|The Koru's understated yet solid front face|
"Will you go get it?"
"No, you go get it!"
"It's all the way over there, I don't care enough to get it."
Thus ends the Mancave's statement about album art and liner notes. For those keeping track, it was "Funeral for a Friend" and how silly is that to fuss over?
No, we don't read liner notes, or gaze lovingly at the album art. If this makes us overly honest, or philistines, I couldn't tell you. I am skeptical that lot of people pour over it at all, and find people listing this as one of their favorite things about vinyl, are either overselling it, are crazy and actually do it. But in reality, we spin disks and stream files for no other reason but the music - and for us the closer it sounds to what was actually laid down, the more we enjoy it - good liner notes, or not.
This attiude not only keeps us vinyl fans, it also keeps us in the DAC/FLAC and SACD game, too. All make it easier, and sometimes possible at all to hear what the artist was actually playing in the studio or on stage.
And the Koru phonostage promised to do all of that within a few hours of putting it in the stack (Thanks to the generous equipment loan from Forefront Audio). We avoided Audiophile Favorites - that kind of music that sounds good but has no soul. We played a lineup of what we would actually listen to, rather than a bunch of tests. Some is recorded well, some actually enjoyed by audiophiles, and some are definitely below average in the sound quality. If this Phono stage is to distinguish itself, it's got to be forgiving where forgiving is called for, and revealing when what is revealed is beautiful.
|Rondo Bronze + Headshell|
*- our house is only a mile or two from some powerful radio transmitters, so noise is always and has always been an issue in our setup. The Parasound is damn quiet in any real sense, but just the Plinius has a very small edge over it in our situation. We suspect both would be outstanding in a "normal" location.
One of the things that made this review somewhat delayed, is we substituted in an Ortofon Rondo Bronze on and Arche headshell. From our impressions of that combination in the previous review, we felt that we needed to go back and re-listen and reevaluate the Koru. One of the things that we had previously was the Denon DL-103R was perfectly suited to the Parasound JC3 we were using it with, and it sounded even better with the Koru, however, on a lark we drug out the Ortofon Rondo Bronze, which we were never quite satisfied with with the Parasound, but with the Arche+Koru ... whoa! The whole setup took a giant leap forward and despite the "higher than entry level" price, this cartridge was never considered a reference (the "Cadenza Black" would be considered a possible Reference level, and higher). But the Koru clearly wasn't reading the marketing literature and the market position of our little Rondo, it took its signal and brought forth more music and emotion than we were, frankly, expecting. And one thing that we have to be clear, is that we were unable to try truly expensive "reference" cartridges - we figure this sin is forgivable, since even on a US$4k phonostage, it would be a rare audiophile indeed that would use a $2.5k+ cartridge given it would have to be retipped every couple of years (it certainly wouldn't be for us, anyway).
But once we were sure the Rondo Bronze was fully broken in, we got down to work ...
Elton John "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" [stereo]
|She took a piece of our hearts ...|
We have two copies of Cheap Thrills actually. One (mono) was bought decades ago, new, by the parent of the Mrs. We also have the (stereo) reissue that was released more recently. When we played both, the vintage mono sounded by far the best: the emotion of the music, Janis' pleading voice on "Piece of My Heart" came through the best - and gave us goosebumps as the song took us away from our living room to the feeling of a concert. As much as we like to pick apart recordings and sound cues, the only thing we really noted was that the raw emotion, and music turned off our analytical minds and swept us away. And to think we felt this album was "so-so" ...
|Felt like a very good demo - where|
they worked it all out, but more
intimacy than studio gimmicks
We decided to listen to the mono version, since the stereo has a heavy hand on the reverb, and the mono version has a much more intimate feel, indeed, the best playback gives a feel of a demo-tape in the emotion. This did that to a great deal, with the outstanding track of that reminded me how much I liked them, and how ahead of their time they were when they made this album. The stand-out track for us was "Plastic Fantastic Lover" which, again, was a track I usually didn't "get" but with the sonics all dialed in, the rhythmic poetic chanting had us toe tapping and the rawness that put me in a space that was what I imagined it was like hanging out in a mellow, loose party hosted by someone famous, where Andy Warhol was a guest.
"Ella and Louis" [45RPM 2 disk Reissue]
Chicago's Greatest Hits [vintage LP, stereo]
Norman Greenbaum "Spirit in the sky" [Reissue, LP, stereo]
Miles Davis "A Kind of Blue" [LP, stereo]
You may have noticed that our music descriptions are lighter on the detailed technical descriptions, and heavier on how the music made us feel. This is both the result of how we listen to music, but it is also that this combination with the Koru at its heart, time and time again pulled us into the emotion and flow of the music, and while the instruments all sounded like instruments, it also sometimes produced that "X" factor you get when listening to live music. When you listen to this album even through a clock radio, you know you are hearing fantastic music. When you hear it presented the way we did? It is mind blowing. The Koru delivered to us the whole band in our living room, with a very emotional core that you can only get when things are just right.
Conclusions: A New Reference for us?
We will state quite plainly, that the Plinius Koru really rocked our world, and distinguished itself to the point where we ordered one and it currently resides in our reference stack. Not only did if offer us more performance than our previous phonostage (Parasound JC3), even at a higher MSRP, it offers greater value for what we're after. It seems unfussy about the cartridges (assuming optimal load and gain, the Koru seems to do really well with whatever you throw at it), and seems to extract more beauty, better (and more tuneful) bass, and a natural extended treble but all of that was preserving the coherence we go for in our musical presentation. The really killer deal is that time and time again, we were drawn into the performance and emotion of the music. And if there is a stronger endorsement than that, I don't know what it is.
Downsides: Dearth of competition at its price point forces you to compare to vastly more expensive and cheaper, making comparisons much more difficult. Needs 24 hours to warm up and sound its best. (Yeah, not a lot)
Still a Mystery: How would it do with some truly high end cartridges ($2k+)?
Bottom Line: We have a new reference. You should have this on your "short list" if you want more from your records.