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.