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Reviewer: Linnman
Digital source: Orpheus Labs Heritage DAC/Zero transport
Preamp: Da Vinci Audio Labs passive control unit
Power amp: Da Vinci Audio Labs mono driver stages and mono paralleled SET 300Bs
Speakers: Da Vinci Audio Labs Intonation
Cables & cords: Da Vinci Grandezza & Concept Connection; Argento SMR EE XLR, Serenity SE XLR; Argento Flow, Level 0.5 and 1 power cords
Power line treatment: Orb passive
Room treatments: Acoustic System resonators
Room size: 11' x 16' x 11' WxDxH
Review component retail: Grandezza mono line driver CHF 56,870/pr; Grandezza PSE 300B mono amp CHF 53,875/pr; Grandezza Passive Control Unit CHF 8,800; Intonation speakers CHF 47,800/pr

[When a reviewer completely rearranges his personal system by purchasing, for his own pleasure and not as professional tools, a new suite of components and speakers in one fell swoop, do his observations thereof constitute a formal review? An Editorial? A byline to his audiophile bio? Compelling arguments could be made for either. We have decided to run Linnman's 'new bio' in our audio review pages - Ed.]

There have been many changes over the past two years since I joined 6moons. I was pretty happy with my Kharma sound for most of the time, especially with everything from the midrange on up. This range was smooth, coherent and airy. But I wasn't equally convinced of the bass. It didn't fully integrate and its energy was always recessed although the details seemed all present. I finally added a Kharma Ceramique subwoofer which I subsequently wrote a very satisfactory review on.

When Srajan visited my setup in December of 06, he found the presence of the subwoofer to add too much lower midbass energy in my small listening room. He also found the midrange steely. The leading edges of piano notes were too sharp to his ears. I agreed very much with his observations and had in fact noticed how I listened far more to my friend Marvel's system or the demo system of local Hong Kong retailer Audio Exotics [below] than my own. My own speakers sounded as though they had not broken in at all after the latest upgrade to Black Diamond status I'd performed in June of that year. All of us present during Srajan's visit were certain that the unsatisfactory results were not the fault of the Zanden 9600 amplifiers or my Wavac PR-T1 preamplifier.

Ever since, I had been working hard to rescue my Kharma setup. The subsequent matching of the Wavac PR-T1 line stage with the Wavac 805 monoblocks was a wake-up call - the monos' tremendous drive especially in the bass really moved some serious air. I truly enjoyed the Wavac combo for about one week before I had to return the 805s to J.Lam at Audio Exotics who subsequently sold them to another Kharma owner. As far as I know, everyone who has paired up the Wavac 805s with Kharmas here in the Pacific Rim agrees that they are companions made in heaven.

I'd be happy with the Wavac combo driving the Kharmas for a long time. Or so I told myself. I might have found the Holy Grail to cure the speakers' bass problems which I hadn't been able to solve over the past 2 years. That said, I was deeply disturbed -- and attracted -- by the immediacy of Tommy Hørning's Eufrodite flagship speakers which I had listened to many times in AE's showroom and Peter Tsang's home, driving them with the Zanden Audio 2000p/5000s front end and either the Kondo Ongaku or Gakuons (Peter owns both). I thought that this type of high-sensitivity speaker would get me closer to the original event whereas the Kharma yielded me beautiful sound which, while perhaps pleasing and attractive in its own ways, wasn't as live as the recording captured. Then I was on the way to becoming a father for the first time and decided to take a little rest before obsessing again over which route my system should be taking next.

When I first heard the Da Vinci Audio Labs Grandezza/Piccolo line drive/300B amps over the Eufrodites last year, I was impressed by the realism of reproduced human voices. They sounded like human flesh to me, with exquisite textures, transparency and openness. I was impressed, truly and deeply impressed. I felt immersed in a complete musical landscape without segregation into different bands of highs or lows. But the 4 pairs of isobarically loaded woofers at the back of each Hørning Eufrodite are not an easy or reasonable load for any 5-watt 300B mono amp. Naturally, their bass at the time was loose and out of control. I reminded myself that after a few hard years of bad bass kharma, I wasn't looking forward to an encore. To be frank, I found myself thinking of the Wavac MD805s driving the Hørnings far more than staking out a claim in the Da Vinci camp.

A U-turn along the way then occurred unplanned about a month ago when J.Lam invited me to audition a complete Da Vinci Grandezza system of passive preamp, monoblock driver stage and monoblock parallel single-ended amplifiers driving the Kharma Midi Exquisite. To cut a long story short, I was sold on the spot. I had never experienced such a wholesome musical presentation and I shall write a complete review on this system after proper break-in has run its course and I have gained a more complete understanding of the different components in this chain.

To confirm my decision, I asked several audio comrades to come over who were very familiar with my prior Kharma setup. My closest audio buddy Marvel [system above] said that the Grandezza system provided the best Kharma experience he had ever had in my room (incidentally, he had not heard my short Wavac 805 experiment). His only reservation was the absence of the ultimate PRaT during a bass session. I knew full well how the bass of the Kharmas is quite difficult to get to bloom while remaining controlled. Yet here we had a measly 10 watts of 300B amplifiers and I was completely taken aback by their dynamic capabilities always delivered with apparent ease. All subjects within the soundstage remained continuously interconnected to the ambience left to right, front to back and top to bottom. Soprano voices from the Carmen Fantasies were truly state of the art - not the beautified midrange with a dollop of honey but true human-flesh voices. Stringed instruments were very realistic, too. I could feel the elasticity of their strings as well as the resonances of the wooden bodies. This was also the first time I truly grasped the spatial resolving power of the Orpheus Heritage DAC, a marvelous converter in conjunction with the slim Orpheus Zero transport.

On a lark, I bit the bullet and even ordered up Da Vinci's 98dB open baffle Intonation speakers purely on spec simply because the performance of the Grandezza system gave me more than enough confidence to bring it all home. I sold off the Kharmas plus all my previous electronics with the exception of the Zanden 2000p/5000s combo even though the Orpheus Zero and Heritage DAC will be my prime reviewing source for the future.

The subsequent arrival of the Intonations mated to the Grandezza system completely altered my perspective on my previous audio journey. There now is so much more immediacy and coherence, far more leading edge, more timbral colors, more harmonics and hence plainly more music delivered as one giant yet seamless sonic picture.

It is a path I believe will be far more suited to evolve my audiophile maturity and as I regain my bearings, I shall report on the individual electronic and mechanical parts that now make up my brand-new reference system.

Marvel meanwhile heard his first high-efficiency speaker up close and personal by evaluating AE's pair of Eufrodites in his own flat [below]. After coming over to hear my new setup, he said this in our local forum:

"I have listened to the DaVinci suite (technically it is not a complete suite as Linnman should move to the Da Vinci LP + phono system to make a whole suite. He did briefly talk about his intention to buy the DV turntable and the flagship Granddezza phono but his current limitation is physical space, not money.)

"The Intonation speaker was a 'laugh' when, before actually listening to Linnman's system, I went to the rear and found that this speaker uses an open cabinet to really be no cabinet at all. The wood at the back seems just like Maple although in actual fact, it is called moon wood. My laugh stopped the second when Linnman pressed the play key on the Orpheus combo. What was this? Was I sitting inside a big audiophile headphone? I actually closed my eyes when I listened to the Carmen suite and Noyes's Fludde. The sound was so coherent and real that I thought I was sitting in the 2nd row on the stage. The Da Vinci sound is not just about the big picture, it is about a complete and seamless tonal picture that I have never heard any other speaker system reproduce. For such a wardrobe type enclosure, how can it disappear all of a sudden the first second music comes in? No cable game, no power conditioning, just room tweaking with the Acoustic Resonators I know well and the resultant 'virtual reality' was unparallelled.

"There was simply no need for me to critically evaluate anything based on any hifi attributes. I just sat there and relaxed and enjoyed music. I think this is the ultimate purpose for any component/system. Linnman told me he has not yet replaced any of the stock tubes for his other exotic WE tubes because he felt that the current level is already very very rewarding. I totally agree. I had to laugh at the end about this 'thinking out of the box' thing, both physically and conceptually - and about my own preconceptions being so thoroughly shattered."