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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 5000 MkIII DAC; Accustic Arts Drive-1; Audio Aero Prima [on review]; Einstein CDP [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe2; Wyetech Labs Pearl [on loan]; Einstein integrated [on review]
Amp: AUDIOPAX Model 88
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo; Gallo Acoustics Reference 3
Cables: Stealth Audio Varidig S/PDIF, Stealth Audio Indra (x2), Crystal Cable Reference speaker cable and power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: BPT BP-3.5 Signature for source components; Walker Audio Velocitor
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets; Musse Audio resonance dampers on DUO subs; Mapleshade 4" solid maple platform under BPT conditioner
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component pricing: $7,490 CDP, $9,590 integrated amp, $1,000 for optional Isoclean amp cord

I'm American by choice, genetically and educationally hardwired German. This gives me a certain Teutonic predisposition. It equates to - er, entitlement for making the following observation. By way of unassailable cultural accomplishments and a nearly ingrained solid work ethic that once was hideously exploited by Hitler's infamous death camp slogan "Arbeit macht frei" ("work liberates"), our kind manages to mix fact and arrogance with such dexterity that you can't be sure whether we're full of shit, good-naturedly boisterous or merely punctiliously matter-of-fact. Who but a German -- Willie Bauer of dps in this case -- would name a product "Der Plattenspieler" aka The Record Player? Who but Germans would call their tubed CD player The Last Record Player or their hybrid integrated amplifier The Absolute Tune while making sure that their English rather than German nomenclature would turn global braggadocio? What to think when this firm calls itself Einstein to boot?

They say that it takes a madman to recognize a madman. Perhaps being German by birth makes me the perfect first American reviewer to do the honors on today's review components? Einstein ("one stone" if you didn't know the verbatim translation) just gained US distribution by way of Brian Ackerman's AAudio Imports. For us back-water colonialists, CES 2005 will be the official unveiling of this brand. That of course doesn't mean that Einstein just fell out of the sky this season like that stoned apple hitting Newton for a lesson in gravity. To learn a bit about this other Einstein (and not the Union Jack bagel franchise either), I e-mailed Germany to request some historical and background data.

Before it arrived, I'd already ascertained that Einstein's use of tubes is married to sophisticated hybrid circuitry. Rather than revisiting the past, Einstein selectively culls from it to embed the past not only in present-day expectations but also present-day engineering savvy. This ain't retro-for-retro's-sake gear but thoroughly modern and contemporary kit that just so happens to incorporate valves. The stand-alone Final Cut monoblocks for example [left] employ OTL architecture but claim unusually low output impedance of 146 milliohm for high damping factors that are successfully mated to Acapella's loudspeakers. The 5-input remote-controlled The Absolute Tune integrated marries tube drivers to output transistors to produce 50/75wpc into 8/4 ohms. The Last Record Player is a valved top-loader that predates the current craze of modifying universal players with after-market tube output stages. Audi's Quattro meets Ford's ancient Model T?

My review will attempt to answer that question, as well as the opening gambit about the relative balance between outright hubris, humorous showmanship, marketing exaggeration and pure literal fact. After all, if the Americans can recognize and publish the absolute sound, the Germans might pen the absolute tune and then build it. And I don't know about you but identifying a CD player that's not only the last one you ever need to own but also one that ain't embarrassed being compared to those other record players sounds like something long overdue and very germane. Could it be true? But first, here's what I learned about Germany's Einstein Audio:

Einstein's first product, The Amp, was released to apparently great acclaim as early as 1990 and soon garnered Best Buy status for four consecutive years in Japan's fast-lived audio market. The firm's current valve-based lineup launched in 1999 after four years of intensive R&D. That generated novel and proprietary circuitry about which the German website doesn't relinquish any details. The firm describes itself as one of the few surviving old-timey outfits who still make things by hand in the tradition of fine Schwartzwälder cuckoo clocks. "We don't care about remotes and DVDs" is how one of the principals poked fun at himself. "We're not much to write home about when it comes to companies either" was another zinger that seemed in stark contrast to the components' appearance and the fact that they do come with remotes. Humor? Good! Before the gear had even arrived, I was sure we'd be getting along. Time to lighten up about my stern ancestral roots.

Judging from the size of the boxes, things were about to get heavy again. There were integral grab handles and once popped open, wooden crates with luxo hardware hinges and locks and inside of those, velvet-lined and fully sculpted cushioning reminiscent of my old Wurlitzer clarinet cases. Add white gloves, thick-cuts-above-Belden power cords, spade-terminated grounding wires and a rather snazzy system remote of all sculpted concave plastic, color-coded sections and very fresh but elegant styling.

Just another little handcrafter's firm tucked away in one of dem cow-infested valleys? I was getting confused. What to say about the knee-deep chrome on the amp's tranny covers, lustrous enough to dive into with a Harley? How about those super-chunky face plates, the absolutely massive footers, the top-notch level of fit'n'finish and the overall impression of heft and build-to-last solidity?

I was beginning to sense that despite the humor, there were good reasons for Einstein to celebrate a goodly dose of well-deserved arrogance about this gear. Time to plug it in. But wait, weren't we gonna do some history first?

Aw shucks, I'm confused. History it is, with some audio centerfolds thrown in for good measure. Ready?

The gleam and reflections off the immaculate surfaces are so wicked that a guy with a rough-cut wooden slat ceiling is forced to go outside where a cloudless sky doesn't telegraph and where natural sunlight would add a few rim shots - er, starry sparks. Two large rotary controls for source selection and volume flank a central display on the front while the aftern view reveals the dual-mono array of five inputs, one rec-out, single-wire speaker output via the dreaded Euro-shrouded slot terminals (discrete biwiring mandates a spade/banana combo) and a grounding screw. The IEC power inlet and mains rocker discretely tuck under the belly of the beast. This explains the low-profile right-angle plug on both the stock amp cord and Brian Ackerman's deluxe Isoclean custom cord.