The King Is Dead…

As already discussed, another thing that set the P1 apart from the phono-stage crowd was the ability to expand the product, not just with the X1 power-supply, but all the way to a true mono, four-box set-up, with a separate audio chassis and power supply for each channel.

[In theory, there’s a three-box option, combining the two mono audio boxes with a single, dual-output X1 power supply, but in practice that is a sideways step, adding detail and resolution without the musical and dynamic integrity to bind it convincingly to the artistic whole. The price of stepping up to the fourth box is so small (relatively speaking – remember, you’ve already paid for the regulation stage so essentially all you are adding is the chassis itself and the transformer) that, given the musical benefits it makes no sense to stop halfway. What might make more sense is a single, two-channel audio chassis with a pair of separate X1s, but that isn’t possible within the current product line: Maybe something for next time…? ]

 Given the price of the four-box P1 and the P10 – and given the number of four-box P1s out there – how the new, flagship phono-stage (quite literally) stacks up against its predecessor is a serious question.

Four-box P1 – meet the P10…

The sonic and musical benefits of moving from the P1/X1 to the full P1 four-box are well documented. The ‘true mono’ set-up delivers a more developed acoustic space, more air and seats you more definitely in the orchestra’s presence. There’s a greater sense of temporal and dynamic authority, wider bandwidth, wider dynamic range and greater dynamic delineation. Musically, that translates to a more palpable sense of presence, purpose, texture and colour. Playing the Solti/CSO Enigma Variations (Decca SXL6795) there’s a more natural sense of orchestral weight and swell as Solti moves the orchestra through the piece. Structure and direction are writ more clearly, string tone is richer and harmonically more complex: percussion is more explosive and exhibits more identifiable character while the Chicago brass takes on a whole new solidity, richer colours, more concentrated energy and projection. The music makes more sense and it’s much more of a performance, Solti’s perfect pacing never more obvious than in the upward swell of Nimrod or the jaunty, dance-like figures of Dorabella. The world isn’t short of decent Enigma recordings, but the musical and spatial coherence of this Decca, revealed by the four-box P1, suggest that it has been unfairly overlooked.

As good as the four-box P1 is, the P10 elevates the musical experience to a more communicative, more involving and far more impressive level. It brings a sense of substance, colour, dimensionality and concentrated energy that lifts the performance away from the speakers and the system, projecting a vivid and engaging presence firmly into the listening space with you. Solti’s Enigma gains a much more natural perspective and a whole new expressive range. The structure of Dorabella, with its intricate, interlocking phrases takes on a natural clarity, the different instrumental voices more distinct and easily identified, the overall form and shape of the piece more naturally explicit, articulate and captivating as a result. The Beethovian reference at the beginning of Nimrod is more obvious, but also more seamlessly integrated into the variation’s theme and structure. Percussion has just the right, sudden quality to its interjections, the texture of drum skins and their hollow bodies an almost effortless extension of the complex musical textures It’s indicative of the greater, indeed, the unrestrained dynamic range, substance, solidity and focussed energy that the P10 can conjure from the record’s grooves. But the most impressive aspect of the P10’s presentation is the holistic quality and sheer density it brings to the performance. Solti’s mastery of his orchestra, the incredible quality of the ensemble playing becomes almost casually apparent, making you realise that for all its undoubted qualities, you can still hear the four-box P1 working.