YG Acoustics Anat Reference II Professional loudspeaker Page 2

And cables themselves? Puh-leeze—let's not even go there. One afternoon, VTL's Luke Manley, my friend Jeff Wong, and I were playing silly audiophile tricks. We substituted Shunyata Research Python Helix Alpha AC cables for the stock pair feeding the Anat Professional's powered subwoofers. I expected to hear little difference, possibly none at all. Au contraire—the bass was audibly better integrated with the rest of the audioband. And another of my certainties bit the dust.

As the French would say, "de trop"
I initially auditioned the Anat Reference II Professionals with the VTL TL-6.5 line-level preamplifier driving my reference Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 power amp, with my Ayre C-5xe universal disc player as a source. After a week or so, Luke Manley dropped off a pair of VTL MB-450 II monoblocks, and I inserted those in the system. The VTLs added a dollop of slam down below, but I began to question the lack of sparkle on top—especially after jazz bassist extraordinaire Jerome Harris dropped by one day and gave them a listen. "Um, are they a tad light on the overtones?" he asked. He continued listening attentively. "No, there's lots of detail, after all."

But I knew what he meant. The detail was there, but it didn't float—whether in triode or pentode mode. I went back to the Nu-Vista, and there the sparkle was again. John Atkinson later dropped off a pair of Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblocks, and that was a match made in heaven: humongous slam, with such sweet, extended highs that I like to died, as we say down south. The point here isn't that the AR II Pros were so darned good at letting me hear differences among components (although they were), but that they weren't a particularly good match for tube output sections, even such superb ones as VTL's—probably something to do with where that 2.75 ohm drop is located.

The first thing I noticed about the Anat References was how completely effortless music sounded—all music, whether chamber music, large orchestral showpieces, or kick-ass rock'n'roll. When I listened to Bobby Hutcherson's vibes on "Mirrors," from The Kicker (CD, Blue Note 21437), the harmonic overtones floated on a springy cushion of air—and they just never died. Joe Henderson's tenor sax was adrift in its own pneumatic cushion, and the dialog between Hutcherson in the left channel and Henderson in the right was as intimate as a whisper. You want a speaker that's sensitive to nuance? You'll love the Anat Reference II Professional.

In "Feather," from Eric Dolphy's Out There (CD, New Jazz/OJC OJCCD-023), Dolphy's alto sax floated above Ron Carter's bowed cello and George Duvivier's pizzicato bass—and all three were life-sized. When Dolphy breaks out of the dreamy, mournful-sounding A section of the piece, his alto leaps aloft into an outburst of birdsong punctuated by Duvivier's deep, deep sauntering (it ain't exactly walking) bass line. Golly gee, the AR II Pros reminded me of how alive Dolphy's music still sounds, 45 years after his death. Most high-end speakers can do that, but the YGAs made it sound freshly minted.

"Only Then," from Jerome Harris's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), is another track whose somber, expectant mood the YGAs seemed preternaturally capable of mining. Billy Drummond's vintage Zildjian cymbals and Gretsch drum kit had never sounded more distinctive to me—I'm sure that some of his most subtle, muted cymbal work had never been as apparent to me, even when I was present while JA mixed this recording. And the subtlest differences in the ways Steve Nelson caressed his vibes into life—well, wow.

I know this recording. My freaking name is on this disc. Hearing it through the AR II Pros was a revelation.

I'm a broken doll, a fol-de-rol, a blop
This is the part of a Stereophile review where the writer compares and contrasts the subject of the review with a similar known (that is to say, previously reviewed) component. In the case of the Anat Reference II Professional, that would be one of the spectacular contenders at the top of Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components"—say, the Focal Utopia Be, B&W 800 Diamond, or Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria. For a variety of reasons, but primarily because none of Stereophile's New York–based writers had review samples of any of these to lend me, I was unable to do such a comparison. I've heard all of those speakers in some detail, and would certainly put the YGAs on the same plane, but we don't review "by memory" here, so I won't even attempt to compare any of them. I'd rather spend more time discussing more precisely why the AR II Pros so impressed me.

Erick Lichte, artistic director of the male choral group Cantus, and engineer John Atkinson graciously burned me a hi-rez version on DVD-A of Cantus's most recent release, the superb While You Are Alive (CD, Cantus CTS-1208). The YGAs floated the nine singers deep in the acoustic of Goshen College's Sauder Hall, anchoring the aural group portrait with astonishingly authoritative personifications of basses Timothy C. Takach and Tom McNichols. One thing that immediately leapt out at me was that this incarnation of Cantus was not the same as the first one I heard, in 2000. Only Takach, baritone Adam Reinwald, and tenor Michael Hanawalt remain from that group, and while the ensemble sound has remained true to the original group's principles (phenomenally stable bass lines, for instance), the YGAs enabled me to hear how different the sound of the current lineup is.

But most of all, the YGAs were so adept at presenting dynamic details that, instead of simply making the music come alive, they presented living, breathing musicians making music in my living room.

Speaking of dynamic detail, recordings that I normally might have found melodically interesting but dynamically two-dimensional, such as Yolanda Kondonassis' Air: Music of Debussy & Takemitsu (CD, Telarc CD-80694), were anything but. Let's face it, harps are pretty, but dynamically limited—at least, they come across that way on recordings. However, I've heard in concert halls, such as Carnegie or the Metropolitan Opera, how a single harp can cut through massed strings with amazing clarity. On record, not so much.

Through the YGAs, Air was a revelation. Kondonassis is the exception that tests the rule: her harp is expressive, incisive, and haunting. The faux japonaiserie of Debussy, and Toru Takemitsu's harder-edged real thing, make for a remarkable program; whether performing solo, or interacting with flutist Joshua Smith or the ensemble Oberlin 21, Kondonassis is the center of melodic and, yes, dynamic expression. Wow—a speaker that makes me reevaluate an entire instrument's capabilities.

Telarc's SACD Sampler 6 (Telarc SACD-60013) proved a garden of wonders. Kudos to Telarc for so fiercely championing the SACD format. From the delicacy of guitarist David Russell's performance of Malagueña to the explosive orchestral and choral orgasm that is Michael Gandolfini's The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, the YGAs produced the goods, alternating scale and impact to match the performance. The Adagio of Bruckner's Symphony 5, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra led by Benjamin Zander, was intense and massive, the soundstage so huge I could have walked into it and wandered around for an hour or so.

Lest you get the impression that neutrality is audiospeak for lack of affect, I must note that, while I have no doubt that the YGAs do measure ruler-flat, they are emphatically not what audiophiles like to call clinical. Listening to music through them is not an exercise in "spot the recording flaws" (although you will). In recording after recording, I was impressed by how emotional my response to the music was. On one of the last days before I began writing this review, my wife and I were relaxing in the listening room, reading and idly listening to Ruggiero Ricci's Paganini's Dreams (CD, John Marks Recordings JMR 11, now available from www.ArkivMusic.com—yippie!). Somewhere around Ricci's setting of Chopin's Souvenir de Paganini, we had essentially stopped reading and were listening in slack-jawed wonder at the violinist's gorgeous tone and the power of the music.

"That's lovely," my wife eventually commented. "Have I heard this before?"

"Not like this," I said. "Not quite like this."

But baby, if I'm the bottom, you're the top
Flaws? The YGA Anat Reference II Professional is freaking big. It doesn't like tube power amplifiers. A pair of them won't blend into the décor—although the silver ones I auditioned faded into the background about as much as two 440-lb, nearly 6'-tall loudspeakers can. And they're expensive. Those aren't complaints. They're just facts.

In building the Anat Reference II Professional, YG Acoustics invests a lot of money in research, materials, and labor. You might not be able to afford them (me neither), but it's hard to argue that they're overpriced. Could you be satisfied with a less expensive loudspeaker? Sure you could. I could, too—in fact, sometime in the near future, I'll have to. But in the meantime, when I want to hear what a recording really sounds like, I'll want to hear it through the Anat Reference II Professionals.

Like my pappy used to say, it ain't braggin' if you can actually do it.

YG Acoustics Computerized Loudspeaker Labs LLC
4941 Allison St., Unit 10
Arvada, CO 80002
(720) 840-6441