Some recordings require a relatively powerful amp for proper playback. Failing that, the gist of the musical message pares down. A scaled-down Thriller is not thrilling at all. Neither is a jack-in-the-box the real jack. The same is applicable to the majority of symphonic recordings. For instance, I listened to David Oistrakh perform Isaac Albéniz's Suite española and Friedrich Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with the open-reel Studer and Hercules MkII. Dynamics were full-fledged across a prime timbral palette up to full-throttle tutti. These qualities made the music vivid and alive, leaving behind an almost genuine impression of being in a real concert hall.

The sound of solo violin conveyed not only the genius of its performer but the very nature of his Stradivarius instrument (after Oistrakh's death, his violin became part of a rarities collection in the Moscow's Glinka Museum). Or take one of my favorite recordings: Midnight at Notre-Dame (SACD, Deutsche Grammophon).

Its background is very interesting. In the most famous Paris cathedral with a colossal acoustic volume and unique organ built by the incomparable Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the program is performed by Olivier Latry, the staff Notre-Dame de Paris organist, a brilliant virtuoso who manages to not only conquer the space completely but also his repertoire, parts of which are difficult to even imagine being performed by an organ (Prokofiev's Toccata for example).

Also, one must take into consideration the SACD with a plethora of digital and sonic advantages. The minimalist system will recreate only a vague semblance of this fantastic recording. One must really feel the pulse of the colossal air volume, truly subterranean bass created by 32-foot pipes like the last chord of Bach's Chaconne. The Hercules MkII made a proper job of it all. I even felt that the room was too small for the sonic scale unleashed and that Magico's Q3 speakers should have been changed to, say, the Q5 or the TAD R1.

I still also remember the Hercules rendering Bizet-Shchedrin's Carmen suite performed by the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. It is one of the most impressive fruits of cooperation between two grand maestros: conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky and sound engineer Igor Veprintsev. This 1967 recording was an undisputed success and gained popularity all over the world. There are even some words about it in my new book on Veprintsev [above]. Besides an accurate representation of an impeccable orchestral ensemble and the score, the Hercules MkII conveyed the scale, spaciousness and clarity of the musical picture — in other words, all the aspects that were crucial to this musical case.

One can say that everything the amps did was done in the spirit of their mythological namesake, who as we all know was not merely strong but also smart. The Hercules MkII are capable of both playing for high stakes and meticulous embroidery. It took me some time to get used to their manner of shaping chamber music. The balance was obtained by finding the optimal distance and volume. The academic grand piano sound wasn't coloured at all. While conveying the piano's timbre, the amps didn't create any register roughness or cloudiness which could spoil the impression in the slightest. Sometimes the grand piano can be classified as a percussion instrument. That's what the Jazz pioneers did. To some extent this is true as a piano uses hammers to strike its strings. But some outstanding academically trained artists manage to get the so-called cantilena non-percussive sounds from a piano. They pay attention not only to the starting attack which determines the rhythm or strike but also to its continuation and inter-tonal connections; what musicians call legato.

For me two things are equally evident: few musicians master cantilena and audio systems are rarely capable of conveying it adequately. Why? There doesn't seem to be an intrinsic problem. If a sound lingers on in the recording, then it must be played back likewise. But it doesn't always happen. To create a lingering piano note, any timbre thinning must be cancelled at all cost. Like other S.A.Lab amps, the Hercules MkII is very good at managing cantilena. This quality is revealed on instrumental chamber pieces like string quartets, the fabric of a large orchestra or even percussion, i.e. the timpani membrane vibration phase, the tails of cymbals, triangles or celestas. Finally this ability was revealed while playing back male, female or children's voices. In the end, I picture the following Hercules MkII entourage for the rare owner: the amps must be provided with a large acoustically treated room and adequate system partners. There has to be a considerable distance between listeners and speakers, at least 6 metres. And finally, cough, the owner will probably have to get his or her floor reinforced!
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