Pianist Bruce Levingston’s latest release has such a satisfying symmetry, logic, and consistency of tone that makes it hard not to listen all the way through. Levingston programs music by J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, and the contemporary German composer Wolfgang Rihm. He also plays chorale preludes of Bach and Brahms transcribed by Busoni, plus Brahms’ arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor, originally for solo violin. It’s that last selection that’s the album’s highlight. Brahms has reimagined the piece for left hand only—just as the violin plays double, triple, and quadruple stops to rough in the harmonic underpinning of the Chaconne, Brahms has his soloist arpeggiate chords with the five fingers seeing action. There’s a necessary focus on melodic line and dramatic shaping and Levingston responds with subtle dynamic contouring and judicious pacing. The two Rihm Preludes are brief early works with movement and momentum, but also a weighty solemnity. Levingston concludes quietly, yet majestically, with Brahms’ Theme and Variations in D Minor, Op.18b. Sono Luminus is an all-around audiophile label but their piano recordings are best—an ideal blend of percussiveness and resonance, with an outstanding sense of the volume and mass of the Steinway Model D.
Because of my lifelong fascination with both marques, I’ve done a good deal of research over the years on ARC and Maggie. Indeed, I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about WZJ and Jim Winey. But when it comes to ARC, Ken Kessler’s new book—Audio Research: Making the Music Glow—which is the subject of this review, has, consistently, proven me wrong.
Did you know, for instance, that, beyond junior high school, WZJ had no formal education? That his gift for designing and building standard-setting tube gear was simply a God-given talent? I didn’t. Did you know that WZJ’s ability to pilot his own airplanes—Johnson was an expert amateur flyer, who owned several single- and twin-engine aircraft—played an important role in the early success of the Audio Research Corporation? I didn’t. Did you know that a large batch of faulty filter capacitors nearly put ARC out of business? I didn’t. (Well, I kinda did, but had forgotten about it.)
Ken Kessler, a writer I’ve enjoyed reading and working with, and to whom I owe a long-standing debt of gratitude (for his delightful review of my 1993 mystery novel The Music Lovers in, of all places, Hi-Fi News & Record Review), has filled his book on ARC with many such nuggets of previously unknown or little-known information, and in so doing paints an incomparably detailed picture of the development of the Audio Research Corporation, the birth of each and every one of WZJ’s products (itemized in the second half of the book), the sound of those classic components, and the work of the engineers, golden-eared listeners, and sales staff (including the redoubtable Wendell Diller, who got his start at ARC before switching over to Magnepan), who have contributed to and continued to burnish WZJ’s legacy.
Lavishly and profusely illustrated by Henry Nolan, Ken’s long-time collaborator, well organized and written (as I expected from Ken, who spent better than four years researching his subject), and filled to bursting with stuff you didn’t know about one of the most seminal marques in high-end-audio history, Audio Research: Making the Music Glow is a must-read for any of you guys and gals with an interest in how the high end became the high end. I recommend it most enthusiastically.
Indeed, in terms of both style and quality, quite a few of the songs on McCartney III would fit comfortably on that Beatles disc. For instance, “Slidin’” gives The White Album’s “Helter Skelter” a run for the money in terms of hard-rock heaviness. Similarly, “The Kiss of Venus” resembles “Blackbird” in its acoustic setting and earnest, unvarnished delivery. The jaunty “Lavatory Lil” (“You think she’s being friendly/But she’s looking for a Bentley”) recalls “Rocky Racoon” in its ability to conjure a compelling character.
Yet McCartney III also contains songs that have no parallel in Sir Paul’s past work. Further, several exhibit a new level of compositional maturity. One track that exhibits both of these traits is “Deep Deep Feeling” which, despite its eight-and-a-half-minute length, I can’t get enough of. The song has a structure and vibe unique in McCartney’s work.
McCartney’s lyrics, too, are more mature and philosophical than they’ve ever been. No silly love songs, here! McCartney III’s lyrics are well-crafted, thoughtful, witty at times, and emotionally resonant. For example, on “Women and Wives,” McCartney considers the effect our present choices will have on future generations: “Hear me women and wives/Hear me husbands and lovers/What we do with our lives/Seems to matter to others.”
Aside from craft and maturity, the other big change on McCartney III is Paul’s vocals, which has lost some—though nowhere near all—of its power. On many of these songs it’s a nonissue; you can’t even tell McCartney has aged. But on others the scars of time are apparent. The voice is craggier, the falsetto shakier. McCartney faces this exigency the same way Dylan does: straight on and unapologetically. Importantly, his delivery never harms the material.
The recording isn’t bad, either, though it could do with less compression. The squeezed dynamics impact the punch factor on songs with fuller production, even at 24/96. However, the purely acoustic numbers—and there are several—have beautiful tone and clarity. These tracks are demo worthy.
In sum, McCartney III is not only the best self-titled McCartney album by far, it, along with 2013’s New, is among his best late-career albums. Few musicians have the pop/rock instincts, the knack for melody, and the performance chops of Paul McCartney. When he’s on his game, his output is a sheer delight. On McCartney III, he is definitely on his game.
Although bringing you closer to the absolute sound may be the best thing it is capable of, the Telos 590 Nextgen II’s appeal isn’t limited to absolute sound listeners. As the Børreson 05 loudspeakers did with Van Cliburn’s performance of the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto [RCA], this integrated can also teach you things about how music is being played, and how a well-recorded performance can highlight structure and meaning—the kind of presentation that will make it equally appealing to “fidelity-to-source” listeners.
Take, for example, Luigi Nono’s mid-twentieth-century composition for flute, clarinet, alto saxophone, piano, and percussion, Polifonica—Monodia—Ritmica [Time Records]. As its title plainly states, this is a three movement work in which serial techniques are first applied polyphonically, then in monody, and then, rather jazzily, to rhythms and dynamics. Like so many mid-century classical compositions it is, at once, an expressive piece of music, an aesthetic argument, and a methodological demonstration.
While I’ve enjoyed Nono’s music in the past, I can’t say I understood all he was up to until I heard Polifonica—Monodia—Ritmica played back through the Telos 590 Nextgen II via the fantastic DS Audio Grand Master optical cartridge (and the equally fantastic CrystalConnect Art Series Da Vinci cables). Because of the Goldmund’s remarkable clarity (and that of the Grand Master and the Da Vincis), I could better hear how the tone rows of the first-movement adagio were being sounded by the different instruments individually, canonically, and simultaneously. Because of its equally remarkable density of color, I could also better hear (and understand) the Klangfarbenmelodie of the second movement, where the continuous iteration of tone rows by instruments of different timbre and register created a monody of varied hue and texture. And on to the final movement where the Goldmund’s sensational speed and granitic power filled out the exciting and expressive serial rhythmic patterns, including lightning fast, three-dimensionally solid, densely colored, and impactful drumstrokes, and absolutely exquisite cymbal taps. What had once been an intriguing collection of sounds became a musical composition of artful complexity, performed and recorded with expressive skill—and also a little lesson on what the most sophisticated “atonal” composers were doing in 1951.
As for “as you like it” listeners…well, with color, power, speed, resolution, and sweetness of this order there isn’t much you can play that won’t raise goosebumps. From the terrific blues guitar and vocals on the Hans Theessink album I mentioned earlier (what a pity this superb performer was born in The Netherlands—being a Little Dutch Boy has cost him some of the esteem he is rightly owed) to the equally terrific playing and singing on homegrown blues guitarist Albert Cummings’ Believe [Provogue] (wait to you hear his rendition of Isaac Hayes’ great R&B anthem “Hold On, I’m Comin’”—he may not be Sam & Dave and Steve Cropper here [who was or is?], but he is still pretty damn wonderful), the Goldmund Telos 590 Nextgen II will have you rockin’ and rollin’ almost as deliriously and unreservedly as those high-ticket big boy monoblocks. Or try one of my new faves, Low Neck Connie’s double-album Private Lives, where that musical polymath Adam Weiner manages to evoke Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Warren Zevon while still coming across as his own supremely gifted self. (I dare you to listen to “Help Me” without tapping your feet—or marveling at the smart, catchy lyrics.)
I think you can tell that I like this amp, though you may have noticed that I haven’t yet discussed its built-in (non-MQA) DAC. Don’t worry—it’s not because I think it’s lousy. It is anything but lousy. It’s just that in comparison with something like the Soulution 760 (which, all by itself, costs more than twice as much as the Telos 590) or the MSB Reference DAC (ditto, suitably fitted out), it won’t resolve quite the same amount of musical detail or deliver quite the same fully dimensional soundstage. (It is also a mite darker in timbre and less dynamic than either of these SOTA units.) I don’t hold this against the Telos 590. After all, you’re getting a world-class amplifier and preamplifier and what is, by any standard short of the world’s best digital sources, an exceptionally accomplished DAC for a few bucks under $30k. If that isn’t a deal (for high-rollers, at least), then what is?
I’ve already mentioned the place where the Telos 590 Nextgen II disappoints. Its ergonomics are old-fashioned, and the absence of a second output could be a deal-breaker for some (although, believe me, they will regret missing out on the sound that the Nextgen II delivers). There is this, as well. In the heart of winter, in a low humidity environment, you can generate static electricity by walking across a carpet (at least, I can). A little spark or charge of same transferred by hand to a DAC or a phonostage connected to the Telos 590 Nextgen II can trigger the protection circuit in the Goldmund unit and shut it down. Even though this is a first in my experience, it’s no big deal. It is easily corrected by rebooting the amp (turning it off and then on again). Just be aware that such a momentary shutdown is a possibility—and don’t freak out if it happens to you.
The Goldmund Telos 590 Nextgen II took me by surprise. No, it is not the full equal of my reference solid-state amps and preamps from Soulution, Constellation, and MBL. For one thing, it doesn’t have all the unlimited power and voltage of these state-of-the-art monsters. Consequently, it is not quite as fast or as hard-hitting or as minutely detailed or as iron-fistedly controlled. On the other hand, if someone had told me that an amp, preamplifier, and DAC in a single box could come as close to the sonics of these outstanding separates as the Goldmund Telos 590 Nextgen II does, I would’ve laughed in his face. You won’t hear me laughing now. This is a marvelous piece of audio gear that, for me, sets a new eye- and ear-opening standard for integrated amplifiers. Yeah, it costs $30k, but it’s worth every penny.
Specs & Pricing
Output power Maximum power (IEC60065), 2x 215Wrms into 8 ohms
Damping factor 600 at 1kHz/8 ohms
Output floor noise <10μV from 20Hz to 20kHz
IMD (SMPTE), unloaded <0.02%.
THD+N, unloaded <0.08% from 20Hz to 20kHz at 30Vrms output
Rear panel I/Os Output binding posts (left & right); on/off power switch; voltage input selector; RS232 command connector; USB 2.0 device (no driver required on Mac OS X as of v.10.6.4 nor on Linux, driver required only for Windows), sample rate up to 384kHz, bit-depth up to 32-bit, DSD64 native, DSD128-over-PCM; TosLink optical; digital SPIDF coaxial RCA 75 ohms; 5x analog RCA (left & right)
Dynamic range 100dB
Dimensions 44 x 16.5 x 41.5cm
Weight 20 kg
JV’s Reference System
Loudspeakers MBL 101 X-treme, Magico M3, Børreson Acoustics 05, Voxativ 9.87, Avantgarde Zero 1, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan 1.7 and 30.7
Subwoofers JL Audio Gotham (pair), Magico QSub 15 (pair)
Linestage preamps Soulution 725, MBL 6010 D, Constellation Audio Altair II, Siltech SAGA System C1, Air Tight ATE-2001 Reference
Phonostage preamps Soulution 755, Goldmund PH3.8 NEXTGEN, Walker Proscenium V, Constellation Audio Perseus, DS Audio Master1 and Grand Master, EMM Labs DS-EQ1
Power amplifiers Soulution 711, MBL 9008 A, Constellation Audio Hercules II Stereo, Air Tight 3211, Air Tight ATM-2001, Zanden Audio Systems Model 9600, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Odyssey Audio Stratos, Voxativ Integrated 805
Analog source Clearaudio Master Innovation, Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr./T-9000, Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Knight/TW Raven 10.5, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck United Home Audio Ultimate 4 OPS
Phono cartridges DS Audio Grandmaster, DS Audio Master1, Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Air Tight Opus 1, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90
Digital source MSB Reference DAC, Soulution 760, Berkeley Alpha DAC 2
Cable and interconnect CrystalConnect Art Series da Vinci, Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power cords CrystalConnect Art Series da Vinci, Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power conditioner AudioQuest Niagara 5000 (two), Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics DTC, Technical Brain
Support systems Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM and QXK equipment racks and amp stands
Room Treatments Stein Music H2 Harmonizer system, Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels/Atmosphere XL4/UEF Acoustic Dot system, Synergistic Research ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden Acoustic panels, A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps
Accessories DS Audio ION-001, SteinMusic Pi Carbon Signature record mat, CAD GC-1 and GC-3 Ground Control, Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses
One final comparison: My own Rogue Audio Triton II straddled the line between the Huei and the iPhono 3 in a very interesting way. If the iPhono 3 sat at the far end of the spectrum, closest to purely analytical, then the Huei would be at the opposite end, on the warmer and more colorful side. The Triton II combined some of each of their qualities, such as the heavy low end of the Huei and the quiet background of the iPhono 3, and perhaps sat right between them, leaning slightly closer to the sound profile of the iPhono 3. Both the Huei and the iPhono 3 have their strengths, and ultimately exist for different tastes. Which brings me back to the beginning of this review—the ultimate joy of high-end audio is its endless variation, and the ability to tweak a system to personal preferences. And there’s the music too, of course.
Wrapping up then, the Chord Electronics Huei and the iFi iPhono 3 Black Label had surprisingly different sound signatures. Both phonostages allowed for plenty of customization options, and both would work with a very wide range of cartridges. The Huei had an almost syrupy sweetness to its sound, with a smooth and pleasant midrange and low end, while the iPhono 3 was aggressively neutral, with deep black backgrounds and an expansive soundstage. I’d recommend listening to either of them, and consider how their sound might work in your particular system. Both are well built, easily tweaked, and have enough customization to future-proof them for a long while.
Specs & Pricing
iFi iPhono 3 Black Label
Frequency response: 10Hz–100kHz (±0.3dB); 20Hz–20kHz (±0.2dB)
Dynamic range: mm (36dB) >108dB (A-weighted); mc (60dB) >106dB (A-weighted)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: mm (36dB) >85dB (A-weighted re. 5mV); mc (60dB) >85dB (A-weighted re. 0.5mV)
Crosstalk: <-71dB (1kHz)
THD: <0.005% (MM 36dB 1V out 600R Load)
Output impedance: <100 ohms
Dimensions: 6.2″ x 2.3″ x 1.1″
Weight: 0.58 lbs.
Chord Electronics Huei
Input impedance: mm, 47k ohms; MC 100 ohms–3.7k ohms, 12-step, user-selectable
Gain range: mm, 21dB–42dB, 8-step, user-selectable/MC 49dB–70dB, 8-step, user-selectable
Equalization accuracy: +/- 0.1dB
Frequency response: 12Hz to 25kHz
Output impedance: 520 ohms (resistive)
Dimensions: 6.23″ x 1.61″ x 2.8″
Weight: 1.44 lbs.
Abbingdon N.A./iFi audio USA
105 Professional Pkwy, Suite 1506, Yorktown, VA 23693
1085 Blair Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94087
Revisiting a loudspeaker that has consistently beaten expectations long after the original review was published is an interesting proposition. In such instances, I ask myself, “Do my conclusions, be they praise or criticism, hold up? Are they confirmed?” For the LS50 taken as a whole, I’d say yes. This was a speaker that was easy to enjoy and relax with then, just as it is now. It often surprised me with its vitality, authentic midrange, and hell-raising output, all from a package barely a foot tall. Vocal reproduction was especially strong by virtue of the speaker’s unwavering focus and image stability, which cast an almost hypnotic spell over this listener’s attention. And rhythmically it still knows how to cut a rug.
Sonically, Meta technology hasn’t caused LS50 to undergo a Jekyll-Hyde personality shift. It doesn’t reshuffle the deck to that extent. Yet, there was a difference. Meta has produced a more open, more transparent version of the original. The laser-like focus of the Uni-Q has grown more open, and there’s a new-found clarity and image stability. Low-level details and micro-information were more explicitly resolved. Transients were refined but retained the level of attack that suggests the authentic rattle of a snare drum or the percussive crackle of a flamenco guitarist’s rasgueado across the strings. Further, I found that during Norah Jones’ “The Nearness of You,” the singer’s sibilance range was less emphatic, her piano more naturalistic. Bottom line—the Meta version of the LS50 has become less visible as a speaker.
Soundstaging and dimensionality were strong suits for the LS50, but Meta was even more convincing at disappearing from the room. Still, left a bit unresolved was its unremarkable height replication—the loudspeaker’s ability to allow the acoustics and air of a venue materialize into the room. As was the case in the original, there seemed to be a ceiling hanging low over the soundstage.
Dynamically the Meta finds its sweet spot in the mids and higher octaves, which is another reason it’s at its most electric and lively with soloists and smaller groups at moderate volume levels. But I found its limits during the intro to Mary Chapin-Carpenter’s “Shut up and Kiss Me.” At the point when the full rhythm section kicks in, the Meta lacked the dynamism and drive in the power range to fully crank up the band’s kickass energy.
Midbass resolution, the range beneath a hundred cycles, remained something of a shocker, even in light of the passing years. While there’s no mistaking the LS50 Meta for a multi-woofer floorstander, there’s something remarkable about the impact of the driving and ripping electric basslines, tympani, and kettle drums that KEF manages to achieve within the confines of this little box. I’d have bet that port overhang or some other coloration would creep into the soundscape, but even at moderately high levels, not a whimper. There are limits, of course, and when the Meta is pushed outside its comfort zone, the soundstage foundation loses some of its definition, and low-level bass cues succumb to some compression A final impression: In listening to the Meta version, I was reminded that nothing that occurs in a loudspeaker happens in a vacuum, that upstream tonal differences modify and refine downstream output. The clarifying effects of the Meta in the upper fundamental and first- and second-order harmonic ranges showered resolution and timbral and textural details down into the octaves below.
Much to the relief of the legions of LS50 owners I’m not going to even hint that they put their beloved originals up for sale. They still have more than enough sonic chops to stand on their own. However, if you’re new to the compact-monitor market or itching to upgrade, it would be serious malpractice on my part if I didn’t encourage you to take a sharp look and bring a keen ear to an audition of the LS50 Meta. It’s no easy task to take a fully formed, class-leading success to the next level, but that’s what KEF has managed to do. Plus, at $1499 for the pair, KEF held the line on pricing. A winner that only keeps getting better.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Two-way, bass-reflex mini-monitor
Drivers: Uni-Q driver array (concentric 25mm aluminum dome/5.25″ aluminum cone mid/bass)
Frequency response: 47Hz–45kHz -6dB
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Dimensions: 11.9″ x 7.9″ x 11″
Weight: 17.2 lbs.
10 Timber Lane
Marlboro, NJ, 07746
The following is a press release issued by ELAC.
Orange, CA | July 2021 – ELAC, a leading global provider of high-performance speakers and electronics, today announced the Solano line of premium home speakers. These new models are the perfect solution for the 2-channel enthusiast or the home theater connoisseur.
“Our new Solano series brings the performance benefits of our iconic JET5 tweeter and the meticulous craftsmanship of German manufacturing to an all-new affordable price point” said James Krodel, senior vice president sales, ELAC.
Some of the notable new features of the Solano line-up include.
JET 5 Tweeter: Delivering true high-definition sound, ELAC’s JET 5 tweeter enthralls with its lightning-fast response and wide dynamic range, offering minimal distortion, lots of headroom and a distinctly wider frequency range than conventional dome tweeters. The ELAC JET tweeter is one of the most legendary tweeters in the industry and has won international praise with its transparent and effortless sound image.
Aluminum Sandwich Woofers: Custom 6″ Aluminum cones are joined to paper cones utilizing a proprietary gluing process which results in a cone that is stiff, precise, linear, and lightweight. This unique driver delivers mid and bass frequencies that are clean, clear, and powerful.
Cast Chassis: Cast chassis have been utilized for all drivers in the Solano series minimizing reflections back to the cone resulting in improved clarity.
Dual Binding Posts: All three Solano series speakers are outfitted with two sets of heavy-duty binding posts allowing to bi-amp or bi-wire each loudspeaker. These binding posts ensure a secure connection to many types of cable and connectors.
Premium Finishes: The Solano speakers come in either high-gloss black or white paint with the bookshelf and floorstanding models featuring lacquered cast aluminum bases.
Downward firing ports: Downward Firing Ports allow for more flexible speaker placement and minimizes ventilation noise. The bass reflex port on the Solano series is directed to the floor, exiting the bottom of the speaker cabinet in a down-firing configuration.
All six models are available at the end of July at ELAC retailers nationwide.
|Model Number BS283-GB||
Solano 6” Bookshelf Speaker in Gloss Black
|BS283-GW||Solano 6” Bookshelf Speaker in Gloss White||$1999.98 Pair|
|CC281-GB||Solano Dual 6” Center Speaker in Gloss Black||$1199.98 Each|
|CC281-GW||Solano Dual 6” Center Speaker in Gloss White||$1199.98 Each|
|FS287-GB||Solano Dual 6” Floorstanding Speaker in Gloss Black||$1999.98 Each|
|FS287-GW||Solano Dual 6” Floorstanding Speaker in Gloss White||$1999.98 Each|
The following is a press release issued by WBT-Industrie.
July 22, 2021 – WBT-Industrie has been chosen as the winner of the German Innovation Award 2021 in the medium-sized companies category for its development of the “3D gold-plating of connectors using PVD plasma” process (PVD = Physical Vapour Deposition), internal brand name: WBT-PlasmaProtect™.
With this plant technology it has, for the first time, been possible to develop a significantly more environmentally-friendly process to use instead of the electroplating process used previously. The effectiveness was increased from 20 to 80% by a new 3D process, the energy requirements were reduced by around 26% and resource consumption was reduced by about 35%.
At the same time, the long-term stability and contact quality was improved by a thin but extremely pure (high vacuum) and still elastic layer of gold (Hertzian stress).
The German Innovation Award is one of the most prestigious awards for new developments “made in Germany”, and is jointly presented by Accenture, EnBW and the magazine WirtschaftsWoche. Awards are given to companies that change technology and markets with their innovative strength.
Like most TAS readers, I first heard Patricia Barber, whose career here approaches the 40-year mark, on Café Blue, her 1994 album that made her a star in high-end audio, owing to a superb recording by her long-time engineer Jim Anderson, and also among connoisseurs of innovative, cutting-edge jazz. Although classically trained, she is known for a cool, intense, highly personal style as singer, pianist, and songwriter. Higher, her 18th album and first in the studio since 2013’s Smash, showcases what may be her most ambitious, and surely her most personal, composition yet, Angels, Birds, and I . . ., a cycle of eight songs she frankly calls art songs (she performed an early version with Renée Fleming in 2016). Dualities inform several of them, from lesbian lovers and a woman leaving her wealthy husband (“the sovereign suburban overlord”) for her free-spirited lover (“a wandering albatross”) to those that inform Barber’s own creativity as pianist, singer, and lyricist. Layered with multiple meanings, these introspective songs require and reward repeated listening. Inventive takes on three standards from the Great American Songbook fill out the program. The contributions from Barber’s instrumental quartet are first-class. Immediate, close-up, transparent sonics.
Ross scrutinizes Thomas Mann, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, Marcel Proust, Joseph Conrad, Gabriele d’Annuncio, and many other important literary figures for Wagnerian influence, both in terms of worldview and the actual substance of their artistic endeavors. But one writer in particular secures Ross’s fixed gaze: Receiving 32 pages of attention is Willa Cather. That’s right, the author of O Pioneers! that you were required to read in the eighth grade. Cather, who was born in Virginia but grew up on the American prairie, was the most accomplished purveyor of the mini-genre known as the “singer-novel.” One such example was Cather’s The Song of the Lark, one of the novels in Cather’s “Great Plains Trilogy.” The principal character, Thea Kronborg, was largely based on the great Wagnerian singer Olive Fremstad, whom Cather had profiled for McClure’s magazine. Other Cather works, Ross points out, bear the clear “imprint” of Wagner’s music.
The book is subtitled “Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music” and, while Wagner’s work had plenty of advocates on the left (“Siegfried’s Funeral March” was played at Lenin’s memorial concert in 1924), most associations are with the fascist kind of authoritarianism. The storyline that Germany lost the Great War because the nation was “stabbed in the back” took on imagery right out of Götterdämmerung. By the early 1940s, the idea of Wagner as a kind of “proto-Hitler” had taken hold and has never completely gone away; in the popular imagination, Wagner’s music provides the soundtrack for the Nazi’s rise and rule, an association that is not unreasonable due to the close connections between the Wagner family and the regime. Ross does try to debunk some of the myths regarding Wagner and the Holocaust—the Meister’s music actually wasn’t played much in the death camps—but the association of the composer with German militarism and genocide was as responsible as anything for the decline in Wagnerism over the past 80 years, even as the operas themselves remain as popular as ever.
Can you read just parts of the book? Absolutely. Movie buffs will devour the 46-page chapter on Wagner in film—the Meister’s tunes have appeared in over 1000 movies, from Birth of a Nation to Apocalypse Now, and beyond. You can skip the French Symbolists if you want but consume the deep dives into Cather, Du Bois, Mann, and Joyce—not to mention Isadora Duncan, Salvador Dali, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Philip K. Dick. However much you do read, the take-away will be the same. Wagner may or may not have been, as Thomas Mann insisted, “the greatest talent in the history of art” but he was surely the most influential musician in history. To some extent, this is due to when he came along, at a time when Art was a kind of religion and its greatest practitioners had a cultural impact we’re unlikely to ever see again. But towards the end of Wagnerism, Alex Ross discusses the observations of a recent Wagner scholar, Alain Badiou. “The truth of a work of art,” writes Ross, “does not reside in the work itself or in the author’s intention. Rather, it composes a truth as it moves forward in time.” That’s a formula for immortality.
The Rega really strutted its stuff on complex orchestral music, such as the seminal recording of Albeniz’s Suite Espagnola with Raphael Frühbeck and the New Philharmonia Orchestra [Decca SXL 6355]. The Albeniz suite was a veritable showpiece for the Planar 10’s virtues. The full-scale “thwacks” by horns, timpani, and cymbals on “Asturias” were so clean and fast that they startled me upon first listen. As the string sections swelled to a peak, I could still resolve the texture of the mallets on the skins of the timpani and the individual bright, metallic tones of the triangle clearly overlaid on top. As the orchestra ramped up to full speed, the acceleration from piano to fortissimo was very, very quick and dynamic, with virtually no distortion or breakup.
“Blue Rondo a lá Turk” on my original Columbia pressing [CS 8192] of Dave Brubeck’s Time Out was an absolute revelation. On the Planar 10, the stereo imaging from this LP was better than I’d ever heard it, even better than on first-class DSD recordings, with the soundstage extending way past the outside edges of my Harbeths’ front baffles. Moreover, I’d never before heard drummer Joe Morello’s brushwork on the ride cymbals so finely rendered, with a metallic, silvery texture that was sensational. Even though Brubeck’s piano is mic’d to the right and “Rondo,” for the most part, is performed in an unorthodox time signature, the tone of Brubeck’s instrument was dense and powerful, as he did that solo in counterpoint to a bass line that just swings. On “Take 5,” Morello’s famous solo, where he repeats the same two-bar phrase three times, was a standout, and his thwacks on the toms and snare were so fast and clean they came across like cracks of lightning—no blur, no slur, and virtually no overhang.
During John Williams’ guitar solo in the Rondo: Allegreto of Paganini’s Trio in D major for Cello, Violin, and Guitar [Haydn Guitar Quartet & Paganini Guitar Trio, Columbia MS 71630], the individual notes and their resonances within the guitar’s sound box were all there, while violinist Alan Loveday played a series of pizzicato notes that had so much detail and resolution I could tell that the strings were being plucked close to the bridge, the notes coming off round and “rosiny” with finely delineated texture.
Continuing with the classical guitar theme, one of the records I broke out to play was The Royal Family of the Spanish Guitar with Los Romeros (all of ’em) on a wonderful monaural Mercury Living Presence [Mercury SR90295]. While there was no true “stereo” image, the Planar 10 and Apheta 3 cleanly resolved each Romero. The occasional pop and click aside, what was remarkable about this recording was the pitch-perfect tone of each guitar, the gorgeous harmonics, and the subtleties of the fretwork, which demonstrated just how complex, dynamic, yet nuanced a single type of instrument can be in the hands of virtuosos. And again, there was that amazing timbral accuracy, which is such a strength of the Planar 10. While mono recordings can’t create “width” per se, they can certainly create a sense of dimensionality, and that attribute was present in spades on this recording. “Living Presence” is right. Wow! This record was so enjoyable on the Planar 10, I played it back-to-back several times.
Of course, classical and jazz weren’t all I listened to. It was fun pulling out some of my favorite rock/pop LPs from the 80s. In particular, “In the City,” from Eurythmics’ first album, Sweet Dreams Are Made of This [RCA AFL1-4681], was a standout. While the song is mixed a touch hot, true to the mastering sensibilities of the day, it’s still one of my favorites on the album, and it was played back just as the engineers intended it to sound: all dark, moody, and film noir, with Annie Lennox’ gorgeous, husky, sexy voice floating ephemerally above the instrumental track and dubbed-in subway sounds. The instrumental complexity and musical density were beautifully articulated on “Steppin’ Out” from Joe Jackson’s Night and Day [A&M SP-4096], which was played back just as it needed to be: kicky and energetic, with drums providing the backbeat, beautifully textured bass and Rhodes piano the rhythmic drive, and clear, clean xylophone and orchestral bells on top as dessert. It’s hard not to get up and dance to this one.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I love this turntable. It’s a snap to set up and is so well made that it should provide reliable performance for decades. With its use of cutting-edge materials, straightforward design principles, and unrelenting focus on minimizing the impact of vibration to extract maximal information out of record grooves, the Rega Planar 10 is easily one of the best turntables I have ever heard, regardless of price. Combined with the Apheta 3 moving-coil cartridge, the Planar 10 extracts incredible amounts of detail, while also providing spacious, stable, and well-defined imaging. Frequency response is extended with exceptional tonal neutrality. The presentation is characterized by lifelike low-end power, and overall definition, speed, transparency, and articulation. The bottom line? Yes, you can spend more money on a turntable, but, honestly, I can’t think of why you’d need to. I can’t imagine having a more satisfying and engaging experience than the one that the Planar 10 offers from LPs. It’s an outstandingly well-thought-out, well-engineered, and well-made product, and will last a lifetime making beautiful music. What more could one ask for? Unequivocally, my highest possible recommendation.
Specs & Pricing
Output to motor: 24V AC bi-phase, ~350 mA
Speed control step size: 0.01 rpm
Dimensions: (dustcover fitted): 16.5″ x 4.9″ x 12.4″
Weight: 10.36 lbs.
P10 PSU dimensions: 8.6″ x 3.1″ x 12.6″
Weight: 6.6 lbs.
Price: Planar 10: $5695; Planar 10 with Apheta 3: $6695; Planar 10 with Aphelion 2: $9695
The Sound Organisation (North American Distributor)
1009 Oakmead Drive
Arlington, Texas 76011
Digital sources: Lampizator Baltic 3 DAC, SOtM SMS-200 UltraNeo network bridge, Mac Mini Roon Core Server, Sonore OpticalModule fiber media convertor, Uptone Audio EtherREGEN Ethernet switch, Uptone Audio LPS-1.2 power supplies
Analog source: Rega Planar 10, Rega Apheta 3 moving coil cartridge, Bob’s Devices Cinemag step-up transformer, Uni-Pro protractor
Phonostage: E.A.R. 324
Preamplifier: First Sound Presence Deluxe 4.0 SE MkIII active preamp with Paramount Special Edition Upgrade
Power amplifier: Conrad-Johnson LP70S
Loudspeakers: Harbeth 40th Anniversary 30.2, Dynaudio Contour S3.4 with Esotar 2 tweeters, REL R-305 subwoofer
Cables: Shunyata Research Sigma XC and NR V2 (Everest & power amp), Alpha NR V2 (preamp and phonostage), Shunyata Omega QR-s (DAC), V14D Digital (digital components), Shunyata Sigma and Alpha V2 interconnects, Sigma Ethernet & Alpha USB digital cables, Alpha V2 VTX-Ag speaker cables
A/C Power: Shunyata Research Everest 8000 and SR-Z1 wall outlet