You are going to hear the benefits whatever you play, but in the classical canon, few pieces demonstrate the sheer, unhindered continuity that the P10 brings to music better than the works of Sibelius. The symphonic scores draw sporadic, almost random contributions from across the orchestra, the task of the conductor being to bind these disparate elements into a single, contiguous whole. Any hesitation in the direction, the orchestra’s response – or the system replaying the recording – and the whole quickly collapses into a muddled heap of separate notes and phrases. Playing the Colin Davis/Boston Symphony Orchestra 2nd Symphony (Philips 6709 011 – 5LP) and the timing and cohesion in the performance is as impressive as the Boston’s musical substance and towering crescendos. These Colin Davis recordings are, like many of his other discs, sadly underrated, but the P10 reveals them in all their glory. The Boston’s ensemble playing is superb, the crucial brass and percussion on the best of form, the scale and power that Davis conjures from them to underpin the rest of the orchestra putting these performances – played through the P10 – firmly on the same plane as Berglund and Barbirolli. Tempi are beautifully paced, the pauses and hesitations in the score deployed to maximum effect, contrasting dramatically with the seamless orchestral playing. As the tempo eases and shifts towards the end of the second movement, you know that those subtle pauses are meant to be there adding to the stately sense of drama. The progressive inevitability of the structure and layers, the overlaid phrasing and slowly building density all serve to pull you in. Try listening to this as a system check and you’ll find yourself drawn along, reluctant to lift the needle as you follow the performance right to the end of the side. The sense of musical progress and purpose is just so natural that interrupting it seems akin to leaving your seat mid-movement at a live concert.
On the one hand, the P10’s ability to step away from the music’s path, not impeding it but actively helping it on its way, is perhaps most readily apparent on a record like Vikingur Ólafsson’s Debussy-Rameau (DGG 483 8283) with its precisely spaced and weighted notes, elongated pauses and the extended decay of the piano. On the other, the unforced precision lends an almost hypnotic quality to the metronomic rhythms and drum programming of electro-pop. Long a guilty pleasure, the first OMD album (Dindisc did 2.) played on the P10 reveals subtle layering and textures that had completely passed me by until now. ‘Julia’ is redolent with overlays and compression-driven rhythmic emphasis, ‘Red Frame/White Light’ jump shifts it’s pace, while ‘Electricity’ is quite simply a joyous, headlong toboggan ride, as propulsive as it is catchy. The quality that the P10 brings to (or perhaps removes from) record replay is so fundamental to musical integrity and expression – the integrity of and expression inherent in all music – that you are going to enjoy its advantages whatever you play: with a firm emphasis on “enjoy”. You can forget po-faced notions of accuracy and neutrality. Sure, this is undoubtedly the most accurate and genuinely neutral phono-stage I’ve ever heard: but above all it is accurate to the spirit of the music, faithful to the performer(s) and their performance. Since the P10’s arrival, I’ve been wading through recent purchases, seemingly unearthing gold at every turn: A Melodiya/EMI box of Oistrakh playing modern violin concertos; Benedetti Michelangeli playing Debussy’s Images I/II; Narcisco Yepes playing Vivaldi (for DGG) and everything (for Decca); a very nice Wish You were Here and a thoroughly nostalgic Wind and Wuthering. It’s a list that barely scrapes the surface, but the P10 approaches each disc with utter equanimity. It makes it all about the music and the recording – not about the equipment replaying them.
Meet the ancestors – the P10 beside the P1/X1
Before the P10 arrived, although I didn’t doubt that it would better the P1, I did wonder just what it would bring to the party? The DGG recording of Boieldieu and Rodrigo Concertos for Harp and Orchestra (Nicanor Zabaleta with Maerzendorfer and the ORS Berlin – SLPM 138 118) demonstrates the difference perfectly.