Plinius Koru Phonostage

Mid-Priced Excellence

Equipment report
Plinius Koru
Plinius Koru Phonostage

Frank, Nelson, and The Concert Sinatra in MoFi’s latest reissue is arguably the best of the early Reprise albums and worthy of comparison to vintage Capitol. There is fantastic focus and transparency for the voice, bringing it into the room if you play it loud. Meanwhile, those masterly Riddle charts—just listen to the way he wraps an augmented classical orchestra around The Voice, reducing the number of instruments when necessary without ever sounding thin, or swelling for crescendos that never swamp the singer. The end of the show-stopper “My Boy Bill” is an object lesson in how to drop strong brass-led chords into the interstices of a singer’s phrasing so you get the climactic power of a full orchestra without drowning out him and the lyrics. And the way the Koru in combination with the Ortofon Windfeld sets all this out for your delectation, the word “analytical” never crosses your mind. Sinatra and sextet’s Live in Paris, another MoFi reissue, is one of his best live-outing collections.

Though not state-of-the-art sound, it does have that elusive quality of caught-on-the-wing vitality that can sometimes draw you in more persuasively than many a more coiffed studio job can. It certainly did me here, or maybe it was just the beautiful singing. But the recording lets you hear all the flaws (it’s stereo but there’s very little sense of a soundstage as such), and Sinatra sometimes goes off-mike. No matter, magic’s happening in these grooves.

On “Take the A Train” from For Duke, the first peal of Bill Berry’s cornet leaps out of the right speaker with almost shocking immediacy. This is reproduction so vital, explosively dynamic, see- through transparent, and lapel-grabbingly involving that it hardly matters you’d never hear a jazz ensemble sound quite like this live (unless maybe the musicians were actually in your room, and then would be unbearable). The timbres are spot on and the Koru really lets this rip dynamically. What I’m listening for during evaluations is that elusive sense of there being no constriction to the sound. I also want to hear the full vitality of the performers: these guys were charged up and ablaze the two days they cut this album, and there’s no hint of that we-better-get-this-right cautiousness which sometimes disfigures direct-to-disc recordings. Again, the Koru sailed through it all unperturbed.

From a jazz classic to a rock one and Paul Simon’s Graceland. There’s obviously no live-music equivalent to this album, beginning with the synthetic reverb on the opening drum hits. The performers are already in effect so enhanced by the mix itself, which contains so much electric, that I don’t want further enhancement by the equipment. Yet for all the processing, I’ve always found this a very pleasing, easy-on-the-ears album despite how “engineered” it obviously is, perhaps because it never loses a human connection, which is how the Koru reproduced it. With its mix of styles, instruments, genres, continents, and venues, it’s crazy that Simon manages to achieve a unity among these twelve songs. In the a cappella opening to “Diamonds on the soles of Her shoes,” the singers stretch across the soundstage (it actually seems to expand), but on “Homeless,” despite more singers (and, of course, different ones), the perspective is closer and more intimate. so many layers go into an album like this that it can’t possibly be as transparent or as tactile as For Duke, but that slight distance or veil if you will seems to suit a ruminative quality in Simon’s elusive lyrics, even when the music is up-tempo. I’ve listened to this album in whole or in part countless times, but rarely with more attention or greater enjoyment.

I found Plinius’s Hautonga integrated amplifier, which I recently reviewed TAs 229), to be a component distinctly on the Yang side of neutral, not bright as such but with a slight bit of an etched character to it. I hear no evidence of that from the Koru, which leaves me impressed more than anything else with its ease and confidence. There are no readily discernible tonal anomalies up and down the scale, and it renders the highest of highs and the lowest of lows impartially, so far as my ears tell me. Listen to Rhapsodies, Stokowski’s great album of orchestral rhapsodies by Liszt and Enesco, where the doublebasses are powerfully resonant, well defined, yet not “tight” as such, which they never are in actuality. The Bernstein Carmen was every bit as thrilling as it should be, but with a difference that was entirely salutary: Without sacrificing an iota of the almost preternatural excitement of the sound on this remarkable recording, the presentation was much smoother in the highs than I’ve heard from some phonostages, which owed, I believe, at least in part to the proper loading. At the bottom end, where this recording can sound a little wooly, there was also a subtle but welcome impression of increased control and definition.