Ray Brown’s doublebass on Soular Energy [Groove Note SACD] is satisfyingly extended and well articulated, albeit perhaps plummier than is likely to be literally accurate. This is fine with my flat‑through‑the‑midbass 988s, but less so with LS3/5as, which don’t need bogus warmth. The A‑88T handles orchestral music impressively, the ample bottom‑end actually an advantage in late‑romantic symphonies; on recordings with plenty of ambience (many Telarcs), it conveys an altogether lovely bloom. Andrew Manze’s new CD of symphonies by C.P.E. Bach (also from HM) is robust, vigorous, and close-up, with bracingly tart instrumental colors and textures that could easily become confused but for the A‑88T’s unruffled composure—everything clean, well‑ventilated, and involving (note how the harpsichord cuts through without seeming to be spotlit).
Overall the A‑88T is a little midrange dominant, albeit attractively so. But there is one tonal aberration I don’t like: a tendency to emphasize sibilants (which triode mode worsens). On Let No Man Write My Epitaph [Verve], Ella Fitzgerald’s sibilants sound almost free-floating. I can’t explain this, but I was not alone in noticing it.
Owing to the A‑88T’s colorations—for the most part the euphonic sort adored by tube fanciers—the more neutral a speaker’s tonal balance, the better I liked the amp, no doubt because mutual colorations aren’t exacerbated. It formed beautiful synergies with my 988s and a pair of borrowed Harbeth Compact 7s. I know many audiophiles will love it with Quad 57s, but not I: this is another speaker that doesn’t need any help in the warmth region.
Henry James once said that you must grant the artist his subject, a critical precept I’ve always held dear. Substitute “designer” for “artist,” “goal” for “subject,” and I suppose it means I shouldn’t mention Quad’s 99/909 preamp/amp combination, which offers superior tonal neutrality (plus greater flexibility and three times the power for $400 more). But surely it’s fair to ask how the A‑88T stacks up against the McIntosh MC275 it’s voiced to resemble. I don’t have a vintage sample around but I do have the Series IV, released a couple of years ago and reviewed in Issue 151. And? Well, maybe forty years ago an MC275 sounded like an A‑88T now, but it sure doesn’t in its Series IV reincarnation. They’re about equal in transparency and tactile immediacy, but the IV’s tonal balance is more neutral, which I prefer no matter the source or associated equipment.  “Maybe it’s too neutral?” asked one of my group. “Perhaps the Cayin is a little . . . tastier?”
I’ve never understood the concept of “too neutral” as applied to audio reproduction, but I think I know what lies behind the suggestion. Many audiophiles don’t want accurate, they want pretty or warm or lush or sweet. Fair enough: Cayin’s philosophy values beauty above truth and designs its products by mixing memory with as much nostalgia as desire. No, the A‑88T isn’t an amp I’d settle down with, but it was certainly a big‑hearted houseguest I’d always welcome back. TAS
 But bypassing the A‑88T’s preamp section brings its amp sonically closer to the MC275, though who’d buy it to use it that way?