2019 Golden Ear Awards: Robert E. Greene

Equipment report
Categories:
Subwoofers,
Integrated amplifiers
2019 Golden Ear Awards: Robert E. Greene

Devialet Expert Pro 220 Integrated Amplifier with the SAM (Speaker Active Matching) System
$9990
The Expert Pro 220 is one of the best amplifiers ever. Its technical performance is at the very highest level, with extremely low distortion, low noise, and extraordinarily flat response into loads. The amplifier uses a Class D circuit to rough out the output signal and a Class A analog amplifier to trim things to perfection. And effectively perfect they are. But what sets the Expert Pro into a realm above all others is the SAM system, wherein the performance parameters of your speakers, measured by Devialet, are downloaded (by the user) onto an SD card and then loaded into the Expert Pro. At that point, the Expert Pro “knows” what electrical signal in the bass should be sent to the speakers to produce an acoustic replica of the Expert Pro’s input. It watches the speaker, checking it 86,000 times a second, and arranges things so that the speaker will reproduce the actual input. The result is better phase behavior (and hence better “timing”) and lowered distortion. Also the system tracks the dynamic envelope that the speaker can generate, and when response can be safely extended, it extends it. The results are all but uncanny. The superb but small Graham Audio LS5/9 suddenly sounded like a an equally good but much larger speaker, capable of a far more truthful picture of the bass of orchestral music, for example. Dynamic limits still existed, of course, but overall, not to put too fine a point on it, you have to hear this to believe it. And with larger speakers that already have something like full bass extension, there is, even so, much improvement in precision and consequent realism. The musical effect of what the SAM system does is very striking and very satisfying, as well. The SAM system is something new, and truly remarkable.

Audio Kinesis Swarm Subwoofer System
$3000
Following ideas of Earl Geddes, Audio Kinesis designer Duke LeJeune developed this domestically compatible, quite inexpensive system of four subwoofers, which, placed correctly, redefine the boundaries of the possible in my experience in correct reproduction of bass in small rooms. With suitable recordings, the listening room’s acoustic signature is effectively erased and replaced by that of the recorded acoustics. There is solid theory behind this, but the listening results speak for themselves. I get a nudge in the ribs every Wednesday night (when the orchestra I play in rehearses) reminding me of the problems of reproducing bass in domestic rooms. Level can be adequate, but the modal behavior of the room is hard to deal with. Multiple subs make it possible to deal with this much better than just one or two can do. My slogan “Acoustics is everything” (formulated years ago after hearing Poul Ladegaard and Ole Lund Christensen’s reflection-free-zone room in Copenhagen) really applies here. The Swarm subs look like small, unpretentious boxes, but they work acoustically—and the results are amazing. DSP might enable you to push things even further, but the first step is to get the acoustic situation to work, and here is how to do it.

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