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The Killing of Eugene Peeps by Bastian Keb

The film noir world has long been a fascination among the more exciting musicians; it inspired many of Tom Waits’ best works, and avant-garde sax player John Zorn dedicated an album to Mickey Spillane. Likewise, British composer and musician Bastien Keb draws on the dingier side of the 1950s and 1960s soundtracks for The Killing of Eugene Peeps as it’s a tribute to that style and era.

Bastien Keb is the stage name of Sebastian Jones, a multi-instrumentalist whose first love is the guitar. However, he also plays the trumpet, bass, drums, piano, flute and a variety of other instruments on this distinctive album. Keb started out making music for TV and film, and he continues to do so on The Killing of Eugene Peeps; it’s just that no one has made the movie to go with this soundtrack yet. Keb may play all the instruments here, but he employs the vocal talents of Kenneth Viota. Viota provides the narrative voice that gives the album so much of its late-night, back street flavour.

Or at least that’s the way it looks on the credits. Kenneth Viota is a very obscure person, or he’s a figment of Keb’s imagination. Some reviewers refer to him as being ‘a friend’ of Keb, but we’ve heard that one before! Either way, it’s the perfect world-weary voice. A voice powerfully evocative of black and white films from a grimier and seemingly more dangerous era.

 

One mic master

Keb recorded The Killing of Eugene Peeps with a single mic in his bedroom and did all the production; it sounds like he used samples because there is so much depth and colour in the sounds captured. However, that’s not what the credits suggest. He did have some help from vocalists on various tracks. In addition, Will Morrison wrote the lyrics to two of them, while Kep credits Alex Judd with bringing the strings. Also, there is a sense of there being more than one violin presumably created through multi-tracking. Keb is more than a one-person band, but you have to admire Keb’s production skills.

The album starts with ‘Main Title’ to emphasise its cinematic inclinations. It’s a masterful conjuring of evocative soundscape that plants you firmly in the noir world with strings, horns and what sounds like vibes. Consider ‘Main Title’ a testament to bedroom recording that would once have taken an orchestra and a large studio; it’s now possible with a computer, a mic and a lot of talent. “The city at night is a beautiful thing. Take me away,” says the narrator as a soft melody comes in. ‘Lucky (the Oldest Grave)’ has a more contemporary feel in the Bon Iver style with piano and string accompaniment; its connection to the album is a sense of melancholy.

‘Rabbit Hole’ continues the vibe with a great guitar tone and layered vocals. These sit on top of a background filled with minutiae and texture. Its dreamlike ambience contrasts with the narrator’s return on the ‘God Bless Your Gutters’. This interlude introduces a darker atmosphere, which further develops in ‘Theme for an old man.’  This track’s crumpled brass band beat intro moves into a mellower funky groove worthy of John Barry at his most colourful and exotic.

 

Schifrin’s spell

The narrator returns for ‘Can’t Sleep’ over a lolling beat, “he can’t sleep with a full neck”, it seems. Lalo Schifrin would appear to have cast his spell over ‘All the love in your heart’. This track combines flute, strings and drum in a perfect pastiche to the great soundtracks of yore.

If I had to pick one track to represent this album, it would be ‘Young Ponies.’ The track’s William Burroughs-Esque narration over piano and bass with harmonised vocals makes ‘Young Ponies’ gloomy yet beautiful with a tremendous choral finale. ‘Street Clams’ provides a contrast with psych-funk guitar and vibes, interspersed with brass to immense effect. ‘Paprika (featuring Cappo)’ is an abrupt switch to rap with synth backing that seems out of place here.

The first nine tracks are perfect in their rendering. The following nine have their moments but don’t add to the whole. Overall this album is a remarkable musical and sonic achievement. It’s also an album that makes a decent system shine, especially on vinyl.

Bastion Keb on Bandcamp: The Killing of Eugene Peeps

Accuphase DP-570 CD/SACD Player

Turns out it’s been a while since I last reviewed a CD player. A few years, in fact. And to be honest, given my long-term player of choice is the dCS Puccini that came in for issue 65 and never really left, any review units following that always had to go some to get my attention. But somewhat to my surprise, it’s been ten years since I bought that dCS player. Probably the most obvious reason why I haven’t reviewed a CD player in a while is that there are rather fewer on offer these days, streamers and DACs having elbowed them out of the limelight somewhat. But some manufacturers have kept the faith, and one, Accuphase, has also managed consistently to produce the sort of players which might conceivably have tempted me away from my beloved Puccini in the intervening years.

The DP-570 is very new; the first units only arrived on UK soil a month or two ago. It’s the middle in Accuphase’s lineup of one-box players, above the (CD only) DP-430, but below the rather luxuriant DP-750 which itself sits below the 2-box DC-/DP-950 units. It’s the least expensive player to offer both CD and SACD playback (at £10,200 it felt wrong to call it the cheapest), and it replaces the DP-560 which came out 5 years ago (Accuphase product cycles are reassuringly long). You need to be a bit of an Accuphase geek to spot the physical differences between the outgoing and incoming models, maybe a slightly different button here, or slightly different display line there, and the finish on the top plate is more refined but Accuphase evidently hasn’t felt the need to revisit the styling decisions it made decades ago. And to be fair, it’s a handsome unit with a reassuringly solid build, and the sort of silkily silent loading mechanism that just makes you go ‘Ooh!’.

The build quality is part of the company philosophy, the in-house developed transport mech is carefully constructed and mounted so as to minimise the opportunities for vibration, motor noise and other extraneous energy affecting the reading of the disc. The ultimate objective being the pursuit of ultra low noise performance. Accuphase claims a signal to noise ratio of 120dB, which is 1dB (12%) better than the outgoing player’s already excellent figures, giving an output noise voltage of just 2.5µV. The DAC chip in the DP-570 is the same ESS Technology 32bit ES9028PRO unit found in the DP-750, the DP-570 using half the chip’s 8 DACs in parallel for each channel (the DP-750 doubles up on the chip count, using all 8 DACs in parallel for each channel). This employs Accuphase’s ‘MDS+’ approach to multiple delta-sigma D/A conversion, for improved linearity and signal to noise performance across the entire frequency range. Accuphase claims almost double the noise, linearity and distortion performance of conventional delta-sigma D/A technology.

It’s no surprise to find the Accuphase ‘house’ sound firmly established in the DP-570’s presentation. I shouldn’t really refer to it as a ‘house’ sound, though, because that implies the equipment is voiced to give a certain presentation, whereas I think the way Accuphase sounds is just the way it comes out when you engineer products according to their philosophy. At its simplest, I’d sum it up as a very organic hint of subtle warmth, an underpinning sense of calm, and an unforced and entirely natural-feeling level of detail. Oh, and an almost uncanny way with timing. The opening section of Alfred Brendel’s account of the Arietta from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 32 in C minor [Philips] is a study in measured calmness, exquisitely metered out by the DP-570, making it all too easy to relax into the music, switch off your critical faculties and just enjoy the moment…

But enough of that sort of thing, this review isn’t going to write itself, unfortunately. There are generous input and format options, the player reads two-channel CD and SACD discs, including hybrid (two-layer) CD/SACD discs and CD-R/-RW, DVD-R/-RW/+R/+RW data discs, but not Blu-Ray. There are coaxial, optical and USB digital inputs; optical and coaxial digital outputs, and HS-Link input/output options. So you can use this as a transport, a DAC, or a one-box player for a wide range of physical formats. The USB input will accept sample rates of up to 384 kHz PCM and up to 11.2MHz DSD (ASIO), while the coaxial and optical inputs accept up to 192kHz and 96kHz PCM respectively.

So the tech side seems to be thoroughly sorted. Internal layout is neat, with the key functional blocks of componentry (power, digital, analogue and control circuitry) carefully separated and isolated from each other, and from the transport mechanism. Accuphase talks about the handbuilt, small production volume values of its manufacturing, and I’m going with ‘team of skilled technicians in immaculately kitted out workshop’ rather than ‘bunch of blokes in shed with solder-scorched workbenches, and screwdrivers and pliers on a pegboard’ which once formed the backbone of the British audio industry. Switches, buttons and mechanisms are a haptic delight – silky, positive and very nicely weighted. This sort of thing matters when you’re dropping a five-digit sum of money, but I’ve encountered more expensive kit that doesn’t have this level of tactility.

Norma Audio Revo IPA-140 Integrated Amplifier

There are some audio brands that arguably get more coverage than they deserve. There are others that deserve more coverage than they get. Norma is in the second group. It consistently turns in an excellent performance at sensible prices, is loved by almost anyone who hears any product in the line, and both the Norma name and products like the Revo IPA-140 integrated amplifier deserve greater recognition.

I can understand why the company flies below the radar, too. Norma has that charming, but ultimately self-defeating habit of hiding its light under a bushel. And the Revo IPA-140 is a perfect example of just why this is the case. The Revo IPA-140 is substantially changed from the model that shares the same name, chassis, 140W power output, very wide bandwidth amplifier design, number of inputs of the model Hi-Fi+ tested in Issue 104. Other companies would have bleated on about these revisions, possibly rebranding this as a new model, calling it the ‘Mk IIxe’ or ‘Special Edition’ or ‘GTi version’ in the process. Other companies would have maybe changed the front panel or gone with some other cosmetic change to herald the developments under the skin. Norma doesn’t do that because the company and its head honcho Enrico Rossi despise the notion of obsolescence, planned or otherwise. Meaning that if you bought a Revo IPA-140 five years ago, your product isn’t valueless… and you still get a really good sounding amplifier, even if newer Revo IPA-140s sound even better.

The Revo IPA-140 is very much a dual mono pre-power design, split along the centreline. The upper section is essentially a preamplifier, on its own isolating sled. Below is a MOSFET-based power amplifier, once again spread across two power amplifier stages. The main transformers are to the front of the amplifier, and that chrome centre dial and blue LED channel indicator make for a minimalist, but elegant, appearance.

There is an optional phono stage, which takes up one of the four RCA line inputs on the back panel. This is a very flexible MM/MC stage, although the flexibility does involve some on-PCB fiddling with DIP switches (if your cartridge’s loading is well outside the norm, you might even need some additional dealer-fit firepower). A DAC with lone USB input is also available; this uses an AKM4391 DAC chip and supports digital audio to 24-bit/192kHz PCM precision. DSD and MQA are both MIA. However, Norma also rolls its own analogue filter and output stage of the DAC to bring it into musical alignment with the other parts of the design. Unlike the phono stage, this DAC sits central to the rear panel and doesn’t take up one of the inputs. As both are modules that sit atop the main preamp circuit, theoretically they could be retrofitted… but I suspect most will opt for their choices at the point of purchase.

Melco S100 Network Switch

Even before Melco introduced the S100 network switch, hardcore streaming enthusiasts were aware that this oft overlooked part of a streaming network was important. This is evidenced by audio companies making linear power supplies for Netgear and other brands of IT switches, but these were fairly affordable upgrades, the Melco raised the bar quite considerably and I for one was sceptical. Having tried four audiophile switches since that time I am now convinced that the potential of any streaming system is quite significantly hampered by IT switches, even when they have a decent power supply.

Ordinarily the job of a network switch is to route signals around a network as quickly as possible, which doesn’t pose too many challenges for cheap peripheral models, the difficulty arises when you want to do this without letting any interference through with the signal. I was speaking to amplifier designer Tim Narramore (Moor Amps) recently who is of the opinion that the only real problem with digital systems occurs when digital distortions leak through into the analogue signal where their presence is audible even in the smallest quantities. And there is always a degree of this cross contamination in DACs so the best digital systems will be those that have the least amount of noise or interference floating around and the network switch can be a source of this noise if it’s not designed for audio.

Melco is a subsidiary of Japanese storage and network company Buffalo, it makes a range of audiophile NAS drives or ‘music libraries’ as they prefer to call them. There are some clear advantages to being part of a large organisation that specialises in this area not least in terms of expertise. And this is what the company brought to bear on the S100 data switch as they call it, which has eight RJ45 ethernet ports arranged in two blocks of four. One set are 100Mb ports for the low speed traffic produced by audio components, this is where you connect the music server/library and streamer unless you have a Melco or Innuos for instance which have dedicated outputs for the streamer. The other ports are gigabit capable and good for PC and router connections as well as Roon Cores which generate high traffic flow, with an Innuos server (with onboard core) it would seem logical to hook up its LAN port to a gigabit socket on the switch and take its ‘player’ output direct to the streamer.

There are two SFP ports on the S100, these are for the few streaming components that have this optical connection, however Melco’s UK’s distributor, ADMM, will shortly be introducing an SFP audio-over-fibre kit under the new ADOT (Audiophile Digital Optical Technology) brand, which converts ethernet to optical. Melco doesn’t say a lot about what’s going on inside the S100 save that it has a large 1.5MB buffer to the ensure stability and resilience of the data stream and that it uses audiophile techniques in the power supply and high quality capacitors to keep noise down. The first stage of the power supply is switched mode and sits in the power lead providing 12V, the distributor, ADMM, offers a linear power supply by PLiXiR as a £500 upgrade.

It’s worth mentioning the casework on the S100 which is the same as Melco uses on its N100 EX Series music libraries; it oozes Japanese build quality and finish. Internally it has a steel chassis for screening, externally it’s anodised aluminium with a blue LED indicator. There’s no power switch as you rarely need to turn off a network switch.

Monitor Audio Bronze 200 Floorstanding Loudspeakers

Money-no-object, no-holds-barred, uncom­promised and uncompromising loudspeakers are dead easy to build. Just use the most expensive and highest-performing components you can find, commission a hot-shot industrial designer to help with the looks, spend as long as you like in the ideal environment tuning and fettling – and there you go. A high-performance loudspeaker with the price-tag to match. The world is far from short of them.

Building a loudspeaker to hit a specific price can be tricky, though – and when that price is so competitive as to make compromises inevitable, it becomes trickier. If the speaker is from a brand with an auspicious global reputation that can only be damaged should this speaker not live up to expectations, well – ‘tricky’ and ‘trickier’ suddenly become ‘trickiest’.

Monitor Audio introduced its budget-conscious ‘Bronze’ range back when the world was young (or 1998, to be absolutely accurate). Through its subsequent generations, the Bronze range has been, if not outright class-leading, certainly there-or-thereabouts where affordable ‘proper’ hi-fi speakers are concerned. Any number of student loans have been invested in Monitor Audio Bronze speakers, and any number of audiophiles will acknowledge the Bronze as the gateway drug that hooked them into a lifelong habit.

This Bronze 200 speaker is the most affordable floorstander in the current Bronze line-up – and given that this magazine routinely reviews mains cables that cost more than £570, ‘affordable’ is a difficult descriptor to argue with.

Despite that eye-catching asking price, though, there are no overt signs of corner-cutting where the specification, build or finish of the Bronze 200 is concerned. The Urban Grey finish of our review sample (white, black or walnut are also available) is actually quite sophisticated, and the smoothly chunky 21mm front baffle is tactile and entirely free of screw-heads and the like. The rest of the cabinet is of 15mm MDF, vinyl-wrapped and internally braced for optimum rejection of unwanted vibrations. The overall dimensions result in a tidy and discreet floorstander, which is precisely what customers demand these days (particularly those who might favour ‘Urban Grey’ as a finish).

Music Interview: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Seattle’s Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio (aka DLO3) claim to specialise in the “lost art of feel-good music”, and, after listening to their latest album, I Told You So, it’s hard to dispute that.

It’s a brilliant collection of uplifting, raw and retro-sounding instrumentals – a heady brew of the organ jazz of Jimmy Smith and Baby Face Willette, the soulful strut of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, some Motown, Stax and blues, the earthy funk of The Meters and the cosmic rock of Jimi Hendrix.

Opener, the irresistibly groovy ‘Hole In One’, sounds like a long-lost floor-filler from a ‘60s mod club; first single, ‘Call Your Mom’, is choppy funk-blues with some seriously tasty guitar licks; ‘Girly Face’ has a more laidback, jazzy, lounge feel, and ‘From The Streets’ is a cinematic piece that could easily soundtrack a cult ‘70s crime film, Blaxploitation flick or spy movie.

There’s even a cover of George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ thrown in, which transforms the schmaltzy ‘80s pop ballad into an organ-soaked, late-night blues number.

DLO3, which formed in 2015, consists of self-taught organist and multi-instrumentalist Delvon Lamarr, who plays a mean Hammond B-3, guitarist Jimmy James and drummer Dan Weiss, who is also in powerhouse soul and funk collective The Sextones. Weiss is a new, full-time member of DLO3, but the latest album features Grant Schroff on drums.

Signed to hip US soul label Colemine Records, whose impressive roster includes San Francisco’s Monophonics and singer-songwriter Kelly Finnigan, DLO3 have played sold-out shows all over the world and built up a reputation for their incendiary live performances, as well as improvisational skills and imaginative takes on classic tunes, including Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’, which features on their 2018 Live at KEXP! recording.

I Told You So is their second studio album. The band’s debut, Close But No Cigar, which was originally released in 2016 – Colemine reissued it in 2018 – included a cover of Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’, as well as the amusingly-titled ‘Al Greenery.’

Their latest release has an even heavier groove than its predecessor and is arguably a much more confident record.

“Some people have asked me why the album is called I Told You So when there’s no song on it called ‘I Told You So?’” says Lamarr, speaking to me from his home in Seattle.

“The reason is that a lot of people who have been big fans of ours from the start questioned whether our sound would be the same after the departure of our original drummer. He had a pretty distinct, old school way of playing, which was a big part of our sound when we started out. I told them, “It won’t”…

“I’m a believer that no one person makes the sound of a band – it’s a collective of musicians, styles and personalities, and I believe this album is proof of that. At least it is to me.”

SH: What did you want this album to sound like?

DL: I wanted it to sound like it does. Some people want their albums to sound clean, polished and free from mistakes. Not me. I’m not into that so much. I like it raw and dirty.

I leave in some of the mistakes: talking, noise in the background, etc. To me that’s what makes music real. I like the live-sounding recordings. It feels different to me ‘cos it feels like they mean it. And that’s the sound for me.

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

Copland is one of those audio companies that never shouts about its products. Their marketing is, in the UK at least, decidedly low-key. As a result, Copland’s products might even slip below the radar of most audio enthusiasts. Thinking about it and considering the amount of amplifiers that have passed through my hands over the years, I cannot recall ever having heard one let alone having one at home for any sort of listening but I had always thought of them as tube amplifier builders. But I was wrong, as the CSA-150 leads the line of three new models that are hybrid designs. These use a tube input stage and solid state MOSFET power sections with the obvious intent of utilising the best of both technologies to achieve a specific sonic balance. When implemented successfully this can be interesting audio chemistry.

I have obviously heard other hybrid designs over the years, some more rewarding than others. They are often designs that bring mixed musical blessings. The tonal richness and ease of the tubes alongside the drive, grip and transient power of solid-state is a difficult balance to master. All of my previous experiences have left me with the conclusion that, sitting the amplifier on a performance peak and extracting the best from both technologies often results in a design that, while generally sounding sweet, often come across as a bit soft and certainly a touch conflicted where tempo and drive are concerned. A classic curate’s egg. But the Copland is an object lesson in how it should be done.

Copland amplifiers are designed and built in Denmark. The company was founded some 30 years ago by designer Ole Møller. The CSA-150 is the most powerful of the three amplifiers in the CSA series, the CSA‑70 and the CSA-100 being the others. Power output seems to be the most obvious difference between them. The 150 certainly has features aplenty and truly is a one-stop integrated as it comes with an excellent onboard quad mono DAC with good connectivity and even the option of a fitted Bluetooth aptX module which I found very useful. There is also an onboard phono stage RIAA configured for MM cartridges and an impressive DAC. This is based on a Sabre ES 9018 Reference module from ESS Technology. It will deal with PCM and DSD, up to 128, and has several digital inputs. A small front panel window might have been handy here to show the resolution. There is however a small LED that glows whenever a DSD encoded signal is detected. Connectivity to the DAC is made through a couple of optical Toslinks, an S/PDIF or there is a USB.

The front panel design is excellent and very clean with an intuitive layout. A rotary input selector guides you through the three RCA or single balanced XLR line inputs while selecting the digital input option brings into play the small sub-source selector that gives access to the rear inputs. The USB has an effective power supply of its own and can work at 32-bit with a frequency of 384 kHz. Mac OS or Linux computers will work without drivers and for Windows users Copland provide links for a suitable driver, with instructions, in the accompanying handbook.

There is also a headphone socket, a decent remote control and you can also separate the pre and power sections should you want to. Push the power button and the amplifier goes through a 30-second boot up procedure and then you are ready with 145 watts per channel (8 ohms) at your disposal. I wondered how, with the double triode gain stage (6922) the Copland would behave so soon after switch-on but I needn’t have worried. From cold the amplifier lets you know its character and although it certainly improves as the hours pass, it is a rather gentle upward curve and gives the music slightly better top to bottom coherence perhaps rather than offering anything more drastic. In short, the Copland starts singing from the opening bars of music and has a certain clarity of musical purpose that, against the truly silent backgrounds it always produces, makes listening a relaxed pleasure. It won’t take long before you pick up on the space and general dimension of the sound that the Copland always seems to produce.

Cary Audio DMS-700 Network Audio Player

The last few years have seen the rise of a new class of audio product, the network streamer. A device that will access your streaming audio account without the need for a PC or Mac and serve up tunes via their own IOS or Android app. The goal is to mitigate any PC related hash that can interfere with your sonic journey. These units can also have a DAC on board, or they can just serve the files up to your system DAC for processing to your preamp and amp. One of the challenges for these units is that by being the new kid on the block they are subject to the fast-moving changes in the audio world. New streaming services become available. DAC chips evolve. Services like Roon and processes like MQA shake up the landscape every year or two. As an audiophile you want to make sure you are not left behind. Who should you look to for great quality today and flexibility tomorrow?

One company to have high on your list is Cary Audio of Cary, North Carolina. Founded in 1989, Cary has been producing high quality audio gear from the beginning. Originally focused on Tube equipment such as the iconic 805 Monoblock amplifiers it has also been producing solid state digital gear since the mid 1990’s. What is notable is that while Cary is certainly on the cutting edge of digital, the company is also masters of the analogue game. Cary knows how to design toward that elusive analogue sound so many seek even when playing through their digital gear. 1’s and 0’s made more real with that flesh on the bone sound many digital denizens cannot provide.

Cary Audio DMS-700 Network Audio Player

Cary has been working with streamers for many years now. It’s previous flagship, the DMS-600 has received many accolades yet like so many top audio firms they felt they could do better. So, bring out the clean sheet of paper and after much effort, Cary presents its new third-generation flagship streamer, the DMS-700. My first impression when the unit arrived was it resembled my flagship Denon AVR-X8500H home cinema receiver. On the front stenciled on the case were logos for DSD, Qualcomm APTx HD, MQA and Roon. This unit was offering up a state-of-the-art combination of technologies and partnerships allowing the up-to-date audiophile as many ways to access, render, and stream 16/44 and high-res files any way they chose to. Nice! You could have a home system that relied upon Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and the DMS-700 had the antennae to match! You could also plug directly to ethernet and hard wire your access. (Do not use the Wi-Fi antennae if you hard wire.) Also, as expected, it is software upgradeable. The unit I received was not yet Roon certified. Two days after arrival when I turned it on, I was notified of a software update that included full Roon certification. The update, handled through the app, was simple and flawless. And within a few minutes I was cooking with Roon at full power (Roon account required). Just the kind of upgradability you expect from a modern flagship digital audio device.

All the usual inputs are there including three USB, One SD Card, One Bluetooth, One AES/EBU, Two COAX and One Toslink. Plus, the aforementioned Ethernet port which allows for wired access to your favorite streaming services. Tidal is native with full MQA unfolding for MQA Master files. Qobuz and Spotify are also sign in ready along with vTuner Internet Radio. Access using the Streamer 2.0 app via IOS, or Android makes controlling the DMS-700 a simple thing. One small nit to pick is the app only offers a portrait mode functionality. Those of you using a keyboard case will have to wait for the landscape option in a future app release.

When a DAC is involved, the basic question seems to be what chip is being used? The DMS-700 uses the AK4499EQ flagship current driven switched resistor DAC chip from AKM. Cary chose it for its greater analogue sound than voltage driven Delta-Sigma chip designs. But as any experienced audiophile knows the chip is just the beginning. Cary takes full control of the chip by pairing it with an FPGA and full-on analogue circuit and massive power supplies to bring that signature Cary Audio sound to the fore. No off the shelf plug and play here. As Cary Audio describes it: ”As important as the DAC chips themselves are, it’s the designed pre and post DAC chip that gives our Cary Audio DMS products their famous signature sound.” I will concur that the sound is not digital. It is cool and precise with a sense of dimension that offers up a feeling of analogue without any slack. Timing is appropriate and lifelike.

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

Some time ago, the Japanese company Leben had a brief flurry of activity in the UK’s online community. The company’s CS 300X integrated amplifier was suddenly the darling of the forums. As many have learned to their cost, this usually means a tiny number of products bought second-hand and resold time and again around that community until every box-swapper has tried it. They moved on, but Leben is back… and the company’s latest CS 300F integrated amplifier marks that return.

Depending on your viewpoint, Leben makes evergreen audio products that have a timeless classic appeal, or it makes retro products that call upon the designs of a bygone age. It doesn’t really matter either way, but no-one’s going to buy the Leben if they are a fan of 1980s-style matt-black minimalism or garish excess; the look and feel of the CS 300F – as with all Leben models – is very much from the Golden Age of stereo. With its Canadian white ash side cheeks – used for ‘baseball bats and oars for low boats’, apparently – brushed gold knobs and dials and matching front and rear panels (with green accent for the product details), the CS 300F looks about as 1960s as Mini Coopers and Mini Skirts.

Leben CS 300F integrated amplifier

The CS 300F may look classically conventional, but this all-valve design uses some distinctly non-standard toobs. Where most designs (including Leben’s own CS 300X(S) model) might use something like two pairs of EL84s as power output tubes to achieve its modest-yet-meaty 15W per channel, the CS 300F uses two pairs of JAN 6197/6CL6 valves made by General Electric. This power pentode valve from 1954 was a dual-use design; although it was made to be used as a Class A amplifier valve, its primary use was in early digital computers, as it was designed to be robust enough to survive being switched between full operation and cut-off. In fact, the prefix ‘JAN’ comes from ‘Joint Army/Navy’, so the JAN 6197 was intended for Cold War military computational use. Because it is considered a computer valve, its use in an audio capacity was all but overlooked, but the joy of this valve in audio is its linearity and reliability. Leben invested in large numbers of NOS (new, old stock) JAN 6197 valves because there are no modern aftermarket models available. The two double triode driver valves are from a more conventional provenance; they are Hitachi 17EW8. This high-gain radio tube was also known as the HCC85 and was also produced by RCA and Mullard. As with the JAN 6197, it’s not in current production and Leben has stockpiled NOS Hitachi valves for users. The amplifier is fully self-biasing.