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Taking into account that this is a solid-state device, most surprising is the treble quality in general and regardless of price and technology. In the best sense of the word and not the stereotype, the German amplifier's treble is very tubey. Cymbals are relaxed but simultaneously well defined. At the opening of the Lontano disc by the Tomasz Stanko Quartet (a list of CDs used comes later), the strikes laying the ground for the trumpet were shown to be especially airy and with a splendid differentiation about the kind of cymbals used. The cymbals had very nicely developed upper harmonics without any indication of roll-off. The percussion on Viaticum by e.s.t. was similar. It sounded different by being a different recording but was rendered in a similar highly authentic fashion. A common opinion about ECM discs is that they are super precise but a bit cold.

Maybe there are some like that but considering those I own, I can't concur with the assessment and the Aaron nicely demonstrated what I mean. The sound was very resolved, with incredible depth and scale but also terrifically balanced and -- I'll take the risk for saying so but have to at times -- with a slight warmth to the upper midrange. At least that's what the Stanko disc suggested and ditto Jan Garbarek's Officium with The Hillard Ensemble and The Carnegie Hall Concert by Keith Jarrett. Lesser systems can't achieve this level. They stop with the attack to expose its elements and compose a very detailed but cold sound devoid of saturation in the soundscape. The e.s.t. disc as well as the last recording from the brilliant Leukocyte trio sounded a tad warm and fluid but without the air of the ECM discs. This could be heard immediately. The Aaron amplifier did not warm over or brighten up anything to have the music hit directly where it should - the head and heart of the listener.

The bass works at an equally high niveau. It is rather rounded but not boomy or slightly loose as the A-30 Accuphase but rather like... my Luxman. This is not the ultra-defined Krell bass but resembles most what I hear from the P-7100 Accuphase. At least to me, this is one big compliment. With it we reach down low in a strong full manner and only at the lowest reaches the 'i' won't get dotted at times by lacking impact. This is no big thing but with full-range speakers as the Katana or my Dobermann, this is audible. The sound stages deeply and broadly like from a tube device. In general this presentation is fast and transparent.

Now we arrive at the point where I must explain what could be bettered. I already mentioned the splendidly drawn detailed treble. I don't know how this was accomplished but nothing is overemphasized or brightened. Even my very extended Harpia speakers betrayed no transient emphasis, no tonal balance anomaly. But when we compare especially the first few minutes of the Lontano disc with the Jarrett and finally the "Kinderspiele" opening of the First Impression Music compilation Five Songbirds, we'll notice that the hologram we see in front of us is a bit blurred in the back of the soundstage; that the accent is placed on the first plane. This is not a big issue because listening to "What A Difference A Day Made" [Five Songbirds], we will be enchanted by incredible resolution and dynamics.

On every disc, noise is a big element of creating the musical presence - background noise, the air in front of the microphone, the noise of the microphone electronics and also the analog tape hiss in the case of "Kinderspiele". This is unmistakably a broad-band noise completely decorrelated from the music itself. One does not listen for it but it still is a brilliant indicator of what happens to the musically relevant sounds. And the Aaron masks some of that noise. This is incredible. Listening to the instruments, you won't notice it at first because they are clear and persuasive. Perhaps it has nothing to do with timbre but resolution where more expensive devices offer more? Possibly so. In my system, the elements that constitute the three-dimensional instrumental physicality are also better drawn. This is not about the stage per se but about extracting the sources of the sounds as specific instruments or reverb. The Aaron draws out everything splendidly but is not capable of unearthing certain things.

The Aaron No.1.a is an unusual amplifier by combining many of the best sonic elements of solid-state and tube technologies. Trying to place it within the bigger context in terms of the tonal balance, you must draw a line before your eyes whereon we shall place some of the best integrated amplifiers I have tested. To the warmer left of the ideal center would be the E-550 Accuphase, a bit farther to the left the Trigon Energy. To the cooler right belongs the C.E.C AMP6300 and a bit farther down Luxman's L-509u. Between them I would place the equally brilliant Cambridge Audio system Azur 840E+840W I reviewed for Audio. The Aaron would occupy the middle just a few millimeters right of the mythical G-spot. Mating the Aaron to loudspeakers should be easy because while transparent (it won't subtract anything), it is not artificially brightened. Systems I can recommend from experience include:

And that's just the beginning. You should also try the Aaron in far more expensive company. I won't get specific here because you first have to convince yourself. You will obtain a different sound each time but it will always be splendid - a sound you need not upgrade from even if you know that 'up there' more remains to be done.

Music used for the session: Tomasz Stanko Quartet, Lontano, ECM 1980, CD. | e.s.t., Viaticum, Platinum Edition, ACT 6001-2, 2 x CD. | e.s.t., Leucocyte, ACT 9018-2, CD | Jan Garbarek & The Hillard Ensemble, Officium, ECM New Series 1525, CD. | Keith Jarrett, The Carnegie Hall Concert, ECM 1989/90, 2 x CD | Five Songbirds, First Impression Music, FIM048 VD, HDCD | Depeche Mode, Exciter, Venusnote/Mute DMCD10, Collector Edition, SACD/CD + DVD-A | Jun Fukamachi at Steinway (Take 2), EMI Music Japan/First Impression Music/Lasting Impression Music, LIM DXD 038, silver-CD.