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Shanling decided to treat the 2.1 integrated as an upscale full-featured unit. This is evidenced by the choices of CD, SACD, TAPE, AUX, XLR and BYPASS. The latter allows you to drive the power stage directly from an external preamp or variable source. Headfi devotees get a front-mounted headphone jack. On the rear panel the CD input was given preferential treatment with a pair of premium Cardas Rhodium RCAs. In addition to RCA and XLR inputs, there’s also an RCA pre-out to turn the 2.1 into a standalone preamplifier. Despite the pre-out and bypass in, looping a subwoofer crossover is not possible. Like the stock Densen 130+, subwoofer accommodation is restricted to low-pass filtration if the onboard amplifier stage is to be employed. The speaker outputs are sturdy plastic-shrouded gold-plated posts and like the Densen B-130+ number two pairs per channel to accommodate easy biwiring. Spacing is tight due to the slim design and abundance of i/o ports.

Parts include Cardas Rhodium RCAs, Kimber Kable hookup wire, Wima caps and PRP resistors. QED XT300 air core OFC speaker cable becomes the internal wiring for the binding posts. Since both 2.1s are designed with convenience in mind, they ship with the same multi-purpose remote. It is a fairly heavyweight affair with a thin brushed metal top plate and hefty black plastic body. The one function not mirrored on the remote is source selection for the CD player. As with the CD player, the amp comes with a basic power cord.

Both pieces performed progressively better as they broke in. They benefited from resonance control devices especially the CD player. They were combined with a variety of interconnect and speaker cables to check for specific affinities or problems. The initial round was conducted with the Audio Space AS-3/5A speakers running full range in biwire configuration to see how amplifier and CD player would handle the critical midband.

The Paradigm Servo 15 was added with the crossover solely affecting low-pass filtering. This left the main speakers untouched or full-range. Like the stock Densen B-130+ , the Shanling 2.1 integrated is not intended for decoupling of the preamp and amplifier stages to achieve hi/lo-pass filtering. This is an arrangement some purists prefer but did not hinder me from ascertaining the character of the two pieces.

The final listening sessions were conducted with the Apogee Duetta Signatures running full range and biwired. The Apogees devour both power and current. This configuration stressed the amplifier’s stability and dynamic range under relatively low impedance conditions. This was a tough test for the Shanling 2.1 integrated. It was pushed well past the norm of speaker loads it would usually face. The AudioSpace CDP-8A CD player was the primary reference point through both its tube and solid-state outputs as well as single-ended and balanced. A computer source was employed to check the abilities of Shanling’s DAC with hi-rez files. To ascertain the capabilities of the headphone output, the Audio Technica ATH W-1000 were primary headphone reference as well as a more professionally oriented pair of ATH-M50s. In keeping with the multi source/resolution capabilities of the 2.1 CD player’s switchable DAC, the type of source material became broader. Here’s a small sampling.

"Hopak from Maazeppa: Tchaikovsky" from the HRx sample download Exotic Dances from the Opera [Eiji Oue/Minesota Orchestra Reference Recordings HR-71 HRx]. This retains the fire of the CD with all of Reference Recordings classic strengths and adds the advantages of master-quality high resolution. Dynamic punch and delicacy with all the audiophile trimmings serve up a popular piece of music.

"Dying of Another Broken Heart" from Little Red Boots Sampler: Lindi Ortega [Last Gang Records CDPRO LG26223]  is a promising sampler which has already blossomed into a full-fledged album. A delightful blend of new and old-style country, it spans 1950’s references to modern contemporary pop in a way that keeps both accessible to a wide audience. Critics have been quick to term it neo rockabilly. This should indicate how far apart the mixture swings. Ortega has a strong voice that evokes memories of some of the greats, with a stunning style that is complemented by good backup orchestra and a well-engineered contemporary mix. Selections are varied enough to keep the material interesting and fun enough to convert those who might normally pass on this genre.

"Carmen Ballet: Bizet/Schedrin" from Engineer’s Choice 2 [Delos DE3512] shows off recording engineer John Eargle’s demonstration material from the Delos library. It’s a good selection of both blockbuster and nuanced material to challenge the system and strong enough selections to be musically enjoyable. Eargle provides notes to indicate why the pieces were included and what to listen for in engineering terms. This popular classical piece was performed by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra under James DePriest Salle Garnier in Monaco. The microphone technique captures hall warmth, presence and musical detail.

"Gymnopedie No.1: Satie" from the Hrx sample download Reveries [Eiji Oue/Minesota Orchestra, Reference Recordings HR-99 Hrx] makes for a gentle sway to the standard audiophile demonstration bombast. Detailed, warm and spacious, this recording is described as "dreamlike". Keith Johnson and Reference Recordings sonics in master quality format.

"Into the Wild: Jane’s Party" from Janes Party: The Garage Sessions [Jane’s Party Ltd.]. This is a talented little group that prefers acoustic instruments and the raw intimacy of a garage band recording to reveal tremendous polish and song writing depth. Decent engineering massages a little extra richness into the mix. Think late 60’s folk rock in a modern vein. Solid tunes done with accomplished style. Something off the beaten path for the download-inclined generation.

"Canacao de Embalar: Annon" from Ninna Nanna: Motserrat Figueras [Alia Vox AV9826] has mesmerizing female vocal talent, instrumental nuance and warmth situated in a large rich acoustic to mark the technical and artistic qualities that make this recording special. This CD explores the common thread of the lullaby and how it is musically interpreted by different cultures and languages throughout the ages. A simple concept made fascinating by the wealth of styles and diversity of instrumentation captured with first-rate recording quality.