The next thing I thought was that these sounded exactly how they looked: very clean, neatly streamlined, Nordic minimalism, plain as in unadorned and overall supremely sorted. Everything was present in the right spots. The overall response felt admirably linear so my attention had nothing to get hung up about. No Velcro patch was looking for fibers. Yet my emotional response was strangely passive. Noticing it was easy. We're either hot or not. Figuring out why took a bit more. What I suspect but can't prove since I couldn't turn it on/off like a light switch was a likely compound effect of high-feedback nCore damping plus motion feedback¹ across music's heartland. Extreme damping gets generally credited for excellent LF control, particularly of more challenging bass systems. What with a no-feedback valve amp may sound loose and woolly turns to chiseled granite. Whether the same extreme damping is as beneficial with rising frequencies I'm far less certain of. Here I heard far more dryness, clipped cadence not elasticity of free decays. Compared to what the Germans replaced, this was a wholesale makeover. Contextual gossamer between images—I call it performer haloes plus recorded ambiance—seemed swallowed up by that oft-invoked inky blackness. It recalls the suffocating byline of the first Alien movie poster: "in space no one can hear you scream".
¹ Asking Noel about the effective bandwidth across which his motion feedback operates, I learnt that it's a function of loop gain which is frequency dependent so strongest at 20Hz and essentially ineffective at 1kHz where the tweeter crosses in. But it does remain effective to ~500Hz.
To me persuasive playback isn't about an outer-space vacuum populated by a few crisp images. To me background blackness as a well-hoovered absence of connective tissue is unnatural. It sucks music's sense of breath from the equation. That feel of acoustic music riding on the moving lungs of a living thing was absent. I had all the images precisely localized yet their connection to a living not mechanized process (though probably measuring ideal) was strangely absent. I found the Première S very abstract not emotional listening so ideal for the desktop where I don't want involvement to get work done; and ideal for our 2-channel video system where moving pictures fill in those gaps. I also wondered about those DSP speakers which for their tweeter and midrange use class AB to reserve class D for just bass. Do their designers perceive the effects of extreme damping across the higher ranges as I do? Are their reasons different? With a reviewer's attempt to describe not just sound but our subjective reaction to a given playback style, misattribution of cause is easy. Don't read more into this than an attempt to explain my reaction. Whilst I'm crystal on that, I could be very foggy on what technical parameters created it.
This more abstract sound also reminded me of a Purifi Eigentakt demonstrator amp I'd reviewed without/with input buffer. It had arrived bypassed. I later engaged it. With buffer, the sound gained gumption, density and dynamic vigor if probably not measuring as spectacularly. The Première suggested that Noel runs his nCore amps without buffer. He subsequently confirmed it. Now I had to slip into the Première's alternate listening mode of dry cerebral distance not participatory immersion then wear it as though it were my own. As humans we can adapt. This shift would be far easier than learning how to live as a Saami in permafrost or a Tuareg in the Sahara.
On my desktop I run sealed SC5 DSP actives from Russia's DMAX. Very recently I tried a passive Danish Jern 15H. That compact sealed 2-way in a cast high-graphite iron cab runs a time-aligned gold Hiquphon ¾" tweeter with custom 5¼" Seas mid/woofer. Against those the white Germans played it noticeably paler and microdynamically tamer. And they still trailed the €780/pr Super Cubes on color intensity and energetic gumption. Those tables only turned on raw LF extension and power. Here the Acoulab again pushed new records. Sitting so close, I now did see low-bass transients move cones but to the naked eye their movements looked like crisp impulses without trailing cone wobble. The overriding sonic core impression was of intense control and damping. The side effect was suppressed drive. That's the propulsive/projectile force which conveys musical momentum; its strut and swagger if you like. These Germans sounded more like a military marching band. It's why—correctly as it turned out—I thought of buffer-less nCore power modules. Back when, energetic intensity and materialized presence had clearly improved when I activated the buffers of that Purifi amp aka next-gen nCore. Now the purist Première S behaved more like a mismatched passive preamp. It's the active replacement's extra current and drive which kicks music into higher dynamic gear and fleshiness. The 'passive' Acoulab prioritized transparency to an extent I found a bit ghostly: too much see-through, insufficient light-blocking physicality.
Meanwhile checking on lip sync with a John Darko video review then Warner Brothers movie preview, I spotted no visible delay. Using the Acoulab in a video context will present zero issues on that score. That was my cue to move these loaners into our 2.0 video system. They and the Wyred4Sound preamp for analog precision volume replaced our usual Zu Soul VI and Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe integrated. But first, a quickie on 'auto' mode. To trigger the standby's red LED to white requires normal not low signal voltage. Once color status changes, a few seconds go by before actual sounds commence. If you dislike that delay, power them up manually to be live already once you hit 'play'.
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