HW Review #3 - Joseph Audio Pearl 3
Personal note first: I do not get paid by the word as most writers do. In fact, I do not get paid at all. I only comment on audio gear that I enjoy listening to and if it is in a review I really like it. However, it means nothing if I never mention it. My review choices are personal favorites and some audio gear simply strikes me as more to my taste than others.
I have known Jeff a very long time and have the Joseph Audio Pearl 3’s for over a year in my home but was not prepared for the results when sharing a room at the Montreal show with Jeff and the folks at Moon by Simaudio. Playing Acoustic Sounds Master Tape VS. Acoustic Sounds 45 RPM vinyl on the VPI Titan, the Pearls took over the room! They reproduced the power of the Hugh Masakela tape and 45 RPM vinyl with the experience of a live moment. The visiting customers went into that jaw-dropping mode you sometimes get but don’t expect at a show, we had it in spades. You can never discount the amp-speaker synergy that will make a great system sound even better!
That made me think the 35 watt tube amps I was using with the Pearls just didn’t move enough electrons to make the Pearl 3s really open up. I was right! The Sanders Mag-Tech produces prodigious amounts of power cleanly and into any load, the Pearls loved it. Immediately the soundstage opened up, the bottom became deeper and tighter, the upper-midrange actually backed off a bit, and the imaging became holographic, just like Montreal. I will save my comments on the just as magnificent Moon by Simaudio amps for a later review of the complete Moon system.
The Pearls were set up in my new listening room, a concrete floor basement with wall and floor treatment on the double sheet-rock walls and irregular shape. The bass was a joy, no issues of feedback at all. In fact I was able to drop the air suspension on the Avenger with no audible change at high SPL levels. This was a new world for me. Not having to worry about feedback and floor motion changes everything. Highly recommended to anyone who can do it.
Playing the 15 ips tape and an original record of “Hatari” on RCA opened my ears to the incredible speed and openness of the recording. The drums are no longer a noisy mess, they are perfectly recorded and sound as individual drum heads do. The soundstage was expansive yet perfectly focused. I have been playing this record for 50 years and this was truly one of the great presentations, right up there with the JBL Everest’s for speed and power. I was taken!
Even better they wrapped me in the acoustic space of the recording as they did with “Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular” a record so unusual it fills the room at shows. You could hear Bob and Ray walking around your listening room, the stage coach coming in from the left made you jump, the glass breaking sounded like real wine glasses going to their death with lifelike clarity and extreme dynamics.
Going to Gary Karr playing “Kol Niedre” on his 400 year old Contra-Bass, a record I have used at every show for the last 5 years, was a tactile experience. I didn’t think concrete could vibrate but the Cadenza Bronze on the Avenger was digging into the depths of those grooves and the Pearls were trying to lift the floor tiles off my floor. I hear a lot of live music, mostly jazz, I know what a live upright bass can do in a room, and I was getting that with no effort at all. My chest was singing with the instrument and the lower parts of my body were being massaged, exactly as a bass will do in a live room. More importantly Gary Karr was standing in one position, did not drift up or down or side to side as the frequencies changed, and the bass was tuneful, fast, and very articulate. You could feel the gut of the strings vibrating.
Steve Lawrence on United Artists “Ultra-Audio” was once again re-introduced to me on a personal basis as the system put his voice front and center with all the instruments laid out around him. His voice was rich, full, clean, and very intelligible. The orchestra surrounded him as a real one does but also gave him the proper space. One of the best presentations of this recording I have ever heard.
Listening to the soundtrack of “Game of Thrones” I was swept away by the beauty of this score and the ethereal feel of some of the music. We have played this at a few shows but listening at home and getting to know the music makes it more intimate and enjoyable. The Pearls reproduced the atmospheric cues in the recording as well as the KEF Blades, a tall order as the blades can disappear very easily.
The Ortofon Cadenza Bronze was a natural match for the Steve Leung VAS step up device I was using. The loading was around 140, just what the cartridge loves, and the noise level was so low you would have to stick your ear in the midrange to hear anything. The step up proved a very good match, better than the expensive active phono section I had been using but then again the Japanese have said for years the best way to increase the gain of an MC cartridge is with a transformer.
The Pearl 3s in our big listening room using still points on a suspended floor
I can’t state how important the synergy of the components in the system has to be. You can spend ten times the cost of this system and still wind up with a lot less music. When everything meshes, and that includes speaker placement, proper cabling, vibration isolation, time for break-in, the end result is much greater than the sum of the parts.
Back to the music, if you have ever played the 45 RPM Charley Byrd Crystal Clear recording you know the drum solo is so well recorded that when played on a great system it can sound almost real. The JBL Everest’s will put the drummer in the room with a good solid state amp like the Merrill Thor’s. The Sanders Mag Tech will drive the Pearls almost as well and show what real, clean, power can do when harnessed by a speaker that is inherently clean.
The $75,000 JBL Everest might be the last word in bass dynamics in a real-world situation but the Pearl 3s are pretty close. That is really saying a lot for the Pearl 3s as they are less than half the price of the JBL’s. The drum heads were rattling, the impact was startling, and the level was ear shattering like a real drum would be in your room and I had no headache. Every nick of the sticks on the rim came through crystal clear. You could feel the drummer breathing while working up one massive weight loss program. Better still I went right into an EMI copy of the Elgar Cello Concerto and settled down to a very enjoyable glass of Aberfeld and incredible string tone without missing a beat.
These are one of the best $30K+ ranged speakers on the market and it is no wonder they always get a very high recommendation when heard at shows, they sing with a real voice. The Pearl 3 is a real challenge to the KEF Blade and every other speaker in this range. If you love music you need to hear them. I will be keeping them in my listening room a long time.
A bit of history, last year when the Pearls were in my living room and George Bishoff [of Melos Fame] was over we played an 80's favorite Joan Baez "Diamonds and Rust" and he had tears in his eyes the reproduction was so beautiful. George was a good friend and I was proud that he came over many times in his last year but this really touched him. We miss him and his guidance.
BTW, all the Joseph Audio speakers have exactly the same voicing and pretty much sound the same through the mid-range and top so if $30K+ is outside your budget you can spend a hell of a lot less in the Joseph Audio line and still get what you are reading about here albeit with less bass dynamics and slam. But you are not giving up that much on 90% of your albums.
I will be commenting on the VAC phono installed in this system shortly plus the Grado Epoch and the new McIntosh phono.
As I mentioned in a previous review, I'm not messing around with giving out stars and pulling this "best in the world" crap the "reviewers" give out like participation trophies for showing up. I'm rating the Pearl 3s a solid and respectable 8 and 1/2 stars. Keep in mind, I'm not just borrowing these speakers, I actually bought them.
System at time of writing:
VPI Avenger with 12” 3D reference with stabilizer and ring clamp
Ortofon Cadenza Bronze
ARC 14 preamp rebuilt as new but better
VAS step up transformer
Sanders Mag Tech amp
Jeff Joseph Pearl III speakers