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Surprisingly the Diablo offered an even bigger and deeper stage (not by much but I did not think any amplifier could image bigger than the Yamamoto here) but unlike the A08s the voice of Rebecca Pidgeon was actually bigger than life, stretched wider than a human voice should whereas the SET sized it naturally. The resolution of micro detail on the voice was identical through all four amplifiers. At this level I would not have expected anything less as midrange resolution has to be of the highest order and was. The F5 projected an image that was just a tad smaller than the A08s or Diablo while the Genesis was as wide yet shallower, offering less distance and differentiation between singer and instruments. On flow and articulation the four amplifiers could hardly be told apart.

Where the main difference resided was that the A08s sounded more natural and organic. I don't know how to put it better than that the added triode harmonics embellished the voice. You'll see in the comments about the other tracks that I am not necessarily a fan of this effect everywhere but when it comes to the human voice, it cannot be matched by any other technology I have heard. On this track my favorite was indeed the A08s followed very closely by the F5 which of the three sand amps had most of that midrange wetness and sensuality the SET exhibited. The Diablo was impressively upfront and intense but the oversized voice was a little bit of a distraction and so was the shallower stage of the Genesis. To be clear, these are just pale nuances and all four amplifiers provided immense satisfaction on this track but if I am going to split hairs, I am going to split hair very finely indeed.

Another very revealing track was "Ask Me Now" by McCoy Tyner and Joe Henderson from Tyner's album New York Reunion. The piece composed by Monk has since become one of Henderson's signature moments and Tyner actually does not play on this track. What's fascinating here is not Henderson's intense saxophone playing or at least not just but how he is using the room to create something that goes beyond his playing. In this take Henderson actually faces away from the microphones and uses the reflections off the back wall of the studio 15 feet away to add scale and echoes to his music. Now I do understand people who argue that our hobby is all about the music and that recording artifacts like staging and imaging do not belong but why in the world would you not want to hear what the musician and recording engineer created here? It’s obvious to me that Henderson had a reason for wanting to play away from the microphones and towards the wall even if I don't know what that reason was. It is equally obvious to me that the recording crew had to go through a lot of pain to capture this effect because even with some of the most revealing gear it is easily lost. Similarly the most talented pianists and greatest singers adjust their interpretation to the hall they are in. It's part of their art and talent. Why would you want to miss that intentionally? I understand that it is no end in and of itself but I certainly want to hear if a musician felt strongly enough about it to make it part of the performance.

On this track the Yamamoto A08s was both best and worst. It was the best because of its embellishing power. No other amplifier could make the saxophone so golden and brassy to the point of being more real than real. If you live for tone colors and tonal intensity, that’s one treat of a track. But it is also was worst because the A08s made Henderson sound as though facing you. The A08s emphasized the midrange band where the saxophone’s direct sound lives and did so at the expense of echoes and reverberations. By modifying the very fragile balance captured on the disc between direct and reflected sound, the A08s killed the intended perspective. If you listened to this disc through the A08s not knowing how it was recorded, you would have no clue the player was actually facing the other way.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Gryphon Diablo, the only one of the four where you had no doubt how large the room was, where the boundaries were situated and how Henderson was positioned. The Gryphon preserved the balance between direct and indirect sound so well that you really could see the scene. The F5 and Genesis did some of that but not to the same extent and veracity. On this disc and in my system, with the Diablo in place my room disappeared utterly and was replaced with the recorded space and a saxophonist playing with his back to me. With the F5 and Genesis, a similar space was recreated albeit on a smaller scale, a room within a room if you will instead of removing the physical boundaries of the listening room altogether. It was the difference of looking at a performance from the outside in and being inside the performance. The F5 also seemed to shift the perspective somewhat though not as much as the Yamamoto. Nelson Pass' amplifier does have a strong affinity for and focus on the midrange to not give the reflected sound the same importance as the Genesis and nowhere near what the Diablo achieved.

All amplifiers again showed the same level of midrange resolution, with the A08s more burnished, the Diablo probably coolest (although not cool or harsh per se), the Genesis slightly warmer and the F5 a touch warmer still, with all three sand amps sounding far more neutral than the A08s (yet the 45 amp sounding nowhere near as tube-like as an EL34 or Western Electric 300B for example).

This tonal balance seemed to hold true throughout the listening sessions. Despite stereotypes and reputations, the A08s SET amp was overall very close to neutral and certainly open and dynamic for its type whilst the Diablo, certainly not cool or hard, was simply very linear with no midrange emphasis whatsoever.

The F5 and Genesis sat in between, with the F5 slightly warmer but not by much. The third track I spent time dissecting was from Stavinsky's Soldier's Tale, specifically the "Royal March" which is a festival of transients to showcase an amplifier's ability (or lack thereof) at reproducing instantaneous signal rises that overlap in a very complex manner.

Almost any amplifier can do a good job at reproducing a single signal burst but when they start piling atop of each other with quick starts and stops, things get a little bit more tricky and easily turn to mush.