The Calypso was going to have its work cut out to better this, I thought. Anyway, the tonearm was duly swapped, and listening began again. I deliberately kept amplifier volume levels unchanged, and played the same disc. Tonally, the sound was slightly brighter and more forward, with a touch more detail and presence. It seemed a shade louder too, and dynamic extremes were wider.
Climaxes definitely seemed to project more forcibly, creating a sound with greater forwardness and immediacy. In most respects it was an improvement on what I’d just heard with the Aurora Gold - though I did slightly miss the latter’s beguiling sweetness and ease. That acknowledged, Geza Anda’s performance (via the Calypso) sounded more engaged and committed. The playing seemed to have a greater expressive range, with far more tonal shading, and a broader range of dynamics. I previously said the recording was a good ‘average’; suddenly, it was sounding quite a bit better than that.
Nevertheless, after trying a few more discs, I felt the top-end was perhaps a little too sharp, and experimented with vta, lowering the arm slightly. After a bit of trial and error, the tonal balance seemed smother and more even – the upper treble less exposed. The Calypso was starting to assert itself. All the major benefits – improved focus and better control - were there from the off, but what about the relaxed ease and smoothness of the Aurora Gold? You can’t always have you cake and eat it, but after making a few more adjustments, the new deck began to show its mettle.
Without question, the Calypso gives increased fine detail and tonal colour. It produces a far more precise sound than the Aurora Gold. Not in the clinical sense of the word, but in terms of keeping everything together and properly separated. The new deck was perhaps not quite as mellifluous as the old, but in every other aspect it was superior.
Staying with Mozart, I sampled several different recordings of his Violin Concerto No 2, and was impressed by the way the turntable focused the solo instrument. There’s a bit in the finale – a couple of minutes in – where the solo part suddenly enters the minor key. It’s one of those special magical moments. By Mozartian standards, the second violin concerto is not among its composer’s greatest masterpieces. It’s a lovely pleasant piece, but it isn’t music that shakes the world. Yet that sudden lurch to the minor key is a brief moment of genius. I always get goose bumps when I hear it. It’s so unexpected… Via the Calypso, I was able to hear clearly how the different soloists responded to this passage; some dramatically, others self-consciously. But, you could always tell that each player registered this moment as a musical turning point. I felt I could hear every little nuance of phrasing and dynamics, while tonally the individuality of the soloist was very pronounced. The sound had a CDlike precision and focus, but went further in terms of tonal colouring and subtle-shaded micro dynamics. The music had greater forward momentum and scale, too. Via the Calypso, music sounds crisp and focused, with bags of individuality and presence, one got a much clearer idea of the various instruments occupying a defined space in the hall, with a better impression of ambience. I ended up sampling four or five different recordings, and was impressed by the distinct individuality of the playing (and sound) in each case.
So far so good, but one important area where CD does have a big advantage over LP is speed (pitch) stability. Providing the original source recordings are stable, CD does not add wow and flutter. Speaking personally, I’m very sensitive to variations in speed, and in this respect the Calypso wasn’t always as rock-steady as I’d have liked. There are several points to bear in mind here. The first is that individuals vary in their sensitivity to wow. In my experience, most listeners are not overly sensitive to this problem unless it’s pretty obvious. The second is that an LP needs to be pressed absolutely concentrically to produce perfectly stable pitch. If it’s pressed off-centre (and probably 7 out of 10 discs are at least slightly off) you’ll risk hearing wow – even if the turntable and original recording are perfect. The third is that small variations in pitch can sometimes occur naturally - even in all digital recordings off CD. People play out of tune, and instruments go out of tune.
Playing the Geza Anda LP recording of Mozart’s Piano concerto No 15, I was aware that the pitch was not 100% steady. So, I got out the CD and played that. Guess what? It wasn’t 100% stable either! However, it was better than the LP via the Calypso – and the Aurora too for that matter. I think it’s possible that the combination of a turntable with slight wow, and a recording with some inherent wow (or perhaps a pressing that’s off centre), have an additive effect, whereby two small problems combine to make a bigger one. But I’m still unsure as to how critical one can be of any turntable on this point.