Glorious Sound—The Essence of Music
Garth Leerer sure knows how to make a vocal lover happy. As soon as he spotted me entering the Musical Surroundings room, the Oakland-based distributor chose to demonstrate the supreme musicality of the Musical Surroundings’ "Audio Unlimited" system by playing an LP of mezzo-soprano Janet Baker. Recorded in her prime, and sensitively accompanied on piano by the great Gerald Moore, Baker began singing a grief-stricken Schubert song. To say I was blown away by the intensity of her expression, the beauty of her voice, her daring to sing with such naked emotion, and the system's ability to capture and integrate all the different colors and shadings of her instrument only begins to tell the tale. I was transfixed.
I have this same LP at home. While I haven't played it for many years, I recalled that Baker's performance of Richard Strauss' "Wiegenlied" was the most sacred, intimate rendition of that song I have ever experienced. For this lullaby sung by a pregnant woman to her as-yet-unborn child, Baker chooses the slowest and softest tones imaginable.
I have played many vocal recordings on many systems over the years. I've also attended a host of live recitals—recitals that have allowed me to sit in the first row for Susan Graham and Frederica von Stade, and the second row for Olga Borodina and the Takacs String Quartet. I have heard close up what great artists can do. But until now I have never—never, ever—heard a recording by one of the great vocal artists of our time reproduced on a system that allowed me to get so close. It was almost as if I was the microphone, and Baker was singing directly into me. I sat in near disbelief, enraptured by her ability to sing extremely softly with such depth of feeling and clarity of focus. I was equally enraptured by the system's ability to reveal so much detail without in any way sounding forced or etched.
Thanks to the Musical Surroundings "Audio Unlimited" system, I experienced two miraculous performances at once. The equipment that made my visit to Audio Nirvana possible consisted of two brand new units and one prototype: the Pathos Endorphin CD player ($8500—not auditioned this time around but definitely on my wish list), Clearaudio Performance turntable/Satisfy Carbon Fiber tonearm ($2500), and Benz "Super Glider" prototype cartridge (estimated $3000). Equally important were the Focal Alto Utopia speakers ($20,000/pair), the extremely attractive Pathos Inpol2 integrated amp ($10,000), Aesthetix Io phono stage ($6,500), and Tara Lab cabling. A Running Springs Audio Jaco Conditioner may have also been used.
Thank you, Garth.