Jack Roberts, Dagogo’s Senior Reviewer, has the opportunity recently to review Oracle of Canada’s $9,250 integrated solid-state amplifier, and I was able to audition it in my system for two weeks. During that time, I was reviewing the $30k Red Rock Audio Renaissance tube monoblocks.
The Oracle, being a transistor design with class A for input and class AB for output, would seem a devastating downward departure from the glory of the high-power Red Rock Renaissance, a pair of Svetlana 572-10-based, push-pull design. As a reviewer, it is important for me to be able to cast as much of my own preferences aside as possible when reviewing a design that represents a departure from the latest object of desire in audio. Nonetheless, readers please take note that this review is written fresh from a perspective that is influenced, however minutely, by the performance of the Red Rock Renaissance.
Whether it was fed signals from the Audio Note DAC 5 Special tube D/A converter, otherwise known as the Super DAC, or the solid-state, Wadia Reference 9 Decoding Computer, the Oracle was completely devoid of irregular top-end behaviors so rampant in cheap transistor amplifiers. For instance, the guitar duo in the Master Music XRCD24 Masterpiece represented negligible demand in dynamics and scale for my 95dB/8Ω Tannoy Churchill Wideband, whether it was a medium-output tube amplifier driving it, or the Oracle SI1000. Yet, with the Oracle, there was an uncanny glow of tonality that not so much as irradiating a layer of warmth to all types of music, but infusing the sound of acoustic instruments a layered presence, a specialty claimed by vacuum tube designs.
When reproducing the sound of the Steinway piano as played by Evgeny Kissin in RCA Victor Red Seal’s Schumann – Sonata No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor, Op.11, Carnival, Op. 9, (BMG 09026-63885-2), the Oracle-driven Tannoy Churchill Wideband sounded almost like a ribbon planar speaker driven by a high-power class A amplifier: walls of pristine but satin tones rich in textural substance and tonal precision irradiated throughout the listening room, making for some of the most sensual aural experience ever. From the Oracle, there was absolutely no trace of the sterile, artificial tonality of many class A/B amplifiers, however minute a level of such lifeless sound the best of them exhibited.
There was also an unmistakable prowess of the Oracle that anchored constant manifestations of spatiality and transients through the Tannoy, a trait normally claimed by many class-A behemoths that also fully ladened the presentation with meticulous bottom-end control. The Oracle was no slouch in the last context, neither.
For the Oracle’s control of bottom-end was exemplary for an integrated amplifier. Although the Tannoy was rated at 95dB efficient at 8 ohms, it needed more amplifier muscle to compel its bottom-end to manifest itself, more so than the 91dB, 4 ohms Bӧsendorfer VC 7. With the Oracle, the Tannoy bottom-end was extended and vigorous, especially when reproducing the Steinway piano’s bottom octaves. Only a Tannoy 15-inch could render a piano so cohesively and reverberating, and the fact that a solid-state integrated amplifier was the anchor of such finesse and force was absolutely remarkable.
That the Tannoy Churchill Wideband, though discontinued, continues to be the most accurate loudspeaker with a 15-inch Dual-Concentric™ driver that Tannoy has produced, has been related to me from Tannoy North America repeatedly. Unlike its siblings in the Prestige Series, the Churchill Wideband was designed for the accuracy-craving American audience, utilizing solid santos rosewood for a high-end furniture-grade structure, and a heavily braced internal layout with the V-port providing fortification in resonance control. Despite its sensitivity rating, the CW has a sophisticated crossover network allowing highly customized frequency outputs, which also consumes considerable power coming from amplifiers, thus making it less flea-power SET-friendly than the comparably-priced Canterbury 15, or the top-of-the-line Westminster Royal SE. Then again, none other Tannoy is as useful as an evaluation tool as the CW, and its santos rosewood body with the impeccably matched wood patterns and meticulous curves makes for, simply, a beautiful and exotic object of desire impossible to relinquish. Mrs. Soo’s sensitive hearing finds the Dual-Concentric method more pressurizing than she could handle, though.
The Oracle SI1000, on the other hand, got a nod of approval from her. Naturally, since a lady named Lynn, one of the administrators of the company, is involved in the design of the products, thus imparting a welcome touch of feminism so rare in this hobby of ours. Reviewing equipment designed by a woman has effected certain changes in my mentality. Let me put it this way: I’ve been using gear from the hands of other guys all my life. Same for all of you, I suspect. Imagine more lovely-looking designs that also sound fabulous, and what a world of welcome difference that would be. Manufacturers will do well to solicit their wives’ or female employees’ opinion on the exterior designs of their equipment. The only other equipment at my home that has won overwhelming approval from my wife is the 47 Lab PiTracer.
Retrospectively, the Oracle was seemingly more eager to please than the three-times more expensive Red Rock monoblocks, when its discreetly germinated tones were coupled with a pace slightly livelier that some of the best solid-state devices have shown to muster. When I was auditioning the Oracle SI 1000, I was constantly reminded of the magnificence of dynamics, scale and tone of the Red Rock tall amplifiers, a reaction prompted most certainly not by dissatisfactory performance but rather, an alarmed state of mind that dreaded the pending auditioning deadline.
Integrated amplifiers was supposed to be the final solution in amplification design, for it can offer the quintessential circumvention of the preamplification enigma of signal altercation from additional circuits and the use of extra interconnect cables. The paradox that has been hampering stronger embrace of the integrated amplifier in the marketplace has been a keen lack of confidence of its perceived value by its target audience. The more 2-piece, separate amplifications the audiophiles acquire, the less motivated they are in undermining the aftermarket value of their possessions by creating a break in the acquisition pattern. Manufacturers’ reactions to such predicament have been understandably market-oriented, as they allocate considerably less resources in the development of integrated amplifiers.
While no manufacturers can be blamed for adhering to the status quo in order to stay in business, the few that venture into producing the best integrated designs to their best abilities deserve applause and ovation. For without these inspiring efforts, the integrated amplification category would have continued its downward spiral in performance and quality from a categorical underestimation of its potentials.
The most remarkable aspect of my experience with the Oracle SI1000 solid-state integrated amplifier emerged when the Audio Note DAC5 Special’s performance was largely passed on by the amplifier to the loudspeaker. Suppose on a scale of 0 to 100, the employment of today’s best cabling and power conditioning would still constitute a 10% loss of resolution in the signal chain, then in the remaining 90%, there would probably be another 20% loss of resolution in the Oracle’s processing of the original information, a feat not usually attained by amplifiers in the sub-$20k range.
In the times when bulkiness and size were the dominating preference, prominent manufacturers exercised what can only be described as miniscule efforts in promoting the integrated design. The Oracle SI 1000 was a startling exception. It underscored the kind of fun and musical enjoyment that the non-reviewing audiophile could have by using it with no need for constant equipment changes, and it set a milestone in the state-of-the-art in integrated amplification design. It is beautiful, powerful, musical, with superb competitiveness among other present-day designs and surprising fidelity competency that makes for an ideal amplification design for the reader with medium-efficiency to high-efficiency speakers to own.
Next to the Red Rock Renaissance that I just reviewed, the Oracle is really good, and I second Jack Roberts’ original comment in his review: “I didn’t say the Oracle was better. I said it was really good.”
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