10 October, 2017

Klipsch Heresy, Nagra PL-P

My Ad Hoc Horn System, Iteration I. My regular rig to the rear.

Review: Klipsch Heresy I, Part II Wow!
Review: Nagra PL-P, Part III
Review: Pioneer Subwoofer SW-8, Part II
Review: Elekit 8300, Part II
Letter from NYC (68) 2017 (7)

Klipsch Heresy, Part I
Nagra PL-P, Part I and Part II
Pioneer SW-8, Part I
Elekit 8300 Part I

In NYC, normally I use the master bedroom as my audio den and only have a modest Linn system (Karik/Majik/Kan I) in the living room. However, all of a sudden now I have the apartment to myself for a few days. I like to sit in the living room, and for the last few days sometimes listened to my Linn system, even brought in my humble Audio Technica turntable for vinyl (the old Majik has a very good phonostage). The Linn system sounded very nice but then yesterday I thought, why not an ad hoc horn system? This is a big room after all!

Equipment For this my Klipsch Heresy I's came out of storage (last heard in 2010). I brought the diminutive, but full-function Nagra PL-P out of hibernation (since 2011), and also pressed the Elekit 8300 300B amp into service. Equipment:

CD Player: Linn Karik
Analog: Audio-Technica AT-PL120/Shelter 201
Preamp: Nagra PL-P
Amp: Elekit 8300 300B amp
Loudspeakers: Klipsch Heresy I
Subwoofer: Pioneer SW-8 MkI

As I am to compare the sound in the LR to my main rig, a few words on the gear differences. The main rig has loudspeakers with 15" woofers and so shall always have lower reach and even better bass quality. They are also more efficient (104 db vs 96 db) and driven by a higher powered amp. But, the room is smaller, and that is a distinct disadvantage for horns. Would I love to hear how they sound in the living room!

Heresy I For basic info and details of my previous experience, please read Part I. In looking for the sensitivity of Heresy I (~96 db, significantly less than my regular YL horns), I came across this useful  official literature. The Heresy was designed to be used close to the floor on a small wedge-shaped pedestal so it is tilted towards the listener. From experience I knew it would be light in the bass if placed high and without room reinforcement, so a subwoofer was in order. The II and then the III changed drivers and increased the sensitivities and power handling a little. I can't find the specs for the I, but the current III is spec'ed at 58 Hz, so either floor/wall reinforcement or use of subwoofer is mandatory in my opinion. When Klipsch introduced the III, there were quite a few reviews but in all of them the III were placed on the floor. Only one attempted to raise it a little, and none added a subwoofer.

Pioneer SW-8 MkI Subwoofer
When I wrote Part I, there were no reviews per se on this Andrew Jones design. I tested it only briefly  and was favorably impressed. Since then, it has gone on to MkII iteration, which did receive an interesting review, the author claiming it to rival $1k subwoofers (I believe it). I remember buying it at substantial discount, something like $50 or $75. At that price I should have bought one more (as paired subwoofers are said to improve soundstaging)! At first, as the Nagra has a pair of preamp out's, I used the preamp-in connection, but later I switched to the high level inputs (via amp outputs) as it keeps the preamp signal purer for the amplifier. It is only 1 cubic foot in size, so understandably reaches down only to 38 Hz (if that).

Sonic Impressions

  • WOW! Klipsch Heresy I! Yes, after properly dialing in the subwoofer (which took a while; see below), it was that good! Placed high, I got life-like images that have excellent presence and definition. Duke Ellington's Blues in Orbit was just riveting from start to finish. As the Heresy's were not placed so far apart, soundstage was airy, but deeper than wide, with superb hall sound. The midrange had that alnico purity. This now was an unusual 4-way, with 12" woofers, but an 8" subwoofer. Given the 12" woofer, there was good heft to the sound but adding the sub definitely rolled out the low bass and provided a solid foundation for the full orchestra, mandatory in my opinion for true enjoyment of large orchestral works. The LPs I wrote about in my last article all sounded wonderful: the Klemperer Bruckner 4th probing and grand; the Barbirolli Finlandia fiercely exciting. After playing these familiar LPs for system setup I went on to enjoy many more. I listened to all Rachmaninov Symphony No.1 and No. 2 (LSO/Previn, EMI). Such glorious music that unfortunately don't often get programmed. Bruckner Symphony No. 8 (RCO/Haitink, his second, Philips), grand and what an adagio! etc, you get the idea how immersed I was. Sensitivity While the 300B amp was excellent for the job and never clipped, and while orchestral recordings were beautiful, when I played Led Zeppelin II I had the inkling that even more power would be beneficial. I'd prefer my Wavac 811 amp, but was not about to roll it out. vs My Main Rig Again, a larger room contributes to the feeling of scale and ease, which made the experience in some ways even greater than through my main rig. However, in terms of bass, even the augmented 12" here (the sub only goes down to 38 Hz) cannot quite achieve the awesome deep bass power of the 15" in my main rig.
  • Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer This is a remarkable achievement. For such a low price, it has all the features necessary. Most importantly, it is very musical, with tight, tuneful bass. Adding a sub is basically a trial and error process, and the use of familiar recordings helps. As is my wont, and as the Heresy I doesn't go very low, I crossed over high, at roughly 2 o'clock on the dial (40Hz-150Hz), estimated to be around 110-120 Hz. As for volume, I initially dialled in too little (9 o'clock), but then I played the Led Zeppelin II and came to realize immediately that I needed more - a lot more, ending up at 1 o'clock. This is only an 8" sub after all. During loud and complex passages, sometimes it got just a little unruly, but I never heard the dreaded overhang, not to say mushing out. Pioneer now has a larger SW-10, and would I love to hear it!
  • Nagra PL-P My hifi agenda has a way of rolling itself out, like this current spur of the moment effort. I am so glad to re-discover and re-confirm all the considerable virtues of the Nagra PL-P (see supplied links top of page). It is really amazing that Nagra can pack a truly full-featured preamp in such a small enclosure (even much bigger ones usually don't have a mute button, not to mention a mono button). One ingenious feature is that the dual input level can also be operated in tandem. That is how I usually use it, but in this particular setup I needed a little more on the left side to center the image, so they acted as a balance control. Even more useful were the meters. On one record, I thought the amp was clipping all the time. I went to check and discovered the meters were in the red. I turned down and turned down the input level and the overload went away.

Iteration II, The Miracle Continues!

Last night was my last alone, so I had to restore the living room to what it was. More or less. I liked what I have been hearing for the past two days so much that I decided to leave the system in the living room by rearranging the front wall countertop. I moved out the phonograph and CRT TV, which are not needed. and slotted the Heresy's in, slightly toed in. Out came my Linn system and in went the tubed electronics. Viola!

But, how's the sound, now that the Heresy's are close to the front wall instead of in-room, and much wider apart?

Magnificent! Overall, the sound is a bit smoother, fuller and warmer, and it almost makes the Elekit 300B amp sound sweet. Soundstage is of course wider, but surely not as deep. Images have retained their fleshiness and presence. Most miraculously, the orchestra is fully panned out and there is no center void. Try that wide a distance with lesser loudspeakers! I played the Bruckner and Elgar again. Utter magnificence!

In both iterations, the Heresy sounded stunningly beautiful with classical music. This is in dire contrast to what Art Dudley proclaimed in Stereophile (for Heresy III). Well, none of them have done what I have done, by raising the loudspeakers considerably and mating them with a subwoofer - that is what made ALL the difference in the world, turning a good loudspeaker into a GREAT one.

Although I will not often listen to these (it is the LR after all, and the master bedroom is already mine), I know I shall grab every chance available to listen to this system - it is that good.

On my Equipment list (right sidebar) this will now appear as Reference System IV.

03 October, 2017

Great Performances on Vinyl


Editor's Note: Great Performances on Vinyl
Classical Music Recommendations
Letter from NYC (67): 2017 (6)

What are Favorite Recordings For?
Every audiophile has his favorite recordings. Some of these are for enjoyment, while others are used as "tools" to tweak his own system (and that of friends), even to booster his own ego ("in my system I can hear that subway rumble beneath Carnegie Hall/count three guitars in the backup band") or, worse, to put down another system ("yours can't"). We are good guys, but sometimes we, as audiophiles, do smile the occasional evil smile (to borrow from Sam Tellig)! I admit I do, usually when I take a few CD's to a very expensive system. And others do that to me!

OK, here we are not talking about the evil smile; rather, first I'd like to share with you some musical moments in my listening, great performances that make me realize how well the orchestra had carried out the intent of the conductor. This is only possible when the conductor was in great form, when the orchestra was thoroughly committed, and when it was captured well by the recording engineer, and when the system gets it right. So while these recordings have superb sound, the focus here is not on the recording quality per se, rather on why I found certain moments particularly illuminating. This would also give you some insight into how I listen.

The Perfect Crescendo, Noble Brass Utterance, Unshakable Bass Foundation and the Long Line

The Crescendo is one of the most basic aspects of music, yet often we don't really pay attention to how well or badly it is executed. In concert, I do get aroused by a particularly well executed one, but many lesser performances don't deliver this too well. On recordings, it per se had not been one of the things that perked up my ears, until I played the Live Mahler 5th (LPO/Tennstedt, EMI) CD on my 2 chassis Sony 16 bit TDA-1541 flagship CDP-R1/DAS/R1 (this was documented here). As described, I was dumbfounded by the beauty of that first PERFECT full orchestral crescendo after the opening trumpet fanfare. What truly fascinated me was that many other CDP's failed to reveal this. While the durations are exactly the same, I assure you there is an immense divide between the natural, grand Sony crescendo and most others, which gave the feeling of peaking prematurely (rather unmanly, don't you think?). The single CD may not be easy to get; however, you can get it in EMI's super-bargain Tennstedt Mahler box set, which contains all of his studio and live recordings (see this detailed review).

The well executed crescendo is a thrilling experience - as it is a short journey, it is not often that we get to smell the roses along the way, but when things do come together, when the calibration is precise, it is more than thrilling, it is spine-tingling. This is another reason why I prefer tube. For some reason, most ss gears just tighten up more and more as the orchestra swells.

Utter, not Shout Two days ago when we visited R we played another LP that I bought in the UK, the HMV Concert Classics Bruckner 4th (Philharmonia/Klemperer, EMI). It sounded so good that I had been playing this non-stop in my own system after I got home. As is usual for Klemperer's  EMI recordings, the sound is exemplary (but typical EMI/Angel sound, not quite as full in the bass as Decca/London). This is an unsentimental but ultimately monumental reading, conducted with a clear view of the long line. I gave a copy to Andy, and he loves it, citing in particular the feeling of one single climax for the symphony (early in the last movement). Though he has other idiosyncrasies, one of Klemperer's traits is to never editorialize, and so the playing here is very clean, though not at all sterile. The brass utterances are warm, purposeful and always patiently built up to great effect.

As for crescendos (and decrescendos), those in Bruckner are of a quite different kind from Mahler. There are so many of them and, coupled to the lack of tone painting and frequent woodwind and string stirrings, one doesn't quite listen in the same way. But when I did pay attention, the quality of the execution in dynamics was apparent.

Just as in Mahler, where some would not listen to anything other than Bernstein no matter how much he pulls the score one way or another, not everyone will warm to Klemperer's cooler ways. But if you do, the LP is not hard to get. In CD form, this reading is available in an excellent sounding bargain box set (which I have in HK). For an unusually insightful review of the set, go to musicweb-international.

Bass Foundation Just a few days ago, I played an LP I bought in the UK. Sibelius Finlandia (Halle/Barbirolli, EMI) has been a favorite LP of mine (the other pieces, especially a bewitching Pohjola's Daughter, are arguably even greater in performances) for decades and my US budget Seraphim copy is pretty worn out.

This time, on my reference horn system, I was stunned by several things I hadn't quite felt before. I doubt this is just because the UK LP is superior, it is rather because my listening ability and playback equipment have improved greatly over the years.

The Finlandia is a sweeping performance. The precisely calibrated playing. The crescendos are shorter than that one in the Mahler, but I experienced the same satisfaction. The purposeful winds and brass utterances, just as in Klemperer. And, even more than Klemperer, a superb bass foundation. As the music moves inexorably along, the sweeping bass foundation, though sometimes just felt rather than heard, is always there and comforting, like the presence of a Guardian Angel. This is as it should be. Interesting, my different preamps render this differently, and my Shindo Monbrisson excels. I'd write about this in detail in my next article.

The LP is not hard to get. At this moment in CD form it seems to be only available in the set pictured (here is a review by gramophone ).

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And now I am going to mention two recordings that are a bit different. They did not shed as much insight on the audio interface for me as the above mentioned ones, but they are great in their own rights.

Simply Fizz During our visit to R, Andy brought along Simon's Chabrier Espana (OSR/Ansermet, London LP). It is a romp from start to finish, impeccably conducted and stylishly played, as is usual for this team in French repertoire. If you like (as I do) Offenbach's La Gaite Parisienne (my fav is Boston Pops/Fiedler, RCA), or the Bizet-Shchedrin Carmen Suite (my fav is an unsung dark horse, NSO Ukraine/Kuchar, Naxos), you will like this one even more.

Borderline Recording? Some time ago in a dollar bin I found the Dvorak "American" Quartet (Budapest Quartet, Columbia). The Quartet was paradoxically all-Russian by this time, and this was their almost never issued last recording. First violinist Roisman's tone is pretty lean, and when combined with Columbia's usual sound (on the aggressive side) will reveal the least of the system's bright aspects. Otherwise, the performance just kept growing on me - it is magnificently of one piece. Even the recording quality grows on me - it has great separation of the instruments and the individual timbers of the rest of the quartet are magnificently caught (particularly the viola). In a way, it is somewhat of a living dangerously, on the edge kind of thing, but highly satisfying. I found another copy and gave it to Andy, who also loves it. We took it to R's and the playback made us smile (no evil!). There is no CD, but you can easily buy this LP for very little money, though I just saw someone unconscionably asking for $255 on Amazon! The crazy world of discontinued recordings!

02 October, 2017

Wilson Audio Grand Slamm

Starvation driven audiophiles reattaching the side panels after re-alignment.

Home Visit: Wilson, the Road to Grand Slam(m)
Letter from NYC (66): 2017 (5)

Addendum October10, 2017: This pair of X-1 probably started out as Series I, but was upgraded to Series V by seller.

On this beautiful day of Summer's End, the Audio Handymen Trio (comprising Andy, Simon and James), Mark and I visited R on Long Island. You have met him before (here)

Being a psychologist, R knows his human behavior. So he planned a late lunch so the Trio could have time to work on his Wilson Grand Slamm X-1 (Series V). And so the trio were dogged and diligent in their (actually R's) pursuits. I was a starved observer.

Tale of Two Rooms R lives with his partner in a large house, and has a dedicated entertainment room, which is of reasonable size, but not for the Grand Slamm he used to have in there. There, the sound had plenty of slam, but lacked musicality (the missing "m" in the Slamm) and certainly nowhere near grand (which is a common occurrence in my considerable experience listening to big Wilson's, prevalent in HK, where rooms are usually too small).

I am not sure entirely what happened, but R finally moved them out into the HUGE living room, where they were placed in the penthouse-like portion, quite close to the front and side windows. As soon as I walked in I agreed with the report from Andy that it was a transformation.

Equipment Only some of the stuff in the dedicated room followed the Wilson out. The Linn LP-12, the least used of R's turntables (for the rest of his collection read a previous article) but the smallest, was conscripted, together with its DIY tubed phonoamp. Preamp was the Jadis JPL2 and amps were a pair of monstrously large Tube Research Labs monoblocks, now fitted with KT120's. Digital was provided by the Altis Centauri Transport and Reference DAC. But the real star was the room itself, even why the system sounded so good (for another event very similar to what we experienced this day, see my report on the transformation of my ex-pair of La Scala).

Alignment of Tweeters and Midrange Drivers Things started a little vague, which was why the Trio went to work. The side panels were taken down and the tweeters and midrange units (tweeter is sandwiched by the two midrange drivers) aligned (by sliding back and forth) according to the manual. As soon as sound was restored, everyone was beaming. Imaging improved a great deal.

Lunch Finally, and it was worth the wait, as usual. R is a great cook and on this occasion we were served beautifully turned roast pork garnished with home made (slightly) pickled cabbage, washed down with much red wine (R has a dedicated cellar) and topped off with Tiramisu, which tasted even better with a splash of Haitian rum. Unlike audio, the lunch could hardly be faulted.

Wired! After lunch, the trio went to work on R's broken pump (for his turntables), and Mark and R were seriously engaged in a conversation on neurotransmitters. I was basically abandoned. Neither the meal nor the wine seemed to have increased my tryptophan level, so I took the DIY professional cables I was going to give to Andy and swapped some into the system. Gotham GAC-2 replaced an old Cardas from the phonoamp to the preamp to great effect - more neutral, air and extension; better rhythm and dynamics. Sommer Tricone and Gotham GAC-1 Ultra Pro replaced Blue Jeans Cable from the DAC to the preamp. Again, the effect was much like what I wrote above.

Toe-In This was tried, with audible but not great changes.

Re-positioning It was deemed that the center fill was not solid enough, so the speakers were pulled towards the center a little. Indeed the images became fleshier, but I was suprised by something I heard - a very obvious loss in rhythmic vitality. Since rhythm and pace is very important to me (and since I think the system has just a trace of sluggishness about it) I did not prefer the change, but I was out-voted.

Rising Serotonin Levels Yes, indeed the more we were at it, the better the sound got. Bruckner's 4th (Philharmonia/Klemperer; HMV Concert Classics) was simply breathtaking - from a whisper to a crushing crescendo the ample power at hand made it quite smooth. Most important of all, the monumental side of this reading was not lost. Chabrier's Espana (OSR/Ansermet, London) was a veritable hifi showcase, at least before the re-positioning. Particularly impressive were the percussive and brass attacks. Even my torture LP of Dvorak's "American" Quartet (Budapest String Quartet, Columbia) passed with flying colors. So often, audio and audio visits create dissatisfaction and negative emotions. Not so this time, by the time we left, our serotonin levels were at our highest. It was a true happiness - we felt happy to have heard something excellent and to have contributed to it, and we felt happy for the host. Having heard so many bad Wilson systems in HK (too many to mention), I am not at all a fan of Wilson, but I am happy to hear that it can for once sound so good. Of course, the room is the star!


21 September, 2017

BBC LS5/1A, Line Magnetic LM-126, EAR 519, Koda K-10, Studer A807, Tape Project, Analogue Productions

Click pics to enlarge. Top: Chez Jules I; R: Chez Jules II. Note the Studer A807 above the Koda K-10. On the small stand in front is the Thorens TD-125, beneath which is the Line Magnetic LM-123 buffer. In front, on the floor, is the challenger DIY preamp.

Review: BBC LS5/1A, Sheer Brilliance
Kondo disciple Preamp vs DIY Kondo clone
Review: Robert Koda Takumi K-10 Preamplifier
Review: Studer A807 Reel-to-Reel
Review: Line Magnetic LM-126 Integrated Amplifier
Talk R2R: Re-issue Tapes from Tape Project and Analogue Productions


Revised Sept 30, 2017 (Forsell taken into account)

Note: This article took forever to write! Some time ago I nearly finished but someone accidentally erased much of it. After the deflating process of re-writing, I found out Jules had made some momentous acquisitions and we just had to pay him another visit. As a result, this article has snowballed into gargantuan proportion. While there is a real line up of stars here, make no mistake that the LS5/1A remains the central attraction.


Introduction
The BBC monitors that we regularly encounter are the ubiquitous LS3/5A and the larger LS5/9. This is because these are relatively small, as large boxes with large footprints are out of fashion anywhere where real estate prices are high. Recently, Graham Audio has also "re-issued/replicated" a much larger LS5/8, bigger brother of the more home friendly LS5/9 (reviewed in this blog here) and descendant of the even larger LS5/1A. Aside from these, earlier BBC monitors are seldom seen or heard, although their influence can still be felt in various Spendor (e.g. SP1/2, SP100) and Harbeth loudspeakers (e.g. HL5, M40).

So I was ecstatic when my friend jules called me to audition with him a pair of LS5/1A. I first heard it at the shop, then at his place. What a find! But first some basic info...

From KEF website: "...Soon after the formation of KEF, Raymond Cooke re-established his previous relationship with the BBC and KEF took on the exclusive manufacture of the LS5/1A monitor system, a system to which KEF’s meticulous approach to production engineering was well suited. The monitor utilised a Goodmans C129/15pr 15” woofer and two Celestion HF1300 tweeters and was designed for studio broadcast monitoring. The system stayed in production for more than ten years and was a useful benchmark for KEF’s own designs.

KEF also supplied the LS5/5 (including manufacturing the bextrene coned 12” bass and 8” midrange units) the LS3, LS5/2A, LS3/4 and LS5/6. In 1973, the KEF designed Reference Series Model 5/1AC, an active version of the LS5/1A, went into production and found application in many of the new independent radio stations of the time..."

pic from internet.


From Elsewhere, likely original BBC info (typo's unedited; LS5/1AC is the active version of the LS5/1A):

"LS5/1, and LS5/1A
The studio versions of the LS3/1 and A, designed to replace the LSU/10. The cabinets were larger than the LS3/1 and the tweeters were mounted above the woofer, rather than in front of it.
The following units were used: Plessey (LS5/1) or Goodmans C129/15pr (LS5/1A), 15-inch paper cone woofer 2 x Rola-Celestion HF1300 tweeters.

KEF /BBC DESCRIPTION FOR LS 5/1AC: 
BBC MONITOR SPEAKERS 

DESCRIPTION 
The speaker system employs three units, which together cover the audio range available from present day records and broadcast programmes. The enclosure is constructed from high-grade veneered chipboard of a quality, which has been found by experiment to possess the smallest degree of self resonance of all suitable construction materials. The structure is reinforced by internal partitions which restrict the vibration of the back and sides and also by a metal strut between the front and the back panels. Mudocel damping is applied to the top panel. 
The internal volume of the enclosure is 4.7 cubic feet and a small vent resonating with the volume of about 50c/s is used to give a slight boost to the low frequency output. Standing wave effects are damped by internal pads of absorbent material. 

LF UNITS 
The lowest frequency unit is a 15 inch paper cone type with a 3 inch diameter voice coil and PVC roll surround. Its axial frequency response extends smoothly up to about 2 Kc/s and it is relatively free of colouration effects. The sound output for this unit radiates through a vertical slot 7 and a half inches wide to ensure good horizontal dispersion up to the crossover point with the high frequency unit s at 1750 c/s.


HF UNITS 
Two identical HF units are fitted each having a phenolic impregnated diaphragm. The frequency response extends smoothly up until 13kc/s above, which it dies away in a regular manner. Tests have shown that the output to be free from prominent low damped resonances. The two HF units are mounted in a vertical line above the LF unit in such a way that the separation between high and low frequency sound sources is not noticeable to listeners located over four feet away. Both units are operated in parallel at middle frequencies to increase power-handling capacity in the region close to the crossover point.


Above 3Kc/s the input to the upper HF unit is reduced to induce dispersion in the vertical plane and the phase is retarded as to direct the combined radiation pattern upwards 

CROSSOVER NETWORK 
A thirteen element printed circuit crossover network incorporates facilities for equalising minor irregularities in the LF unit as well as providing for adjustment for relative levels of LF and HF units in 1 DB steps. An additional network corrects the diffraction effect at low frequencies due to the finite size of the cabinet, as well as the low frequency loss due to the motional impedance. 

ALTERNATIVE CABINETS 
There are two versions, one a floor standing cabinet for studio and control room work and a suspended model for use in television control rooms.


The floor standing speaker model LS5/ 1A is intended to be operated on a 15 inch plinth above the floor which positions the HF unit at optimum listening height. 
The plinth is designed to accommodate the equalised power amplifier conveniently beneath the speaker enclosure. 

The suspended model is equipped with metal suspension gear, which enables the entire speaker to be tilted downwards at the required angle The LS5/2A requires additional equalisation at low frequencies to compensate for the loss of floor reflections. A suitable equaliser is available which can be incorporated with the power amplifier if required. 

Both cabinets are available in a choice of oiled teak veneer or hammer grey lacquer. 

SPECIFICATION 

SIZE: LS5/1AC 33 X 19x 17 inches 
Weight: 82 Lbs 
Nominal Impedance 25 Ohms 
Maximum input: 35 watts R.M.S 
Frequency response : 40 –13 K/cs +_ 5db 
Directivity index: Better than 54 db up to 3 Kc/s reaching 7db at 10 Kc/s 
Calibration Accuracy: The axial frequency response checked against a BBC approved standard sample is adjusted so that the curve of the loudspeaker under test does not differ from that of the reference loudspeaker by more than the following amounts: 
50 c/s - 200 c/s +_ 1.5 db 
200 c/s – 400 c/s 0db 
400 c/s – 13000 c/s +_ 1.5 db 
13000 c/s- 15000 c/s +_ 2 db - infinity 
The reproduction of the Loudspeaker under test is also compared with that from the reference speaker using high quality programme sources and white noise. 

LF Unit: 15 inch Heavy paper cone with plasticised P.V.C. Roll surround. 
Fundamental resonance: 25 c/s 
Flux density: 9000 oersted on a 3 inch dia centre pole 
Total Flux : 16000 maxwells 

HF Unit: 1.5 inch diameter direct radiator with Phenotic impregnated - fabric diaphram 
Flux density : 10,000 oersted 
Total Flux : 25,500 maxwells 

Crossover Network 13 Element printed circuit network employing Radiometal - - cored inductors and closed terminal metallised foil capacitors. - Completely enclosed and shielded in a steel case.

Other Useful Links:


Wireless World Article on developing replacement for LS5/1A
BBC Paper on Design of LS5/1's successor's LS5/5 and LS5/6
Japanese Site with Great pics of the Active LS5/1AC

Sonic Impressions
  • At the Shop The shop sells clone-Dartzeel's and has only a solid state preamp. Even with their solid state amp or a cheap Chinese amp, the LS5/1A sounded good enough. But with my pair of Western Electric 124 that jules had been auditioning and which we brought with us, it became a revelation. Needless to say, since this is a BBC design, the midband was immaculate, rendering vocals perfectly. The treble was just a bit grainy with the ss amp, but this was largely ameliorated by the WE amp. Most impressively, there was great presence, creating the illusion of a live event; indeed, the palpability bore an uncanny resemblance to the Graham LS5/8 (here). My one reservation then centered on the quality of the bass, quite slow, one-note and somewhat truncated. I was weary of possible driver deterioration and urged caution, but jules bit the bullet anyway. As we find out later, that was due to the partnering electronics. Read on...
  • Chez Jules I - pre Koda Jules' place is very familiar to me (last reported: the Dahlquist DQ20 here). Equipment Orpheus Zero SE cd transport; Totaldac d1 twelve dac; Van Alstine Pat 5 Preamp (solid state, fully modded dynaco); Line Magnetic LM 126 power amp or EAR 519 power amp. Sound With this setup I heard the LS5/1A twice, once as pictured, the other time with the loudspeakers more or less in the same positions but turned around firing towards the couch (as I heard the Dahlquist DQ20). The sound had improved since last reported (no wonder as the tube amps replaced the ss amps). Now, the LS5/1A really shone! Needless to say, there was just more of everything good. The bit of grain in the treble heard at the shop was gone - one only heard the surprising energy of the dual Celestion tweeters, which worked seamlessly with the 15" Goodmans woofers in the midband. The bass anomaly heard at the shop basically vanished - perhaps it was still a trifle slower than ideal and not the lowest reaching, but it was tuneful and tactile. Old loudspeakers sometimes need to be re-run-in (again, why all the difference from the shop? Read on...) vs Dahlquist DQ20 I wished Jules still had the DQ20's for me to compare. Alas, the small space had necessitated their removal. If my recollection serves me, both had a lively presentation, and excellent midrange presence. To my mind, the Dahlquist DQ20 (at least the treble) suffered a little from being partnered by ss electronics. Let me just say, the Dahlquist DQ20 costs a lot less than the LS5/1A and I miss it.
  • Line Magnetic LM 126 Among the Chinese manufacturers I have always regarded Line Magnetic (official site) to be among the best. I have heard their amplifiers, particularly the SET behemoth LM-219IA, perform well at the HK AV Show. I have also heard at friends their WE Horn Replicas and Field Coil Amps and they look decent (hard to individually assess the sound in a horn system, but I know there is a European fan base). They make a bewilderingly huge range of products and in the West it seems only certain products (higher-priced; manageable size) are offered. The LM 126 at hand seems to have limited distribution. One can understand why - it is a another imposing behemoth, not expensive and hard to ship! Design wise, it is a potpourri - said to be based on WE circuit, with inclusion of a clone WE 618C input transformer (definitely not a necessity), but upping the power by using KT66 instead of 6L6. I understand this is a move to accommodate modern "real-world" loudspeakers but, if you ask me, there is no way one can duplicate 6L6 based WE amps with higher power - just not the same things (even for WE, the more powerful 142 is not as good as the 124), not to mention the sheer impossibility of cloning the WE transformers! The LM 126 performed well enough but, even though Jules had installed the best NOS tubes, I still had my doubts - a powerful sound, yes; but not quite an even response, especially when... vs EAR 519 There is no if's and's or but's: disregarding the substantial price differential, the EAR 519 completely outclassed the LM 126. Even with generic tubes, the EAR is much more even across the frequency spectrum and controlled the bass with an iron grip. That said, the LM 126 is quite good for the money and probably more than satisfactory for those who do not need full-range amplification. However, if you are patient and discerning, I'd wait for a good second-hand pair of the 509/519 and you will be settled for life (see also my most recent appraisal of the equivalent EAR 509 MkII) - until you get to know WE, that is...:-)...vs WE Jules did not hook up the WE this time (I never asked for it), but my take by memory is that some of the magic we heard at the shop with the WE is still missing.

  • Chez Jules II, post Koda Just as this article was about to be finished, a few days ago, I called Jules and was flabbergasted that he had acquired the Robert Koda Takumi K-10 Preamp and a Studer R2R. Of course this article would have to be extended to incorporate these important new acquisition. So, after yumcha, Trazom, KC, Pluto and I all went to visit. We tested a lot in a few hours, so read on...
  • Robert Koda Takumi K-10 (and Forsell Air Reference II Transport) There were two significant changes in the system from Jules I (listed above): the Forsell Air Reference CD Transport substituted for the previous Orpheus; and of course the Robert Koda K-10 Preamp. As a Kondo man, I was of course very interested in this very expensive solid state preamp from a Kondo cohort/disciple (a man who has gone on records saying he has never preferred a solid state preamp), which has won some accolades (see official link, which has review links; avoid the garbage HK magazine). Sound I have to say that what I heard might have been a combined effect of the Forsell and the Koda. The sound actually quite fascinated me. It sounded a tad slower than before, was more upfront, but quite warm, utterly devoid of the nastiness of lesser solid state components. Images were taller and larger than usual, with a fleshiness that I liked. Perhaps because of the warmth, I felt it to be a little less airy than the usual tube preamp in soundstage (not something of utmost importance to me) and depth, The reviews mentioned ultra low noise and distortion, which I agree with, but as usual with designs that place utmost importance in these parameters, a little liveliness may have been sacrificed (I dealt with this important topic in my lengthy review of iFi's iPhono). Although some of this (like reduction in speed, warmth and larger image) might also be properties of the Forsell, much as I appreciated the K-10, I was thinking I'd prefer a tube preamp (like my EAR 912, now relegated to the rear; but more to come, read on...).
  • Surprise! David vs Goliath? As it happened, our yumcha friend davewong had been building a Kondo-clone preamp based on the very simply laid out boards by thomasfw. Since it is said to be a Kondo-clone, I expressed an interest to hear it (a very rare occurrence). Suffice to say, davewong geared up and had the prototype ready that day (click on right pic to enlarge), so we took it along to Jules. The DIY preamp employed 6X4 rectification and MOSFET regulation. For the line section, the two triodes of the 12AX7 were coupled and output was cathode follower. No exotic components were used - Dale resistors and Wima red caps for the line section; Philips caps for the power section. Sound The Kondo clone actually sounded quite decent. It seemed to be modern sounding, with a surprisingly fast leading edge (methinks faster than the Koda). Immediately, there were more air and a deeper soundstage, and the front corners were better illuminated. With the jazz CD, virtues were more split: the percussion had better rhythmic expression and exactitude with the Kondo clone; the saxophone and guitar sounded much fuller with the Koda - a surprise as usually one would expect the reverse. A Little Tube Rolling As there were Europhiles present, Valvo long plate's were swapped in for the RCA (D getter, grey plates). Immediately, the saxophone and guitar sounded much fleshier and much closer to the Koda, but at a cost - the percussion lost almost all of the snap (a price I personally would not pay). The Votes Though still a flawed prototype, some of us preferred the DIY tube preamp, but pluto, a DIY man, admired the Koda. As you see, it was not quite a David vs Goliath scenario. Suffice to say, both the DIY kit and the solid state Koda met with our approval, and (except for pluto and maybe jules) this is a rather hard-core tube crowd! After this, we reconnected the Koda and listened to analogue playback.
  • Detour: Kondo Clone vs Kondo/Audio Note Japan M7 After I got home, I actually briefly compared it to my own Audio Note Japan M7 (the one in the pic). Both are quite neutral sounding so it is hard to say whether they sound alike, but the challenger was obviously a little on the lean side and rhythmically a little too insistent, without the M7's subtle and articulate nature. Still, a respectable showing!
  • Analog Rig I This consists of the Thorens TD-125 with the Linn Ittok arm fitted with an EMT TD-15 cartridge, fed into EAR MC4 and a ss phonoamp (can't remember brand, but it was of some vintage). We listened only to a few cuts. Sound during the visit was a little on the sharp side. I was told after we left a swap to Gotham DGS-1 ameliorated the problem.
  • Analog Rig II The big surprise! After my dear friend Robin left for Taiwan, I thought I'd never hear another R2R, but here it is in the form of the Studer A807 (info on this classic here)! And we heard two new tapes, one from Tape Project (Bill Evans Waltz for Derby, link) and one from Analogue Productions (Rickie Lee Jones It's Like This, link). These are both USD 450 a pop. Is it expensive, yes; is it worth it, even I have to say yes! Yes, the R2R playback absolutely trumped the vinyl, according to jules. We didn't really compare but the playback of the two tapes via the Studer was simply breathtaking. Of course I had long known this to be true. This time I shall not waste words, but instead re-direct you to my previous impressions of R2R (under the Label: Talk R2R) - everything said about Robin's R2R applies to jules. That is how good it is! The A807 is a professional two-track only machine, and cannot play four-track tapes. I predict there will be a second R2R deck chez jules soon.
Conclusions
  • LS5/1A The LS5/1A is simply magnificent, the best BBC (or BBC-derived) loudspeaker that I have ever heard. How is that for direct utterance? And I know my BBC and BBC derived loudspeakers! Epitome of 2-Way I have always preferred 3-way's to 2-way's, but the LS5/1A is an exception that challenged my views. It is the best large 2-way I have ever heard. Indeed, I don't think the best BBC-derived 3-way's, like the Spendor SP-100 or the earlier BC-3 can match it. That is TALL accolade. Also, once again, a 15" paper cone woofer proves hard to beat; and it is very rare to have a two way that employs a 15" woofer! This is basically one of a kind.
  • Robert Koda Takumi K-10 Since we heard also the Kondo clone vs Koda, I am confident I can separate the effect of the Forsell and come to the right conclusions. This is likely the best solid-state preamp I have heard (It sounds better to me than the Cello Suite [a bit too electronic], Mark Levinson ML-6 [not enough resolution], to name two, and jules had owned these before too I think). I think the K-10 would be a godsend with solid state or even hybrid amplifiers, like Koda's own K-70. But while I admire its rock solid steadiness and imperturbable nature, I am too hardcore a tube man and in general prefer a more lit up, livelier presentation, but then, as we witnessed, others may not think so. In the end, no question, it plays everything well! I'd like to listen to it more next time to get more impressions. So, there may yet be a Part II!
  • Forsell Air Reference II CD Transport This is a classic that I have heard before on multiple occasions. In spite of, or because of its "deficiencies" indeed it makes CD's sound more musical, more analogue if you will. Since I know jules' system quite well, I have to say I like this transport a lot better than the expensive Orpheus (which makes things sound like digits). It is still amazing to me that transports make such a difference (some of my other favorites are the Audiomeca Kreatura, Roksan DP1 and Theta Data)!
  • Reel-to-Reel Although I don't plan to own one, I am very happy the R2R Renaissance shows no sign of waning; rather, it is going from strength to strength. Price of new tapes are expensive, but not really overpriced, if you ask me. You may want to read this interesting interview of Tape Project's Dan (also known as Bottlehead's Doc B, whose cheap products I admire and have had some experience with) to gain some perspective. How does Vinyl Compare? Well, even the most expensive vinyl rigs I have heard have to yield to R2R, in every parameter. The tape advantage is decisive. And Digital? This year is the 35th year of digital, yet sonically it is still inferior to a good vinyl setup, not to mention R2R. Think, 35 years of continual "advances" and it is still a distant third. Don't you think all those data people and critics are laughable?
  • DIY Advice The success of the DIY challenger reminds me once again that simple is best. Using simple, cheap and reliable components (like the Dale resistors) more often than not bring better results than stuffing it with expensive boutique components (like expensive caps).
Image result for manger cdPostlude: What Went Wrong at the Shop?I actually hesitated about writing up this part of the experience. I knew next to nothing about the shop and don't want to make enemies, but I am truly astonished by the sheer ineptitude of what the shop offered.

When I arrived, the resident DIY Transport/DAC combo, of which the owner was proud of (and I think he sold quite a few), was playing some jazz/percussion stuff, and it was OK and offered no premonition of things to come. A while later, I asked to play the Manger Test CD I spotted, my favorite all-in-one, if there is such a thing. The owner immediately jumped to the last track (Track 15), the percussion track everyone knows. But that was not my intention - I asked him to start with Track 1. As soon as the bells tolled, I knew something was seriously wrong. The whole thing was utterly flat, with virtually no microdynamics to speak of. Ditto every subsequent track of this CD that was played. I was flabbergasted - I have never heard this CD sound so bad. Desperate, I spotted a 47 Labs Transport and asked to switch to it. Despite having to use adaptors, the 47 Labs immediately and unequivocally demonstrated what was wrong with the resident DIY Transport - almost all the microdynamics and nuance missing came back.

And then, there was the poor bass quality, which can be attributed to the resident DIY DAC, which can hammer it out, but in a one-note, monochromatic fashion. If it were me, based on the demo I'd not have taken the chance with the loudspeaker. Fortunately, chez Jules the bass problems basically vanished.

I cannot even briefly tolerate this kind of front-end, but obviously some people do! In my years of hifi wandering, I have heard plenty of way-off stuff, but this experience belongs in the top ten. It made me feel I must write this article:

HiFi Basics VI: Know Your Source(s) and Digital Front-End Buying Guide (coming soon)

06 September, 2017

Schiit Mani Mobile Fidelity StudioPhono Shelter 201

Review: MoFi StudioPhono, Part I
Review: Schiit Mani
Review: Shelter 201 MM Cartridge, Part I
Talk Vinyl: More Budget Phonoamps and another MM Cartridge
Letter from NYC (65): 2017 (4)

Article Finished in HK.

Once in a while, would you spend up to $100 per person or so on a gourmet meal prepared by a chef that you admire? Of course, you'd not be dining alone and there could be other mitigating factors that increase cost...one thing is for sure, after tax and tips, you'd end up paying quite a bit.

I have no need for phonoamps; so, why did I buy these two in question? Simple, I bought them because for very little money I could sample the latest offerings from the reputable designers behind these products, no tax and no tip to pay either.

Equipment Used:
Analog 1: Audio-Technica AT-PL120/Shelter 201
Analog 2: Thorens TD-125/SME 3009i/Denon DL-304
Preamp: Schiit Saga
Amp: Wavac MD-811
Loudspeakers: YL 4-way Horns

Schiit Mani (official link)
The tiny Schiit Mani costs $129. I bought it with the Saga and basically saved shipping. At the price of a modest dinner for two, you get to taste the design of Mike Moffat of Theta Digital fame, and I still swear by their old Data transports (I know they are lambasted for being modified from other cheaper products, but they are cheap second-hand and for some reasons they just sound better, especially in the bass, believe it or not).

After I read the mercurial review (a masterpiece) by Herb Reichert (a writer I love) in Stereophile I expected the Mani to deliver a decent sound but was not sure on how much - after all, even after several readings there are quite a few passages where I wasn't sure exactly what he meant.

The Mani turned out to be a real winner, and more than what I expected. MM It sounded good right out of the box, and for almost 2 months it partnered my Shelter 201 MM cartridge. I found the two gain settings for MM (42 and 47 db) to be really useful for fine tuning the sound. The higher one provided just a shade more jump factor for the passive Saga. The two together made fine music not only at my place but also at Andy's (see my review of Saga here). MC I also briefly tested its MC section with my very low output DL-304 combo, and it passed with flying colors. Loading freaks beware, the Mani has only two choices: 47K, de rigeur for MM; but the only MC option is 47 ohm, lower than the usual 100 ohm norm. However, I had no problem with either setting with my Denon - they both sounded superb, and for once unusually I preferred 47K (not unheard of for Denon).

The Mani was quiet and played everything well; it had good resolution but was forgiving at the same time. This is likely due to its attractive and distinctive warmth that is unusual for a budget phonoamp or the usual solid state phonoamp. And then I understood the sound to be exactly as Herb Reichert described in his article. In a way, it is like my Parasound JC3 on a smaller scale - a lot of what I wrote about the JC3 are applicable to the Mani (see here and here), and that is accolade indeed.

Mobile Fidelity StudioPhono, Part I (official link)
Being a fan of EAR and Tim de Paravicini, I just had to get this one when I read that TdP was behind the design. I still own the flagship tubed EAR 912 and entry level tubed 834P, and have good knowledge of the solid-state 324 (see here). Now, I would not buy the 324 but was very happy to fork out $249 for the StudioPhono. Is it a facsimile? Maybe not quite, as it turned out.

For a budget phonoamp, the StudioPhono has ample gain and loading options, and even a mono button! But it came without any instructions, and I had to go online for the manual to operate the dip switches.

The StudioPhono arrived late during my NYC stay, and I only had 2 weeks to it. Although it performed very well from the start, I was a bit perplexed by a trace of hardness in the treble, not something I expect from the designs of TdP. Perhaps this unit takes longer than usual to run in.

At this point, I began to examine the source. I was using the same Shelter 201 as I had with the Mani. The Shelter is shorter in height than the previous cartridges I was using, but I hadn't bothered to adjust the VTA because it sounded quite good with the more forgiving Mani. With the StudioPhono it was a different story. The MoFi showed up the VTA inexactitude of the installation. I put in a shim between the cartridge and the headshell and, voila, the sound took a turn for the better.

But all was not entirely well until I changed the interconnect from the phonoamp to the preamp from Gotham to the more forgiving solid-core (DIY) 47 Lab. Like the Schiit Saga, the StudioPhono forced me to change cables, a rare occurrence in my systems which employ professional cables.

I briefly tried too the MC Denon DL-304 and the StudioPhono engaged it beautifully. Overall, at this point I'd say the StudioPhono is a very neutral device that demands more setup care. I am optimistic that it shall sound even better with time, but then time will tell if it is an EAR 324 on a smaller scale (I suspect it is).

Shelter 201, Part I (Official Link)
This cartridge has generated quite a bit of controversy. Down to its white plastic box, it is a dead ringer for the Sumiko Pearl, which sells for half the price. Yet, the listed spec's differ slightly, and there are various opinions on the internet which I shall have you dig up yourself. I bought it from Japan, and the premium on the Sumiko Pearl is about $100. I seriously doubt Shelter is going to risk its reputation by offering the same thing. I'd venture either it is slightly modified or selected from a bunch, like the way Grado scaled its base models (it is said they are the same cartridges, with the top ones earning the Gold grading).

In my experience, Shelter cartridges always sounded quite neutral, and the 201 is no exception. As mentioned above, with neutral partnering gears, it is quite sensitive to VTA. Aside from this, I found nothing to criticize at all - indeed, for a small sum of money, one gets MC class resolution and microdynamics, good enough for me. I didn't have time to compare it to other MM's or MC's - that shall have to wait till Part II. But, if my recollection is correct, I absolutely prefer this one to the early version of the Sumiko Blue Point Special (more expensive than the Pearl) that I once owned. I am sure it is money well spent.