Golden Ear Awards 2016: Jacob Heilbrunn

Equipment report
Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Loudspeaker cables,
Golden Ear Awards 2016: Jacob Heilbrunn

Transparent Opus Generation 5
$22,000 meter pair (balanced interconnect), $39,000 8' speaker cable
Transparent’s reference line of networked interconnects and speaker cables sets a very high bar indeed for sonic performance. It builds upon the earlier Transparent Opus line to offer a seamless midrange and silky highs. Most distinctive about the Generation 5 cables are their cavernous soundstage, in many ways a product of their ability to provide an almost unrivaled bass foundation, and their superbly natural tonality. Other cables may be faster or more detailed, but Transparent offers a mesmerizing blend of virtues that add up to a larger musical whole. Believe it or not, there is a Magnum line that pushes the frontiers one step further, but the Opus Gen 5 should be more than satisfactory for all but the most fastidious audiophiles.

Lyra Etna SL Cartridge
Lyra cartridges have always excelled at slam, dynamics, and sheer musical excitement. The Etna SL does not move away from those qualities so much as mark a salubrious evolution towards a more refined and agreeable sound. Gone is any lingering sense of zippiness or etch that occasionally reared its head with the Etna’s lineal predecessors. The super-low-output designation (SL), which refers to the fewer coil windings, appears to result in a cartridge that unites an extremely low noise floor with amazing transient precision. The Etna is able to render everything from piano to trumpets with superb fidelity, almost as though it could discern the healthy part of the vinyl. The Etna is a surpassingly winning cartridge, one that is so evenhanded throughout the frequency spectrum that it is always a delight to audition.

dCS Vivaldi 2.0 Digital Source
$41,999 (Transport), $35,999 (DAC), $21,999 (Upsampler), $14,999 (Clock)
The Vivaldi first appeared several years ago and featured excellent soundstaging and dynamics. But the new 2.0 version, which features software and internal hardware changes, truly catapults its performance into the stratosphere. Some of the most notable improvements occur in the treble region, where for the first time digital playback seems to obtain the air that is so palpable on vinyl sources. There is also audibly more detail in the treble and midrange areas, allowing the tonality of individual instruments to emerge in a much more striking fashion. Piano trills are enunciated with a shocking finesse and clarity. The bass lines are also palpably tighter and deeper. Overall, the presentation isn’t simply more dynamic, but also supplies a lot more weight to instruments such as piano or trumpet. With its latest version of the Vivaldi, dCS has hit it out of the park.