Listening commenced with a Melco N1Z digital transport connected directly to the Roksan’s USB input, and a pair of PMC Fact.8 loudspeakers hooked up to its outputs. The result was rather enjoyable thanks to a good sense of timing, an even-handed tonal balance, and evident – but not overt – power. It coped with the dense interplay of Van Morrison’s ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ [Astral Weeks, Warner Bros], avoiding a tendency to brightness by dint of giving full body to the double bass that, just about, keeps things together. This suggests that the bass is a little warmer and fuller than average, a characteristic that came through once or twice, but is pretty subtle overall. With Vivaldi’s ‘Belleza Crudel’ [Tone Wik, Alexandra Opsahl, 2L], the sound was vivid and open, with lots of space around the period instruments, and plenty of timbre to enjoy. Moving to solo piano changed the image completely, revealing that Roksan’s Blak is highly capable of exposing the nature of each recording. The piano remained tightly focused while delivering a good deal of the spirit of the playing.
Moving to an external converter in the shape of a Primare DAC30 did improve matters quite considerably; essentially, a veil is removed and you can hear a lot more fine detail. I guess it’s a bit much to expect an onboard DAC to perform as well as one that has it’s own dedicated power supply and considerably more space to make itself at home. It did reveal the Roksan Blak to be a better amp than initially thought, which is no bad thing. The sense of dynamics, transparency, and presence it delivered made a very good case for using this amp in elevated company when it comes to source and speakers. By this point, I was enjoying Henry Threadgill Sextett’s ‘Bermuda Blues’ [You Know The Number, Novus], which has lots of fine detail for an amp to dig up, and this was something that the Roksan did with ease. It excelled at delivering the snap of the snare drum, the power of double bass playing, and the intense joy of the horns. In some systems the sheer energy and density of the piece can result in a cacophony, but this amp has the power and coherence to deliver it in thrilling form without any danger of ear ache!
Going back to the Van Morrison track, it was apparent that much of the warmth in the bass was related to the DAC rather than the amp itself, because the result with an external converter had a far stronger sense of presence, the vintage of the recording being much more apparent, and the genius of its composition even more so. Astral Weeks has been described as ‘the best album in the world (ever)’, and when everything falls into place – as it does here – it’s hard to disagree. A newer recording of older music, Haydn’s ‘String Quartet In D, Op. 76, No. 5’ [Engegårdkvartetten, 2L], displayed its light and shade in subtle graduation; the playing nicely defined without any hint of grain, yet with all the immediacy of the spirited playing in full effect. Bass is well defined, too; there isn’t the sense of grip you get with more powerful amplifiers, but in many ways you don’t want that unless you live and die for bone-crunching bass. Rather, you want extension as well as shape, and the ability to stop and start precisely, such as with the double bass and electronically sourced bass drum on Bugge Wesseltoft’s interpretation of ‘Round About Midnight’ [Trialogue, Jazzland].This expands out to fill the room, but remains focused and engaging, the amplifier responding well to being driven a little harder than usual and losing no composure in the process.
Next to an original Leema Tucana integrated, which is a more expensive amplifier, Blak doesn’t look as fancy and nor does it have the Leema’s plethora of features, but Blak’s rounder and warmer sound may well be preferable to many. The Leema sounds more realistic and powerful – there is more of the original acoustic and greater transparency – but there is also a clear sense of power that paradoxically seems less natural. The highs from Roksan’s Blak are a bit sweeter and the sense of musical flow is stronger, but if you want an authoritative sound the Leema will have more appeal.