2014 Golden Ear Awards: Paul Seydor

Equipment report
Tubed power amplifiers
Martin Logan Montis Reserve Series,
REL R-528SE,
Zesto Audio Bia 120
2014 Golden Ear Awards: Paul Seydor

REL R-528SE Sub-Bass System
REL’s R-528SE offers truly breathtaking bass reach, low distortion, and high resolution in a compact package that is standard setting at its price and several multiples beyond. In truth, it’s doubtful even a handful of subwoofers out there for any price could match its performance. The R-528SE is a kind of chameleon that can liken itself, as it were, to the character of the main speakers, extending their bass response in such a way as to make it appear as if it’s organically and imperceptibly continuous with their sound, not a box that woofs along with it. But it’s not just big deep stuff that is better reproduced. All recordings made in spacious venues are reproduced with a greater sense of air, atmosphere, and the “presence” of the space itself, which results in a much richer and more enveloping presentation. It matches up so well with his Quad 2805 ESLs that PS bought the review pair. (239)

MartinLogan Montis Reserve Series Electrostatic Hybrid Loudspeaker
Standing in the middle of MartinLogan’s Reference Series of electrostatic/cone-woofer hybrids, the Montis is state of the art in all the areas for which electrostatics are traditionally outstanding: supremely smooth and natural tonal balance (ever so slightly forgiving in the 2k–4kHz range), with a transparency that rivals any Quad ESL in PS’s experience; a dynamic range that is quite beyond the capability of any Quad and for that matter any other ESLs of his experience; and an ability to scale vocalists, instrumentalists, and ensembles to life size. Frequency response at the bottom end not only far exceeds Quads, it trumps many so-called full-range cone speakers: -3dB at 29Hz (!) defies belief given the small cabinet size. Owing to its seamless integration of the woofer and the electrostatic panel, the Montis is an authentic breakthrough and a vindication of MartinLogan’s hybrid technology. By any reckoning this is a truly great speaker system capable of supremely satisfying reproduction of all kinds of music. (244)

Zesto Audio Bia 120 Stereo Power Amplifier
Styled to match its Zeto linestage and Andros phonostage, Zesto’s new Bia 60Wpc, Class A, all-tube power amplifier lands the company the trifecta. Cut from the same sonic cloth as the preamps, Bia’s personality consists in a completely seductive musicality, free from all the usual sorts of electronic colorations and artifacts, for a presentation that never, ever sounds electromechanical, instead always wholly natural. Dynamic range is prodigious: The Bia even drove PS’s inefficient Quad ESL 2805s to clear, clean, unstrained levels (a magnificent combination, by the way). Although the spectral balance stays within the bounds of a broadly defined neutrality, it is not completely accurate, being more beautiful than real. Luscious, velvety, silken, gorgeous, it’s the kind of sound around which audio cults develop, and it’s easy to imagine its owners years, even decades hence treasuring the Bia the way others do classic McIntosh and Marantz components. (243)