Another thrilling moment came in listening to Classic Records 45rpm reissue of Heiftez playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Early on in the first movement there is a haunting pianissimo passage in which the trumpets play a measure of quarter notes, followed by a whole tone that foreshadows the strings playing the same theme fortissimo; the Lector almost perfectly replicated the space between the trumpets’ articulation of each softly sounded quarter note. This wasn’t about pulling out details for their own sake, but rendering them as part of a greater whole. It was the kind of sound that leaves you slack-jawed even as it pulls you into the music and makes the emotional connection we all seek when listening to a good system. Those are the moments that make it all worthwhile, that any music lover will cherish, and that the Lector delivers in spades.
Could the Lector’s restraint and gracefulness prove to be too much of a good thing? To find out, I schlepped it over to a friend’s house to listen to it on the new SoundLab Majestic loudspeaker, which looms some 9 feet tall. On this Paul Bunyan of a loudspeaker, which tends to ever so slightly soften the sound, the Lector more than held its own. The ease of presentation was mind-boggling. A lot of this is attributable to these magnificent loudspeakers, but the Lector sure wasn’t hurting. On a Chet Atkins disc, the guitar has never sounded so natural, vivid, and lifelike. On Louis Armstrong’s “St. James Infirmary,” the amount of decay on the shimmering cymbal as it fades out at the end of the cut was nothing short of hallucinatory in its sonic realism. And Satchmo’s gravelly voice, especially when he chuckles to himself that he’s “braggin’” was nothing to sneeze at, either. Bass didn’t plunge down too deeply, but it was taut and forceful. I couldn’t honestly say that the Lector was excessively romantic in its presentation; rather, it strikes a nice balance between warmth and clarity.
As much as the Lector revels in shadings of timbres and nuances, it also offers a very coherent soundstage. On orchestral works it spaces out the instruments deftly and there’s no shifting of images. Everything is securely in place. You might wish that it would pull string sections apart with more grandeur and sweep, but the soundstage isn’t shrunken. It’s also noteworthy that the Lector does not appear to emphasize unduly the bass or treble at the expense of the midrange. The overall sound is extremely unified and the all-important midrange never gets less than its due. It would be entirely mistaken to deem it lush or voluptuous. It is nothing of the kind. Instead, it impresses with its serenity, clarity, and, above all, velvety finish.
There’s no question that more exciting phonostages than the Lector exist. The Manley Steelhead, for example, provides the kind of thunder and lightning that’s missing from the Lector. It also has a tighter grip on the bass, maybe the tightest I’ve heard. But while the solid-state Manley power supply may provide more resolution and bang, I don’t think it sounds as pure as the Lector, which caresses the music. This is really saying something, because the Manley costs over twice as much as the Lector. The Messenger phonostage that I now use is the best that I’ve heard at combining powerful dynamics with a golden sound, but it’s plugged into a massive tubed power supply that makes any comparison with the Lector unfair. The surprising thing isn’t that the Lector has shortcomings, but that it offers as much as it does.
The Lector performs above its pricepoint and, as far as I’m concerned, one of the great pleasures of having an audio system is being able to play LPs, many performances on which are not available on CD. Forget the tiresome debates about CD versus vinyl. The blunt fact is that there’s great music out there to be had in both formats. When you factor in the cost of a turntable, cartridge, extra cables, and phonostage, it’s not an inexpensive proposition to enter the world of analog. The Lector, however, offers a reasonably priced choice. When I think back to the venerable Dual turntable that I listened to as a child and how far vinyl has come, the progress is simply astonishing. The Lector is another testament to that.
No, it’s not the ultimate phonostage (wherever that elusive creature may reside), and it doesn’t aspire to be, either. Detractors will find it lacking in body and a little too relaxed, forgiving, and warm for their tastes. So be it. But if you’re investigating phonostages, then don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to pay a fortune. It just ain’t so. The Lector is a lovely piece that effortlessly gets out of the way of the music. It might even serve you as a kind of roadblock on the seemingly endless upgrade path. Give it a listen. It may not start a revolution among phonostages, but it does represent something of an insurrection.