So, there’s a bit of a gap ‘twixt Electra and Utopia, and this year it was filled by Sopra. Specifically, the Sopra No.2. It concedes little to the Utopias in terms of scale, coherence, and downright musical communication, but is not all that much larger than the Electra 1028, so is probably well suited to many typical UK domestic settings. In terms of performance, it is another of those products which impresses largely because it doesn’t draw attention to itself. It just quietly (alright, pretty noisily but the neighbours are used to it) gets on with the business of telling you just how amazing so many of the musicians are in your music collection. It doesn’t flatter, this is no rose-tinted, soft-focus soft-soaping; there is no euphonious coloration to pretty things up, in fact detecting any form of coloration presents something of a challenge. It gives you confidence that the foibles of the loudspeaker aren’t getting between you and your music and that is a remarkable thing.
I’m going to need some considerably bigger stockings.
This was the year vinyl came back into my life in a big way, courtesy first of the Avid Diva II turntable, which reset my expectations as to what a sub-£2,000 turntable can achieve, but more recently thanks to the Audio Origami Uniarm. I’ve recently reviewed it, but suffice to say, it took the Avid turntable to a level of performance it has no claim to, at its price. The arm costs exactly as much as the turntable, so the pairing is £3,000, but I’m struggling to think of a combination, for that money or quite a lot more, which would approach the sheer levels of musical communication this remarkable tonearm brought me. It’s a unipivot design, and I like unipivots in much the same way as I like dogs, on a matter of general principle. The Uniarm is the Labrador of unipivots: solid, reliable, trustworthy, but huge fun to be around. It also looks pretty good, but happily for me, doesn’t eat cartridges like a Labrador would if you left one on the floor.
If you’ve got a Labrador, as we have, then some stern retraining might be required if you decide to invest in some Panda Feet, which are mostly intended as cable-lifters, not dog toys. A crisply-machined cube of compressed bamboo which serves as a neat and eco-friendly cable lifter, or could conceivably be pressed into service as a discreet equipment support under, say, a freestanding power amp. As a cable lifter, it seems to open out the music, creating more space around the instruments and contributing to the sense of fluency and life in the performance. At around £100 for a set of four, these can give an inexpensive, er, lift to your system, or a, somewhat more expensive few hours of entertainment to your dog. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
If there is any space left in my stocking, I’d almost certainly fill it with various little bits of PEEK, from MusicWorks. Regular readers may recall the MusicWorks Revo support platform, an acrylic ‘table’ which resembles a normal hi-fi rack in much the same way that I resemble George Clooney. Lately, MusicWorks have been experimenting with PEEK, a type of engineering plastic, in key elements of their design. Aside from upgrades to the table, they have also produced a range of cones, feet and sundry bits and bobs to keep an inveterate tweaker like me happy for weeks on end. I’ve replaced the spikes under my loudspeakers with a set of turned PEEK feet, and may yet replace those with a set of cones. The thing is, I have no real idea what the PEEK is doing, or not doing, except that every change so far has taken me closer to the music and further from the hifi. It is truly bizarre, and not a little troubling, to hear the difference one PEEK cone makes, when replacing something else under the equipment. But it is fun and while PEEK is not a cheap material, and I can’t claim the bits and pieces are pocket-money prices – a set of cones can be had for under £100, which is not a lot for an opening into a world of better music, hours of harmless experimentation (points ‘up’ or points ‘down’, source, preamp or speakers first…), and bemused head-scratching.