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With the timbre it's similar. The slight brightening of the upper midrange typical for many contemporary recordings and usually underlined by solid-state amplifiers (a few notable exceptions are the Accuphase P-7100, Accuphase E-550 or Trigon Energy) here is somewhat forgiven. In absolute terms, this is a slight deviation from linearity but one we can only applaud! In an ideal world, I would probably like to not have it but in the here and now of having to decide between the 1% of well-mastered LPs and remaining 99% of lesser quality and digital recordings, I do appreciate what the Diavolo achieves. It creates a very slightly softened attack in the upper midrange but guarantees the transmission of musical communicativeness without boredom or fatigue.

While I already talked about bass, it's not that the amplifier played it badly. When I listened to Galahad's prog-rock Sleepers and then Radiohead's masterpiece Kid A, the bass guitars were big and of proper weight and body. They just didn't reach as low as over the Luxman and lacked tautness in the depths. But that didn't prevent the amplifier from sounding really nice and full. Because the Diavolo evokes this big saturated spacious sound as already described, I would only add that it transports the instruments to our room rather than moving us to a different venue. The relationships between performers are true, the distances in width and depth precise. Yet the recorded acoustics, true or artificial, are secondary to maintaining the connections and tension between the elements on stage. That's an important distinction because some people prefer that another space be opened between their speakers. Others again want the instruments beamed into their listening room. With the Leben RS-28CX preamplifier, the Diavolo offered this second take.

Moving from the Leben to the Art Audio Conductor showed how far more resolving the Japanese machine is. While this was undeniable, so was the fact that the Conductor on the Diavolo had the far more credible timbres. This was another instance where one encounters the synergy of certain devices being designed together, whose combination makes the listening experience complete. The easiest comparison is to the C-1000f Luxman, albeit with better timbres and more natural dynamic shading. The Art Audio system gives an incredibly realistic testimony of what happened in front of the microphones. In absolute terms, the Conductor especially in the midrange and treble softens the attacks a bit but this does not translate into a general softening but rather, a deepening and sculpting of the sound.

The cymbals are more golden than brassy yet we cannot claim that anything is distorted. It is simply closer to what we hear from the Accuphase C-2810 and C-2410 than Krell EVO222. This proposition then is inscribed in the very bones of this system. It's also a step in the right direction if we regard Reimyo's CAT-777 preamplifier as the ultimate reference point. It is a similar striving towards reproducing a maximally credible event without the urge to present as much information as possible but, within certain compromises accepted, communicate what a given musical piece is all about. Of course we do not have ultimate resolution of both elements -- analysis and synthesis -- but that's simply the realistic compromise.

The tonal balance center of the British system is set a bit lower than that of my system, lower than the Reimyo but (sorry for the height thing but it is necessary) higher than the Accuphase system P-7100 + C-2810 and Luxman C-1000f + M-800A. The Art Audio sound does not have any tendency towards enlarging virtual sources because even on the opening of "Lamento I" from the Tomasz Stanko Quartet disc Lontano with the characteristic trumpet (where we can hear tremendous air from the mouthpiece plus the basic sound 'below') the image had natural size and was brought no closer. The same held true for the phenomenal "Premonition" cut from the e.s.t. trio Leucocyte disc where the double bass is enhanced to be bigger and warmer by the sound engineers but was not boosted additionally - and this while the treble was softer than the Luxman's.

In this case it wasn't about softening the sound of discs per se (only a bit) but showing it how it should be shown (I rely on comparisons and the knowledge of particular instrument sounds). It is mostly about playing without a trace of the innate tension that's present in my Luxman and Leben which does not arise from the tension within the music. This is something my gear adds. We cannot hear this when we compare it to 99% of the rest but after listening to the Reimyo and Accuphase P-7100, I know it for what it is. The Art Audio system showed this too. Although its bass is worse (and the power amplifier's fault), its resolution lower (due to the preamplifier), still it generates incredibly -- really incredibly -- natural timbres. After my own and the Reimyo system, this is only the third time I heard what the Sleepers disc from Galahad is all about.

For years I thought it was defective - flat, sloppy and with clear phase anomalies. When I replaced hardware (the disc is from 1995 and I have its first edition) nothing changed. While I admired its musical content, the sound bugged me. And then not so long ago -- a year or two -- I heard that in terms of space, this is an incredible production. The artificial acoustics surround the listener and create new dimensions like the claustrophobic voice in "Exorcising Demons". Everything is based on phase manipulations. Although the watershed album for such trickery is Roger Waters' Amused To Death recorded with the QSound system, Galahad surpasses it without a sweat. The difference is that Waters sounds splendid at every stage of the battle for the 'absolute sound'. The Sleepers disc shows its true potential only over the very best systems. And the Art Audio system is one of those.