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Gareth’s review

June 25, 2021

I’ve known Donald for about a year now, and with him some of the highest
quality hifi I’ve ever encountered. This is to give you an idea of the realm
he inhabits, where £2000 on cabling is the norm, so when it came to testing
out his latest 300B monobolcs, it was with perverse glee that I produced an
antique and unadalterated Linn LP12, and a cross section of vinyl to see
what they could do.

We started the afternoon listening to the younger brother of this amp pair,
a Musicarch base model 300b. Having heard the various iterations of this
very fine amp fed a stream of high quality digital tracks I’ve always had a
soft spot for it’s sheer grunt and resolution. Through the tricky (read
noise floor) 16 ohm Lowthers the sound floor was very low and the sound,
easily the best I’d heard yet. The monos, I was assured, were so much
better.

We started listening from cold, the amps warming as we went. Initially, bass
on the trusty Stone’s Honky Tonk Woman was on the light side (boy oh boy it
arrived about 15 mins later) and this marginally overemphasized the guitar /
vocal register in the track. Having said that, even at this early stage,
with eyes closed, Jagger’s head was just that. Lifesize, pinpoint definition
and placement centre stage. I’ve never experienced that in all my years of
listening. Given time to warm up, the amps levelled out, producing titanic
bass when required, as well as oodles of detail in among a very clear 3D
soundstage – to the point where lesser (though still high) quality track
encoding was easily discernable. You only WANT to feed these siblings the
very best, just to let them show off with the material.

So far, so digital, but what about the real test? The phonostage was an
elderly pro-ject version, complete with Henley designs wallwart, the
cartridge a high output Denon DL160 mounted in an Alphason Xenon arm.
Quality old kit, with a selection of 50 – 20 year old vinyl, some well loved
and well worn favourites (Leonard Cohen and an original pressing of Led Zep
II), some ‘test’ records which let the system in question play (Kate Bush,
Grace Jones, Rumble Fish Soundtrack and John McLaughlin trio at the festival
hall), and some Tom Waits for timbre and ability to reproduce real
instruments and thAt voice.

Having two vinyl playback setups at home, the Linn is the slightly less
analytical but possibly more musical of the two. Tom Waits had everything
you could ask for – the voice suspended in the air in front of your face,
you could practically walk around each instrument, almost seeing the
drumstck hitting the skin, or the finger hitting the piano / squeezebox key
and each individual sound having so much weight.. and detail. The current
reserves and therefore grip required to sustain a sudden dynamic surge in
the music passages was impressive enough, but more impressive was the
immediate grip on the quiet passages once these explosions had passed. We
ploughed through every record, each generating superlatives from us both,
even the well worn Led Zep sounding clear as a bell (behind a thin veil of
wear). It was all in there in a very non-fatiguing presentation and often we
just let a whole side play through after the initial excitement of ‘can I
put this on next?’. Surely an indication that something was very, very
right. The dinner bell from home was the reason I had to leave, but given a
bigger pile of vinyl, I’d have happily camped out in Donald’s hallway.

Donald assured me before I made the trip through to see what all the fussin’
was about, that the Monos would spoil me. He wasn’t wrong, I’m saving
already.

GM