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First off I listened to Glenn Gould’s Sony version of The Glen Gould Edition, a 1993 remaster using their Super Bit Mapping process. That Sony ‘invention’ was designed to reduce quantization errors during conversion from 20-bit master tape to 16-bit CD format though it seems to no longer be used by them. In retrospect I think it was one of Sony’s better ideas. The sound of the piano or organ was velvety smooth. It provided plenty of information on the attack and playing technique without losing coherence to combine all these details into one overriding holistic musical expression. That’s what the Polish amplifier showed flawlessly. It was clean, thick and natural. Gould’s piano at least in the upper registers had a quality I’d not heard before. The same was true for other instruments like violin, cello and harpsichord. For example J.S. Bach’s Three Sonatas for Violoncello and Harpsichord performed by Janos Starker and Susan Růžičková recorded in Starker’s Prague home was truly captivating due to an excellent presentation of micro detail as a  perfect connection between each phase of the sound. It was an attempt to recreate the live sound with all its dynamics and vitality.

But these recordings also showed something I assume was the manufacturer’s deliberate intention - his particular setting of the color accent. At first glance electronic or rock music gave an impression of somewhat light bass, of the accent being moved somewhere around 1kHz. I could even get the impression of no bass especially coming directly from the Leben. And there was something to it. Listening to Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic originally issued by Decca and remastered in K2HD by Winston Ma, I did hear excellent bass with great resolution. And I heard it not only in the famous opening with its deep growl but also at the end of Prelude when the only instruments remaining are the double basses. Similarly listening to Enya’s albums recently released on SHM-CD I could appreciate what was going on in the bass department. Yet what lacked was the kind of saturation I am accustomed to from my valve amp.

It boils down to what we think constitutes 'the absolute sound'. The Sonic Pearl makes an attempt to reproduce the live sound as though it were trying to skip the recording process entirely. Hence its outstanding clarity and dynamics. The problem is that music at home is a reality very different from the live event. It depends on particular recording techniques employed which permanently change one reality into another kind of interpretation I mentioned earlier. The Polish amp was very clean, smooth and devoid of brightness. Usually when bass lacks and we’re instead presented with an overabundance of treble and upper midrange, it's a crude trick to emphasize certain sonic aspects. Here the sound was very refined and not based on any tricks. Yet it clearly was a ‘set-up’ voicing or specific take.

What did I miss about it? Midrange and bass saturation. The Sonic Pearl made all recordings sound modern, without their patina of time which—at least that’s how I saw it—should be present and quite obvious as such. For instance listening to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul from the old 1998 remaster issued by Toshiba-EMI, I could not help feeling that it sounded very similar to what the sound engineers attempted to achieve with the latest 2009 remaster of the band’s catalogue. I noticed a similar thing with remasters of Polish music such as Józef Skrzek’s Diary of Carolina or LIM albums. I already mentioned Also Sprach but we can add Ella and Louis. Even so compared to the Ear Stream amplifier everything else—or nearly everything—really sounds like a wet rag. Once before I used that very term in my review of the Harpia Acoustics Dobermann speakers which I used for a few years. Here it was  a very similar situation. The amplifier from my Krakow colleague proved to be incredibly fast, open and clean to excel at tracking dynamic fluctuations and resembling what I know as the real live sound.

Having grown richer with my current Harbeth M40.1 Domestic reference speakers, I must say that I personally missed some body or saturation in the Ear Stream presentation. Admittedly to some degree these are playback artifacts rather than associated with live sound. Yet I repeat, such is the reality of audio - the recorded presentation is different from the live event. They are two different worlds. The home presentation is thicker and more tangible to compensate for the lack of visuals [if you prefer it that way and voice your system accordingly – it’s most certainly not a given – Ed]. It was no coincidence that this setup sounded extremely similar to top Stax electrostatics I once reviewed. Without a direct comparison however it is impossible to be more specific about that similarity.

Sonic Pearl with HiFiMan HE-500 and Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro Limited Edition 32Ω. To verify what I heard with the Sennheisers I sat down with a bunch of other headphones. Pretty soon it became clear that the AKG K701 wasn’t a good match. The amplifier simply exposed their flaws – lacking treble definition, a somewhat plasticky midrange and little low bass. They are still one of my favorite headphones and sound great with many amplifiers. Nevertheless they have their own problems which in this case completely overshadowed their advantages. I was very curious to see how this current- and voltage-efficient clean amplifier would sound with the very demanding HiFiMan HE-6. To drive them properly I had to set the volume control to near maximum but encountered no real problems. The Sonic Pearl handled it easily and I heard no distortion indicating compression or clipping - except that it was not quite the sound I expected, i.e. slightly inferior to the Sennheiser HD800. It was somewhat dull and its color bothered me by lacking properly weighted bass.