Audio Zen it seems is a lesser known state, and surprisingly elusive. However, I firmly believe it is the true goal worth striving for when building a system for the pleasure of music!
Robert Reina’s May 2011 Stereophile review of our Totem Dreamcatcher speaker is a good example of Audio Zen, achieved. I’ve gleaned this from an occasional article at different times over the years, but ironically, the very authors themselves seldom comment on it? For example, in Robert’s review, he states that he enters into a state of utter musical delight every time he connects the Dreamcatchers to his system, then drops out again when swapping back to his old speakers. And though he admits knowing that the Dreamcatchers are not doing everything as accurately or as well, as his old “reference speakers” (four times the price), he admits that he doesn’t care because he can’t believe how much he “really gets into” his music with the Dreamcatchers. Obviously, his system mated with the these Dreamcatchers, (happens to comprise an ideal combination). Allowing him to achieve this rare plateau of complete and utter musical satisfaction, or, Audio Zen!
Now, in the current (July issue) of Stereophile Stephen Mejias writes what he thinks about two, (or actually three when counting his Klipsch Syn-B20), more components we feature here at the Sweet Spot, the Jolida FX10 and NAD C316BEE. The first thing I would like to point out, is how he compares the two integrated’s to each other making good points about the differences in sound. If you read his entire review, it becomes obvious that though he finds the Jolida “huggable and adorable” he feels the sound of the NAD is more detailed, accurate, and therefore better. This is where I have to disagree. Additionally, it should be noted these amplifiers take care of business very differently, as one is “tube”, and the other “transistor”, so the fact of the matter is, that they are absolutely going to sound “very differently”. Just as the sound of vinyl is “very different” from CD, and though CD is known to have more accurate attributes, rarely will you find anyone claiming it is “better” when comparing the two!
Stephen begins with his description of the Jolida, pointing out several things I’ve found to be true of many tube amplifiers. For example, he’s quick to realize that though the Jolida is rated at only 10 watts per channel, it seems like much more power. Then, when mated to a horn loaded speaker (typically very efficient) like his Klipsch, “in his words” it flat out ROCKS! He also marvels at how well the Jolida defines the various musicians in space, within a very large, yet well focused sound stage. He further notices how well brass instruments bloom effortlessly and cymbals sizzle gently into darkness. He notices that the Jolida out performs not only the NAD in these characteristics, but two other similarly priced competitors, a Cambridge Audio 340A & Exposure 2010. He concludes that the overall sonic characteristics make the Jolida’s presentation very life like, which he compares quite favorably to his experience of a live performance the night before.
Unfortunately, he goes on to point out several attributes common to solid state amplifiers, and how the NAD does these better than the Jolida. He even compares this particular NAD C316BEE to the coveted classic NAD 3020, commenting on how this amplifier may be everything it was, albeit, without quite as much power, and of course, without the cult AMP-GOD status the classic 3020 has earned over time.
I do agree however with his overall assessment of both amplifiers. However, what I disagree with is his claim that the NAD is “better”. He does mention that an idea popped into his head when consider what speaker would make the perfect match for the Jolida, and that is the Klipsch. I too had originally mated the Jolida to the PSB ALPHA B1’s as it made for the “King of bang for the buck systems”($729.00). But remembered the old audiophile fact that “horns excel with tubes” so quickly switch to Klipsch speakers. This took it from a system that sounded really good to “life like” by simply swapping out the PSB’s for Klipsch! In fact, I’ve since mated it to their largest “bookshelf” speaker, the RB8i which has “8 inch woofers.” This further takes you from a nice seat at the back of the hall (Stephen Mejias test Klipsch system) to Front Row Center (ours)! For me, this is a perfect example of Audio Zen! I’ll take front row center live any day of the week!
In summery. Be careful with what reviewers conclude, as what is actually better for them, may not be what’s better for you! If you are say, a classical listener, or perhaps musician, you may decide that hearing a greater amount of low level detail allows you a window into what the musicians are doing, and maybe that’s the sound for you. But if it’s a “you are there” live performance type sound that you’re looking for, than I’d have to go with the Jolida tube amplifier! Personally, the sort of “in the control room-studio sound” of many small solid state type amps has never been quite as attractive to me. But that’s the beauty of choices. Today more than ever before, manufacturers like NAD, Jolida, PSB and Klipsch, are making some just amazingly musical components that are really great in their own right, and seriously affordable! What more can you ask for? Cheers!
Right now we are auditioning a pile of cool new stuff from a number of internationally known brands. DAC’s, Interconnects, Amps, etc. Stop in soon and often so you don’t miss your opportunity to audition something you may otherwise have to go to Los Angeles or Europe to hear!?!
We also welcome our latest addition of the absolutely most flexible, and best made line of Audio Video Furniture, actually MADE IN U.S.A., from a company called “Salamander Designs” We’ve put three of their furniture models on display for your convenience!
Some of the brands we’re currently auditioning are Fidelity Acoustics of Vancouver Canada,
Moon from Montreal Canada, Hegel audio of Norway, and Nordost which sounds Norwegian, but actually hales out of the Far East – Massachusetts New England!
It’s hard to believe just how good some of this stuff is. Even the technology that goes into making the “wires” can, and from what we’ve heard DOES make a huge difference in how well the system can sound. When you pop off the stock wires and put on these the classical music I was listening to sounded as if it went from a Quartet, to a full blown Symphony!?! It’s just amazing what these little old wires can do!!! You have to try this. Heck, I’m so sure you’ll have the same experience that I’ll lend them to you to try it out.
But first, a quick look at recent history…
Having won The Absolute Sounds coveted Golden Ear award for 2010, and Editor’s Choice award for 2011, and with several more outstanding reviews to its honor, I thought I should give it an audition. I, quite possibly like you, hadn’t really been paying attention to the fact that “Teac actually has a Reference Line”. In fact, the Teac I knew from the 70’s was just a single line of high quality gear, who’s forte was tape recorders. If you wanted a best of the best Reel to Reel or Cassette deck, you needed look no further than “TEAC”. In fact, even those in the Professional Recording Industry depended on Teac’s fine line of tape machines, and other pro quality audio components. But as several factors in the 80’s & 90’s combined, to lighten our economic prowess, many of the higher end companies from Japan left the dwindling U.S. market, and some reduced their offerings to only their low end, “affordable” gear. And of course, many of us learned that what “affordable” meant was “cheap” and “disposable.” Not to mention poorer sounding. But thankfully, a handful of these grand old Japanese companies have since returned with some of their higher end offerings. Such is the case with TEAC REFERENCE. So please DO NOT confuse this with Teac’s regular line, which shares the cosmetic’s ONLY! There are Big differences here. For instance, their regular line includes several mini systems, CD Receivers, and even speakers, and they’re clearly as good as anyone else in that arena. However, in their Reference Series, they have just these two pieces, and the parts, build, and sound quality differences are substantial! So it goes without saying the Reference Line is neither cheap, or disposable.
And now onto the review:
The two units that comprise the Teac’s Reference 600 series are available separately, but form a system together that makes a lot of sense physically, functionally, and sonically. Plus, you get a ton of features for your money! A more than competent 75W per channel integrated amplifier, wired and wireless network connections for internet and podcasts, AM/FM and, an onboard Internet Tuner, a quality phono stage, and high integrity DAC’s for direct input of music files via memory card or USB ports. That’s a lot of a bang for the buck! Furthermore, I have not found a better performing CD player or Integrated Amplifier near either’s price, even those stripped down types that don’t include ANY of the extra features! So as a system, it’s quite formidable, and quite frankly, a true Audiophile Bargain, by any standard!
I must further comment on the obvious build quality. Both the CD Player’s & Amplifiers chassis are made from thick, heavy, rigid brushed aluminum. They look and feel as they are built to last. Smart features and styling is exemplary. Further, as I have gleaned from other reviewers (What Hi-Fi & The Absolute Sound, etc) I more than suspect there is a good bit of trickle down technology from their ultra high end division Esoteric. I more than suspect Esoteric technology present in the CD player, as it performs way better than any I’ve tested near its price! The fact that it shares the same “mini-style” chassis as the matching amplifier belies the fact that it performs like NO COMPACT component at all, and I would put it against ANY high end offering from the high end community at large.
As a system, the TEAC Reference sounds as good as any full size component in their price range, delivering on the true high-end experience one expects when visiting a specialty audio store. Serious deep, detailed sound stage, with excellent extension and weight. With expressive music like Jazz, drum kicks are deep and taut, string plucks are fast and detailed, bass is forceful and cymbals sparkle. With classical, which as the experienced listener knows, can be very difficult for modest systems to lend true justice too (typically you have 130 instruments all playing at once!?!), the Teac Ref. does quite well, fooling you into thinking you are listening to a larger system with a more robust amplifiers. Overall excellent tonal and rhythmic cohesion extending deep into the lower regions and high in to the upper ones. And unlike most mini’s, the Teac Amplifier will actually run floor standers with surprising authority and control.
In all honestly, I believe TEAC may have done themselves a disservice by making the Reference gear of Mini Stature, as its performance is anything but. So I must conclude that the TEAC Reference is simply more of a stunningly smart stealth design, with virtually all of today’s most desired features, in a sophisticatedly smart and powerful package. I highly recommend it with most any speaker system, large or small.