The filigreed playing of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields ensemble was also beautifully captured with a purity of timbre that was enthralling. On the Haydn concerto, you had a real sense of the sections of the orchestra and the way they were accenting the passages, as well as the rise and swell of the music. On the cadenza of the Stamitz, you could hear Hardenberger’s piccolo trumpet resounding to the back of the hall. In some ways, you feel that you hear the instrument itself producing the sound as much as the efforts of the performer himself, which is to say the CH created the sensation that you could hear the air whizzing through the trumpet. To a greater degree than any solid-state phonostage I have heard, the CH simply nailed every nuance—the octave jumps, the gliassandos, and the sheer verve of the performance.
Lest you think I’m a stick-in-the-mud listening all night to baroque trumpet concertos, this is most emphatically not the case. On a beautifully recorded session called Hollywood Jam that features Shelly Manne, Art Pepper, Monty Budwig, and other LA jazz musicians, I was impressed by the sense of swing that the P1 conveyed. Once again, it captured the nuances of the performances. In particular, I was smitten by the way it reproduced Bill Watrus on trombone. On cuts like “These Foolish Things,” the P1 not only conveyed the grunt of his trombone playing, but also the more evocative and haunting passages. To listen to the resonant and magnanimous sound of the trombone communicated with such accuracy was quite captivating. Then there was the bass region. Here the CH Precision exhibited a relentless grip that allowed you to listen to Monty Budwig independent of the rest of the ensemble if you chose.
This ability to hang on to the notes also gives the P1 a sense of rocket thrust, whether on trumpet or guitar. There was a kind of growl on some of the notes on a Riverside LP of Wes Montgomery on the song “Body and Soul.” Every once in a while I would sit up with a surprised jerk at a plunge into the nether region, an unexpected growl emerging from his guitar. Something similar occurred when I played a Prestige LP called Tenor Conclave (yes, for those of you keeping score, it is a double deep groove pressing) that I purchased in my free-spending youth when I wouldn’t blink at plopping down what now seem like eye-popping sums to me for original jazz pressings. Sadly, they haven’t gotten any cheaper in the interim, but, oh, the sound! Through the P1, the clarity was truly astounding. I’m not even sure that I could say that this recording issued in 1957 sounded appreciably different than a modern pressing, except that, in some ways, it had even more body and impact. The way the saxophones of Hank Mobley, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and John Coltrane weaved in and out on the title number was nothing less than riveting. On “How Deep Is the Ocean,” Cohn’s tenor sax sounded warm, breathy, and pungent, and Paul Chambers’ bass was reproduced with weight and authority while Arty Taylor’s cymbals gently swished in the background. Dynamic gradations were off the charts, from soft to loud. In general, the sound was so clean and vivid that it almost felt like these jazz greats were performing right in front of me. That an album this old can sound this good is downright spooky. The same goes for jazz organist Jimmy Smith’s album Midnight Special on the Blue Note label. There was a real sense of whack from Donald Bailey’s drums on the cut “Jumpin’ the Blues”—you got the sense that he was laying down the law, no if, ands, or buts—not to mention a plangent guitar solo by Kenny Burrell. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Stanley Turrentine’s tenor sax sailed in with a speed that also caught me by surprise, once more a tribute to the lack of grain and noise that allows the P1 to create the impression of a live instrument soundly entering the mix.
Perhaps the most impressive LP that I listened to was a Direct Metal Master pressing bestowed upon me by the gifted Swedish tonearm designer Marc Gomez. It was a highly prized recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble on the BIS label. Talk about goosebumps! The massed sound of the strings was electrifying, an effect that I would partly ascribe to the ability of the P1 to dig into the bass region. It was simply that the bass was rich and organic. The P1 also helped to recreate the sense of air in the hall itself, something that the Wilson Master Chronosonic subwoofers can reproduce quite effectively.
By this point, you probably have gleaned that I really liked the CH Precision. My sense throughout was that it removed a layer of varnish from recordings to reveal what’s lurking in the grooves. The presentation was quite different from my Ypsilon VPS 100 phonostage. The P1 had better bass grip and dynamic slam. Just one listen to The Staple Singers on a 45rpm album that was remastered by Analogue Productions re-vealed that. It was also the case that there was nothing astringent or lean about the sound of the P1. But there’s no gainsaying that the P1 did not possess the glamour of the Ypsilon sound, that it did not pass the same amount of harmonic information. I ascribe this difference to the eternal tubes versus solid-state divide. Champions of the CH are going to point to its excellent neutrality, dynamic heft, and ability to peer into the most remote recesses of an LP. Tube lovers are going to find the CH too neutral. It doesn’t add anything to the mix. Rather, it reveals in microscopic detail what is taking place during the performance.
Speaking for myself, I was pretty pumped to get this unit, partly because I always have a hankering to listen to solid-state phonostages. My experience has been that they deliver a level of detail and background silence that tube units cannot. I find it useful, even salutary, to toggle between tubes and solid-state to avoid complacency about how the sound is being reproduced on my stereo. The sheer accuracy of the P1 is enticing in itself. It offers a new window into listening to LPs. It taught me some new things about several LPs that I’ve come to cherish. Anyone looking at solid-state phonostages would do well to consider this remarkable piece of gear, which is a potent testament to Swiss engineering.
Specs & Pricing
MC current inputs: 2x RCA and XLR
MC/MM voltage input: 1 XLR and RCA
Gain: 35–70dB in 5dB increments
Dimensions: 440mm x 440mm x 133mm
Weight: 20kg (P1)
Price: P1, $31,500; EQ card, $1850; X1 power supply, $17,000