As I mentioned in my recent review of the Coincident Dynamo EL34 SE Mk II amplifier, we have to be vigilant to keep our systems in balance, always looking for the weakest link in the reproductive chain. As with most audiophiles, my system has grown incrementally, one component at a time. One of the "components" that I've been using for quite a while has been my cables, some of which go back thirteen years or more. They were excellent cables in their day, made of special alloys, and some with mixtures of silver and gold. But metallurgy, cable construction, and time have moved on. It was a mixed blessing when my friend Tom loaned me a Synergistic Research power cable two generations newer than the model I use, as well as a Level 2 interconnect from their new Atmosphere series. The power cables in the new Atmosphere series use Graphene which has been dubbed a superconductor and holds great promise and should be even better than what I heard with Tom's power cord. I installed the interconnect between the turntable and the phono stage, and I used his power cable on the amplifier. As I noted in my review, the performance of the Coincident Dynamo took a significant step upward.
With the improvement wrought by the borrowed Synergistic Research cables, and with the outstanding Kronos Sparta turntable still in house, I switched from the Charisma 103 cartridge (also in for review), to the Charisma Reference One which I had loaned to Tom for a while. I had used the Charisma Reference One as my principal cartridge during the Sparta review, but my original review of that cartridge was back in July, 2015, where it was used exclusively on my modded Linn LP12 turntable. As did the Dynamo Mk II amp, the Reference One cartridge took a huge step upward with the installation of the borrowed Synergistic cables, and way better than what I had heard with the Linn turntable. It was still the same tonal balance and had the same general signature, but the resolution had improved dramatically.
Micro-dynamics appeared in much more subtle gradations, tonal color, likewise, was richer. Brush strokes on cymbals were now more clearly defined. The treble in general was more highly resolved and there was a greater sense of air in the recording, especially on live recordings. The soundstage was more clearly delineated and audience applause became a lot more real, not just in the timbre of the applause, but also the depth of the stage and the volume of the venue.
Having heard an Air Tight PC-1 when I began the Sparta review, I took the opportunity to compare it with the Reference One with the system now upgraded with the addition of the Tom's Synergistic Research cables. Once again, things got a whole lot better than my prior listening with the Air Tight. The two most notable characteristics were the physicality of the musical presentation, and the ease of listening resulting from my brain working less fervently to absorb the music and comprehend the lyrics. Both were due the increased resolution afforded by the cables, but the Kronos turntable with its counter-rotating platters is particularly unique at creating a three dimensional image of the instruments that greatly contributes to the physicality of the listening experience. The cables, by doing "less harm" than my previous cables, allowed the Air Tight PC-1 to give me the most enjoyable analog playback I've ever experienced at home. The music include my usual rock 'n roll suspects, but also Handel's Messiah with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein – an LP that should have been returned to my Christmas music shelf weeks and weeks ago. Solid bass, tremendous layering of the orchestral soundscape and somewhat comprehensible lyrics sung in my least favorite vernacular all led to my highest respect for the PC-1.
In spite of the similar sounding verbiage of my previous review (a persistent problem for many reviewers, including me), the bottom line here is that the Charisma Reference One cartridge is capable of being a much finer cartridge, in the context of a much finer system, than I originally reported. Consequently, I've upgraded the Blue Note ratings below to reflect the new appreciation I have for the Reference One. Likewise, my respect for the Air Tight PC-1 has also risen. It is much easier to see how people can part with $8500 for the musical bliss it can bestow. Unfortunately, that sum is beyond what I consider discretionary income, but hopefully there are people who can both afford and appreciate such excellence. "And the road goes on forever" like the Allman Brothers sing. There is also the Air Tight PC-Supreme ($11,000), and beyond that, the new PC-1 Magnum Opus ($15,000). But if you can afford those cartridges, you're probably not reading this, which brings us back to the Charisma Reference One. At less than $2000 it is an excellent starter cartridge for the Kronos Sparta, as well as an excellent cartridge for turntables that cost a whole lot less.