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The fabulously detailed sound of the Reference 1 mixes the scrupulous information retrieval of the best of American high-end devices with the energy, verve, and musical fluency of the best of British.
Listening to Duke Robillard's exquisite guitar-playing, it is hard to ignore his magical, subtle endeavours to extract ever richer tonality and expression from every instrument he plays. His delicacy of touch is sublime and strikingly communicative: the replay clearly makes obvious the elation he experiences when he adds new expressions to his instruments' vocabulary.
On another of his discs he works with singer, Susann Forrest on a cover of the Searchers' 1960's hit, Sweets for my Sweet. Here his guitar-playing is again gorgeously detailed with every aspect laid bare – tone, phrasing, leading edge attack, sustain, decay, reverberation and release – as is Susann Forrest's voice, making the performance vibrantly animated and truly joyous.
It's also worth noting the incredible dexterity of the Reference1 with low frequency information. It is outstanding with bass and drums and delivers a highly tangible recreation of the instruments, more often with quite startling dynamic realism.
The player's low end sounds rich and colourful, while being taut and controlled. There is no overhang or monotone boom evident here. Leading edges are crisp and pitch defi nition is flawless. That is just through the analogue outputs: for the best results, you need to hear its S/PDIF connection feeding the Naim DAC, which also has a meaningful, authoritative and accurate low end.
Bob Dylan's Modern Times album, perhaps best demonstrates the Reference 1's combination of vitality, dynamics and detailing with a subtle but thoroughly invigorating and inspiring rendition of Spirit On The Water. Dylan's voice is both explicitly detailed and emotionally persuasive. His band is also exquisitely portrayed and equally communicative and the two elements – voice and band – gel convincingly and effortlessly as one tight, cohesive unit.
The server was certainly not troubled by more complex mixes or dense orchestration. For instance, it made light work of Varèse Amériques, with its uncompromising instrumentation and dynamics.
The Reference 1 is a first-class performer and capable of delivering uncompressed rips with true candour, balance and musical coherence.
Helping its portrayal to be even more engaging is the way it scavenges and then organises detail, even among instruments and voices, way back in the mix.
Perhaps, though, its most enticing characteristic is the way it extracts the passion from a performance: be that vocal or instrumental, the performer's emotions come across compellingly.
There is nothing more tedious than a component whose presentation gives the impression that the musicians would rather be down the pub than in the studio.
The enthusiastic Reference 1 completely avoids this charge and shows itself to be comfortably ahead of the competition in this vital respect.
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