Hey Ron,I am sure you are correct about each of your characterizations about Boulder. ...
What were the sonic reasons you selected, first, the Mephisto over a Boulder? What were the sonic reasons you then choose Robert Koda over a Boulder?
What was the consensus of the people you spoke with about the 3060 regarding its overall sonic presentation in terms of "cool," "neutral" or "warm"? Where did the consensus place it on this particular sonic spectrum?
Did you find any tendency for the 3060 to be placed in a greater than usual proportion of digital systems versus analog systems? (I fully concede I have no idea how we would measure that!)
I am simply wondering if people who prefer the sound of digital playback systems over analog playback systems also tended to prefer the sound of the 3060 (for all of the wonderful sonic and build quality reasons you suggest above) over "warmer" sounding amplifiers (which might appeal more to audiophiles who prefer analog playback systems)?
Also, I concede, I am speculating from afar. I am still merely assuming, without knowing, that the Boulder 3060 has the very slightly cool overall sonic presentation I personally heard from Boulder amplifiers in the past. Perhaps the 3060 has a different sonic presentation on this particular sonic spectrum than prior Boulder amplifiers.
As always, perceptive and insightful both in conclusions and in questions! Your questions and my answers:
1. Why Mephisto over Boulder?
- The first real comparison for me was the Antileon vs the Boulder 2060. The Antileon was dark...it never bothered me but when I heard certain amps 'illuminate' the treble, I found I preferred that even if dark was perfectly fine by me. The Boulder was probably its equal in sheer grunt, all out control and probably more detailed/precise in its presentation. Yes, it was also a bit cooler but never in a way that I minded because it was so effortless, I did not get that sense of 'plodding mechanical reproduction' you sometimes get with grainier or strident amps.
- So I took the Antileon...and it did not hurt that (both being 2nd hand) the Antileon cost less.
- So I was now in the Gryphon family and made my progression vertically up the 'Class A SS' designs by Flemming because I admired his work, could trust in his ear...and so when he had a flagship (the Colosseum and then the Mephisto)...it was an easy leap for me.
- Despite being an audiophile who has very definite aspirations...I also prefer to get it 'just right', than to wait around til I get it 'perfect'. So going around to listen to loads of new amps did not make sense to me time- or effort-wise. Furthermore, with both Colosseum and Mephisto coming 2nd hand, economically, they also made the decision a lot easier to make.
2. Sonic reasons for Koda over Boulder
- This really was not a shoot-out situation between Koda and Boulder at all. I was actually searching for a preamp to supercede the mighty CJ GAT 2 (after 20 consecutive years of owning CJ preamps) that did not present me with [occasional] tube noise, re-tubing, hiss that would come, then go. And I was [perhaps overly] concerned that even the milliwatts of DC might be doing something to the Gryphon long-term...and some even new tube amps do leak an infinitesimal amount.
- And I thought back to Robert Koda: trained under Kondo San, his own singular vision of purist audio reproduction, and by all accounts (including the venerable Martin Colloms) a truly gifted designer who is also seriously committed to his artform. AND, it was designed with the ethos of Solid State without ever sacrificing the ultimate characters that make many of us love tubes refuse to give them up.
- And at that moment, I realized there was his now legendary K15EX preamp...through various circumstances I became the first owner in this country and arguably was even there as 'a board observer' when Absolute Sounds came together with Robert Koda to create a distributor relationship which is quite exciting.
- And that first touch of Robert Koda was pure magic. Never have I heard SS create magic of the kind that people who love CJ and Zanden crave...while also honoring all of the hallmarks of great solid state - accuracy, illuminated treble that extends well into the ether, propulsive power in the bass...and the super quietest noise floor ever that allows the most finely-woven gossamer details to float effortlessly and untouched into the room
3. 3060 vs Robert Koda K160s
Here came the tough part. For 11 years, I have been exceptionally happy with different pre and amp designs...CJ and Gryphon. So clearly Robert Koda and Boulder 3060 was potentially a perfect pairing for me.
Who could not love the idea of the most pulverizing, effortless Class A SS planetary-sized amp plugging into perhaps one of the finest preamps most of us may have ever heard...whose signature is organic, natural and yet infinitessimally low noise floor for detail and nuance?
As the saying goes, I came THIS close to pulling that trigger. But not having heard Boulder in 10 years (earlier gen 2060) and having to fly to Denver potentially to hear it...was quite difficult when they are also made to order. The positives I received from those who owned/auditioned the 3060 were: effortless...in a way few if any amps are (perhaps none), absolutely no noise floor and freeing up details to come forward, and bass that is in a class by itself perhaps with Gryphon as its closest toe-to-toe competitor...a whole new weight class if you will.
There were also health warnings: it is crystalline in its exacting delivery, one hair out of line, and you will hear it. This did not bother me too much as with Zanden front end, Robert Koda K15EX preamp, TA Opus cables...organic was pretty much baked into the system.
And then there were a few more itches in the far distant back of my mind:
- Robert Koda is a proven, talented designer of BOTH preamps and amps. Not all designers can do both equally well. The preamp is a resounding and unequivocally brilliant design. Why not go MATCHING for the first time in well over a decade?
- PLUS, there is this 'hang up'/idealogy of liking no global feedback, no excess circuitry whatsoever, no feedback loops, not even an overheating sensors that reset the amp when the temp returns to normal...you simply go to 70 degrees and blow the fuse (which is 20 degrees above target temperature so something has to be seriously wrong to hit it...and then you have to put in a new fuse.)
- PLUS, there is just something about his equally obsessive approach to build quality...every component, (cooling fan, IEC inlet, mu-metal shielding) of each individual major component inside has been hand selected by Robert to be 'the best'. I know the fans in there, and I am not surprised to hear he auditioned scores of different ones and ended up with these...not just his binding posts and capacitors but even his wiring, his IEC inlet is specially made by one of the best players like Furutech, etc...which really made me think, "This is it."
So in the same vein of 'how can one lose with 3060'...I stayed on the path I was already on and went with the Robert Koda Monos. Now at just over 500 hours, they are magnificent in a way that frighteningly shows up the mighty Gryphon Mephisto in multiple ways I did not think was possible.
And most interestingly (to me)...of the 8 owners of this amp today, 3 of them owned Gryphon Mephisto before...all-out, pure Class A powerhouses...and one of them owned the Mephisto monos. And our collective agreement is unanimous that there is not one element where the Robert Koda does not best the Gryphon Mephisto...and that shockingly includes bass which for me was the bedrock of Gryphon's magic.
- I will not comment on digital vs analogue with either set...I own digital and have ever only owned digital...Zanden for last 13 consecutive years
- I can say that Robert Koda as a set definitely sets its own standard for magic...and that by dividing the preamp and amp between Robert Koda and Boulder, I feel confident that this magic would not exist. In its place would almost certainly be tremendous technical prowess, limitless dynamic capability, and yes quite a lot of insane detail, nuance and delivery...but I think that the special voice that Boulder creates or that Robert Koda creates would not be there from a Koda standpoint. Robert is about insane levels of purist simplicity of circuitry...'dynamic simplicity' is literally his motto.
- So I do think that it makes sense in the case of Robert Koda to keep the preamp and amp together.
- With Boulder, given the one element of water-clear delivery with Boulder, I could easily see someone going for a warmer source through a full Boulder set...I kind of intuitively like that.
- As for adding a tubed preamp with the Boulder (as I happily did with CJ/Gryphon for over 10 years)...just bear in mind, that my very limited experience with Boulder combined with discussions with 3000 series owners/auditioners leads me to believe there is an extreme magic to Boulder preamp/amps combos as well. And THAT magic is its OTT attention to noise floor, infinite dynamic capability and invisibly clear sound delivery.
- If you mix that with another manufacturer, you may lose that extreme magic...and inadvertently end up with excellent but not necessarily the extreme magic that (let's face it) you just paid dearly for in the 6-figure 3060. Do that, and you might find you could have acquired an equally competitive preamp/amp set for a lot less money because the 'extreme magic' is now missing with 'excellent magic' in its place. My gut says tread carefully. My instinctive (non-empirical) vote would be to keep the warmth in the source at that extreme level of design performance and stick with Boulder pre/amp.