(Jun 17, 2021)
I mentioned insanity above, but there is even more insanity surrounding the SPEC RPA-MG1.
I have stated in the following two reviews that the true sound that the company is aiming for can only be produced with both a preamplifier and a power amplifier of the same name brand.
However, SPEC has no plans to develop a genuine preamplifier for their 6-million yen power amplifier, which was also evident in the following listening room trial.
This decision to forego development is because they are using the Volume Controller SPEC H-VC1000 ¥ 200,000 (tax excluded).
This is a pure-direct system recommended by SPEC that only performed volume control, but the new item RPA-MGC was released, with an added input selector function as a pure-direct controller, and the equipment aesthetics that follow those of a power amplifier. I have it now set on the floor of our shop as the following system.
H.A.L.'s Sound Recipe / SPEC RPA-MG1 & RPA-MGC - inspection system
The new system adopted not only a different volume controller, but also HIRO Acoustic speakers that makes music raw. The Ta.Qu.To-Cable from Y'Acoustic System, and ESOTERIC Grandioso series as the source components. I have recently incorporated SPEC into my reference system for evaluating new amplifier products from various manufacturers!
However, the RPA-MGC is only used for volume control due to my judgement. The output of the Grandioso D1X is directly connected to the RPA-MG1, so the input selector of RPA-MGC is not used. It is a simple judgement that it is better to have fewer contacts, which is an ideal setting that respects the pure-direct system ethos that SPEC advocates.
Whether you are a macho, muscular performer or a slender, supple performer, HIRO Acoustic speakers can reproduce your physique exactly as it is. As a sound production in recording, HIRO Acoustic reveals the essence of the sound as if you saw through whatever clothes you were wearing, so I have described it as a "speaker that strips music.”
I was able to confirm that the aesthetic sense I felt, with the combination of the Ta.Qu.To-Zero & Cable, is a sound image expression that prioritizes the beauty of the silhouette over the performer's body shape, and is also an expression of texture. That is the “speaker that dresses up music”.
The appeal of the RPA-MG1 was confirmed by Ta.Qu.To-Zero; the speaker that dresses up music, but by switching to the speaker HIRO Acoustic that strips down music, I encountered a new phase. So, I decided to tune the RPA-MG1 a little bit and listen to it.
What did I do? I won't mention it here. This is because the basic premise is that the speaker must be a HIRO Acoustic.
I think that if it were any other speaker, this tuning might not be necessary, and it was only a trial based on my own persistence that revealed another characteristic of the RPA-MG1, which brought out its hidden charms.
Therefore, I would like to mention at first that this was an attempt similar to the idea that it is possible to evaluate a power amplifier only by combining it with a genuine preamplifier. This was not a comparative audition to discuss the compatibility of the combination with another company's preamplifier, but an independent audition as a pure-direct system with the RPA-MG1 and RPA-MGC, as recommended by SPEC.
This time, the focus is not on the change in sound quality when something is added or tweaked, but on the pursuit of the possibility that SPEC is capable of producing a great performance to this extent. Another focus is whether or not you can really enjoy music, as a result of research based on the following ideas I mentioned earlier.
“I rethought the concept of Hi-End Audio Laboratory. (omitted)
Then, based on my own skill development, I made efforts and demonstrations to increase the value of the product under study as my research objective, thereby simultaneously improving the listeners’ experience, i.e. the level of sound quality that can be obtained.
To put it simply, we need to be able to demonstrate the sound quality of high-end products in a way that will impress and convince users, and we need to have the environment and the know-how to educate and understand the value of these products before they come onto the market. This is exactly the mission of a specialty store like us.“
I wondered what kind of excitement and discoveries I would find with a pure-direct system,
combining the SPEC RPA-MG1 and RPA-MGC. Rather than selecting music for comparison listening, I decided to literally enjoy the music I like. I started listening to it after several days of burn-in and sounding them out.
Melody Gardot/Sunset in the Blue[SHM-CD]
I’ve used the CD above for sound checks many times before, but out of my perfectionism, I also bought a directly-imported CD, thinking that there might be differences in sound quality due to mastering, even for the same title.
In the meantime, I found out that there was a Deluxe Version of the song on Apple Music, so I also bought the Deluxe Edition on CD.
Melody Gardot/Sunset in the Blue [SHM-CD] Deluxe Edition
I listened to the song, If You Love Me, on three different discs, but the differences in mastering were not worth discussing, so I judged the sound quality to be about the same.
First of all, the song begins with a soothing violin intro from the left side, and soon Melody Gardot's vocals appear in the center, and the strings unfold behind her. This is a wonderful song with a romantic melody.
The bass is almost centered, the guitar is localized slightly off to the right, and the muted trumpet is centered and well placed. Most impressive of all are the drums. From beginning to end, the rhythm is played with only brushes, lightly touching the heads of the toms, with the occasional brush stroke spreading out from the left and right speakers as if touching the cymbals.
Although this is the song selection that I have been using a lot lately, the highly-transparent texture and tone of the strings rendered by the SPEC RPA-MG1 strongly impressed me. Indeed, the beautiful strings were the first to score points with me!
You can feel the Grandioso D1X's outstanding amount of information in the clear and transparent string texture, and it's a wonderful hint of what the pure-direct system is aiming for!
This surprise and discovery were immediately carried over to Melody Gardot's vocals, and although she may be singing in a composed way, you can feel her charm as a mature singer in her moist voice and an indescribable feeling of her skin temperature. This is really good!
The voice has a sculpted quality, not a two-dimensional one, conveying shades of the sound’s image. The reverb that melts into the space with her sweet and mellow reverberation makes me shiver with fascination!
As well as this whispered quality, the laid-back rhythm of the drum brushes and the guitar's fingernail strumming have a really charming volume and tone that complements the vocals. All this combines to give it a solid sonic presence of first-class accompanists.
When I watched a live performance of Melody Gardot on YouTube the other day, I was lost in her backing artists' understated but brilliant accompaniment. Even without the video, I could feel the splendor of this session and was immersed in the excitement.
The Deluxe Edition includes the acoustic version of From Paris With Love.
I wanted to listen to these two tracks and compare them!
I decided to listen to the regular one first.
The intro begins with a really nice harmony of strings, just like the previous song.
I was enchanted by the melody of strings that reminded me of the serene waters of the Seine River, an essential part of the Parisian landscape. The harp that evokes the image of sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water, sprinkles a truly beautiful sound onto the melody.
The moment the heavy bass guitar appeared in the center, followed by Melody Gardot's vocals, I felt a shock like being struck by lightning. What the hell is this?
How is it that a song I've heard so many times before feels so fresh, beautiful, and powerful?
As in the previous song, the brushing of the drums with a moist rhythm and the guitar's fingernail strumming support the vocalist, and the violin solo, instead of the trumpet, appears on the right side slightly off the center. The amazing sound, which does not sound like it is studio-recorded, sprinkles wonderful reverberations, and the vocal-less interludes give it a splendid presence.
That aside, the string arrangements in this song are awesome!
The string melody that flutters an aura of sound with an exquisite sense of color to Melody Gardot's vocals. It is really beautiful, like the sun gradually shining in the background of silence, like the voice of a fairy drifting softly in the stillness.
When I witnessed both the center-localized soundstage of bass and vocals, and the vast power of the strings, the music truly had new life breathed into it by the tuning of the SPEC RPA-MG1!
And here is the acoustic version.
With a small accompaniment, the drums, played with brushes, spread out to both the left and right, and a heavy bass takes center stage, while an acoustic guitar plays lightly in the center, and an electric guitar appears on the right side in the last half of the song.
And then Melody Gardot's vocals emerged in the center. I was wondering what the point was of calling it an acoustic version when the strings and harp on the regular track were also acoustic instruments, so to speak. It is true that the number of accompanying instruments is reduced, but is that all?
“Well, that figures!” When I heard her vocals, a review that came to my mind hit me! The reverb on the vocals had been almost completely removed, Melody Gardot was there, singing in her unadorned, vulnerable, “naked” voice!
Behind her clear, on-mic vocals, a male chorus took over the melody played by the strings, and Melody Gardot's voice was countered with the sensual man’s voice. This is a very cool acoustic arrangement! In addition, instead of the solo violin in the regular track, the electric guitar plays a virtuoso performance, and the romantic mood is enchanting.
The term "naked voice" may sound deliberate, but the SPEC RPA-MG1 helped me realize that the true meaning of the acoustic version was in the unpretentious and realistic vocals of Melody Gardot, which I heard for the first time on this track. It was astonishing.
One last thing about the acoustic version (lol)
You can clearly hear the noise on the right side at the ending of the song. The distortion from the guitar amplifier on the electric guitar was intentionally left in there!
I repeated the enhancer CD-ROM almost every night and continued to listen to it every day with the SPEC RPA-MG1 and RPA-MGC, and I have a new-found tendency to affirm the above-mentioned analysis in many other song selections.
It is very hard for me to give my impressions of all these selections, but there is one dynamic orchestral piece that I would also like to write about.
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43
KYohei Sorita (piano) /Andrea Battistoni (conductor)
RAI National Symphony Orchestra /Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra
This "Rhapsody on the Theme of Paganini" was recorded live with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in September 2015 at Tokyo Opera City Hall. The liner notes do not mention the playing time, but when I looked at the counter, it was 23:44. It's a long performance for a test track, but to confirm the charm of SPEC equipment that I had felt until then, I needed to listen to more tracks ... no, I was actually desperate to listen!
The first eight seconds of the introduction floored me! I sensed a special timbre that made me feel Kyohei Sorita was, for his co-starring performance with the orchestra, using the New York Steinway Model CD75 that had been used on his debut album. With clearly-articulated chords, and wonderfully-sharp tension, his accurate high-speed performance, revealing the skill of the performer. He was actually visualized in my mind, with the popping-up image above the HIRO Acoustic speakers.
This leading position is provided in the center of the left and right speakers as a playing space only for the piano. Each part of the orchestra is lined up with a sense of localization on the left and right, with depth as well. I was particularly impressed with the fascinating strings of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. With the conductor’s cultured and nuanced nurturing of sound, the performance is powerful and high in transparency, and the string ensemble that is smoothly emphasized by the five parts, also shows the wonderfulness of the recording.
The lingering sound is clearly different from the sound played by the RAI National Symphony Orchestra at the Italian Hall, and the hall echo that welcomes the Japaneseness gracefully envelops the orchestra! The popping sound of the snare sounds really sharp, the afterimage of the stick operated at high speed matches the image of the sound, with a clear rhythm blown into the space, the occasional disappearance of the vivid sound of Gran Cassa, all of this helps to confirm the function of SPEC RPA-MG1 And RPA-MGC as a wonderful transmission capacity.
This exhilarating feeling brought about by the both of them is a tremendous attraction that, together with HIRO Acoustic speakers, can make possible the performance of a contrabass pizzicato that creates harmony between both the actual and lingering sound, a momentary burst of energy with a big drum striking a strong note, and conflicting low-pitch sound processing.
In particular, my favorite development is Kyohei Sorita's vivid performance in the 8th variation of track #13, and the power of the orchestra with a wonderful synchronization that realizes a wonderful spatial expression. I was all excited about the performance with the amazing sense of speed and dynamism running through all at once!
And, in contrast, I was also mesmerized by the mellow and relaxing melody in the 18th variation on track # 23, that echoes in the air even after the keystrokes, with the intersection of the sound of the flowing stringed instruments.
In the above passage, I wrote that the really beautiful strings were the first to score. But after listening to the test track of 23:44 running time, I couldn't find fault with anything. The more I listen, the more merits there are, actually!
This year, I have tried several excellent foreign amplifiers, and discovered that Japan-made SPEC amplifiers produce an amazing sense of harmony that cannot be obtained with those overseas ones, and that they have a wonderful orderly resolution.
I was deeply impressed by the amazing musical performances that were organically synthesized by Made-in-Japan equipment; namely, ESOTERIC as a source component, SPEC RPA-MG1 and RPA-MGC for direct transmission, Ta.Qu.To-Cable of Y'Acoustic System for control of sound image and sound field, and above all, HIRO Acoustic speakers for a fair evaluation standard, that actually breathes life into electric signals as recorded data.
Thank you for reading
Author: Toshiaki Kawamata, Dynamic Audio Chief Director/Store Manager
In the Akihabara Electric Town of Tokyo, there is a long-established audio specialty store, Dynamic Audio, which has been in business for 56 years. Dynamic Audio has two stores: the main store "5555", which has a theme for each floor from the first to the seventh, and the "Trade Center", which consists of four floors.
Dynamic Audio is the leading audio specialty store in Japan, trusted by celebrities as well as people from all walks of life. The 7th floor of the main store "5555" especially, has carefully selected, top, high-end audio equipment, operated by Mr. Kawamata, the managing director and store manager. He is a convincing and trustworthy advisor and also known as a “sound doctor”, who has been delivering his evaluation of audio products to customers for many years. He posted his evaluation of SPEC's power amplifier RPA-MG1 (RPA-MG1000 for overseas markets) and control center MGC on his blog. He presents product introductions with his refined sensibility In H.A.L.'s Brief News, in December 2019 and June 2021. Here, let us share some of them with you.