Let’s elaborate further with The Joni Letters, a Herbie Hancock album that features some the world’s great musicians and some of the most beautiful playing I have heard for a while. It also has a very passable recording of a piano, if you have a system well sorted enough to realize it. The opening track is a magical construct of Joni Mitchell’s song ‘Court And Spark’. Norah Jones sings and Hancock, Dave Holland, Wayne Shorter and Vinnie Coliauto create an evershifting web of a backing track that ebbs and flows in and out of the original chord framework. During the instrumental middle section, three of them wander off and do their own thing. There is harmonic connection but it is gradually deconstructed, then re-joined. This passage just passes you by on most systems as a short interlude between verses but the Berning amplifiers never lose focus or a single strand for a moment. The music just draws you further and further in. Hancock’s piano is confident and wonderful as he shows us what real touch sensitivity is. There is a stillness at the heart of his playing, as if he is feeling out and shaping each note. Every small change in pressure, every carefully crafted tonal colour is an extension of his sensitivity – and the piano, with its ten billion possibilities, is his instrument of expression. The Bernings take you there, right to his fingertips, to the hammer on the string and to the colourful harmonic signature of the piano as a whole. They are marvellously commanding and confident in the way that they allow the instruments to breathe the fundamentals and harmonics with no trace of system artifice to get in the way and have a clarity against a background of silence that is, in my experience, unique. The track ‘Solitude’ also highlights the DB amplifiers’ formidable abilities with textural contrasts and their wondrous realization of space and transparency as they bring an almost surreal feeling of atmosphere, delicacy and scale to the piece. Piano, drums and string bass, each so different in colour and shape yet combined here in a delicious recipe of ripe expressions. You think you have heard uncompressed, colourful texture coupled with serious power? And do you know how far reaching the term resolution can really be? I thought I had a pretty good idea of these things, but the Quadrature Z has redefined my notion of what a power amplifier can do. To speak of it in terms of grip, bass weight, bandwidth and detail is meaningless and if you judge equipment at this level by those yardsticks then you will find that you (like me) need to rethink a whole new vocabulary to describe these amplifiers.
Regardless of what level of performance you are used to you will be amazed at the purity of musical energy available. At two hundred watts per channel the DB amplifiers have power in abundance, but this is no Tsunami of sheer volume, as they employ it with discretion and quite breathtaking vitality at whatever level you require. I have never heard a soundstage so animated and alive with dynamic movement. The music appears in the room with a freedom that really needs to be experienced to be appreciated. It certainly makes so much other high-end amplification sound over-damped, electronically reconstructed and it has to be said, contrived. I actually found myself listening at lower levels than usual for much of the time as the Quadrature Z maintains its stellar performance and uncanny stability regardless.
As you have probably guessed by now, these are certainly the best amps I have heard. I feel privileged to have spent time with them and they have redefined my concept of what power amplifiers can bring to a system. They are masters of time and space. Remember though that to hear what the Bernings can do you are going to need a serious system that is thoroughly sorted. I doubt I would have enjoyed such a memorable time without the contributions of the Stillpoints ESS rack, the Quantum QX4 and Nordost’s Thor and cabling, to say nothing of the accompanying electronics themselves, because, in a system of this potential, every detail matters. I have had so many great listening experiences with these amps that it is going to be a terrible wrench to see them go and I may get quite broody for a while. These are extremely special and important products that represent the culmination and apex of a whole year of audio discovery for me, almost like a musical mystery tour. I am not even going to try and justify the high cost of these amplifiers except to say that the only downside I could find is that I can’t afford them. If I could, I would buy them tomorrow because a love and involvement with music can be a lifelong spiritual journey. Give yourself up to it. It’s amazing where it will take you.