Final Laboratory Music-4 phono preamplifier, Music-5 line preamplifier, & Music-6 power amplifier Page 3

I think a lot of that sense of ease derived from the Final system's musicality—a word that I use for its obvious meaning, and not the one that comes to us from the decoder-ring world of "bloom" and "caramel colorations." These products played music well, meaning they communicated pitches and rhythms without the subtle distortions that cloud meaning and result in indifference, fatigue, or annoyance. With the Finals, music was never uninteresting or hard to follow.

There was more to it than that, of course, and while you and I have probably heard a few different amps that get the notes and beats right, that doesn't mean we could cozy up nightly with every one of them. But the Finals got a lot of other things right, too—like music's natural sense of flow. On Elizabeth de la Porte's 1982 recording of the J.S. Bach's six keyboard Partitas (Hyperion), the Final system avoided the relentless, mechanical sound that some gear imparts to music of this sort: All too often, the Baroque harpsichord's warmth, momentum, and sheer humanness are lost amid the pluck and clang.

Here, the Final gear was nothing less than extraordinary: natural, nonfatiguing, and downright organic. It wasn't quite what I'd call "liquid," but then, neither is the music itself. The idea I want to get across is that of the loudspeakers simply and easily exuding Bach's intellect and artistry via the Finals, instead of extruding it like metal (or the aforementioned Play-Doh).

The de la Porte recording is decidedly fussy-sounding: Someone went to too much trouble to mike the harpsichord so that one register's strings come out on one side, and the other's on the other, the result being a spatial perspective not unlike that of a dust mite in the instrument itself. Nonetheless, the Finals got to the natural heart of the music, enough so that that sonic shortcoming shouldn't distract (unless you want it to, in which case you're a hopelessly obsessive audiophile).

The Final Music amps got the notes and the beats and the flow—and they got a lot of the color, too, like the dark pungency (or pungent darkness) of the clarinet in the 1962 recording of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (Decca), available as a superb LP reissue from Speakers Corner). I believe the Finals were as free of obvious frequency-response problems or "colorations" as any amps or preamps I've ever heard—within their apparent bandwidth limitation, that is. Most notably, the Final system's top end didn't sound all that extended to me—not because instruments or voices were made to sound dark (they didn't), but because I simply didn't hear as much in the way of air and sparkle with them as I do with my regular gear.

But over the months I had them here, I also came to think the Finals were missing an overlay of top-end hash, hiss, and general zizzzz that I'd otherwise taken for granted as part of the home listening experience. This amplifying system, for which the manufacturer claims a frequency response that goes from DC to 100kHz, may make you wonder how much of the air on your records is really air—or really there.

Nevertheless, in getting a handle on the quality of these products, it was their smoothness I kept coming back to: They were the least grainy-sounding electronics I've heard. Most of the time, that smoothness sounded right to me, but sometimes it sounded wrong—as if the Musics were missing a bit of texture that ought to be there. But was that me missing a distortion I'd come to love, or the Finals glossing over a sonic subtlety? Beats me.

The Finals never offended, but neither did they ever quite reach the heights of excitement—of musical drama—that I can attain fairly regularly with other gear. You'll notice that I haven't mentioned their way with rock music yet, and there's a reason for that: It wasn't their strong suit. They did quite a nice job with pop and rock of a more "mannered" sort; eg, those artfully compressed records that came out of England in the early 1970s—David Bowie's Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, The Move's Looking On and Message from the Country—even late Beatles things like Abbey Road and Let It Be.