ARC classic 120 - still great after 15 years

with my euphoria over the conrad johnson premier 350, i thought i am going to say goodbye to my ARC days. in fact, i am making some financial calculations as to how am i going to afford the c-j amp, which costs a cool RM32K.

but last night, i had a complete change of mind. i played some of my most intimate cds, eg. jacintha's here's to ben and stacey kent's best collections. to my utter shock, the c-j totally flopped at giving me the much-needed intimacy, delicacy and goose-bumps. what could be wrong? is this the solid-state factor at play? even with the aid of the over-achieving stage III magnus silver interconnects, the tonality is dull and lifeless, the highs lack the sparkles, sheen and airiness of my ARC. the high definition is also missing. where is the emotional involvement, romance and goose-bump factors that my ARC could provide in spades?

i thought long and hard on this perplexing turn of event. i can only summarize as this: the c-j may be the more honest amplifier compared to my ageing 15 year-old ARC classic 120, but the later provides a euphony that is positively intoxicationg to the ears. yes, the highs of my ARC (coupled with the stage III cables) may be over-beautified, the mids have again an over-beautified bloom and "wetness" and warmth... all these excessive beautifications, albeit veering away from truth, are very very pleasant to the ears, that's why i call it euphony. who cares about accuracy when it sounds this good? in contrast, the c-j sounded too matter-of-factly, too powerful (600W at 4 ohm, seriously my maggie does not need this sort of power!), too bassy, too sensible and too dry, lacking the tonal beauty, emotions and delicacy that my type of audiophile yearn for.

true, i am mighty impressed with the c-j when i played diana krall's live in paris and eric clapton's mtv unplugged at 90db on my maggie. it simply kicks ass and sounded like a live concert in my hall. the extra power and headroom are exhilarating, or so it seems. but life is not about live and loud rock/jazz concerts every day. you need intimate stuff to soothe your jaded soul; you need ethereal female vocals with bare accompaniment; you don't need behemoth solid-state power amp for music that doesn't demand power!

in the end, regardless of how impressed i am with the c-j as a world-class solid-state amp, i still think solid-state amps don't do it for me. i have tried hard to accept it as a practical alternative to finicky tube amps but i still can't accept its obvious shortcomings.

so, i am gonna be stuck with tubes for a while yet. tu-bey or not tu-bey, that's already not the question. the question is how much i enjoy the music from my ARC classic 120. immensely, is the answer!

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