Editor's Note: This week Audiophile Style is going to extremes. In fact, we are calling it Extreme Week here on AS. Three months ago when I first talked to Ray about publishing a review of the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme, I had no idea he would put an extreme amount of work into the effort and put together a treatise on his experience. When I read through it the first time, I knew we had to do something different. Thus, we have dedicated an entire week to publishing Ray's review of the SGM Extreme. One part each day, Monday through Friday. I hope the AS Community enjoys reading this review series as much as I have. - CC
Reality Quest: Going to Extremes with the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme (Part 1 of 5)
A back (and bank) breaking 100 pound $26,000 digital music server with 40 Xeon cores and 48GB of custom memory and 8TB of M.2 PCIe storage, unironically named “Extreme," with a reputation for being the ultimate mic-drop Summit-Fi for digital audio? Wow...
So what is audiophile life like at these rarified heights? How does the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme stack up against an already OCD-tuned and optimized NUC digital music server/endpoint setup? Can one possibly justify this sort of expense and extravagance for a music server? If one were crazy enough to take this leap, are there ways to improve upon Extreme and take its performance higher still?
Earlier this year, semi-rationalized irrationality got the best of me, and I decided I needed the answers to these questions. Many emails and discussions with audiophile friends and Taiko Audio guru Emile Bok later, I took the leap and ordered an Extreme.
Alas, a month later the world changed, and after a brief Pandemic-induced supply chain and shipping delay, I received my Extreme and have been putting it through its paces ever since.
TL;DR – It’s pretty damn awesome!
(TL;DR)2 – Here is where I ended up after all the tweaking.
In many ways, the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme represents the culmination of many years of community learnings about computer audio and computer audio optimization. Each aspect of the Extreme (physical, electrical, mechanical, compute, I/O, software, etc.) is taken to the (no pun intended) absolute extreme, all in the carefully designed and considered service of digitally reproducing the best sound possible.
The Extreme is Emile Bok’s opus, a seminal product that is the distillation and embodiment of the state of the art in digital audio. Even for those that have not been able to hear it first hand, the Extreme offers much to appreciate, and especially for system designers and DIY types, much to learn from.
To give each aspect of the Extreme the attention it deserves, this review is broken up into 5 parts:
Part 1 - Introduction and Digital Audio Optimization Foundations
In this part, I share my personal perspective and journey with digital music servers, and how those experiences and biases inform and color my experience of the Extreme. I also share details on equipment under test and the music I typically use when evaluating new components and systems.
Those well-steeped in the practice and lore of digital music server optimization may wish to jump straight to Part 2.
Part 2 - Enter the Extreme
With the Extreme, the component selection, casework, power and mechanical design, system configuration, and numerous design details all reflect a deep understanding of system design and a thoughtful care for how all the pieces come together into a whole that is much greater than the sum of the parts.
In Part 2, I dive into Emile’s masterwork, and break down these pieces and explore how they work together.
Part 3 - First Impressions and Basic Configuration
In Part 3, time to listen to some music, and see what the Extreme is able to do straight out of the box.
Part 4 - Tweaking Up the Extreme
In Part 4, it is time to take the Extreme from Ridiculous Speed to Ludicrous Speed to Plaid! How does careful attention to power, networking, USB, and mechanical factors impact the performance of the Extreme? It turns out, quite a lot!
Part 5 - Extended Listening Impressions, Learnings, and Conclusions
And finally in Part 5, time to put the A/B tests and audio nervosa tweaking twitches away, really listen to some music, and reflect on how all these technologies come together into what is truly a remarkable experience of music.
Let’s dive into Extreme week!
Digital Audio Optimization Foundations
Digital optimizations and hygiene in digital audio can be a contentious topic (bits are bits, right?). Rather than debate mechanics, I am sharing my experiences in my home with my equipment with my ears and my biases and my aspirations for connecting emotionally to remarkable musical performances. Almost certainly yours will vary. Hopefully my experiences are helpful to you, but if not, that’s OK too.
What matters for me is how the notes come together to something larger, a resonance that is greater than the sum of its parts. As an imperfect analogy of that “something larger” experience, consider how mixing coal + chalk + water + iron filings in ever more precise proportions using ever more esoterically sourced materials won’t result in a child that you will cherish and adore and make the center of your life. Both your child and the coal + chalk + water + iron filings are made of the exact same things. Arguing about the purity of the water or where the coal was sourced or the magnetic properties of the iron for me changes nothing. The real debate is how they come together, and how it comes alive and becomes meaningful.
A few years ago, I was introduced to the Chord Mojo and then the Chord DAVE, and they have completely changed my experience of music. For the first time I've gone from “listening to music” to “participating in a performance”. That feeling of intoxication or euphoria from the performance has been driving me to optimize my analog chain, and now to go deep into the digital side of my chain.
When a recorded performance truly comes alive, it draws me in the same way I am drawn to an amateur performance in a coffee shop or a subway. This sense of reality is difficult to describe, but it is only loosely correlated to what I think of as “typical” measures of distortion or tonal balance. When I am walking by a coffee shop, I can tell if there is live music being played inside (vs recorded music). Even with all the traffic noise and going through walls and glass, I can somehow tell it is real people with real instruments even from the street, and I am attracted to it and want to listen.
That has nothing to do with our normal measures of tonal balance and noise floor or sound stage or imaging clarity or being in the sweet spot. The music coming from inside the coffee shop sounds like crap (by any normal audiophile measures), but it still sounds (and is) real. Somehow, our brains know how to deal with the natural distortion of real noises that are going through walls and barriers and overcome background noises, and to focus on the "real". When that “real” clicks in, for me it is a fairly abrupt transition, and my experience of music steps up to a completely new (and intoxicating) level.
On the digital side, Chord DACs (and especially the Chord DAVE) are by far the best I’ve heard at creating this sense of reality. After I heard the Chord Mojo, I ordered a Chord DAVE unheard, and have since rebuilt my entire system around the magic that the DAVE is able to deliver.
On the analog side, I’ve discovered that the more I got rid of, the more transparency I discovered and the more reality I was able to experience from the DAVE. I’ve replaced my beloved B&W 802d3’s (and associated amps, etc.) with high efficiency single driver Voxativ 9.87’s with 104db sensitivity Voxativ 4D drivers. My DAVE, with its lowly 2W output, can drive these speakers to ear splitting levels. More importantly, I’ve been able to eliminate amps and crossovers, having DAVE wired directly to a single ultra fast and ultra sensitive point source driver.
The end result is an experience that is holographic, astonishingly quick and controlled, and extraordinarily immersive. The level of transparency and reality is intoxicating, and remarkably revealing of everything in the chain: any weakness or system stumble takes away from that sense of reality. How to preserve as much of that sense of “real” as possible? How to get more? With my analog and digital-to-analog system anchors in place, my attention shifted to the digital side.
My digital audio journey has been driven by the core principle that any digital optimization must start and end with the DAC. Obviously, if one is starting with bit-perfect sources (and if you’re not, fix that), these bit-perfect bits are not affected at all by any digital optimizations (if bits were being changed, you would hear very audible pops clicks and drop outs). Any sound quality change you hear is due to something in your digital chain somehow and in some way impacting your DAC (even if you have no idea how or why).
For me, the core question for digital hygiene and optimization is what can be done to the digital chain to minimize anything being injected into or induced in the DAC that impacts the core digital references in the DAC: reference clock, reference ground, and reference power.
The impact may be direct, or it may be indirect through several intermediate components, over wires, or through the air. If you hear a difference with bit perfect audio streams, something is being transmitted to or induced in your DAC that is impacting the core digital references in the DAC (clock, ground, reference voltage), which in turn becomes audible when the signal gets converted to analog.
As my digital chain has evolved from laptop to low power Raspberry Pi endpoints to special built devices like the Sonore microRendu to DIY NUCs with Audiolinux and Euphony to all sorts of power and USB and network and cable tweaks, I’ve stumbled into a high level strategy and hypothesis for digital optimization that has consistently pointed me in interesting (and usually better) directions:
Invest in cabling, power, and digital hygiene to do as little harm as possible (directly or indirectly) to the DAC’s clock, ground plane, or reference voltage plane
Invest in a digital endpoint that moves bit perfect digital data from ethernet to a USB DAC with as little timing variability and as much timing and signal integrity as possible (aka, as close to precision real time data streaming to DAC as possible)
For me, the key issue isn't so much latency, as it is reducing the variation in latency. By way of example, playback that has a latency of 1 second +- 0.00000000001 second would be preferable to a latency of 0.001 sec +- 0.0001 sec.
For my current reference system, I am using an i7 NUC running AudioLinux in RAM as my Roon server, connected through an Uptone Audio EtherREGEN to a second i7 NUC running Euphony in RAM with HQPlayer as my endpoint, connected to my DAC by USB via a SOtM tX-USBultra special edition. As my system has evolved to this point (informed predominantly by the experiences of the extended community here at Audiophile Style, especially the legendary Novel thread, and the soon to be legendary DIY thread), here have been my experiences that are consistent with this “reducing variability in latency” hypothesis:
By using a NUC with highly integrated Silicon on a Chip (SoC) design (vs laptop or regular computer), sound quality is better (the SoC results in better timing coherence and optimized signal paths between system components)
By going with a stripped down in-memory linux OS with everything else disconnected and disabled in BIOS, sound quality is better (near real time OS)
By configuring linux to give the highest real-time priority to the endpoint software (Roon Bridge or Squeezelite or HQPlayer), sound quality is better (more near real time)
By configuring linux to give the highest real-time priority to the IRQ for the USB port (low level interface between the operating system and the physical USB port), sound quality is better (even more near real time)
By removing the USB boot stick so the only thing on the USB bus is the DAC, sound quality is better (fewer IRQs for USB storage)
By configuring the music server to bridge ethernet traffic to the NUC endpoint, sound quality is better (isolating ethernet traffic and interrupts)
By increasing network buffer for Squeezelite or other end point software so that all ethernet traffic is front loaded and the current song and next song are loaded into memory within a second or so, sound quality is better (fewer ethernet interrupts during playback)
By increasing the size of the memory buffer from Squeezelite or Roon or HQPlayer to the Linux ALSA driver, sound quality is better (less variability on feeding the USB driver)
By having a higher powered NUC (quad core i7 vs dual core i5 Celeron), sound quality is better (able to be closer to real time since it has more horsepower)
By configuring linux to dedicate a CPU core to the USB IRQ, sound quality is better (less contention with other processes)
By configuring linux to dedicate a CPU core to the endpoint software, sound quality is better
By using industrial-rated wide temperature RAM (presumably tighter tolerances parts, and better performance even at room temperature), sound quality is better
By playing music stored on Optane storage on the PCIe bus (vs SATA or SSD), sound quality is better (more direct transfer path from storage to the CPU)
By regenerating USB and/or ethernet signals, sound quality is better (signal integrity improvements)
None of these seem like they are RF noise related. These are all computer/OS/software configuration tweaks. What they all seem to share is the impact of reducing variability in the latency of the signal from the endpoint to the DAC and improving signal integrity, and thus (presumably) making the life of the PHY interface of the USB chipset a lot easier.
Separately, any time I have mains isolated a digital component (batteries, super caps, etc), sound quality has improved. Any time I’ve inserted a better/faster power supply (Paul Hynes SR4, Uptone Audio LPS 1.2, LDPWR DXP supplies, etc) that delivers well-regulated voltage under very dynamic current loads, sound quality has improved. Similarly, better conductors and better shielding consistently improves sound quality, as does reducing mechanical vibrations on power supplies and digital components.
I'm not drawing conclusions nor pointing at a core root cause. However, I'm finding that any change I make that is consistent with improving power (stability and speed), reducing RF, improving ground, and reducing variability in the latency of the digital signal seems to have a positive impact on sound quality.
Interestingly, I have also experienced the inherent tradeoff between having a higher power system that is capable of delivering lower variations in latency, but having sound quality suffer from requiring more power (and the difficulty in keeping that higher power level stable and clean). My i7 NUC consistently sounded better than my i5 NUC, but sound quality suffered as I increased CPU speed. The better and more dynamically responsive the power supply that I used with my i7 NUC, the more I could push CPU speed (and the better things sounded) before sound quality peaked and started to suffer.
So as I started looking for my next (final?) digital server, a core question for me was how powerful and near real time a digital server can one build, while still being able to deliver high quality power and not requiring additional noise generating components like fans? Can functions of music server and music end point be combined on a single powerful box (with more direct high performance connection between them) while also being clean enough to not adversely impact the signal output with power-related noise? How much control could I have over where processes were running and what system priority each was getting?
As I researched DIY options to push the boundaries on my NUC servers, I began to hear whispers about a digital music server that was well beyond anything else available out there, and checks all the boxes I’ve come to find as important (and a whole lot more). The more I dug in, the more I realized that through the rabbit hole was a world of digital audio optimization that was WAY beyond what I was thinking was practical or doable, and that every detail somehow and some way still seemed to matter.
In Part 2, I’ll dive into the guts (real and virtual) of the Extreme, and set the stage for Part 3, where I share what I discovered in the world of Summit-Fi digital audio optimization.
Equipment As Tested
Digital Source – Review Setup
Taiko Audio SGM Extreme with 8TB storage option ($27,000 as reviewed)
HQPlayer Desktop ($235)
Digital Source – Reference NUC Setup
Stock Intel NUC7i7DNKE in standard case with 16GB consumer RAM and 32GB Optane stick ($800)
Audiolinux ($120) and Roon Server ($120/year)
NUC7i7DNKE motherboard in a fanless Akasa case with 4GB wide temperature industrial Apacer RAM and a 16GB Optane stick ($1,000)
Euphony ($289) and HQPlayer Embedded ($235)
PowerAdd Pilot 2 battery ($90)
Stock Mac Mini file server ($500)
Chord DAVE ($13,000) – 2 channel
For two channel for Chord DAVE, PCM+ mode, HF filter off, no crossfeed
Chord Hugo TT2 ($5,500) – Headphone
For headphones for Chord Hugo TT2, crossfeed set to 2
Direct Two Channel Setup
RCA direct to Voxativ 9.87’s with Voxativ 4D drivers ($50,000)
Custom Furutech RCA to female banana adapters
Custom Furutech XLR to female banana adapters
Voxativ Ampeggio Speaker Cables ($4,000)
Iconoclast SPTPC speaker cables ($2,500)
Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC ($5,000)
Sennheiser HD800 (with SR mod) ($800 used)
Monoprice USB SlimRun optical USB extender cables ($150)
Sablon Audio 2020 USB cable ($750)
Uptone Audio USPCB ($35)
Ghent Audio JSSG360 DC cables (various)
SOtM tX-USBultra Special Edition ($1,300)
Paul Hynes SR4-19 power supply ($500)
AT&T fiber to the home, with Alcatel-Lucent G-010G-A ONT
DXPWR DXP-1A5S single stage power supply ($109)
PowerAdd Pilot Pro2 Battery ($90)
Pace 5268ac Gateway/Router (AT&T supplied)
Ubiquiti EdgeRouter 10X router/gateway ($109)
DXPWR DXP-1A5DSC dual stage power supply ($159)
PowerAdd Pilot Pro2 Battery ($90)
Planet Technology MGB-TLX SFP transceivers ($30 each)
Sonore opticalModule ($249)
Uptone Audio LPS 1.2 power supply ($435)
Uptone Audio EtherREGEN ($640)
Uptone Audio LPS 1.2 power supply ($435)
Monoprice and Cable Matters Cat 8 Cables ($10)
Sablon Audio 2020 Panatela Reserva ethernet cable ($375, provide as demo)
Sablon Audio router noise dongle (provided as demo)
Daiza vibration Isolation platforms ($600)
Custom precision rollerball isolators
Music As Tested
My Go-To demo tracks when demo’ing new pieces of equipment, and what I look for in each:
Pink Noise (mono), from “The Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc” by David Chesky (Chesky, 24/192 FLAC)
Yeah, its pink noise, but it tells you a lot about a set of headphones as you get oriented to your system. For 2 channel audio, I’ve found that pink noise is a great way to see if your speakers are aligned and you’re in the right spot. Great baseline reference to make sure things aren’t wonky and you’re in a good place (and it is sort of fun to think about all this technology being used to play a 24/192kHz noise file.
Murakkaz Ah Ya Muddasin, from “The Splendour of Al Andalus” by Calamus (MA Recordings, DSD64)
Remarkable recording in what sounds to be a majestic and spiritual centuries old cathedral in Spain. With the right equipment, you are transported to a place you’ve never been to but always want to get back to. When the full group joins in, it is profoundly challenging to reproduce the mids and highs without sounding shrill and congested. When the reproduction is effortless, it is magical (to say the least…my jaw drops every time when it’s “right”) If the sound chain is able to maintain that glorious soundstage, it is off the charts. Todd Garfinkle is a magician behind the microphone.
Noche Maravillosa, from “Salterio” by Begonia Olavide (MA Recordings, 16/44.1 FLAC)
Another gem of a recording and performance from Todd. The precision and clarity of the instruments (particularly the percussive ones) is intoxicating and tangible.
Voglia Di Vita Uscir, from “Buenos Aires Madrigal” by La Chimera (MA Recordings, 16/44.1 FLAC)
Todd also is a master at capturing performances in a more orchestral setting. These performances by La Chimera are a joy, and the sense of being there with the performers is absolutely intoxicating.
Mahler: Symphony #2 'Resurrection’, 1st movement conducted by Iván Fischer (Channel Classics, DSD64)
Mahler: Symphony #2 'Resurrection’, 5th movement conducted by Iván Fischer (Channel Classics, DSD64)
Near perfect performance with a perfect recording. The dynamics and power of this performance are vivid and real: the orchestra virtually screams with one voice during the climaxes. This recording beautifully captures the essence of horns and low strings, which are very difficult to reproduce. The closest I’ve heard to the experience of the dynamics of a live orchestral performance.
Rimsky-Korsakoff: Scheherazade, 1st movement conducted by Fritz Reiner (Analogue Productions Remaster, DSD64)
The most perfect recording of the most perfect performance I’ve ever heard. Listening to this recording on a transparent system is a life changing experience: you are standing with Maestro Reiner in Chicago as his orchestra reaches for a performance for the ages. A cultural treasure, and worthy of building a world class system around.
Organ Prelude, JS Bach Magnificat by Dunedin Consort (Linn, DSD64)
Motet, JS Bach Magnificat by Dunedin Consort (Linn, DSD64)
A breathtakingly lovely recording! The dynamics and harmonics of the organ can range from a muddy “eh” to “holy crap!” depending on the quality of the reproduction. Standing in the middle of the choir is a lovely test of imaging and voice reproduction: the more precise the soundstage the more you can pick out individuals (including depth and height…remarkable).
Handel: Messiah - Chorus. O thou tellest good tidings by Dunedin Consort (Linn, DSD64)
Handel: Messiah - Hallelujah by Dunedin Consort (Linn, SACD)
A magnificent recording, reconstructing the original version of Handel’s Messiah, with a total of 12 singers. The normal complexity of the piece is captured in a way where you can hear each voice in the chorus, and how it comes together into a larger whole. An amazingly intimate performance when the reproduction chain can manage the complexity and dynamics and not have the soundstage become muddy and flat.
Arnesen: Magnificat - Fecit potentiam by TrondheimSolistene (2l, 24/192 FLAC)
This is such a lovely recording at any quality level, but goes from incredible to other worldly as the chain scales up. The orchestra, choir, and church should all have equal contribution to something far greater than the sum of its parts. When it all comes together, you can feel the three core elements feeding off each, creating a profound joy that sweeps you into euphoria.
Stardust, from “Duets” by Rob Wasserman (16/44.1 lossless)
Every track on this album is a gem, but this one is particular is a fantastic test of sound stage and imaging. At its best, you hear each backing voice precisely in space, but still presenting as a harmonious whole. In real life, detail and precision spatial placement isn’t hard and clinical, why should it be in reproduction?
Oh, Lady Be Good, from “Plays Gershwin” by the Bassface Swing Trio (DSD64)
Night and Day, from “Tribute to Cole Porter” by the Bassface Swing Trio (DSD64)
These direct to disc Stockfisch recordings are extraordinary. Imaging and dynamics FTW. Recordings like these are why we obsess over the things we obsess about. I’m looking to get lost in the music, and the band appearing to be sitting right there. When tonal balance is just right, these performances just jump off the SACD.
Shamas-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja, from “Shahen-Shah” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (16/44.1 lossless)
The first track from what was my surprise 2012 album of the year (see this video for the surprise ending). A remarkable supremely spiritual performance by a remarkable man, captured in an “eh” recording. The question for me when I’m evaluating new equipment is what it can do to elevate a middle of the road recording that is worthy of elevation.
Let Me Touch You For Awhile, from “Live” by Alison Krauss (DSD64)
I adore Alison Krauss. Having equipment that can reproduce the wonderful emotion and musicality of these amazing artists is why I spend so much time looking for the right speakers/cans/etc. Their Live album is special, and you can feel the humanity and emotion in this track.
Fields of Gold, from “Nightbird” by Eva Cassidy (16/44.1 FLAC)
An absolutely amazing and engaging performance, with a moderate recording and mics that were over driven. The dynamics of the performance unfortunately saturate the recording, and the breaks and near breaks can be painful in some chains. A wonderful song to listen to, but also a great song to see how much of the song is wonderful to listen to.
Tenderly, from “While She Sleeps” by Art Lande (Blue Coast, 24/88.2 FLAC)
Cookie Marenco has a gift for capturing piano, guitar, and voice as if you’re sitting in the room with the artist. If you’ve ever sat next to a wonderfully tuned piano with an extraordinary player, you know how magical that experience can be. The best pianos sing with resonances that envelop you. The best musicians know how to coax beauty and life out of the instrument. This recording from Art Lande captures that magic. The stronger the dynamics, soundstage, and precision of the system, the more lifelike this track becomes for me. I haven’t experienced this track topping out: the better the reproduction chain, the more lifelike it becomes.
One World, from “Session 1” by Sareena Overwater (Blue Coast, DSD64)
One World (Instrumental), from “Session 2” by Sareena Overwater (Blue Coast, DSD64)
Real magic from Cookie. These tracks are wired directly to deeply held memories for me, and the stronger the reproduction chain, the stronger the emotion that they evoke. There are better examples of piano performance and better examples of vocals, but the emotional truth and power of this performance is unmatched.
99, from “Blue Coast Special Event 43” by Meghan Andrews (Blue Coast, 16/44.1 FLAC)
Cookie knows how to record guitar too, and Meghan Andrews knows how to bring a performance that is worth catching in a bottle.
Vous et Moi, from “Night and Day” by Willie Nelson (SurroundedBy Entertainment, 24/96 FLAC)
What if Willie Nelson was in a dispute with his label, got pissed off, and invited the best musicians he knew to the studio to record an instrumental album in full surround? Yeah, this actually happened, and it is as awesome as you think it is. The album is amazing in a musical surround setup, but a proper 2 channel system puts you right in the middle of the band. Incredible stuff.
Music in My Room, from “The Folkscene Collection, Vol. 3” by Cheryl Williams (Redhouse Records, 16/44.1 FLAC)
We’ve all had the experience of being in a coffee shop or small venue, when someone with a guitar and something that has to be shared commands the attention of everyone in the room, and you have a moment where the whole room is one. These CDs where engineer Peter Cutler captured intimate in-studio performances at KPFK in Los Angeles are replete with those moments, but this performance by Cheryl Williams stands out for me. With a great reproduction chain, the guitar is real and present, and the voice and singer connect at a deep emotional level. A jewel of a moment, waiting for the right equipment to be a moment again.
All I Want, from “After Blue” by Tierney Sutton (BFM Jazz, 16/44.1 FLAC)
Tierney Sutton has a striking clear and present vocal style, and that is on full display on her “After Blue” album of Joni Mitchell standards. I continue to be amazed how ever better DACs extract ever more nuance and subtlety of performance from top tier vocalists. It is a joy to hear the depth of craft and art of vocal performance on tracks like this.
Rosa fresca, from “Il viaggio d’amore” by Arianna Savall and Petter Udland Johansen (Carpe Diem, 16/44.1 TIDAL Lossless)
“The journey of love” is a marvelous exploration of love through the ages, from multiple cultures and times. The whole album is a joyous wonder, but the opening track (“Fresh Rose”) of a traditional song from the 1500s is an invitation to join in joy and unbounded hope. The company of players is feeling it, and you do too. When you’re hearing every string pluck in the strums and the voices come together into something much larger than the sum of its parts, you’ll be glad you accepted that invitation.
L’Amor, from “Bella Terra” by Arianno Savall (Alia Vox, 16/44.1 FLAC)
If Rosa fresca makes you fall in love with Arianna Savall singing about love, you’ll want to seek out her “Bella Terra” album. An accomplished harpist and vocalist, Savall is at her best when she brings both together: voice and instrument are one, and evoke marvelous sound and emotional resonances in each other.
Traveler, from “Little Crimes” by Melissa Menago (Chesky, Binaural 24/192 FLAC)
Airplane, from “Little Crimes” by Melissa Menago (Chesky, Binaural 24/192 FLAC)
A gem of a recording from Chesky: direct binaural recording, made in a church while it is raining outside. Like all Chesky binaural recordings, you are there sitting with the performers (Airplane), with special magic from the sound of the rain outside of the church (Traveler). Fantastic test of soundstage and spatial detail.
Hold On, from “Sessions from the 17th Ward” by Amber Rubarth (Chesky, Binaural 24/192 FLAC)
Don’t You, from “Sessions from the 17th Ward” by Amber Rubarth (Chesky, Binaural 24/192 FLAC)
More Chesky magic. No rain this time, but Amber’s rich voice + violin + guitar + percussion are amazing on any system, but the sense of being there scales beautifully as the reproduction chain improves (it is magical when your system crosses some threshold of transparency…all of a sudden you are there).
Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, from “Open Your Ears” by The Persuasions (Chesky, Binaural 24/96 FLAC)
One last gem from Chesky. There is a profound difference to listening to a recording of a group of people sing, and being with a group of people that are singing. This is another recording that (at least for me), when you cross some magical threshold of transparency, the people become real.
Ephemera, from “Ephemera” by Carla Lother (Chesky, 16/44.1 FLAC)
A stunning interpretation of an incredible poem by William Butler Yeats. The recording is exquisite, but the incredible sense of space and balance amongst the performers is very fragile. The better the chain, the more perfect the recording becomes.
Karamawari, from “Gamushara” by YAMATO the drummers (TIDAL MP3)
Drums are notoriously difficult to reproduce in the way you experience them in person. There is a physicality that is lost in most systems. Hearing a group of percussion masters really bring it on a system that can approximate that in person experience? Amazing.
Get Lucky, from “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk (24/88.2 FLAC)
Another track that transcends pop when played back through equipment that really reproduces the full range and dynamics of the recording. The subtlety and layers on Nile Rodgers’ guitar work is incredible, and the recording is outstanding so you should be able to hear it all. I listen for whether it is washed out, and how well I hear all the (considerable) nuances in his playing.
Take Five, from “Time Out” by Dave Brubeck (Analogue Productions SACD)
An excellent test of dynamics at the high end. As an aside, these Analogue Productions remasters are off the charts!
No Love Dying, from “Liquid Spirit” by Gregory Porter (24/192 flac)
Another lovely recording and performance, that on a balanced system hits a resonance that is next level for me (just sounds “right” and get the “wow!”) When things are not in balance or boomy/shrill, I hear it loud and clear.
Beethoven: Symphony #9, 4th movement by Suitner (OG Denon, 16/44.1 lossless)
This was the first CD I ever bought in 1984 (first CD ever made?) I know every second of this movement and every nuance. My current 2 channel setup was the first time I had ever heard the entire movement without a break (every other system I’d ever had/auditioned had some break at some challenging passage).
So What, from “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis (Japanese single layer SACD version)
One of the finest recordings and performances of the 20th century. Always the last track I play during any audition. Until there is a time machine to take me back to March 2 and April 22 1959, I will buy every new remaster of this album, and play it on every piece of high end audio kit I can find.
Community Star Ratings and Reviews
I encourage those who have experience with the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.