The Marianne Electra 300ME preamp has no ceased to amaze me since being upgraded from the 150ME. The upgraded power supply in the output stage seems to have improved an already excellent preamp. I'm still impressed by the fact that with everything turned on and the volume all the way up, there is no sound whatsoever from the speaker drivers, including the tweeter. Only when I put my ear totally against the tweeter, I hear the faintest sign that the unit is actually turned on. This seems to be like a minor upgraded, but it has yielded a kind of Butterfly effect on how the sound was improved.
The 300ME is more transparent and refined than the 150ME. Both units produce life-like sound, but it's just that the upgraded unit has more control over the position, space, attack and decay of the instruments. Not all life performances are the same. A lesser quality musical instrument will not yield the same sound than a higher quality one performed by the same musician. They both sound real of course, but the better instrument is always more consistent throughout the sonic spectrum. This same phenomenon applies to audio electronics. The same electrical circuit with low grade components will not produce the sound refinement that can be achieved with higher grade components. In the case of the 300ME, this sound refinement is quite apparent from the first note. The sound is simply as relax as I've ever heard, from either life or recorded performance.
Since I'm so naturally aquatinted with life music, my goal has been to acquire audio gear that, when introduced into the audio chain, completely disappears. I certainly don't enjoy much listening to a piece of wire, amp, turntable, etc. I want to just listen to the music. Over the years, I've listened to some amazing audio gear, but they always remind me that I'm listening to the sound throughout some piece of electronic gear. The 300ME preamp completely disappears from the audio chain and presents a sound experience only comparable to the best of life performances.
I have some classical musician friends that have a few recordings of their own. I've attended most of their local performances and I can attest that their recorded music played through my system is sometimes more engaging and emotional than some of their life performances. This is how good the 300ME is. It really gets out of the way and just transfer all that was recorded. Emotion is something that is difficult to transfer via sound reproduction. And this is what the 300ME does so well. It totally engages you with all aspects of the performance.
A few months ago I built a recording studio consisting mainly of Neumann TLM 49 Large Diaphragm Cardioid
Condenser microphone, Millennia STT-1 Twin Topology channel strip (preamp, EQ and compressor have SS and Tube switchable stages each) and Apogee Duet Digital Interface. I chose these particular pieces of recording gear because they presented my own spoken voice in the most natural way. I record my voice with just the tinniest bit of EQ and compression, just to compensate for room acoustics. When I played these recordings in my own system, I'm totally blown away by how accurate the pitch is, which by the way makes it for quite a spooky experience. For me, this is the ultimate test to find out if a piece of electronic can actual sound "organic".
I've heard many systems that sound "fast". Well, life performances aren't "fast" or "slow". In some ways, life music is a presentation of instrument and musician becoming one. The 300ME is fast just in the context of achieving the right sound speed, and without the intent to present a fast "hi-fi" sound. I've heard many "fast" systems actually sounding as if each note has been truncated. In these systems, everything about the musical presentation if fast, which essentially translates into musical notes with no decays. This way of presenting music can be impressive, but it never sounds natural or organic to my ears. When I hear music via the 300ME, it totally sounds natural. Bass notes have the attack and decay that real bass notes have, no less no more. Bass is potent of sublet when is required. The mid-tones are to die for. There is this sense that what is producing the sound are actual lungs pushing air via the vocal cords, not an electrical signal passing by. The highs are as clean was it was recorded. The overall tonality is just very life-like.
After all this, I think this is truly a masterpiece. For me, having the Marianne Electra 300ME is like owning a fine musical instrument you can never grow tired of listening to. Every masterpiece in art is surrounded by very specific circumstances. I feel that whatever drove Jud Barber to produce such refined preamp is simply unique and I, in my opinion, simply cannot be replicated by another designer.