On A Higher Note: Graham Audio, Moonriver, Bergmann, Cardas

It's a personal thing, perhaps a shortcoming: I don't care for harps, having never heard a piece of harp music I found appealing. Truthfully, that didn't suddenly change when I heard French Canadian harpist Isabeau Corriveau perform in the Embassy Suites room outfitted with hi-fi gear from On a Higher Note, distributor Philip O'Hanlon's company. (O’Hanlon can be seen on the right in the photo.) But Corriveau is a fetching presence and a helluva musician, and it was impressive to listen to her play along to A Leap of Faith, a vinyl disc of her own music. With eyes closed, I had a hard time reliably delineating the sonic boundary between live instrument and recorded music.

That level of challenge indicated highly capable speakers—in this case, a pair of Graham Audio LS8/1 standmounts, their iconically British design and character much akin to Wharfedale Lintons and Harbeth SHL5s. The Grahams retail for $9700/pair including stands. (During her performance, Corriveau was seated right between them, leading O'Hanlon to quip that she was "the most fantastic center channel" we'd ever hear.)

Driving the speakers were a Moonriver 404 Reference integrated amplifier and 505 phono stage ($5995 each), fed by a Danish-made Bergmann Modi turntable ($17,000)—all of it connected by Cardas Clear cables. Unusually, the Grahams were positioned along the long wall of the standard hotel room, about 7.5' apart, putting the listening position just 6' away. While that wasn't ideal on paper, it worked out pretty excellently. I enjoyed the delicateness of Joe Chambers' brushwork on saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Penelope," and the caramel-colored, mysterious quality of Melanie De Biasio's voice on "Your Freedom is the End of Me." The system generated a sweet midrange purity, erring on the side of mellow rather than incisive—correctly so, to my ears.