One of my favorite albums of 2020 so far is Yelena Eckemoff’s Nocturnal Animals (16/44.1 FLAC, L&H Production/Tidal). Joining the Russian-born, US-based pianist-composer are double bassist Arild Andersen and drummers and percussionists Jon Christensen and Thomas Strønen. As the title suggests, this two-CD set comprises musical portraits of 14 creatures of the night. These portraits cover almost every animal classification — insect, amphibian, reptile, bird, mammal.
“Fox” is a swingy post-bop number, and I loved the way the Pre Box RS2 Digital captured Eckemoff’s skittering piano with just the right amount of transient attack. The long drum solo (or is it a duet?) near the end of the track was fast and impactful — but equally important, the Pre Box RS2 presented each element clearly enough that I could follow them even as they all occurred together. Instead of a big loud mush, I could hear every surface in the drum kit(s) being struck. Throughout the track, the clear, open sound made it easy to follow these four musicians’ interplay.
In addition to comparing the Pre Box RS2 Digital’s and the NAD C 658’s headphone outputs, I listened to the HiFiMan planar-magnetics through my desktop headphone amp, iFi Audio’s iDSD Macro BL ($599).
With Eckemoff’s “Fox,” the iFi sounded a little bigger and more enveloping than the Pro-Ject, but also slightly more dense and hard. The Pre Box RS2 Digital was more spacious and articulate, making it easier to follow the musicians’ interplay; and individual instruments had greater harmonic richness. Eckemoff’s piano sounded fuller through the iFi, but the Pro-Ject better portrayed her touch. Andersen’s double bass sounded
woodier and snappier through the Pro-Ject, bigger and fuller through the iFi. Drum and cymbal attacks were sharper with the Pre Box RS2, brushed snares swishier; but through the iDSD Macro BL the drums sounded bigger and more robust.
At first, the NAD C 658’s headphone amp sounded slightly nimbler and more transparent with this track but also a little harder, while the Stream Box RS2 Digital was fuller, richer, smoother, and more inviting. Further listening revealed that the Pro-Ject’s headphone amp was actually more agile than the C 658’s — inner voices and interplay among the quartet were better resolved. Through the Pro-Ject’s headphone amp, drums and percussion had more impact but didn’t sound at all hard, and Andersen’s bass was richer and snappier.
. . . Gordon Brockhouse