24 March, 2011

Letter from NYC 2011 (12): The Wonder of Nagra PLP

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Letter from NYC 2011 (12): The Wonder of Nagra PLP

On the second day (should I say middle of the night) I hooked up a system for a little music:

Digital: Rega Apollo
Preamp: Nagra PLP
Amp: McIntosh 2200
Speakers: Magnepan MG 1.7
Earphones: Audio Technica ATH-AD700

Read my other articles on the Nagra PL-P

Nuance Aplenty
Even at very low volume through the Maggies, playing a Mozart sonata (see previous post) I found the combination, which I have not tried before, highly special. The Rega CDP's all-around excellence was taken for granted, but the combination of Nagra and McIntosh seemed especially luminous. I waited till much later to try out the big stuff. In my experience, all the older McIntosh amps, whether tube or solid-state, benefit from modern preamps that are high in resolution and have fast transients. The Nagra PLP certainly fits the bill.

Given its small size, the PLP does not perhaps quite possess the wide macrodynamics of much larger and heavily regulated preamps (though it is no slouch here), but its transient speed is unusually fast for a tubed unit. In fact, many traditional tube fans (who prefer murk I sometimes think) regard the PLP to sound rather like solid-state.

Together with its excellent resolution the preamp excels in microdynamics and has fine rhythm and timing. The violin also always showcases the strength of the Nagra, the portrayal so complete and seamless that one actually hears the the music as phrases merging into each other, rather than one note after another. One easily senses the bow's return, something few preamps manage to do (the Wavac does).

Harmonia Mundi, indeed
I was even more enticed when later I played much more complex music. The Herreweghe Beethoven 9th (HM) was performed on original instruments. One heard the gut strings but not too much grit, and that was just about right for anyone who has actually heard this refined period band (one of my favorites). Crispy, rhythmically sophisticated but fluid and richly multi-layered. The whole was holographically laid out by the Maggies. Oh, did I mention the skin-effect of the tympani was immaculately rendered?

Even more impressively "hifi" was the Biber Missa Christi Resurgentis (HM). Separation of the choir and voices and layering of the orchestra were uncanny. The system also conveyed the joy in the performance, surprisingly for an Easter piece.

Later, a misteriosso performance of Bruckner's granitic 8th under Giulini. The fair BBC Live recording still managed to convey a sense of occasion. Whether it was the strings in cantilena, or a solo woodwind in the wild, or brass blazing foward, all gave the illusion of a live performance, and a great one it was! There's no higher praise for equipment that can convey this sense. Throughout, the Nagra PLP kept every strand of the music intact and the fabric whole.

Balm for the Ears
The next day, or rather middle of the night, I all of a sudden remembered the Nagra's earphone output. I plugged the AT 700 into it and was immediately rewarded by detailed and fulsome sound. I managed 2 CD's worth of Beethoven Late Quartets, as performed by the Vermeer Quartet (Warner). When I finished at 6 am, I felt well. What a wonderful headphone amp! And nice cans!

Yes, good sound reproduction puts you in touch with the world and achieve harmony with nature. Harmonia Mundi!

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