Boulder 1012 D/A preamplifier Page 3
I first listened to the 1012's DAC directly using a Wadia 270 CD transport—which has, perfectly, an AES/EBU output. Yes, the two sections that make up the Boulder 1012 did have a sound, and one that's not very difficult to describe. It's all about the good side of descriptors like "clarity," "transparency," "speed," "fast" leading-edge transients launched with staggering detail—every nook and cranny—especially when running through the already Lotus-like built-for-speed Linn Klimax Solo 500s.
Another sonic advantage of this type of processing is the way the acoustic tails off into the noise floor. This rightness and clarity with regular 16/44.1 "Red Book" CDs running at an indicated 706.5kHz was truly addictive. I heard this on Air's 10,000 Hertz Legend (Source 8 10332 2 in Europe, Astralwerks in the US). "How Does It Make You Feel" made me feel just fine, especially given the clear and transparent mids, the enormous soundstage, and the taut, powerful bass. "The Vagabond" sounded outstanding—"So real and palpable it makes the recorded voice sound as alive as I am!" I noted.
Curious, I changed the active output on the Wadia transport to BNC, hooked it up to the dCS Purcell/Elgar Plus (running at 24/192), which drove one of the 1012's analog inputs. The presentation was wider, deeper, with a richer tonal balance. I felt an easeful, poetic sense to the music from the dCS combo, of all things—the same qualities that attract me so much to SACD.
Then I tried the same track with the Linn CD12, and while the sound was less sexy and textural in the midband than the dCS gear, it sure was fun. The Linn CD12 and the Boulder 1012, not to mention the Linn amps, were making much the same sound, especially up top, I thought: clear, tight, lithe, quick, full-range, illuminated, fast on the leading transients, tight and powerful bass, and terrific top and bottom extension.
Flipping over to Duke Ellington's This One's for Blanton (Analogue Productions CAPJ 015) on the 1012, the piano strings still sounded a bit metallic, as I've accused some other components of making this CD sound, but it absolutely didn't matter. The music was so engaging and compelling—the bass fulsome but tight and in control on the leading-edge transients and follow-on bloom, the midrange and highs rendered with such great clarity—that it really worked for me musically.
And Ray Brown's long, ever-so-special bass intro on "Sophisticated Lady" really showed off the Boulder's control of the nether regions. The tautness, fulsomeness, speed—the musical meaning buried down deep in the way his fingers caress and cajole his instrument—were just superb when heard so clearly. And at around 1:45, when the piano comes in, my bliss meter rose to scary heights. Yes, again, a somewhat metallic-sounding piano, but what the hell—piano strings are metal.
On "Oh Lady Be Good (Concept 2)," from the Count Basie Trio's For the First Time (Pablo PACD-2310-712-2), the 1012's imaging, palpability, and control 'bout knocked me outa the listening chair. Switching to the dCS, I found it a touch less dynamic, but much more juicy, midrangey, and sweet. I think adding the AudioPrism Isobearings under the Purcell, atop a Signal Guard II platform of closed-cell foam, was a really good move. The dCS had never sounded less analytical and more attractive. And that was via the 1012's line stage, let me remind you, which showed itself capable of sending along a line-level signal with a minimum of change.
Next day, I hooked up the Krell FPB 350mc monoblocks (reviewed in August 2000) to see if they would "balance" the outstandingly fast and transparent Boulder. "Wonder Milky Bitch" (actually more upbeat than its title might lead you to think), from 10,000 Hertz Legend, starts as a spoken story and morphs into song. I was knocked for a loop by how the various instrumental elements on this track set themselves up as separate acoustic entities. They were all totally distinct and separate, yet part of an acoustic whole. This is one well-engineered CD, I can tell you. Listen for the male voice and how deep it emerges from the space between the speakers.
With the Krells, there was a velvety quality throughout the entire frequency spectrum—very sensual and tactile, and important to my enjoyment of the music. There was somewhat more of this textural quality on the Krells than the Linn amps, as I suspected. But the Linn Klimax has always been just like pulling on a Nomex suit and jumping into Juan Pablo Montoya's Formula One Williams/BMW and nailing the throttle on a fast lap. The Krells tilted the sound toward something organic, earthy, sweet yet extended, hugely deep and specific, airy, and still very transparent. Your call. You want it fast and furious? Mate the Boulder 1012 with a fast amp like the Linn Klimax. Want something a bit more sensual? Go for amps like the Krells.
The bass on all the recordings I listened to was totally slammin', as I'm used to hearing from my reference equipment. I got the heft down below that gives the music its legs, especially on tracks 2 and 4 of 10,000 Hertz Legend: deep and very-well-defined bass, if slightly less lightning-quick than the Linn pulled the day before. But listen to the female chorus during the last few minutes of "Wonder Milky Bitch" on Legend. The lyrics are absurd, but it just shows you that how you say something can be as important as what you're sayin'! Total midrange madness—I'm in love! And don't forget to listen for the final cymbals and how long they take to decay into the noise floor, which on the Boulder was extraordinarily low.