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The Higher End 2: The Clark's Brutus
and Gizmo Awards
We at Positive Feedback Online are going to have two main categories of annual awards. The first will be our Brutus Award. This will be recognition given to "the best and the brightest" products that we have experienced in various categories in a given year. In hardware, these will range from "best bang for the buck" to "the best period, and hang the expense!" designs. In recordings, we'll be paying tribute to the best that we've found in various formats. In addition, we'll have a "Lifetime Achievement Award" that will recognize individuals whose contributions to fine audio in various respects has been both superior and sustained.
All products that are so recognized by PFO will be work that has been reviewed by us personally; no design will be recognized that we do not have experience with in our listening rooms. This means that you, our readers, may disagree with our selections, wondering why this or that component, recording or individual was not mentioned. Quite apart from differences in taste/opinion, the answer is simple: we won't be mentioning any design that we haven't spent time with in our own listening rooms. If a product does not win a Brutus Award in a given category, this does not signify lack of merit—we just may not have gotten to work with it. You're certainly welcome to write to us and bring worthy components to our attention.
In other words, Brutus Awards are given only by Dave Robinson and myself, and only to components/systems that we have personally reviewed in our listening rooms. (PFO writers and other editors have their own awards: The PFO Writers' Choice Awards.) And we always encourage our readers and designers/manufacturers to bring worthy new designs to our attention, so that we can arrange a review by either Dave or I. This is the only way that a Brutus Award can be given.
Here's our annual cautionary note to our readers: all PFO awards are intended solely as recognition of superior quality by the editors and writers of Positive Feedback Online, to encourage the furtherance of the audio arts. They should be considered by our readers as guidelines, and NOT as golden calves to be worshipped by audio idolaters, or truckled to by the audio dilettanti. Do NOT use them as a convenient substitute for LISTENING FOR YOURSELF AND FORMING YOUR OWN IMPRESSIONS!
Our Brutus Award Winners for 2006
The Cary Audio CD-306 SACD/CD player
Like butter on a spring day in the south of France. Warm, rich, smooth, colorful, ooohh so flavorful, but not all that good for you – all I want to do is sit and spin discs, and I need exercise! The 306 SACD is simply bad for your health. Once you buy one, you will get no exercise—unless you count getting up and changing disc after disc, tapping your foot to the rhythm, and bobbing your head and swaying to the music. All you'll want to do is sit and listen to your CD/SACD collection, because the 306 will simply reveal more information that is musical, more detail, more presence and palpable realism of what is on the discs making each one a new musical experience.
Yes another cliché, but what else can I say? The Cary 306 SACD, with any disc we have tossed its way, has revealed more instrumental texture and realnessness than previously heard from any other digital source here in my home. Instruments and vocalists take on a greater sense of thereness with a dimensionality and spatial-awareness that allows one to get that much closer to the recording event. Images are presented with much more air and presence—make that individuality - yet they do not stand alone in the sense that they are separate from the rest of the musical tapestry. No, they all play together as a musical cloth—the Cary just allows each thread to stand out with a greater sense of delineation and purpose. That is, you have a greater sense of each instrument's texture allowing you to feel or sense the notes or music as never before—tonally, harmonically, spatially the music sounds so captivatingly right.
All without a hint of stridency, glare, grit, or other digital nasties, of which, are easily misinterpreted as detail and resolution. Harmonically and tonally, the Cary is quite balanced coming across as being very neutral without any sense of that nomenclature's stigma of being thin, lean, analytical, bleached, etc. The Cary simply gets the music across to you in a well-balanced, grab you by the throat, viscerally captivating way. Nothing stands out as being either too much or not enough. Nevertheless, is it perfect? Will everyone want to have one on his or her rack? Uh… no.
For some listeners, they may find its personality to be a bit too upfront and over the top. To some degree yes, but not to the degree one would assume—let's just say that it is a tad more so than not so. Meaning that the Cary is not shy in how it presents the music. You want laidback and polite? Sorry, but when called upon, you are going to get big and robust with drive and slam, while still being light and quick on its feet… err, cones. Want a perspective of your music that is either "back of the hall" or "front row"? Try more towards the back of the front fourth or so. This is pretty much where I like to be at a concert—not too close and yet just close enough.
The Cary 306 is simply not a forgivable player. That is if a CD is bright and lean, it will be bright and lean and perhaps a tad brighter and leaner than you would like—it gives you what is there in the pits and therefore, many of your CDs will not be musically perfect. It is not going to mask any issues with the format. Bad Redbook, good Redbook, very good Redbook, and excellent Redbook, will sound just like that; bad, good, very good, and excellent. This is not a euphonic CD player or one that will cover the sins of Redbook. For that, you will need to look elsewhere.
The 306 SACD is as good as it gets! Read more at http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue23/cary_306.htm
The Cary Audio SLP-05 preamplifier
Solid and definite, that is what the SLP-05 is all about. The SLP-05 does not hesitate in getting the music across with speed, articulation, and transparency. The SLP-05 is detailed, yet never in your face. The SLP-05 offers you a balance of tube and solid-state virtues—sort of the best of both worlds!
With the SLP-05 we tend to listen to a lot more music, buy a lot more music, and enjoy a lot more music a lot more than we used to with any other preamplifier that has been here. The Cary SLP-05 simply gets us to a place where we have not been in a long while. The SLP-05 makes our music more fun. Ditto using BDR cones in conjunction with the supplied soft-shoes under each of the SLP-05's cases. The BDR cones added a nice flavor to the mix by providing a sense of rightness to the music—things had more air and solidity or a tonally correct presence if you will …they made recorded music sound more like what we want our recorded music to sound like. Since the SLP-05 is balanced and moving to a balanced preamplifier based on the 306 SACD and Clayton M100s, we needed to go the balanced interconnect route. Well, how about the Emotions from Kubala-Sosna—balanced and single-ended? The Emotions possess many of the same sonic/ musical attributes as that of the SLP-05. Ditto the Emotion AC cord. Toss in some NOS Pope tubes from Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio along with Herbie's Audio Labs Tube Dampers and one can go that extra euphonic mile—more air, more dimensional richness, more musical pleasure. Enjoy!
Black Diamond Racing Jumbo Pucks and Cones
Using these under the speakers as opposed to Townshend 2D platforms was not what I was expecting. While the Townshend stuff removes the interaction of how the speaker and the floor see each other (by decoupling the speaker from our suspended wood floors, thereby allowing for a way cleaner sound with no floor-thumping and booming...), the BDR products removed an additional midbass bloom or smear making the sound even clearer and cleaner... good stuff!
Kubala-Sosna Emotion Loudspeaker, Interconnect, and AC cables
These are simply phenomenal cables ...the whole Emotion line is quite stellar in being musical, and for us "natural", offering a very balanced presentation—not too much of this or too much of that... enough of this and just enough of that sort of thing... way to go. We will have full reviews soon from several of our writers...
Dynamic Design THB Nebual AC Digital Cord
Another stellar product. This digital AC cord has brought more out of the Cary than an other cord I have tried... more music, more whatever we want or expect to hear from our discs... bigger, deeper, rounder... way more enveloping soundfield. Clear and articulate...
Bybee Golden Goddess XLR Slipstream
Well, the Golden Goddess XLR versions feature …Slipstream purifiers based on carbon fiber and nanotechnology (a pair of XLR versions contain a total of six Slipstream purifiers) …ERS "Stealth" carbon fiber damping and shielding material …new ultra-flexible expanded Teflon (ePTFE) dielectric for the conductors …14 K gold for the signal (+) legs …high-purity silver ribbon for the (-) conductors. Cool. A real move up the ladder.
How do they sound? With the Kubala-Sosnas images and all takes on a greater sense of focus and clarity. More presence, more there thereness, more music, more Ahhh this is nice. Not less music, or less detail and resolution. No, you get more. More rightness. I like these a lot. I buy… keepers. Not much to think about, except the price! These are not inexpensive and in talking to Jack about how they are built and the pain it is to make them … well I see why they carry such a hefty tag – what a bitch to build. However, the improvement one hears with them in the chain is not something that I can give up. They work for me. They even worked for those that have heard them here… they liked them too. Me not too crazy.
Liquid Resolution Cleaner and Enhancer System from Xtreme AV LLC
Truly amazing stuff ... read the comments and then give it a try... really does work and it is easy to use! Clark loves the stuff too!
The Furutech RD-2 Disc Demagnetizer
So what we have here is a smallish device that demagnetizes a CD, cable, or what have you. Demagnetizes?! And that means what to me? Well based on what Furutech says, all this should result in the RD-2 reducing misreads while lowering the noise floor. That is, it should cut down on error correction and allow a CD to sound "better" due to less reliance on error correction and whatever ills it may bring to the table. Naturally, this is very dependant on the CD player/transport one uses; at least I am willing to make that assumption. The better the unit's ability to buffer or correct for errors, the less one should perceive a problem. Makes sense …yes? Discs treated with the RD-2 offer a more relaxed, less edgy sound. Not as dramatic, as say a sucker punch to the nose, but music has more clarity while at the same time possessing less glare and that gritty grit grit one associates with digital. More air, more space, more musically nice music. More more more. Not a lot of more more more, but enough that it is worth it for me to use it on a regular basis.
The Clever Little Clock
The Clock can not make up for a bad recording, but the distortion was lessened to such a degree that the bad recordings actually sounded good. I found my entire listening experience to be much more enjoyable with the Clock in place. My primary goal when listening to music is to be transported away from the cares of everyday life, and into a place where I fully connect with the music. That goal was attained beautifully with the Clever Little Clock.
The Gizmo Award
The Gizmo Award is given in memory of Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg. To remind all, the Gizmo goes to the audiomaniac(s) who, in our opinion, presses the possibilities of the audio arts. Again, quoting from Issue 10, we said that the Gizmo would be:
"…a one-only-per-year recognition of a person/design that is surfing the edge of audiomania, going all-out to push the frontiers of fine audio. There will be no multiples of this prize… no hard-and-fast categories… and if nobody floats our boat in a given year, it won't be awarded."
For our Gizmo Award, Carol and I would like to acknowledge Dennis Had of Cary Audio for making some the best stuff in audio, and at reasonable prices. In hearing anything from the man and company, we are always impressed with the music and the quality. Besides all that the guy is what audio is all about—fun and the love of music Dennis has a passion and clearly loves what he is doing... way to go Dennis!
Dennis with Billy Wright...