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Set to shuffle mode, the obviously lossless and digitally tapped iPod progressed to Sting’s "Fortress around your heart" from The Dream of the Blue Turtles. From the first guitar picks I was on alert like a drawn bow since this 1985 production in retrospect is quite wet and dense to be little fun with overly analytical modern-day hifi. I was thus pleasantly surprised just how good this number worked with the Aria. Granted, it couldn’t completely transcend the enveloping overripe hall sound from what now seems like the Stone Age of digital reverb. Even so the Aria seemed mostly correct. This reading is dynamic and imbued with a certain pulsation across a smaller but well-lit stage. Things also get quite pressurized particularly during the refrains which carry noticeably stronger vehemence. Surprisingly effective! This seems a perfect opportunity to bring up reader letters by Caspar Holz and Matthias Baumgarten who kicked off an interesting forum discussion about whether it’s really an asset or liability when components render inferior recordings more listenable.

Caspar opined that "a truly superior machine will sound at least acceptable with a poor recording to not completely kill the pleasure of listening to it". Truly? Is a hifi machine’s job to reveal a production with all its shortcomings – or should those shortcomings get ‘harmonized’ sufficiently to make access to pleasure more easy? It’s not merely a tough question. It must remain an open question. It moves straight into the grey zone between studio and living room. The studio listeners—recording engineer, producer, tone master—rely on detecting the smallest of flaws. They need molecular resolution and unconditional candor. In my own home I’d rather be less conscious of flaws. But this decision is purely personal. I can merely note that the friendly ‘equalizing’ nature of the Aria had me finally listen to the entirety of Sting’s "Fortress around your heart" where I usually hit next as soon as that awful soprano sax enters.

From Sting I advanced to the melancholy but acoustically more complex diet of Beirut’s "Port of Call" from their latest Rip Tide album. Here various instruments vie for space around the singer, from glockenspiel to ukuleles, guitars, piano, various woodwinds and clanking percussion. Immediately apparent was that the clearly not upscale glockenspiel did sound like a glockenspiel but also felt quite cheap. Metallic bite awoke childhood associations but the wonderfully lengthy decay still made it worthwhile. The guitars and ukuleles wove an undulating rhythm carpet to ideally support Zach Condon’s plaintive voice which over the Aria acquired real ‘fat’, substance and sonority. As I’d already noted with Bill Callahan, the Aria particularly with voices really knows how to flesh out skeletons. Whilst this occurs without overt nonlinearities, clearly the midband undergoes a special transformation or 'treatment'.

When the piano enters halfway into the piece, the stage actors seem to literally move back a bit to make room. This results in a truly room-filling width/depth panorama. As with Bill Callahan the performers again didn’t seem nailed to the stereorama which instead seemed to breathe. The core mantra was highly organic live vibe. Time for the CD player and Tame Impala’s "Desire Be, Desire Go", a contemporary Neo-Psychedelic band which starts where Can and Hawkwind of yore left off – driven hypnotic fare with various effects, plenty of fuzz pedals and an occasionally quite off-kilter doped-out hallucinatory atmosphere.

The Aria captured this groove with gusto. The guitars which here are exceptionally ‘altered’ with unusual EQ selections nearly glued themselves to my cochleas whilst the Aria blew them into the room with astonishing force. No wall-flower valve ampino here, no lame damping factor. This lass knew how to hit the gas when called for. Most tube amps fight with a reputation to walk their music on a long leash. It means things are chilled and relaxed but lack true punch and gumption. Macrodynamically the Aria would seem to defy this notion. Limitations occurred more tonally. The low bass was coiled and quick but not fundamentally saturated and compared to my usual pre/power reference of Funk LAP-2 and Myryad MXA 2150 less potent in amplitude.

Most impressive on this number is the treatment of the soundstage. From the ingredients on hand the Aria fashioned a nearly claustrophobic ‘box’ from whence the guitars blew their wild storm. Wouldn’t this seem to contradict the two earlier experiences of opulent spaciousness? Quite so. That’s my excitement in a nutshell. Though it might read somewhat esoteric, the Aria seemed to tune into each musical piece individually to ‘interpret’ it in an exclusive reading rather than clinically serve up the raw facts. Or perhaps the truth is closer to somehow underlining the intent of the artists and producers which has the listener feel more connected to their meanings and ambitions?