Listening #101 Page 2

That reminds me to remind you to use numbers as a guide, but not to let them be The Decider. Don't cheat yourself out of hearing some amazing combinations, such as using the Hommage T1 transformer—the input impedance and turns ratio of which are very low and very high, respectively—with EMT's highest-output pickup heads: Like bumblebees and copious amounts of second-order distortion, it shouldn't fly but it does. Bear in mind, too, that the greatest of all modern ironies takes root in the world of fashion: The garments most associated with the axiom one size fits all are the ones we wear on our heads.

With the One-to-Ten in my system, sandwiched between the EMT TSD 15 pickup head and the 47k ohm phono inputs of my Shindo Masseto preamp, music sounded more transcendently, touchably wonderful than the Silvercore's relatively humble price might have led me to expect. Dynamic nuances—the touch of music—were excellent, from disc to disc. Listening to the pizzicato strings in the fourth and final movement of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Op.115, recorded a half-century ago by members of the Vienna Octet (Decca SXL 2297, in one of Speakers Corner's finest reissues), the terrain of their physical presence, for want of a better word, was distinct and solid. At the louder end of the scale, when I listened to the indispensable 1976 recording of Beethoven's Symphony 7 by Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic—in which neither conductor nor orchestra hit their stride until three or four minutes into the first movement, but which is incandescent thereafter (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2530 706)—the sense of abandon with which the timpani are played came across better than ever.

The One-to-Ten had a rich, lovely way with timbral colors. The double basses in the Kleiber Beethoven were thick and velvety, with a generous but by no means excessive decay. The same was true of the string sound in the Ramor Quartet's recording of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht (LP, Vox Turnabout TV 54032 S): rosiny, resiny, and right.

Another good test of a transformer is that it resist being overwhelmed by intense musical passages (although to fail in that regard is just as often a matter of electrical mismatching, given the ease with which overloading can occur; see paragraph 7 and temporarily disregard footnote 3). The Silvercore One-to-Ten, presumably well chosen, performed brilliantly in that regard. Like most of Elgar's oratorios, The Music Makers has some densely scored measures, as one can hear in the recording by Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic (EMI ASD 2311). The Silvercore remained poised throughout, never sounding strident or artificial—yet never with a shortage of force in even the softest passages, such as the five-note rhythmic figure that precedes Janet Baker's penultimate solo.

Unlike Silvercore's other phono transformers, the One-to-Ten doesn't have a switch for lifting the ground connection (although they all have the same very nice banana-plug ground socket). The lack of a lift wasn't a problem in my system, where quiet, hum-free performance was had by grounding my EMT 997 tonearm straight to my Shindo Masseto preamp and leaving the Silvercore's ground connection unused. Physically, of course, the One-to-Ten was position-sensitive: Audible hum could be induced by moving the transformer casing too close to the power-supply end of the preamp—but that's common to every trannie I've tried.

I just about adored this transformer. Hell, I even loved the box it came in: Rather than wrapping it in last week's newspaper (which pisses me off because it's insultingly inappropriate for an expensive product), or putting it in some elaborately made jewelry box of a thing (which pisses me off because I know my money isn't going where it ought to go), Silvercore packages the One-to-Ten in a lidded box of pulpy gray fiber, held together with silver-colored rivets. Just about perfect: a nicely made, nicely styled thing that isn't foolishly lavish—but that I needn't hide in a closet.

My enthusiasm for Silvercore's One-to-Ten doesn't mean I've banished its predecessors from my home and my heart. Indeed, the intensely huge and dramatic-sounding Hommage T1 ($4995) remains, for me, the one to beat. At the more affordable end of the spectrum, the phono transformers offered by Bob's Devices are enduringly good, and enduringly superb values. (Little else can be said of a company that locates, tests, sorts, and sells vintage Altec transformers for as little as $700.) Consider, too, that the always-recommendable step-up kit from K&K Audio has just been upgraded with a new version of Lundahl's own amorphous-core transformers.

But the Silvercore One-to-Ten is a standout. It sounds far better than average—forceful and dramatic, yet colorful and sweet—with the historic EMT pickup head, and sells for considerably less than average. I don't know how an imported audio product this good and this pretty can be made to sell for just $585, but I'm thoroughly impressed.

Totally spherical
I admit feeling blasé about any audio designer whose product line zigs and zags from one extreme idea to another, and that's especially true when it comes to phono cartridges. Sure: having a choice of different output levels is great. Ditto different stylus types, and maybe even different cantilever materials. But when I see too little theme and too much variation—particularly troubling are motor structures that are grossly dissimilar from one model to the next—I lose interest, if only because it seems to me that the best products have usually come from people whose point of view is distinct and unwavering.



Footnote 3: By believable I mean "quantified data adhering to scientific principles that are recognized by the majority of experts as germane to the discussion at hand," and not the sort of "I have concluded, after a week of speculation, daydreaming, and doodling in the margins of my Twilight notebook, that Cleopatra was a sexually liberated and intellectually advanced master of diplomacy" nonsense that passes as scholarly work within the rotted carcass of American higher education and the burning whorehouse of mainstream publishing.
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