The StereoTimes Most Wanted Components - 2001
Rich Harkness
1 July 2001

Given the fact that Iíve only reviewed loudspeakers for Stereo Times, youíd think that my recommended component would be a loudspeaker. Nah, too logical. And besides, Iíve truly enjoyed all the speakers that have passed through my home, so it seems unfair to single out one just to satisfy a list. (That said, if I were to exalt the charms of one particular speaker, it just might be the one I currently have in home for review. Sorry for the cop-out, but Iíll say it all in the review).

Right then, how about I discuss a couple of components that have stayed put on my system for a while. Thatís got to count for something!

Meridian 508.20 CD player $3500.

What the heck? The old 508? Not the latest, greatest -bit player? Yup, believe it. In fact, this is how sick I am: I bought a Meridian 24-bit DAC last year and sold it after comparing to my 508.20 single box player. Sure the newer 24-bit DAC was smoother, and perhaps slightly more detailed and refined. But it was also less realistic. The 24-bit DAC lacked the body, density, punch and incisiveness of the 508.20 one box player. Musical instruments were just more compelling, more "there" with the 508.20. Good-bye, spiffy new DAC.

Now, Iím not an idiot. I know from fooling around with various DACs, old and new, that I can find one with greater perceived detail, refinement and dimensionally. But what I like about the Meridian 508.20 is a tonal faithfulness. It seems to line up all the harmonic elements of an instrument in a very honest, convincing manner. In contrast, many other DACs/CDPs Iíve tested have sounded more diffuse, less organized, leading to a smearing of the instrumental timbre. And the Meridian 508.20 is very balanced; nothing sticks out of the frequency spectrum to call attention to the "sound." For me, balance in a component is very important. Paradoxically, a balanced sounding component becomes more "invisible," less intrusive into the musical experience, than a component that impresses me with its transparency. Go figure.

Conrad Johnson Premier 12 Mono Block tube amplifiers. $8000

Love íem. While I always have a beefy SS amp on hand for my speaker reviews, Iím a tube guy when it comes down to it. I plan to discuss these amps in an upcoming review, but in short hereís what I love about the Premier 12s: They give me a big helping of tube magic, while banishing many of the downsides of living with a tube amp. That is, the Premier 12s sound more lush and seductive than any solid state amp Iíve ever heard, yet they also deliver the transient snap, tautness and bass control that is often absent from tube amps. At 140W/side (each monoblock has four 6550 output tubes run in ultralinear), the Premier 12s donít just do beauty; they do drama, energy and excitement. Talk about focus and punch! When I spin my funk or rock records, I NEVER long for a solid state amp. So it all boils down to, once again, BALANCE. I can throw any CD I want on my system knowing that it will do the music justice. Unlike life with many tube amps, the Premier 12s greatly expand my options for partnering loudspeakers. The 12s have shown an amazing ability to drive even big, lowish sensitivity speakers (i.e., current-sucking pigs) in my modest-sized room. Geeze. What more can a guy ask for?