Every musician, regardless of their chosen instrument, is looking for their voice and not just their own sound. When I listen to a great piano player, saxophonist or violinist, I am always aware of the vocal narrative that lies behind what they are saying through the instrument. That is what draws me to their playing and has probably been indirectly responsible for my interest in home audio for years. When you think about serious musicians and why you prefer some over others, I think it’s about their supreme ability to make the instrument talk to the listener through the music. Through technique, physical ability, good ear and taste, they speak to us through our home systems and hopefully, we respond to their message and narrative.
Interestingly enough, Hervé Delétraz refers to his amplifiers as instruments. After having spent some time listening to his CTH-8550 Mark II integrated amplifier, I completely understand why. I reviewed the NHB-18NS preamplifier and the NHB-108 model two amplifier late last year and have never been quite able to shake those experiences out of my head. As this Integrated amplifier, they have a single and mightily focused purpose, and that is to give the musicians we listen to a voice and a way to tell musical tales through one of the most complex art forms ever. It’s what great systems, at whatever price, really should do.
Experiencing both these amplifiers has undoubtedly been a privilege. Still, it has also sparked a quest in me to try to explain why I believe darTZeel amplifiers are so exceptional in a world with many components claiming to do, essentially, the same thing. Let me make something clear – they are not alone in being so ‘musical’ and, to my ears, desirable. But they are one of a small group that shine out and make me want to stop what I may be doing and just sit and listen.
The CTH is unmistakably darTZeel. Its red case and eye-catching gold front panel are instantly familiar, and the quality of the metalwork is beautiful. It’s certainly a bit quirky but in a good and interesting way. Beautifully built close to Lake Geneva, it is designed and fabricated by a music lover to be as close to no-compromise as possible. Let’s say that a device like this is never going to come cheap. In contrast, most bespoke objects, not just audio but also cars, cameras, watches etc., as desirable as they may be, tend to carry a degree of disappointment when you actually get your hands on them darTZeel never disappoints.
Considering its power, the latest CTH amplifier comes in a reasonably compact chassis with gold carrying handles front and rear, giving the component a particular purposeful look. It uses a more conventional volume system than in the NHB-18NS. Yet, with keeping in mind the music must be reproduced with the greatest possible level of emotion, and it is a beautiful thing to operate with its twin soft X-rings, and a slight notion of a haptic response as the knob is rotated. The manufacturer calls it Pleasure Control on darTZeel amplifiers, though most of your interaction with the device will be through a truly excellent remote control. Yes, it too, is beautifully made out of a billet of aluminium in matching gold, providing full access to all features you may ever need. My favourite thing about it is that it will operate even when out of line of sight to the amplifier. For once, I was not forced to get up from another area of my listening room and walk across to stand square in front of a component to adjust the volume!