First up is the Mozart E flat String Quintet, the Amadeus Quartet with Cecil Aronowitz, recorded by DG in 1969. I am struck by a presentation which is unfamiliar. There is a solidity and richness to the midrange which I don’t often hear on a high-end cartridge. It is a dense, characterful sound, which seems to convey more detail about the makers of the instruments being played than I get with my resident Lyra Scala. The sound stage is just a little condensed, some of that classic moving-coil ‘airiness’ is less present than I’m used to, but the cartridge is really excelling in differentiating the subtle textures of the instruments, and making them sound utterly believable. The cello is particularly well reproduced. The Miyajima seems to time better than I’ve heard on my Scala, bass notes seem to start earlier with a cleaner attack. This affects the sense of timing of the group, as if the players are better together. It is also resolving a greater amount of bass detail. I also notice that some of the higher first violin passages that can shriek a little on the Lyra are better handled. I don’t know if the cartridge is a fraction rolled-off at the top, but somehow the sound reminds of an old-fashioned, pre-CD world. There is also a master tape-like feel to the performance. There’s no gloss to the sound, which can make for pleasurable listening, but more a matt patina. I have got used to a bit of gloss in my system, which I realise doesn’t exist in the concert hall.
A similar set of sonic results follow with ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, with Bernstein conducting the LA Phil from the piano, on DG. The sound is not particularly euphoric, but again has a master tape feel to it. The lower orchestral bass is particularly superb; I am aware of notes that I’ve not heard before, and there is a sense of real refinement of timbre. Rhythmically, when the orchestra breaks into toe-tapping cross-rhythms, the cartridge captures the moment beautifully. Accurate, yes: panache, maybe not.
I had some Magnepan 3.7i’s knocking around, which I tried as an antidote to the B&W802ds. The presentation is not surprisingly, shockingly different. They are a planar magnetic speaker that use ribbons, and have a startling clarity to them. Listening to some old Blue Note recordings, such as Kenny Burrell’s classic Midnight Blue, yielded the nearest thing to being in a jazz club I’ve yet heard. There is something about the synergy between a timbrally fastidious cartridge, and the larger-than-life, character of the Maggies, that really rocks – a rightness tonally and energy-wise that sucks you into the heart and soul of the music.