Music Reference RM-200 power amplifier Page 3
The overall tonal picture was "classic" good tube-amp sound: the bottom was not as extended, well-damped, and focused as you might hear from a top-rated solid-state amp, and the midbass presentation had a hint of thumpiness about it, but, unlike the Kora Cosmos, the RM-200's bottom was sufficiently well presented to not become a noticeable issue and to keep the rhythmic thrust of the music moving forward. Mids were silky-smooth, rich, and detailed, with just the right amount of bloom and plushness, while the top end was sweet, grain-free, and impressively fast and extended.
The midband richness did not come at the expense of transparency. Tape hiss audible on familiar recordings through my reference Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 was also audible through the RM-200, which seemed to thread the sonic needle between the weighty sound of the Hovland Sapphire and the speedy, airy presentation of the Kora Cosmos.
JVC continues to pump out superb-sounding XRCDs, including many from RCA's Living Stereo catalog. During the review period I received, among others, the 1962 recording of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, with Fritz Reiner and the CSO (JMCXR-0011, originally RCA LSC-2609). While the '62 performance lacks some of the grandeur and magic of the '54, particularly in the performance of the string section, and the multimiking reduces the uncanny spaciousness of the '54 version, large-scale dynamics are thunderous, and the full weight of the orchestra descended on my listening space like a careening freight train. The impressive focus and instrumental layering I noted on LP was evident on this CD, which I listened to often before switching back to my reference Nu-Vista 300. (The Nu-Vista is hybrid in the opposite way: tubes at the input, transistors at the output.)
The RM-200's overall presentation was far closer to my Nu-Vista 300 than to any of the other amplifiers I've surveyed this year—especially in terms of spatiality and in the amp's ability to delineate individual instruments. The Kora Cosmos' presentation was expansive and fast (some might say "bright" on top, but not I), while the Hovland was somewhat slower and thicker (some might say "leaden," but again...). When I substituted the Nu-Vista for the RM-200, the overall presentation was remarkably similar, with two noticeable exceptions: the Nu-Vista's bass performance was deeper and tighter. This translated, for example, into more dynamic, firmly focused, and drier-sounding timpani, with more of the kettle and less of the skin. And, of course, the organ plumbed the depths and shook my listening room. The RM-200's bass presentation was more palpable in terms of presenting skin and mallet. This gave it a greater sense of realism in some ways, but the foundation was somewhat weaker.
The other big difference was in the mids. Where the Nu-Vista 300 tends toward dryness and perhaps a bit of a recessed quality, the RM-200 bloomed gently forward, giving strings an intoxicating but not overly ripe presentation. It's the midrange tube lovers crave, even if it comes at the expense of an ultra-solid foundation. What most impressed me about the RM-200's presentation was its overall similarity to the Nu-Vista 300, not how it was different. I felt very little had to be given up in bottom-end authority, with much to be gained in the middleµnlike the Kora Cosmos, which was weak on bottom, or the Hovland, which had trouble expressing depth and air.
Each of those amplifiers had admirable traits, and the Hovland's overall balance still strikes me as among the best I've heard in terms of not letting the seams show. But its deficiencies, for me, were too obvious for my long-term listening satisfaction. I felt more comfortable with the RM-200's overall performance.
I don't know what the RM-200's power output will measure on the test bench, but it never ran out of power driving the Audio Physic Avanti IIIs, even with the most explosive orchestral crescendos at very high SPLs. It always kept its composure, maintaining its even-keeled tonal balance and spatial presentation at high and low SPLs. And it was subjectively quiet.
Toward the end of the review period I got around to auditioning a fabulous-sounding hybrid SACD, Four in One, by the Misha Mengelberg Quartet (Songlines SGL SA1535-5), recorded by the great Joe Ferla (another believer in the power of power cords). Cross Harpo Marx with Victor Borge and add a twist of Keith Jarrett (or a twisted Keith Jarrett) and you have Mengelberg, who plays here with fellow Dutchman Han Bennink on percussion, Brad Jones on bass, and trumpeter Dave Douglas (who also produced the set). Through the Marantz SA-14 SACD player, the SACD layer produced some of the most pronounced 3D instrumental images I've heard. On the Marantz or on the Musical Fidelity 3D CD player, the disc's CD layer tended to flatten, mushing the images together. The RM-200's ability to distinguish the two presentations was yet another indication of its impressive spatial abilities, and probably of its good signal/noise ratio.