I really appreciate the underlying concept that informs the naming of Harry Pearson's column as workshop. HP's Workshop. It conjures up getting dirty and sweaty. Experiments. Making mistakes, pursuing dead ends. Trying out new things. Doing it all for the love of it. Burning the midnight oil obsessing over details that would matter only to someone doing it - whatever it is one labors and sweats over in a workshop. Fiendish things.
Not for nothing do artists who hibernate from the world to incubate their first -- or next -- masterpiece talk about the wood shack. You lock yourself away, practice, work, hone, refine, agonize, improve. You don't come out until you're grilled, roasted and cooked. Should great commercial success and renown follow your emergence, you might soon look fondly back at that wood shack period. All that mattered then was your craft, not what anyone else might think or pay for it.
It's also about learning lessons. Sometimes people tell us things we 're not ready to hear. The process of personal learning evolves at its own clip. Moon man Edward for example had for a while now hinted to me at a glorious world beyond passive preamps. Whatever mythical transparency the best TVCs might pursue, they were leaving a lot under the table in trade - qualities Edward would never trade out.
I wasn't ready to hear him yet. Even though I did acquire a Wyetech Labs Jade, my selection process still remained informed by my prior embrace of the Music First Audio Passive Magnetic and its quasi soul mate, the Bel Canto PRe3. While the Jade is a 6SN7-based tube device, it's a very transparent by-the-book machine. Whatever one could broad-stroke with tube magic, it doles out in measured and controlled portions. And that's exactly how I wanted it. No excess, no permanently being stuck in Rilke's gear reading feverish poetry. As you can see, I couldn't conceive yet of that higher octave where everything would be heightened to not lopsidedly derail into some sort of caricature. I wanted a small dosage of expanded virtues to maintain utmost transparency. That's exactly what I got. And I was very happy.
Which is where that chapter in my audiophile journey could have ended. Self interest and curiosity about the subject were sated and, at least for quite the time being, nicely concluded. Wrap it up with a bow. Here's the address to send it to. Now let me get on with something else. Then fate stepped in and a local fellow 'phile decided to give me his personal Supratek Cabernet Dual. "Just trust me on this" was the gist of his gesture. The piece is quite the looker, too, especially with those bulbous 101D globes perking up their engorged little heads against the black pillars. So I didn't hesitate to make off with that two-piece preamp in my small Mazda Demio. Later, alligator.
Little did I know or expect that I would finally face my Edwardian lesson. My review of the Supratek describes the encounter. The world is round after all. In hindsight, I seem to have underwritten the review by failing to capture the magnitude of it all. That's because I was keenly focused on one specific attribute that seemed so nouveau and potent as to capture my fancy. I correlated it with the buoyancy and weightless swirliness of a shampoo commercial's hair. The lady's coiffed designer mane assumes a magical life of its own with every step and turn. Inner movement. Musical breath. A higher order of rhythmic freedom. Those were the pointers I reached for to describe a quality that went rather beyond the more composed and buttoned-down Canadian Jade.
For as potent, addicting -- and by now utterly vital -- this quality has indeed turned out to be since, it's really merely one element of the Supratek recipe. Hitting for example on a recent trance-ambient session with Tulku's second album, Bob Holroyd's newest and Mercan Dede's Nefes -- the latter a neo sufi/ambient master piece with stygian bass, first-rate production values and challenging sound effects -- the sheer dynamic pressure, seemingly unlimited momentum and raw power hurling toward me in the listening seat were of a magnitude previously not encountered with my micro-power reference amp. In ways far more factual than typical verbal hyperbole, the high-gain Supratek seemed to act like a supercharger on the amp's driver stage.
The upshot of this encounter was more about slammage, Maxell commercials and dynamic scaling, not freshly shampooed hair captured undulating in slow motion. Close-miked long strings of exotic instruments were accompanied by ferocious growls and buzzes when released. Big dust clouds of metallic fire flies flitted about in their wake as released harmonics sprayed away. Now the formal review seemed a bit weak in how it failed to capture the scale and profundity of the enhanced dynamics and increase in musical energy. All, mind you, with zero loss to transparency. Prior to trying the Supratek, that simply wasn't on my books of possibles. Instead, it mandated a passive or highly "linear and controlled" valve pre. That a preamp could contribute this much action while remaining linear and transparent... I simply didn't know.
So it goes if you sympathize with the workshop aesthetic. One returns to a project and discovers things in need of further tweaking before pronouncing it done. Of course I could have snuck back and slipped additional paragraphs into the review proper. After all, we're web-based. Still, it's actually far more salient to do it this way. It's a useful reminder that reviewing is an ongoing process. That reviews are snap shots frozen in time. Ask any reviewer what he'd do if he could unthaw his. He'd likely want to shift certain things around to accommodate his more mature perspective which incorporates lessons learned since.
What is sorting itself out for me at the moment is confirmation of validity - for those pesky "preamp most important" whispers I'd been privy to over the years without feeling compelled to pay them much heed. The gravitas of improvement from the Supratek truly eclipses what I'm usually hearing between quality amplifiers -- say swapping out the Yamamoto for the Canary CA 308s -- and digital front ends of a certain pedigree (say the Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear for the Zanden separates). By a substantial margin. The review talked about a change in gestalt. That's exactly it. Where the Jade is linear and controlled, the Supratek is free and gushing. Yet we're so used to weights and measures that an intangible concept like gestalt seems insubstantial by comparison. 20% more bass we can relate to. 3dB more dynamic range too. But gestalt? How heavy is that? In this case, as heavy as a dangerous guy in a maximum security penitentiary.
Overwriting fails even worse than underwriting because nobody believes it. If you keep a review measured and low-key, it sounds reasonable and objective. You may not get excited reading it but you take it serious. If it's hyperbolic, it becomes unbelievable even if authentic enthusiasm was the compelling force behind it. It's a perennial challenge. How to know when to launch the big one? Might not something mandating an even bigger one show up the day after tomorrow? Better to hold that quiver of writer's arrows then.
The Supratek is the big one. All the usual things are better. But that's not it, really. The major thing is that the Supratek opens a new dimension of participatory intensity. To return full circle to the workshop, it's as though you had locked yourself away inside your personal workshop. You're on fire, doing the thing you love most. You're in the thick of it, understanding every nuance of what's required and doing it. It's as though time stood still even though you're not even thinking in those terms. In fact, that kind of thinking has stopped. The only thoughts arising are brief, immediate, clear and relate directly to the job at hand. There's no conflict, no pulling in different directions. On top of that, you're having a really good day. Everything's coming together. It's intense. But you're not even aware of it that way until after you come out of your workshop and notice how steamed up it'd gotten inside, how stale the air had turned, how much dust was everywhere.
|Putting the Supratek into the system makes the system into the workshop. It puts you right in the middle, with the music the project you're working on while simultaneously, the music is working you.
I know, I know. A few weeks from now, I'll be looking at this attempt of an explanation to find terrible fault with it. That's how it goes. Especially when you're aiming to describe something that can really only be known directly, not through words. Rest assured that if a higher level of musical intensity is what you're after -- which includes improving all the usual attributes (but they're secondary to this!) -- the Supratek Cabernet Dual makes more of a difference than anything I've come across in I-can't-remember how long.
And to give Edward his due satisfaction, I'll spell it out: All the other preamps in-house are out of their depths by comparison. It's unfair to even go there. Hey, I may be slow but this lesson has finally sunk its hooks into pay dirt. A premium valve preamp like the Supratek shifts your system into some kind of hyper drive - hyper not for speed but to indicate that you're not traveling in a linear fashion but entering an altogether different zone. All the familiar elements are in that zone but the colors are more intense, the lighting is more dramatic, the differences between small and large are bigger and, most importantly, how you feel about it all is similar to when you first fell in love. Intense. And new.
(You probably think this is overwritten. That can't be helped. When a big one hits, you should register quaking - even if it's just in your boots.)