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2019 Golden Ear Awards: Neil Gader

2019 Golden Ear Awards: Neil Gader

Aesthetix Mimas Integrated Amplifier
$7000
The Mimas is, to my way of thinking, an old musical soul, though at a glance you wouldn’t think so. Hip and striking in its clean precision machining and uncluttered design, you’d conclude that this 150Wpc, dual-mono hybrid amp is just another high-performance entrant in the already overpopulated integrated-amp sweepstakes. However, Mimas, the first integrated from Aesthetix, is in its own way as distinctive as any linestage integrated amp I’ve heard. Capable of expressing the full palette of tonal and textural colors, it embodies many of the classic sonic virtues of the golden era of tubes but with the ease and control and extension that are hallmarks of today’s finest gear. As it fashions these essentials into a harmonious whole, its character hints of classic midrange warmth and airy treble sweetness with bass response as nimble as it is formidable. Mimas doesn’t sound solid-state or tubey either, in spite of twin 6DJ8 valves in the preamp section. There are no obvious fingerprints or colorations, tonal dips or peaks, treble-octave grit or grain, or insecurity in the bottom octaves. Yet Mimas communicates sonic elements that are often but not exclusively ascribed to tubes—particularly the aforementioned sense of midrange-infused liveliness, textural complexity, and dimensionality. Perhaps key to Mimas’ distinctive style is how it places the musicians of an orchestra within the acoustic environment of the performance—establishing the prominence of the soundspace and then illuminating and projecting the musical images upon the backdrop of that environment. Aesthetix’ Mimas is the very definition of what I am seeking today in an integrated amplifier—unalloyed transparency and musicality served up with rich reserves of power. The stuff that makes for a Golden Ear Award.

ATC SCM50 ASLT Loudspeaker
$28,000
In a manner of speaking I’ve coveted (and now own) this floorstanding loudspeaker for decades—at least bits and pieces of it. Let me clarify. This obsession actually began with the ProAc Studio 3 loudspeaker back in the 1980s—a three-way, vented design that was anchored by a massively built 75mm soft-dome midrange transducer that turned out not to be of ProAc origin but sourced from ATC, a fellow British company well-known for its active professional loudspeakers. The ProAc fed my listening biases by producing vocal and piano image of such fluency and liquidity that they seemed to materialize players in the room—a transducer that captured harmonics, timbre, and dynamic potency and nuance in a way that gave me shivers. It was on the strength and authority of this powerful dome that my quest began. And, finally, I sprang for an ATC, albeit in the abbreviated compact version. The smallest SCM20SL monitor achieved some of what I was looking for, but as a two-way it lacked that key piece of the puzzle, the 75mm dome. After a now holy-grail-like pursuit that had become a fixation, the quest came to a close with my purchase of the SCM50 ASLT. The three-way, tri-amplified SCM50 ASLT (with 75mm dome!) that I now own conveys a character of no-nonsense ease and neutrality that is underscored by three key properties: first, midrange presence and immediacy; second, midband speed that borders on electrostatic territory; and third, a staggeringly wide dynamic envelope that easily puts electrostatics and most cone loudspeakers of this size to shame. Transient behavior is quick and lifelike, rather than underlined for effect. Bass response plummets effortlessly and accurately into the mid-30Hz range. In audio as in life, high expectations are often tempered by the harsh glare of reality. For this enthusiast, the opposite has turned out to be the case. And with that, a lengthy quest has come to an end.

By Neil Gader

My love of music largely predates my enthusiasm for audio. I grew up Los Angeles in a house where music was constantly playing on the stereo (Altecs, if you’re interested). It ranged from my mom listening to hit Broadway musicals to my sister’s early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Beatles, and Stones LPs, and dad’s constant companions, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. With the British Invasion, I immediately picked up a guitar and took piano lessons and have been playing ever since. Following graduation from UCLA I became a writing member of the Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theater Workshops in New York–working in advertising to pay the bills. I’ve co-written bunches of songs, some published, some recorded. In 1995 I co-produced an award-winning short fiction movie that did well on the international film-festival circuit. I was introduced to Harry Pearson in the early 70s by a mutual friend. At that time Harry was still working full-time for Long Island’s Newsday even as he was writing Issue 1 of TAS during his off hours. We struck up a decades-long friendship that ultimately turned into a writing gig that has proved both stimulating and rewarding. In terms of music reproduction, I find myself listening more than ever for the “little” things. Low-level resolving power, dynamic gradients, shadings, timbral color and contrasts. Listening to a lot of vocals and solo piano has always helped me recalibrate and nail down what I’m hearing. Tonal neutrality and presence are important to me but small deviations are not disqualifying. But I am quite sensitive to treble over-reach, and find dry, hyper-detailed systems intriguing but inauthentic compared with the concert-going experience. For me, true musicality conveys the cozy warmth of a room with a fireplace not the icy cold of an igloo. Currently I split my time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Studio City, California with my wife Judi Dickerson, an acting, voice, and dialect coach, along with border collies Ivy and Alfie.

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