Golden Ear Awards 2016: Neil Gader

Equipment report
Multi-format disc players,
Loudspeaker cables,
Audience Ohno,
dCS Puccini,
ELAC Electroacoustik GmbH Debut B5,
ELAC Electroacoustik GmbH Debut F5,
REL S/5,
Wilson Audio Sabrina
Golden Ear Awards 2016: Neil Gader

Elac B5/F5 Loudspeakers
The two-hundred-buck small speaker category will never be the same again. Just spend a few minutes listening to Elac’s two-way compact and you’ll understand why so many are singing its praises. Touching the bases in virtually every criteria, the Andrew Jones-designed B5 is robust in the mid and upper bass with little in the way of box/port colorations. However, it’s the speaker’s straight-talking midrange that conveys a thrilling musical truth so compelling that all who encounter the B5 simply shake their heads and murmur, “How much did you say these are?” And the same holds true for the floorstanding F5. With its additional woofers it leverages the key strengths of the B5 then significantly builds on them by adding extension and ambience and flat-out dynamic slam. While not flawless, the B5 and F5 are as faultless as speakers are likely to get at these prices.

REL S/5 Subwoofer
When I make a mental list of all the attributes I want in a subwoofer, I keep returning to the REL S/5. Equipped with a 12" woofer mated with a 12" downward-firing passive radiator, the S/5 is capable of spine-tingling seismic stirrings and majestic musicality. It’s beautifully finished and accented, of reasonable size, and easy to configure to a room with its finely-honed variable crossover and output adjustments. And then there’s its performance envelope, which extends deeply and sometimes terrifyingly into the mid-20Hz range, yet manifests the tuneful dexterity to become one with the music. And it does so seamlessly and invisibly and without coloring the character and transparency of even the most vaunted main speaker system.

dCS Puccini CD/SACD Player
The Puccini occupies a special place in my audio experience. More than any other disc player it allowed me to realize the potential of high-resolution digital, specifically the SACD format. Its low-key design was unreservedly gorgeous, only surpassed by CD/SACD sound quality that didn’t take a back seat to pretty much anything else. In fact, long after I’d returned the Puccini to dCS, I remembered what made its sonic signature so special—a warmth, resolution, and transparency that seemed to redefine what it meant to listen to digital. No, it wasn’t LP playback exactly, nor was it anything like most digital I’d been used to. Rather, the Puccini performed a musical dance that was a virtual hybrid of the two formats. Now superseded by the Rossini player, it’s still one of the best single-box units out there. If you are a listener who is well invested in the SACD format, this is one of the two or three players I’d hate to be without.

Audience Ohno Cables
Interconnect, $199/1m (+$82 per meter); speaker, $209/1m (+$20 per meter)
What’s a scrawny little cable doing in TAS’ hoity-toity Golden Ear Awards? Very simple: Once you get past the initial shock at Ohno’s teeny profile you’ll be as surprised as I was by its imperturbable balance and midrange tonal weight, which seem so contradictory to its skinny contours. The Ohnos are also quiet, quick, and extended with well-focused and dimensional imaging. Sure there are plenty of heavy serpentine designs out there, but it’s refreshing to use a cable that integrates so easily in a small room or desktop setup. Maybe, just maybe, the best performance-per-dollar cable that I’ve heard in some time.

Wilson Audio Sabrina Loudspeaker
More than any other Wilson speaker I’ve encountered in recent years, Sabrina seems to generate unequivocal praise from all who listen—critics included—garnering accolades that normally accrue to flagship designs. This is quite an accomplishment for a speaker that represents the smallest and least expensive floorstander in the Wilson line. In my view the plaudits are well deserved. Sabrina continues to make a powerful connection with me. It’s communicative in the way I like my speakers to be, with a commanding and linear top-to-bottom energy. It conveys a ripe almost voluptuous sound that allows the listener to sink into its warm embrace. It’s a Wilson, of course, so it’s animated by remarkable dynamic headroom, low-level resolution, and a sense that it willfully wants to drive music forward rather than let it passively lay back. It also artfully combines low-level cues with the most delicate bass dynamics, a region where most loudspeakers loose grip and control. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sabrina is, pound for pound, the best Wilson Audio loudspeaker available today.