January 14, 2023 § Leave a comment
The M6 Ultra, just like the other Shanling DAPs, feels great in the hand, and the aluminium chassis has good weight and toughness. The premium feeling is close to the A&K and Sony players. The sides of the player feel great in particular when holding the device. This is one of the best portable compact players I’ve held in terms of overall feeling and quality. It even gives a better feeling than the flagship M9 with its compact body. That M9 is massive.
December 24, 2022 § Leave a comment
It sounds taut and controlled but never rhythmically over-rigid. Its tonal balance is just about spot-on, and it never strays into that rather matter-of-fact sense of resolution-first music style that some streamers/DACs do. In fact, its resolving power tends to feel entirely subsidiary to its bouncing sense of tuneful exuberance most of the time. But what I really enjoy about it is the way it puts all the musical elements together to highlight a performance. The top to bottom balance and certainly how it can layer the instrumentation is compelling.
Where some systems can bombard you with needlepoint resolution yet sound rather flat and uninteresting, the Gold Note has a real and attractive view of the soundstage and the shape of the music. It is also very quiet, which helps enormously and shows you perspectives and instrumental pictures and shapes with dimension and exceptional stability. It has real depth in more ways than one.
I admit to being surprised at how musically interesting this unassuming but highly efficient little machine is. I think it’s a great little package because it is always succinct and to the point. It sounds very good indeed, and as a gateway to the world of music outside your living room, I’d say it’s a pretty solid investment for anyone wanting to take that next step.
December 6, 2022 § Leave a comment
The Esoteric E-02 is as serious a piece of electronic kit as I’ve ever had in my system, revealing better qualities than I’ve experienced before in terms of its powers of resolution, textural detail and finesse, impressive soundstaging, bass presence, and slam. My reference Pass Labs phono certainly delivers the goods and has a mellower touch, particularly with orchestral music. But the E-02 is notably the more powerful of the two units—blessed not only with its own velvet hand for rendering acoustic music but also a closed fist in a velvet glove for rock, jazz, and dynamic vocals. What’s more, it has fine physical lines—with a luxurious though understated aesthetic to its build—and a plethora of useful features that are supremely elegant to engage with, all of which make it instantly recognizable as part of the Esoteric line of prestige electronics. If I could summon the great novelist Ralph Ellison from his “hidey-hole” in Heaven to experience just what the E-02 can get from the likes of Nat King Cole, Ellington’s Orchestra, and contemporary opera diva Anna Netrebko, I guarantee he’d join me in a chorus of hosannas and kyries, as Esoteric’s phono preamplifier extracts a music both jubilant and pensive from my mono and stereo cartridges that is a sonic séance of body and soul. If you’re in the market for one of the best phono stages at the $10k price point, I urge you to audition the Esoteric E-02.
November 27, 2022 § Leave a comment
The spectre of audio’s rose-tinted view of the past should be exorcised. We sometimes prize those classic big pre/power combinations from the 1980s, but if we listened to them today on a level playing field, I suspect a few of the Anointed Ones of audio wouldn’t hold a candle to this Audio Analogue pairing. It’s gentle, refined and sophisticated touch with music – that not only rolls with the punches but can also deliver a neat haymaker when required – is extremely alluring, especially for those who do not simply choose audiophile-approved recordings. The Audio Analogue Bellini Anniversary and Donizetti Anniversary is the pre/power combo that puts a smile on your face.
November 26, 2022 § Leave a comment
For sure, at this price point you can’t expect neither DSD/DXD support nor Hi-Res digital outputs, and you may come to limits with you 5000+ digital library. ROON or Apple music isn’t supported, and it does not offer HDMI-ARC support. Ah yes, this ATMOS is sincerely out of reach. As usual, you can get an advanced DAC, better streaming, better network connection, better APPs … just not with the same budget and the same ease of use.
Nonetheless, I would love to see the device receiving upgrades with a more recent Wi-Fi module and a better DAC chip, changes we could already encounter with the UP2Stream HD DAC, which is up next for review in my Sonic Encounters blog here on Audiophile Style. Advancements regarding the App performance might be the sweet cherry on the cake, thus you are free to use the performant WIIM app instead.
October 25, 2022 § Leave a comment
The same for streaming. I have lots to say about streaming quality in upcoming reviews. But, when streaming thickly scored Brahms symphonies or the astringent scoring on Steely Dan’s Gaucho, the LA4 did the music proud. If system basics are in place in your well-balanced system and appropriately sized room, you won’t be wanting for more. There is an admirable separation of instruments, even on 1960s CD-quality classical recordings. Voices sound very beautiful—Elizabeth Schwarzkopf singing Strauss songs, for example. Because of the LA4’s clarity, the orchestral accompaniment was laid out perfectly with Schwarzkopf’s soaring soprano above the orchestra, her exquisite voice intact and more importantly, in place, even at a loud volume.
October 10, 2022 § Leave a comment
Revisiting earlier tracks revealed them to be just as exhilarating, but now with the additional smoothness and revelation possible with a good MC cartridge. The Classic Phono really does ‘step aside’ to let your chosen pick-up do its stuff, and this combination of cartridge and phono stage gelled stunningly. It made the most out of anything I chose to play, finding the best in even the most underwhelming of recordings.
That said, there’s real magic when you give it something good to work with, such as Fearon & Galaxy’s ‘Dancing Tight’ [12in single, Ensign Records 12ENY 501]. Here, the delivery of the drum beats and bassline was masterful, and I revelled in the impact, scale and sheer joie de vivre of the performance. If machines have a soul I would swear that the Classic Phono was having a whale of a time, too.
The irony that the most listening fun I’ve had in weeks was thanks to a £17,000 phono stage playing a 1980s 12in single didn’t escape me, but it bothered me not one jot – I was too busy enjoying it.
September 19, 2022 § Leave a comment
Listening to Massive Attack’s Atlas Air track shows that these Chords are good though not class-leading when it comes to communicating the music’s momentum. The combo sounds surefooted rather than overtly exciting. Instead, our attention is drawn to the effortless way this pairing steps out of the way and lets us focus on the music. Their presentation may be supremely insightful but it doesn’t try to highlight that fact in some kind of showy ‘look at me’ way. We also love the midrange clarity and focus with voices, and the way each sound element is given space to breathe even when the mix becomes complicated