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The ModWright largely reminded me of what I’d previously heard from the Japanese TAD C-600 preamplifier costing four times more. It’s a very smooth highly ordered sound. If I were to describe it with just one word, it would be noble. This characteristic could be heard straight from the beginning, from the very first few bars of a familiar album. It’s like walking down a street full of people and seeing more or less friendly faces. Suddenly out of nowhere our eyes focus on one face different from all the others. Not that it’s prettier or uglier per se but for one it’s interesting and two, we immediately feel that it is … noble. Something about its defined cheek bones, the balanced facial look, the muscle tension or ‘inner light’ suggests someone who stands out from the crowd. It's of course entirely possible that when such a person opens his or her mouth the magic disappears and all we see is an interesting but empty container. However there is a strong likelihood that the conversation will only confirm what we knew from the beginning – that here is someone unlike the others. Not better or worse, just different and more interesting.

The ModWright was just like that. By no means was it the best preamp I know nor even near the very top. We will find certain sonic characteristics that are shown better or even far better by superior more expensive gear. I will not fail to speak about that. Yet with each in-depth analysis compared head to head with the best linestages I know, it felt the same way time after time. This was a noble sound.

What was it made up from? How might this noblesse be characterized? The questions and my listening impressions were clear and simple but not necessarily so for the answer. That was primarily about feeling impressions. Since those are subjective and thus very difficult to verify, we'll establish common ground by talking about the main sonic traits.

This sound is very smooth. Although difficult to be classified unequivocally as a tube sound as it is not particularly warm or distinctly tangible, its particular coherence, fluidity between different ranges, its explicit continuum do indicate the presence of valves in the signal path. This is a common feature of modern audio equipment. The advantages of a given technology have less in common with stereotypical notions and more with real engineering advantages of tubes, transistors or even integrated circuits. They build on their strengths as though electronic design had finally matured at least within that narrow realm.

The LS 36.5 demonstrated that nicely. During an audition I would blindly say it was tube based precisely because the sound had body, wasn’t flat, exhibited excellent microdynamics which in no way are associated with resolution (though often they get confused as such). These microdynamics resulted in many things going on that were the antithesis of dull. Although the image sizes of the virtual performers weren’t overly large to lack some oomph, both remixes of the Depeche Mode single Personal Jesus 2011 as well as tracks on the new Assemblage 23 album Bruise—or electronic music in general—sounded kewl: interesting and with very lovely tone.

What this machine was best suited for however were smaller groups of instruments, preferably acoustic. Not that there was anything wrong with pairing the ModWright to electronica.  Acoustic music, jazz and such simply sounded more captivating. That was true for the new remaster of After Hours by André Previn (with Joe Pass and Ray Brown) originally released by Telarc. It’s a powerful performance with closely mic’d instruments especially the bass. The mastering highlights the midrange as being slightly contoured and somewhat explicit. The American preamp parlayed this well without any general thinning or softening of the attacks. Even if a very minor softening could be heard, it was barely at the edges of perception and even then not a flaw but rather an inherent aspect of that noblesse. However there was nothing to dwell on. It was simply a good sound, even more so as the tone color of individual instruments was very well differentiated and the guitar nicely blended with the piano without homogenization, each maintaining their own essential character.