Ensemble B-50 "Tiger" integrated amplifier System
This section is going to be awkward to describe; within a matter of minutes of hooking up and listening to the Ensemble "Tiger," I knew it would serve as my new reference. Up until that time I had used, and been content with, a pair of Quicksilver monoblocks fed by either the Counterpoint SA-3000 preamp or a Reference Line Model 2000 passive line-control interface (with a Vendetta Research SCP-2B supplying the phono signal). The B-50 displaced those components in one fell swoop, leaving me with my Acoustat Model 2 speakers, strategically placed RoomTunes, and source components. My front-end remains the VPI Mk.III turntable fitted with the Eminent Technology 2 tonearm, its air bearing ably supported by the Wisa pump and surge tank (courtesy of Herb Wolf). The Monster Alpha Genesis 1000 cartridge continues to impress me with its resolving power, musicality, and non-fatiguing listening character.
The rather low output (0.2mV) of the Monster did not pose a problem for the Ensemble's PA-2 "De Luxe" phono module (56 ohms loading). I was able to get more than enough gain (for my smallish room) from the B-50 with the volume control set between noon and 2 o'clock. Thanks to the easy interchangeability of arm tubes on the ET 2, I was able to listen to a Grado TLZ as well, an experience which reawakened my respect for this cartridge. It reminded me of what a great performer it is, excelling in soundstage retrieval, the ease with which it presents the music, and its yin sonic character. It resides at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Monster (yang in character), yet continues to provide an equally enjoyable and involving listening experience. Changing from MC to MM cartridges is done by sliding a switch inside the PA-2 phono module. Adjusting the load on MC cartridges is accomplished in the "De Luxe" PA-2 by inserting the appropriate resistors in gold pin-sockets located on the PC board just to the left of the MC/MM slide switch.
My CD player arsenal consists of the California Audio Labs Tercet Mk.III and the Tempest II "Special Edition" (no longer in production). I have heard few players which involve me so much in the music and succeed so well in bridging the gap between analog and digital reproduction. I have not listened at length to any of the outboard D/A converters, signal processors, or CD transports which my colleagues embrace. I prefer simplicity in my system and remain reluctant to increase its expense and complication. I would rather spend the money on those new or used LPs I've been looking for. Perhaps when the CD currents subside and the sound of CDs is not so affected by the various tweaks in vogue these days, I'll change my mind. (It seems strange, doesn't it, to see so many cures, so quickly, for a new format which promised to provide "perfect sound forever"?)
Interconnect and speaker cable is Ensemble Supraflux ($59/meter, $254/terminated meter pair) and Hotline ($64/meter), respectively. They have replaced the TARA Labs Pandora and AudioQuest Lapis interconnect and TARA Space and Time speaker cable I had been using. In my job as an equipment reviewer, I've had the opportunity to experiment with many different brands of cable. Some have pleased me more than others; as of this review, the Ensemble cable pleases me most. I feel the Ensemble interconnect and speaker cable represents outstanding value. It is easy to work with, relatively inexpensive, attractive-looking, and neither adds colorations to nor subtracts information from the musical signal. It "projects" the music wonderfully. It's as neutral a cable as I've heard, and I intend to leave it in the system.
I live in an apartment building; the incoming "grundge-ridden" AC at the wall outlet is subject to voltage fluctuations (generally higher in the evening). To ensure a constant and clean voltage to my components and speakers, I use an Ensemble Isotrans isolation transformer ($1090), a Tripplite LCR-2400 ($399), and an Adcom ACE-515 ($179). My Acoustats are plugged into the Tripplite; components, including the B-50, are plugged into the Adcom ACE-515 which is plugged into the Isotrans. These products make a positive and significant difference in the sound of the system. It's as if a veil has been lifted from the musical performance. Silences between notes are more "silent," less smearing of notes is heard in rapidly articulated, harmonically dense solo piano passages, soundstaging is improved, and low bass sounds clearer and stronger with better pitch definition. There is also more there there. These differences are especially noticeable when playing CDs (hmm...). If your system is capable of high resolution and you're not using an AC power-line conditioner, I urge you to try one. You may be surprised and elated at the dramatic improvement in the sound of the music you love.—Guy Lemcoe