Reviewer: Jeff Day
Source: Meridian 508.20 CD player used as a transport, Audio Logic 2400 vacuum tube DAC to process digits
Preamp/Integrated: Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe
Amps: Fi 2A3 SET monoblocks, Almarro A205A SEP [in for review], Yamamoto A-08 stereo 45 SET [in for review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo 2.0
Cables: Nirvana S-X interconnects between DAC and preamplifier, Nirvana S-L interconnects between preamplifier and amplifiers, Nirvana S-L speaker cables between amplifiers and speakers, and a custom Nirvana wiring harness to connect the Duos midrange and tweeter horns and woofer module, Cardas Neutral Reference digital cable; Analysis Plus Oval One interconnects [review loan - $119 for 2 meters], Analysis Plus Blue Oval speaker cables [review loan - $120 for 2 meters]
Stands: Atlantis Video Reference equipment rack, Billy Bags 2 shelf rack
Power line conditioning: none
Sundry accessories: none.
Room size: 15' x 25' x 8', short-wall setup
Review Component Retail: $800

An evening with Alice
I sat bathed in candlelight, reading the writings of Antonio Machado, the great 20th century Spanish poet who lived through the long and terrible Spanish civil war to become Spain's revered poet of sorrow and woe. As I read Machado, a Pacific Northwest rainstorm pounded down outside in a great deluge, with high winds howling at my windows with the intensity of hungry Northwest wolves. Distracted, I put down my volume of Machado and walked to the window to peer out through the candlelight into a flickering pack of shadows and the deep darkness beyond. With a shiver and sudden coldness in my bones, I turned and walked over and set the thermostat up five degrees for the room had taken on a sudden chill. I walked back and turned on the little Almarro A205A integrated amplifier from Japan that was in for review. I watched as current flowed into its single 12AX7 driver and then into its two single-ended pentode EL84 output tubes, adding the cheery warmth of their light to the coolness of the room.

I popped Pearl Django's Swing 48 [Modern Hot Records MHR008] into the transport of my Meridian 508.20 and hit play as the Audio Logic 2400 DAC busily began processing digits. I settled into my listening chair for a little soul-warming listening

session to ward off the evening chill. I let the songs wash over me: first "Swing 48", then "La Mer", then ... "Fssst!" I sat up in my chair and looked around. It sounded like a cat had found its way into my listening room while seeking safe harbor from the storm - but not a creature was in sight. I figured the noise was a trick of the wind my imagination had brought to life and settled back into "I Can't Believe You're in Love with Me" and ... "FSSST!!" There it was again, louder and more insistent. The sound was coming from behind the cheval mirror, so I got up out of my listening chair to investigate.

I peeked behind the cheval and saw nothing. I stood for a moment looking at myself in the mirror, shrouded in the shadows of the room's darkness. Suddenly a ball of twine bounced and rolled between my legs to be pursued an instant later by a black kitten ferociously chasing its prey. Nearly startled out of my wits by the kitten's sudden appearance, I let out a shout that caused him to come to a cowering halt at my feet. "Where have you come from?" I said as I picked up the furry little trespasser and held him in my arms. I was rewarded with enthusiastic purring for my effort. Then I heard a lady's voice. "Kitty where are you?" and a hand took hold of the shadows in the mirror and pulled them aside like a curtain. "Oh there you are," she said sternly with a tone of reproach. The kitten dived out of my arms and into the mirror and was gone.

"Sorry about that," she said politely, "he's such a little rascal." Dumbfounded, I stood there staring at the remarkable appearance of a young lady in my mirror. Sensing my discomfiture she said, "I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself - I'm Alice. I live on the other side of the mirror." "Alice?" I said bewildered, "Lewis Carroll's Alice? You're supposed to be a little girl." "Don't be silly," Alice reproached me smilingly, "I was a little girl in 1865 when Lewis wrote about me - I'm 25 now!" Her answer didn't make a bit of sense. But the beautiful young woman standing in front of me smoothing out her dress obviously wasn't 139 years old. I closed my eyes and told myself this wasn't real - it couldn't be. I peeked out of one eye and Alice was still standing there looking quizzically at me. Without warning she then reached out from the mirror and took hold of my wrist with a firm grip, and pulled me through the mirror with a tug and a 'pop!'

I found myself in a room that looked much like my own yet very different - a quaint cottage-like mirror-image. Instead of the dark evening winter storm outside my own listening room, there was a beautiful sunny spring evening outside this one. I walked over and looked at the little Almarro A205A. To my
amazement, one of the little EL-84 tubes smiled and winked at me! Then both the little EL-84s hopped up out of their sockets and began a merry dance on the chassis top to Pearl Django's "Dragonfly". "Alice, I'm feeling a bit light-headed," I said and walked over and sat down in a green leather Queen Anne. "Jeff, now's not the time to dally, we must hurry or we'll be late for the concert!" warned Alice as she darted out the door and down the path in front of her cottage. I looked around and didn't see any way back to my listening room, so I yelled "Alice, wait!" and ran out the door after her.

I nearly ran into Alice who had stopped to wait for me. "There's Honey in the Lion's Head tonight," said Alice, smiling with her blue eyes sparkling and her finger pointing out into the meadow. Puzzled, I looked out into the meadow to see a music shell styled like a large lion's head with the musicians' stage located on the tongue in its mouth, which was open in what appeared to be a giant roar. Alice grabbed me by the hand and said, "Hurry up Jeff; we don't want to be late!" At Alice's lead, we ran through the grass of the meadow towards the lion's head. As we got closer I could see poet-musician Greg Brown on stage singing and playing his guitar.

As Greg sang his words, out came a visible presence much like transparent fluttering doves which then turned into large drops of honey that fell into the lion's mouth and flowed out between its teeth into the meadow, forming a meandering honey stream. "Come on, Jeff," said Alice as she pulled me over to the stream bank. Alice stuck her finger in the honey and then stood back holding up her finger and to my surprise, stuck her honey-coated finger in my mouth. Sputtering, I said "Alice! Just what do you think you are doing?" "Tell me what it tastes like!" said Alice. "What? It's sweet of course - it's honey!" I said huffily. Alice kept watching, looking as though she expected me to say more. Then I began to get an unusual sensation of warmth spreading through my body and as it did, the whole emotive power of Greg Brown's lyrics was released in me, their meaning spreading through me like a soft warm light that suffused every atom of my being. I said, "Alice this is incredible. What is happening to me?"

Instead of answering, Alice took my hand and led me over to the lion's head where we sat down to listen to Greg and Iris Dement sing a duet of "Jacob's Ladder". As they sang, I watched Greg's guitar and I could see visible musical notes projecting off the strings into the air as he played. Just as the musical notes cleared the stage, they turned into colorful butterflies which flew out and landed in the grass of the meadow where they promptly turned into wildflowers. As Alice and I sat listening, a small cloud of butterflies gathered and fluttered around us, brushing us with their wings to the melody of the music. "Butterfly kisses," whispered Alice, "we're getting little kisses all over from the music!" It tickled and we both began to giggle. Then we both looked at each other and started laughing so uncontrollably that we flopped over into the wildflowers, rolling around trying to shoo the butterflies away.

"Alice," I mumbled incoherently, "I feel so refreshed, so happy and invigorated - that was an incredible experience!" "Yes, I love listening to music," said Alice, "it always makes me feel so good!" "That was more than just listening to music," I explained, "It's a whole new experience for me." "What do you mean, Jeff" said Alice, "isn't music like that where you come from?" "No, not at all," I persisted. "Where I come from, honey and butterflies just don't flow forth from the music." "Really?" Alice looked at me with a skepticism that said I was teasing her. "Where's the fun in that? That sounds boring!" Alice leaned over and began to whisper into my ear, her lips just brushing against my ear, "ring, ring, ring, ring ..." Slowly the phone ringing in the background got louder and louder until it roused me from my unplanned nap and I heard Stephæn's voice on the answering machine say "Jeff, just checking in to see how things are going. Hey, I read the sneak peek of the Almarro A205A and I was ready to go out and buy one! Bring it by for a listening session when you have time."

As I roused myself back to alertness, I reflected on how the subconscious dream state can access perceptions in a way that gets to the heart of a matter right away. Many audiophiles don't enjoy listening to music. It's not that they don't like music -- they do -- but the way their systems play music just isn't very satisfying, musically speaking. So they focus on the sound as a substitute. Like Alice said, "Where's the fun in that?" The Almarro A205A is fun and plays music extraordinarily well. It also sounds good. The Almarro A205A, like Machado, is on the dark side yet out of its darkness emerges a musical performance full of a sweet inner fire that infuses the music with a Kodachrome intensity of musical color and emotive communication.