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The tonal balance wasn’t warm per se to refrain from pushing singers forward or enlarging their voices. A private suspicion that the virtual performers should perhaps have been larger might have arisen here or there but it simply wouldn’t happen. This is something to think about when choosing the matching speakers. The LAR will become the foundation upon which to build to give systems their final character.

To wrap up the handling of vocals, I pulled out two older recordings, Golden Greats, a three-disc issue of Vera Lynn, and Maria Callas Live, an eight-disc box set of live recordings from 1952 to 1964. The first one contains vintage clips and the Callas discs are mostly amateur cuts that are technically very weak souvenirs. Both are related in how their voices are quite bright and the whole productions often distorted which becomes most obvious during sudden dynamic peaks or when the voices scale their higher registers. The LAR behaved like a real pro. It did not sizzle the vocals to make listening joyful still. Neither did it add warmth or enlargement. It simply tracked the recordings without sterilizing the music with precision or neutrality of the hyper version.

This was due to how the treble was handled. Tube amps usually warp this band with warmth, withdrawal or distortion. Despite popular opinions on the supremacy of valve amps in this area, that’s what I believe. I simply think that the general perception is influenced by the specific way tubes create treble distortion that’s perceived as forgiving and thus more natural. When confronting even a good transistor amp, such a voicing will often seem nicer and less mechanical. But with amplifiers of the IA-30T’s caliber (of the same sonic school as the Ancient Audio I want to repeat), I depart from my opinion on valves and treble without remorse. The upper end of this amplifier was incredibly resolved, more so than my Leben and better than almost anything I know below 20,0000zł. It can seem more pleasurable when the treble is softened—even modern transistor amps do it now—but nothing for this type of money sounds as true or natural.

Cymbals had proper weight, fantastic articulation and nuance and showed up in almost holographic fashion. This was apparent on King Crimson’s In The Court of The Crimson King where cymbals play a lead role, but also on Soft Swing by the Stan Getz Quartet. When things scraped and rustled, they scraped and rustled. When it was a clear hit instead, that’s what it was without highlighting this spectrum. Sometimes I had the impression that the very uppermost treble was perhaps stronger than it should have been but this was no clear-cut deviation. Such a good treble was not only present on superior recordings but also pop discs where especially Savage sounded simply brilliant. Nevertheless even this could still be improved as we’ll see in a moment.

Create Audio 3A/250V 20mm fuses: Listening to fuses may seem a wicked aberration and many readers will likely think just that. But before you react, I would like you to personally experiment before you make any hasty judgment. Listen for yourself to standard fuses and then for example the $20/ea. Create Audio version made by Synergy HiFi. I assure you that there will be a significant change and that you won’t return to the stock sound. For some this will be quite a blow but as music lovers caring for the best sound, it’s worth to relax our belief systems. Evaluating fuses is not simple especially with tube devices which resist A/B quickies (which I generally abhor as unreliable but they can be useful in a supporting role). Here they are impossible because changing fuses takes time. After swapping, you must wait before powering the amp up again to avoid shocking the tube’s anodes and shortening their life span. You’ll thus have to compare over longer listening sessions but should find that with superior machines, attending to even the smallest details does pay out.

These Chinese fuses patiently awaited their review turn for a long time—I did an earlier review of Synergy Hifi’s 300Bs which my friend Janusz from the Krakow Sound Societyand I purchased—but I finally did get to the fuses in both my Leben and this LAR amp. The outcome was the same but with the Polish amp the improvements were rather more spectacular.

I’d never previously accorded much weight to tweakers who celebrated after-market fuses because these parts with their two contacts and 15mm of wire seemed too small to warrant anything much audible. I was wrong. But it is important to put changes into perspective. These aren’t fundamental changes as when we swap a component or cabling. Their effect operates on a more subtle level as a finishing touch to our general perception and becomes appreciable during longer listening sessions easiest when we return to the original fuses. With the LAR the sound became nobler. The treble grew sweeter to eliminate any of my subliminal suspicions. Most surprising was the bass. It extended lower with more saturation. These weren’t big changes but in terms of quality (rather than quantity) truly surprising. The bass on the Laurie Anderson disc didn’t gain in weight but had better timbre and more articulated dynamics.

I thought all this was attributable to improved resolution. These changes were not heard on their own but because everything became better organized and the connective tissue between individual sounds was strengthened. It wasn’t bad before but with the Create Audio fuses separate sonic islands were connected into one cohesive archipelago.