A couple of days ago, I swapped out the Sonicap Gen I .22 uf coupling caps in my Aural Thrills KT88 monoblocks for Clarity ESA .22 uf caps. The cost was a only 30 bucks, so I figured I'd give it a shot and see if it was worth the hassle. I think yes... yes it was. Now, on to the review:
I got a chance to sit down and do some listening to the new caps in my amps tonight. I'll try to point out the good and the bad, but I'm sure the sound will change over the next few weeks quite a bit, as they've got less than 5 hours on them now. When they get to about 100, I will probably post a followup review. That said, here we go...
The first thing I noticed is that these are much more neutral sounding at this point than the Sonicaps. Just swapping out the sonicaps for the claritys as coupling caps in my amps brings out a lot more balanced sound in my rig. I run a CJ tube pre and aural thrills tube monoblock amps, so the system tends towards warm any way, and with the sonicaps as the coupling caps running my TLed CRS+s, I felt the system was far too warm, to the point that other parts of the sound were getting lost. And with the stock 2.3 TLs, I still felt the system was still a bit too warm and the vocals too forward when using the sonicaps as the coupling caps. Now it's more neutral while having more extension at the top and bottom, as well as more detail and nuance in the sound. And some grain that I didn't realize was there until it wasn't any more is gone as well, leaving a smoother sound. And an absolutely black background. I expect the new caps may warm up a bit and smooth out even more over the weeks, but we'll have to see about that. This is my first go around with these, so it's an adventure. And if they do warm up just a touch, I think the balance will be just perfect. That's not to say they even approach analytical at this point, but just another pinch of warmth would be very acceptable. And if they keep the balance they have now, that's also just fine by me. I don't see myself feeling disappointed with this mod either way.
Something else I'm hearing is more textured, detailed bass. For example, the bass was a bit soft before the swap to the point that the kick drum could get kind of lost in the bass lines at times. Now the strike of the pedal head is quite distinct, as is the vibration of the drum head, even through fairly busy bass lines.
Detail and clarity are enhanced across the spectrum. The sound stage is more focused as well, while growing in width, but moving back a bit in the center. Vocals always used to come from a space that seemed to be about 3-3.5 ft wide and too far forward, more-or-less in the middle (front to back) of the room. Now it sounds more like a person standing there singing in front of a band. No depth seems to have been lost though. Bass and drums tend to come from a space about 8-10 ft behind the singer, while other instruments range from about 3-4 ft in front, to 4-5 ft behind the speakers. The singer generally seems to be either right between the speakers, or 2-3 ft in front of them. The sound stage itself seems to occupy a space of about 16-18 ft wide. Which is cool, since the room is only 15 ft wide.
Those are the main differences I hear. Of course, if you like a forward sound stage, which I'm sure many people do, a very warm sound and a bit larger than life instruments/vocals, then these caps don't seem to be what you want. The only other downside is that I wouldn't complain if the vocals moved back forward maybe a foot, after having fallen back about 6 ft. But still, I prefer the vocals to come from within the same space as the rest of the sound, rather than sounding like the singer is standing on the end of a runway.
So I have to thank Ben for having posted the original cap shootout thread with his compliments of the Clarity MR series, and all the people that have contributed to the various threads I started while planning The Big Upgrade over the last few months. I appreciate everyone's time and input while I decided on which way to go.