The life without the Accuphase is possible, however senseless...
Music is a complex form - a very complex form. This statement holds true especially with classic music where ´a story´ sometimes plays a secondary role. The story, as it is known from other genres, can be found in ballet suites, operas or some symphonies, however, often it is reduced in favor of other structures or completely surpressed. One great example is the impressionism of Claude Debussy.
Debussy somehow tamed five musical elements – melody, rhythm, harmony, dynamics and color – and through refined manipulation with instrumental registers he achieved remarkable harmonies. A standard sound of piano was thus morphed (in Engulfed Catherdral, for example) into colorful and ever changing structure.
Les Parfums de la Nuit, Fragrances of The Night, is the second part of Debussy´s Ibéria suite (Jésus Lopéz-Cobos, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Music of Turina and Debussy, Telarc SACD-60574). We are lured, bit by bit, into a refined orchestration that blooms with colors, lights and shadows and tactile impressions. The Accuphase works with the same palette like the composer and reveals dozens of musical layers in a fashion that is breathtaking.
Muted strings render a silky canvas that seduces a listener deeper and deeper into darkened gardens. The A-65 provides both your typical audiophile detail (like an unwanted resonance of a violin´s string) and the radiant warmth of instruments. Before one can realize that he or she is listening to an extremely well reproduced music, the piece takes a turn and our ears are caressed by a haunting oboe that leads us back into fragrant gardens under deep blue sky with the first stars, that are astonishingly delineated by sounds of a celesta, tambourine and xylophone. Everything is perfectly precise, perfectly natural and perfectly locked within the soundstage. Accuphase can do this and it can do much more. The soundstage is not so wide as with Musical Fidelity´s Titan or Plinius´s SA-Reference – both know better the secret how to remove side walls of your listening room. The Accuphase is the master of the soundstage depth: it removes the rear wall and opens the room into infinity that is limited only by the quality of a recording. The front to back soundstage is multilayered, expanding and scaled by millimeters rather than by meters. The result is an aural bliss bordering with magic.
I liked how sensitive the Accuphase is to a change of program. When I swapped the Telarc for the fifty-year old performance of Charles Munch and Boston Symphony Orchestra as originally recorded for RCA label (BMG/RCA, Living Stereo SACD, 82876-66374-2) I could appreciate the difference. Munch is a bit faster than Lopéz-Cobos which somewhat reduces the magic and mysterium (I prefer the Telarc in this particular aspect) but his colors are absolute. Violins and harps are sonically embracing which is supported by the Accuphases´s attention to a detail to the extent that you really smell a resin on bows in the air. It is unbelievable that the recording has been made in late 50´s with Studer reel-to-reel recorders – the hiss of the tape remains to be the only witness of the legendary session.
Well, the classical listening sessions are the right food for the Accuphase. Of course it is okay to use it for hard rock too and I can only highly recommend to re-explore the perfection of your favorite rock numbers for yourself – I can guarantee you will be very surprised! However, the harmonic richness of acoustic instruments is where the A-65 excels and that is what you pay for.
Now, there is a superb live recording rotating in my SACD player - DCD´s Desert Song (Dead Can Dance, Towards The Within, Mobile Fidelity DSD remaster, 4AD SAD 2712) – and the sonic nirvana continues. Strokes on tabla and a big drum are expansive and the Accuphase moves me in time and space to a very ambient and dynamic soundstage. It is difficult to talk about bass, mids or highs as the whole frequency range is virtually seamless in a very organic fashion. A rattling tambourine sound is exquisite with its impeccable resolution and life-likeness and I could swear I can see the instrument moving in the space. Both male (I am Stretched on Your Grave) and female (Persian Love Song) vocals are very real and soon it is clear that mids are where the A-65 is at home with ease. I´ve been listening to high end audio for two decades and the A-65 remains unrivalled in this aspect – at least for my ears.
Man against Machine…
The A-65 is sonically closer to tubes rather than solid-state devices. Despite this it is not forgiving, yet in an elegant way. The Accuphase is especially sensitive to dynamic compression and let you know readily that the natural dynamics of a recording were manipulated. This is the audiotruth we all are looking for, right? On the other hand, be prepared to dislike some favorite CDs. Also, once you taste the elite, it is difficult to downgrade to lesser equipment or poorly recording music pieces. This is the tax for true high end.
I assume that the Accuphase is an ultimate choice for the listeners who prefer rich orchestrations (classical pieces, jazz big bands, world music). The others may find to pay the €17,000 a little inappropriate. However, give a listen to Dave Gahan’s voice (Depeche Mode) and you may be surprised by the new textural magic that was lent to the vocal by the A-65. The amplifier transforms any piece of music into something that is not available on lesser machines.
Also the pummeling electronic beats of VNV Nation can profit from dynamic contrasts between individual synthesized lines (VNV Nation, Empires, Metropolis MET 170). The A-65 has a firm grip on speakers and from the faintest sounds to extreme loudness levels (the very moment when plaster on walls starts to crumble) there is no shift or alteration in inner ratios of a recording – no sense of compression or getting out of breath.
Fragments of VNV Nation is like a relentless grinding machine that is impossible to stop – it features punishing rhythm overlaid by electronic clouds and vocal declamations with choral samples thrown in here and there. All of a sudden the music stops just for a fraction of second to start again with even higher intensity. The Accuphase introduces a human factor into the piece – it nicely delineates the vocalist and puts stress on the heat coming out of electronic boxes by which the sound was created. When I listened to the same track through Bryston 28B-SST monoblocks, I was receiving more mechanized techno-sound that was definitely on the side of machines rather than humanity. Still, the Brystons had punchier bass and in comparison the A-65 was a tad softer with more rounded notes. When it comes to bass the Bryston (and the New Zealand’s Plinius too) are the best in the field.
The A-65 sonically improves on the A-60, the predecessor. Is it worthwhile to sell the A-60 and upgrade to the A-65? I do not think so. The Darwinian evolution of the Accuphase is tender and the differences between two subsequent models are subtle.
The A-65 has a better bottom-end control and though it does not equal to the solidness of the Bryston/Plinius the improvement has moved the amp in the right direction. Overall, the Accuphase A-65 is more refined, comfortable and embracing. The sound is free of constrains and breathes. Interestingly enough you would realize it especially when music stops: listen to ambient decays, a vocalist taking a breath, soft noise of a violinist’s jacket or a cymbal’s trailing off into the silence of a studio. However, these nuances can be easily affected by the choice of other components – cables, speakers, source players – which will have much higher impact on the resulting sound than the simple upgrade to A-65 from A-60. Should you own the Accuphase A-60 (like me) stay calm and wait for a next generation. It will not take a long and in the meantime you can still enjoy the music.
The Accuphase A-65 is sometimes called ‘the best amplifier ever’. Well, give it a listen as you may apply a different set of measures. However, if your floor is supportive enough (the A-65 is heavy) or you have just hit the lottery do not wait – the A-65 is a very exceptional machine and one of the possible final solutions for home stereo.
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