People used to say, hay Deacon, how you doing? And I'd say, fine... I'm navigating... moving right along. But in actual fact, I was feeling terrible. I was picking cotton and planten' taters mostly... I was cold and I had holes in my shoes. Things were really tough. The Bohemian lifestyle was indeed its own reward. But that "reward" turned out to be extremely meager and every Christmas I felt like Bob Cratchet.
Now, I've moved. I'm living like regular folk with heat and hot water and I'm loving every minute of it. I got me a little one-bedroom with plush carpet. There's a chicken in the oven and I've just hooked up my stereo and sorted out my records. And dang! Its only been a few weeks since all this luxury set in and I am already strutting about in dry-cleaned shirts looking like Marcello in a Visconti film.
However, all is not (yet) so perfect and wonderful. You see luxury is frequently a "dis-ease" that works like this: Comfortable living precipitates sloth, ineptitude, and in the weaker of spirit, it also generates a false sense of superiority to those whose lifestyle appears less well-appointed than their own. This is really bad.
In my own case, I am still close enough to the bottom of the food chain to work hard and fully appreciate the simpler things. I am still amazed when I see hot water running ceaselessly from the tap. For me, the only thing that has changed so far is: I have come to recognize the inherent (and not insignificant) relation between comfort, beauty and peacefulness. And: I have developed a taste for luxury and convenience in the audio equipment I use. No more hauling water or, getting up to change records or adjust the volume on my hi-fi.
While all this lifestyle and attitude upgrade was taking place my favorite phono cartridge died, then Komuro came by and took his push-pull 845 amps, my own Flesh & Blood amp went to its new owner, and my Audio Note preamp decided it needed a retube. So I said to myself, maybe it's time to experiment and get completely middle-class. Maybe it's time to switch to solid state. Maybe I should try something with a fancy remote volume control. Maybe it's time to give that upscale Roksan "Caspian" gear I'd been storing another try?
So it came to pass, in the spirit of Mr. Thorstein Veblen's leisure class, (that) I unpacked the Roksan "Caspian" integrated amp and its matching CD player. I hooked them up to my Spendor S3/5s and matching S3 subwoofer and all of a sudden I was living like the Royal Family.
I played these Roksan things for a couple of weeks when I first got them but they just didn't get me fired up in the right way so stowed them away below deck and got on with my life. I remember thinking at the time that they seemed to impose this sort of artificial "thickening" to all of the music I played. They appeared to modify the basic plasticity or viscosity of musical program. In addition, I noticed a texture added to every CD I played. It was sort of like a processed feeling -- like all the music had been put through a blender and had come out mixed with little bits of gray grain. All the music had this slightly fuzzy, particular quality. Like real music with tiny bits of soft sand blended in. This is not good either.
I was kind of surprised by this phenomenon... and disappointed in Roksan. This kind of performance was not what I imagined from this manufacturer.
I've never actually owned any, but I've always had a soft spot for Roksan products. Especially their turntables. I've enjoyed hundreds of records at my friend Mike Trei's house, and he uses a Roksan turntable. I've heard a bunch of excellent low powered tube systems that used various Roksan floor-standing loudspeakers. I've always thought of Roksan as an absolutely top-shelf British hi-fi company with its head screwed on straight.
When non-audiophile friends ask me, what hi-fi should I buy? Roksan is usually one of the several companies I suggest they investigate. Why? Because, to me, Roksan always seemed to make equipment that offered high build quality and presented the music well.
By "presented" I mean "put forward" or better yet, "displayed". I always thought of Roksan equipment as making music appear more clear and liquid and properly more animated than any of their upscale Brit-fi peers. I've always liked Linn turntables but not their electronics. I've liked Naim electronics but not as much as the people who believe in them. I've always had a bit more respect for Roksan products than most of my friends did. I always thought of them as making music fell liquid and free. Definitely, I thought of them as less stiff, dry and drab than Naim or Linn. That is why I was so surprised by the thickness and texturing I experienced when I first tried the Caspian components.
This second time around, in my new apartment, the fuzzy gray grain I first encountered... was still there. Exactly as I remembered it. But this time it didn't bother me as much. This time I really began to like that remote control that selects program sources and adjusts the volume. The more I used them the more I appreciated their build quality and ergonomics. I also fell in love with the way the Caspian components looked. Most importantly, I liked the fundamental way they portrayed music.
The Roksan amp-CD player combination felt like it had a good grip on the larger musical flow. When the music was strong or heavy the Caspians showed it to be that way. The thickening I noticed slowed the drive just a tad but the sense of scale and force of music was still all present.
In my new clean carpeted listening room, this simple little two-piece system played with not insignificant authority and looked so sharp, modern and hip-snappy, I just said the hell with proper texture, I'm gonna listen to this gear for a while and try my darndest to enjoy it. And that is what I did.
I didn't even hook up a turntable. All I had was the Caspian CD player and integrated amp, the three-piece Spendor system, some Audio Note AN-L interconnect and some Kimber 8-TC speaker cable. All nice stuff. All hi-end but not "too" high end. Nothing weird or snooty or tweeky. Just very well made and very stylish and very solid. Basic luxury hi-fidelity. Like a Jaguar sedan. Right?
That's what it felt like to me. So in keeping with my new uptown luxury groove I just left the Caspians on the shelf and played my CDs. Then one sunny (and fateful) day I came home and put on my new dreamy favorite, Skip James', "Blues from the Delta" (Vanguard 79517-2) and suddenly I stopped and said, whoa! What's going on? What is this? Where's that grain? What happened?
I couldn't believe the gear had changed so I figured that it just must be this absolutely amazing beautiful CD. Skip James was so good his art was overpowering the bad ju ju of the Roksan differential amplifiers. (If you don't own this recording, or worse yet, if you don't know who Skip James is, don't even think, just buy it. And trust me on this one. James is the most intensely poetic and ethereal of the singer-songwriters associated with the country blues of the Mississippi delta circa 1930s. His "Devil Got my Woman" is considered by many to be among the top ten songs ever recorded and James' "I'm So Glad" was covered by Eric Clapton and Cream.) I couldn't believe my ears. The music was beyond perfect. Skip's singing sounded truly devine.
Then I put on re-discovered genius, Wilson "Boozoo" Chavis. His Creole-style accordion playing and snare-driven band represent southern dance music at it's maximum full-tilt drive and density. (Jonnie Billy Goat, Rounder Heritage 1166-11594-2) Now I was gob-smacked. All I can say is suddenly, I was enjoying music in a way so obvious I had to stop and ask myself, what's going on?
Quickly, I played two more of my favorite records. Both of which I had clear memories of their sounding unnaturally thickened and texturized by the Roksan electronics. But now, both sounded clear and liquid. Maybe not perfectly so, but definitely far more "transparent" and free-flowing than I remembered any CDs sounding with the Roksan in the system. So I kept sitting there and playing one CD after another. And they all sounded very close to perfect -- viscosity wise.
Mainly, I would describe the new presentation as more clear and more well-spirited. Not perfectly clear, but almost perfectly spirited. The basic "charge" of the music, which had formally been diminished was now almost completely restored. All of a sudden the music had this auspicious giddy-up. Now, the music was flowing and moving with this kind of infectious energy. It drew me in and made me feel like running with it.
Out of no where, the sun seemed to come out and the grayness in my outlook issipated. All of a sudden I was fully accepting my luxury. The hairshirt part of my existence was significantly reduced. No more picking taters.
The differences I am talking about are not subtle. The best I can describe what happened is this way: At first, every recording I played through the Caspians had this cloudy gray texture added to it. Then, like over night, this effect was diminished by at least 80%. All of a sudden the music is playing and the skies are very blue. It's that simple. How many hours of playing for this too happen? I don't know for sure. I don't even know exactly when the Caspian gear started changing for the better. Was this a break-in phenomenon? I don't know. Maybe. Just one day I noticed it was better. Maybe the gear stayed the same and I changed. Who knows? I doesn't matter.
The Caspian stuff still colors the music, no question. But since when did I ever let some little so-called coloration interfere with my enjoyment of music? (Actually, most of my favorite audio gear could be described as colored.) The word "colored" is part of the new-age absolute-stereo lingua franca that I still can't swear is of any use.
Colored? Compared to... what? To me, all hi-fi sounds way more like hi-fi that it does live music. So then it is all very colored. Right? All I ask is that the "point" of the song or composition not get lost in the black (or silver) box.
And this, the Roksan Caspians did all along.
In addition, the Caspians always played music with good and proper force. They always seemed to muster up the forward-moving momentum of whatever music I played. They also made credible weight and body. And detail? They had tons. Reproduced music always felt tangible and present. And timbre was never more than just a little off. In fact, they did most everything right with the music except this texture and viscosity thing which I believed to be a bad enough problem to be fatal. I thought this texture thing disqualified them from any sort of public recommendation. But I guess I was wrong.
All of a sudden, when I put on the Skip James and Boozoo recordings I realized I had to reconsider everything. I had to start thinking about these components in review terms. I had to start over with my listening process.
Roksan's Caspian series is hi-end British audio that is designed with an almost un-British sense of weight and solidness and luxury appointment. I am not usually impressed by this aspect of audio design, but this time I was. In my younger Bohemian days I would have thought of the Caspians as extravagant colonialist toys not fit for the "real" work-a-day hi-fi chores. But with my new luxury lifestyle I thought they were perfect.
Literally, I kept these components in my system because they looked and felt so good . . . and because they had good drive and energy. This is rare for me. Everyday they made me feel like I was living rich and fully. So every day I'd keep them in the system just one more day.
And after the "change", after the music opened up and got clean and clear, the solid and smooth part of the reproduction got better too. I am not joking. When everything finally clicked with this gear, I discovered a kind of vital assuredness about how these components recovered music. The Caspians have a steady hand on the baton. The Caspians tracked my silver discs like a luxury sports car. Smooth, quiet, powerful and highly nimble.
The best I can do to describe the effect this gear has on the me and the music is to say I always felt like I was living well when I was using it. Never did I think audio or audiophile. Never did I think sound or soundstage or detail or bass or treble... never did I think I about things like tube or solid-state. (But also, I never forgot that I was listening to high-end hi-fi. I am afraid that might be the penalty for using luxury solid state electronics.)
I used this amplifier and CD player combo with the Spendor 1/2s, 3/5s, the Linn Ninkas and the Loth-X BX-1s and the effect was always exactly the same. I always thought about luxury. I always thought about high-quality and sophistication. Smoothness and effortlessness. Power and effortlessness. These are the Caspian's strong suits.
There is no question that I feel these items to be highly recommendable. But only to a certain type of individual. What kind you ask? I say, if you got guilt, or audiophile anxieties, I say if you can't just buy some audio gear and relax, and forget all about audio for a long time -- don't buy the Roksan Caspian stuff. Because the Caspians are all about pleasure. They are about nice metalwork and smooth working remote controls. They are like expensive food or fine wine or 270-thread sheets. They are about a life lived well.
For garden variety audiophiles -- the Roksan Caspian components would represent a fundamental change in attitude. Don't buy this stuff if you want to tweak or talk to your friends about your audio gear. And don't buy this stuff if you worry about things like how transparent it is -- cause it ain't very. Soundstage isn't one of their strong points either. Also, don't buy Caspians if you need goosebumps, tears and laughter on a daily basis, because these components appear to reduce the richness and intensity of the music's emotional content.
But do buy these components if you want a very high quality integrated set of electronics. Buy these components if smooth good looking forceful and highly detailed music is sufficient for your long-term enjoyment. And especially, you should buy these components if you are ready to give up your rebel audiophile bohemianism and switch to a leisure class lifestyle. I could happily listen to them for the rest of my slothful and self-indulgent life. I could come home, put on a CD and kick back and contemplate the relationship between, comfort, beauty and peacefulness. Honey . . . would you pass me that box of chocolates please?
Harmonic Distortion: 0.003% (1kHz)
Line Inputs: 5 plus Tape
Roksan's Audio Limited
May Audio Marketing
Phone: (716) 283-4434