ESP Concert Grands
My final audition before attending the warm, "family affair" Classics Records press conference took place in Elliot Midwood's Acoustic Image room, which displayed gear he sells at his store in Studio City, CA. Once I spyed the same ESP Concert Grand SI speakers ($40,000/pair ) that drove John Marks into ecstasy in April, I had to listen. Amplification came complements of Wavestream Kinetic V8 monoblocks, which output 250–300W in triode mode ($35,000). Also on hand were the fabled Messenger preamp and the Lector four-chassis CD Drive and DAC ($9000).
The multi-layered physical set-up [see photo], with plants, graphic in the center, and panels laid out in a most attractive three-dimension array seemed to promise depth and excitement. Happily, the equipment lived up to the visual fantasy.
As the first notes of my trusty Reference Recordings Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances CD began to sound, Elliot asked me about volume level. "Don't make it too loud," I said. "I don't know how dynamic these amps are."
I'm sure glad I put on the brakes. The difference between soft and loud on my trusty CD was the most extreme I've ever heard it. The fortes in fact seemed to overwhelm the room, their lifelike power and size calling for a much larger space.
Soon the intensity downshifted several notches. First came the solo woodwinds, rich, lush, and ineffably beautiful, followed by Rachmaninoff's unforgettable, heart-gripping theme. The sound was so beautiful and compelling that all thoughts of leaving the room vanished. Off with the mind, away with the adjectives, down with the eyelids. For the next several minutes, I reveled in the kind of musical revelation that makes trekking from room to room at countless shows worthwhile.