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]

Name Heart Mind
———– 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
Stealth INDRA 4 7.5
ELROD classic (average) 6.5 4
ELROD new (average) 7.5 6
Pranawire (average) 9 4
———– 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

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.

CES 2012 – Vivid Audio, Luxman, Audio Aero

This room featured the Vivid Audio B1 speakers driven by a Luxman integrated and a Brinkmann Bardo turntable. I did not get to hear the new Audio Aero La Fontaine CD / SACD player.

I like the Vivid speakers, the can sound very energetic, integrated and with lots of separation. However with this system, which we’ve heard variations of several times, the sound is muddy and dull, and not to my taste.

The Vivid Audio B1 loudspeaker

The Vivid Audio B1 loudspeaker

The Brinkmann Bardo turntable

The Brinkmann Bardo turntable and tube power supply there on the left

The Brinkmann Bardo turntable and Brinkmann Pi cartridge

The Brinkmann Bardo turntable from the side / below. You can easily see the feet and spindle.

The Luxman SQ-N10 integrated amplifier [there were two different Luxman integrateds in this room, not sure which one they were using – the photo of the other one is too blurry for publication]

The Luxman SQ-N10 integrated amplifier

The Audio Aero ‘La Fontaine’ CD / SACD player. Took several photos of this, but again, most were too blurry. Some kind of brain dead photography work [this was the 2nd to last room in the marathon 29th and 30th floors]

The Audio Aero ‘La Fontaine’ CD / SACD player closeup of the tray

The Audio Aero ‘La Fontaine’ CD / SACD player remote control

Danny Kaey was here photographing the goods. Of late he has been putting stuff up on Sonic Flare but nothing for this show yet

HRS damping plates on Audio Aero CD players

[And here we answer another question, this time about HRS damping plates on Audio Aero Capitole CD players]

Dear Sirs,
I contact you because I´ve just bought an Audio Aero Capitole Classic CD Player (Similar to the Capitole Reference without preamplifier section. I Attach a photo).
I red that you strongly recomend the HRS Dampening plates. (you wrote: “The player’s sound was somewhat improved with a mid-size damping plate centered on the top of the unit especially with respect to the detail and articulation in the bass extending up into the midrange.. Unfortunately, this requires moving the damping plate every time the door is slid open to put on a CD – but putting the damping plate on the side of the unit resulted in a diminished soundstage and incorrect imaging.”)
As you saw, my AA Capitole Classic doesn´t have the door problem as the Capitole Reference.
I want to know if you still recomend the mid-size damping plate for my AA. I saw other AA owners that use many damping plates.
I will apreciate your recomendation.

Hi X,

The optimal position and number of damping plates on top of the Capitole, or any component for that matter, is usually only found through a process of trial and error. I think this may be because the vibrations found at the top of a component is so unpredictable, depending on the chassis and other aspects of the component, as well as the feet used under the component, as well as the equipment rack itself. The top of a component is kind of the end of a ‘vibratory chain’:… floor -> rack -> feet -> component -> top of component…

We usually recommend that you start with the HRS Nimbus (feet) first. an HRS Isolation Base (if your budget allows) and then tune the final result using the damping plates. The Nimbus feet give an immediate, predictable, no fuss improvement in just about all aspects of the sound – especially under the Audio Aero players.

That said, around here we occasionally do still use damping plates on the Audio Aero players. However, we use them much more often on the much less expensive Audio Note players [at the bottom part of their line] which have lighter weight chassis than the Capitole.

Hope this helps!