A wonderful write up from the PuraSound's customer Nick about the Grandinote Mach 4 speakers and the Shinai amplifier. "As a child, my father had a beach house built by and eccentric architect who was also a neighbour in a similar house he’d built. One day, they went away for some time and rented the property out. Not surprisingly, my parents loved the peace and quiet until one night, it was shattered as the tenants started a rowdy party that went till dawn. No one slept in my house. When the sun rose, my dad went to the living room and manhandled a massive mono speaker out onto the patio, pointed it at the neighbours and then returned inside. There, he chose opera, placed it on the turntable and cranked the volume up to full. The speaker would have been sixteen inches and he let blast at the now comatose neighbours. They eventually staggered outside and accepted defeat. It was my introduction to the power of music reproduced through beautiful equipment, albeit in this case, mono. What followed, via my dad, was an education in Hi Fi."
He had an advisor, a man who hand built systems and imported what was then the ants pants of European equipment such as Harmon Kardon. Purchased from the same advisor, I remember a set of round Empire speakers, American, with marble tops that my mother used to insist be turned down. Then it was record players (and still is for me). Recordings from the sixties and seventies remain some of the best ever made and for those who treasure such things, MP3 files were the kiss of death.
Hifi began to die and sound systems that were once the pinnacle of must have became worth little. Head phones, once a necessity so as not to disturb the neighbours or a spouse, became the only means by which an entire generation came to know music. Records disappeared as CDs took over and then they too began to disappear.
Meanwhile, die hards kept at it, either by upgrading systems or treasuring what they had. The market shrunk and one by one, the great stereo houses closed their doors. A sad time for it not only meant the watering down of great sound but of music in general.
Nevertheless, all over the world, electronics engineers were continuing to work on the problem, how to make recorded sound indistinguishable from live (which means acoustic for me). That’s why some of us keep going to stereo shows to hear claims that this has been achieved. Inevitably, such claims rely on comparisons to what has gone before and in my opinion, little has changed. A brilliant system from the eighties is still brilliant. Stereo heads continue to argue today as they did then, about performance, in much the same way formula one racing aficionados do with gran prix cars.
I called it quits once I bought a 200 watt Luxman amplifier and eighties JBLs with twelve inch paper drivers. I wanted my music to be exciting and I got sucked into watts, raw power and to be sure, if you wanted to blow everyone out of the room, then this was the way to do it. But back to my dad and his mono speaker.
This is the memory I have, listening to music, falling in love with music, oblivious of how it was delivered. I craved that. I wanted to hear a system that delivered on the promise, music, just music. I didn’t find it until I went to a show in Melbourne, Australia, late in 2017. I wandered round, sometimes impressed but I was getting ready to go home, disappointed, when in a relatively small room, I came upon a brand I’d never heard of. Indeed no one in my country had ever heard of. Made in Italy by a man affectionately known as Max, hand made, under the brand name of Grandinote (pronounced ‘grandeenotay), there in the room two elegant, slender towers speakers with four equal drivers. Made from aluminium, they were almost like art pieces, prototypes for an international design contest, something that Johny Ives would have conceived of. 1300 high by 230 mm square, they are discreet, modest and the four drivers are five inch, arranged in the upper half, one above the other. Too simple one might think, minimalist. I entered the room, sat down and listened to a recording of Spanish guitar accompanied by a Flamenco dancer, dancing on a wooden floor. Suffice to say this; I didn’t believe it. What trickery was this? She was there, in the room, right in front of me. Viscerally, emphatically, live, making a noise on a timber floor that wasn’t there, percussive, extraordinary. Ok, they had my attention. What else? The representative, the Australian Importer, Robert Campbell, a passionate hi fi man if ever there was one, sat off to one side, iPad at the ready, sending files to a DAC. I stared at him, then the speakers. Ok, where’s the woofer, you’ve hidden it. No woofer. For the first time in decades, I knew I was listening to something new, very new, very clever .
I can only describe the speakers as instruments in their own right, not simply reproducing sound, but working with the recording, the musicians, the sound engineers. This indeed was magic, musical alchemy. Then, as now, it wasn’t like, ‘this will impress my friends’. It was more like, I don’t care what they think, I don’t care what anyone thinks. This is the sound I have been in search of, forever it seems.
Here’s an analogy. I am a photographer and a long time ago I fell in love with the famous German camera maker, Leica. Ok, they are more expensive than many people’s cars but what they have succeeded in doing, ironically, is to make the camera irrelevant, by removing the barriers to photography that bells and whistles brands impose, by removing everything unnecessary to capturing an image and in so doing freeing the photographer to do what he’s meant to do, take brilliant pictures. Max’s speakers, called Mach 4’s, achieve the same. These are not speakers to dazzle your friends like a new Maserati. In fact, if you could hide them, all the better, but you don’t want to because they are so beautiful. As with the Leica, all that is there is the source, in this case the music and that is what I fell in love with. At last I’d found a speaker that punched way above its weight and behaved as if all it wanted to do was make you fall in love with music all over again. How Italian.
So what talked to them? Of late, there is a nostalgia for valve amps. I have one at another location. I love it. They are softer, subtler but not so punchy, perhaps because in order to get to higher output values, there has to be more heat. But it is not a valve amplifier that was powering these Mach 4s (although blindfolded, you’d be forgiven for thinking so). It is however, massively heavy with two power supplies. In other words, it could well be two valve mono blocks. But here’s the thing. No matter how much money you’ve got, you cannot replicate a live performance. I know this for I have an old pub. Inside I built a gallery/auditorium and recently I had a classical piano trio play Shostakovich, Ravel and Arensky. Musicians have extremely powerful computers on their shoulders and so they can modulate sound so that it is barely audible and then deafen you such that, were it a stereo system, there’d be cries from somewhere to turn it down. Amplifiers that get anywhere near this are very, very expensive. I don’t want to blind you with science, I’m just a consumer like you but let me tell you this: I have never, ever heard and amplifier as good as this. Maybe that’ll happen one day but I certainly won’t be trying to find it.
Artificially created noise tends to get wearing eventually and the poorer in quality it is, the sooner this happens. Nevertheless, there’s any number of systems, new and old, that will give almost anyone a musical thrill, with base and lots of volume, something to get the neighbours banging on your door. And for less than five thousand dollars, there are systems that will sit discreetly in a room and play beautiful music. But for me, that is like saying there are hundreds of restaurants worth a go. Yes, there are but when I went in search of a new system, starting ten years ago, I didn’t want eighties JBLS ( although I’ve kept my old ones in case I do). I wanted to fall in love with music again. This was and is my base line. With a mere 37 watts per channel, the Shinai coupled with Max’s Mach 4’s has completely made me fall in love with music again, so much so that I haunt charity shops and garage sales buying records in there hundreds.
I am enchanted. And here’s a funny thing, it is almost as if the stereo system I now have has disappeared. I don’t look at its blinking lights (it doesn’t have any) or its glamorous looks (although It is handsome, like something found that belonged to a WW11 bomber) and the speakers just sit in the room as if at any moment, they might put themselves away in a cupboard. All this is wonderful for it does not look like an intensive care set up in a hospital. In other words, the means becomes almost irrelevant as the end becomes everything. This is a system for a blind person, one who is never told how it is done, where the sound comes from or how it got there; they will just sit and be overtaken by music, just the music. It has been a long time since recorded music brought me to tears.
Here’s an ultimate test. I have friends and relatives that listen to iPhones plugged into whatever. When they come to my house, and I have on something that has acoustic instruments and vocal, they look as if they’ve just entered a venerated cathedral. I could believe they’d take there hats off were they wearing one. They stop and then they just say, what beautiful music.
There are other reviews that’ll give you the technical information and yes, it is worth knowing. Suffice to say, I have never heard anything as good as this combination, Grandinote Mach 4 speakers and the Shinai amplifier.
If a stereo system can’t make you fall in love with music again then carry on with the iPhone but if it can, and I imagine by now you know that I have found one that can, then we are truly fortunate.