The sound produced was among the most open I have encountered from any source; the degree of detail, dynamics, and bandwidth it produces is shocking, and this with a none too brilliant 1980s recording by New York soul funk outfit Conjure. What becomes apparent pretty quickly is how much low level detail is being revealed; this a reflection of the very low noise floor of the phono stage and its remarkable transparency, both characteristics combining to yield the same result. You can fake transparency by emphasising the midrange, but that trick becomes apparent when you notice that the bass lacks power and extension, and the highs fail to deliver the spatial clues that they need to. No, Pure Audio is not cheating; it has built an intrinsically revealing phono stage by virtue of making the right decisions in circuit design, parts choice, and layout. In the case of Conjure, you can hear both the limitations of the recording alongside an awful lot of what’s going on with the quieter instruments in what is quite a dense mix of drums, percussion, bass, and voice. It’s a physical sound that makes the band pop out of the loudspeakers in highly convincing fashion.
An earlier recording, Joni Mitchell’s Mingus [Asylum], finds Joni and bass player Jaco Pastorius spanking their respective planks in the studio together while revering the great jazz bassist himself. Here the attack of the instruments is extremely well served because of the speed in the system; there is no overhang, which means you can appreciate the full reverb in the context of a silent background. Bringing things marginally more up to date with Leo Kottke’s Great Big Boy [Private Music] from 1991, the Pure Audio revels in the space in the recording, opening it up wider than I’ve previously heard and revealing low tympani notes that other stages have hinted at, but never elucidated so clearly. This stage is immensely sensitive to recording quality; the differences it exposes from one vinyl LP to the next are massive. This has to be picked up by the record player of course and the RP10 is extremely good in this respect, but it takes a good stage to reveal the extent of those differences. The amount of subtle percussion on Kottke’s piece ‘Ice Cream’ was also surprising. Usually, the percussion blurs a bit, so that individual instruments are hard to identify; here, it was possible to hear them.
The even newer Peace... Back by Popular Demand by Keb Mo [Sony Wonder] can often sound overblown in the bass. It’s a lush sounding record and one that this phono stage manages to deliver with all its polish intact, while keeping the kick drum clear and tight, and the bass line round and slick. The instrument that comes into its own here, though, is the Hammond organ that provides a bit of brightness against the dark, chocolaty textures of the mix.
Realising that I was just plain enjoying the Pure Audio, and not being too analytical about its performance, I made a few comparisons with my regular stage: the rather more compact but two-box Trilogy 907. This has variable gain and I run it full throttle. This may give the Trilogy some advantages over the Pure; prime among these was its sense of timing, which was distinctly stronger and drew you into the music more effectively. It also had a better sense of presence. However, it was not as open nor revealing of detail as the Pure Audio and appeared to have too much upper bass by comparison.