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This reader review first appeared in the February 2009 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end has a link below it to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of or Abacus Rieder. - Ed.

Some background. When my pretty respectable system of pre/monos gets old in the tooth a few years ago, I give it away. Deciding to downsize, I buy the Marantz SR/DR2100 CD receiver/CD-recorder combo and some small monitors to accommodate our living room and multi-family dwelling. Big mistake. Music listening devolves and the joy shrivels up. After two years, I call it quits on the monitors and acquire the
B&W 804. Those carry me over for another three years until persistent dissatisfaction with weak bass and crayon-on-chalkboard treble turns into rage. I determine to determine how much blame falls on the Marantz and how expensive an amp has to be to make listening fun again.

Based on fairaudio's Abacus Rieder review, I order one of their models and, as reference, also arrange for Denon's top integrated, the PMA-SA1. The Abacus 60-120B stereo amp is bigger brother to the integrated which walked away with fairaudio's favourite Award. Family resemblance sticks and cosmetics were covered already. I'd call 'em pragmatic. And the folks in Nordhorn are swell. I spend quite some time with Herr Sonder, covering among other things why Abacus doesn't believe in costly enclosures.

Without knowing that I'd share my experiences online, Sonder takes his time explaining that punters with 25-year old Abacus kit can add a new machine today and enjoy a perfect match. It's also how the Abacus Rieder 60-120B manages to get away with €600. Okay, so it looks as it does. Engineers are sober folks, honest and direct. They consider things carefully and get excited only when they reinvent something cleverer than the competition. Extensively (you might say lovingly), the website explains the special circuitry that's been their backbone for 25 years. The Rieder circuit couples to a different transistor junction than usual to avoid shortcomings others have to attend with costly fixes. As devout techno peasant, that interests me less. What I take away is that the Abacus controls speakers with an iron grip, both on the forward stroke and return.

Rieder vs. old Marantz combo: That's good enough for me. I need to understand no more. If I can hear results, I'll get excited. So I unpack the 60-120B and, as you cannot with the little one, jack bananas into its stable terminals. The €660 matching 6-2RC preamp of my loaner set goes right back into its carton. With one source, I won't need it and volume I can control on the amp, albeit not remotely as the pre allows for. My music lives on a hard-drive and is networked through a Sonos controller. Access is via iPod Touch and D/A conversion of my lossless data over Music Fidelity's V-Dac. Initial setup of this system is more involved
than leashing up a CDP but afterwards, functionality is far better - such as leafing through the collection on my iPod from the couch cover to cover. But that's a different subject.

A quickly assembled play list includes certain pieces where the Marantz clearly lacks treble and where bass demands to have fun. To test speakers, I favor classical to quickly point out tonal balance errors. That's less problematic with amps. I think little of audiophile samplers which are sadly tweaked to sound great on most any system. Regardless how bad the rig, it'll sound pretty decent. Plus, I don't care for them musically. To dive right into the deep end, there's My Name is Mud by Primus. Bull's eye. Suddenly each noise acquires heretofore unknown precision. The funky bass riff cracks to provoke grins. The double bass hammers in parallel and for once, both are precisely separated though they share rhythm and range. And boy does the tom ring out. I had no idea there was life beyond pock. The Abacus renders each impact like a gun shot and the bass drum below reacts in synchronicity. Awesome.

Next is "Dr. Strangluv" by Blonde Redhead, a piece where the €1,000 Marantz goes on my nerves for lack of upper-end extension. Suddenly Kazu's waif-like vocal seduction contains unfamiliar come-hither breathiness. And, she's in the middle of my room. I can make out her lyrics far better than before because her voice is contoured more clearly. "Gripped by an iron fist" flares up in my mind. If that means sharper outlines, I'm all there.

The deliberately soft background weave remains. If I want, I can enter into it thread by thread but I can also relax into the mood and drift away with the tune. If voices are so precisely rendered, won't they go on my nerves sooner than later? Let's spin up "Into the void" from Nine Inch Nail's wonderful The Fragile album where Trent Reznor employs the full range of musical possibilities in very subtle but effective ways. Gossamer flakes bursting like champagne bubbles in the ear are contrasted by the blackest of heavy-bass passages (great weight from the Abacus/B&W 804 combo and no sign of bass leanness at least in a 20m² room). Frontal wall-of-sound elements juxtapose with others far enough back to seem in the next room. Whatever sound is audible, Reznor tweaked and deliberated it until it was exactly like this.

Over the Abacus, certain passages of "Into the Void" are nearly painful because the singer screams in utter disregard for restraint, finesse or the apparent care applied elsewhere. This pierces the brain. Is the Abacus to blame and too sharp? I cue up the same number over the Denon PMA-SA1. Same cyborg brutality. It's meant that way. Pursuing expressive means, Reznor transcends categories by using the full sonic spectrum from micro nuance to relentless noise. And the amp does well to reproduce it as such. TalkTalk's Spirit of Eden too includes portions of near shrillness but here things aren't as simple. With this album, Mark Hollis reinvented the formerly good pop band TalkTalk inside out. No more easy allure to
follows the charts, no more steadfast levels to suit radio. Expressionista soft and gentle is how things kick off now before they gather up to intense energy levels where a harmonica jumps your jugular and crash pads dole out vicious blows left and right before peace returns. A work of extremes which even Hollis cannot follow up. The later Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis are variations on the theme but can't top the precedent.