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6moons reader Ning An is a professional classical pianist who enjoys listening to classical and jazz on his Harbeth, Simaudio and Marantz-based system. Ning An is an Artist in Residence at Lee University in Tennessee and recorded these performances with recording engineer Alan Goodwin at the New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall on a Hamburg Steinway, using high-end electronics for signal duties directly to a hard drive at 96KHz. Ning An's musicianship is fabulous and full of life and emotive color that stunningly captures these works in their full glory. Upon hearing it, my good friend and piano aficionado Bill -- who happens to be a sightless master piano restorer and tuner -- said "Wow! Who's playing on this CD? This is great!" The recording quality is extremely good, creating a beguiling combination of sound and music that makes Ning An's CD easily my favorite new classical CD - you'll be hearing me rave more about this disc in future reviews. Sharp-eyed readers may recognize Alan Goodwin's name as the same Alan Goodwin of Goodwin's High End in Boston, who also happens to have an awesome website. If you are going to be stopping in Boston on your travels, be sure to stop in and say 'Hi!" from the cats here at the moons. Before you do, check out Alan's website section on Food and Fun in Boston for some great recommendations to enhance your visit while there.

Everyone who has been in audio for any length of time has heard that it's important to allow cables to burn in before making any kind of judgment on their performance. Now I know that it holds true for tone arm cables as well. If the Silver tonearm is any indication, it particularly holds true for tone arms [Alan Kafton of CableCooker fame would agree because of the minuscule voltage output from cartridges which never break in tone arm wiring under regular use - Ed]. I was rather astonished at the dramatic transformation that I heard as the music played and the tone arm cables burned in. The air and space of the arm opened up, the tonal properties of the arm became more natural and colorful, the abundant detail relaxed more in its presentation. Pace, rhythm and timing elements also grew more natural while remaining emotionally riveting.

I e-mailed Pete and told him about the transformation burning in the tone arm wiring for 24 hours with the Audio Logic DAC. I suggested we get together again for another listening session, with his Origin Live modded Rega used for a comparator. As before, both arms were set up with identical Denon 103 cartridges and swapped in and out using the handy VTAF bushing.

Pete still thought that the Origin Live modded Rega was warmer and had more dimensionality than the Silver arm. He also thought the modded Rega was a little more liquid but he thought the gap was now much narrower than before. Pete also noted that the bass is bigger and warmer on his modded Rega. He thought the Silver arm more accurate and true to the sound of real musical instruments than the somewhat romanticized sound of the modified Rega.

As I listened, I thought the Origin Live Silver arm was more detailed than the modded Rega while having a greater sense of image solidity. The Silver arm also moves the images much closer to the listener, making the presentation more immediate and direct sounding - think front hall sound compared to the modded Rega's mid-hall to rear-hall sound. Bass is tauter and punchier with the Silver arm which, no doubt, is less warm than the Rega. The Silver arm makes percussion sound more 'percussiony', accurate and incisive. The modded Rega is a little more romanticized, a little more beautiful in its presentation. One thing that Pete and I discovered was how important the anti-skating force adjustment is to getting the best sound out of the Silver arm. Set too low and the bass becomes unnaturally lean, causing the upper midrange to accentuate in an unpleasant way. Setting anti-skate to max makes the bass of the Silver arm sound taut, defined and realistic. However, even after burning in, the Silver arm maintained a bit of sheen in the upper midrange, with slightly more vocal sibilance than I cared for. Not a lot but it was there.

The Origin Live Silver arm sounds 'snappier' than the modded Rega, more accurate to the sound of real instruments. Flat top guitar strings sound more like steel strings - a bit metallic and percussive. The modded Rega made them sound softer, almost like nylon strings. The Silver arm sounds somewhat more electronic than the more romantically balanced modded Rega. Interestingly, the modded Rega is a little more opaque and less detailed but it does PRaT in a more musically convincing manner, albeit less dramatic than the Silver.

Don't take Origin Live's recommendation to burn in the Silver tonearm lightly or you'll likely be disappointed. If you don't burn in the Silver tonearm, I doubt you'll ever hear what it's capable of. I mean it: Don't take this burn-in stuff lightly.

Listening Impressions Round 3 - Using the Auditorium 23 Step Up Transformer at Terry's Place
After burning in the Silver arm further, I thought it sounded really good, marginally preferring it to the modded Rega. Pete felt just the opposite, that the Silver arm sounded better but the modded Rega played music better, with a slight sacrifice to the sound. I think it could go either way for you depending on your audio tastes. The modded Rega has a somewhat romanticized, big warm bassy sound with natural PRaT and lots of spaciousness - a real music maker to be sure and one that many people have found a lot to like about. I liked the extra detail of the Silver arm and its snappy, dynamic and direct presentation, which makes it easier to pick out the guitar lines while playing along with Doc Watson on my Gibson Advanced Jumbo, for example. But I wish the Silver arm was a touch warmer and fuller, handled the notes in a little more liquid and fragrant fashion while maintaining its excellent detail recovery and snappiness. I'd like to banish that last little bit of sheen and sibilance Pete and I were hearing on female vocals, too. Guess what? I got my wish with the Silver arm - and had a big revelation in my understanding of its performance capabilities to boot!

I drove over to Terry Cain's famed Cain & Cain world headquarters in Walla Walla/Washington with the full-boat Garrard 301 restoration project with his plinth, the VTAF and Silver arm and Denon 103 cartridge tucked carefully into my Miata. I also brought along a little surprise that had come from Jonathan Halpern - the Auditorium 23 moving coil step-up transformer designed for the Denon 103 cartridge. The Auditorium 23 is an unassuming looking step-up tranny that is about the size of a pack of cigarettes with RCA inputs on one side and RCA outputs on the other. That's about it. Jonathan Halpern of Shindo USA is so enamored of the design that he's begun importing it to the US so others can get in on the fun. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

Terry set up the Garrard 301 Project table in his system of Studio BEN (Big E-Nuf) ES double-horn loudspeakers that use a full-range 8" Fostex driver and a horn-loaded Fostex super tweeter. For amplification, Terry had the full spread of Josh Stippich's wondrous Electron Luv 45 amplifiers and preamplifier, which are easily the most gorgeous amplification devices ever created by human hands. They should be on display in the National Gallery of Art - really. I wish I could afford the Electron Luv gear; I'd buy a pair in a second. For phono amplification, Terry was using a big underground favorite known for its giant-killing performance: The George Wright-designed and -built vacuum tube phono preamplifier. When I got to Terry's place, his Teres turntable was sitting idle and music was playing through one of Vincent Sanders' computer hard-drive digital powerhouses to warm up the system. Terry's system has it all: Beautiful tone, great dynamics and a very musical yet detailed presentation.

Then we dropped the needle on one of the many LPs we would spin that day and heard pretty much what Pete and I had heard with the burned-in Origin Live Silver in my system - good but not great. "Hey Terry," said I, "Whaddya say we drop in the Aud 23 step-up tranny and see what happens?" "Sounds like an idea," said he. So we did and dropped the needle again. "Whoa!" said I. "Whoa!" Terry tossed right back at moi. All of a sudden everything that had troubled me about the Origin Live Silver arm vanished. In its place was one of the most stunning portrayals of the analogue kingdom I have ever heard - breathtaking! The vocal sheen and sibilance were gone and in its place was real flesh-and-blood vocal magic. The arm now conveyed music that was warmer, darker and fuller without losing any of the detail and snappiness that made it so engaging in my system. The notes became more liquid and fragrant too. Fed by the Auditorium 23 to amplify the Denon 103, I couldn't find a nit to pick with the Origin Live Silver arm. It was a beautifully emotive as well as a great-sounding presentation of the music. If you have a Denon 103 and a low-gain phono preamplifier, you should run out and get an Auditorium 23 tranny right now! Don't even think about it - just do it! Terry and I ended up spinning disks all day and never got around to getting the second armboard mounted. I left it with him to work his magic, hoping it wouldn't take too long.