HIGH FIDELITY PERSONAL AUDIO & STEREO MAGAZINE
OPEN 5 LOUDSPEAKER
LYRIC TI 100 INTEGRATED
PARASOUND JC 3+ PHONO PREAMP
DAN CLARK STEALTH HEADPHONES
MOJO AUDIO MYSTIQUE X SE DAC
MARCH 2023 I9
Music is art, art is music.
US & CANADA
INSIDE THIS ISSUE… ART MUSICIANS 90 90 38 142 84 102 130
audiokeyreviews.com Copyright AudioKeyReviews 2023 15 24 38 52 62 68 84 90 102 116 130 HI-FI REVIEWS EDITOR'S LETTER MOLA MOLA KULA INTEGRATED PARASOUND JC 3+ PHONO PREAMP DR. IRINA KUZMINSKY - MUSICAL MUSINGS RAIN JORDAN - JOAN OF AUDIO & MUSIC INTERVIEW - MICKEL LONDON MYTEK LIBERTY DAC TRI-ART OPEN 5 SPEAKERS DAN CLARK STEALTH MOJO MYSTIQUE X DAC PARASOUND HALO P 6 PRE & A 21+ AMP INTERVIEWS MUSIC TABLE OF CONTENTS
SILENT ANGEL BONN N8 PRO
LYRIC TI 100 INTEGRATED RECOMMENDED COMPONENTS
COMING NEXT REVIEWS ON THE WEB
Front Inside Cover: Vincent Van Gogh - Small Pear Tree in Blossom
Back Inside Cover: Henri Matisse - The Open Window
The Other Art. It is my belief that the artist and the musician are not only creatives, but they access heart and soul and experience, perhaps, in the selfsame ways. My own love for art and music are inseparable. And so art, music, and those things which facilitate the music shall share theses pages.
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142 152 158 166 172 174
audiokeyreviews.com Copyright AudioKeyReviews 2023
INSIDE THIS ISSUE… 116 130 152
Joan Miro -Poem Dan Hill
Welcome to 2023’s second issue of the AudioKeyREVIEWS! Magazine (US). Needless to say, it has been an incredibly busy time taking it to production, given that its sibling—AudioKeyREVIEWS! Magazine, Canada—births this very same month. It has, nonetheless, been a labor of love.
How often, I wonder, can one engage and fuse the learned skills, abilities, one’s loves— writing, music, audio, art and design—into a calling, a vocation, while enjoying every last minute of things? Well, if I had to take a census of my family, relatives, friends, etc., not very often, and that is quite unfortunate. Given my own experience, I will continue to encourage that search for a synergistic commingling of the things that one loves in one’s own vocation, or even life path.
There are a host of ‘new things’ coming up! For instance, we will introduce a more encompassing multimedia experience within the pages or our magazines, and new reviewers, columnists, and editors will also be gracing the pages of our magazines and our websites.
In addition to reviews of some quite exceptional products, in this issue we will introduce a talented lyricist, songwriter, and producer—Mickel London—via an interview with AKRMedia Editor and Columnist, Rain Jordan. We’ll also witness the making of his latest song—“A Higher Love.”
Well, I hope that you enjoy this issue, and its audio and music reviews, its art and interviews, and the growth of our multimedia via a range of new videos in the coming issues. Oh, and please do visit our Canadian website and magazine.
K.E. Heartsong Editor-in-Chief
K. E. Heartsong
Dr. Irina Kuzminsky
Oliver Masciarotte Columnists
Dr. Irina Kuzminsky
Music Reviewers (Video/Written)
Dr. Irina Kuzminsky
K. E. Heartsong
Wabi Sabi Design Group
THE MOLA MOLA KULA INTEGRATED
By Andre Marc
Based in the Netherlands, Mola Mola has already had a major impact on the world of high performance audio. Belgian born founder Bruno Putzeys is a legitimate legend in the industry. He pushed Class D amplifier technology light years into the future, with his NCore designs competing
The phono module comes in at $3000. So the “fully loaded” unit will come in at $25,000. With the DAC module installed, you also get a ROON ready streamer, with Ethernet input. The review unit arrived with all of the above! There is a cigar shaped steel remote control, and the Mola Mola app allows for extensive
Audio, and designed one of the world’s elite DSD Analog to Digital convertors. He also cofounded Kii, an active speaker company, and Purifi, designers of innovative speaker components. If that was not enough, Putzeys owns numerous patents, and continues to forge ahead with new ideas.
One of Mola Mola’s more recent products is the Kula integrated amplifier. It is a modular design, with the basic unit costing $13,800. The optional DAC module, the same found in their standalone Tambaqui convertor, is $8200.
any way gaudy. The unit exudes precision and is a beautiful example of modern industrial art. There are 3 analog inputs, and, very cleverly, the inputs can accommodate both single ended and balanced cables, selectable via a toggle switch. The DAC module accepts both USB and AES/EBU connections, and there is an RJ45 Ethernet jack for connecting to your network. A pair of very high quality speaker outputs complete the picture.
THE MOLA MOLA
Brassai - Paris Exposition Universelle
Amedeo Modigliani - Jeanne
THE MOLA MOLA KULA INTEGRATED
SET UP & LISTENING
After downloading the Mola Mola app on my iPad, and connecting to the Kula via Bluetooth, setting it up to my desired parameters was extremely quick and easy. You can assign inputs, adjust gain on each input, and set the phono stage up for your cartridge. I ended up using 72 dB of gain for my Rega Planar 6 turntable outfitted with Ania Moving Coil cartridge. With a Rosewill CAT7 cable connected, I was able to enable the Kula as a
the Kula up on Symposium Rollerblock+ pucks, with a Symposium Svelte Shelf.
We cycled through albums we had been listening to recently with our usual electronics, and immediately our ears told us we had struck sonic gold. The Kula as a DAC and amplifier simply brought music to life with some of the most transparent, organised and life-sized sound we have ever heard. One of our all time favourite albums is In Search Of The Lost Chord, the Moody Blues 1968 psychedelic opus. We have numerous
ROON endpoint. The DAC decodes virtually every resolution up to Quad DSD. I was left wanting for nothing.
The Kula drove both Magnepan 1.7i speakers, and Alta Audio Alyssia stand mounts (review forthcoming). The Kula outputs 150 wpc into 8 Ohms, and a whopping 300 wpc into 4 Ohms, and had no trouble at all filling up a large room with high ceilings without as much as breaking a sweat. Indeed, its power seemed effortless. We left the Kula powered on at all times for maximum performance. We used an Audio Art Cable power cable, and set
versions, including the sublime SACD, the 50th Anniversary Edition download, which includes a fresh, superb sounding 24 bit, 96 kHz remix, and numerous bonus tracks. We also have several original Deram vinyl pressings. The Kula presented the acoustic guitars, mellotron, flute, and the vocals with such pristine texture it was hard not to have the album on repeat.
We then cued up several late 60’s Fairport Convention albums, including rips of the Japanese SHM SACDs of Liege & Leaf, and Unhalfbricking. These pioneering British folk rock albums came across as amazing time
THE MOLA MOLA KULA INTEGRATED
pieces, with Sandy Denny’s sublime vocals and Richard Thompson’s modal guitar lines having a hypnotic effect. The Kula provided holographic images and brought out the drama in renditions of “Matty Groves”, “Tam Lin”, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” and “A Sailor’s Life”.
A young artist out of the UK, Joshua Burnell, has taken up the British folk rock torch and carried it forward with great skill.
of the organic nature of these recordings, and allowed a certain authenticity to shine through. Magical!
To further put the Kula DAC module through its paces, we spent a few weeks with high resolution downloads and lots of SACD rips. We cued up everything from the 24 bit, 96 kHz AC/DC catalogue remasters, the 192 kHz Rush remasters, and then transitioned to lots of excellent jazz, like the recent 192 kHz and
mixes in excellent original compositions with classic British folk tunes, like “Blackleg Miner”, “Lowlands Of Holland” and “She Moved Through The Fair”. His recordings, done with a friendly cast of superb musicians, are extremely good. The Kula got to the heart
releases like the sonically and musically excellent Art Moves Jazz, a 96 kHz download from the Quentin Baxter Quintet.
Without exception, at all resolutions, the digital side of the Kula was stupendous. In fact, it rivals and maybe even surpasses many
Vincent Van Gogh - Chair with Pipe
THE MOLA MOLA KULA INTEGRATED
uberexpensive standalone units we have heard. We have not had a chance to hear the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC, which is priced at around $13,000, however. But for those purchasing a Kula, the DAC option makes perfect sense.
SPINNING THE BLACK CIRCLE
quite a stir among several visitors who requested LP after LP.
alert, to be perfectly upfront the Phono stage was absolutely superb in every way. It took literally a minute to select and assign the input and set the gain setting. Then we spun vinyl for days on end. We ended up starting with one of the albums we streamed from our library, the Mobile Fidelty CD version of The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys by Traffic. We have an original pink label Island pressing, and to say we were both stunned and delighted with the presentation would be an understatement.
Chris Wood’s flute, Steve Windwood’s vocals and Jim Capaldi’s drums were so nicely placed in the mix, and had so much texture, it caused
We then dove into our Beatles stash and cranked up numerous albums, including Magical Mystery Tour, Beatles ‘65, Revolver and Abbey Road, all original US pressings. There was plenty of joy to behold here. These albums sounded wonderful across the board, with character.
As with the DAC, adding the phono stage is highly recommended if purchasing the Kula.
In our experience, the phono module easily competes with pricey dedicated boxes.
Fully loaded, the elegance of this one box solution is essentially without equal. Of course, if a prospective customer has invested quite a bit in a standalone DAC or phono preamp which they prefer, the Kula, used strictly as an amplification device, is as good as it gets in the world of integrated amps in our estimation.
THE MOLA MOLA KULA INTEGRATED
The Kula ran slightly warm to the touch when left powered on, hardly a cause for concern, but common sense dictates a decent amount of ventilation. The design of this integrated amplifier assures it is headache free. Connect your cables, jump on the app and get tunes. At this price point we should expect nothing less, and Mola Mola delivers the goods, both ergonomically and sonically.
The Kula also had the ability to bring out the natural character of speakers. When paired with the Magnepan 17i, the natural coherence and superb transients the speakers are known for were taken to a new level. In fact, we normally use a pair of JL Audio subwoofers with the Magnepans, but did not miss them at all with the Kula. We had all the bass we desired and it was very controlled. With the Alta Audio Alyssa monitors, the depth of image, immediacy and resolution these speakers provide became even more apparent. We can simply call it an ideal pairing. With Kula driving the Alyssas, there was a certain grip on the music, and the amazingly low noise floor will be missed when we have to ship the speakers and amp back!
The Mola Mola Kula integrated amplifier is, to our ears, a state of the art in one box amplification solution. The rich midrange, the perfectly articulated and controlled bass, along with the amp’s overall grip on the music and speakers, makes it one of the great integrated amps of our time, and we have heard a few. Add the absolutely superb, user configurable phono stage, and the state of the art DAC and
streamer module, and you have a package that would dazzle even the most jaded audiophiles. As a bonus, it is captivating visually.
It is not often for components that are as sophisticated as the Kula to be easy to set up and enjoy hassle free. This is important as these types of products should have their owners spending more time listening to music than fussing. The Kula had us reaching for records deep in our collection, and mining our NAS on a daily basis.
For those who can afford to swim with the big fish, the Mola Mola Kula is recommended without reservation. In fact, it allows one who desires to downsize from a stack of boxes and cables to do so without compromise. Along with that, you will have enough power to drive virtually any speaker, even in the most demanding rooms. If seeking a 21st century truly integrated turnkey solution for those who can afford the best, the Mola Mola Kula is a must hear. And without further ado we award the Mola Mola Kula our DIAMOND AWARD for unparalleled excellence.
Manufacturer: MOLA MOLA
Distributor: GTT Audio +1 908 850 3092
A PUBLIC SERVICE BY AUDIOKEYREVIEWS www.metmuseum.org
One of the Best Products of the Year and One of the Most Affordable!
PARASOUND JC 3+ PHONOPREAMP
By Andre Marc
PARASOUND JC 3+ PHONOPREAMP
Once audiophiles move up the ladder with high quality turntables and cartridges, the next step is finding the right phono preamplifier. The turntable, cartridge, and phono stage trio (and sometimes tonearm) leave many variables, so choosing a phono preamp that fits the technical parameters, and is a good fit sonically, can be a challenge.
The JC 3+ evolves from the JC 3, with some considerable changes. Probably the most consequential is the addition of new loading options on the back panel, which is variable from 50 to 550 ohms, as well as 47K MM loading. Listeners can also fix the loading at 47k for MC. This opens up more possibilities for matching with different esoteric cartridges.
Enter the Parasound JC 3+. It is the evolution of a design by one of Parasound’s sonic architects, John Curl. Curl is also responsible for Parasound’s best known amplifier designs. We won’t parse through the entire history of his association with Parasound, but, suffice to say, his work endures today. We recently reviewed the Parasound Halo Hint 6 integrated amplifier and were highly impressed by its performance as a Swiss Army Knife of audio products, with a world beating onboard DAC, and superb phono stage.
Another big change is the redesigned power supply. A much larger transformer was employed to maximize dynamics. Various other critical parts and circuit signal paths were refined as well. Interestingly, the JC 3+ has its own onboard AC line conditioner to ensure the lowest noise possible. There are RCA inputs and both RCA and XLR outputs, and even a switch for true mono. The build quality and finish are superb, with very high quality connectors, knobs, and switches all round. The case can be ordered in silver or black. The Parasound JC 3+ retails for $3199
Henri Matisse- The Blue Window
PARASOUND JC 3+ PHONOPREAMP
THE SETUP & LISTENING
We dropped the JC 3+ into a system consisting of a Schitt Freya + preamp, an Audio Research VS55 power amplifier, and Acelec Model One monitors. We used two turntables, both the remarkable and recently reviewed Rega Planar 10, and the more modest Rega Planar 6. Both
organized sound being picked up by the stylus with even complicated pieces of music.
For example, on a record we use quite often, Traffic’s uberclassic jazz rock masterpiece, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, the attack on the piano was far more realistic. The layers of percussion and the drive
had Rega cartridges installed. Cabling was Audio Art Cable. No special tweaks were used aside from an Audio Art Cable power cord on the unit. Everything was plugged into a Bryston power conditioner. We left the unit on at all times.
From the first time I dropped the needle, it was clear to these ears the JC 3+ was several classes above what I was used to. The most obvious areas where I heard very clear differences from every other phono stage I have had in house, either via an onboard module of an integrated amp or a standalone unit, was the separation of instruments, and the absolute precision of the bass frequencies. Another area where the JC 3+ brought listening to vinyl to another level was how it
of the rhythm section were unparalleled. One could also hear Steve Windwood’s voice with more character, and even little details like lips parting, and microphone pops. But it all came together as a coherent fabric.
A recent acquisition, a brand new vinyl remaster of Mawood, by the We Want Sounds label, is one of the best known albums by legendary Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez. It is one long performance piece, recorded live, split over two sides. Of note, the album features the great Omar Khorshid on guitar. The somewhat primitive recording came to life via the JC 3+, with the entire band and orchestra laid out across a perceived soundstage. Hafez’s voice was a thing of wonder, and the distinctively tinged oriental
PARASOUND JC 3+ PHONOPREAMP
and modal flourishes came through with amazingly realistic dynamics.
We took a left turn and pulled out a stack
lots of space in the arrangements and Haslam’s voice front and center. Hearing these songs with very quiet backgrounds, superb timing,
of albums by Renaissance, the sublime English progressive folk rock band that was at their peak in the 70’s. We started with Prologue from 1972, the first album to feature lead vocalist Annie Haslam, who would reign supreme for the rest of the band’s career. Her voice is otherworldly, infinitely soaring to the heavens. On key tracks like “Kiev” and “Sounds Of The Sea”, the sprawling arrangements are rendered with such distinction through the JC 3+ it was easy to suspend belief and imagine being in the 10th row at one of their legendary concerts. The band really started hitting their stride with the follow up from 1973, Ashes Are Burning. The sound was a bit more streamlined, but no less adventurous. There were even a few radio ready tracks like the very catchy “Can You Understand” and “Carpet Of The Sun”. The album was well recorded, with
and spot on tonality, was really a highlight of my time with the JC 3+. The same assessment applies to the album that came after it, the epic Turn Of The Cards. It was hard not to get goosebumps hearing “Mother Russia”!
We finished up with the some classic rock in the form of an original A&M pressing of Free’s Best Of Free. While a bit skimpy, there are twelve high energy tracks with which to enjoy the voice of Paul Rodgers and the fierce guitar of Paul Kossof. The JC 3+ let the heavy crunch of “Fire And Water” and “All Right Now” come through with realistic bite. It also handled the sly groove of “My Brother Jake” beautifully. If making records fun to listen to is the goal, the JC 3+ succeeds with flying colors!
The enduring design of the Parasound JC 3+ breathes new life into well worn platters, and
commensurate turntable. Its incredibly low noise floor and transparency are unmatched at this price. Is there better? I would venture to guess so, but at a steep cost.
The unique part about a high quality vinyl playback system is that it is a sum of its parts. Matching a turntable with the cartridge that satisfies, and a phono preamplifier that brings out the best in the pairing, is no easy task. Of course some turntables allow for juggling tonearms as well, which adds another layer.
The JC3+ worked as a perfect dance partner with both the Rega Planar 10, and Planar 6. It will likely perform as well with most turntables and cartridges on the market
The Parasound JC 3+ is not entry level, but at a buck under $3200, it is a stone cold bargain. Finding fault with the sonics and build is a fool’s errand. If you want pure solid state, accurate vinyl playback, the JC 3+ is a standard bearer. If you want colored sound, tube flabbiness, or audio jewellery, look elsewhere. If you have spent upwards of ten
Product Information: Parasound JC 3+ Phono Preamplifier: $3199
PARASOUND JC 3+ PHONOPREAMP
Vincent Van Gogh - Avenue of Poplars in Autumn 1884
Where Art Meets Music OPEN 5
By Irina Kuzminsky
Istill remember the first time I got to experience a clavichord. It was at the private home of a lady my piano professor and I were visiting in the hope of obtaining a sponsorship for the Conservatorium. And there it was, so small and intimate, standing modestly in a back room and not taking up much space at all. Not much aural space either, as I was soon to discover. I was invited to play it. Of course Bach came to my mind straightaway. After all, the clavichord was Bach’s favourite keyboard instrument for its expressive capabilities as compared to the harpsichord. I remember being shocked initially by how, well, quiet it was. A small unintrusive instrument with a small unintrusive sound. It made you really listen. Perfect for introspection and deep listening into the music. I realized this as I played my way ‘into’ the instrument, and
began to hear and better differentiate its subtle nuances of volume and colour and touch. And now years later I come across this new album by András Schiff, released January 27, 2023, in which Schiff returns to Bach and specifically to Bach on the clavichord. The album was recorded in Bonn in the Beethoven-Haus, on a replica of a Specken clavichord from 1743 built by Boris Potvlieghe in 2003.
The bulk of the album is made up of the Inventions and Sinfonias, but the opening number is the relatively little played Capriccio in B flat major ‘on the Departure of his Beloved Brother’ (BWV 992). A solitary example of programmatic music painting by Bach (still a teenager at the time he wrote it), it comprises six movements and includes a friends’ lament, a semi-improvisational section, the joyous arrival of the postal
carriage, and a fugue with an imitation of a post-horn which the clavichord pulls off quite creditably to my ears.
This is followed by fifteen 2 part and 3 part Inventions (BWV 772-786) and the clavichord brings out their contrapuntal lines with great clarity and distinctiveness. Its naked sound is very revealing of the accuracy and brilliance of fingerwork and phrasing, even more so in some ways than a harpsichord. Invention No.4 is particularly brilliant, but in every case the polyphonic textures are transparent and beautifully pointed, with the playing leading you into following the individual lines. No.7 in E minor was a favourite of mine with its long left hand trill. As with the better known 48 Preludes and Fugues, different tonalities and scales evoke the exploration of different moods (akin to classical Indian ragas or ‘scales’ evoking different ‘rasas’ or moods), so the E minor Invention contrasts with the happily busy and lighthearted Invention in F major that follows, to give just one example. Like most of the works included on the album the Inventions are more modest, private setting pieces, though no less intricate and rewarding – and heartfelt – for that.
The Inventions are followed by four Duettos (BWV 802-805) from the ClavierÜbung III, another less well known set of Bach pieces which suit the clavichord very well. The highly contrapuntal No.4 sounds
particularly brilliant on the instrument. More well known are the complexities of the Ricercar a tre voce from the Musikalisches Opfer (Musical Offering) (BWV 1079) in its keyboard version, which comes next. The fifteen Sinfonias (BWV 787-801) which follow also wind their way through many of the major and minor keys. Sinfonia No.15 is particularly striking for its driving rhythms. Once again, a very good choice of repertoire for the clavichord.
What is unexpected is the conclusion – the mighty Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor (BWV 903), a true masterpiece. Schiff displays speed and virtuosity aplenty in the Chromatic Fantasia which threatens to spill over beyond the instrument in its sheer exuberance, emotion, and cascades of notes. I personally have always thought this was a piece just waiting for the advent of the grand piano to bring out all its colours and moods. That said, the sheer brilliance of this performance remains awe-inspiring. The great Fugue is masterfully played, every contrapuntal line clear and differentiated, as to be expected from such a musical master as András Schiff.
Schiff himself calls this album an invitation into “a new world, a quiet oasis in our noisy, troubled times”. Maybe this is what we need in our times of superamplified basses and volume cranked up to the point of distortion. A return to experiencing quiet and to distilling the gentle drops of sound arising out of silence.
My only quibble is that a recording cannot quite convey the subtleness, delicacy and sheer quietness of the clavichord sound, especially if you are tempted to turn up the volume. My tip – don’t! If anything, try turning it down for a more authentic experience. Even better, see whether you can find a clavichord to try for yourself and experience how it might sound in a small intimate space. You just might find the colours and touch control, and its sheer quietness, quite beguiling, and revelatory of the music in a different way. The clavichord did indeed offer more expressive possibilities than the harpsichord, including subtle volume control and even a subtle vibrato, all achieved through touch. It could even sustain notes a little, unlike the plucked action of the harpsichord. Which are all reasons why it was Bach’s favourite keyboard instrument. For most of us it could never replace the piano and all its possibilities, but it could certainly complement it.
It is said that part of the genius of Bach’s music is that it adapts well when transposed to all sorts of instruments and instrument combinations, both old and new. Bach is satisfying to listen to, also on what one could call a ‘mathematical’ level, and possibly even more satisfying to play, making it a constant pleasure to discover or rediscover Bach’s music on different instruments. This album helps us on this journey, with the added bonus of what will, for many, be the discovery
of a new instrument with its soundworld.
A brief postscript. Having listened to Bach on the clavichord I was in the mood for some meditative music and another recent release (from February 10, 2023) caught my eye, Meditations – Chants & Piano, with Tim Allhoff (piano) and Cantatorium under Fr Robert Mehlhart singing Gregorian chant (Sony Classical 2022). The album appears to try to build on the hugely successful recording from 1993, Officium, a collaboration of jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble singing Gregorian chant. The timeless haunting quality of the saxophone’s voice weaving in and out of the soberly sparse chant was nothing short of mesmerizing and helped bring the spiritual rigour and beauty of Gregorian chant into the modern world. Meditations – Chants & Piano attempts a similar integration of Gregorian chant and jazz piano but to my ear, the melding is not there, that seamless integration of new and old, enhancing both. Here the elements somehow remain disparate, the piano intruding on the chant. However, it is an interesting concept, and maybe the piano parts on their own would form a fine jazzy meditative album for those who like that kind of sound.
Irina’s latest critically acclaimed book, Heloise Speaks, a true and powerful love story, centuries before Romeo and Juliet, is now available:
Heloise Speaks, A Verse Novel
A PUBLIC SERVICE BY AUDIOKEYREVIEWS www.artic.edu
Vincent Van Gogh - The Mulberry Tree
JOAN OF AUDIO & MUSIC
By Rain Jordan
A HIGHER LOVE
Think about it, there must be higher love Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above Without it, life is wasted time. Look inside your heart, I'll look inside mine.
PART I: THE LYRICIST
“But it isn’t easy,” said Pooh. “Because poetry and hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can ﬁnd you.”
This is Part I of a three part series, entitled, A Higher Love, celebrating the emergent artist or creative. The series will feature mostly music artists who are prolific creators but are not necessarily “famous” or signed to a notable record label (yet). However, despite their mainstream anonymity they wholeheartedly follow their calling; and throughout their musical journey they discover that their work and ultimately their lives are shaped by a higher love.
The first article in this series is an interview with songwriter and producer, Mickel London, a gifted lyricist, who has lived in the San Francisco Bay area for most of his life, though his roots are in Louisiana. Mickel’s body of work encompasses over 42 recorded songs
Painting by Rossetti
within a diverse mix of genres, from R &B, Soul, Pop, Contemporary Christian and Gospel, Soundtrack, and many songs that cross over genres. The collective power of his songs is their capacity to uplift, inspire, and connect, which is quite rare in popular music these days. In his interview (below) he talks about the inspiration and creative impetus for his songwriting, the many renowned artists he’s worked with, his future creative endeavors, and his newest songs. Also included is video footage of Mickel in the recording studio, a very cool peek into the production and creative process of recording a song. The descriptions for the videos are at the end of this article.
One of the decisive factors for choosing Mickel for this series, in addition to his
Vincent Van Gogh - Sunﬂowers 1889
JOAN OF AUDIO & MUSIC
the philosophy of The Tao of Pooh. The Taoist concept of “Pu” implies an innocent childlike openness and spontaneity, an original or authentic nature, a wisdom that comes from the heart not the intellect, and a friendship or kindness to all; the world as family or one. Subsequently, it became exceedingly clear to me that Mickel’s gift as a songwriter comes as much from his spirit as it does from his artistry; in fact, they are inseparable.
impressive body of work, is the inescapable vitality and goodwill that he so openly exudes. While interviewing and following him around to recording studios, music venues and social circles, I became aware that Mickel has an innate magnetism that attracts and touches people from all walks of life. Yet, surprisingly, he is deeply grounded by a gentle spirit and a sincere and humble heart. I couldn’t help but see a connection between Mickel’s approach to life, music, and people to the ways and nature of the fictional character Winnie the Pooh, and
Video 1 (below): Not Perfect: Anatomy of Song. A short documentary-style peek into the creative and collaborative process of recording a new song entitled, Not Perfect. It is a first take before the mix is completed and mastered. Songwriter and producer Mickel London, multi-talented audio engineer, producer and musician Tasche, and emerging artist/ singer Gianni P'laure
Video 2 (below): A Note to Myself. Songwriter and producer Mickel London with master sound engineer Mike Denter of Infinite Studios and the very talented local Bay Area Songstress Niecy Livingsingle
“Solid state dynamics, resolution, detail retrieval, and spaciousness married to tube liquidity, remarkable tone/timbre/texture, offer #%$*@! musical bliss. What more could one ask for (Aurorasound HEADA)?”
—K.E. Heartsong, AudioKeyREVIEWS! Magazine
Mickel London Continued from Joan of Audio & Music
Conducted by Rain Jordan
INTERVIEW: MICKEL LONDON
After listening to a wide selection of your songs, it’s clear that you are intentional about the focus or theme of your work. Can you talk about that vantage point and what inspires you to create from that place?
Rain C. Jordan (RCJ): After listening to a wide selection of your songs, it’s clear that you are intentional about the focus or theme of your work. Can you talk about that vantage point and what inspires you to create from that place?
Mickel London (ML): Yes, I have to say that the lyrics and messages in my songs are very intentional. But let me back up a little. I never had any intentions of being a songwriter. My ambitions were to be a musician or singer and the first song I ever wrote was purely spontaneous. My relationship with my girlfriend was about to end and I was desperately trying to find a way to stop that from happening, and out of the blue I wrote her a song/poem titled “Please Don’t Leave”, and it saved the relationship. At that moment, I realized the power that words have to change a person’s heart and mind. It gave me a new outlook that is still very present in my approach to writing songs today. In fact, my “girlfriend” and I got married. We were married for 24 years and gave birth to a beautiful daughter. When I write a song and put it out into the world, I feel like I’m sharing a part of myself, so I want it to be of good
wholesome content and truth because I know the source from which the words come. Years ago, I made a personal commitment to write songs that would hopefully empower and inspire the hearts and minds of people.
RCJ: What does your creative process look like?
ML: I would say that my creative process starts with God. On so many occasions I feel words just flooding my heart and mind. This feeling of joy comes over me and I feel very inspired to write. It feels like God is giving me the words. Though, I am not a musician, I hear music in my head, and then begin to write lyrics and hum melodies which help me to structure the songs. The first time I heard my lyrics as an actual song, there was no turning back. I knew I was meant to do this. So, I am most comfortable first writing the lyrics based on what I am hearing in my head, and then going into the studio to produce the music. However, there have been many times when someone would send me a music track and asked me to write the lyrics, and that has worked for me as well.
RCJ: How did you get your start as a songwriter and producer and what is your current muse?
ML: It was back in 2004 when my niece LaToya London had been a finalist on Season 3 of American Idol. I had written a song called “Dare to Dream,” inspired by the amazing opportunity that LaToya had as a contestant on
Wayne Thiebaud - Shadown and Streets (1920)
INTERVIEW: MICKEL LONDON
the show. It was then that I met multi-talented producer / musician Juan (uglyfingers) Blair. What a huge blessing that was. “Dare To Dream” would be our first of so many collaborations. Working in the studio with Juan I learned so much about the entire
process of songwriting, producing and recording. We began writing and producing songs as “London and Blair”. I’d write the lyrics and melodies and Juan would write the music. Shortly after that, my sister Zornia London, who was living and performing in Taiwan asked if I would write songs for her upcoming CD. I was beyond excited because this would be my first opportunity to write songs in the professional arena of the music industry. Juan and I ended up writing 4 songs for her CD including the title track “Because Of You”. “Dare to Dream” would also be a song
on that CD. As for my muse, life is my muse… people, events, and situations. There is no one person or one thing that I draw from or write about. It’s the joys, the sorrows, the desire for change, the pain of loss, and my faith in love and healing that captures and inspires my heart and my pen. I don’t necessarily choose the songs to write about, in many cases the songs chose me.
RCJ: Can you talk about some of the musicians and artists that you’ve collaborated with over the years and what that was like for you?
ML: I have been very blessed to work with so many amazingly talented artists, musicians, and producers over the years. To name a few:
Grammy Award winner Samuelle Prater, lead singer of the group Club Nouveau, Grammy nominated producer/engineer, James Gardiner of Pajamas Studio, guitarist Jeff Tamelier,
INTERVIEW: MICKEL LONDON
formerly of Tower of Power, saxophonist Ric Alexander of Tony Toni Tone, my talented niece LaToya London from American Idol, my amazing sister Zorina London who is a Christian / Gospel recording artist and formerly of James Brown, bass player Eric EQ Young of Charlie Wilson, Adult Contemporary recording artist Niecey LivingSingle, Gospel recording artist Gail Moore, recording artist Tamar Gillette, R&B recording artist Chuck Lounge, guitarist Patrick Bradley, bass player Kevin Scott formerly of Lenny Williams, amazing producer, musician and artist Tasche, Stevio formerly of the Grammy Award winning group En Vogue, and of course Juan Blair to name just a few. Each of these artists offered a unique and amazing opportunity to learn, create and to share ideas.
RCJ: Which songs that you’ve written are most meaningful to you and why?
ML: Wow, that is a tough question. Just about every song I’ve written has a special meaning or inspiration. But, since you’ve asked, let’s see. The first song that comes to mind is “Live My Life”. I was listening to a CD by Dr. Wayne
Dyer and he was talking about a character from a story that began to question if he had lived a purposeful life. That made me reflect on my own life at that time and I asked myself that same question. I thought to myself I don’t want to look back and say maybe I should have or could have. I don’t want to look back and ask myself, “why didn’t I?”. Those thoughts became the first two lines to my song, “Live My Life” which was recorded by Tamar Gillette and Niecey LivingSingle. It won several music awards. Another song that comes to mind is “Somebody’s Hero”. I wrote it when a very
close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer and was battling for her life. She was given only a 5% chance to survive beyond one year. She is now in her fifth year of remission. Her courage truly inspired me and everyone around her. While facing a life threatening circumstance she still found the strength and courage to face it head on. She kept fighting even when she felt she couldn’t try anymore. It’s not something everyone can do. The next song is “Because Of You” which was the first Christian song I’d ever written. My sister Zorina and her Christian group from Taiwan were here in the states performing and I attended their concert. I was in my car driving home after the concert when suddenly lyrics started pouring into me. I remember thinking, wow, God is touching my heart right now. By the time I arrived home that night, I had all the words of the song in my head and typed them into my computer. The next day, I called my sister and told her I had a song for her. The power of that inspiration was so powerful because it so clearly came to me from a higher source. Consequently, my sister was nominated for “Best New Artist” in Taiwan for her CD titled, “Because of You”.
RCJ: On the other side of the same coin, which songs have been most popular?
ML: Well music is an art form and can be interpreted in so many different ways by different people. Songs that I thought would be popular were not as popular as some of my other songs. There were, however, a few songs that I knew would be big songs the moment I
wrote them. The song “Let Go” performed by Tamar Gillette is a song about letting go of your fears, doubts and inhibitions and allowing yourself to become the person you were created to be. And the song “Faith in Love”, a beautiful love ballad performed by LaToya London. Both songs had a long run on radio stations. “Faith in Love” was nominated and won an Atlas Elite R&B Song of The Year Music Award.
RCJ: If you had to choose a maxim or rule of conduct from any one of your songs, what would it be?
ML: I approach a song from a perspective of love, positivity, and honesty. My position is that I want people to be uplifted, inspired, and motivated by my songs. I believe that as a writer I have a responsibility to be honest and deliberate in my message. If I had to name a song that carries that message or maxim it would be, “Let Go” performed by Tamar Gillette and produced by London and Blair. Again, this song is about letting go of all the fears that hold us back. I think that fear is one of the greatest deterrents in anyone’s success. I am always reminded of this when I ask people, “how’s it going?” and they reply, “I’m hanging on, or I’m hanging in there.” Meaning, if they let go, they will fall or fail. But what if you let go, and you soar? What if it’s the fear that is holding you back? We are far more capable of achieving the things that we want, than we allow ourselves to believe.
RCJ: What are your aspirations for future creative endeavors and collaborations?
INTERVIEW: MICKEL LONDON
ML: I do have a few projects that I am currently involved in. One being with producer James Gardiner and Paula Telander, and a very talented singer out of Germany, Rona Ray. The song is called “When I Saw You”, a beautiful love ballad that will be out sometime this year. As well, I am currently in production with several new songs. Some are being recorded for demo purposes so that I can present them to the right artist. One song, in particular, titled, “Not Perfect” is a song I worked on with the gifted producer Tasche, and emerging artist, Gianni P’laure. The song is a powerful admission of our imperfection as human beings, one that most people can easily relate to. Gianni did such a wonderful job with the demo that I am seriously considering her for the song. We are also getting ready to release a new song I wrote for Niecey LivingSingle titled “Now That You’re Here”, a very moving tribute to the joys and beauty that certain people bring into our life. As for my aspirations, my intention is to get my songs heard by more artists/labels in the industry. Meaning, that I would like to have my songs presented to artists that are much further along in the industry than I am at this time. They have a far greater audience-reach and I’d love to share more of my songs with the world. Also, the television and film industry would be a perfect medium for so many of my songs. Another plan this year is to produce a CD that features select songs that I’ve written that will truly showcase my work. The music industry is so vast and fast moving but it is also a place
that really allows me to express myself creatively and authentically. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
RCJ: Are there creative endeavors that you are involved with that you feel are particularly significant or relevant?
Yes, my “Annual Benefit Fundraiser for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital”, in Oakland, California. Every year I produce the “Music Is Medicine” non-profit benefit concert to raise money for this much-needed non-profit hospital. This is my 11th year as the producer, and I must say I look forward to this event each year. The benefit was put on hold for the last two years due to COVID, so this year feels particularly important since so many more children need support. Our goal is to make up for the two years we lost plus our current annual goal of 50K. This can definitely be accomplished with the support of our local and national businesses and communities. I welcome and appreciate all those who want to support those children who often have serious or life threatening illnesses and need special care but have limited resources to pay for medical care.
RCJ: I want to thank Mickel London for sharing his incredible energy, talent, and collaborative spirit with us. And to all those who worked together with AKR Magazine to allow us to get a bit of unfiltered video coverage of his work in the recording studio. AKRM
Henri Matisse - The Green Room
Wassily Kandinsky - Murnau. Two
MYTEK LIBERTY DAC II
By Oliver Masciarotte
Ihave a confession to make; I tend more toward straightforward honesty rather than partisan editorializing. Having grown up in New England, I was taught to say what I mean and, more importantly, mean what I say without being mean about it. Here in Minnesota, that last phrase is often turned on it’s head, bringing me no small amount of consternation. My philosophy of honesty extends to audio gear as well. I tend to enjoy products that offer truth rather than demure politeness or convenient omission.
The Mytek Liberty DAC II heralds from a professional lineage, where cost and functionality far outweigh fidelity and ease of use. As an example, the front panel is covered with LEDs and tiny labels. These features could be intimidating for the newly anointed audiophile. Pros also value timbral honesty, at least in principle. That means confining “color” to “effects” hardware or plug–ins, where
distortion can be applied on an as–needed basis.
With the ability to decode pretty much all mainstream sample rates and formats, and even that sometimes lossless, other times lossy conundrum that is MQA, Liberty DAC II can handle most any stream one throws at it. But does that mean it sounds “good”? Is it a cultivated purveyor of excellent tuneage or is it like some other Euro imports that are devoid of humanity, at least in the audio sense? Oliver Masciarotte investigates the science and subjective worth of Mytek Audio’s entry level converter offering…
Mytek Liberty DAC II $1,495 https://mytek.audio/ AKRM audiokeyreviews.com
HIGH-END HEADPHONES, AMPLIFIERS & DACS
By K. E.Heartsong
OPEN 5 A
Musical and Artful
TRI-ART OPEN 5
Itravelled a short distance to a friend’s home mid last year to talk, listen to music, and compare notes. And as his system was quite fully fleshed out—the top DACs, amplification, wires/ cables, and speakers—all of which I was very familiar with, I held a growing sense of anticipation.
This, for me, was my first time back into the two-channel realm, where I have spent approximately 97.8% of my listening life. So it was decidedly good to be back. In the interim, headphones had become my raison d’être —my reason for being— and, I must say, they have been quite spectacular, while electrostatics, get outta here, they’re the bomb— extraordinary!
What I had learned from headphones was the intimacy that they not only invoked, but also cultivated. With an electrostatic headphone system there would be scarce few if any details hiding amongst the shadows, whether at some far flung corner of a
performance stage or in the deep recesses of an orchestral soundstage – all would see the light of day.
As I have spoken about in my many reviews of electrostatic headphones and their required amplification, the experience with them was something new to me. The electrostatic brought forth profound resolution, transparency, detail, with an abiding musicality that was capable of jaw dropping, rapid-onsetmomentary catatonia, figuratively speaking. And its musical kin had not, at that time, been discovered.
I sat centerstage in my friend’s chair of honor, or the ‘sweet spot’, as we of this ‘calling’ refer to it. The music began with me at the dashboard—equipped with the remote control. It was a familiar moment for me, known across countless decades. But it was different, not quite how I had recently experienced it. I goosed the volume up. I repeated. And I repeated the volume increase again until the piece was once again familiar. The look on my friend’s face showed something resembling astonishment and stupefaction and concern.
That fact of the matter was, I was simply not used to stereo listening anymore as so much goes missing with the speakers several feet away. However, when the transducers— headphones—are literally sitting on your ears everything is right there.
Well, as I would soon discover, there exists sort of a twilight zone of transducers— loudspeakers and headphones—where the loudspeakers are several feet away and at the
Edgar Degas - Dancer (1878)
TRI-ART OPEN 5
same time, seemingly, on your ears. Or so it seems. And this was my introduction to the TriArt Audio OPEN 5 speakers.
REFRAIN: Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start, below, with how the equipment actually sounds and not the process of physically “undressing” it and/or laying out its various parts, specifications, etc. Think of this review then, as a non-linear movie—Memento, Kill Bill, Arrival, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Terminator, In the Shadow of the Moon, The Queen’s Gambit, etc—that, likewise, starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.
Speakers are, nonetheless, a different animal from headphones (when you’re not in the twilight zone of transducers). The only ‘setup’ that headphones require, in terms of one’s room, is to be properly affixed to one’s head and ears. This generally takes seconds. Done. Speakers, on the other hand, do not enjoy such simplicity or ease of placement. Theirs is a case by case determination based upon one’s listening environment—room fabrication and materials of said room, overall dimensions (WxDxH), amount of stuff within room, its reflectivity or absorption profile, spousal/ partner placement limitations, etc. Yes, there are a great many more determinants with regard to the proper setup of one’s loudspeakers.
Sometimes setup can be relatively simple, while at other times it’s nearly impossible and
one settles for ‘close’ optimization given the variables. I have had easy listening environments and nearly impossible ones, but, ultimately, the music always flowed at the end of the setup.
15 feet (457.2cm) by 30 feet (914.4cm). My system is placed along the long wall. The left side of that long wall is open, while on the right side there are two very large, doublepaned windows, with very effective (sound defusing/absorbing) blinds. The floors are hardwood, covered by large area rugs with thick under-padding. The internal walls are of
the robust variety, found in high-rise buildings of the ‘60s-era-build. All one has to do is to walk in to understand the solidity and the quiet.
The TRI-ART OPEN 5s are relatively easy to set up, though they may take a little time to spike and position. The instructions call for an ‘initial’ setup with the OPEN 5s positioned one third (1/3) into the room. I placed the OPEN 5s five feet from the front wall. After some experimentation, I separated them nine and a half feet apart from mid driver to mid driver and toed them in very slightly, an inch and a half. But there was, based upon initial soundings, something that still needed to be figured out.
Figured out? Well, it seems that all was not right and quite possibly terribly wrong in the land of ‘speaker specifications’. And it was this one thing that was throwing everything completely out of balance!
It seems that the OPEN 5’s sensitivity specification was not quite accurate. On paper the OPEN 5 boasted a very efficient rating— 94dB— able to be driven easily and well with few watts, little power. The OPEN 5’s sensitivity specification, after trial and failure, with all amplification below a given wattage, provided a first clue as to its actual specification. That clue was that amplifiers below fifty watts provided bass that was more concept, hypothesis, fiction, and entirely missing in action. However, when power, 200 watts, finally arrived in the form of the Audionet PRE G2 and AMP duo (review coming), sufficient clues were amassed to solve
the case. And it wasn’t the butler. The OPEN 5’s true rating was closer to 90dB.
THE SYSTEM, THE SOUND
The OPEN 5’s newly established efficiency necessitated that the Audionet PRE G2 preamp and AMP monoblocks immediately join the review system quintet. Thus the final review system was composed of the following:
Grimm Audio MU1 Streamer
Bricasti Design M1 Special Edition DAC
Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC
Audionet PRE G2 Preamplifier
Audionet AMP Monoblock Amplifiers
Tri-Art OPEN 5 Loudspeakers
Verity Otello Loudspeakers
Audience FrontRow Interconnects (XLR), USB, Ethernet
RSX BEYOND, MAX Power-cords
Audience AdeptResponse aRS-T4 Power Conditioner
With everything right and proper, the TRIART OPEN 5s now gave voice time and again to incredible(!) recreations of past performances. Before me lay one of the most spacious stages experienced (far beyond the boundaries of the speakers), and when called for, one of the most intimate stages.
Positioning, layering, and spacing were solid, immutable, believable. At one point, as I took in what was a cavernously deep soundstage (Eiji Oue’s Stravinsky), I thought to myself, “That’s far too deep.” Now either this was the result of too long a stint in the headphone
TRI-ART OPEN 5
world or the drivers assembled for the TRIART OPEN 5 were ‘next-leveling’ it—knocking it out of the park. As time went on the latter seemed a more appropriate description of what the OPEN 5s were doing and this was something to behold, especially so for a $7,500 speaker! Incredible!
speakers of these domains often fail to bring forth. And yet for so large a speaker to flat out disappear, as in it being impossible to track the point of sound/music from one’s listening chair with eyes closed was, well, magnificent!
[Note: These speakers, properly amped, are tremendous reviewing tools. They are so superbly transparent and resolving that they, the OPEN 5s, will tell on any upstream change! FYI. I’m keeping them.]
Within the various expanding and contracting performance stages, based upon the listening material, were oceans of details and micro-details, lightening fast transients and microdynamics, that gave truth to performance after performance. And one must mention the air and ambiance, the nuance and refinement that the OPEN 5 so deftly broadcast from its assembled, upstream bandmates.
The transparency and resolution on offer by the OPEN 5s easily invaded the domains of electrostatic and planar loudspeakers but with a low frequency force and control that the
I ran a phalanx of bass and deep bass infused tracks through the review system and out to the OPEN 5. It is quite the experience, from the perspective of the components’ scale—62” speaker sporting 18” and 15” drivers and 200 watt per channel monoblock amplifiers, which would never be mistaken for tiny tots. And assuredly what I write here can be reprised for the Audionet duo that made these revelations across the bass region entirely possible. Though my neighbors may now be a good deal more dubious of the soundings and the rumblings emanating from Casa Heartsong.
Eiji Oue’s “V. Infernal Dance of King Kashchey” (Stravinsky, Reference Recording) via the OPEN 5s is sublime. The timpani were differentiated and fleshed out via both their surfaces and interiors (insides) like I’d never heard before. These levels of transparency and resolution are new and this is a track I have heard across many years and many systems. As the balance of the bass pieces— Dave Holland’s “Emerald Tears" (Emerald Tears,
ECM), Paul Chambers’ Yesterdays (Bass on Top, Blue Note), Marcus Miller’s Power (M2, Concord), etc.— play through, it seems as thought the OPEN 5’s drivers take particular care in their rendering. Which is to say, that its drivers, again, bring a level of transparency, and attendant resolution, detail, and vigor to bass plucks and strums, and twangs that make them dimensional, textured, palpable, real, inroom!
“Is someone practicing the sax in your place?” said my friend who called during a reviewing session. I was, of course, sitting before the OPEN 5s but she, possessed of an exceptional ear, thought otherwise. And I can scarcely blame her as I sat in the ‘sweet spot’ listening to Branford Marsalis’s saxophone playing through “Gloomy Sunday”, (Eternal, Marsalis Music) my mouth agape, on a gloomy Sunday. The energy, the vigor, the breath, the life seemed real to me, as I sat, eyes closed, transported and then transfixed, as if in the venue. “Wow,” I thought, “this is scarily good. And I don’t really use ‘scarily’ as an adjective. Hmmmm… How much are these again? I’m definitely keeping them.”
Olafur Arnalds’ “Árbakkinn” (Island Songs, Mercury (Universal France)) cues up and plays
through. It is one of my favorites for understanding transparency, resolution, and detail, ‘the Three’ and their nexus—a connection or series of connections—to measure the music’s in-room realism. As poet Einar Georg Einarsson recites there is a strong presence or palpability of him in-room. There is startling clarity, wherein ‘the Three’ place the birds, who are outside of the recording venue, inside and beside Einar, at the song’s earliest moment. Very, very few component mixes can make this happen and even some electrostatic headphone setups fail here. Suffice to say, that the realism in this setup is fourth dimensional—“inconceivable (Vizzini (Wally Shawn), Princess Bride)! ”
Joe Morello’s drum kit, stage far (far) left, is bopping, his cymbals air-infused, a metallic sheen, delicate, nuanced are in the room, and he is deep in the mix, as “Take Five” (Time Out, Columbia-Legacy) plays on. Dave Brubeck stage far (far) right on piano and Eugene Wright, tucked in right of center and deep set within the stage, cavort away, the spatial cues betraying their position. I can’t remember a time when this performance has been so transparent, so real. I shake my head again at the TRI-ART OPEN 5s well aware that their
TRI-ART OPEN 5
price tag says, “Yeah, I know, we shouldn’t be able to do this. But, we’re doing it. Ha!” And I sit back and enjoy with one question, “Are you taunting me?”
Hilary Hahn’s “Sonata No. 1 in G minor: Adagio” (Hilary Hahn Plays Bach: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Partita No. 1, Decca) is brilliant. Her violin scales treble heights as if borne by wings, all the while energetic, the tone and timbre rich, with air and ambiance and space in abundance. Whoa! No doubt, the OPEN 5’s tweeters and super tweeters are hard at work, making things seem ‘easy as pie’. Bravo!
The TRI-ART OPEN 5 at $7500 is a game changer in that it will challenge, easily, speakers at multiples upon multiples of its price. All one need do to achieve this, is to feed it sufficient, well enabled power to bring it to life (100 watts+)!
Yes, its complement of drivers—two-18” and two-15” woofers, 2-8” midranges, two-1” tweeters, and 2-super-tweeters—allow the OPEN 5 to easily mark all of the audiophile check boxes—transparency, resolution, Pacing, Rhythm, and Timing (PRaT), detail retrieval, soundstaging, microdynamics, weight, etc.— while pleasing music lovers to no end. And there is its finesse, its open air ambiance, its wealth of spatial cues, and the incredible spaciousness, as a result, which, in my opinion, make it other—not electrostatic, not boxed, not planar—but perhaps some mix of all in addition to being open baffle.
TRI-ART OPEN 5 is a music lover’s and an audiophile’s ‘for sure’ bargain and for us an award winner and easily so. We award the OPEN 5 our highest award—DIAMOND AWARD—for outstanding musical prowess and for its various assembled, technical abilities that make it a truly extraordinary speaker (and at such an outstandingly low cost!). Can you say bargain? Bravo! Bravo!
Pros: Incredibly musical and exceptionally proficient transducer, technically, that performs leagues above its retail price and that challenges speakers leagues above its retail price (when properly powered). Cons: Needs amplification greater than 50 watts to excel.
OPEN 5 Speakers $7,599
4 Harvey Street, Kingston ON K7K 5B9
HEARING IS BELIEVING
DAN CLARK STEALTH
By K. E. Heartsong
It was Dan Clark’s VOCE electrostatic headphone that sent my mind into the past, reeling with my experiences with the Quad ESL-57s and then the Martin Logan CLS electrostatic speakers. These are experiences neatly frozen in time, that granted me my first peek into the beauty of electrostatics, their transparency, resolution, nearlight-speed transients, and sublime midrange recreation. They certainly had their limitations—deep bass response, treble acrophobia— the fear of great treble heights—and the VOCE mirrored them in this manner as well, but what was there was beyond glorious. Since then the VOCEs are ever-present beside the electrostatic headphone amplifier that is up for enjoyment or contemplation or review. And while I have not listened to or reviewed the breadth of the Dan Clark line, I could not imagine another headphone that would ‘bring’ an equal measure of the midrange magic. And then one fine day, the
Dan Clark STEALTH planar headphones happened along.
This review then is about the Dan Clark STEALTH, and how often that which is not expected, can so casually show up to prove us, well, quite and demonstrably wrong. Let me count the ways.
REFRAIN: Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start with how the headphones actually sound and not the process of physically “undressing” them and/or laying out their various parts, specifications, etc. Think of this review then, as a non-linear movie— Memento, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Transcendence, In the Shadow of the Moon, etc—that, likewise, starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.
The Dan Clark STEALTH is a chameleon with regard to the various headphone technologies that it embraces. Unlike the Dan Clark VOCE which was a mid-centric focused headphone, and beautifully so, the STEALTH is quite a bit more.
DAN CLARK STEALTH audiokeyreviews.com
Vincent Van Gogh - Poppies and Daisies(1890)
DAN CLARK STEALTH
When I first attached the STEALTH for listening, after an extended burn-in, I thought with great confidence that this was a dynamic driver, as the foundational weight, the bass and sub bass reach were truly impressive. And on those tracks that required speed, expanded
headphone very difficult to remove. Yes its sibling, the electrostatic VOCE, sported a wonderful midrange, good treble, and relatively decent bass. The STEALTH, however, exceeds its electrostatic sibling on all counts. Amazing! Yet, the fact that the STEALTH is a closed-back planar magnetic headphone is a true conundrum! Closed-back headphones are not supposed to bring the voluminous breadth and depth of soundstage, the openness, the incredible ease, that open-backed headphones provide, and yet this one does. Well, mark this as yet another feather in the STEALTH’s cap of capabilities, so to speak.
The Dan Clark STEALTH’s volumetric cube—its soundstage—is exceptionally wide and deep, with very good height. Its staging— positioning, layering, relative spacing, and image stability—is likewise exceptional. The STEALTH, as mentioned above, is also incredibly natural and immersive and very
treble reach/response, and broad frequency resolution, the STEALTH was, indeed, planar, its ‘home planet’. But then the STEALTH went one step further and intruded upon the world of the electrostatic headphones. There are but a handful of headphones that can pull this off—ABYSS AB1266 PHI TC, ZMF Atrium, MEZE Empyrean Elite.
Given its ‘Tri-World’ bonafides, its daunting resolution and transparency, its ability to search out and free throngs of detail, and its compelling musicality, I found the STEALTH
The Dan Clark STEALTH was paired with the Grimm Audio MU1 and Silent Angel Rhein Z1 streamers, the Mola Mola Tambaqui, the Bricasti M1SE, the DENAFRIPS Pontus II DACs, and the NEODIO ORIGINE S2 CD player as well as its internal DAC. The various headphone amplifiers were the Aurorasound HEADA and the HeadAmp GS-X MkII (review coming) and the HeadAmp GS-X Mini. Cables and Power cord tasks were filled by the AntiCable, Audience FrontRow, and RSX Technologies. The TORUS RM20 handled all power requirements. audiokeyreviews.com
As Eiji Oue’s “V. Infernal Dance of King Kashchey” (Stravinsky, Reference Recording) plays, the detail even within the earliest moments is exceptional. The buried cough that precedes the very first mallet strike, not often heard, is pristine in its clarity. One thing that you will notice time and again is the outstanding clarity and resolution across the frequency spectrum with the STEALTHs in play. And when the seven tympani assembled for this movement come to mark their thunderous entrance, the subterranean, Holy-Bass-HeadGrail is easily pierced and one imagines things rattling. You will, however, need power, given the STEALTH’s marginal efficiency (86-89dB), to make this happen. The Aurorasound HEADA rose to the occasion though the ‘speedometer’ was pressing 2 o’clock. The HeadAmp GS-X MkII at six watts had little issue and drove the STEALTHs beautifully and well at around the 12:30 to 1 o’clock mark. Christian McBride’s and Regina Carter’s “Fat Bach and Greens” (Conversations with Christian, Mack Avenue Records), with its near reckless abandon as it skirts between classical and jazz, is deftly captured by the Dan Clark STEALTHs without ever missing a beat. The STEALTHs are a chameleon, certainly so in this respect, as one can imagine both dynamic driver and planar magnetic spilling out the lowest of Hertz.
There’s that chameleon-like thing again as the STEALTH handles with electrostatic ease, resolution, and transparency Voces8's “Prayer to a Guardian Angel” (Lux, Decca). This is a song, and an album, one of a number of Voces8 albums and choral albums in fact, that I save solely for electrostatic reproduction, as very
beautifully in this genre of music and across this album, by bringing the ambiance, air, volume, and that incredible electrostatic transparency to the sound. Staging as well is exceptional. Patricia Barber’s “The Moon” (Verse, Koch Records) cues, and the calm, followed by the dissonance portrayed by the piano and assorted instruments, are given distinction and air and space by the STEALTH. Sibilance has been banished to an unattached dimension and that is saying something on a Patricia Barber track. Patricia’s voice is textured and real and her presence palpable. Yes, it is as if I’m listening to several
DAN CLARK STEALTH
headphone technologies at once, in a closedback design (!), and the STEALTH has melded them all together harmoniously. Wow!
Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (Time Out) enters so beautifully: it is alive and resolved and airinfused, yet with a smooth and relaxed voice. Perhaps the STEALTH is now trying its hand at mimicking vinyl! The stage is wide, Joe Morello’s drum kit dimensional, the balance of the instruments at relative, layered depths. In truth, with rare exceptions, only the electrostatics can so clearly resolve Joe Morello’s cymbals and provide the requisite air that says “Real, nothing frying/sizzling here, man.” Jordi Savall’s “Les Pleurs, for 2 basse de viole” (Tous les matins du monde, Alia Vox) is sublime in the naturalness of tone/timbre and texture of the bowed Viola da Gamba strings. The STEALTH is again both planar magnetic and electrostatic as it teases out nuance and detail and micro detail. Here is a rare instance when what I wanted to review with the STEALTH is replaced by what I am listening to and can not take myself away from. The jaded reviewer crumbles to passions. Bravo!
The Dan Clark STEALTH planar-dynamic headphone is a revelation. It exceeds its prescribed edict—to excel in planar magnetic duties—and goes on to become exceedingly familiar with, if not master of the edicts of the other headphone worlds and technologies. Again, there are very few headphones capable of doing this and fewer still with such
compelling musicality. You and your music, regardless of genre, will be well served.
Please note that to date, I have listened to a great many headphones, and these days it takes a great deal to move me. Suffice to say, that a number have been sent back as they did not rise to the occasion regardless of their technology (though electrostatics may all be pardoned on this point).
The STEALTH easily wins our DIAMOND AWARD for technical excellence and sublime musicality. Bravo!
Pros: Technical excellence—resolution, transparency, detail, spatiality—and sublime musicality. Exceptionally well made, beautifully designed, easy to transport.
Cons: Efficiency. One will need power above that which resides in most DAPs
Dan Clark STEALTH ($3999.99)
3366 Kurtz Street, San Diego, CA 92110 USA
Wassily Kandinsky - Luminosity
These are the most immersive, dynamic, detail-rich, nuanced, elegant, engaging, emotional, and yes, musical speakers I have ever heard. By far.
Timothy Roth, Positive Feedback
Wassily Kandinsky - View of Murnau (1903)
MOJO AUDIO MYSTIQUE X
By Oliver Masciarotte
MOJO AUDIO MYSTIQUE X
Until last year, R-2R DACs were unknown to me. Unknown in the sense of having one I could engage with in extended listening sessions. All that changed last year. Since I’ve started writing for AKR, I’ve had not one, not two, but three R-2R DACs in da house. First it was the pleasing and capable Merason Frerot, then the quotidian but versatile MUSICIAN Pegasus. The Frerot impressed me with its amiable softness. It’s not
displays. The only controls gracing the engraved, all black, anodized front fascia are three unlabeled push buttons and accompanying bicolor status LEDs. Inexplicably, there is also a red LED that indicates errors on the AES unbalanced input, but it’s under the USB input selector! The front panel does sport very prominent, deeply engraved Mystique X logotype but no labels whatsoever. Now I’m all for minimalist for the sake of sound quality, but no IDs for the buttons is a bit much. As an added touch, the product does not remember its prior setting when power cycled.
the most accurate DAC but, for the price, it’s an excellent choice for those who have a peaky, “detailed” playback chain, or for all those who simply want a slightly low passed approach to music. The Pegasus can be coaxed to display more upper treble than the Frerot but still exhibits what I thought was an inherent characterteristic of R-2R architecture: a lack of true detail, both timbrally and in low amplitude subtlety. The Mojo Audio Mystique X SE has changed all that.
The Mystique X SE is, on first glance, an unassuming black box easily mistaken for a Class D power amp. It has no meters, knobs or
For a single box DAC, it’s quite heavy at 19 pounds. The Mystique X SE is also relatively bulky, with a 16" depth, 9" width and 4" height. The rear end has both AES balanced and unbalanced digital inputs, along with USB, and balanced and unbalanced analog outs. Though the manufacturer seems to prefer the unbalanced analog outputs, during this review I went solely with the balanced outs, while the DAC itself was driven by Amarra Luxe running on macOS.
To quote Mojo Audio’s web site, the X in the name “…stands for ‘extruded chassis.’ Our new massive extruded aluminum chassis combined with advanced anti-resonance typologies significantly lower mechanical resonance and thereby lower the overall noise floor of our new X series…It is the lower noise and better isolated power supply and shortest
Wayne Thiebaud - River Bend
MOJO AUDIO MYSTIQUE X
analog signal path in addition to our new extruded chassis and advanced anti-resonance typologies which lower our already incredibly low noise floor resulting in a higher level of performance than any DAC Mojo Audio has ever manufactured.” When I asked Benjamin Zwickel about sound quality differences between the now discontinued X and X SE versions, he opined that “…it would be like the difference between a 12-year-old and an 18year-old bottle of the same whiskey; (X SE is) a bit smoother, a bit more character, a bit more subtlety and nuance.”
In addition to addressing mechanical sources of noise and intermodulation distortion, there are five power supplies dedicated to particular subsystems. In and of itself, multiple power supplies are not unusual, but, in the case of Mystique X SE, all are controlled by Belleson SPX ultra–low noise voltage regulators. In contrast to the now discontinued X edition, other improvements that the X SE carries are ultra–low noise rectification and additional EMI/RFI electromagnetic and radio frequency shielding. Zwickel, electrical engineer, owner, and head honcho at Mojo Audio, sold his turntable in 1995 and “…went on a mission to find the ultimate digital source. It was not long before I learned the notable differences between R-2R and delta–sigma, and became a die hard R-2R fan.” Zwickel pointed out to me, via e–mail, that an R-2R architecture is the only topology to explicitly decode a digital audio stream. Delta-sigma converters interpolate and post–
process the signal, then output a “…flawless waveform based on algorithms. Since the algorithms can’t tell the difference between emotional content from bit read errors, the analog output from Delta-Sigma is smooth and
Audio’s discrete Class A J-FET op(erational) amps following Analog Devices' venerable monolithic AD1862 R-2R ladder DAC, the Mystique X SE is a fully Class A, DC–coupled converter, with strategically employed Vishay Z-Foil resistors which minimize inherent self–inductance and capacitance, cryo–treated Kimber VSS VariStrand wire for peak power transfer, Rel-Cap polystyrene film and foil capacitors in the anti–image filter for superior transient response, low loss rhodium–plated Furutech RCA connectors, large size Herbie’s Audio Lab’s elastomer Soft Fat Dot anti–resonance footers, and a Swiss AC power module from Schurter. You may not recognize some or all of those brands and technologies, but be assured they were chosen after a great deal of critical listening, and represent a distinguished calibre for their category.
The Mystique X SE user manual suggests that, “For optimal performance and longevity, we recommend leaving our DACs on 24/7...that’s why the power switch is on the rear.” I understand the thought behind that statement, but my Anthropocene revulsion compels me to consider 20 minutes of warm up entirely sufficient. Speaking of power, Zwickel considers the power supply to be the most important factor in all audio electronics. He embraced an approach that smoothly delivers both voltage and current. Storing current requires large chokes as well as a robust capacitor bank. Here’s Zwickel’s analogy for understanding both voltage and current–delivering capacity: “Think of voltage as the width of a river and current as the speed the water is flowing. So if you are not storing current, as is true with nearly every DAC regardless of price, then the higher the energy required to reproduce a note the farther out of time that note is from other notes. The (Lundahl) LC choke-input power supplies we use in our analog power supplies are the largest, heaviest, most expensive, and least efficient power supply typology possible.”
For my listening evaluations, I mainly used the USB input. Along with all the premium parts mentioned above, the X SE employs JL Sounds’s USB–to–I2S input module. In macOS’s Audio MIDI Setup, it was nice to see the unit listed as “JLsounds Hi-Rez Audio 2.0”. I started things off with the wonderful follow up album by trad jazzers Rachael & Vilray. This year’s I Love A Love Song [Qobuz 88.2, Nonesuch] ends with a bonus track that had
me boppin’ in time. The vocals on Let’s Make Love on This Plane are close mic’d but the “full band” behind them was not. The backing musicians were painted with the sound of the room in which they played. Mystique X SE lent that subtle sense of soundstage depth that only comes through with properly low jitter timing in both recording and playback.
A great player was recently lost to us; Geoffrey “Jeff” Beck. Beck’s last major project was his collaboration with Jonny Depp, 18 [Qobuz 48k, Rhino 2022]. On the Lou Reed cover, “Venus In Furs”, Depp’s vocal has the proper amount of close pickup, texturally appropriate condenser mic rasp. The new Mike Watt/Psychic Temple album, Plays Music for Airports [Qobuz 88.2k, Joyful Noise Recordings & BIG EGO Records 2023], encodes a very nice acoustic space. On track two, the almost 18 minute “Music For Bus Stops", I thought, “The soundstage is totally believable except for the drummer. He is unrealistically wide.” By that I meant the drums occupy a very wide perspective, as if you were sitting two feet in front of the drum throne. On track two, it wasn’t until well into the performance that I realized…there are two drummers (!), which accounts for the ample spread of the trap drums.
On track 3 of Martha Argerich Live, Vol. 10 [Qobuz 44.1k, DOREMI 2023], there’s an interesting acoustical event at 29 seconds into the piece. What sounds like a rook comments on the proceedings. I had fallen into Deep Listening mode, and the real world sound effect made sense as it passed by, but then my
MOJO AUDIO MYSTIQUE X
analytical mind snapped me out of it and I stopped playback to rewind. Lesser converters do not nudge me into that immersive headspace. Speaking of lesser converters, I am compelled to compare the Mystique X SE to my beloved exaSound e22 Mk II for, without sonic comparisons, it’s devilishly difficult to discern strengths and weaknesses. At half the price and ancient by today’s standards, the ESS–equipped oversampling e22 DAC has served me well. I was not prepared for what I was hearing…a muddying of timbre, soundstage shrinkage and loss of that elusive character detail even at crazy high sample rates. Through the Mystique X SE, there was simply more “there” there. I now feel it’s time to up my reference DAC game!
When asked what it is that gives his DAC a uniquely even–handed, organic sound, Zwickel points up his combination of peerless old and new engineering, his technology crème de la crème. He cites the best of 100 year–old choke input power supplies, 40 year–old 20bit NOS (new, old stock) R-2R DAC chips, and modern additions including SiC (silicon–carbide)
“zero–recovery” Schottky diodes, industry–standard USB receivers from XMOS, Vishay ‘naked’ resistors, and Lundahl amorphous core chokes for power, in along with Lundahl amorphous core input transformers for the AES audio inputs “…to get the natural and neutral sound you are hearing.” I have to applaud Zwickel for bringing together a package that had me reassessing everything I knew about digital–to–analog conversion in the home. Until Ms. Mystique slunk in on her
sinuous gams, I had held Berkeley Audio Design’s† as the approach to take when looking for accuracy with musicality. Now, I have another more affordable choice among peers. The Mystique X SE combines the eternal precision of digital with the immortal soul of human performance. I concede, Benjamin’s karate is better. If you’re shopping for a “mid–tier” digital audio converter, you owe it to yourself to make a date with Mystique.
Mystique X SE D/A Converter
$9,999 direct Mojo Audio Inc.
† — Berkeley Audio Design was formed in 2006 by the founders of Pacific Microsonics Inc., the inventors of the HDCD process. Their legendary Model 1 and Model 2 digital audio converters were, for several decades, the reference by which other pro audio converters were judged. If I remember correctly, the Model 2 was the first commercial converter set (A/D and D/A) to support the 4x, 176.4 and 192k sample rates mandated by the then new DVD-Audio standard. At the turn of the century, Pacific Microsonics and their HDCD process was acquired by Microsoft and, as is the case with much pioneering tech, summarily buried by the disinterested new owners.
Vinyl? We got you covered TA 0.5
Vincent Van Gogh— The Yellow House (1888)
Paul Cézanne - Still Life with a Curtain Giclee
P 6 & A 21+
By Andre Marc
We recently reviewed the superb Parasound JC 3+ Phono Preamp (LINK when live), as well as the Halo Hint 6 integrated amp (https:// www.audiokeyreviews.com/the-reviews/ parasound-hint6), and were excited at the prospect of more Parasound products coming our way. First in for review was the Parasound A 21+ stereo power amplifier. It supersedes the A 21, which had enjoyed a 15 year run in the
designer John Curl, whose circuits are the beating heart of many of Parasound’s products.
A quick overview of A 21+ shows us the power increased from 250 wpc to 300 wpc over its predecessor. We also see an improved power supply, lower noise and distortion numbers, as well as some cosmetic changes. Internal connections and wiring have also been upgraded. The A 21+ retails for $3150.
The A 21+ is equipped with XLR and RCA
company’s line up. We also received the P 6 preamp with built in DAC module, and phonostage.
Parasound has proven that it offers extraordinary products at much lower prices than most of the competition. This was accomplished thanks to carefully cultivated relationships with factories in Taiwan. The attention to detail and the build quality are top notch, making Parasound one of the premier values in high end audio. Of course, the last piece of the puzzle is the relationship with
jacks around the back, as well as gain settings for different environments. The speaker binding posts and connectors are of excellent quality. The build is pretty much over the top, with the amp weighing in at 71 lbs, a big portion of which is the beefy power supply.
The P 6 multifunction preamplifer, which retails for $1599, is chock full of goodies. It has the potential to eliminate several boxes and cable hook ups for the prospective user with the inclusion of a world class DAC, and a Moving Magnet and Moving Coil phono input.
PARASOUND P 6 & A 21+
Vincent Van Gogh - Carafe and Dish with Citrus
The USB input on the DAC, happily, does DSD256. There are also legacy coaxial and optical digital inputs, and they decode up to 24/192 PCM.
The P6 seeks to overachieve in the feature department with subwoofer outputs and control, a high current headphone amplifier, balanced inputs and outputs, and an Auxiliary input on the front panel. There is even an old school fixed line output for recording, tone controls and a 12V trigger. Of course, a full function remote is included as well.
opinion on the character of the A 21+. To our ears, it had excellent soundstage depth, leading edge precision, and extremely quick transients. It seemed to bring us one or two rows closer to the action. There was a sense of ease as well, as if the amplifier was barely working, yet producing big, open, and transparent sound. We were quite taken by the ability of the A 21+ to grab hold of the speakers and not let go, regardless of the genre of music. Our first encounter with this was the Japanese SHM SACD of Tons Of Sobs, by the legendary
SETUP & LISTENING
We set up the A 21+ and P 6 separately in two different systems. We then brought them together for the final stretch. We wanted to know how each performed on its own, and to have fewer variables. The A 21+ was matched with a Rogue RP5 tubed preamp, a Sonore microRendu streamer, a Bryston BDA-3 DAC, Mangenpan 1.7i speakers, and a Rega Planar 6 turntable, and Parasound’s own aforementioned JC 3+ phono stage. Cabling was Black Cat, and Audio Art Cable. After a month or so of continuous use in our system, we formed a pretty informed
British blues rock outfit Free. From the first few notes of “Songs Of Yesterday”, one had to try hard to resist jumping out of the listening chair with excitement as the propulsive bassline set the stage. When Paul Rodgers sings the opening lines, “Sing me a sad song, a song of yesterday”, his bluesy soul stylings were mesmerizing. The A 21+ lit a fire and reproduced the album with the energy and impact it deserved.
Not only did the A 21+ produce weight, impact, and drive, but it also was excellent in its rendering of tonal accuracy, something essential for our ears. We dove into the Mobile Fidelity SACD reissue of Santana’s 1969 self-
P 6 & A 21+ audiokeyreviews.com
titled first album. It is an album we seem to never tire of. Yet, via the A 21+ we still discovered new sonic realms even here, as well as heretofore unheard nuances on the recording. Quite a feat. We heard organ lines intertwining with Carlos Santana’s guitar and the latin percussion in ways we had not previously.
In memory of the recently passed Jeff Beck, we streamed quite a bit of his classic mid 1970’s output, including SACD rips of Blow By Blow, Wired, and Rough And Ready. These albums showcase some of his best playing and arrangements, and his knack for picking sympathetic bandmates. His arrangement of The Beatles’ “She’s A Woman” is startling, with talk box, a funky back beat, and a great Les Paul tone. Another standout is “Blue Wind”, composed by keyboardist Jan Hammer. The A 21+ made Beck’s guitar sound like it was right in the room with the listener, you could sense the cabinet moving air, and it also spotlit the rather dated drum sound.
We found the A 21+’s sense of easy and effortless power addicting. It made some
amplifiers sound a bit anaemic by comparison. Coherence is another area the A 21+ excelled in. Everything seemed to be properly placed in the soundstage presentation, and I would venture to guess this may be the result of the low distortion and extremely low internal noise design.
The P 6 preamp was matched with an Audio Research VS55 amplifier, Spendor S3/5R monitors, a Sonore microRendu streamer, and a Rega Planar 3 turntable. Cabling was Black Cat and Transparent. We used an Audio Art Cable power cord on the P6 as well.
It was clear as day the P 6 was a clean, smooth sounding preamplifer. It was also obvious the internal DAC was top notch, essentially being tonally spot on with dozens of recordings we are intimately familiar with. We were not too surprised as the internal DAC in the Halo Hint 6 Integrated amp was equally as impressive. It reproduced high resolution digital files of all sample rates and flavors with precision, and is far more than an add on. It
did especially well with DSD, with numerous ripped SACDs cued up for enjoyment. In fact we lost track of time as album after album, distilled by Roon, floated by with the analog like tonality DSD is known for.
The internal phono stage, used with a Rega Planar 3, surpassed all the modestly priced standalone phonostages we had on hand. We enjoyed spinning records, and the MM output was more than satisfactory. Clearly, attention was paid to low noise, and high fidelity. Having MC capability is a nice addition as well.
We also, for kicks, used the P 6 to drive a pair of Focal self-powered monitors, and the match was excellent. There was an immediacy and satisfying drive that we usually experience with high quality active speakers. For those with limited space, and prefer a more tidy set up, it is a great way to roll.
COMBINATION OF THE TWO
Putting the A 21+ and P 6 together, and using the balanced XLR connections, produced spacious, open, clean sound. There is no doubt there is synergy there. I ultimately did prefer a high end tube preamplifier with the A 21+ mostly because that is how my ears are calibrated. The P 6 was definitely a tad more transparent and lower noise, however.
The pairing also offered up convincing, true to life dynamics and scale. Instruments and voices appeared with excellent holographic width and depth. Without a doubt, the A 21+ had reserves of power to allow for this impressive presentation. The P 6’s transparency and low distortion also deserve credit.
For practical purposes it was a superior pairing as we were able to leave both units on at all times for on demand peak performance.
PARASOUND P 6 & A 21+ audiokeyreviews.com
We were also impressed with the P 6 with regard to its usable volume range. There were enough gradations in volume steps, one of our
pet peeves, to satisfy. Enough steps makes it much easier to find the sweet spot for each album.
It is virtually impossible not to come away impressed with what Parasound has to offer with the A 21+ power amplifier and P 6 preamplifer, DAC, phono state, and overall control center. For under $5000 you get a combination that seems to me virtually impossible to beat considering the sonics and feature set. The pair will remain in my system for some time as a reference, they are that good.
The A 21+ will without a doubt drive any speaker. Its build quality and parts quality instill confidence in its durability. The P 6 preamp does everything well, and is a truly modern control center. The fact that both products are attractive, either in silver or black, is a nice bonus. Highly recommended for those who need power, superb sound, and functionality.
Parasound Halo P 6 Preamplifier/DAC/Phono preamp: $1599
Parasound Halo A 21+ power amplifier: $3150
PARASOUND P 6 & A 21+ audiokeyreviews.com
Wassily Kandinsky - Bayerisches Dorf mit Feld
SILENT ANGEL BONN N8
Ibeyond, and one eschews stultifying ideologies that censure or block change and any new or relevant information, then one can be assured of continued growth and discovery and life. Change can happen on many levels and in many timelines—geological, generational, yearly, and immediate. Remaining open, unlike the amplifier manufacturer for example who
rather interesting experience which confirmed my notion of just how much one doesn’t know and how much one still has to learn. Needless to say, the Bonn N8 Pro was eyeopening.
REFRAIN: Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start, below, with how the equipment actually sounds and not the process of physically “undressing” it and/or laying out its various parts, specifications, etc. Think of this review then, as a non-linear movie—Memento, Kill Bill, Arrival,
lead one to quite wonderful revelations. This is but a fancy way of saying that though I had exceptional experience with the Silent Angel Rhein Z1 Streamer and Forester F2 Linear Power Supply duo, the idea of a network switch bringing to bear anything other than very marginal change or any improvement, at all, was doubtful, though I remained open.
And this brings me to the review of the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro Network Switch, a
Queen’s Gambit, etc—that, likewise, starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.
I plugged the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro into the system, attached the various ethernet cables, plugged it into the Forester F2 Linear Power Supply, and I let it all settle for a while.
Two days later, I came back, plugged myself into the system (System 1) and experienced a bit of a shock, which led to a few minutes of
SILENT ANGEL BONN N8 PRO
Vincent Van Gogh - Haystacks Under a Rainy Sky
SILENT ANGEL BONN N8 PRO
drooling catatonia. Well, not quite, but it was, indeed, an immediate revelation.
system tested to utilize the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro Network Switch there was always, and I do mean always, noticeable improvement. Whether the Silent Angel “Tiny Tots”— Munich M1 and Forester F1 (review coming)—
That which was quasi-intelligible—certain choral segments, instruments at depth within a given orchestral soundstage, a singer’s barely audible phrasing, the singing of birds offstage (Olafur Arnalds, “Arbakkinn”, Island Songs, Mercury KX), etc.—is now clear, has entered the mix earlier than previously heard, and is also more transparent and better resolved.
unmistakeable. And my initial skepticism was put in check time and time again.
Suffice to say that there is an abundance of clarity with the Bonn N8 Pro serving as network switch, and said clarity diminishes when the Bonn N8 Pro is removed from the system. Further, the frequency spectrum from ‘treble+’ to midrange to sub-bass is, well, “more” in every respect. More?
ethernet switch and ethernet cables, need to be well regarded and tended to.
But that revelation was but one of several. Tone and timbre became more natural, more, well, musical and involving. And while this was certainly true of the top reference systems, it was also true of the Silent Angel Rhein Z1 and Forester F2 combo, and their siblings the ‘Tiny-Tots’—Munich M1 and Forester F1—to no small degree. Further, the stage became
more real—intimate, up close and personal, if the track called for that, or vast and deep, with improved layering and positioning, as there was now more information—microdynamics, detail, relative ambiance, etc.—available.
Yes, I know, “it’s a network switch for crying out loud!” This represents yet another instance where I had thought only minor improvements would be forthcoming, and, as for the better
The Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro is a must whether you own other Silent Angel products or not, as it is quite fastidious with regard to eliminating noise at the ‘entry point’ of one’s streaming system via optimized components, build quality, and an internal word clock. That said, having experienced the synergy between
systems at the cutting edge, “what could they learn?” Quite a bit it seems. Though the Bonn N8 Pro also has an internal clock which, no doubt, contributed to the substantive improvement of musical playback whenever the Bonn N8 Pro was utilized.
For the purposes of this review, I will not evaluate the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro across the various differentiated frequency regions— treble, midrange, bass—for the simple fact that improvement was consistently noted from the tip-top treble region to the subterranean, HolyBass-Head-Grail bottom. This, as most know, is no small feat and the Bonn N8 Pro was always up to the task.
the various Silent Angel products, it is easy to comprehend an A to Z engineering/ programming, via R&D, that targets optimization among ‘siblings’.
The long, slim, almost wafer-like component provides a cover that does not at all begin to tell its most profound story—if you are not already networked-switched and ‘clocked’ to the max, your system will experience improvement, period.
In terms of awards, I would say that the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro lifts the Rhein Z1 and the Forester F2 having already won the Golden KeyNote Award to the apex of this award scope.Will the Silent Angel new
Vincent Van Gogh - Vestibule in the Asylum
SILENT ANGEL BONN N8 PRO
dedicated Word Clock—Genesis GX—move things to the next award level?
Pros: A product that will level up most systems and all systems that are not currently using a network switch with a built-in word clock.
[Note: Did not apply the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro to the reference two-channel system, so the above refers solely to headphone listening.]
Thunder Data, Co., Ltd.
Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro: $1,499
Thunder Data Co., Ltd
Vincent Van Gogh -The Cemetery, Plougasnou (Le cimetière, Plougasnou) 1894
A PUBLIC SERVICE BY AUDIOKEYREVIEWS legionofhonor.famsf.org
LYRIC TI 100 INTEGRATED
By K.E. Heartsong
LYRIC TI 100 MK.II INTEGRATED
Boy, do I remember single-ended triodes with midranges that could give you goosebumps in half a second, make tears well up in your eyes, and have you searching frantically through your album and/ or CD collection. Yes, bass was often an issue and stratospheric treble scaling was the domain of non-single-ended amps, but what you had was as sweet as cake!
At one time, I had them all—the 845s, EL34s, 300Bs, EL84s, 2A3, 572s, 211s, etc. They were all single-“endedly” employed, all had their very own personalities, and all had their strengths and weaknesses.
I remember very clearly trying to run a monster pair of speakers affixed with two very large woofers, two midrange drivers, and a tweeter, with of all things, an itsy-bitsy-teenieweenie EL84 amplifier and its six, maybe seven watts. The amplifier could literally fit in the palm of your hand, and the speakers were almost as big as me. Friends who happened by to see what I’m sure appeared to be a circus pairing—flea circus meets the strong man— stifled laughter whenever they could, but that, unfortunately, was seldom. And yes, it really didn’t work that well (see: not at all) but it was during a transition, as the amps needed to run the nearly six-foot monster speakers had not yet arrived.
Well, that was then and things, as in every niche of audio, have changed and for the
better. This brings me to the LYRIC Audio Ti 100 single-ended integrated amplifier sporting a relatively new triode tube—the KT170— capable of an easy 20 watts into kinda efficient speakers (87-89dB) and quite efficient speakers. There are also the ‘“iron” transformers of the integrated, which bring its weight to about 50 lb. (22.8kg). Yes, you heard that right.
To let the cat peek his cute little head out of the bag, this review will, I believe, be a lot of fun. And did you see how sweet it looks? I’ve just been sitting for quick moments as the LYRIC Ti 100 has been burning in, and for some reason, that Christmas Eve smile of anticipation has been trying to free itself, though I won’t let it, not just now.
LYRIC TI 100 Mk.II Integrated $9,290
Phone: 760-490-2410 AKRM
Welcome to AudioKeyREVIEWS Magazine’s Recommended Components, which will become part and parcel of each of our various issues. The purpose of this section is to acquaint the reader with products—speakers, DACs, amplifiers, preamplifiers, turntables, headphones, IEMs, streamers, portable audio, etc. —that we feel are quite exceptional and rise above their like brethren. There will be three categories—Budget, Mid-Tier, and Top-Of-The-Line. In our Budget Recommendations there will be products that compete far above their respective price point and are, generally, also built to reflect this.Our Mid-Tier Recommendations will encompass those products within arms reach, in terms of relative affordability, that present value and a challenge to the vanguard of their respective product niches. Finally, our TOTL Recommendations will be composed of those products that are at the cutting edge of technological advancement now happening across the world. The three categories of recommendations will rotate across the various issues of our magazine and there will also be a fluidity to the products within the various lists. Things change and especially now given our current technological epoch. The various lists, however, will be fixed on the AudioKeyReviews.com website.
Edgar Degas -Ballerina
Odilon - Flowers in a Black Vase
AURORASOUND HEADA $2999: If you’re looking for an endgame headphone amplifier and even if your headphone amplifier is more expensive, try this one, you may be quite surprised. That said, the Aurorasound HEADA headphone amplifier is a top echelon component and an easy DIAMOND AWARD winner.
SILENT ANGEL RHEIN Z1 $2299: The Rhein Z1 and Forester F2 combo played far above the league that their combined price would indicate. For many, this $3,900 combo may well represent an endgame streamer/ power supply capable of exceptional fidelity with DACs from entry level to those on the cutting edge.
ABYSS AB1266 PHI TC $5999: I think that I’ve said it all. The Abyss AB1266 Phi TC is a phenomenal headphone. It brings an undying passion for musicality and a ferocity for transparency and clarity and detail retrieval, formerly the domain of the best electrostatic headphones. But this planar headphone speaks that language—electrostatic—fluently and well.
TORUS RM20 $3999: Can you say pristine, natural, open, and unhindered frequency response? Wide dynamic range? And there were oceans of detail, air, microdynamics, and ambience rendered by the Torus RM 20. It was not subtle. On the contrary, it was stunning.
RSX POWER8 $399: The RSX Power8 clearly holds to the dictum, “Do no Harm,” to the system in which it is being utilized. What it, in fact, offers is pure, clean power, a testament to the meticulous parts selection, research, and conscious minimalism all employed in its design. suffice to say, that it has no competitors at 3 to 4 times is cost.
GESHELLI LABS ERISH2 [E2] $219.99, JNOG2 [J2] $249.99: Disinterested in ostentation, Geshelli Labs believes in real world pricing with high fidelity performance. Their JNOG2 plus ERISH2 are a petite and potent bargain. With just enough character to put flesh on bone, the classy little twosome sets your music free without excessive color or dispensable features.
Award-Winning Products Designed by Roger Skoff, founder/designer of XLO Every RSX cable shown has been honored by the audiophile press for performance and value Every RSX cable shown has been honored by the audiophile press for performance and value BEYOND™ AC Power Cord Best at any price MAX™ AC Power Cord Superlative performer PRIME™ AC Power Cord True High End Affordably Priced BENCHMARK™ AC Power Cord “Benchmark is a price-performance killer!” Dr. David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief Positive Feedback Online
Ansel Adams - Before the Golden Gate
MID TO HIGH-END
For us a Magical Synergy represents two components or more, that together make music far above what either make separately. Generally, we’ve discovered Magical Synergies via reviews, where we mix and match a good number of components to determine how one of the components—the component under review—sounds.
And while there may be strengths and weaknesses between the various combinations, the Magical Synergy represents that combination which has very few if any weaknesses and a wealth of combined strengths.
In this respect, we’ve done the homework for the reader by evaluating numerous combinations to uncover the Magical Synergy, as many of you may not have the time, options, or financial wherewithal to make these determinations. And Magical Synergies are not always uncovered in our reviews and or our research, as they tend to be, well, rare.
A note on the various Magical Synergies that we uncover. We are music lovers first and
foremost and not professionals who produce music or movies for a living and require different synergies, nor do measurements come into determination for us of what is a good Magical Synergy and what is not. No, for this we determine by ear, heart, and soul, that which moves us, provides for that “vibrational” comfort food, and a rich and engaging musical experience. The experience should, of course, come with sufficient detail and resolution and fidelity to recreate venue and/or the experience of listening to live music, when appropriate. After a long and trying day in this topsy-turvy world, wouldn’t it be wonderful if some small measure of nirvana could be achieved through one’s music and the components that play it
In other words, our Magical Synergies do not render music that is dry, unengaging, subtractively neutral (see dry, boring, etc.), flat, or lacking in dynamics, when called for.
Please find for your review a number of Magical Synergies below.
Magical măjʹĭ-kəl▶ Of, relating to, or produced by magic.1
Syn•er•gy sĭn ʹ ər-jē▶ The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.2
1, 2 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.
MAGICAL SYNERGIES UNDER $9k
ABYSS AB1266 PHI TC/AURORASOUND HEADA
What happens when transparency is, seemingly, exceeded? Realism? Or, perhaps, seeming realism? This is the conundrum raised by the Abyss AB1266 Phi TC and its easy ability to make the best of the best headphones sound dull and uneventful, while it waxes on clear as a well-made bell … Yikes! The Abyss AB1266 Phi TC is a phenomenal headphone. It brings an undying passion for musicality and a ferocity for transparency and clarity and detail retrieval, formerly the domain of the best electrostatic headphones.
The Aurorasound HEADA
headphone amplifier is musical from ‘Square One’, ‘Jump Street’, ‘Scratch’, or, practically, as soon as you turn it on, though it gets worlds better thereafter. It is a beautifully, carefully designed endgame component to pass down. If you’re looking for an endgame headphone amplifier and even if your headphone amplifier is more expensive, try this one, you may be quite surprised. That said, the Aurorasound HEADA headphone amplifier is a top echelon component and an easy DIAMOND AWARD winner.
AUDIONET PRE G2 & AMP/TRI-ART OPEN 5
Spectacular! Not everyday does a preamp and ampliﬁer duo come into your life and raise the ‘living dead,’ ﬁguratively speaking. Well, if you’ve gotten this far, the reference to the ‘living dead’ is clear They are wonderfully intimate, personal, and sweet when called for. Spatial recreation—horizontal positioning, layering, relative space, air and ambiance are, truly, outstanding! I listened to the Audionet ampliﬁcation for nearly a full day and went to bed smiling, energized, and shaking my head. The Audionet PRE G2 preamp and AMP monoblocks are, if you will, velvet hammers. Should the program material require them to access the stygian depths of the Holy-BassHead-Grail, they will take you there easily and swiftly, as it is a path they know well. And in this Audionet PRE G2 preamp and AMP monoblocks are hammers. Yet should the material require a stratospheric rise to tip-top, treble heights, know you will be there in a ﬂash and beautifully so and the material will be very well resolved.
The TRI-ART OPEN 5 at $7500 is a game changer in that it will challenge, easily, speakers at multiples of its price. All one need do to achieve this, is to establish its true sensitivity rating and feed it sufﬁcient, well enabled power to bring it to life (100 watts+)! And there is its ﬁnesse, its open air ambiance, its wealth of spatial cues, and the incredible spaciousness, as a result, which, in my opinion, make it other—not electrostatic, not boxed, not planar—but perhaps some mix of all in addition to being open bafﬂe.
MAGICAL SYNERGIES UNDER $25k
STAX SR-X9000 & VIVA EGOISTA STX
Did I mention how extraordinarily immersive the STAX SR-X9000 is? Well, you will experience the sounds, the emotion, the ambiance, the ease, and even the ‘sights’—silverware and dishes clinking, the muttered voices of the inconsiderate, a waitress taking orders, mufﬂed coughs, miscues, etc. It will all seem tangible and will be incredibly new to a great many. It was new to me and I have ‘mad’ years and much experience in this hi-ﬁ thing. One listen. “You-are-there” describes succinctly my experience with the Viva Egoista STX electrostatic headphone ampliﬁer. And it is an experience that will not soon be forgotten. As mentioned, the Top-Of-the-Line STAX SRM-T8000 is not a contender, though at approximately one third the price, it shouldn’t be. It isn’t. As I write this, there is no competition for the Viva Egoista STX electrostatic headphone ampliﬁer. Where that contender may come from has yet to be discovered, but then competition is good, especially when the competition provides a different yet compelling perspective.
Sublime musical playback from these two components that will challenge easily systems at twice their price if not more. In my experience there isn’t a better headphone system, to date, than this combination with TOTL components.
Vincent Van Gogh - Wheat Field with a Reaper
IN THE NEXT ISSUE
audiokeyreviews.com 5 3 4 1 2
1. LYRIC Ti 100 Integrated (Single-Ended)
2. BAETIS REFERENCE X4 DAC
3. AUDIENCE aRS-T4 POWER CONDITIONER
4. SILENT ANGEL RHEIN Z1 PLUS
5. VIVID AUDIO KAYA 45
6. LYRITECH MOON RIVER 8 (not pictured)
7. AND other reviews, columns, interviews, videos, etc.
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