Talking about a ‘system’ in the context of audio and high fidelity music reproduction we think about a ‘set’ – something a step lower than a system. So what makes the latter? I think the keywords are “arranged in regular subordination” and “usually logical”. Do you see where I am aiming at? A set turns into a system when it is completed as a sensible whole, well thought and with internal coherence. Every true audiophile believes that his or her set is a system, but as life shows, this is rather optimistic. A system is a result of many years of trying to reach the ideal, throwing away the bad things and watering the good things. This can be done for little money, in a basic budget, but it will always be a cripple setting in some sense, something not finished. Roy Gregory, the Editor in Chief of my preferred audio magazine “Hi-Fi +”, wrote during the test of the loudspeakers Magico V3, that he has a feeling of “active relaxation” (Issue 60, s. 26). That is the case with this system. This is just pleasure connected to active listening, meaning reacting to what one hears. The keyword is coherence. On every level. And most important is the fact, that the listener is a part of the system. Because we do not just sit in front of our stereo. Every time we have the impression of immersing in the sound, regardless of the quality of the recording. This is not the most accurate, resolving or neutral system one could buy for the money. But absolutely one of those that one would like to have regardless of its price.
In the beginning the hi-fi, or actually that what predeceased hi-fi, was based on integrated consoles, containing a radio, a turntable and a speaker. The components were designed with the others in mind, what made them perform better together than each of the elements alone. We can say that those were proto-systems. But with the evolution of audio the separation of the consoles and specialization of the manufacturers appeared. This is when audio with separate components was born – the one we know today. Besides clear assets, like better power supply (every device must have its own), better enclosures, etc, this solution has drawbacks. The most important one is related to the need of combining components. Cabling manufacturers must bless the moment of the “big separation”, but we can only pity, that we need to spend money on them. Another inconvenience was noticed later, when companies specialized in manufacturing a narrow set of products: loudspeakers, amplifiers, sources, etc. But we can see the return to what was earlier – the company catalogs offer complete sets of devices. The reason for this is in most cases mercantile: it is better to have the clients spend their money with “us” than allow them to go to the competition. But please do not get angry at this – money is a powerful motivator, able to create.
Another reason to offer complete systems is the ‘need’. If we own one element of incredible sound beauty and we cannot find others to match, we need to create such ourselves.
Finding the loudspeakers able to fill a big room with sound was much more difficult than he imagined. So the Wing speakers were born. This is the path followed also by the Swiss Goldmund and some other companies. And this was probably the goal for Mr. Kazuo Kiuchi, the owner of Combak Corporation. The name probably does not tell you much, because it is not present as the name of any component. This might be different when I say: Reimyo, Harmonix and Bravo!
So Combak is able to offer a complete system. It is composed of:
The preamplifier was first. My Leben is an outstanding device. Even brilliant, one might say. I tried to replace it with something better, looking at this as a way to make the sound of my system more vivid and noble. This turned out to be a long, troublesome and fruitless task. The Japanese preamplifier is not the best device of that king on earth, but its combination of characteristics it proposes, meaning precision, vividness, space, bass, etc, makes it unique. Compared to it the Luxman preamplifiers – the tested C-1000f and tested some other time C-800f – were really nice, they showed full, beautiful sound. But they lacked openness and resolution. It was similar with the BAT VK-3i Super Pak and VK-52 SE – those had lower, and more energetic bass, what I really liked, but the resolution of the midrange and coherence were worse than of the RS-28CX. And we can continue like that. During that time I listened to devices like: Accuphase C-2810 (here I hesitated for a moment), C-2410, Krell Evo 222 (splendid, but in combination with the company’s power amp), Manley 300B and many other, often nice things. One of the better ones was the unusual, battery powered preamplifier Pink Faun Fettle – if you can listen to it, borrow it, please do so as quickly as possible. All of them were compared to the regulated output of my Lektor (integrated resistor ladders from Burr-Brown and a tube output stage with 10 impedance). Each one showed something new, and a few times being better than my Leben. But not one made me think about purchasing, because I thought, that not all of the elements offered by my preamplifier were improved, and at this not all the assets were kept.
Taking the CAT-777 I knew, that this is something special. I will not deceive you, or use rhetorical figures, because the product should be treated fair, as it can defend itself. This is far the best preamplifier I ever heard.
Without any doubt. The first thing I have done after connecting it, was placing my ear against the tweeter, to listen if it is noisy. O boy! It is noisy. And that quite a lot! Although it is quieter than the Lebem, but more noisy than each of the mentioned preamplifiers – solid state (those are as quiet as people in the Internal Revenue Service office), or tube ones. This shows how little we know about the relationship of listening to the measurements. I am sure, that a high noise level is a problem for the latter, but not really for the first. Reimyo brought a bigger, more palpable picture. Its presentation was quite close, but not too close. In comparison Leben seemed a bit ‘small’ and thin, although I did not notice that earlier. The treble momentarily got nobler. Earlier, from time to time, I blamed the Luxman power amplifier, or the Harpia loudspeakers for the slight coloring of the brass, and I was partially right. But only partially, and this for the smaller piece. It turned out, that Leben, as good as it is, is quite a cheap device, and there are things it cannot do. Like silkiness and absolute three-dimensionality. And the CAT-777 is just like that. But it needs to be placed into the right proportions (I am a fan of context) – we are talking about the absolute top hi-end, the summit of what I know.
As it turned out (the next day) this was only a prelude. The exchange of the preamplifier brought big changes to my system. But exchanging the M-800A power amplifier for the PAT-777 turned it upside down. But it did also bring a few questions without answers and a few worries. I’ll start with the last ones. Physics cannot be deceived. 7 watts of the Reimyo is not the 60 watt from the Luxman or even less the 400 watts the Krell EVO can provide. I name those not by the place they have in my personal ranking list, but to tell how they handle loudspeakers. Krell’s bass – not only the lower bass, but all of it, up to the lower midrange – is overwhelming. And when we think about big, full-range loudspeakers, like the Dobermann, this element will have to appear in our considerations. Reimyo does not go as far down as the two solid state amps, or does not allow for such freedom of macro-dynamics as they do. Even with friendly loudspeakers, like the Uno Picco from Avantgarde Acoustics, where we have active bass, it can be heard, that this is only 7 watts. And that’s it. But if we can live with that, if we can supply loudspeakers with sensitivity higher than usual (I think about 90dB and higher) or use half-active loudspeakers, or a subwoofer with bookshelf loudspeakers, then there is nothing to talk about. Because the assets of the amplifier are big, deep, moving and liberating.
After unplugging the Luxman everything went quiet. Because there was no amplifier in the sound path. OK – I’m joking Ater plugging in the Reimyo everything returned what I heard with the KR Audio Kronzilla. Only 5 times better. This is the treble I was searching for, this is the space! This is the timbre – and finally – this is the music I wanted! This is not the top of the world yet (we will never get there), because I can imagine better sound. A sound of this class, although maybe not in all aspects, heard only twice – from the system created for John Tu and, in smaller scale (especially when talking about the bass and dynamics) in the system of Janusz, our friend from KSS. But the latter was in reach, and in terms of coherence, I was even winning. The space and the timbre were brilliant. Those two elements were melted in one, supernatural transmission. Vividness, the ability to discern dynamics and timbres were overwhelming. The dynamics in macro scale was worse than before, but lets remember, that the PAT-777 needed to move a speaker of lower than usual sensitivity, that could only be handled by the 60W Luxman. Interesting enough, dynamics was not worse, like from the KR Audio, with 50W per channel! The delicacy of the treble, with their presence, was just like I wanted to. I did not know, that the metal tweeter of the Dobermanns (SEAS) can sound so silky, incredibly refined way. I knew, it is exceptional, what I underlined every time I could, but this is the first time I heard elements, that earlier were present with ART tweeters (ADAM, Mark&Daniel, Elac), or good ribbons. Maybe the saturation of the lower treble was not as juicy as from the ADAM, but everything else was super! The sound was a bit further away, resembling the transition from K2 (XRCD) to K2HD, there was no “unambiguosity” like with the Luxman and Leben, but at the same time the sound was more natural – and, what was surprising – neutral. In this order.
Adding the DAP-999EX converter to the system with the Lektor Prime in the role of the drive gave an effect that was not fully satisfying for me. On one hand the timbre got deeper, and there was more ‘flesh’ in the midrange, but on the other, the resolution on the lower levels diminished, as if the air would be sucked from within the players. The transmission was splendid – please remember, that we are talking about the digital finest offerings – but it was a bit next to what is offered by Ancient Audio players and the unforgettable Jadis JD1 Mk II + JS1 MkIII. This was dense, full, a bit soft playing, with rather strongly closed upper midrange. When Frank Sinatra sung, from the disc Only The Lonely (Capitol/EMI, 96996, CD) it could be heard, that his voice has damped upper part – true, that usually from CD it is rather annoying (it is much better on LP), because it is hoarse, but this deviation could also be heard on other discs, like on …the way it was! Art Pepper (Contemporary Records/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2034, SACD/CD), who’s saxophone was rather closed. I experimented a bit with digital cables (among others with XLO Limited), but it turned out, that the Harmonix cable is without competition in this setting.
The exchange of the cables did not change the things I wrote about. Only switching the Lektor for the Reimyo drive showed what it all is about. I must say in the beginning, that the CDT-777 is the best transport I ever heard, much better than the Prime in this role. And if someone says that the transport does not matter, then you can be sure he has not heard much in his life. The change did not resolve the emphasis (and in the end it is the emphasis we talked about) of the lower part of the midrange, but it gave sense to it, and with context it showed what this source is about. And it is about the complete lack of the digital nervousness and mechanical “grating”. There is nothing like that here. It was similar with the AMR CD-77, DP-700 Accuphase, EMM Labs CD SD SE + DCC2 SE system and CD-7 Reference Audio Research. All those players are related together with the aversion to “digital” sound. But not one went as far as the Reimyo and no one came close to the ideal of resolution, which is for me the analog, in the digital domain the mentioned Jadis and most of all the Lektor Grand SE Ancient Audio. Until the end of the listening sessions I lacked the micro-information, that the latter can provide in an almost perfect way. But at the same time only the Reimyo player could present the midrange with such a smooth signature connected to a brilliant resolution and had this incredible, silky, black depth. And only it played in such a catching way like the tested in parallel turntable SME 10A. Still somewhere deep, on the edge, the liberty and the openness of the vinyl are better, but it was the first time I heard a digital source at home, that could replace the analog, and although the latter could be better in some aspects of the sound, still I had no reason to reject the sound. In contrary – the Reimyo system has a timbre that invites for listening. Because there is something in the sound of the vinyl, that is not necessarily connected to accuracy, with which I understand the striving for truth at any cost, but more with naturality. This difference can be best heard when comparing the analog master tape with vinyl – vinyl is a bit “better” than the master tape, although it is less accurate. The same with Reimyo – although we know that this is not the exact copy of the reality – we accept it without a glitch.
And now for the most important thing, more important than all I wrote till this point, although the paragraph will be quite short: this is how a cold system sounded. Cold like stone, like the heart of a teacher, like the eye of a sharp shooter, like a computer operating system. I just unpacked all the devices and put them together in just two days. Compared to the 400 hours of burning-in recommended for the drive, and not much less for all the other components, this was almost nothing. After a week of listening it turned out, that the changes are substantial. The change went not in the width but in depth. The resolution improved. And – and this significantly – the distance from clipping: I could play louder without audible distortion. And, most of all, everything was cleared from that warm stain. Without brightening, without sharpening, this was still the phenomenally soft and springy sound, but it was clearer.
Next step was the exchange of the power cabling. And this is the element that was a step to the side and not to the front. First I listened using the strip PF-2 from Gigawatt, that I use on a daily basis. Because I exchanged the devices one by one, and wanted to have just one variable at a time, I powered the devices from my strip and with my cables. So the preamplifier and the converter were power by Akcrolink 7N-PC7100, and the power amp by Tunami Nigo with Oyaide M1/F1 plugs. Placing the transport in the system I powered it by the Harmonix X-DC2. This is an expensive cable, equipped with Furutech plugs, added to all Reimyo devices, except for one – the power amplifier. Because there we find the top cable, used in the JVC studios while making K2 re-masters (eg. XRCD), the X-DC Studio Master. After a week of listening I exchanged those cables and strip to the mains filter ALS-777 and four identical X-DC Studio Master cords. The conditioner was connected to the wall with the same cable. Reimyo does not make its filter with European plugs. There is a 230V version available (I got that one for testing), but it has only American type plugs available. It turned out, that this is due to the fact, that it uses sockets prepared by Wattgate in cooperation with Combak Corp., what is engraved in the sockets themselves.
This was not a change that would push the system forward. It turned out, that my Acrolik are more open, faster cables. The Reimyo and Harmonix system added sweetness to the sound, underlined the lower midrange a bit, what made the recordings from Maria Peszek Miasto Mania (Kayax/EMI, 3 44678, CD) gain body. In addition, a slight hoarseness disappeared from her voice, an error of the sound engineer, but also a part of the transmission. I had the same impressions during listening to the disc Jim Hall Trio Blues On the Rocks (Gambid Records, 69207, CD), that sounded in a slightly less open, less resolved way. After listening, when I returned to my system, it turned out, that the Japanese power system was like custom made for it. There was no lack of resolution, because this is probably a level, that is unreachable for my system, and all the positive things I described appeared. And although for me the Acrolink and PF-2 power was better, I think I understand this step. This is the striving to achieve absolute coherence, to immerse in the sound – a tendency that is clearly visible in Japanese hi-end. It is enough to compare the tonearm from Jelco, I tested some time ago, with an SME tonearm, and we get the same result: warmth and coherence, and absolute fidelity. Like I say, the consistency in building the sound of Reimyo, is visible, but from this moment, it was a step to the side, and not forward.
But the cabling was just the prelude to the biggest unknown – the loudspeakers. And I was prejudiced. Expensive, built based on another (much cheaper) model – everything asked to treat them especially hard. And I did. Three and a half minute long. Then I just sat surprised, and with a friend, who was the witness of my transformation, we listened to a dozen recordings, one after another, just quickly clicking on the remote. I don’t know how, I don’t know what – and I don’t want to know. Those are still incredibly expensive loudspeakers, small, etc. But they turned out to be the crown jewels of the Japanese system. I listened to all other components in many configurations, with different accompanying devices, and I know, that this is the top of what I know. And still the coherence, fullness and the exceptional, I repeat: exceptional vividness of those loudspeakers, made me shiver. Because I don’t know how, I don’t know what… The sound from those loudspeakers is so dense, so palpable, that we can take it with a spoon, like honey. It is not as resolved as from best systems, or it has not the depth of the stage, but this had actually no meaning, because the musical communication, although it could be bettered technically speaking, was perfect. The lack of lower bass was compensated by splendid dynamics and perfect impulse response (the closed cabinet!). I could not stop listening. In comparison to this system, all others seem to be thin, like the air at 3000 meters above the ground, and higher, so we would need to use more strength to get on even grounds, to get what we came for. Music. With the Bravo! it was as if we would carry a breathing apparatus, an emotional supercharger placing us far above everything common.
CDs FROM JAPAN
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