Doing the deed with my ~€2K Audreal monos which are quite brilliant on standard fare, my brain drew one giant speech bubble in the outer space above it which was occupied by a single mega question mark: what grotesque sonic gruel was this? Help! With the Mk4's steep damping factor (something AA champion), its top micro resolution and iron-fisted dynamic control, I quickly moved beyond the initial wtf to transcend concern about the recording's unusual balance and actually connect with its embedded Rock appeal. Whilst percussion and bass still loaned their most important bandwidth to the guitar tracks, in the end everything was there, just in different places than usual. Be it left or right, the strings shrieked, shimmered and tumbled in glassy clarity and the rhythm section contributed drive and momentum. The Mk4 really dug in to retrieve the necessary impact and precision from the strangely mixed drums and bass.

Duly tickled, I decided to try rather more chaotic fare. 2016's twofer The Glowing Man by the Swans gives up nothing on complexity and hypnotically circular song structures to its precursors To be Kind and The Seer. Including guest stars, there can be as many as 15 guys making noise at any one time. Forget common sequencing of intro, lyrics, refrain, lyrics, bridge, refrain, outro. Most numbers here roll out a musical notion or melodic line like a baker rolls out endless dough. Here that means in excess of 10 minutes which can cause claustrophobia with the listener. Just when one's capacity shuts down to want to flee the room in exasperated screams, suddenly the sonic scenery flips into abysmal atmospheres of nasal bag pipes, hysterical steel guitars and gloomy vocals. Apocalypse now.

Even here the Power 1 Mk4 proved stoic. "The World Looks Red / The Word Looks Black" for example kicks off quite simply. Bass, two guitars and piano repeat the same melodic line braced by spare percussion, a period shaker on the right and a ride cymbal on the left every four bars. As chicanery, the melody players operate within different beat zones to juxtapose even and odd-metered pulses in a continuously meandering rhythmic insecurity. It's devilish and nerve-rattling. The sole constant one may hold on to in this timekeeping mayhem is the ride cymbal.

Taking more than 14 minutes, this song keeps on building with more and more outré additions including gloaming synths which successively overlay and obscure the innermost structure. Yet the ride cymbal remains discrete even if it is being more and more overlaid by the cacophony. Very few amps hold that together. The only ones in recent memory in fact may have been the Valvet A4 monos of about a year ago. They seemed equally stoic relative to such massively layered obfuscation.

Let's step back to ask how the Accustic Arts Power 1 pulled this off. As mentioned earlier, there's a bucket full drawn up from the dynamic and tonal wells. The entire bandwidth is accurately sorted and reproduced. Inflections, turns, gaps or soft-pedalling excel by being laid bare to their bones. This tracks instruments which, purely on amplitude, should be masked and dominated by others. It creates a happy coexistence of various volume layers whereby the listener's eye and ear isn't automatically steered to the loudest source but simultaneously gains access to the finer, quieter tonally less seductive elements. In short, the Accustic Arts teased out the most complex stuff rather than defaulted into congealed chaos.

Not that complex fare remains exclusive to the Swans. Good ol' Ludwig van Beathaufen had that down pat already centuries ago. Granted, I'm not Beethoven's stoutest fan. Too much of it is too pomp and circumstance for my tastes. But I do like his Third Symphony called 'Eroica', particularly its closing movement which shows off his chops at their most creative and playful. It's got toccata-style fugue elements à la J.S.Bach, rapid nearly silly harmonic progressions like Mozart and folksy melodies as found in Dvorak or Brahms. The finale occurs in proper Ludwigian bravura in E minor. Not bad also to test-drive hifi gear with !