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Sidebar I
Discussion of Joseph Chow's design philosophy - by Victor Comerchero
Joseph Chow's design philosophy and goals can be summed up as follows: to reduce component coloration to a minimum; to wed the clear virtues of tubes --greater musical flow following from a slower decay time; superior harmonic texture from bottom to top--to those characteristic of the best solid state equipment --superb S/N figures, low distortion, wonderful transient micro-detail retrieval; to produce a supremely open and transparent sound that emerges out of the blackest silence; to provide excellent customer value; to keep ever in mind that our goal is not to produce stunning sound but entrancing music; to make owners feel proud that they own Audio Horizons components; and finally to accomplish all this within the means of the average audiophile music lover..
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First up, Alison Krauss + Union Station. All over the New Favorite album, there's a clarity of tone that's instantly evident. And while that tonal character is breezier than I prefer, it's very well balanced across the most important frequencies and far from inappropriate. Dynamics are agile and suitably scaled in both the macro and micro. When the banjo, acoustic and slide guitars, acoustic bass and her very own fiddle take off, the TP 8.0 takes charge with its lucidity, easily sorting through the thick tangle of intricacies and allowing each instrument its rightful place through the measures.

I'd be fond of a bit more harmonic density but there is nothing flawed with this roast. It's a great example of the complex, bright, fruity and dry brew you'd get from a stellar Kenyan coffee bean. More forward than I like, especially on the 604 speakers and less so on the Druids, but again, nothing out of balance... there's nothing wrong with the coffee but I would order whole milk instead of skim to adjust the flavor to my liking.

When I asked about tube rolling, Victor replied, "Yes, we have tried Mullards and Amperex. The Mullards have a lovely warm midrange and a more forward sound but to our ears were a little lacking in bottom and top end. The Amperex were also warmer than the Siemens, much more coherent sounding, also smoother and sweeter but without the extension and detail of the Siemens." He then sent along some pre-cooked $200/pair Mullards to try and try them I did. I appreciated their warmth but not the cost of additional forwardness and the less than balanced frequency extremes. So back to the Siemens it was. Your mileage may vary but I think Audio Horizons has done did their homework and already found the best tube to allow the TP 8.0 to show its strengths. I did appreciate their interest in my preferences and willingness to let me tweak their handiwork.

In 1969, two years before he became Shaft and many more before morphing into Chef on the South Park series, Issac Hayes released his second studio album. Hot Buttered Soul was a radical (imagine that!) departure from the typical pop/soul format of the day. It featured just four songs that lasted from 5 to 18 minutes each. This album revealed that the TP 8.0 could move me, physically. Good pace, toe-tappin' and all that. I won't go on and on about it other than to say that not all components get it going on that front.

On my Altec 604 speakers, the TP 8.0 is somewhat noisy (as in, I could clearly hear its self-noise -- rush and hum -- from the listening spot), but once the music kicked in, even at low volumes it was not a distraction. There was very little noise (and none heard from the listening position) with the Zu Druids; and it was stone-cold quiet on my 88dB Sound Dynamics RTS-3. To be fair and to this date, the only phono stage that has ever made me wonder whether it was on when in the chain feeding the 604s is my Monolithic PS-1/HC-1 combo. That's a solid stater.

The really good news is that the rush was not from the groove and with whatever speakers, the 8.0 released the music from therein. Because I heard less surface noise than usual regardless of speaker or amp or combination, when Hayes set up "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" -- which he sets up with an extended and monochromatic story backed with a drone from the organ and ü
ber-simple percussion work -- I experienced a newfound respect for the out-of-the-ordinary talent it takes to get away with something like that. I was hooked.

We next spent some time with Lightnin' Hopkins. With the unit's 1-2-3 punch of transparency, low-level resolution and dynamic dexterity, Lightnin' and his guitar quickly found their way into my room. As is the case with most gear that's highly resolving, older and somewhat abused pressings from Michelle Schocked and Van Morrison sounded grainy. But, a freshly unsealed Ten New Songs by Leonard Cohen got things back on track with extended and articulate bass that supported, but never got in the way of, preserving the proper perspectives of the main and back-up vocals.

Shortcomings? Not really. But I do have predilections: Too forward and harmonically lean on the Altecs but much closer to my liking on the Druids and RTS-3. None of it is objectionable - just a matter of inclinations. My penchant is for something less cool but not by a large margin. While it's a little too sharp and concise in the upper mids for my palate, (I like a bit more body and warmth), let me assure you that it is splendidly balanced from the lower mids on up, with somewhat less texture in the lower bass; a trait that that others may view alternatively as tight or concise. This is no backhanded compliment, simply an expression of my partiality. Just as a wrong seat in the hall or bad day at the office don't objectively change the performance we hear at the Concertgebow, some will rave and some will pan the very same performance. To be clear, my comments are not meant as a pan. Put in terms of an after-the-show pick-me-up, I'd simply prefer a Toraja -- the full-bodied, funky, spicy and complex, with a really nice nutty note in the background -- from Sulawesi or depending on my mood, an even more earthy, really big and ever so slightly syrupy 'cuppa of Sumatra with a touch of chocolate or nutty chewiness. None of that is to say that I can't appreciate the Kenyan roast mentioned earlier...

Up to now, the 8.0 had been running through the deHavilland UltraVerve and the Art Audio PX-25 or an AudioSector Patek v2. In the midst of this review, I got ambushed by the Wright Sound Company WPA 3.5 mono block amps. I had these amps a few years back and even though I had speakers well suited to the circumstances, they just didn't click in my system back then. This time, things were different. Was it the latest preamp ... my new speakers ... the cabling ... or incredible isolation racks? All things I didn't have the first time 'round? Don't know. Can't say. Doesn't matter anyway.