I tend to adhere to my own set of rules when it comes to testing products. After finally combining them into a list in February of 1999, number three states, “Make only one change at a time.” With that stipulation, my massive Pass Labs XA160.8 monos were removed from their isolation stands, and after replacing the Sorbothane isolation pucks for the proper load, the much smaller, lighter, and more Spartan-looking MAX monos took their place.
Honestly, after the first 20 minutes of listening, my initial impression was that it was kind of a sonic draw, the XA160.8s seemed to afford just a tad more color, and the MAXs seemed to offer added micro- and macro-dynamic involvement. Keep in mind, the XA160.8s had been powered on for weeks prior to the Audionet gear arriving, and were thoroughly run-in and completely stabilized. After the swap, the MAXs had only been powered on for about 30 minutes, so they were far from their optimal operating parameters. But at this early stage, the differences seemed more a matter of tradeoffs than anything decisive.
That was when Bill Parish, who had delivered and set up the linestage and monos, urged me to ignore my third tenet, and drop the PRE G2 into play in place of my DSA Pre I linestage. While this was clearly not how I would normally proceed, given his insistence, I decided to give it a go.
The PRE G2 had been plugged in and powered on for considerably longer than the amp (Bill was quick to point out that Audionet suggests a minimum of two hours of warm-up for these products), as it had been unpacked first and powered on so Bill could customize the input settings. As the G2 should have been properly warmed up by then, we swapped it in. The result was, well, staggeringly good! The synergy between the PRE G2 and the MAX was undeniable. Suddenly, what I was hearing—stunning bass control, exceptional low-level resolution and transient speed, greatly diminished coloration, a significantly lower noise floor, and a gorgeously rich density of texture and tone color—was much more reminiscent of the sound I hear from much costlier über-machines that hail from Switzerland.
Over the next few days I found myself dropping both my reference DSA Pre I and the Pass Labs XP-20 linestages back in place to verify my initial impressions. In direct comparison to the significantly more expensive $23,350 PRE G2, both sounded, well, considerably less competent.
But was it just the PRE G2 linestage that was the sonic overachiever in this pairing, or did the MAXes bring something special to the sonic landscape? Testing that hypothesis was not easy, as each of the XA160.8s weighs nearly as much as the pair of MAXs, but I schlepped them back into place and drove them with the PRE G2 to find out.
Almost surprisingly, it was not just the PRE G2 that was responsible for the substantially elevated level of performance. Honestly, with the XA160.8s costing just $1500 less than the MAXes, one must see them as competitive products. Yet what became readily apparent when either of this pair of Audionet machines was out of my system, replaced by any other component, was that overall performance took a serious hit—less tonal accuracy, poorer pitch definition and texture, a clear loss of resolution and especially transparency, and a compression of dynamic scale and contrasts were the most apparent differences.
What also became perfectly clear nearly immediately was that my Von Schweikert Audio VR-55 Aktives were even more transparent than I had realized, strongly reaffirming my assertion that they are one staggeringly good product at their asking price. However, during my time with this Audionet dynamic trio, Laurence Dickie’s new Vivid Audio flagship loudspeaker, the Giya G1 Spirit, arrived for review. The Spirit’s level of performance surpasses the VSA VR-55 Aktive’s in a number of ways (my full review will appear soon), and this allowed me to understand more distinctly how exceptional the PRE G2 and MAX monos actually are.