We found ourselves listening, at the outset, to the amplifiers we had on hand. Meaning: We could identify the colorations and character of each amplifier, some of them more congruent with the gestalt of The KING, even as minor shortcomings stood unmistakably revealed. The Conrad-Johnson Premier 350 suffered most by comparison. Now, I really do have to say, without apology, that taken by itself, and at its (relatively) modest price of just over seven grand, the 350 is, like the Hansen, of one piece. It is almost perfectly coherent throughout its range, and with a distinctive gestalt. It suffers, but not a lot, at the frequency extremes, and I suspect its Passion would not be as obvious with a speaker less revealing than this one (rated, by the way, at 6 ohms impedance). The speaker just adored the Burmester 911 Mk III, whose tonal neutrality, airiness at both frequency extremes, and retrieval of ambience (with almost no audible grain) were greatly to The KING’s liking. It might sound as if I am suggesting an overly threadbare quality. But, no, no. The Burmester is, perhaps, a bit to the yang side (as opposed to the slightly colored yin of the C-J), but that “yang” may simply be a function of its high degree of transparency. You can hear through all the way to the backwall and, seemingly, beyond. (I have not yet divined what went wrong in our experiments with the ASR hybrid amplifier, which worked well when the Burmester 04 was in the system as a linestage, but not in its supposedly optimal setup sans any linestage at all.) However, to my great surprise, what sounded, given the unreality of all reproduced sound from speaker systems, most “alive,” and most nearly “real,” and, particularly throughout the vital mid-frequencies was a new (at least to us) 60-watt single-endedtriode design from Antique Sound Labs, makers of the monoblock Hurricanes I so admire. It’s called the Cadenza DT and from the first playback, I knew I was in the presence of something special. The importer, also a Canadian, Tosh Goka, told a disbelieving me that the Cadenzas would have no problem driving The KINGs, despite the seeming mismatch in power versus sensitivity. And, as they say at revivalists meeting, lo and behold, we couldn’t get it to clip while driving The KINGs (we used the amplifier’s four-ohm tap), even though I suspect that combo would not fare so well in the kind of baronial music room designer Hansen seems to have had in mind. I should add that Hansen, who heard both this and the Burmester electronics at two separate sessions, was seemingly astonished by the Cadenzas.
With the Cadenzas and the Hanson disc, what we could divine before now stood nakedly revealed—that Hanson was taped in an empty hall—and we could tell that because of the way the amplifiers captured each and every ambient cue. This almost took my (metaphysical) breath away because I felt as if I knew this recording from the inside out, and yet there were still levels of information to be revealed. The massed string sound, so sour and threadbare on top, was no longer sour, but rather with the sweetness of a small string ensemble, and the brass… well, another world. And there was a pinpoint degree of focus throughout the orchestral spectrum that I thought rivaled and even surpassed the best of the solidstate stuff. More than that, suddenly the Hansens were exhibiting a kind of continuousness they had not before. (I said the speakers were coherent, but I did not say they sounded “continuous,” which they had not up until the Cadenzas entered the room.) So what is the difference here? I thought, at first, to write that the Cadenzas had a slight liquidity throughout their range. And, mind you, the real thing, coming at you through the air, has that same sort of liquidity, that is, an uninterrupted flow of waves—sound waves. There must be, I have begun to think, a seemingly inaudible, because of the short duration of its time span, interruption in the flow of information, even from the best solid-state gear, to wit, the Burmesters, that is just not there on a brilliantly designed tubed unit. Normally, I would have shrugged off an SET amp as having too much “liquidity,” a most definite coloration which may well arise from excessive second-order harmonics or transformer colorations or even circuit design.
I would have expected these SET units to show up short at the frequency extremes, but they did not. The midbass strings (of, say, the Boston) had a delectable and true-to-life richness, and the top octave was genuinely delicate and open in the way it reproduced both timbre and harmonic overtones. (The Cadenzas were like a higher-power sonic twin to the Wyetech Sapphire I so admire, and can find so wanting in driving most of the speaker systems chez Sea Cliff.)