A Definitive Experience - Guest Staring SME30, Opus 21, Lots of Kondo and some big Horns!
To be frank I’m not sure where to start, but the ramble that follows is my best shot at describing the experience and sounds heard at Definitive Audio on Tuesday.
First up Definitive Audio is not the place I imagined it would be. There is no escaping the fact that a Kondo price list makes scary reading, add to that the cost of some of the Living Voice Horn Speaker Systems and you could be forgiven for expecting to find a slightly intimidating environment. The reality thankfully is very different. In fact if your expecting a glass fronted gin palace full of stuck up salespeople then you will be very disappointed. What stands in front of you instead are two padlocked green doors on the side of a bloody enormous mill. You need to find the doorbell to get let in, but once pressed the experience begins. I’ll not waste time describing what lies within, it’s a HiFi sweetshop! If you like Valves you’ve just found a heaven that you’ll only understand when you see it for yourself. The next thing you won’t be able to find are any suited and booted salesmen, instead and thankfully you quickly become Kevin and Lynn’s guest. It’s as simple as that, so with a coffee in hand the serious stuff began.
SME Model 30 Turntable, Kondo wired SME V arm, IO-J Cartridge.
Kondo KSL Sfz Step up
Kondo M77 Phono Pre
Kondo Gakuoh Monos
Living Voice OBXRs
The first thing that hit me was the shear presence and scale that the SME30 has. We were listening to Fink’s Fresh Produce and the SME presented rock solid bass lines without losing sight of the detail or the subtleness of the many layers of sound. It was all there, presented with complete confidence yet totally unforced. The drive and stability made it feel like the stylus could plough a field without the slightest bit of protest. This is an awesome turntable and is a testament to everything that keeps the vinyl faith going! It was at this point that another thing struck me about Kevin. He is totally fluent in music. It almost sounds odd saying that, but when you look around at Definitive you see so much music. There are racks and racks full of CD’s, there are walls of vinyl, and I do mean walls!!!
If you ask Kevin how many LPs he has then the only answer you’ll get is not enough! In the Dem room there is a coffee table in front of you that resembles the morning after the night before. Its covered in stacks of CD’s and piles of Vinyl. On the day we spoke more about music than the kit, and just one hour in poor Lee was already counting the cost of more ‘must have’ tunes! It was easy to forget about the HiFi altogether, and I guess the totally effortless quality of the kit in front of us made that all the more possible. I sat there for a while trying to analyse what the HiFi was doing but it was pointless. Bass? Yep plenty, with shape texture and tone. Was the HiFi pushing it forward or trying to rearrange your internal organs? Erm nope. Was it laid back then? No, not really. It was just there. Treble? Yep that’s there too! Does it feel like its going to cut your skin? Nope. Is it dull then? Absolutely not. The whole envelope of music is just there, hanging in front of you and sounding so alive and real that I swear you can hear it breathing. Its rich, its detailed, its controlled without being constrained, but above all else its just totally effortless. We looked at the SME10 for a few seconds, but after the SME30 we all knew it was pointless. As good as the SME10 is, it was only ever going to sound a bit thin and dry in comparison. One thing I like about my Orbe is its warmth and body. OK its not up there with the SME30 but we sensed the SME10 would be a step backwards in that area. The SME10 has the potential to score points back in terms of pitch stability and maybe drive, but its going to take at least the 20 to add back the warmth and charm to go with it. Food for thought and another worry for the Bank Manager! Just as I was thinking all that through, Kevin cued up ‘The Detroit Experiment’ and the SME30 simply had the last word.
Well actually not quite the last word! That belonged with out any shadow of doubt to these.
Its still with a sense of disbelief that I say the SME30 experience was relegated to the warm up act by these horns. The words fuck, fuck fuck and fuckitty fuck fuck still seem as relevant now as they were when I typed them a couple of days ago. Although I’m still listening to the iPod in the hope that the memory can be erased enough to enjoy my own system, I have no regrets. None at all, in fact it was a thoroughly enjoyable education in what is possible if money and space were no object. The fact I’ll never be able to afford these without 6 lucky numbers means I won’t lose a single nights sleep. I’ll dream though, and I’ll wake up knowing that no beer goggles are needed, because in the cold light of day this is still the best musical experience I’ve ever had. In fact the biggest challenge I have is trying to describe what it sounded like to you lot, so I’ll start with the easy bit, the kit;
Opus 21 CD Player
Kondo M1000 Pre Amp (later replaced with Kondo M77)
2 Pairs of Kondo Gakuoh Monos
Them Horns and big Bass Bins!
It took approximately 5 seconds to realise that this was special beyond normal words. The first thing that hit me was the volume of sound, and I don’t mean in dBs I mean as in cubic meters. We were sat in a big room with tall ceilings and yet it was instantly filled with a whole orchestra. This to all intents and purposes felt like sitting in the Albert hall. I can’t even harp on about soundstage, because it felt like I was actually in it. The sound is so different to more conventional speakers, so much more effortless and unrestrained. The swell of the orchestra rising from the quietest pin drop to full onslaught had me laughing out loud. The dynamic swing was breathtaking. Absolutely remarkable. ‘That’s just not fair’ were Lee’s first words! Mine were still stuck in my throat. A couple of hours seemed to pass in minutes, and we sat there either stunned into silence or laughing out loud at a stupendous bass note. Orchestras, female vocalists, pop music, even some Pork recordings came and went all leaving lasting impressions. Impressions that were so real that getting the artists autographs felt possible. The horns delivered without effort. Even at full onslaught they were just ticking over, like a Bugatti Veyron at a mere 150mph. I can’t say anymore. There should be a law passed that says all audiophools should hear something like this at least once in their life. All I can say is that I hope at some point, my life treats me to another go!
So that’s it, Hawk’s first go at a proper review and it reads like I wet my pants! Truth be known I probably did, but the last thing that struck me was that despite all this high end lunacy Definitive Audio, or the Kevin and Lynn show which somehow seems more appropriate, has its feet firmly on the ground. It seems to be driven by both their love of music and surprisingly to me at least, most of their business is done at more normal price levels. I think the sight of the little Sugden Bijous and A21SE made Lee feel at home, and for me the Puresound A30 reminded me there is still life after Kondo! What matters most is the music.
……………… And of course the M77 as featured here with its clothes off