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SurROUND 3: My third multi-channel system is of a totally different sonic character. Three Winsome Labs Mouse Tripath amps bi-amp three Mark & Daniel Sapphire in the front while one Mouse drives the rear Mark & Daniel Topaz. Source is an Oppo BDP-83 and paired subwoofers are Yamaha YST-SW200. Speaker cables are OCOS. If the 45wpc/4ohm Winsome Labs had lived with Mark & Daniel for so many years without complaints, the Dared DV-6C greater 65wpc output should have felt even more at home with these demanding speakers.

I used to think that the Winsome Labs’ non-aggressive nature synergized quite well with the studio monitor accuracy of Mark & Daniel. With the Dared DV-6C, I anticipated more refinement in the musicality sector. Perhaps I shouldn’t under-paint the contribution from the Oppo BDP-83 either. After all, Blu-Ray discs did sound more musical over it than SACDs. (The BDP-83 plays them all including HDCD.) Three superb recordings from 2L underscored it. Trondheim Solistene’s Divertimenti [2L 50SABD] exemplified golden string timbres and a silken touch on sforzando bowing.

In Grieg’s Piano Concerto [2L 60SABD] the pianola re-performance on a modern Steinway was endowed with pearly tones and naturally responsive dynamics. The orchestral colors were organic. Under normal circumstances, I have to work a bit more to hit upon the right synergy and this kind of sound from Mark & Daniel but the DV-6C cut short all trials and misadventures. With my reference system in SACD playback, the same true surround recordings would have put me on alert for sonic excitement and more aware of the surrounding musicians (the timpanist in my back in the Grieg concerto for example).  

The more subtle the orchestral metamorphosis, the more magic was conjured up. Fred Jonny Berg’s Flute Mystery [2L 58SABD] cast a spell on me for days. The title work portrayed forever-changing orchestral colors in a heavenly and mystical fashion caressed by the flute’s consoling twirls and accentuated by the harp’s softly flickering sparkles. "Warning Zero" became a space odyssey in 360° omni sound escorted by brass, woodwind and percussions - apocalyptic yet whimsical. The illusionary space defied boundaries yet the aura remained warm. The surround canvas was seamless in "Vicino alla Montagna". The sensation of musical wholeness as one was ably achieved by the multi-channel approach. Five speakers and two subwoofers became one spherical envelope and I as the listener was right in heart of their cyclone.

Switching to SACDs of these 2L recordings recalibrated the sonic balance towards higher resolution and returned the studio-monitor temperament of the Mark & Daniel speakers. In a way this heightened the holographic detailing and theatrical drama to make the Grieg Concerto more exciting, the Divertimenti more dynamic. Under such conditions, the DV-6C nevertheless demonstrated more polished finesse than the Winsome Labs. With recordings that purposely aim at surround-sound entertainment, the DV-6C was still thrilling. One typical example is the "Moving Real Surround Sound" world-premiere demo disc of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf coupled with—what else?—Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of The Animals [Tacet S74].

This isn’t something you’ve ever heard before, guaranteed. Narrator Bradley Cole is an owl that flies around you. All other characters walk, run, hop and skip around. The hunters encircle the wolf and shoot from all angles! Wait until you get into the Carnival – all animals are in motion including the crawling tortoise, not to mention the chasing donkeys and kangaroos that jump over your head. Talking about hifi as an illusion, nothing beats this multi-channel SACD. And the DV-6V made it all come to life over my Mark & Daniel speakers.

But one shouldn’t spoil the appetite with real surround sound. After all, such repertoire only makes up a tiny fraction of the real world. Two normal non-flattering 5.0 recordings provided an instant reality check. Frommermann’s Music of the Comedian Harmonists [Channel Classics CCS SA 26807] is the one vocal SACD I would never play on Mark & Daniel speakers yet the DV-6C coaxed them into mellifluous harmonizers to lift the embargo under such favorable terms and conditions.

The second butchering test was conducted with Josef Suk’s Asrael Symphony [Ondine ODE 1132-5]. It’s the Czech composer’s own symphony pathétique and his creative emotional fuse to recuperate from the double loss of his father-in-law and mentor Dvořák and his beloved wife Otilka within the same year. The massive orchestration is a merciless torment for any incompetent audio setup. The unlikely fragile-looking DV-6C and rock-solid Mark & Daniels seemed an odd coupling at first sight. But hearing was believing. This re-interpreted the heartfelt reading of Ashkenazy and superb playing of the Helsinki Philharmonic with uncanny mastery. Darkly brooding emotionally charged strings ripped through the tweeters and woofers, agonizing bass drums thundered at unrestrained decibels and anguished brass harrowed forth at devastating speed to force the Winsome Labs’ red overdrive LEDs into flashing a few times (without tripping the protection circuitry). Yet the DV-6C didn’t blink even once throughout the most challenging first movement.

Phase 4 - Stereo: If some people drive bi-wirable speakers successfully with 4-channel amps—Glen Wagenknecht’s Bel Canto 200.4 and Apogee Duetta Signature come to mind on our own staff—why shouldn’t I drive my Apogee Stage with the Dared? So I did. This was interesting. So far I had compared the DV-6C with two all-tube systems and one Tripath system. The following audition had another hybrid system as reference, Dared’s MC-7P tube preamp mated to bi-amping NuForce Reference 9 V2s augmented by a pair of Infinity SU-1 powered subwoofers. Y-adapters split the stereo output from the Restek Radiant CD player into two pairs to connect to the front and surround inputs of the DV-6C. The front speaker outputs drove the tweeters, the surround outputs the woofers. The powered subwoofers hooked up directly to the XLR outputs of the CD player, their volume was carefully set to as low as possible (11 o’clock) and crossover frequency varied between 50Hz and 70Hz depending on the recordings - just enough to sustain a bottom octave. (I don’t know why but I always prefer a preamp or direct source connection to the subwoofer.) I double-checked with Dared and confirmed that it was safe to operate the amp with the center and subwoofer channels unloaded while output mode was set to 5.0 or 5.1.

Putting the 65w/4ohm DV-6C in a handicapped race against the 300w/4ohm NuForce Reference 9 V2 driving the Apogees was as crazy as playing the odds in a fixed-odds bet. The chance to lose is pretty much guaranteed and the upside faint. I deliberately chose a HDCD recording of  Bernstein’s Candide Suite [Reference Recordings RR-87CD] because without HDCD decoding, the Restek turns the instrumentation messy in general and confusingly congested in the tutti. To my surprise, the DV-6C sounded reasonably uncluttered (the NuForce amps were very cluttered). The midrange was noticeably thinner but the bass was reasonably deep and in control - until the second track. The six subsonic blows at 6:35 sent the Apogee bass ribbons rattling. Equally unfavorable for the DV-6C was The Best of Neapolitan Songs sung by Giuseppe di Stefano [EMI TOCE-3127] and Forbidden Opera composed and sung by Réjane Magloire [Virgin Classics 545658 2]. Both unkindly confirmed the midrange attenuation in this setup to result in overwhelming sibilance and metallic ringing in the higher registers.

These were extreme cases with extreme recordings and extremely harsh on an unjustified partnership. And, the audition had been conducted with the stock tubes. The excessive brightness and imbalanced tone spectrum were later remedied with three Mullard 12AX7 tubes by about 70%. Turning to some less demanding recordings also changed the sonic picture. Pauline Viadot-Garcia’s Lieder, Chansons, Canzoni, Mazurkas [Analekta AN 2 9903] presented the many facets of Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian with silky overtones. The deeply set soundstage was imbued with vivid details and natural ambience. Shostakovich’s brilliant orchestration in Hypothetically Murdered [Top Music TM-HQCD 8008.4] was transparent, three-dimensional and lively plotted with pin-point imaged brass and percussion.

Having no luck with the Apogees, I replaced them with a pair of Opera Callas SP slim-line floorstanders. Boasting dual 4.5" woofers and dual 1" silk dome tweeters (one of them on the rear panel), 89dB sensitivity, 4-ohm impedance and bi-wire connections, the Callas SP was a more complementary partner. Thanks to the back-firing tweeters and slim curved cabinets that minimize cabinet coloration and wave diffraction, the holographic imaging and transparency of the Apogees recreated without the penalties. I played the Candide Suite again and any trace of subsonic punishment vanished. All the sonic sins committed in Forbidden Opera were forgiven and redeemed with reasonably balanced tonality and well-paced speed and rhythm.

But still it wasn’t good enough. The bass potential of the Opera dual 4.5" woofers hadn’t been fully unleashed yet as I knew from my recent experience bi-amping them with NuForce. Now I remembered my faithful old JMlab Micron. Bull’s eye.

Once synergistic elements lined up, musical enjoyment found its own way. I also stopped confronting the DV-6C with tricky recordings and pampered it with top-rated CDs. I was rewarded with effortlessly wide dynamic range and spontaneous power surges in Bartok’s Concerto For Orchestra [RCA 09026-61504-2] and honey-dew tone of baroque violins and resonant theorbo harmonics in Biber’s Violin Sonatas [Harmonia Mundi HMX 2907344.45]. I had bi-amped the Micron with Restek-Thorens MMA-5 class A/B monoblocks for years and only knew too well that I’d never had this kind of harmonized presentation before. Although it could hardly be called high-end or perfect sound and I still had to rely on the paired subwoofers for the bottom, the Micron did finally excel with this tube-hybrid circuit.