|Rogue Audio Ares Vacuum Tube Phono Preamplifier Review|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps|
|Written by Todd Whitesel|
|Monday, 13 December 2010|
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On Journey's mega power ballad, “Faithfully,” vocalist Steve Perry sang about coming home from the road and reconnecting with the one he loves, “I get the joy of rediscovering you...” On a less teary note, that's what happens with every new review I undertake – I rediscover some album that I've long neglected. This time around it was Starcastle's 1977 release, Fountains Of Light. Starcastle was one of many prog-rock acts of the 1970s that couldn't quite shake comparisons to past masters. The band had a definite Yes influence in the melodies and vocals, but there's still plenty here to enjoy. Starcastle frontman, and original REO Speedwagon vocalist, Terry Luttrell has a clear – almost “friendly”- style that echoes Yes' Jon Anderson, while keyboardist Herb Schildt provides a shimmering array of tone colors that don't dazzle with their virtuosity, but rather engage with their luminance. While getting to know the music again, I felt like I was hearing much of it for the first time as the Ares pumped new blood into this recording. On the track “Portraits,” the imaging was particularly good. Guitars electric and acoustic swirl through the arrangement, couched by Schildt's shimmering keys. There's a lot going on and I sensed the Ares picking up all the pieces and bringing them together to present the complete musical picture.
Rhino Records 180-gram vinyl reissue of Ornette Coleman's landmark 1959 recording, The Shape Of Jazz To Come, really sang with the Ares. The sharp harmonies, dizzying runs and accents from Coleman's saxophone and Don Cherry's cornet rang with energy and sheer exuberance. As these two brilliant horn players unfurl cascades of notes, drummer Billy Higgins plays it so cool that it's easy to take his bedrock rhythms for granted. He swings, he glides, he lays back, all while keeping time in these challenging compositions. But the revelation here was hearing Charlie Haden's remarkable bass playing, which at times sounded like the plucked strings were vibrating around my body as I listened. It's one thing to “hear” an acoustic bass, quite another to “feel” it. That's something for live gigs in intimate jazz clubs, but now the weighty notes were reverberating with an eerie but delightful presence. It was one of the most electrifying vinyl moments I can recall.
“Let the tubes do their thing,” that phrase stayed in my mind as I rolled with the Ares this autumn and heard it do nothing but that and renew my love of analog. Compared to my budget-priced Zphono, the Ares brought out more of everything in the music – more air, more detail, more presence, more weight, yet it never sounded “boomy.” The Ares is not for the casual analog kid – its $1,995 price tag ensures that – but if you're looking for a phono preamplifier that can bring out the best in your current system with the flexibility to grow and change with your needs, the Ares is easy to recommend. It's built to last in many more ways than one.