pf logo POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 29
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dynaudio

Confidence C1 loudspeakers - A State of Awe

as reviewed by Chip Stern

 

 

 

 

CHIP STERN'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Acoustic Zen Adagio, Joseph Audio RM25si Signature Mk2 & RM7si Signature Mk2, Meadowlark Swallows, Epos ELS-3, Alon/Nola Li'l Rascals, Linn Tukan.

ELECTRONICS
VTL 5.5 vacuum tube preamp, Rogue Audio Stealth phono preamp, Manley Massive Passive Vacuum Tube Parametric Equalizer, Rogue Audio Magnum 99 vacuum tube preamp, Mesa Tigris, Linn Classik, Rogue Audio M150 Vacuum Tube Monoblocks.

SOURCES
Linn Unidisk 1.1 universal disc player, Upscale Audio Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 vacuum tube CD player (in 24/192 Super Tjoeb configuration), California Audio Labs CL-20 DVD-CD Player, McCormack UDP1 Deluxe universal disc player, Rega Planar 25 turntable with Rega RB600 tone-arm and Grado Statement Master cartridge, Marantz PMD430 portable cassette player/recorder w. Audio-Technica AT822 one-point stereo mic and JPS Labs Superconductor FX mic cable.

CABLES
Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II interconnects, Audioquest Panther interconnects and CV-6 speaker cables, Monster Cable Sigma Retro Gold interconnects and speaker cables, JPS Labs Superconductor 2 interconnects and speaker cable, JPS Labs Superconductor 3 interconnects and speaker cables, JPS Labs Aluminata, Kaptovator, Digital and Analog AC, Acoustic Zen Gargantua II and Absolute AC.

ACCESSORIES
Two PolyCrystal equipment racks, a PolyCrystal amp stand and PolyCrystal speaker stands. Power line conditioning: Equi=Tech Q650 and 2Q Balanced Power Isolation Transformers, Monster Cable AVS 2000 Automatic Voltage Stabilizer. JPS Labs Kaptovator outlet centers, Mondial Magic-Splitter, NEC CT-2070S monitor, Ringmat 330 and Signal Guard II isolation stand (turntable), Shakti Stones (electromagnetic stabilizers), PolyCrystal cones, Argent Room Lens, Echo Busters Bass Busters and absorptive and diffusive panels, Grado RS-1 Stereo Headphones

 

Over the past few years, I couldn't help but take notice of how in review after review the Linn 1.1 inevitably invited comparisons to each and every successive roll-out of state-of-the-art CD and Universal Disc Players, the Unidisk having cemented its stature as a paradigm for no-compromise digital front end components …a reference point by which we may explicate the musical qualities that matter most. As good as the Linn 1.1 …better than the Linn 1.1 …comparable to the top-of-the-line Unidisk…any way you slice it, whatever highly touted front end masterpiece you might care to hear, from the likes of Esoteric and Zanden, sooner or later the Linn 1.1 would be referenced as a no-compromise benchmark of resolution and musicality.

No, this is not a Linn 1.1 review …but I commence on a typically tangential note, because in like manner, I fully expect the Dynaudio Confidence C1 Mini-Monitors to so resonate in the hearts and minds audiophiles drawn to the literal truth of a musical experience…a line in the sand, an absolute reference point for audio verity. At first blush, some listeners might be taken aback by the notion of a $6500 price tag for these diminutive loudspeakers and their lovely integral stands, but hell's bells, the much esteemed B&W Silver Signature mini-monitors went for around $8500 and no one batted an eye.

Still, fixating on price alone without taking into account the C1's extraordinary levels of absolute audio verity, is precisely the kind of hasty, misguided, superficial judgment one might expect to hear repeated over and over by embittered, smell-your-own-farts wannabees on audiophile chat rooms—not what one would expect from true musical pilgrims wandering in the high end wilderness looking for an absolute reference standard you can bet the farm on. Because when you adjudge the uncompromising levels of resolution, linearity, frequency extension, image specificity, depth of field and soundstaging breadth that the Confidence C1 so effortlessly delivers against the performance attributes of stand-mounted and floor-standing loudspeakers costing considerably more, and when you factor in the state of the art quality of Dynaudio's proprietary transducers, internal components and overall construction, there is no question but that this is a world class loudspeaker by any standard, and as such, might actually be seriously undervalued in terms of their potential for absolute performance levels.

And while the basic laws of physics would seem to mitigate against them extending down into the nether regions of deep bass where organ pedals pop, hip hoppers bop (and your neighbors call the cops), the Dynaudio Confidence C1 Mini-Monitors represent a paradigm of aural purity and absolute musicality that is breathtaking…every time I sit down to listen to these loudspeakers, I find myself in a state of awe—the experience of an actual musical event is simply spellbinding.

But Chip, they're so …tiny. Yes, and short people have no reason to live. Haven't aspiring audiophiles been jived enough by the faux promises of big box after humongous big box to realize that it ain't the dog in the fight, it's the fight in the dog? Alas, more often than not audiophiles echo the big eyes-small ears predilections of those chain store-customers they feel so superior to, assuming without much critical analysis that bigger is invariably better and that large floor-standing speakers are the way to go if your priorities are a bigger sound—meaning bigger bass, higher sound pressure levels and a larger, more realistically scaled depictions of acoustic space.

No pilgrims, we are not dismissing big, floor-standing, full frequency loudspeakers nor the men who love (and design) them; long-time readers should be aware that there are many such designs that I covet and admire. All things being equal, the real issue is neither one of size nor complexity—nor price—but of musical veracity. High quality mini-monitors may indeed offer a more coherent sound, with better soundstaging and spatial cues, but having said that, there are numerous full-range, floor-standing loudspeakers that image like a champ. By the same token, mini-monitors are generally not going to pressurize a room as fully or effectively as a big floor-stander or provide as much bass, but then as exceptions invariably prove the rule, that still depends on the speaker and your room—smaller speakers may indeed offer more profoundly focused, tuneful, believable bass. More significantly, with multi-driver loudspeakers, the difficulties designers face in trying to integrate transducers into a coherent, organic system increase logarithmically; controlling cabinet resonances and colorations becomes more challenging; and with larger, front mounted drivers and bigger baffles, diffractions become a bigger issue, and that can adversely impact imaging.

The conclusions one may draw? That one should evaluate speakers on a case by case basis, purely on their own merits and performance parameters, their potential for positive and negative interactions with one's listening room, and based on one's listening tastes and expectations.

Having said all that, big things often do come in small packages, and straight out of the box, the Dynaudio Confidence C1 loudspeakers cut a dashing, enigmatic figure for a mini monitor, what with their "upside down" alignment of the woofer and tweeter, extended external baffle panel, its deep yet slender cabinet ported cabinet and curious lantern like shape—suggesting as it does a post-modern depiction of a circa-1890s London street lamp under which Jack the Ripper himself might wait furtively, the better to slash and berate self-important audio critics.

Once again, there are many listeners for whom the ultimate truth and musicality of a loudspeaker is not so much a factor of how many transducers you can stuff in a single cabinet, nor an argument about the propensity of a 400 pound floor-standing monolith to provide bass extension well down into the bottom octave and below (all the way into their downstairs neighbors' living room). No, for those listeners who prize clarity, linearity, coherence and spatial realism above all other qualities in a really great loudspeaker, while they might indeed enjoy the sensuous, visceral lap dance a big floor-standing speaker is capable of delivering, the honest, forthright purity and sonic virtues of a good two-way offer the promise of more compelling long term commitment, and just as often as not, may turn out to be the girl that you marry.

Again, just to run this idea up the flagpole one more time, we're not dismissing the virtues of a well-designed, full-range, multi-driver floor-standing loudspeaker, cost be damned, and many designers I respect have made a compelling argument for the limitations of the humble two-way. I'm not here to dispute that.

However, my initial curiosity about the Dynaudio Confidence C1 loudspeakers derives in part from practical considerations: such as integrating loudspeakers into a relatively modest acoustic environment, such as the 20' X 14' X 10' room which functions as the reference listening space in my post-World War I-era Upper Manhattan apartment. In addition, my initial forays into high end audio were inspired by the sonic shock I experienced when returning to New York City from Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood back in the spring of 1994 with some cassette roughs of the un-mastered tracks we'd just recorded for my production of Ginger Baker's first jazz recording, Going Back Home (Atlantic). It seemed as though every loudspeaker system I auditioned my recordings on represented a radical re-mix. From my admittedly limited experiences of the recording studio, I found that engineers and musicians often depended on the straightforward quality and sonic directness of two-driver mini-monitors for their most critical tracking and playback purposes. I guess my audio pilgrimage was inspired by my desire to find a loudspeaker that I could bet the ranch on, one that functioned as a true honest broker—delivering the unvarnished truth of the music as I had initially experienced it in the studio, without imposing its own perspective …a true mastering quality loudspeaker. "Just the facts, 'maam, just the facts," was how Jack Webb's Sgt. Joe Friday used to consul witnesses on the '50s television classic, Dragnet, and represented what I was in search of. For years I assumed this was a quixotic quest—until I encountered the Dynaudio Confidence C1 Mini-Monitors.

Handsome Is As Handsome Does

As I've already suggested, the Confidence C1 projects an elegantly simple, post-modern vision of the mini-monitor with its sleek, buttoned down appointments, slender cabinet and gently tapered external baffle—in which form follows function, as it gradually narrows from top to bottom (thus suggesting a Victorian lantern to this scribe), mirroring the circumference of its top mounted bass/midrange driver and bottom mounted tweeter.

Nor do such details represent superfluous design conceits, but rather reflect a thoroughgoing attention to sonic purity and the desire to create as simple a loudspeaker design as possible, thus establishing as direct a connection as possible to the listener.

"The cabinet features a forward mounted high-density baffle that offers extremely low-resonance and decouples the drivers from the main cabinet itself," according to Mike Manousselis, Vice-President of Sales & Marketing for Dynaudio North America. "The baffle itself employs a sandwich-style of construction with separate 40 mm and 16 mm thick MDF layers, which are then fused and bonded to the main cabinet body."

What then is the reasoning behind the lantern-like shape of the baffle, the narrow yet deeply ported configuration of the main speaker cabinet, and the positioning of the tweeter below the mid/woofer?

"Well," Manousselis explains, "by using the external baffle, it affords us the opportunity to employ a larger mid/woofer than such a narrow cabinet would otherwise be able to accommodate. We typically refer to our 17cm diameter mid/woofers as a 6.5 inch designs and the 28 mm diameter tweeters as 1.1 inch designs, but I guess that all depends upon how one rounds up to the nearest increments of inches—the metric measurements are exact though. Likewise, the manner in which we taper the baffle allows us to minimize those extraneous reflections and distortions that larger baffles introduce into the sonic equation, which as you are aware, can have a deleterious effect on imaging. Furthermore, a solid aluminum module is integrated directly into the baffle, which in turn is where the tweeter is mounted—to further isolate it from those potential colorations and vibrations that would ordinarily be introduced into the sonic equation by such close proximity to the mid/woofer.

"The cabinet design allows the speaker to be as narrow as possible at the point where we position the tweeter which significantly decreases high frequency diffraction. The use of a separate baffle, with its uniquely tapered shape, allows for the cabinet to be effectively wider at the point where the mid/woofer is positioned without adversely effecting the tweeter's diffractive properties. The inverted driver array is a technique Dynaudio has effectively employed in designs utilizing its most advanced transducers. The inverted array essentially offers a physical correction for the time arrival of higherS25 Shown with Stand2 frequencies by placing the tweeter at a path further from the ear. The secondary benefit is that low frequencies do not suffer the effects of early reflections and room induced colorations that such close proximity to the floor boundary would induce. We found that we were able to achieve a much cleaner, more natural bass response as the woofer was raised off of the floor."

Such sonic reasoning aside, one thing you can depend upon in Dynaudio loudspeaker designs, and which really distinguishes the Confidence C1 from other speakers in the mini-monitor category, is the level of quality which goes into Dynaudio's proprietary transducers and internal components—drivers of such advanced performance quality, one could make a compelling argument that the speaker's retail list price, while indeed daunting for mere mortals, is actually pretty damn reasonable considering what it delivers in terms of sheer musicality. Not surprisingly, Manousselis readily agrees.

"While the Confidence C1 are priced at $6500 per pair, no one in the know would ever think of it as expensive. But that's because we're intimately familiar with exactly what goes into this model. The materials and construction of the cabinet represent a small part of this design, and probably have less influence on the price than the drivers. That would mostly be a factor of the ultra-refined Esotar˛ tweeter and the advanced, dispersion-optimized MSP mid/woofer which uses a 3 inch aluminum voice coil on a Kapton former mated to a high efficiency magnet system. In the end, the price is solely a factor of the loudspeaker's performance capabilities and the materials cost of the premium drivers.

"The C1 was further evolved from the C2 and C4 models, with cabinet and driver technologies directly taken from the development of the Confidence line. But the C1 was engineered from a blank slate and the driver parameters were optimized for synergistic performance. The Esotar˛ tweeter features a new, extremely efficient magnetic material, which together with the light weight aluminum voice coil, yields an ultra-dynamic impulse response and offers extremely high power handling capabilities. A new type of material is utilized for the soft dome, which also uses a special new coating that provides a smooth frequency roll-off without peaks or dips, even up to the highest notes. The tweeter also features a damping chamber integrated onto the rear of its body, to absorb any back wave energy. The impulse response is ten times greater than that of the previous Esotar tweeter, while its physical dimensions have been made much more compact in part to a new, higher density neodymium.

"The mid/woofer utilizes Dynaudio's characteristic MSP (magnesium silicate polymer) geometrically optimized cone diaphragms, mated to 75 mm (3-inch) aluminum voice coils on a Kapton former, powered by highly efficient neodymium magnets, mounted into a stiff, low-resonance, low-mass aluminum basket. The speakers, despite their conservative 85dB sensitivity rating, have an extremely high input peak-power handling capacity, which enables them to generate very substantial peak output levels.

Given their level of transducer sophistication, and Dynaudio's dedication to minimizing distortions and creating something akin to perfect piston response, might one assume that the simplicity of your crossover network only adds to the purity and coherence of an optimized two-way system?

"As with all Dynaudio loudspeaker designs, the drivers are designed to the highest level of refinement to operate perfectly synergistically," Manousselis states proudly. "This enables the effective use of a simpler, first order, 6dB/per octave crossover. In the process of optimizing the synergy between transducers and the crossover network, we saw no particular advantage to bi-wiring, as it wouldn't offer any further improvement to the sonic performance of the system. The components were selected based on both scientific measurements and listening tests. The Confidence models incorporate a separate chamber for the crossover network, which features a glass-fiber reinforced circuit board with extra thick copper traces, low loss dielectric capacitors and zero compression resistors, all hand selected and matched to the tightest tolerances. The first order slope also allows for a correct phase response and extremely controlled dynamics.

"And while the 4 ohm impedance may seem to be less amplifier friendly on paper, the impedance curve is exceptionally linear, and this means that the amp sees a relatively easy to drive 4 ohm load. There are numerous very difficult to drive 8 ohm speakers out there. This is not a problem with the C1, because as mentioned previously, these speakers have an extremely high input peak power handling capacity.

System Synergy & Set-Up

I really spread the prayer rug out and took my time in evaluating these babies, in part because I loved them and didn't want them to go bye-bye, and because I felt a responsibility to readers to give them extensive break-in time and to see how my earliest enthusiasm stood up to a vast array of listening tests over an extended period of time. I wanted to see if I could discover a kink in their armor. Not only didn't I find any real weaknesses, but I rarely if ever found myself wanting a sub-woofer. The bass on the Confidence C1 is that good, and while more energy below 30 Hz wouldn't be unwelcome, in truth it is as superfluous as tits on a whale.

I was also caught short for a while in terms of amplifiers with enough muscle to really make the C1's sit up and sing to their fullest possible potential.

After an extended conjugal visit, I returned the 500 watt McCormack DNA-500 with a tinge of regret, and while more modestly endowed integrated amps such as the now-departed 70 watt solid state Sim Audio i-5 (since superseded by the Sim Audio i-5.3), the 70 watt Linn Classik and the 28 watt vacuum tubed Mesa Tigris worked surprisingly well during initial burn-in on a short wall/secondary system set-up in my computer room, I knew I needed another level of power to really apprehend what these loudspeakers were capable of.

It was when the Rogue M150 monoblocks finally arrived (for a future review in Positive Feedback OnLine) that I finally felt like I could bet the ranch on what I was hearing from top to bottom in my signal chain. These monoblocks—which derive more from the circuit topology and technical advances of the imposing two hundred pound Rogue Zeus than from the M120 monoblocks which they superseded—are KT88 based tube amps with an uncommon amount of elegance and sheer drive, putting out an honest 100 watts (and then some) in triode and 150 watts in Ultralinear. Without jumping the gun (too much) on our upcoming Positive Feedback review, let me just say again that these amps are an eight-balled motherfucker, and that running them in triode mode was more than sufficient to bring the Confidence C1 alive and swinging with terrific timing and a true to life tonality. In fact, I was rather surprised how effortless is was to drive these speakers in triode, and the Ultralinear option was mainly deployed when I wanted to really bring the dynamics of non-acoustic, heap big studio productions more to the fore. The Rogues were remarkably clear and articulate and never screamed, "Look at me, I'm a tube amp…" (nor did they evince any of the sonic faux pas of standard issue solid state). Rogue Audio www.rogueaudio.com

Of course, part of that cleanliness and dynamic drive of my system is attributable to the totally tweaked up-freaked out nature of the Gastrointestinals (Power) and Neurologicals (Cabling) I employ, which might indeed represent overkill to some of you, but for me, function as components in their own right, and by allowing me to hear all of my components at their peak performance levels, provide a gaudy but level playing field for me to listen analytically by proxy on the readers' behalf (during conjugal visits with gear most of you do not have access to, let alone extended audition time)…as well as for my own intimate immersions into sound and silence. To that end, I have a pair of dedicated 20 amp lines, one of which handles my computer and air conditioner, while the other handle my audio system in the adjoining room, which I access by virtue of a 25-foot JPS Labs Kaptovator Outlet Center terminating in three hospital quality outlets behind my amp stand and loudspeakers. There on a table behind the soundstage I have a stack comprised of a 20 amp Equi=Tech 2Q with 1000 watts continuous current capability, plugged into the Kaptovator Outlet Center with a "sell your only daughter into white slavery-priced" JPS Labs Aluminata AC Cord—absolutely the finest high current-power device I've ever heard…it's sonic impact on every macro and micro level is astonishing. Both of the Rogue M150's are thus plugged into the Equi=Tech 2Q with…tad-dah, their own Aluminata AC cords. Then there is a Monster AVS 2000 Signature Automatic Voltage Stabilizer plugged into another outlet from the Kaptovator/20 amp line, while an Equi=Tech Q650 is plugged into the AVS 2000 with it's own dedicated Kaptovator AC cord; from the Q650 I run two Kaptovator AC Outlet Centers to my front end racks around the bend on the short wall, one for digital, and one for analog components. JPS Labs www.jps-labs.com

There on the rack I run a superb set of front end components with which I also have total confidence. At the heart of the system is the VTL 5.5 Line Stage Preamplifier, which sonically and ergonomically is as good a value in a tubed pre-amp as you are ever likely to hear. It's my old standby (I also employ a Rogue Audio Magnum 99, excellent, too, in its own way), and while the 5.5 doesn't wear its tube-i-ness on its shirtsleeve, it offers all of the detail, harmonic richness, depth of field, and midrange layering one would expect from a great tube pre-amp, but it does so without the sappy bloom or muted top end that makes some pre-amps sound more My-Fi than Hi-Fi. The 5.5 maintains steely control of the bass, throws a divine soundstage, and optimizes levels of detail in every related component that contributes to a blissfully relaxed, naturalistic sense of live ambience and spatial cues.

Having lent this pre-amp out to some better-heeled audiophiles than myself, I can report back that it took on pre-amps costing five times as much without breaking a sweat, save in the imagination of said audiophile, who realized that my interminable lectures about audio performance value were not the product of price-point envy. Standing above it in the audio rack, toggle switches offer easy access to various functions, such as the mute and phase switches, and the 5.5 also features a useful Balance control (that is out of the circuit in the center detent position).

However, as good as the VTL 5.5 has always been, during the course of this review process, I received some tweaks which positively transformed it into an even more remarkable pre-amp, so much so it was practically a new component.

An Acoustic Zen Gargantua II and a long run of the new JPS Labs Superconductor 3 interconnects initially fleshed out the signal chain, while in lieu of the arrival of the new Superconductor 3 speaker cables and interconnects, I employed a single run of the 5AWG Superconductor 2 speaker cables (notable for their linearity, timbral accuracy, solid bass extension, and a wealth of natural midrange detail and smooth top end extension), and a set of Superconductor 2 in between the pre-amp and the Linn 1.1.

Because the VTL 5.5 offers the option of fully balanced output, and the Rogue M150 can run in single-ended or balanced mode, I was looking forward to the arrival of a long run of the balanced JPS Labs Superconductor 3 interconnects, as I suspected they might provide a significant enhancement in resolution. Well, the difference in the performance of the VTL/Rogue pre/amp combo was like night and day. The frequency extension, texture and immediacy of the pre-amp was more pronounced; everything seemed bigger, quieter and more expansive; he bass response, rhythm and pacing, image specificity and inner detail were greatly enhanced—which makes the VTL even more of a price/performance knockout at $3500. VTL www.vtl.com

As for the differences between the Superconductor 3 speaker cables and interconnects, and their tumescent descendants? Well, JPS has eliminated the solid shield of the Superconductor 2 which made them fairly stiff and difficult to dress, and in its place the Superconductor 3 are far more ductile and easy to work with in tight places (where the Super 2 could literally lift a component off of the shelf). What made people put up with the anomalies of the Superconductor 2 was the fantastic bass response and clarity conveyed by JPS Labs proprietary Alumiloy conductors (an alloy of Aluminum and Copper with traces of other metals); some people seemed to feel there might even be a little too much bass (sounds like a system matching issue). The mid were clear and nicely layered, and it had a very smooth top end. They were quick and clear and tight and linear and stayed out of the way. The new Superconductor 3 have little audible signature, with even more immediacy and linearity than the Super 2 …they are, if anything, even smoother and quieter from top to bottom than the Super 2, with tighter, quicker more focused bass, more midrange layering and depth of field, and a top end with no audible artifacts that just seems to go up, up and away into the supersonic regions with no perfectible ceiling to the sound. However the most noticeable difference is in the soundstaging…year ago, for all their linearity, punch and clarity, JPS cables and interconnects used to have greater soundstage width, but a fairly shallow front to back soundstage. Now, there is infinitely more depth and spatial dimensionality, without compromising the transient speed and top to bottom neutrality.

As if that wasn't enough, Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen, who is very busy making Adagio loudspeakers these days, was nice enough to send me a sample of his new top of the line power cord, the Acoustic Zen Absolute, which employs a proprietary combination of zero crystal silver and copper. I'd been using the Acoustic Zen Gargantua AC cord on the VTL pre-amp and Linn disc player, but when I put the new Absolute AC cord on the pre-amp, running in fully balanced operation, I was startled to hear even greater bass, detail and transparency in an even more expansive soundstage. The Acoustic Zen Absolute may just be the best front end AC cord I've ever heard—uncanny resolution…and you could hear every positive change in cables and AC cords upstream in the Confidence C1 mini-monitors, so revealing and neutral are their performance parameters. That however is a double-edged sword, as the C1's could just as well tell you way more than you ever wanted to know about some of the lean cuisine upstream in your signal chain. These speakers operate at an absolute level of reproduction, and as we've stated numerous times, complement the very best gear by getting out of the way and letting them do their job. Acoustic Zen www.acousticzen.com

Which brings us to the centerpiece of our signal chain, the Linn Unidisk 1.1 Universal Player—one of the finest audio achievements of the past 25 years. The queen bee of the Unidisk family of universal players, the Linn 1.1 brings digital performance in every disc format as tantalizingly close to that of fine analog as I might ever hope to hear. With discrete signal paths for Redbook CD, SACD and DVD formats, the Linn's extraordinary timbral accuracy, resolution of low level acoustic cues and ambient information, its extraordinary bass extension, midrange detail and natural portrayal of high frequency information (which thus translates into a skin-tingling sense of physical immediacy, acoustic intimacy and endless vistas of black, transparent space), knows few peers. The Linn represents an absolute standard of front end resolution, a component I feel that I can bet the ranch on every time—awe inspiring yet supremely musical in a manner that never calls attention to itself. Oh, sure, there is plenty of buzz, and well-deserved at that, about a number of super ultra-high end digital front ends. But dig, they all reference the Linn Unidisk 1.1 as a means towards establishing their own audio pedigree, and what does that tell us class? Thus people tell me that the new Esoteric offers a more profound, subjectively pleasing depiction of midrange details than the Linn 1.1. Okay. And of course, the renowned Zanden makes the Linn 1.1 sound boxy by comparison (at only four times the price). Hey, even Linn plays the game. Every dealer, user and rep I've ever spoken to gets a glazed-over look in their eyes when speaking of the legendary Linn CD-12; they all agree that it sounds better on CD playback than the Linn 1.1, and that while the Linn 1.1 comes close, very close, the CD-12 is the standard against which all other comers must be judged. However, the Linn 1.1 must have come pretty damn close, because much to everybody's chagrin, the CD-12 was discontinued, and while the jungle drums tell Bwana Chip that some pretty heavy R&D is reportedly in motion (and that an all-singing/all-dancing successor to the CD-12 may well manifest itself before natives of the planet Krypton and other audiophiles of the future), the Linn 1.1 remains the standard against which all other digital front ends are judged. An Acoustic Zen Gargantua II and a one meter run of JPS Labs new Superconductor 3 interconnects fleshed out the signal chain. LINN www.linn.co.uk

So exalted in fact is the Linn1.1's playback—there is so much more THERE, there—that I found myself turning to other digital and analog sources during the audition process, just to discount the overwhelming, indisputable authority of the Linn: these included the tubed Njoe Tjoeb 4000, the California Audio Labs CL-20, a Marantz PMD430 Stereo Cassette Recorder (employing Monster Cable Sigma Retro Gold Interconnects) and an Audio-Technica AT822 OnePoint® X/Y Stereo DAT Microphone (with JPS Labs Superconductor FX Microphone Cable), and a Rega Research P25 Turntable (superseded by the Rega Research P5) outfitted with a Rega Research RB600 Tonearm (superseded by the Rega RB700) and the superb low output Grado Statement Master, tweaked with a Ringmat 330 through a Rogue Stealth Phono Pre-Amp (employing a JPS Labs Analog AC and Monster Cable Sigma Retro Gold Interconnects), atop a Signal Guard Isolation Stand. I also referenced a set of superb headphones (with the Mesa Tigris), the accurate, non-fatiguing Grado RS1, as well as amp and component stands from PolyCrystal, EchoBusters diffusive and absorptive panels, and a triptych of Argent Room Lens (a truly unique way of dealing with bass nodes and of fine tuning your soundstage).

As presently constituted, and as completed by the Dynaudio Confidence C1 loudspeakers, this system allows me to look deep into the nature of individual pieces of gear, without compromises, without employing one piece of gear to make up for the failings of another. And while no one component or system may be said to be perfect, this is a system—as it currently stands—that allows me to delve deep into music in a way where the gear drops away, and all that remains is a sense of joy in our aural oasis, as we visit yet another new concert hall, a new club. You dig? And not surprisingly, it allows me to make pretty informed judgments about loudspeakers. As a result, during that interval in which I put on my geek hat and listen to the equipment for its own sake, I am able to provide a level playing field for loudspeakers, and thus act as a reasonably informed proxy for those searchers after musical truth and immersion heretofore denied an in-depth audition.

Part 2

 

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