|Preliminary, limited review --|
I haven't even taken delivery of my Continuum 500 integrated amplifier yet, but I got to listen for 3-hours this afternoon to help with the decision to put down $8,800 to take it home.
My dealer is Soundings, South of Denver, Colorado, owned and operated by Rod Tomson with the very able assistance of this very knowledgeable crew. See the Soundings site at www.soinc1021
When I arrived at Soundings the Continuum 500 was driving the very nice DALI Helicon 400 Mk.2 speakers. This are very nice speakers that received a positive review from Michael Fremer in Stereophile recently.
I listened to several cuts from the following CDs:
"Strike A Deep Chord" on Justice Records
"Cannon Reloaded" on Concord
"Breakfast on the Morning Tram" by Stacey Kent on Concord
"Famous Blue Raincoat" by Jennifer Warnes on Shout
"Don't Take Your Time" by Erin Bode on MaxJazz
I started off really worried when I played "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" from the Cannonball Adderley tribute album, Cannon Reloaded. The bass was indistinct, with few overtones and just showing a one-note quality. The bass on this cut is Marcus Miller playing some really tasty electric bass, with lots of energy and pop. It was lacking all those.
After that I pulled out the Jennifer Warnes CD and played the "If It Be Your Will" cut which has extensive, low, bass synthesizer. On the DALIs it lacked definition and detail. I just sounded like a low sine wave being switched on and off, with no character.
Listening to the DALIs with several vocals, with more typical, higher bass and things were pretty good, with great imaging, rich midrange and high-end details.
When I expressed my concerns to Soundings' Mark Krekeler he suggested that we put the Vienna Acoustic Beethoven Baby Grands into the system. There was immediate nirvana. Now Marcus Miller's bass was rich with overtones and details. The synth on the Warnes CD now had texture and detail, not just sine waves.
Now I could really listen the amp and not be drawn to focusing on what I wasn't hearing in the particular speakers attached.
Several cuts on the "Strike a Deep Chord" were very revealing. The richness of Odetta's voice has absolutely powerful. The chest and head were clearly revealed. Most striking was Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's which features extreme dynamics, from almost silent to huge sections of bass, guitar, vocal, horns and drums. The quiet was almost totally black.
The highs had no extra edge. I was really surprised by this, given the low hours on the amp. Clarence plays with a piercing tone on "The Drifter". (We guitar players call this tone, "icepick-in-the-eye" bright). Well it was all there, but not ugly. I didn't detect any of the usual "new equipment needs burn-in syndrome" so if this things gets better with time I'll be VERY, VERY pleased.
That's all for now. I need to get it into my own system, in my own room, burn it in for a few hundred more hours, then spend three or four several hour sessions to get more conclusive. I'll hang onto the Conrad Johnson CA200 long enough to do some meaningful comparisons. (Watch for a great deal on A'gon in the not too distant future).
Here's the bottom line, I loved the Continuum 500 enough that I'll be taking a $8800 or so check to Soundings this Friday.
Vienna Acoustic Beethoven Baby Grand speakers
Analysis Solo Crystal Oval 8 speaker cable
Pro-ject RM10 turntable
Sumiko Blackbird cartridge
Pioneer Dv-58AV universal player modified by Ric Schultz
Conrad Johnson CA200
Bryston 2/2B amp/preamplifier
Jeff Rowland 501 mono blocks
Jeff Rowland 102 stereo amp