2020 Golden Ear Awards: Matt Clott

Equipment report
Categories:
Phonostages,
Equipment racks and stands
2020 Golden Ear Awards: Matt Clott

IsoAcoustics Orea and Gaia Series Isolation Footers
$79/$199
I spent an enormous amount of time determining which isolation racks, shelves, and footers work best for which components, trying almost everything from the sublimely cheap to the ridiculously expensive. In the process I came upon several high-priced, high-end isolation companies that I rely on for my reference system, but I have only one company to suggest to anyone just starting out or on a budget—IsoAcoustics. Unless you’re planning on going all-in on expensive isolation, IsoAcoustics products will get you 80% of the performance for 20% of the price.

Merrill Audio Jens Phonostage
$15,449
I do not have enormous experience with phonostages like some of my analog buddies, who have literally heard it all, but I have heard quite a few. Part of the reason I haven’t auditioned more is that every time I’ve listened to another phonostage the Merrill Jens has just sounded flat-out better. It’s not super-fancy or complicated; in fact, it’s downright Spartan. But it makes records sound stupid good—much more stupid good then anything else I’ve heard. (How’s that for confusingly creative grammar?) I’m patiently waiting for the pending Merrill Audio Element Series phonostage, at which time it will become a permanent part of my system. For now, I will enjoy my more affordable but pretty damn good in its own right Manley Steelehead, which also sounds great as a passive preamp with my Lamm amps. 

And as an aside, although I have temporarily talked myself out of going down the reel-to-reel rabbit hole, Merrill’s Element Master Trident Tape Head preamplifier wired directly off the main tape head is the single best source I have ever heard in audio. As Kuiil says, ”I have spoken!”

I won’t be greedy. I’ll call that three. But, if I could have one more, it would be my VPI HW40 (with Lyra Atlas cartridge), for two simple reasons. First, it sounds the way it looks—heavenly. Second, just look at it! It’s classic and beautiful and luxurious and, and, and.... it is everything that a direct-drive table that took 40 years of experience to give birth to should be. That’s one hell of a long labor!