Golden Ear Awards 2015: Paul Seydor

Equipment report
Graham Engineering Phantom Elite,
Harbeth Super HL5 plus,
TechDAS Air Force One
Golden Ear Awards 2015: Paul Seydor

Harbeth SuperHL5plus Loudspeaker
Alan Shaw’s new Harbeth SuperHL5plus is one of the most beautiful sounding speaker systems I’ve heard since the original Quad electrostatic, with the same musical authority, naturalness, and a really extraordinary top-to-bottom coherence evinced by few dynamic speakers of any type. A full-range BBC-derived monitor, the 5plus’ bottom end is able to handle an outsized Mahlerian orchestra—including the hammer blows in the Tragic Symphony—with rare power, weight, and dynamic authority. If I stopped reviewing tomorrow, it’s a speaker I would keep because of how it makes almost anything played through it sound beautiful without seriously compromising accuracy. The principal deviation from absolute neutrality is a slightly forgiving quality throughout the presence range; yet the speaker is in no sense lacking in presence or lifelike vitality, the midrange drop-dead gorgeous, the top end sweet and detailed, and all so seamlessly integrated to the bottom end that it’s an exercise in artificiality to discuss them separately. In sum, a reference-caliber component that always sounds like music.

Air Force 1 Turntable
As its price suggests, this new turntable from the distinguished Asian veteran designer Hideaki Nishikawa is an all-out assault to perfect every aspect and parameter of turntable performance. An air bearing for the platter, air suction for the vacuum hold-down, and air bladders for the suspension system triangulate the nucleus of the AF1, the first to combine them in a single design. Special filters and sensors neutralize the ripple effect of pumps and prevent vinyl-damaging vacuum pressure, the sonic results a background blackness and consequent dynamic range the like of which I’ve never before experienced with vinyl, which suggests that spurious resonances are banished and that no hint of feedback or other untoward environmental disturbances pierce the suspension. Paired with importer Bob Graham’s latest ’arm, the AF1 is all around the best platform for vinyl playback with which I’ve had long experience.

Graham Phantom Elite Tonearm
Although the basic design principles, thinking, and features of Bob Graham’s classic Phantom unipivot tonearm remain unchanged, the Elite represents a substantial upgrade from previous iterations, with improvements in materials and implementation, constrained-layer damping in the pivot assembly, a new, high-density, non-magnetic tungsten insert for zero-tolerance bearing-contact and high spurious energy absorption. The removable armwands—9-, 10-, and 12-inch lengths account for the price range—are larger in diameter with more rigid, damped titanium tubes. A new alignment gauge, decoupled counterweight, arm wiring, and interconnects complete the redesign. The Elite is a true statement product in which you feel that every aspect of design, execution, and performance has been thoroughly thought through and addressed. No other ’arm known to me of any type can be more accurately, quickly, and repeatably adjusted to extract optimal performance from any suitable pickup than the Elite. Partner it with the Air Force 1 turntable, which Graham imports, and you get a record-playing system that is unlikely to be surpassed in your lifetime.