It is worth noting that the 400M’s are no spring chickens; they have been around for at least the last seven years, they don’t seem to have been picked up by reviewers anywhere – they appear to occupy space below the radar. At £7,200 they are something of a bargain, and they seem to have a special affinity with the B&W802d2s. They have the power to grip the bass performance of the speakers and to drive them with aplomb. My turntable is an Inspire Monarch, with an SME V, and I’ve not heard such impressive bass performance as this on my system. Continuing with the vinyl odyssey, this time the Amadeus Quartet with Cecil Aronowitz playing Mozart’s early and utterly charming Bb Quintet op 174 on DG, the combination really captures the vitality of this world-class ensemble. The sound is packed with detail, lovely tonal nuance, and the colours of the players’ Strads (not all of them) finessed effortlessly. This is the opposite of many of the digital amps I’ve heard recently. The greyness and lack of tonal nuance kill them for me. None of that here! All this from the phono stage that comes from a preamp costing £4,750.
The 400M’s have fully balanced differential circuitry, matched Moon bipolar transistors, an over-sized power supply using a custom-designed toroidal transformer, and a healthy 400 Watts at 8 Ohms. The monoblocks are also Class A for the first 10 Watts, which goes some way to explaining the sweetness I’m hearing.
So onto some opera, Macbethconducted by Sinopoli on Philips Digital Classics. Using the 390 and 400M’s – a truly stellar (or should I say lunar combination), once again shows the synergy of the three products. They capture the drama of this extraordinary work. The fearsome orchestral crescendi... 0-60mph in 6 seconds! There are choral moments, which can scream on lesser systems, but here have a beguiling line to them. When the music turns comic, the tightness and grip these units have on the music is the perfect conduit for the wit of the score. When Mara Zampieri as Lady Macbeth gets going with her pyrotechnics, there is no hint of harshness and such control! The full personality of her voice is laid bare.
Finally, I tried Leif Ove Andsnes playing Chopin Ballades and Nocturnes on Sony, as heard through Qobuz, a 96k/24 bit recording. The piano is a funny one for me. It’s tough to capture a keyboard well so that it sounds like a single instrument and not a series of drive units- so it’s more a speaker thing, but the amp and DAC also play a starring role in the success of good pianistic reproduction.
Chord’s DAVE is the master of the piano, but somehow what I’m hearing on this hi-res Qobuz recording makes me want to listen further and further. It’s a beautiful sound with no harsh edges, and the incredible subtlety of Andsnes’ phrasing spins the musical line in an arresting way. Not only is the timbre of the piano just right, but the micro-phrasing that you hear when you stand next to a great musical artist is all there. It is so often lost.