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REDGUM Articulata Integrated Amplifier Review

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2nd System: Kingsound King Tower omnidirectional 

The second system established was a surprise. I had owned the Kingsound King Tower omnidirectional for several years and rotated them into the system, keeping the electronics unchanged. I wished to benefit from the pleasure of hearing an omnidirectional speaker, but did not wish to invest a large sum in doing so. The most well known Omni speakers, such as German Physics and mbl, are quite expensive to be used for occasional listening, so I had been looking for a relative bargain. I found it at CES several years ago when I entered the Performance Devices room (King Sound is now distributed in North America by Twin Audio Video Inc.). There, on display in a functional system off to the side, was the unusual King Tower Speaker. I only had a brief listen as I was most intent on arranging the review of the King electrostatic speaker, but what I heard was enough to intrigue me.

As a year or so went by Roger DuNaier, the importer at the time, chose not to distribute the King Tower. I was blessed to acquire what I think may be the only pair of King Tower speakers in North America. Though I wished for them to compare very favorably to the mbl, they did not. The holistic build quality and driver selection were not as exquisite as mbl, and the cabinet contribution to the bass and midrange were obvious. Over time I detected an imbalance in the driver complement between the midrange and tweeter. When such an ambitious design as a full range Omni is created at a price point of $5K such things will be evident. Magnepan speakers also exhibit significant shortcomings at their price points until one reaches the upper level offerings, and similarly the King Tower has drawbacks.

I share this introduction to the King Tower so that you will appreciate what fine component matching can do to improve a speaker. For it was with the REDGUM Articulata, an integrated, that the King Tower has broken through to become a bona fide fine performing speaker. Previously, I had used several pairs of separates of both matched and mixed types of preamps and amps with the King Tower, well known products by VAC, Pass Labs, Ovation, etc. These were positive, but none had the capacity to leverage the speaker’s advantages to overwhelm its weaknesses – until the Articulata.

I must applaud another product used in conjunction with the Articulata at this point, the BorderPatrol DAC SE with USB and SPDIF ($1,850). This is an “NOS” or non-oversampling DAC. It has limitations on the parameters of files it plays; it receives up to 24 bit and 96kHz. According to the website, “To our knowledge, BorderPatrol is the only company applying tube rectification and choke input filtering to digital circuits.” It is a less manipulated treatment of the signal with a unique power supply, and the outcome is disarmingly beautiful. The BP DAC SE uses off the shelf chips for the digital treatment, but a customized tube power supply, and the result is mind-bendingly good! Riding the Massively Up-converted Signal Train for some time, hopping onto the NOS Train is a very different ride, one I like a lot! Stay tuned for the full review.

These two in tandem broke the paradigm of the limitations of the King Tower. I’m not fully sure just how, but the sound of the King Tower has been revolutionized, as though it was sent back to Kingsound and retooled. Keep in mind that I am using a pair of Legacy Audio EXTREME XD Subwoofers, which are active, with the King Tower. I am using the speaker level input with these subs, so they are being fed by an additional set of speaker cables coming out of the same amp output posts as the King Tower speakers. However, I had done such things in the past and never achieved as marvelous a result.

I attribute the sea change in performance to two things: the sheer transparency of the BP DAC SE, and the extraordinarily clean power of the Articulata. With sensationally clean power and equally clean signal even a budget speaker receives a new lease on life. I am finally hearing a respectable “mushroom cloud” soundstage I have heard from the German Physics and mbl offerings. I am now able to fully integrate the subwoofers with the King Tower’s bass module such that they are coherent together.

Previously the King Tower could easily be outclassed in terms of refinement with the Joule White’s RAAL ribbon tweeter, for instance. However, with the Articulata and BP DAC SE the refinement of the King Tower was elevated to a respectable level. This results in a cautionary word to those who think that the amp or DAC have marginal impact on the sound of a speaker. The speaker will only perform up to the level of the componentry ahead of it. Chintz or mismatch the up front gear and you have dumbed down the speakers.

I am part of an active listening group of four other enthusiasts, whom I invited to hear the setup. The horn speaker fan hated it. He shook his head dismissively, intimating to me that he wishes not to hear such again when I could have had him over to hear the Legacy or Vapor speakers. Such is life. These other speakers cost five times the King Tower, so are speakers to be disqualified because they are affordable and not as overwhelming as others? The others weren’t sure, as the soundstage is so diffuse with an Omni that it’s hard to assess in comparison to a dynamic speaker.

But, having built several iterations with the King Tower since any of the group first heard it, I knew the advancements it showed. The Articulata was a perfect match for these speakers, and therein lies a lesson to not harshly judge an amp by the speaker. The objection to and confusion regarding the performance of the King Tower was due to the technology of the speaker, not the quality of the amp. The Articulata greatly elevated the King Tower’s performance, as it did other more conventional speakers. So, if you hear something you don’t like or know how to assess fully, be cautious about assigning blame to specific components. I would have liked to have the ability to do a quick change of system so that the group could have heard the next rig. I suspect the accolades would have been profuse.


Third System: Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition

Over the past year or so I have handled three amplifiers that reside closer to the “affordable” end of the price spectrum. Each has its particular characteristics and desirable attributes. They are the First Watt J2, Benchmark AHB2 (in conjunction with the Benchmark DAC3 DX), and Belles ARIA monoblock (under review). They are all recommendable, and I have built lovely systems with all of them. I find no fatal flaws in any of them. They are evidence that we are living in a time when audiophiles have many good, affordable options for powering HiFi systems.

The Articulata integrated amp, as a higher power and high current design, is distinct. When it comes to performance it is an unusual event in my room for an integrated amp to surpass the performance of separates, and the integrated usually has to cost significantly more than the separates to do so. However, the Articulata succeeds, chiefly in the areas of headroom and macrodynamics. The phenomenon of headroom in an amplifier is similar in experience to the horsepower availability of an automobile. Peaks in the music, when more power is demanded, are when headroom is most noticeable.

As an example take two amplifier designs associated with Nelson Pass, the Pass Labs XA600 (600 Watts of Class A/B power) and the First Watt J2 (25 Watts of Class A power). The Class of operation can have an important influence upon how one perceives amp performance; however, in this case the discrepancy in terms of headroom between the two amps is caused more by the sheer power differential than the class of operation. In my review of the XA600, I discussed that design as seemingly limitless in terms of potential to drive difficult speakers such as the Kingsound King III electrostatic speaker. Not so the J2, which was only marginally effective and at times clearly too weak to drive the speakers to higher listening levels. One may achieve a similar size and depth of soundstage with the J2, however appropriately selected speakers must be used, that is, speakers which are very efficient. When it comes to headroom, the peaks in the music as heard with the J2 were more compressed and less dynamically extended. Typically, the J2 simply cannot drive a speaker with the same force as the XA600, it can run out of gas when asked to drive less efficient speakers.

The argument is often made that the solution is to pair proper speakers with an amp to avoid lack of headroom and insipid dynamics. That is true, but it is also true that when pairing a more efficient speaker with an amp having greater headroom it will improve in performance in these characteristics as much as the lesser efficiency speaker. All things equal, the extra power is perceived as, well, more powerful! Imagine the radical transformation in terms of dynamics moving from the diffuse soundstage of the King Tower Omni with twin subs to the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition having 8 15” woofers (sans subs). The soundstage coalesced and descended with the force of an avalanche! The fortitude of the Whisper’s low-end response was greater than use of the twin subwoofers. The remarkable aspect to this is that Bill Dudleston marketed the Whisper not as a speaker for extreme LF but as having very precise bass down to about 22 Hz. Yet, with the Articulata, I was pressurizing the room as I never had with the subwoofers. Indeed, the character of power is determinative in a system’s performance.

2 Responses to REDGUM Articulata Integrated Amplifier Review

  1. Danny says:

    My Class D based system (Kii Three) if fully capable of portraying the “subtle echo” in “John Henry”; so either my system is very good (in spite of being Class D) or it isn’t that difficult to reproduce.

  2. Technical Addendum to Articulata review:
    As I have continued to build systems with the Redgum Articulata I have noticed distinctly that the slight noise which was manifested during the review period is now absent. The determinant factor it seems was the source, the file server/streamer. I have been reviewing a two box streamer/server which pairs absolutely silently with the Articulata and a variety of DACs. I suspect a lack of synergy in terms of silent operation on the presence of noise between the former server/streamer and the Redgum integrated.

    Meanwhile, with the current server/streamer the performance of the Articulata has been elevated nicely. The combination of streamer/server, DAC and integrated is proving again to be an efficacious system setup.

    Douglas Schroeder

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