Art et Son, On a Higher Note, MoonRiver, Graham Audio, Bergman Audio, Artesania, Cardas

"Are you sure there are no tubes in the chain?" I asked On a Higher Note's Philip O'Hanlon, North American distributor of the BBC-inspired Graham Audio speaker line, in Montreal retailer Art et Son's room. Philip was sitting with me listening to an LP of Belgian singer Mélanie De Biasio. He responded to my question with a grin and a chin-jab toward the amplifier in use, a 50Wpc solid state MoonRiver 404 Reference integrated ($5995; see Jason Victor Serinus’s Stereophile review), a modular design that includes such luxuries as a balance control and a stereo/mono switch and can accommodate an MM or MM/MC phono stage and a asynchronous-USB DAC.

I asked because it was hard to believe that the sound I was hearing—intimate, focused, introspective, seamless, super tactile, and vividly colorful—was coming from a solid state amplifier and not, say, a SET amp. Of course, it wasn't just the amp making this "midrange magic", as Philip likes to describe the character of his systems, correctly in my view. Also doing work were a Bergman Audio Modi air-bearing turntable with an air-bearing linear tracking tonearm ($17,000 for both), a Hana ML MC cartridge ($1200), a MoonRiver 505 phono stage ($5995), and a pair of Graham Audio LS8/1 speakers ($9700/pair (US price) including stands and spikes). Designed by Derek Hughes as an homage to the Spendor BC1 created by his father, Spencer Hughes, the LS8/1 is equipped with both a tweeter and super tweeter and, according to Philip, can deliver 10dB more output than the original BC1. Racks and platforms were by Artesania Audio, and cables were from the Cardas Audio Clear series.

This system delivered sound so pure and inviting, I felt helplessly compelled to hang on to every detail. It sucked me in as way few systems can.