In Jeff Rowland amplification I believe that I have found the perfect combination of speed, clarity, low level resolution, harmonic rightness and musical relaxation.
These amps have been the basis of my system for a long time. There are more outgoing/forward sounding amps around, but none so far can match the refined subtlety that the Rowlans are capable of. For digital, there are a couple of components that I like a lot. For example the dCS Delius/Purcell stack has absolutely amazing low level detailing but it is ever so slightly too clinical for me. Wadia has lifelike solidity, dynamics, rhythm and soundstaging but it is often too dry for me and my system. My current favorite source is the Mark Levinson no.390S cd player. Contrary to what you might expect, this is one analog-sounding player. Really, it is effortlessly fluid and relaxed, while not falling over the edgy rhythmwise. It can really rock yet is never agressive or edgy.
You should also know that my choice of speakers are a demanding factor in source component selection. Because the Magnepan MG3.6R's are so very open and uncoloured, I cannot really appreciate equipment that is too analytical. My speakers just lack the colour and sunstance to fill in the blanks when using very neutral equipment. This is why I employ Transparent cables and Jeff Rowland amplifiers. Rowland and Transparent not so much colour the sound, but they do add a subtle refinement and rightness, some "magic", something that I cannot quite put into words, but something you easily hear when comparing with other components and cables.
So, in wrapping up, I always seek for musicality and an emotional response first, and neutrality, accuracy, focus etc secondly. I don't much care for clinical precision or lifelike dynamics and attack but also can't stand it when music sounds slow, muddy and congested.
The emotional response comes first. Points are scored if the music moves me.
I value refinement and subtle low level detailing over dynamic contrasts.
Fluidity and airyness in the treble is something I can't easily live without, but it shouldn't come at the expense of harmonic fullness.
Focus is less important than overall feel, but I don't like fuzzy imaging.
I like deep bass and I rather have it tuneful than very dry and accurate, but it shouldn't be too fat or too inarticulate.
Thank you for reading, hopefully I've been able to make clear what I'm looking for in musical reproduction and thereby helping you understand my reviews.
What is important to me in highend audio? What are my preferences? I figured that it would probably help a lot in interpreting my reviews if you know what I like and what I find important in highend audio.
Over the years I have had many systems. Mostly I changed the source components but I also did some amp- and speaker swapping. Throughout all component changes, I have always had pretty much the same preferences and views of how I wanted to music to sound, but I just couldn't entirely reach it. Or I would get restless over one aspect of the sound I liked less and started obsessing over it, changing component after component and often making matters worse. The last few years however, I have been very satisfied, and that's rare for an audiophile. But what exactly are my preferences? I think it will help interpretating my reviews if I am as clear as I can be about my preferences and biases because, while many reviewers claim to be absolutely objective, I am not 100% neutral in my opinions. But, with the help of this overview, I hope to be an open book about this, so you, dear reader, know what to expect.
Here are some of my setups over the past years:
Around 2008 - the full-on approach:
Around 2009 - the simple approach:
Around 2011 - combining audio and video:
2012 - a new house:
The basis for my view of how music should sound was formed when I heard a friend's system with Apogee magnetostats and the resolution they offered was just amazing. But they were also very refined and never harsh. This is an important thing to note as I have stepped into this ultimate-detail trap myself many a time. In my quest for openness, I would push this too far and end up with a relentless sound with too little fluidity and musicality.
As a result, my system has been like lab testing equipment sometimes. You would look at the music in a zoomed-in manner, dissecting every minute detail. But I had lost the musicality and ultimately, the lust to listen. Sadly, this has happened more than once... But in this hobby perhaps more so than in other hobbies, you learn from your mistakes and you move on. And move on I did, prove of this is in the endless equipment lists elsewhere on this site.
Ever since my system had become more stable, what has always been very important to me was fluidity, smoothness, airyness and detailing. But not in an in-your-face kind of way. I have had systems that were very enthusiastic, very lively and dynamic. But eventually I'd grow tired of them. I much like analog LP playback, if done well. I emphasize that because you can easily do it wrong with lp playback. Just having the settings off slightly can do terrible things to the sound. But when properly and lovingly adjusted, LP playback for me is the tocket. But for various reasons I don't want to own a record player. Thus my quest became to find an analogue kind of sound from digital components.
Now, analog means different things to different people, but for me this means toe-tapping rhythm, combined with effortless fluidity. The contradictory speed and relaxation. This is what lp does with easy, but what is very difficult for a digital component. You can easily colour the sound of a cd player to make it more mellow and relaxing, but you quickly loose speed and dynamics in the process. Likewise a cd player can be very dynamic and quick but then easily slips into clinicality. The trick is in finding a digital player that manages to combine the natural fluidity and airyness I've come to expect from analog, with the stability and bass-power I love from digital.
Maybe it is my age, but I don't care so much anymore about "impressive" sounds. It doesn't have to be lifelike-dynamic. Music doesn't have to grab me by the throat. But at the same time I absolutely hate it when everything sounds slow and congested.