This time, though, the Rethm room was also a surprise. After years of showing with some of the best tube amplification that money can scrounge (including his own), Mr. George chose an unorthodox partner for the bright white pair of his Maarga speakers ($9,000). Enter Core Audio Designs who brought a matching prototype of their new Harmony Integrated System ($18,000) to bear on the room.
I finally managed to get my ears on it late on Sunday afternoon, and quickly forget to write down which familiar audiophile tracks were playing while I was in the room. My notes tell me that I was surprised by how tolerable it was.
For your information, that is not “damning it with faint praise”. The Rethm Maargas may be easy to drive, but they are unforgivingly revealing of the flaws in their partnering amplification. Along with the speed, articulation, and clarity that are the expected hallmarks of digital amplification, the Core Audio system demonstrated a microdynamic facility that was surprising and a natural tone out that was honestly shocking. I didn’t spend enough time in the room to decide that, yes, I could live with this monolith, but I did actually spend time in the room. I’m not always — or usually, for that matter — willing to do that when it comes to digital amps. I’m more of a “vomit in my mouth and run away” guy. “Tolerable” isn’t a word I’m willing to use lightly.
This wasn’t just a system that lived up to its price tag, but a system that gave me real hope for the future.