Irrespective of partnering amp, the essential character of The Vibe was clear: its transparency, resolution and particularly, its low-level dynamic discrimination. When we think about dynamics, it tends to be at the macro end of the scale, but in reality, micro dynamics are far more important to transmitting the nuance and human agency in a performance, to imbuing it with credibility and presence, in bringing that performance to life. Pair it with an amp that offers a similar level of intimacy – like the JA30 – and the results can be spectacularly intimate and musically communicative.

“Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive…”

Having recently chanced upon Patti Smith’s fabulous album Twelve (Columbia 88883749272) I’ve been assiduously mining her back catalogue ever since. It was another of her laser-guided cover numbers, this time ‘After The Gold Rush’ (from the 2012 album Banga, Columbia 88697222172) that drove home the essential characteristics, musical contribution and appeal of The Vibe. She has the ability to take familiar songs and write their significance in huge, red, dripping letters, moving them from their original context and turbo-boosting their current relevance.

‘After The Gold Rush’ was always about man’s relationship with nature, but that message is much more impactful today. Smith’s 2012 recording is almost prescient in its targeting and production, the stark beauty of its delivery and the use of children’s voices to drive home her adjusted message. What The Vibe brings is an uncanny sense of clarity and purpose. The easy separation of piano and guitar, the shape brought to those familiar phrases and the devastatingly deadpan vocal delivery give the song a sense of power and direction that elevates both the performance and its message. That sense of musical and emotional intensity is driven by the precision that the Vibe brings to notes and their placement, the quiet noise-floor that underpins the wide open soundstage and the attack and leading edge definition that maps each note so clearly. It brings an explicit weight and shape to the piano part, articulating both the melody and its relationship to the guitar, binding the supporting instruments to that compelling, central vocal: And what a vocal. As Smith has matured, she has grown into her voice, using and manipulating it effortlessly to achieve her musical goals, seemingly hitting the emotional bull’s eye every time.

By offering spatial separation but unambiguous temporal connection, the Vibe delivers a sense of musical articulation that invites you into the performance. When the final chorus is overlaid first by the sounds of children playing and then, those same children sing repeatedly, “In the 21st Century”, the Vibe captures the open space in which the overdub was recorded, but also the separate voices and their inherent vulnerability. All you need to know is that Smith’s own (now adult) children play the piano and guitar – beautifully – and the picture really is complete. Playing the track through the Vibe doesn’t just shine a light on the facts of the music. It illuminates the notes and the instruments and musicians behind them. But it also reaches deep into the song, why it was chosen and how it was produced and put together. To do all of that without pulling the performance apart is not just impressive, it’s what all high-end systems should be aiming to achieve.