[SoundStage!]Standout Systems
Back Issue Article
September 2000

Still More Component Matching

I always stress the importance of matching components properly, and then ensuring those components match the room that they’re being placed in. Some speakers need a little bit of power, some speakers need a lot; bigger rooms can accommodate larger speakers, smaller rooms generally need smaller speakers…and so the story goes. This may seem simple, but so many people try to fit the impossible into the improbable. Consider this an extension of my December 1999 and April 2000 "Standout Systems" articles -- these too were articles about component matching. Like this one, those articles focused on the need to properly match your amplifier to your speakers. This new system also happens to be a perfect match for my room.

I’ve long loved, lived with, and written about my Blue Circle BC2 monoblock amplifiers. At $6300 per pair, they achieve the epitome of what I call audiophile esoterica. They’re completely unconventional in design and appearance, but fantastic in their performance. At 75Wpc into 8 ohms, they have sufficient swing to get most speakers up to good volume levels, but they certainly excel with certain speaker mates that are more ideally suited to their single-ended design. Enter the $8200 JMlab Mini Utopia.

I love this speaker, both for its looks and sound. It comes close to being the pinnacle of stand-mounted monitors. Its looks, like those of the Blue Circle gear, are quite unconventional. Its build quality is phenomenal. And its performance, again like that of the Blue Circle gear, is great too. Plus, it’s high efficiency and a snap to drive (we measured it at the NRC with an anechoic sensitivity of 89.5dB). Together, these equally unique audio components are a match made in audio heaven.

From the word go I knew this speaker/amp combination was so special that I phoned Gilbert Yeung, Blue Circle’s president and chief designer. I flat out told him that he must hear this combination (I assumed he hadn’t or he might have already told me about it). I’m not sure if he has heard it yet, but if not, he’s missing a lot: breathtakingly detailed soundstage, beautifully extended highs, wholly realistic midrange, and bass slam like I’ve never heard out of this amplifier. For my ears, in my mid-sized room, this speaker-amp combination is perfect.

Of course, choosing a great speaker and amp and putting them in a good room gets you most of the way, but not quite all the way, there. This is, of course, about systems -- complete systems. The rest of the components that made up this system upped the ante enough to make it what I consider truly reference grade -- in other words, the point at which it simply doesn’t get much better, even when you spend a whole lot more money. This was further corroborated by Marc Mickelson, a guy who plays with the super-expensive stuff. (Not that this stuff isn’t expensive; it is, but as anyone in the high-end games knows, you can spend a whole lot more money.) Suffice it to say, he visited my room and left mighty impressed.

At the front was Audio Aero’s fabulous $4200 Capitole CD player. It's liquidly smooth from top to bottom and by far and away the most easy-on-the-ears CD player I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t buy it for the simple reason that I couldn’t afford it. Rest assured, though, that I surely missed it when the UPS person took it out my door.

In the middle between the amp and source was Blue Circle’s $6250 BC3000 preamplifier. Mine started life as the standard BC3 Despina, was upgraded to BC3 Galatea, and has since become a full-fledged BC3000, the company’s best. Every bit the equal of the BC2 amps, this preamp is certainly of reference caliber with excellent transparency and beautiful musically.

Finally, chaining the whole works together were a plethora of cables from Nordost, including their Quattro Fil interconnect ($1600 per one-meter pair) and Red Dawn Revision II speaker cables ($1200 per eight-foot pair). The interconnects are obviously a hefty chunk of change, and this is one spot that people may consider other options (unless, of course, you want the best of the best). It’s in this vein I can offer more insight. Nordost hand-delivered these cables to me, Joe Reynolds and the world-famous Lars Kristensen visiting some months ago. The demo you hear about at the shows had now come into my own room! As part of this demo Lars went through every Nordost interconnect in this same system (by the way, they really liked this system too). While things did get better as we went up in price, all the way to the Quattro Fil, suffice it to say that the Blue Heaven and Red Dawn interconnects make a strong statement for cost effectiveness with little performance loss. If you can’t get the best of the best, you can at least get close.

While this is not necessarily the best system I’ve constructed (Verity’s Fidelio loudspeakers have some strengths of their own that many would find enticing), it is among the best and something I could certainly call the end of the shopping road for me (at least for now). It’s simply splendid to listen to: Close your eyes and you’d think the room is twice the size that it is. It sounds like a big system, despite the small room. What’s more, its transparency, immediacy, and sheer musicality are simply astonishing. Had this exact system been demonstrated at a show (in a comparably sized room), it would surely have been chosen as a Standout Room -- perhaps some day it will. For now it’s a Standout System.

...Doug Schneider


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