Audio Refinement The Complete integrated amplifier System & Setup
I went into a good bit of detail about my system in the November 1998 Stereophile (Vol.21 No.11, p.105), when I reviewed the Joseph Audio RM22si loudspeaker. While there's no need to reprise everything here, my system has since undergone some fundamental changes in core components and tweaks that are worth mentioning.
I'm still using a pair of 20' JPS Labs Superconductor speaker cables to biwire the Joseph RM22si's. They have a really nice tonal balance, a smooth top end, and excellent bass focus. The replacement of my Dual CN5000/Ortofon XM5 combo with a Rega Planar 3 belt-drive turntable and a Grado Reference Master high-output moving-coil cartridge has resulted in a significant upgrade in resolution and tonality. The Grado is amazingly open and detailed, with a beautifully articulate midrange and a lot of high-frequency detail, yet it is not at all bright or etched. It throws a wonderful soundstage, and what it lacks in slam is more than made up for by the warmth and punch of the EAR 834P tube phono preamp.
My digital front end is still the California Audio Labs CL-15, outfitted with either a Synergistic Research Designer's Reference power cord or the JPS Labs Digital power cord. But I recently replaced my Resolution Reference Phase II interconnects with an updated version. The difference in performance between the old version and the new, which features Synergistic Research's proprietary Discrete Shielding, is pretty startling. There's a lot more air and harmonic detail, with greater bass extension and deeper, more open soundstaging; there is also significantly more high-frequency information, yet the overall frequency response is a lot smoother, less brassy and forward. Made the old interconnects, themselves no slouches, sound rather veiled by comparison. Damn.
In addition, I'm employing some new tweaks that have brought the system up a notch, and then some. I'm still using EchoBusters room treatments throughout my space, but I removed the absorptive panels from behind the soundstage and supplemented them with a trio of Argent Room Lenses, which are the damnedest things. Everyone's already commented on their ability to counteract unwanted room resonances. However, positioning a pair adjacent to my speakers at about a 45° angle, and one approximately 4–5' behind the center axis of the soundstage, seemed to make the speakers disappear—and shifting the center Room Lens front to back allowed me to fine-tune the soundstage, giving me either greater depth or bringing the soundstage more front-and-center.
And you could've knocked me over with a feather, but a set of PolyCrystal Cones beneath the CL-15 immediately conferred major sonic benefits, in the forms of enhanced bass focus, increased stereo separation, and more stable imaging.
Who'd a'thunk it?—Chip Stern