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The Shindo Giscours preamplifier is visually stunning with its glass front plate that allows you to see the fire of NOS tubes glowing in the dark deep within its chassis. Ken's hand-made Giscours is completely point-to-point wired, uses twin tube rectification and full dual mono circuit topology, with each channel having separate output transformers. The Giscours uses the striking Western Electric 349A valves as well as an assortment of other premium tubes, which are visible through the front panel - a valve lover's dream come true. The Giscours incorporates custom moving coil amorphous core step-up transformers that work with a wide range of cartridges. It also has provisions for MM phono input for use with high output cartridges or in case the owner would like to use a particular non-Shindo external step-up transformer for a specific application. Matt used this feature to his advantage to demo the Auditorium 23 Homage SPU MC step-up tranny ($ 4,300) during our listening sessions, which is hand made by Keith Aschenbrenner -- a big Shindo fan himself -- to "sonically extract all the splendor that the Shindo SPU is capable of".

Next in the signal chain was the Shindo WE300B Limited SET mono amplifiers with NOS Western Electric 300B tubes and an assortment of other NOS tubes. The Limited uses a "circuit design and components that are the culmination of Ken Shindo's expertise in amplification", says Matt. All the connecting duties between components were via Shindo silver interconnects (3 pairs @ $950 each). Shindo silver speaker wire with custom low mass spades ($1,900 per meter @ 5 meters - gasp!) did duties between amps and Latour Reference speakers.

Matt's Shindo Latour Reference loudspeakers are decked out in absolutely stunning South American rosewood but are available in almost any veneer a customer might want. Matt's are the top-of-the-line field-coil version but Latours are available in other iterations starting at $29,500/pr. Matt's have a custom field-coil 15" woofer and field coil compression tweeter with custom horn lens. My guess after hearing Matt's loudspeakers is that the field coil approach is a major advancement in loudspeaker design. I don't pretend to understand the whole approach and its effect on the music but one listen made me a believer in its magic. Matt plugs everything into two 6-outlet Mr. T power conditioners ($1,800 each). In case you're not keeping track, the total for this system comes to about $142,000!

The full Shindo system costs more than my first home did so it had better deliver the musical goods. It does. For the sorts of things I value in music reproduction, the Shindo big rig is the most impressively musical system I have ever heard - and by no small margin! This is the sort of performance audiophiles and music lovers strive all their lives to achieve but most people never obtain it. Yet it is possible as the big Shindo system demonstrates. It has it all musically and sonically. The first thing I noticed was an effortless ability to portray music in an utterly natural, living and breathing, life-like and life-size manner. Matt says that a lot of that has to do with the ultra-low distortion electronics and highly sensitive Latour speakers but trust me, there's a lot more to it than that. I've heard lots of low-distortion high-sensitivity systems and they can't do what the Shindo rig can. The timbre of instruments was absolutely convincing, with a tonal purity and tactile correctness that was positively breathtaking. The music was infused with deeply hued tonal colors that lent an unparalleled level of musical drama to the tunes. There was lots of natural detail in evidence, which gave an intimate, close-to-the-performance feel to the music.

There was also absolutely zero grit, grain, glare, crispies, edgies or other nasties afflicting the sound. Over the course of the first evening, Matt and I spun a boatload of wax with all sorts of varying recording quality to see how well the Shindo rig did on the ultimate music lovers test: Can it play everything, every genre -- good recordings, even poor recordings -- and still deliver maximum musical pleasure?

We listened to everything you can imagine: selections from the Beatles' Let It Be; Jimi Hendrix's Blues; Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington's Recording Together for the First Time; Janos Starker's Bach: Suites for Unaccompanied Cello; Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash's Nashville Skyline; Lightin' Hopkins' Lightin' in New York; Iron and Wine & Calexico's In The Reins; Nick Drake's Pink Moon; Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism; Heifetz/Munch - Boston Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61; Bill Evans Trio, Waltz for Debby; Miles Davis Quintet, Cookin'; Mahapurush Misra on Tabla, Indian Drums; Lightin' Hopkins & Sonny Terry, Last Night Blues; Aretha Franklin, Amazing Grace; Marvin Gaye, What's Going On; Sufjan Stevens, Come on feel the Illinoise; Donald Fagen, Morph the Cat; Duke Ellington, Joe Pass, Ray Brown and Louis Bellson, Duke's Big 4; and Bob Dylan & The Rolling Thunder Revue, Live 1975. To name a few.

Music lovers need not worry. Any music we played through the Shindo system sounded convincingly and compellingly like music regardless of the recording quality. Even poorly recorded music -- I asked Matt to play some as a test -- had an organic, life-like quality that maintained the full musical experience that I crave. The Shindo rig really serves the music well and I suspect that poor sonics will never distract a Shindo listener from the musical message. Well recorded performances are absolutely stunning, displaying all the usual attributes us audiophile dweebs go gaga over: imaging to die for, impressive soundstaging within a big billowing soundspace, lots of inner detail, vivid textures, dramatic and finely honed macro and micro-dynamics.

Now a little about what impressed me the most about the Shindo rig's treatment of the music. You know how your ears will start to shut down on HiFi systems as volume goes up on big dynamic swings? My ears batten down the latches to protect themselves from harm under high volume swings, causing my stress levels to rise rapidly and causing me to quickly slip into listening fatigue. There's more than one room at CES that I've run from with my hands over my ears in self defense! That never happened to me on the Shindo rig. It is absolutely remarkable in its ability to portray big dynamic swings without ever inducing stress. When the volume goes up, the Shindo system maintains musicality in a stress-free and fatigue-free manner, making you feel like you do when listening at lower volumes but getting all of the visceral interaction of the music that you get at louder volumes. It's quite an accomplishment and a totally intoxicating trait.

Some people have taken to listening at low volumes because of the listening fatigue that most systems induce at higher volumes, particularly the girlie ear crowd. It's just too hard on those delicate ears otherwise. I confess that my volume levels have come down over the years too, with sanity and self preservation in mind. With the Shindo rig, I never felt the stress and strain normally associated with louder volumes. I felt utterly relaxed listening at musically natural volume levels higher than I normally listen to, and with zero wear over the course of an evening. This gives the music a sense of presence and body that you only hear in ... well, real life. That's really cool. You absolutely have to hear this system to experience what I'm talking about. It's truly the most impressive HiFi rig I've ever heard.

Honestly, I was a little bummed afterwards. There's no way yours truly can afford this system, not now nor likely ever. Its special magic with the music will remain out of my reach. I suspect most readers are in the same boat. I'm really glad there are systems like the Shindo so we know what is possible at the cutting edge of music reproduction. I was feeling rather glum about the whole experience though until I came over to Matt's the next evening to listen to the second rig, a more real world system price-wise. Matt feels this system captures many of the characteristics of the big Shindo rig at substantially lower cost.

We used the Shindo 301 player system again for spinning wax because that's what Matt has as a vinyl source - but you could substitute an excellent less expensive table and still be jazzed I suspect. The 47 Laboratory Shigaraki CD transport and DAC provided the digits, with the Shindo Arome CD matching transformer as an interface to massage the digits. Matt says "all the 47 labs DACs sound great without the Arome but the Arome gives them a boost (or any other digital) so to speak." The preamplifier we used was the Shindo Monbrison ($7,900), which uses NOS tubes, point to point wiring, tube rectification and sports both a MM and MC inputs with a custom amorphous core step up transformer. The Monbrison, like the Giscours, is simply gorgeous.

The amp was the Shindo Cortese ($9,500), a tube rectified, 10wpc single-ended stereo amplifier using the Siemens F2a output tube. This was my first encounter with the F2a output tube and let's just say I was very, very, impressed. The F2a is one impressive glowing fire bottle. We stayed with the Shindo silver interconnects (2 pairs @ $950) and used the Auditorium 23 speaker cables ($900 for 2.5m pair). The loudspeakers were the Living Voice IBXs ($7,995 in standard finishes, premium finishes like the satin walnut pair we listened to start at an additional $400 more). The Living Voices are a 6-ohm, 94dB sensitive 2-way affair using dual 165mm woofers and Scanspeak revelator tweeters in a D'Appolito configuration. The trusty Mr. T power conditioner ($1,800) was once again pressed into use. This wasn't exactly a cheap system but one within financial reach of many music lovers and audiophiles. That's good news to be sure.

Matt and I listened to all the same music on wax as we did with the big rig and we followed that with a steady stream of digits as varied as folk and hip-hop, much of which we listened to on the Shindo big rig too for a point of comparison: selections from Tuck Andress' Reckless Precision; Greg Brown's The Poet Game; Pat Metheny's Secret Story; Pat Metheny & Charlie Haden's Beyond the Missouri Sky; Mississippi John Hurt's Frankie & Albert and Stack O'Lee Blues; Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong's Ella and Louie; Jorma Kaukonen's Quah; Yoko Kanno's Ghost in the Shell; and Victor Wooten's A Show of Hands.

I was as impressed with the Shindo, 47 Labs and Living Voice system as I was with the big rig in many ways. The smaller system wasn't as dramatic, big and bold and didn't exude the same deep tonal saturation but it was extremely impressive in its own right and had the full Shindo system's most impressive traits: a complete faithfulness to the musical performance with any quality of recording we listened to and a complete absence of listening fatigue at any volume. Matt and I listened into the wee hours 7 hours straight and I felt as fresh when we finished for the night as I did at the beginning of the listening session. Like its more costly big brother, the smaller system was absolutely enthralling. Timbre was spot on, tonal color was outstanding and rhythmic attributes were utterly natural and engaging. It flattered all music whether analog or digital, whether well recorded or not. It also did the full audiophile thing: imaging, soundstaging up the ying yang, huge sense of space, detail galore... all that stuff. As with the full Shindo system, I never felt the stress and strain normally associated with long listening sessions or louder volumes.

I think you get the idea. For the level of musical satisfaction I experienced while listening to the smaller system, I can only say that I have never heard another system come close to providing a similar combination of sonics and musicality at anywhere near the price. In that sense it's a bargain. The smaller system is the second best system I have ever heard, only being bested by the full Shindo system. Both rigs really knocked me for a loop and had to recalibrate my expectations for a HiFi system after listening to them. If you can, I really encourage you stop by Matt's place just to hear these two systems, even if for no other reason than to get a feel for what's possible.

I'm so impressed with the possibilities that the smaller Shindo rig brings to the table at a cost that remains within reach of many serious music lovers and audiophiles that I'm going to pester importer Jonathan Halpern until he sends me a Shindo Arome CD matching transformer, Monbrison preamplifier and Cortese amplifier so I can investigate and report in much more detail. There's really something special going on with the Shindo equipment and I hope to be able to tell you much more about it in the future.

I would like to thank Matt and Keenya for inviting me into their home and for their most gracious hospitality. I had a blast visiting them and hearing these two systems. I really encourage you to stop by and pay them a visit, too. You'll be glad you did.
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