Boulder 2008 phono preamplifier & 2010 preamplifier Page 3
The closest I'd come to that feeling before was the first time I'd heard the original Connoisseur phono section, designed by Peter Mares. That model made the music "make sense" in a similar fashion, mostly due to its rhythmic control. The Boulder 2008 was even more intense and overwhelming, though that might have been due in part to improvements made since in the rest of my system.
Most listeners prefer a delivery in which moments in recorded musical time and space are presented like bubbles that drift off or pop, only to be replaced by new bubbles—or like clouds that appear to have substance and shape but whose appearance is transformed almost magically before your eyes. When that approach becomes too severe, music sounds softer than life, almost formless, and lacking in rhythmic drive or physical presence.
Some listeners prefer a more solid delivery; when that's overdone, music sounds grainy, mechanical, and "etchy"—almost compartmentalized, as if trapped in a series of boxes that are opened one at a time. It seems that when we try to reproduce live music electronically and mechanically we're bound to that continuum, and end up on one side or the other of it.
I did very few comparisons of the Boulder 2008 with other phono sections. Take two very different people each speaking for five minutes each. One is a great public speaker who can suspend time—five minutes can be mesmerizing, all-encompassing, and seem to go by as if it were five seconds. The other makes five minutes empty, boring, and lasting an eternity. Instead of floating by in a series of meaningful images that we can grip and release, the words pile up and weigh us down.
Music—live or recorded—can be presented in those two ways as well. We've all heard live music that mesmerizes and live music that suffocates. We've heard it reproduced both ways as well. Well, the Boulder 2008 gripped, mesmerized, suspended time, and communicated profoundly. It didn't make stupid music profound. It made stupid music profoundly stupid.~~
How did it do that? It reproduced musical attack with just enough edge, and let it decay and dissolve with complete authority. Its sense of musical time was stupendous. Everything arrived on time and left the same way, as it does when you hear music live. And when the music was "there" it wasn't a bubble but a physical construction, a monument. But the 2008 managed to then send in a wrecking crew to remove the structure in time for the next one to be built in the same space. It built and razed one edifice after another in an explosion of musical and sonic images. I was left as overwhelmed as when I'm listening to the real thing. We've all had this listening experience as our systems improve. But compared to everything else I've ever heard, with the Boulder it was no incremental improvement but an enormous one.
I pulled out Count Basie's 88 Basie Street (Pablo 2310 901), an LP I'd never heard before but that's been lurking on a shelf for years. It features both big-band and small-combo tracks, and was recorded at Ocean Way in 1983 and engineered by Allen Sides. It's fairly closely miked, but demonstrated the 2008's stupendously rich tonal purity and harmonic integrity. The recording is explosive; when the Count digs into the lower keys, the 2008 pumped up the volume while maintaining perfect control of those hard-to-reproduce low-bass notes. The Boulder got the plunger-muted trumpet—also hard to get right—with just the right amount of hard grit in the transient without developing an unnatural edge. The result was round and piercing at the same time, as it is live. It just sounded right. And the 2008 not only did dynamics at both ends of the scale better than any piece of electronics I've ever heard, it managed to express small changes in dynamic structure on very familiar recordings in ways I'd never heard before.
The Boulder 2008 is, by far, the best-sounding and -performing phono preamplifier I've ever heard. It is also, by far, the most expensive. I have no complaints about the sound—it is absolutely stunning, spectacular, and, as far as I can tell, faultless in every area of performance: soundstaging, imaging, dynamics, harmonics, frequency extension, solidity, "bloom" (from transistors?)—you name it. If you have a chance to hear it, don't pass it up—you'll hear what I'm talking about in five minutes or less. What you'll hear above all else is the 2008's seamlessness: within a given recording, everything seemed cut from the same roll of continuous musical cloth. Among different recordings, the Boulder imparted less of its own personality than any other phono section I've heard. I found it impossible to discover any sonic constants among the records I auditioned that might yield a clue to its intrinsic sound.