recreated Jazz Age movie scores.

Staying with new recordings, Hosokawa/Mozart (Live) [Kodama, Mito Chamber Orchestra, Ozawa, ECM] is an odd musical mix, but a rewarding one. While the Mozart Piano Concerto No 23 is played beautifully, the first track – ‘Lotus Under The Moonlight’ by Toshio Hosokawa is a homage to the same Concerto, but viewed through the lens of traditional Japanese arts. It’s been likened to a musical haiku.

There is a layering and texture to the sound that is easy to lose while trying to focus on the musical themes and especially when trying to hear that quote from the Mozart piano concerto within the distinctly Japanese landscape. This is a piece that makes great demands on an amplifier, especially a small valve amplifier, but the CS 300F more than rises to the challenge, giving each note an accuracy and space to breathe that it needs.

Degritter record cleaning machine

Degritter is exceedingly gentle with your records. LP surfaces are untouched. There’s no chance of the machine leaving lines or marks as there are no internal pads or brushes that rub or scrape the surfaces. You can clean LPs more than once without the risk of cumulative damage as a result. Use the Degritter’s ‘Heavy’ setting to clean very dirty LPs. But, in some cases, even this might be insufficient. Therefore, you may need to do a second clean or even pre-wash the LP manually before putting it in Degritter. You can also a proprietary record cleaning fluid if desired, and this might be more effective with heavily soiled LPs. However, thus far I’m inclined to stick with plain distilled water and pre-wash very dirty LPs before putting them into the Degritter.

Notice the difference when you put a cleaned LP back in its sleeve (or better still, a new antistatic sleeve) – it slides in much more smoothly than before. As a result of cleaning, the stylus encounters less ‘drag’ from the groove. Cleaning also means a smoother, cleaner, and more effortlessly detailed sound. The vinyl looks ‘blacker’ too. You hear an increased focus and added stability that makes LPs sound more like master-tapes. Clean a record with wide/exaggerated stereo and the left/right channels sound much more independent and separated. The music sounds firmer and more solid. Quiet passages are more focused and present, while loud passages seem cleaner and less congested – as though the stylus has an easier time tracing the groove (which it is). Additionally, there should be a welcome reduction in surface noise – though not always.

Trying Degritter with Grasshopper by J. J. Cale, [Japanese pressing, Mercury], I was impressed that an LP which had previously been cleaned and was in immaculate condition, could still be improved. Each track on this album has a distinct sound – as though each track uses a different studio and engineers. It was terrific to hear subtle differences of studio acoustic and tonal balance reproduced with such crisp effortless ease. Cale’s voice is rich and throaty on some tracks, while on others it sounds thin and edgy – for example, going from ‘Don’t Wait’ to ‘A Thing Going On’.

When sound quality varies like this, you often value engineering and production, concluding that some tracks were less well-recorded than others. But after cleaning, every track on Grasshopper sounded ‘good’, albeit different.

The sonic variations between tracks felt natural and intentional – and not the result of something that went wrong. For example, that dry slightly claustrophobic acoustic on ‘A Thing Going On’ creates a vaguely tense feeling, heightening the song’s surreal mood.

I need to ‘fess up to being an enthusiastic owner/user of the original Keith Monks cleaning machine. It does a great job. Of course, I wondered, would any additional audible benefit come from ultrasonic cleaning? I could hardly wait to find out.

The answer’s a definite – yes. True, the differences made by Degritter-cleaning over the KM were subtle rather than dramatic, but they’re there – small but significant improvements in fine detail, clarity, and stability. I feel the KM is more effective with filthy records. It’s like a laundry compared to dry cleaning. For maximum deep-cleansing, I start with a pre‑wash, followed by the Degritter, finishing off with the KM. However, this is a bit extreme – most times, the Degritter does fine on its own.

One LP I’d cleaned just a few weeks earlier on the KM sounded great. But after Degritter cleaning, the music gained extra poise and an effortless clarity that was truly exquisite. It felt like listening to the mastertape – it was that good.

It’s as if I’d suddenly upgraded my turntable/arm/cartridge to something far more capable. While cleaning doesn’t always deliver miracles, it’s possible even to salvage damaged vinyl. The result might not be 100% perfect, but it sounds a whole lot better.

Hi-Fi mags in the 1960s and 1970s were full of letters from people complaining about lousy LP pressings. There was a dip in LP pressing quality in the early ‘70s after oil prices spiked. The records themselves got thinner, and pressing plants even used recycled vinyl. A good cleaning can transform these LPs.

My ‘70s UK-pressed David Bowie LPs – from Space Oddity [Philips] through to Aladdin Sane [RCA] – improved very noticeably after cleaning. While not cut or pressed to audiophile standards, they sounded so much more like 180g ‘Audiophile’ pressings I could hardly believe it.

Sadly, Degritter is not cheap. But it offers serious-enthusiasts high-level performance with simple operation and low maintenance. It’s not large or heavy and looks clean and understated. It’s the easiest-ever serious record cleaner to use/maintain, and high-quality results are guaranteed. Having fan drying is a massive benefit. Some cheaper – and even some surprisingly expensive – ultrasonic cleaners forgo this feature; a considerable sacrifice, in my opinion. It’s like having a domestic washing machine without a dryer/spinner. Trust me; whether washing clothes or washing records, it’s worth paying extra for this feature. Just remember never to use washing powder on your LPs and don’t wash your underwear only in distilled water!

I appreciate how gentle it is and how simple to use. You can clean valuable, highly collectable discs secure in knowing they won’t get marked or damaged. It’s great just to press a button and have an LP cleaned/dried to a high standard with no fuss or drama in only a few minutes.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Type: Ultrasonic Record Cleaning Machine
  • Ultrasonic Cleaning: 120kHz/300W
  • Water tank: Removable 1.4ltr/0.37 gal
  • Noise levels: 50dB–70dB
  • Supported voltages: 100–240VAC
  • Finish: Black/Brushed aluminium
  • Optional extras: External water tank, 7” and 10” record adaptors
  • Available replacement parts: 100ml cleaning fluid, filters
  • Dimensions (W×H×D): 37 × 28 × 21cm
  • Price: £2,450

Manufacturer:

Degritter OÜ

URL: degritter.com

Tel: +372 5884 8839

UK Suppliers:

Analogue Seduction: analogueseduction.net

Audiobarn: www.theaudiobarn.co.uk

Audio Emotion: audioemotion.co.uk

Hard To Find Hi-Fi: hardtofindhifi.com

KJ West One: kjwestone.co.uk