Home Visit: Conrad-Johnson vs EAR; Wilson Alexia
Talk Tweak: Ditch your Amplifier Stands; TAOC
EAR 509 MkII Resurrected While my EAR 912 has been making the rounds and seen active use, my pair of 509 MkII have been idling for over ten years - until recently, when my friend WoSirSir expressed interest in them. Lo and behold, at my old place they worked a charm with my Tannoy Canterburies! We both agreed they sounded excellent, with a clear and controlled sound.
Then I met up with Andy (one of the trio covered in this blog, last featured here), and things blossomed into a second day of "slug-fest"! Don't you get too excited; it did not last long!
Turntable: Clearaudio Statement/Goldfinger
Phonoamp: Clearaudio Statement Phono
CAS: Aurender N10
DAC: EMM Labs DAC2X
Preamp: Conrad-Johnson GAT MkII
Amp: Conrad-Johnson LP275
Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia
Challenger Amp: EAR 509MkII
Challenger Preamp: EAR 912
- Andy's Previous Magnepan 3.7 Setup As reported, Andy was previously a horn and SET guy. Between then and now, he had a period when he used the Maggie 3.7 with largely the same analog and CJ gears, and I had heard them. For CAS, he was still using the Weiss and as before I didn't like it one bit. Analog was much better, though the Maggies as expected lacked deep bass and had a mid-bass leaness (preferred by the ribbon/ESL crowd).
- Wilson Alexia It was immediately apparent that the Wilson's sounded very much meatier and heftier that the Maggies. And I mean that in a good way - images were just fleshier and more real, and the bass had real kick. Although a trace of bass bloat remained in this large room, which is unfortunately closer to a square than a rectangle, it was the best sound I had heard yet at Andy's.
- CAS Aurender and EMM Labs To my ears, the Aurender N10 and EMM Labs DAC2X combo is much to be preferred to the parched sound of the Weiss. Fleshier, more naturally flowing - in a word, less digital.
- Clearaudio Statement Phono While the analog sound is clean and good, I cannot help feeling this phonoamp, like the turntable it partners, lacks rhythmic verve. Andy likes it for its remote controllable features (like equalization curves), but for me it is just plain spoken.
- Challenge: EAR 509 MkII vs CJ LP275 While we were chatting on the first day, I was a little surprised that Andy expressed interest in hearing the EAR after I told him of its excellent bass control. And so it happened on the second day! Despite having only just one hour of playing after a ten-year hiatus, the EAR 509 MkII trounced the actively in-use CJ LP275 immediately and in convincing fashion. The bass was simply tauter, more controlled and extended lower! The CJ LP275 uses 8 tubes per monoblock, but did not sound more powerful than the EAR's simple pair (and Andy matches his tubes with a top-notch tube tester); also, it is actually quite light and easy to lift, indicating the light weight of the transformers! Andy was impressed! See "Andy's Decision" below!
- Challenge: EAR 912 vs GAT MkII The sound was quite similar, but the EAR 912 had a more subtle and easier musical flow. Andy agrees, but loves the remote facilities of the GAT. If you ask me, the EAR 912 is the better preamp, full-function at a much lower cost; there was no area where the GAT could manage to surpass. One can only gasp at the ridiculous price some hifi manufacturers charge, or marvel at how reasonable EAR gear is!
- Andy's Response Man of Action! Andy immediately ordered the EAR 509 MkII! But he has retained the GAT for its convenience.
- UN-Tweak At first, Andy has his amps on his surplus TAOC stands (foreground). Since I have never heard amplifier stands do any positive thing, I asked for their removal. Bingo! More coherence and better bass (here is yet another example: "...like a good audiophile, SG had almost all his stuff on heavy (wood)
racks and gears were placed on various tuning devices (which I usually
avoid). The Goldmund Telos were placed on Nordost Pulsar Points over a Solid-Steel amp rack...JC, a previous user of Goldmund, suggested removing the Nordost devices. It took a while, but the result was mind-boggling. Music became much more lively.
Then we proceeded to remove the amp rack. With the amps on the floor
now, there was further improvement, but not quite of the same magnitude
as removing the Nordost devices. So much for isolation devices (at least
for power amps)..."). Andy's preamp is also temporarily sitting on two TAOC's, but in this case, as I had reservations about putting it on the floor (preamps are much more susceptible to vibrations than amps), we slotted two slabs of solid wood between the preamp and the stands, and sound again improved.
- Things at CJ are definitely not like before (not that I have been that much of a fan). The light weight of the LP275 is a joke - indicating transformers are smaller than before (similarly, Audio Research trannies now are smaller). Those were the days, when their classic amps like the Premier One had really heavy transformers. The 8x 6550 per side did not feel very powerful. Likewise, I also think the GAT is ridiculously over-priced for what it is.
- Wilson Audio is finally getting better. I have lost count of how many times I have listened to generations of Watt/Puppy, but I know I have never heard them to total satisfaction! I have also listened to a large number of their larger offerings, like Alexandria, Maxx etc, and they never fully impressed either. That started to change when I heard the Sophia at the HK hifi show. Now, Andy's Alexia is not perfect, but it has potential. Think of all those hifi writers (like TAS) who praises each iteration - hey, should the customer fork out so much money for Wilson to move slowly on his learning curve? Basically, most Wilson's were incoherent, and the hifi press indulged him instead of warning reader.
- EAR's Tim de Paravicini is my hero. Great designs, compact size, powerful and controlled sound, all at much more reasonable cost than most manufacturers.