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Benz Micro Ace SL S, Cont.

I came back with some memorable experiences, hoping ditto for the reluctant Benz. Nada. Things were better, but not significantly so. Yes, there was copious detail, the bass lines were so well defined you could run your fingers down them, the soundstage was deep and wide, and there was “air” a plenty around the performers and instruments.

But when musically pushed, things fell apart. I much preferred the just previous Talisman cartridge, which, although not as detailed nor offering as much bass punch as the Benz, was altogether more satisfying to listen to, with its finely honed sense of rhythm and balance. And more important, it offered up a much more accurate presentation than the Benz, as things sounded like the things were supposed to sound.

I was all set to pack it in and send the Benz back to Musical Surroundings. But then I thought, hey, what's to lose by playing around with the Nova's extensive settings? First, I reset the load switches to 50K ohms. Yow! What a difference!

The unhappiness that had been plaguing my hapless piano players and the chanteuses at the high mid and upper reaches was gone. The bass was also less wooly and much tighter, in total contradiction to common resistive reason. Other musical matters were also definitely opening up, so at least that much was consistent with conventional setting thinking. Things were finally settling down and snapping into audible focus. I was now starting to enjoy the music.

But wait. There's more! I cut the Nova's gain down from 60dB to just 50dB. Audible conclusions improved yet again.

Why stop now? I took the resistive plunge and went all in. I popped the Nova's DIP switches to 100K. Was I about to see the Benz's red acrylic shell go all Chernobyl? Would the lights in our high rise building dim, then blink out? Nope. None of that. Remarkably I was now getting the full musical megillah. The Benz was on full song now, belting out its little low voltage heart.

How to explain the suddenly great results? Beats the shit out of me.

All I knew was I began throwing album after album at the Benz, fully half expecting to see it light up the black vinyl sky in a shower of resistive sparks. It never happened.

Some of my set pieces for gauging how well the audible world holds together in a review includes two cuts from two about as different albums as you can imagine. The first track is the final cut from Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band, “A Day In The Life” (I have the original Capitol/EMI album, not a reissue). The second torture cut is track one, side 2, “Act III, Introduction” from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, performed by Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Sheffield Lab “Direct Disc Recording”, LAB 8, SL25-SL26).

A Day In The Life, when it reaches full zonker mode in a couple of LSD places, will twist you up and spit your brain cells out. The Introduction in Part III of Romeo, et al, does the same musical wind up, smack you upside the head thing. If any part of your vinyl playback chain is weak, these are two groovy places where you will discover it.

If you can easily peer into either full-on chaotic mix, pick out all the distinctive bits, yet still be musically moved, then you have a vinyl winner. The Benz sailed through all this Musical Mishegas like it was on mood stabilizers.

And so it went, album after album. The Benz offered up huge amounts of detail, a big soundstage, solid rocking bass, and all the other spinning black checklist items. My tinkly pianos suddenly grew a full Badwin body, offering both verve and subtlety as required. The females rejoiced as they rediscovered their voices. On rock I could clearly pick out the bass line and follow it up or down as it drove the beat. On jazz, saxes had geysers of human-steamed air pouring out of them. For large classical works, massed strings knew their proper place in the greater scheme of things, while making ample room for a solo clarinet or such if one cared to show up.

The Benz vigorously tried to sort out and weave together all these various bits into a musical whole cloth. It mostly succeeded. But to pull off this high-end hat trick of having all your high definition details, plus a musically just right experience is going to cost you way more than 700 bucks; you are now moving into the realm of multi-thousand dollar cartridges. That's what they are paid for, folks.

Bottom line: To get the best out of the Benz Micro Ace SL S cartridge you must have the right pairing with a good phono preamp; preferably one as flexible and fine as the Nova Phonomena. All happily matched and mated and properly set up, this Ruby Red Benz is very much recommended, something I never thought I would be saying when I first started down this review path.

Do it right, and it's $700 well spent.

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21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com

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