Halcro dm10 preamplifier Page 2

It was a total gas to listen through the Halcro to such highly complex sound collages as Manu Chao's Esperanza (CD, Virgin 10321 21), Future Sound of London's The Papua New Guinea Translations (UK CD, Jumpin' and Pumpin' CD TOT52), and Porcupine Tree's Voyage 34: The Complete Trip (UK CD, Delirium DELEC CD074). Such recordings are painstakingly constructed assemblages of multiple interlocking layers. When a component cuts through the murk as thoroughly as did the dm10, not only the details themselves but the spatial, timbral, and temporal relationships of all of those details come together far more precisely, to express the musicians' true intentions with utmost clarity.

But those are highly processed recordings, you say. Fair enough. Put on purely acoustic music such as Kodály's Magnificat, from Philips' demonstration SACD Multichannel Hybrid Disc (no catalog number). The unaccompanied women's chorus floated deliciously out into the room, each voice separate and unique and firmly anchored to a place within the space in which the singer had performed. This was true transparency.

The Halcro's soundstaging is easy to describe: What was on the recording was what came through the dm10, nothing more, nothing less. Timbral balance was generally excellent. Bass was neither exaggerated nor diminished—what was on the CD was what I got. The stride of Ron Carter's upright bass on Jim Hall's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" (SACD, Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2012) was rock-solid, with superb pitch definition. The dm10 handled ultra-deep synthesized low bass with ease and consistent excellence.

Voices and midrange-heavy instruments were presented with openness, harmonic completeness, and wholly individualized character. Carla Bley's Night-glo (LP, WATT/16) features some especially creamy and rich brass and woodwind arrangements on the title track and "Pretend You're In Love." The Aesthetix and Halcro came through like champs on this smoochy adult makeout music. The dm10's midrange and treble were unconditionally grainless and exceedingly smooth, the top octaves very smooth and equally extended—a paradigm of high fidelity.

Some, including our own Sam Tellig, have groused that Halcro's electronics sound a bit cool. While I respectfully disagree with Mr. T as to the dm58, I did hear a meager degree of that coolness in the dm10's line stage. Images were fully formed and dimensional, but ever so slightly less palpable than when heard through the VTL TL-7.5. I occasionally—not often—wished for just a bit more warmth, usually in the dm10's presentation of CDs. Far more often than not, the Halcro's extraordinary resolution and dynamics overcame my petty carping. Perhaps I was simply hearing artifacts of the digital process that have been veiled by other preamps.

Explosive dynamics were also much to the fore. The Poem of Chinese Drums and Hugh Masekela's "Stimela," both from Burmester's Demonstration CD 3, had genuinely startling force from top to bottom. The way the drums popped into space when they enter before the first chorus of Elton John's "Levon," from the remastered Madman Across the Water (Japanese CD, Universal UIC4-9104), was wondrous.

Things happened with almost brutal immediacy through the dm10, and the bigger those moments were, the more powerfully the Halcro rendered them. The gentle moments were all the more gentle. I could have sat and counted the heads and bodies of the individual background singers at the end of Elton's "Tiny Dancer," should I have desired to do so, but why bother? The point of the exercise is music, not such anal-retentive audio geekery.

The music sounded glorious. The Halcro's ability to respond instantaneously to transients, however steep, brought an intensely lifelike quality to the presentation of the piano and guitar. There was no sense of delay or smearing when a key or string was struck, only the sense of an action done in perfect consonance and in real time.

Escape velocity
While I was deeply impressed by the dm10's performance as a "mere" line stage, that didn't prepare me for the quality of its phono stage. I've lived with some remarkable phono preamplifiers: the Aesthetix Io Signature, the Manley Steelhead, and, for a few weeks each, the +$20k FM Acoustics 222 and the two-chassis, $32,000 Boulder 2008. The dm10's phono preamplifier was fully competitive with the Boulder, which is everything Mikey Fremer said it was.

Again, the most remarkable aspect of Halcro's phono stage is its complete and unconditional background silence. The only comparably quiet standalone phono stages I've heard are the megabucks Boulder and the FM Acoustics (footnote 2). The dm10's silence permitted previously unheard microdetails to rise from the noise floor and flesh out the sonic picture in a thousand little ways that added life to the illusion of recorded music.

Start with the best: Hearing Frank Sinatra singing "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" or "One for My Baby," from Only the Lonely (LP, Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-137), through the dm10 was one of those special audio moments. Every detail of the swell and reach of Sinatra's voice, his uncanny ability to internalize and project the bleakest emotions, was simply overwhelming. Those trademark long breaths and subtle pauses had a vividness and authenticity that transcended mere hi-fi. Transient speed plus silence and harmonic bounteousness here equaled virtual reality.

Michael Fremer's acute observation that the greatest components make time move slower was proved time and again as I listened to LPs through the dm10. Things did seem to literally slow down, as more delicate details floated effortlessly into place within the soundscape. Perhaps the best way to describe this phenomenon is that the Halcro, like the Boulder 2008, filled in spaces that lesser phono stages leave empty. The effect was like comparing bedsheets of 150 and 500 thread counts. There's so much more substance in the finer weave—more spaces are filled. Thus it was with LPs through the dm10—the sonic weave was so much finer and more nuanced. And the imaging! Instrumental and vocal images of immense, convincing solidity flowed effortlessly and believably off of LP after LP.

The Jayhawks' cover of "Bad Time," from Tomorrow the Green Grass (LP, American 40036-1), was gorgeous beyond words. That the Jayhawks could infuse this piece of Grand Funk fluff with such soul and yearning is quite something by itself. That it sounded so heart-stoppingly marvelous through the dm10 was something else altogether. Karen Grotfeld's swinging piano and passionate harmony vocals leaped into prominence. The warmth and intimacy of Stan Getz's sax and Astrud Gilberto's voice on Getz/Gilberto (LP, Verve V6-8545) sent tingles up the back of my neck. Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game," from Heart Shaped World (LP, Reprise 25837-1), was pure sensory overload: reverb trails seemed to last forever, so silken and delicate as to approach the erotic. Rickie Lee Jones' fabulous remake of the Left Banke's immortal "Walk Away René," from Girl At Her Volcano (LP, Warner Bros. 23805-1B), was simply ravishing and totally heartbreaking.

Soundstaging was something near ideal. Each record presented a unique and individual picture of instruments and voices in space. The dm10 imparted no extra expansiveness to somewhat boxy-sounding jazz LPs engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, and it let large-scale music, such as Bruno Walter's full-bodied take on Beethoven's Symphony 9 (LP, Columbia Masterworks M2S 608), expand into large, unerringly delineated spaces.

Where, as I described above, the line stage has the skimpiest scrim of cool, the dm10's phono stage was clearly voiced toward a somewhat warmer sound—at least, that's how it sounded to me. The most thought-provoking aspect of this is that the uncanny resolution that is one of the most defining characteristics of Halcro's power amplifiers and the line stage has apparently not been affected by the choices that have been made regarding the phono stage. The combination of phono and line stages in the dm10 produces perhaps the most completely neutral reproduction of LPs that I have ever heard from any component or combination of components.

Coming back to earth after an experience such as that provided by the dm10 takes a little concentration. The oxygen gets very thin at the stratospheric levels of performance offered by this extraordinary preamplifier.

Conventional audio wisdom would dictate that all of Bruce Candy's complex circuitry and relentless application of high technology in the service of sound reproduction would bleach the life, color, and humanity out of the music that comes through it. The dm10 does nothing of the sort. While the line-preamp section of the dm10 is perhaps a couple of ticks toward the cool side of the spectrum, its performance, considered as a whole, has so much to recommend it that minor quibbles become, as is so often the case with components at this exalted level of performance, a matter of taste. But when the phono stage is taken into consideration, any minor reservations vanish. LPs played through the dm10 simply sounded more real than with any other phono stage I have heard, save for the astrally priced Boulder 2008. Even then, I'd have to hear the two stages back to back to determine if the Boulder is in fact superior to the Halcro.

Yes, at $15,990 the Halcro is expensive, but when comparable pairings of line and phono stages are considered, it emerges as, if not a bargain, then at least a fair deal. The closest overall competition that I have heard from multiple components (exempting the dizzyingly expensive Boulder 2008) is the Manley Labs Steelhead paired with the VTL TL-7.5 Reference line stage. Those two, plus a 1m length of, say, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference interconnect, totals $20,800—$5000 more than the Halcro.

But as good as the Steelhead is—and it's superb—the dm10's phono stage is even better. I know of no other full-function preamp that comes standard with such a stellar phono stage, though mbl and Burmester offer modular preamps that can be equipped with phono stages. I have heard neither of these worthies, but within the realm of my experience, the Halcro dm10 is not only a superb line stage, it stands alone as the everything-included-for-one-price preamplifier. Incredibly, Bruce Candy has done it again.

Footnote 2: My memory of the FM Acoustics 222 is vivid, despite the nearly five years that have passed since I last heard it.—Paul Bolin
US distributor: On A Higher Note
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