Chin Chin
Added Mick: "I believe our appreciation and enjoyment of music comes from our consciousness - we don't use test instruments to rate an enjoyment factor. While I do use test equipment for development and quality control, the actual sound of this preamp was determined by my conscious level of appreciation for the wonderful joy music brings."

How does a reviewer who is subjectively very enraptured and excited over a piece of equipment write objectively about his or her experiences without falling into the trap of the overused cliché? I asked myself this question after only a few hours of listening to the Chardonnay. After living with it for 8 weeks, the sheer enjoyment has seen me struggle to come up with an answer.

Let's list the most common non-6moons audio reviewer clichés and state their applicability apropos the Chardonnay:

  1. Rediscovered my CD collection. Affirmative.
  2. Heard details never heard before. Affirmative.
  3. Listened into the wee hours. Affirmative..
  4. Pulled out old CDs that had not been listened to for years. Affirmative..
  5. Component elevated my system to another level. Affirmative.
  6. Bravo! Affirmative.
  7. The best preamplifier so far heard in my system. Affirmative.

[Hey, that's seven. We've only got 6 moons to go around, Edgar. Well, I see - with our Blue Moon Award, we are up to seven. You win. - Ed.]

I have mentioned the wonderful Curandero CD Aras in previous reviews [Silver Wave Records CD 80306, 1996]. For evaluation purposes and enjoyment factor, I keep coming back to track 3, "Segue". Beautifully recorded, it is a brutal test of a component's ability to reproduce timbre and micro-detail. The track kicks off with male and female voices scatting vocal effects and sounds, then the masterful guitarist Miguel Espinoza cuts in, is shortly joined by bassist extraordinaire Kai Eckhardt and percussionist Ty Burhoe. The piece is then further enhanced by Bela Fleck on his magic banjo. Man can these geezers jam. With the Chardonnay in the system, the initial voices were superbly resolved and as the instruments join in one after the other, the wonderful qualities of this preamp became evident and could be summed up by this
one piece of music. Timbres of vocals and instruments were outstanding and combined with an uncanny sense of presence, making for an illusion of real instruments in an acoustic recreated in my listening room. The individual instruments playing simultaneously sounded so natural that my brain stopped de-correlating and de-constructing the musical strands and layers. I found myself simply listening, immersed in the music.

Therein lies the crux of course and what I would like to translate without clichés. Indeed Mick, how do you measure a smile? How do you put into written text, how do you detonate into language the emotions evoked when a special piece of kit plays music? The best way to attain the truth of the Chardonnay is to recall the first impressions, the standouts, the indelible ones. These I will call the core qualities. And so, what were the first elements or qualities that struck my attention and moved the emotions? Off the bat? The thunder strike? The goose bumps?

I will begin with the incredible sense of presence. Damned if the Chardonnay didn't make everything sound more real! I don't know what the correlation of that is in the frequency response. Maybe a slight midrange rise? Whatever it is, I don't care since the upshot was that musicians were almost 'there'. An example of this magnificent presence are the famously rare violins by restorers Bein & Fushi's closely miked and lovingly recorded The Miracle Makers [Bein and Fushi Inc, MM-05, 1999], a comparison or contrast between several Stradivari and Guarneri played by Elmar Oliveira. The Chardonnay faithfully reproduced the instruments' incredible transient attack and superb tracking of the note's leading edges as the bow hits the strings, the stop-and-start impression of a subjectively 'fast' component. The subtle differences
in the individual instruments' tone or voice were clearly discerned, the Stradivaris sounding marginally lusher compared to the Guarneris' leaner, brighter tone. It's not like Elmar put on a private recital for me but you get my meaning.

Of course this presence phenomenon facilitated the next core quality of detail. When music sounds so intimately in-yer- room, it presents the impression of more detail. The Chardonnay resolved detail without over-emphasis or brightness but quick transient detail, the kind that startles you because you thought you'd heard all that a given CD had to give and then it dishes out more. Think reach-for-the-remote, rewind-and-play-that-again-just-to-make-sure kind of involuntary reflexes.

The core qualities already mentioned become the genesis of the third: Dynamic contrast. The drum solo on "Company", track 7 on Patricia Barber's Modern Cool [Blue Note/Premonition Records 7243, 1998] blows your socks off. It's tight and powerful. The impression is of a limitless headroom where louder gets louder - effortlessly uncompressed without touching the volume control. Be it the generous power supply or the superb circuit, the result is a boundless dynamic swing limited only by your speakers' ability to keep up. By the way, Patricia's cover of The Doors' "Light my Fire" demonstrates truthful vocal reproduction. Patricia's voice sounded pure, her intonation and inflection of the carefully mouthed lyrics truthfully rendered. Once again, the term that immediately sprung to mind was real.

The same happened for male vocals courtesy of Sufi Dhafer Youssef's Malak [Enja 9367, 1999]. "Tarannoum" is one of the most hauntingly beautiful sung pieces of music. Accompanied on oud, Youssef traverses a supernally exploded vocal range from the very lowest tones to impossibly high ones on one breath and at peak volumes, sending literal shudders down your spine, a true example, if ever there was one, of music transcending language barriers.
The Chardonnay was able to convey the emotional content of this piece at such an uncut and max potency that technical or empirical analysis were rendered moot. I put the note book down and wiped my eyes. As an audiophile who yearns for emotive connection with music, such a reaction is priceless and rare indeed.

Finally detaching myself from the emotional persuasiveness which the Chardonnay was so proficient at dispensing, I began to search for an Achilles heel. I was certainly unable to find fault when analyzing detail retrieval, dynamic contrast, presence, resolution, transparency, timbral accuracy etc. Emotional connection with the music is clearly beyond analysis. By definition, it implies a cessation of mental track-keeping. While I can anecdotally relay to the reader that listening to this component engendered this reaction without exception, what was left to meaningfully pick on then? Could the Chardonnay be the perfect preamplifier? Surely not. If it approached perfection, what of the two models further up the ladder? It boggles my audiophile reasoning.

Alright, let me pull myself together and fetch the nitpick brush: The soundstage. The start of "Perfect Sense" on Roger Water's Amused to Death [Columbia 468761 2, 1992] features a piano quite perplexingly playing almost in line with my right hand shoulder at the listening chair but 10 feet away (that funky Q Sound!). The Supratek placed the image accurately yet the piano sounded a little closer to the listening chair than usual.

Another recording with a cavernous soundstage is Harry Belafonte's At Carnegie Hall [RCA R30P 1001/2]. Harry sings as he struts across and deeply into the stage. The Chardonnay didn't have Harry stray as far across and away from the speakers. Neither was he wandering as far into the stage depths. Nevertheless, the Chardonnay once again put Harry into the room, with merely a small loss of stage width and depth. How much is a little? Let's just say that although seemingly marginally smaller when compared to my current preamplifier -- the superb Blue Circle BC21.1 and itself a soundstaging champ -- the presentation was satisfyingly close. Frankly, I gladly trade a marginal loss in soundstage dimensionality for the Chardonnay's superb presence, 'air' and palpability.

The sweet nectar of the vine
In my system, the Chardonnay had no peer. It is a superlative audio performer, beautifully styled, masterfully built and generously featured. And the price? I think it's an absolute and incontestable High-End bargain. I am still so rapt (Aussie slang for extremely impressed and delighted), I hereby nominate the Supratek Chardonnay as my choice for a Blue Moon Award in the <$5,000 preamplification category.

How else could I appropriately express my fierce belief in this wonderful product from Mick Maloney? By using one of the most famous of clichés: I have put my money where my mouth is and since acquired a Supratek preamplifier as my new reference.

As Mick Maloney explained, the Supratek philosophy puts emphasis on the enjoyment and emotive connection to music. Supratek components are voiced with foremost those properties in mind, their measured performance taking a secondary albeit important role in the design criteria. Mick asked the question: "How do you measure a smile?"

"From ear to ear" says I, feeling like that bull frog with my eyes bulging out...
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