Golden Ear Awards 2015: Neil Gader

Equipment report
Categories:
Floorstanding,
Stand-mount,
Subwoofers,
Music servers and computer audio,
Turntables,
Digital cables
|
Products:
ATC SCM19,
Clarus Cable Crimson USB,
Lumin A-1 Audio Streamer,
REL S/5,
Revel F206,
SOTA Turntables Cosmos Series IV
Golden Ear Awards 2015: Neil Gader

Revel Performa3 F206 Loudspeaker
$3500
Although I reviewed the F206 way back in Issue 234, this three-way, bass-reflex design has proven unforgettable. Its charismatic, highly dynamic performance is etched in my memory like that of few floorstanders reviewed before or since. And it doesn’t take a “golden ear” to be smitten by its prodigious strengths. Its performance commands an audience to attention with musicality, energy, image precision, and seemingly unlimited output. Tonally there are no broad flat spots or nasty peaks. Rather, it presents a sonically united front built upon strong, low-frequency dynamic reserves (virtually billiard-table flat down to forty cycles), brass-knuckle slam, lifelike midrange presence, and a treble range that’s eloquent yet mercifully without the needle of tweeter localization. I continue to consider it a remarkable loudspeaker that exceeds all expectations of performance, both in its price class and beyond.

ATC SCM19 Loudspeaker
$4295
Okay, the ATC SCM19 won’t stop traffic with its conservative looks. But ATC has never sought to cater to the trends of the marketplace. This stout, two-way, acoustic-suspension, professional-grade monitor was born to do a specific job: to deliver accurate, high-caliber music reproduction. Just give it some complex, wideband music to play, and it’ll turn heads and appreciative ears its way. Thanks to ATC’s proprietary, heavy-duty, bespoke drivers, the SCM19’s midrange balance, overall tonal neutrality, and surprisingly broad (for its size) micro- and macro-dynamics are superb. Inter-driver coherence is outstanding, and there are no box colorations to speak of. Plus, the all-new soft-dome tweeter—engineered and manufactured in-house—is a real beaut and adds volumes of air on top. Still one of the best compacts I have heard to date.


REL Series S/5 Subwoofer
$2500
For me, the true allure of the S/5 goes well beyond superb low-frequency performance and straight to the heart of the music. Tight, textured, and tuneful in all musical genres, it possesses a rare delicacy and dexterity that allows seamless integration into a system, revealing a recording’s heretofore undiscovered ambience and dimension. Beautifully appointed and highly configurable, the S/5 not only summons up the deepest orchestral fireworks and organ excursions, it does so invisibly and without coloring the character and transparency of even the most highly resolved loudspeakers. I’ve driven a variety of systems over the last few months—stand-mount monitors to near-full-range floorstanders—and never has one failed to benefit from the ministrations of the S/5.


Clarus Cable Crimson USB
$250
Budget USB cables used to be pretty nasty, with noise, flabby bass, and latency issues. But the Clarus proved to be an exception: a cable at an approachable price that performed at a level tantalizingly close to top-tier wires. With a resplendent midrange and deep rich lows, the Crimson is not only perfect for users testing the computer-audio waters, but also for those seeking a meaningful upgrade.


Sota Cosmos Series IV Turntable
$8000 (with vacuum and record clamp)
Compared with the massive open-chassis, suspensionless designs of many contemporary ’tables, the Sota Cosmos looks positively modest. Well into its third decade, it is the paradigm of Old School. Nothing is Old School about its performance, however. Now in its fourth generation of significant chassis upgrades, the current Cosmos is as quiet, stable, and speed-accurate as any ’table within hailing distance of its price range. The superb vacuum system, which uses a sensor to maintain suction, adds a level of imaging precision that, once experienced, you won’t want to be without. Yes, there’s a lower-priced, non-vacuum version available, but why bother? Critical is its remarkable isolation from acoustic and mechanical resonances. The not-so-secret reason is the multi-layered platter, motor, and ’arm block that are mounted directly on the suspended, damped sub-chassis, a floating platform that can suffer a San Andreas episode without a skip. And I’m not kidding—I live in Los Angeles. A true classic.


Lumin A-1 Audiophile Network Player
$7200

I haven’t been shy about expressing my reservations about computer audio—mostly it seems like too much work, and IMHO is a totally unsexy way to enjoy music. However, by mostly (not entirely) eliminating the need for a computer, the Lumin A-1 player has proven to be the exception. It’s capable of pulling audio media from most external digital sources, including a NAS, plus its dual-mono Wolfson DACs play back a multitude of formats up to and including 32-bit/384kHz PCM/DXD and standard DSD. Operating wirelessly through its own graphically superb iPad app, the A-1 releases the reins of sonic tension and dryness that constrain many digital recordings, adding warmth and weightier presence even to mundane 16-bit/44kHz recordings. I’ve also noted over the months that Lumin makes sure its products are well supported with regular software and firmware updates, and, most recently, Tidal support. It’s so good that it’s the “computer” I’ve come to accept as a high-end source component.