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Carol Clark's 2018 Brutus Awards

12-18-2018 | By Carol Clark | Issue 101

In 2018, I made the jump from a passable desktop audio system into the big leagues. Because of that, I'm ready to hand out some Brutus awards, I think for the first time ever! It's not often that I need to listen to things as I work at my desk, but I find myself listening more and more with this new system. There was nothing wrong with my old system, it just required a few extra steps. This new set-up is a breeze.

Typically, I'm more into music, and the way a system sounds, than the technical aspects. This is the reason why I don't review audio gear. When I listen, I'm swept away with how the music makes me feel, or memories of the first time I heard it. As a result, I will mention that I like the way music sounds on this system, but I can't give a technical explanation of why.

I'll start with the hardware. I enlisted Dave to help me set things up. While I understand what various components do, the nitty gritty of set up is still beyond my realm.

elac b4

ELAC B4 Bookshelf Loudspeakers

I still remember the first time I heard ELAC loudspeakers at THE Show Newport. I couldn't believe how great they sounded for the price. On top of that, because the room was crowded, I didn't see how diminutive they were. They really pack a punch!

I have mine placed on either side of my monitor, and they sound desk-rattling good. Whether streaming music, or watching YouTube videos, these speakers are fantastic.

ps audio sprout

PS Audio Sprout 100

A lot has already been written about the Sprout, PS Audio's small integrated amplifier. It's perfect for a desktop system and is easy to use. Because I'm using it with my computer, I have it permanently on digital. As with the B4s, the Sprout is also extremely affordable. If you are familiar with this unit, you know it also has settings for vinyl and Bluetooth.

The Sprout sits next to my monitor, and fits perfectly on the desk, leaving plenty of room for keyboard and mouse.

The hardware portion of this award retails for well under $1000 and works extremely well as a desktop system. More fleshed out reviews of these products can be found elsewhere on the site. Before I move on to the software portion of this award, I would like to mention that while I react more to the music, I do see this as a whole system. It's an experience. The music I have chosen and the way I choose to listen, is dependent on the gear. In other words, there is a synergy between the software and the hardware.

Without further ado, the software.



Qobuz is a new streaming service that should be available in the US in early 2019. I was able to experience it at the California Audio Show and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. It functions like other streaming services and offers many recordings in hi-res files. You can make playlists and share them with friends. It also gives information about the artist, the recording, and individual songs.

I put Qobuz to the test as I searched for music I like, and I was happy to find obscure artists like The Notwist, and a favorite of mine from the mid-90s, Gravity Kills. More on this in a bit, I even found The Soft Moon's latest release, Criminal, as a hi-res file! The interface is easy to use and offers a home page that features new releases. There is the option to search by genre. As you scroll further down the page you will find Qobuz created playlists. There is another feature called Panorama. When you click those, Blue Note in 10 Albums is a choice, you will find a nice write up, and links to artists and recordings.

Once Qobuz rolls out I am sure there will be much more to say about it. Currently, I'm enjoying listening to my playlist on my killer desktop system.

soft moon criminal

The Soft Moon, Criminal

I'll be honest, the main reason I wanted to give out a Brutus Award this year is because of this album. I love it. I can't get enough of it. I play it in the main listening room at deafening levels. I put it on my Astell & Kern and carry it everywhere. Most importantly, I listen to it on Qobuz as a hi-res file, through ELAC B4s powered by a PS Audio Sprout, and am blown away.

The Soft Moon was formed as a solo project in 2009 by Luis Vasquez. He has released four studio albums. In 2011 he released an EP entitled Total Decay, and that was how I discovered him. The music is electronic, with driving rhythms, and typically if there are any vocals, they are soft and muted. Not so with Criminal, and the raw emotion present in tracks like "Burn" is so engaging.

I've been attempting to write a review of this release for months, but there are so many other great reviews out there I'm always afraid I'd end up plagiarizing them. In fact, there's a beautiful review on Qobuz. Instead of reviewing the whole album, I plan to write another installment in my "In Search of a Perfect Song" series, because these tracks truly send shivers down my spine.

In conclusion, this system really works for me. For a perfect moment in time I can fire up Qobuz on my Dell desktop computer, select Criminal by The Soft Moon, lean back in my chair and let the ELAC B4s and Sprout wash the music over me. Bliss.

carol's system

Dave Clark

And sadly I got nothing.... this article from last year pretty sums up 2018. Just did not review all that much. Did buy a shitload of music though and much of those are mentioned HERE.