Heart and Mind Ratings of Common High-end Audio Gear
[UPDATE Sept. 07, 2017]
[Most of the scores for major gear remain untouched 4 years later. I removed many items which are no longer being made or whose companies have gone out of business :-(. I also updated some of the values as I have become to appreciate that the level of detail offered by some of the better tube gear comes a lot closer to that offered by solid-state these days and it is often those subtle details that help entertain the Mind – ergo higher mind scores.
Going through these numbers again – and yes, I have many more items to add, but – it seems apparent that for long term enjoyment one might consider choosing well-balanced vis-a-vis mind vs. heart components or at least design well-balanced systems from a mix of less-balanced components.
Realize also that Boy Toys, whose only claim to fame is that they do BIG, and GeeWiz Wonders whose only claim to fame is cool gadgetry, are not represented well by the Heart vs. Mind scores, since their appeal does not have to do with how they sound… BUT it still might be useful to rate them on a similar table, or in this table, so people can figure out just why someone is raving about X and whether it has any relevancy to what you, personally, are looking for at all]
In order to help describe what we think are the key differences between the Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On and Lamm ML3 amplifiers we came up with semi-subjective rating that has to do with how much the characteristic sound of the amp appeals to one’s mind versus how much it appeals to one’s heart.
We will now try our hardest to apply this same approach to all sorts of other gear. However, it seems like perhaps a change might be useful here. Instead of just rating things based on a simple HEART < —– > MIND scale we will instead try and rate Heart and Mind separately, on a scale from 0 to 10.
One reason why these kind of ratings may be really useful is that people who like the quality of the sound to affect their Heart really hate sound directed at their mind. And visa-versa. Really hate. Spending lots of time to let everyone know how much they hate a particular component or system when what they are really saying is that they do not like the fact it is Mind-centric (or visa-versa).
Mind-centric sound is often called ‘sophisticated’, or ‘high resolution’ or having ‘lots of inner detail’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘cold’.
Heart-centric sound is often called ’emotional’ or ‘involving’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘warm’.
[NOTE: real world values are very fuzzy and depend heavily upon the music played and system the component / cable is in, and, for Audio Note components, the tubes used]
|———– amps ———–|
|Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On amp||10.0||7|
|Lamm ML3 amp||7||10.0|
|EMM Labs MTRX amp||6||9|
|Audio Note U.K. Kageki 2A3 amp||9||6|
|Audio Note U.K. Kegon Balanced amp||8||7.5|
|Audio Note U.K. Kegon amp||9||6|
|Lamm ML2.2 amp||7||7|
|Acapella LaMusika [top-of-the-line smooth, tonally correct solid state w/ micro-dynamics] amps||5||8|
|———– speakers ———–|
|Acapella Apollon speakers||8||8|
|Acapella Triolon Excalibur speakers||8.5||7|
|Marten Coltrane Supreme I speakers||4||10.0|
|Kharma Mini Exquisite speaker||8||6.5|
|Wilson Alexandria II, XLF speakers||6||8|
|Wilson MAXX III speakers||5||7|
|Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers||6||4|
|Audio Note AN/E SPe HE speakers||8||5|
|Audio Note AN/E SEC Signature speakers||7||7|
|Sonus Faber Stradivarius speakers||7||4|
|Sonus Faber Extrema speakers||7.5||4|
|———– cd players ———–|
|Emm Labs XDS1 CD player||7||8|
|Esoteric K-01 CD player||4||8|
|Audio Note Level 5 digital||11||8|
|Audio Note Level 4 digital separates||8||7|
|———– cables ———–|
|Nordost ODIN interconnects||7||9|
|Nordost ODIN speaker cables||7||8|
|Tara Labs the Zero GOLD||7||7|
|Nordost ODIN power cords||8||9|
|Nordost Valhalla interconnects||6||6|
|Audio Note Sogon cables||8||4|
|Audio Note brown PALLAS interconnect||7||9|
|Audio Note black PALLAS interconnect||7.5||4|
|ELROD classic (average)||6.5||4|
|ELROD new (average)||7.5||6|
|———– preamps ———–|
|Audio Note M10 preamp||9||7|
|Audio Note M9 preamp||8||6|
|LAMM LL1 preamp||5||7|
|LAMM L2 preamp||5||6|
|———– phono preamps ———–|
|Audio Note M9 phonostage with S9 step-up transformer||10||8|
|Lamm LP2 phono preamp||6||6|
|———– turntables (neutral cartridge) —-|
|Walker Proscenium Gold turntable||7||11|
|Brinkmann Balance turntable||6||7|
|Audio Note TT2 turntable||8.5||6|
|Clearaudio Statement turntable||6||9|
|Spiral Groove SP1 turntable||8||8|
|TECHDAS Air Force One turntable||7.5||9.5|
UPDATE: 1/1/2018 Turntables. I have heard many tables many times [though the Clearaudio just 2 or 3 times – but it made an impression]. The tables listed above are rated based on their CONSISTENT sound – they almost ALWAYS have the above sonic characteristics. If the vast majority of tables sound more or less the same [a strong statement, I know], the vast majority of their sound ultimately coming from the tonearm and cartridge used, more or less like the Brinkmann, say, then one should choose the table based on ease-of-use and ease of setup and overall engineering quality. Again, why we liked the Brinkmann, but there are now a ton of tables at a variety of price points that do these things well [or well-enough for most people]. Anyway, Mea Culpa, I find it hard to hear uniquely distinguishing characteristics of this broad swath of ‘pretty good’ tables, especially at shows.
Rated 0 to 10 and we are assuming they are in a system that really shows off their capability. There are a lot more components and things we can rate, but this is hopefully a decent start.
OK. You all know this is just my Wild Eyed Opinion. But I think most people would agree that the relative values here are close and in proportion to what we experience when we listen to these things.
There are, you know, components with a value of 0,0 and we won’t point fingers but it is an interesting state of affairs for those that own them. The more educated we are about the REAL comparative performance of our gear the less chance end up with stuff that is not what we are looking for.
From this table, one can see why the Gaku-On amps on the Coltrane Supreme speakers was such a significant system. Even though the ML3 on the Supremes was awesomely intense and deeply subtle, the Gaku-On on the Supremes whacks ya, you poor defenseless listener you, over BOTH sides of the head. A roller-coaster ride to wheresoever the music takes you.
This kind of pairing of opposites works well for the most listeners, I think. Like the Edge NL10 amps driven by the Audio Aero Capitole player – it entertains both sides of the brain. On the other hand, there is something kind of special about well-balanced components, components who heart-centric rating is close to the mind-centric rating.
It seems, looking at things here, that some gear uses either some warmth and/or dynamics and/or well-integrated micro-dynamics to appeal to the Heart.
So many times I read articles that I personally find not to be very helpful in understanding how a particular product sounds. Finally, a nomenclature that makes sense and is actually helpful in predicting what items might form a synergistic match. Great work. Out of curiousity, where do the Jorma Prime interconnects and speaker cable fit in?
Mike, I second the appreciation mentioned above.
I found it interesting that your favorite amp/speaker combination was a mix to 10 mind and 10 heart.
Would you also provide a rating for the Stealth Indra RCA Interconnect. I believe I have the penultimate series.
You hit most of the components I have.
Thanks Fred and Les.
I added a number of other components and cables. Hopefully this will be of use.
Perhaps this will spur some debate.
For example, micro-dynamics seem to help both heart and mind aspects of the sound, whereas macro dynamics just the heart. Also some systems drown the effect of a great component / cable to a degree – but not completely (for example, systems wired with Pranawire at shows. These are intense heart-centric cables. But it is much harder to water down Odin cables at shows, which are more mind-centric).
Can we predict this by just looking at a system to any degree? Whoa be to the one who starts posting the anti-mind and anti-heart values of some of the gear out there :-).
Take care, guys,
Great digital cable true 75 ohm constant impedance and true 90 ohm constant impedance usb cable is rare to find. most high end cable manufactures do not sound good on digital.
do you have any recommendation?
We haven’t spent much time on USB cables… and otherwise use standard, non-digital cables for our digital needs – they sound better [though some sound better than others, seemingly being better at transmitting music at such low signal strengths].
I see you on Romy’s sometimes – but people can be so rude there. Great to see you are still around.
I regard romy but Some guys are really rude there.
Thanks, Amir 🙂
I have come to understand why Romy is rude to ‘audiofools’ 🙂 but I do not understand why he lets people be rude to each other on his site. Sorry to hear that you are suffering at the hands of folks there.
Hello Mike and Neli,
While I could quibble with you about some of the ratings, as a whole they feel right. I would suggest that the Audio Note M10 (Signature) deserves a separate rating as it clearly is an improvement over the M10 which you and Neli had in your home. Likewise, the latest version of the EMM MTRX amps are quite a bit different than the prototype which you auditioned although they still do not appeal to the heart in the way that the Balanced Kegons do. Also, I hope that you will get the chance to hear the latest version of the EMM DA2/TX2 in your home system as it is a nice improvement over the XDS1 which itself has been updated and improved. I would also like to see ratings for the Avalon Isis speakers as well as the Tidal speakers, both of which can be excellent.
In any event, I am glad that you are writing more.
Yes. Yes. We did hear the EMM Labs gear in L.A. and yes we are trying to get it in here as we start making room in this tiny place. And YOU have to hear the Apollon sometime, which we also are trying to fit in here sometime, somehow, as well – speaking of tiny places 🙂
I wonder if you have developed any feelings with respect to turntables and cartridges?
[slaps forehead] I never thought of doing it for analog. I do not know enough about cartridges but I do know a few turntables.
Eventually I will be able to open this up so people can vote, voting of which attributes most represent their opinion of how something sounds, and then aggregating the votes into mind-heart ratings.
I’ll add turntable to my list of things to add. Perhaps you have some cartridges you want to add?
I recently replaced my Ortofon A-90 with a Lyra Atlas SL and all I can say at this point is that the difference was a revelation, not just better but dramatically better; consequently, I would vote for the Lyra Atlas SL. Likewise, I would vote for any of Andy Payor’s turntables, although they each have a different mix of ying and yang with some more musical and others more analytical. Likewise I am impressed by the Techdas Airforce One (Titanium platter) and with the Helix One.
I keep hoping for more updates and additions. Please! I have had one recent (last night) experience. Ed Meitner sent me a new firmware upgrade for my EMM Labs DA2. The installation involved downloading a file through the diagnostic port on the rear of the DA2 and then re-booting the unit. As I have previously commented, there is a definite progression of sound quality in the EMM line flowing from the CDSA upward in quality to the XDS1 (v.1) (7/8) then to the XDS1 (v.3)(7/8.5) then to the TX2/DA2 separates version 1 (8/9) and now to the latest DA2 (firmware upgrade( which I believe brings the DA2 to a solid 8/10. I hope that you get the chance to hear the newest version with the new firmware to reach your own conclusions.