Let me describe these effects in greater detail with reference to examples, starting with the Bernstein Carmen. This is a spectacular recording that truly suggests a theatrical experience in an opera house. Throughout the whole first half of Act IV (side six), the triangles really ring out with dazzling glitter while the cymbals clash with fireworks-like brilliance. To be sure, the sonics on this recording are undeniably on the bright side, so the cymbals are certainly brash in the Toreador song and the triangles are more prominent than you would likely hear from most seats in the venue. On my reference, a Basis 2200 turntable with Vector IV tonearm and the Ortofon Windfeld, which costs about four times that of the Pear Audio, these characteristics are clearly audible, the triangles almost leaping out at you from the speakers, the cymbal clashes’ explosions of light and color with seemingly limitless space above and around them. With the Little John/Cornet 2, all this sounds as if a treble control had been dialed back to 10 or 11 o’clock, the impression of space and air a bit contracted, diminished, perhaps even very slightly veiled. Something similar happens on a completely different piece of music: The electronically applied reverberation in several cuts of Paul Simon’s Graceland doesn’t open out with the impression of spaciousness, however artificial it may be, that I know is there, sounding by comparison a little too contained. The bells at the beginning of Adam Makowicz’s The Name is Makowicz on a direct-to-disc Sheffield are lovely yet they don’t quite sparkle with the crystalline clarity that I have heard on several other setups.
At the bottom of the spectrum, the Carmen boasts a warm and ample bass, but it’s a little boomy, even whompy; with the Pear Audio that whompiness is just a little bit more whompy. The percussion, whether instrumental or electronically generated, on Graceland may not go super deep, but it can have pretty remarkable slam and definition. The Pear Audio does very well by it, but with less force and sheer punch than I’ve heard on several other setups. Likewise, Joe Ore’s bass on Monk’s Dream: It’s there with the Pear Audio, perfectly audible, tuneful, pitch perfect with good definition. On the reference, it’s all that and better: bolder and more assertive, opening out with exceptional clarity, articulation, definition, and pitch differentiation—indeed, the whole quartet is reproduced with a greater sense of space around the musicians in a more vibrant, dynamic performance.
What all this suggests is that the Little John/Cornet 2’s sonic personality is almost classic yin in Harry Pearson’s still useful yin/yang dichotomy: smooth, warm, romantic, a little dark. I have no wish to make too much of these tonal anomalies. For one thing, their effects are not in the least crude or gross, rather mild and for the most part unobtrusive, while they may even be heard as virtues by many (among whom I number myself when it comes to very bright recordings or if I’m simply in that kind of mood). For another, many listeners might not even notice them in the absence of comparisons. For a third, to the extent that they “err,” it is on the side of listenability and musicality.
But I call attention to them for three reasons. First, while any given tonearm and/or turntable has a perceivable effect, however subtle, on the performance of any given pickup, it is rare in my experience that an ’arm and a ’table alter a pickup’s tonal profile to even the relatively small degree that this Pear Audio setup does. Second, Pear Audio’s literature makes a point of claiming no that “frequency is overly diminished or amplified” or “overly damped or allowed to sustain” by its products, but this is a claim that manifestly does not survive scrutiny. (My suspicion is that the Cornet 2 is far more responsible for these tonal characteristics than the turntable. My colleague Andre Jennings discovered similar characteristics in his review of the Cornet 2 on the Kid Thomas turntable, Pear Audio’s flagship, as did Art Dudley with the Cornet 2 on the Kid Howard turntable, second from the top in the line. Third, inasmuch as it’s proving increasingly difficult in our day and age to find brick-and-mortar stores where components can actually be auditioned and compared, perhaps this information will prove useful for the purposes of system building and component matching.
Let me also say that I grant it may be unfair to compare these two setups, the Basis components costing somewhere between three and four times what those from Pear Audio do. However, the Cornet 2 is marketed as Fletcher’s statement tonearm, and the literature invites comparisons regardless of cost or design.
Putting my evaluation into a larger perspective, I return to my opening and reiterate how much pleasure this ensemble gave me. At four grand, the Little John/Cornet 2 lands smack into a popular and crowded price point, above budget gear yet below the level at which things begin to get prohibitively expensive. In the past year or so I’ve reviewed the Bryston BP-1 and my colleague Robert Greene the Technics SL-1200G, both costing the same four grand, each of us awarding them Golden Ears. If it’s high neutrality you’re after, plus overall precision and resolution, then I’d direct you to the Bryston. I’ve not heard the Technics, but from REG’s description, which I trust, it sounds as if it would satisfy similar preferences. But if you crave a setup that is at all times pleasing and musical, that almost always sounds nice, never offends, and is really, really enjoyable, you’d be wise to search out Pear Audio’s products. What they get right, they get so right you soon forget about everything else except the music.
Specs & Pricing
Cornet 2 tonearm
Effective mass: 12.5 grams
Little John turntable
Speeds: 33.33 and 45rpm
Dimensions (approx.): 16.5" x 5.5" x 14.5"
AUDIO SKIES (U.S. Distributor)