Let’s talk about those sonics.
Here is what Absolute Dream can do: Coupled with the most discerning speakers and electronics (for which see my review of the Audio Research Reference 250 monoblocks, Reference Phono Two SE phonostage, and Reference 5 SE linestage in this issue), it can not only resolve those micro-details that make instruments and performers very nearly visible; it can do this same trick with things the eye can’t see—it can fill the space of your room, from wall to wall to wall, with the sound of the studio or hall in which the recording was made, all the while making the speakers themselves vanish (in so far as they are capable of vanishing) within this three-dimensional ambient field.
Now, lots of wire can reproduce “ambience.” And the Dreams’ exceptionalism in this regard depends entirely on what you take that word to mean. If by “ambience” you mean a consistent darkening or brightening of the air in your room—a “black” scrim-like curtain, say, hung between your speakers—then the Dreams aren’t going to be for you. They don’t “color” anything, not even air. Instead, the Dreams reproduce an ambient field the way the best planars often do: not by adding a grainy texture or dark hue to the soundfield but by seemingly expanding the volume of air in your room and charging it with energy (as if a fan were blowing it in your direction), so that in a subtle (but fully audible and unmistakable way) it is still air—colorless, grainless—only no longer the still air of your room, but rather the moving air of the studio/hall in which the performance was recorded, lit by the energy of instruments and heard by the microphones. It turns the motionlessness of ambient air into motion-filled “miked” air—if that makes sense—while also altering the dimensions of your room by seemingly moving backwalls further back and sidewalls further to the sides in imitation of the volume of the recording venue.
I have no idea if I’m clearly conveying the point I want to make here. But, to put this more simply, Absolute Dream (like Synergistic Galileo) is capable of such colorless neutrality, limpid clarity, and extremely fine resolution of extremely low-level detail (such as the “sound” of air charged with musical energy as heard through microphones) that it is that veritable transparent window on the recording we all claim we’re looking for.
Obviously, Absolute Dream is very low in distortion. You hear this in the sheer abundance of detail it reveals at low levels and high ones—the whispery little vibrato that a singer like Melody Gardot adds to the tail ends of certain notes as she runs out of one breath before taking another; the way that pizzicatos are passed across the stage from string section to string section during Bartok’s Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta, like wind rattling tree limbs; the hilariously explosive sforzando crash with which the piano answers that capering trumpet in the last movement of Shostakovich’s marvelous First Piano Concerto (and the piano’s own great caper, as it breaks into that droll Liszt-like dance right before the close); or, as I note in my ARC review in this issue (there will be other cross-references because, after all, a cable or interconnect is always working in concert with whatever it connects), the way the timbre of Lou Reed’s voice on “White Heat/White Light” from Rock and Roll Animal is magically transformed from generic Lou Reed to that of a still-very-young man, fueled by the excitement of the moment and the enthusiasm of the crowd and the energy of that great pickup band of his; or, for you transparency freaks, the way miking schemes (close/distant, spare/multi) and engineering (compressed/uncompressed, fiddled-with/pure) markedly change on great recordings from different labels, and the way the characteristic acoustic differences among the halls themselves— the alto note of Kingsway, for instance—are captured by that miking and engineering. It is the Dream’s incredibly low noise floor that permits this astonishingly high resolution, dynamic freedom at low levels and high, and clear-as-glass transparency to sources.