Audio Research Classic 60 power amplifier Robert J. Reina compares
I spent a great deal of time comparing the Cary Audio Design SLM-100 Revised monoblock to the Audio Research Classic 60 on both sets of speakers. The results were fascinating: both amplifiers were clearly impressive performers with totally different sonic presentations. They shared a wide and deep soundstage presentation, but it was difficult to determine which was more realistic.
The ARC excelled in image specificity, detail resolution, and transparency, but the images on the stage with the Cary sounded more dimensional and lifelike. On dynamic contrasts, the Cary had the added edge on high-level contrasts (perhaps due to nearly double the power), but both amps excelled in reproducing music's microdynamics. The ARC's bass, however, was far superior through the bottom two octaves.
The high-frequency comparison was most interesting. The Classic 60's biggest shortcoming is in its tight, etched low treble, which is the only flaw in what would otherwise be my ideal amplifier under $5000. The Cary's high-frequency reproduction was more natural, but the ARC didn't suffer from the Cary's slight slowing of transients.
The comparison reminds me of Sarah Faust, a brilliant piano craftswoman in Irvington, New York. She rebuilds Steinways for scratch, using only Hamburg parts. The result is a grand piano better than what you can buy new, for about two-thirds the price. A few years ago a friend bought a Model B from Faust; for a while, each time I visited his house the piano's touch and sound had changed. He explained that Faust was in the process of "voicing" the hammers to his taste, softening them by pricking the felt with a sharp instrument to mellow out the attack of the notes. The Classic 60's high-frequency transients reminded me of my friend's Steinway before it had been voiced; the Cary reminded me of the softened, fully voiced hammers. Which is correct? It's a matter of taste.—Robert J. Reina