Nothing like beginning with a confession: It’s getting to be that one of the hardest categories of components to review is solid-state electronics in the moderately expensive category. To begin with, most of them are so good they must give anyone but hedge fund managers, oil barons, and top Fortune 500 CEOs pause before spending a whole lot more. And not just good, but good in a way that brings them closer and closer together in sound. I’m not resurrecting the canard that electronics that measure similarly sound the same, only that I find it often takes a great deal of very critical listening to ferret out differences that, once ferreted out, sometimes hardly seem worth the effort. These components are for the most part neutral in tonal balance, extremely low in noise and distortion, highly transparent, and offer bagsful of performance at prices that, while hardly inexpensive, are not outrageous, especially by comparison to products in the stratosphere.
These musings are prompted by a superb new phonostage, retailing for $3900, from a manufacturer whose products are relatively new to my personal experience, though the company has been around for a long time—the New Zealand firm Plinius. Before I listened to a note of music, the Koru pushed all my buttons by offering enough options for loading and gain to handle all moving magnets and the majority of moving coils likely to be used with it (also unusual is adjustable capacitance). styled with curved front panels to match the current Plinius look and available in black or silver, the Koru’s fascia is stark, boasting nothing more than a blue LED and the engraved “Plinius” moniker. The business end is the rear panel, where DIP-switches select loading and levels and there is a balanced output in addition to the single-ended RCAs. Plinius claims the Koru’s power supply “boasts a virtual battery approach with over 100,000mF of capacitance and very sophisticated two-stage regulation.”
I’m not sure what a “virtual battery approach” means, except perhaps impressive AC isolation, but I’ll tell you this: The Koru is one super-quiet phonostage. Operation couldn’t be simpler or more straightforward. Determine the loading and level values of your pickup—if you care about this (and you should)—set the switches, hook everything up, and drop the needle.
First up was a perennial favorite despite its seasonal orientation: Joel Cohen’s Sing We Noel with the Boston Camerata [Nonesuch], because it has some drop-dead-beautiful vocals in selections that range from soloists to small choir and period instruments recorded in a rich, warm church ambience. The ambience here is plentiful and should be always in evidence. For example, on side 1, cut 5, when the reader speaks in the left channel, you should be aware of how the reverberation allows his voice to carry across the soundstage; ditto when the soprano sings in the right channel; and when the small choir joins in, it should sound convincingly situated in the space between them. The Koru nailed this.
Other voices, other venues: Doris Day’s “Over the Rainbow” from Hooray for Hollywood. This is a tricky to one get exactly right because Day’s voice is a marvel of lightness and clarity, but there is still a lower register that grounds it. Far too many components, especially with the current taste for etched, exaggerated highs, get the lightness at the expense of a subtle thinness; again, the Koru got it right from the first phrase and projected Day's voice with pleasing roundedness.