From the opening bar of the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony soundstage dimensions were expansive with well-defined orchestral layering, rivaling the best I’ve experienced from this superb recording of the Solti-led Chicago at its height. Especially stirring were the tone and transparency of Ludwig Van’s familiar tympani strikes, and the illusion of echo that occurs as the instruments are struck progressively more softly. When I reached the opening moments of the “Ode to Joy” section I appreciated the delicate volume gradations reproduced during the noble thematic interplay of doublebass and cello. The soloists in the chorus were cleanly defined on a broad soundstage, but in a slightly drier-than-usual setting (this slight added dryness also characterized the string sections). Later on, the answering bass drum and cymbals emerged from the back of the hall as transparently as I’ve heard them. The drum strokes were tight, but I ultimately thought that their decays were less than fully revealed as they trailed off into ambient space.
Low-level resolution was for the most part very, very good. Vaughan Williams’ Variations on Greensleeves features a flute theme that was reproduced with openness and a hint of added sparkle and air—arguably too cool in timbre for some tastes but very clear and present. It was also easy to follow the individual note lines in the flute’s delicate interplay with a concert harp—a duet where the images could easily have smeared together.
In macro and micro dynamics, only the mostly widely dynamic LPs like Reference Recordings’ A Sussex Overture suggested that the Decade might have any limits. Now a vinyl rarity, this collection of Malcolm Arnold’s colorful pieces and kitchen-sink histrionics remains a tour-de-force production even by the lofty standards of engineering legend Keith O. Johnson. The audience perspective is close-up, and the soundstage is a hyper-wide creation with “visibility” to the back wall of the auditorium. The Decade depicted all the color and clarity that my system could summon up during the kitschy “Christmas Commonwealth” track. The opening fanfare is awash with triumphal brass-section blasts, xylophone accents, and the occasional tam-tam splash (to make sure no one’s caught napping). But the real surprise comes later during a sequence of Caribbean-laced themes (a guitar lead, marimba, maracas, you get the idea) that sound as if Sir Malcom took a wrong turn and ended up in Margaritaville channeling his inner Jimmy Buffett. Wacky yes, but so transparent and detailed that you’ll be glued to your seat.
How does the Decade stack up against my current reference, the Parasound JC 3+? Very well, indeed, but not because they’re identical. The distinctions are subtle but for a moment think of the Lehmann and the Parasound as you would if you were comparing a pair of pianos. Let’s assume these are equally fine instruments. They play the same exact notes over the same octave ranges. However the Lehmann “piano” is a slightly shorter length; its tonality has a slightly lighter, up-tempo signature. Very responsive on top with an edge on intensity compared to the slightly bigger “soundboard” of the JC 3+, which manifests a darker lower range. Both are valid presentations, just tilting very slightly in opposite directions—the Lehmann shaping and sharpening its focus on top, the Parasound tightening its grip on the bottom. The former opting for more perceived detail, the latter, greater spatiality.
The Lehmannaudio Decade brings its “A” game to the analog LP listening experience. It does so without fanfare or the “watch this” level of fireworks that works wonders on a first date but the next morning makes you ask, “What was I thinking?”
The last word in phonostages? Not quite. However I am confident that few will find the Decade to be less than excellent when compared with anything else at anywhere near its price. Just like the Black Cube of so many years ago the Decade reminded me all over again of just how musically rewarding it is to be a devotee of vinyl playback. Without reservation, a fine component.
SPECS & PRICING
Gain: 36dB, 46dB, 56dB, 66dB
Channel separation: > 80dB at 10kHz
Dimensions: 4.3" x 11" x 2" (same for PWXII power supply)
Weight: 2 lbs. (3.5 lbs. for PWXII)