2019 Golden Ear Awards: Robert Harley

Equipment report
2019 Golden Ear Awards: Robert Harley

Wilson Benesch Eminence Loudspeaker
The Eminence is a nothing short of a technical tour de force in advanced loudspeaker design. With its in-house-made carbon-fiber enclosure, custom drivers, isobaric woofer loading, innovative tweeter, and no-compromise execution, the Eminence can lay claim to being one of the world’s most sophisticated loudspeakers. All that cutting-edge technology is in service of a single goal: to make the speaker disappear. And disappear it does, not just spatially but tonally and dynamically as well. The Eminence is as colorless in timbre as you’ll find, and its ability to convey music’s rhythms, dynamic accents, flow, and energy is unequalled in my experience. The sound is decidedly “top down,” favoring dynamic agility, speed, and a light-on-its-feet character over the last measure of bass weight and extension. The electrostatic-like midrange transparency and resolution vaults the Eminence into the upper echelon of the world’s greatest loudspeakers. Along with the Magico Q7 Mk.II and Rockport Lyra, the Eminence is one of the three best speakers I’ve had in my home.

Basis Audio A.J. Conti Transcendence Turntable and SuperArm 12.5
The Transcendence represents Basis Audio founder A.J. Conti’s attempt to create a turntable that renders LPs sonically indistinguishable from the analog mastertape that created them. In a departure from previous Basis turntables, the Transcendence is made of stainless steel and various alloys rather than acrylic, and features an entire new suspension system. It is designed as a “forever platform” with the ability to accept up to four tonearms of any length, and have major components upgraded in the field. The Transcendence lives up to its design goal, sounding unlike any turntable I’ve heard. What’s most striking is how the Transcendence seems to vanish from the playback chain, fostering the impression of hearing back through to the mastertape. Timbres are astonishingly lifelike, with a solidity and tangibility that has eluded other turntables. The ultra-quiet background and spectacular retrieval of low-level detail combine to render space, bloom, reverberation decay, and the tail end of cymbals shimmering with hair-raising realism. The Transcendence also has an ease, particularly on loud and complex passages, that makes you completely forget that you’re listening to an LP. When you discover newfound musical meaning in well-worn LPs as I did, you know that the turntable is special. I consider the Transcendence one of high-end audio’s greatest achievements.

JL Audio Fathom f113v2 Subwoofer and CR-1 Crossover
The JL Audio Fathom F113v2 isn’t just a spectacular performer, it’s also an amazing value, delivering reference-class performance for a less-than-reference-class price. The Fathom produces low bass with no sense of strain, no smearing of pitch, no dilution of timing, and no port-induced artifacts. In fact, the Fathom exhibits no single character that imposes itself on the music; instead, the Fathom is chameleon-like in its ability to perfectly blend into a wide range of music. This subwoofer offers an unlikely combination of powerful and effortless extension with unfettered dynamic impact on the one hand, and exquisite agility, finesse, timbral resolution, and pitch definition on the other. The Fathom has a remarkable ability to add a subtle weight and bass foundation to some recordings—so subtle that you don’t know the sub is working—and then with other music to explode out of nowhere with concussive bass impact and deep extension. The Digital Automatic Room Optimization (DARO), new to the V2 version, employs an 18-band digital equalizer to smooth out peaks and dips, resulting in a dramatic improvement in clarity, pitch definition, smoothness, and dynamics. To top it off, the Fathom is built like a tank, and includes extensive controls and adjustments for getting it to integrate with your main speakers. Although the Fathom’s integral controls are more extensive than those of most subwoofers, JL Audio’s CR-1 active crossover provides even more precise regulation of the critical hand-off between subwoofer and main speakers, allowing you to realize a seamless blend between subs and mains. Once you use a CR-1, you’ll find it indispensable.