On the Rodrigo, the P1/X1 delivers a stable, intricate and beautifully paced presentation – at least it does until you hear it played through the P10. The 10 moves things into another dimension, musically, spatially, rhythmically… The soundstage opens out and is both more clearly defined and illuminated. There are simply more individual instruments apparent and they are tonally much more distinct, with richly layered harmonics and a natural brilliance (NOT brightness). The harp becomes far more complex, its scale and its angle on the stage both clearly defined, it’s fundamentals crisper and supported by both their own harmonics and the sympathetic harmonics of the other strings. But it is the playing that reveals the true difference. Particularly in the opening passage, the P1/X1 is suitably jaunty but also sounds a little hurried and forced. With the P10, the harp sounds quicker but also more articulate, lucid and rhythmically expressive. There’s a tonal purity and concentrated musical energy to the music and instruments. The rhythmic shifts between solo instrument and orchestra become not just more obvious but part of the musical conversation, especially with the arrival of the second theme and the chaotic passage that always reminds me of American In Paris. What sounds ordered and predictable on the P1/X1 is suddenly more vibrant, more rhythmically varied, intricate and far more expressive on the P10. It is also there – right there – for you to engage with. Even the Connoisseur doesn’t put you this close to the players! The word here is indeed “brilliance”: there’s a brilliance to the playing, the energy and the performance, to the instrumental tone, presence and air. That vivid musical picture is as compelling as it is entertaining. It’s not just a whole new record, it’s a whole new system and a whole new experience.
The measured performance of the P10 looks impressive on paper. I wasn’t ready for its impact in practice. The drop in noise floor (over the already ghostly quiet P1) is musically substantial. This isn’t a case of a blacker background: it’s a case of no background! Notes and incidental noises materialise out of nothing. John Ogden’s typically emphatic playing on the Shostakovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings (Wilbraham, Marriner, and the ASMF – Argo ZRG 674) is characteristically crisp and definite when required, full of sudden attack and power. But it is fleet, agile and humorous as well. John Wilbraham’s trumpet is an object lesson in capturing the brassy tonality and punch of the instrument, its ability to switch to more elongated, lyrical, almost languid lines. This ability to capture the whole note, its initial point, the gradient of its leading edge and amplitude, the length of its tail, the development of its harmonic envelope is intimately tied both to that silent background and the P10’s speed of response. It makes every other phono-stage I’ve used (and pretty much every other system I’ve listened to) sound ‘gated’, limited by dynamic stiction (the size the signal needs to reach before the device reacts), by how fast it can react and how far its dynamic envelope extends. The P10 just sounds more responsive and more able to track the signal’s demands without hesitation or limitation. As a result, there’s a real sense of the music simply arriving in the room, driven by the input of the musicians, the reaction of their instruments – rather than by the system and its accumulated electronic circuits. In contrast, other replay chains sound processed, their audible boundaries letting you hear them at work.