Because this is such a “high-design” and unusual high-end offering, I realize I’ve spent a precious chunk of my word count allotment on description. However, that is much of the story here. Audiophiles are a notoriously fickle bunch, and priorities vary widely. But presumably one is buying the Phase 3 to listen to at least as much as to look at. It would make a perfect solution for music lovers who don’t have the space or approval from a partner/spouse to fill a room with a slew of components—or even the desire to seek them out. It must be said, however, that for the same money one could purchase any number of component combinations to put together a killer system perfectly suited to one’s listening tastes and needs. But given the spirit and intentions behind this unique project/system, that’s beside the point. Although the extremely stylized Phase 3 is a high-end offering (and priced accordingly), it’s also a technical wonder, and performs its many jobs quite seamlessly and conveniently in a compact, ready-to-go package that really stands out.
Looking and Listening
CDs and USB became my bread-and-butter listening here along with hi-res digital files loaded onto the player’s 2TB onboard hard drive (there’s even a second one for backup). Although the 161 does include analog input and outputs—an offering I’m always on board with—the notion of bringing a turntable and a phonostage into the mix seemed almost antithetical to the system’s “all-in-one” principle. (And I’m saying this as a vinyl lover!) The Phase 3’s playback priorities clearly reside more in the digital camp.
Sonically speaking, although the Phase 3 gear took its time to break in, it ended up really strutting its stuff! For starters, those speakers certainly sound much bigger and brasher than their form and size suggest. Images are larger than expected from a compact two-way, though not surprisingly the stage was not quite as tall and deep as what I’m used to. (Then again I’ve been listening to Maggie 30.7s.) Playback is crisp, clean, highly detailed, fast. And on hard-hitting rock and pop, the Phase 3 speakers pump out bass that verges on unbelievable for two-ways. The explosive attacks on Phil Collins’ drums with gated reverb on “In the Air Tonight” from the 2016 remastered Face Value (24/96 FLAC) made me go, “Wow!” alone in my listening room. Distinct and more delicate layers of keyboard/synth were revealed against black backgrounds. To say the system has bold presence and swagger—both visually and sonically—is an understatement.
The Phase 3’s amp/player and speaker combination also carves out a surprising degree of three-dimensionality and sense of space on better recordings. Presentation tends to lean forward, inviting you closer to the music. On the Getz/Gilberto classic “The Girl from Ipanema” (Red Book CD) Stan Getz’s breathy saxophone swirling around Astrud Gilberto’s come-hither vocals was as compelling as I’ve ever heard on this track. A small critique: On some closely miked recordings I detected a hint of harshness or aggressiveness on certain notes in the upper midrange (on trumpets and saxes, in particular). But this is a minor matter; nothing that subtracted from my listening enjoyment of the system. I was astounded by how very quiet backgrounds were—this is a real engineering feat considering all the electronics packed inside this all-in-one box.
Orchestral fare, such as a 24/96 FLAC file of Beethoven’s Ninth by the Berliner Philharmoniker under the baton of Herbert von Karajan on Deutsche Grammophon, was rendered with an admirable sense of depth and detail. Dynamics and drama were conveyed albeit in a somewhat miniaturized way. In the Molto vivace movement, an oboe’s rich tones soared above the ensemble, sounding sweet and natural. The woodwind even seemed appropriately placed within the soundstage, as did the other instrument sections.
The Phase 3’s tonal balance tends toward a pleasing neutrality, albeit with an ever-so-slight dryness at times—a bit like a brand-new woodwind reed. Midrange seems to be a focal point with a slight elevation in the presence range. Then again, this could be a voicing choice, an effect of my room, or both. The only other nits I might pick are some slight softening on the top end and an occasional touch of grain and sibilance. Again, these seldom caught my ear and really didn’t disrupt the festivities.