On the digital end, the speakers were paired with the poetically named Sanders Sound Systems Electrostatic, 360Wpc into 8 ohms, amplifier ($3995), specifically designed to drive difficult speaker loads; the SSS Linestage Preamp ($3995); Sanders cables and interconnects; stock power cables—"I’m an engineer," says Sanders, "Of course I don’t design special power cables!"—; and a very basic Pioneer DVD player. That may not sound like much. But the sound was so clear, articulate, and mesmerizing that I couldn't convince myself to take notes. In fact, I was so entranced by the sounds of soprano Elly Ameling and pianist Dalton Baldwin performing Schubert's "Die Sterne" that, when my close-eyed listening was twice interrupted by folks aiming to please this not-so-illustrious writer, I barked that all I wanted to do was listen. Who needs a coke when music gives you all the buzz you need?
I not only heard Ameling in person around the same time as she recorded "Die Sterne," but have also played this CD transfer on any number of systems. I don’t think I've ever been drawn so close to Ameling's artistry. Every subtle nuance, every intention, every slight change of color and shading, was so perfectly clear that I felt like was but a step or two from the real thing. Ameling's voice has a fine line that most systems smudge, as well as a one-in-a-million radiance on high notes that most speakers cannot handle without distorting. Here, everything was perfect. Overtones on the piano were stunning, literally the best I've heard. I can only begin to imagine how good Sanders speakers and electronics would sound when paired with a front end of equal or better quality than my reference Theta Carmen II/Gen. 8 combo.
But that wasn't all. For analog, we had the same Merrill-Scillia Research MS21 turntable ($24,000) that Michael Fremer reviewed so favorably in the November 2007 issue. Equipped with a Triplanar tonearm ($4000) and Ortofon Jubilee cartridge ($2000), the turntable seemed a perfect match for the Sanders Sound Systems set-up. (The phono preamp was a prototype from another company, with details as yet unavailable). Willie Nelson sounded fabulous, Miles Davis incredible. Just as with my CD, every bit of musical nuance seemed exposed. I wouldn't want to listen to second-rate musicians on such an infinitely revealing system, but with artists of genius, genius is what you hear. By all means check this equipment out. I certainly intend to do so again in the future.