A New Cello, A New Experience
Stepping into the listening room of our journal, the first sight of the Cello Rhapsody amplifier made me feel refreshed. I thought I had a pretty good idea about its appearance based upon the pictures available on a variety of Japanese websites. However, when I found myself in the same room as the real Rhapsody, and was able to actually touch it with my hand, I realized the great distance that still exists between the real thing and that which exists on the computer monitor.
The various textures realized in the chassis' metal goes far beyond that achieved by the best of the rest of high end audio products. Considering the reasonable price of the Rhapsody, at only $17,000, for its beauty alone we would find it worth the price.
My initial sonic impression was that I could sense the presence of the spirit of previous Cello products, especially when listening to recordings of stringed instruments. The sound was pristinely clean, delicate and romantic, yet full of the vigor of life. I have to admit that my preconceptions of what to expect were way off base. The reports I had read mentioned the power and the speed, but there was nothing that told of the Rhapsody's delicacy. I was honestly and deeply moved by the Rhapsody's ability to convey the reality of the sound of a solo violin. It replicates not only the emotion that can be found in the sound of a violin but, in an absolutely unique way, it demonstrates the harmonic richness of the violin strings and, as a result, the palpable presence of the instrument existing in a real space.
On the official website (www.matthew-james.net), the designer and manufacturer of Cello products, Matthew James L.L.C., emphasizes that it is their intention to set the style, instead of following fashion, with regard to both industrial design and sonic performance. Jim McCullough, the Managing Partner of Matthew James who is directly responsible for the re-introduction of Cello, indicated that his intention is to surpass the excellences achieved during the previous era (1985-2000) of Cello products. Matthew James will retain and improve upon the most positive aspects, while minimizing those that have been determined to be less so. As I listened to the Rhapsody it became abundantly clear that this has already been accomplished.
The Rhapsody is a Class AB stereo amplifier, rated at 250w/ch. I can testify that this power rating is in no way exaggerated by the designer. My impression is that the actual power may even be significantly greater than that. When listening to the "Volcano" track from the Mount St. Helen's symphony (Wilson Audio WA8008) the Rhapsody displayed the passion, strength and fickleness of the piece as the composer intended. Within the Rhapsody there seems to be an infinite power source, because the more passion and energy demanded by the score, the more the Rhapsody rises to the occasion to convey those aspects.
The most difficult tests to determine the speed and control capabilities of an amplifier are based upon percussion instruments, particularly jazz or fusion drumming, which require quick recovery at a wide range of frequencies. All of my reference recordings were a piece of cake for the Rhapsody, whose balanced input circuitry retains more of the signal provided to it throughout the amplifier, and delivers that signal to the speaker with greater accuracy, coming closer to the absolute ideal, than any prior effort.
The Rhapsody can perform, with equally excellent results, on vocals, live recordings, percussion, and classical music. Compared to the "old Cello", I find the Rhapsody to be considerably more cool, calm and collected. Its confident assuredness is deserving of our admiration. Its transparency, clarity and resolution of sounds at the widest of frequency extremes are virtually perfect.
The final accomplishment I want to mention is that the Rhapsody can express the very essence of music. It is something so realistic, and so unique, that I cannot find the words to accurately describe it. The Cello Rhapsody defines and sets the mark at the highest end of the high end. However lofty your expectations, it will exceed them.