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I'm always conflicted when I hear a new piece of audio gear for the first time. Anticipation and excitement are tempered by a desire to offer impartial ears and hope that I can aptly describe what I'm hearing. And I know not to form judgements too quickly before equipment has received the warm-up (burn-in) time recommended by the manufacturer. Still, I could not pretend that what I heard with the No.1.a – right out of the box – was special. The first disc I played was Glass Hammer's If, the most recent release from the Chattanooga-based progressive rock band. Everything, from Fred Schendel's new and old-school keyboard sounds to the metallic thump and ring of Steve Babb's Rickenbacker bass, was presented with a studio-like crispness and accuracy that gave the music a sense of “being born,” as if listening to the aural equivalent of watching a series of time-lapse photos of a tree growing from seed to seedling to maturity. There was nothing cold or clinical about the No.1.a; rather, its sound has a warmth that's ear-friendly without mellowing the music or turning it mushy. I would describe it as slightly “tubey” but in the best sense of it and more like a hybrid (tube/transistor) amp than straight up solid state.
Miles Davis' recordings of the early to mid-1970s are among the most challenging and exploratory of the innovative trumpeter's career. The compositions on the 1975 live account, Agharta, are a witch's brew of dark, heavy and explosive forays into the outer limits of electric music. Davis takes a relative side-seat to his supporting cast, and the results are mind- and ear-blowing. Guitarists Pete Cosey's and Reggie Lucas' six-string manipulations alternately sound like the cries of ravens, glass shattering and volcanos erupting; saxophonist Sonny Fortune's astringent lines careen over the driving rhythms of drummer Al Foster and percussionist Mtume. This is dense and intense music that can quickly go from interesting to uncomfortable, played through the wrong system. The Aaron not only captured the fiery beauty and sizzle of the performances, but distilled each musician's part into a focused sonic image within the overall bloom of the tune proper. Dynamics, tone and tempo shimmered in a gorgeous blooming fury, without brittleness or blending into a colorless cacophony.
Quieter fare, such as gentle pop-rock of Bread, proved equally engaging. If you're looking for an inexpensive but great-sounding LP, The Best Of Bread is easy to recommend. The platter is populated by the radio-friendly hits of David Gates, including “Make It With You,” “Diary” and “It Don't Matter To Me.” These arrangements rely heavily on acoustic guitar and the ultra-smooth voice of Gates, and the No.1.a proved up to the task of not just presenting the music but letting it “unfurl” like a flag in the breeze. You hear the emotion in Gates' vocal and the individual guitar strings being picked and strummed. It's that sense of “breath” emerging from the tune that separates great components from mediocre models.
We reviewers often tend to anthropomorphize components, using phrases like “effortless performance” and the like, but the Aaron really does perform with a grace and ease that justifies such description. It's almost as if the amp isn't even there, just the music soaring through the atmosphere around you. Music is presented with dimensionality and “air” galore. Bass and midrange are substantial yet never muddy; the upper end is chiseled with a hint of tube-like warmth that I found beguiling. Just on the warm side of neutral, the No.1.a may not be everyone's cup of chai, but I found it to be one sweet drink.
Warmth, power, detail and strong across-the-board performance – you get it all with the Aaron No.1.a. First-rate sound is the icing on the cake of this solid state amp that has a touch of the tube personality. Everything on the amp, and the remote, worked quietly and smoothly. I heard no hum or other unwanted noise coming from the amp at any time – just expressive and acutely satisfying sound. Frank Zappa once said, “Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.” I wish all my time could be “decorated” by music played through the Aaron No.1.a – deadlines, bills and all.
- Aaron Audio No.1.a integrated amplifier
- Emotiva Audio ERC-1 CD player
- Pro-Ject RPM 5.1 turntable
- Parasound Zphono Preamplifier
- Snell Type K loudspeakers
- PENAUDIO Rebel 3 loudspeakers
- Mordaunt Short Mezzo 8 loudspeakers
- RS Audio Cables Kevlar Starchord Power Cable
- RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Interconnects
- RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables