The Bernola L17 is an ace illusionist. Like a stage magician, it entertains with a delightful trick. This is surrounded by plenty of charming misdirection to disguise the mechanics of its trick. In no uncertain terms, that magic trick lives in and for Midrange Central. If you don't know the tunes—perhaps it's the first time you hear them—you won't fully notice what's missing; bandwidth on top and particularly the bottom. If played too loud, this kind of sound can betray a certain hollowness. That gives away the misdirection to then require compensatory ancillaries. At regular levels however, it's very charming, with the unlimited walk-in soundstaging one expects from point sources without phase shift; and with that peculiar tonefulness larger paper widebanders are justly known for. Magic plays to our inner child. It's what buys into the illusion hook, line and sinker to be entertained. Across the bandwidth of magic, 'truth' or 'fidelity' aren't even on the menu. Magic shows are not for technicians who attempt to reverse-engineer the trick. They focus on the mechanics to miss the illusion. With it, they lack all sense of wonder.

Likewise the Bernola. The fidelity obsession of reviewing demands that we busy ourselves with looking behind the curtain. We want the not whodunnit but howdunnit. All the usual suspects surround Hercule Poirot whilst the pedantic little Belgian (yawn) dissects the entire tale. If those antics spoil your ability to fall for the trick again, then the review did you no favours. To completely get the L17 is to either not look behind its curtain at all; or do a full mental delete and reboot afterwards to reclaim the magic. As I detailed out on the previous page relative to cost, those same 'missing bits' versus our Zu Druid V factor sonically, too. In-room, I'd reckon the actual bandwidth of the Swiss as ~70Hz-15kHz. Before your 20:20 reflexes cry wolf, remember. This used to be all folks got from their table radios and hifi consoles. Stealing from modern resolution's bandwidth on both ends won't dislocate the centre. What's more (and not less) is that as a result of shrinking what surrounds it, the midband becomes bigger. It's relativity in action. And make no mistake, a bigger midrange has its very own charm. Again, it's about magic time, not an interrogation under scopolamine.

Given the above; and given my ears' references and expectations for modern bandwidth; my hunt for the 'perfect' amp didn't pursue the full retro hit. For that, I should have gone after a vintage triode amp to escalate like with like. Instead, au contraire, I went after amps which might push the available envelope. My first instinct were ultra-bandwidth DC-coupled circuits. Hello Bakoon AMP-12R and LinnenberG Allegro monos as shown above. Between those, the German monos got my eventual vote for their slightly mellower gentler transients feeling more natural and less Technicolour; and for their higher power which squeezed out more bass reach. A brief detour against the Druid V confirmed the Swiss' far narrower bandwidth; and how the American recipe of already bigger widebander still augmented by no-compromise compression tweeter caters to more modern expectations. Whilst belonging into the same speaker category, the target audience for either is very different. The dynamically liberated Zu loves to play loud. Its hard-hung nano-tech modded driver excels at feisty punch for a bona-fide party animal badge. In Daniel's cab, the French Supravox driver was more comfortable at lower to standard room levels, beginning to get somewhat hollow and glassy at raunchier doses. And of course music living on its low bass missed out.

Whilst still in the media room, I'd replaced the Job 225 with the AMP-12R for a noticeable uptick in juiciness and colours. Despite of—or rather, because of—what the Bernola couldn't do vis-à-vis the fully active, DSP-steered 1500-watt class D driven Kii Three in the same space...

... it was compelling in its own way. It's why the widebander breed, despite innate anachronism and low-tech curse, maintains a following. Where the Kii Three in this space did a flat 25Hz with text-book linearity from top to bottom and freakishly specific soundstaging for supreme test-bench cred, the by contrast primitive/flawed L17 handled its more limited bandwidth with greater juiciness, colourization and elasticity. Where six 250-watt nCore monos per side gave the Kii3 a very taut gestalt of supreme control but with it, also a certain dryness and tonal flatness, the far less linear and narrower Bernola expressed the greater charm and humanity. These are terms which vex serious engineers to no end. How are they supposed to design for, measure and verify charm and humanity?

From a high-fidelity perspective, the Kii Three was far superior to the Bernola L17. Unlike the Swiss, it didn't need to be catered to with just the right music or playback levels. It was an unconditional omnivore. However... if the music you play at the volumes you favour happen to hit the L17's sweet spot, a certain type of listener is predestined to prefer it by no small margin. For why, consider the exposure and saturation levels of the last two photos. Migrate visuals to sonics and there's your answer.