19 May, 2018

Western Electric 46

Click pics to enlarge. Top: Less than half the room shown. Double RCA 15" Field Coils in Bass Cabinet. Gaumont (UK) drivers behind the Multi-cell Horns, fronted by Jensen 302 tweeters. Hidden behind in the corners are a pair of EV Patrician 800 used as subwoofers. Just above the left horn one sees slivers of the subwoofer amps placed upon the EV. The host is a bodybuilder - note the thing dangling above the sofa, used for weight-lifting, or hanging oneself after despairing of ever achieving such sonic bliss.

Magnificent Horn System: Western Electric 46

These days I don't have time to do Home Visits, but yesterday was an exception. These days it takes me many days to write an article, but this one is an exception. One makes exception for the exceptional.

Thanks to my friend/taskmaster icefox, aka the "HiFi pimp 淫媒” (a nickname I think I aptly bestowed opon him, and I am glad it had gained widespread recognition) for introducing Eric. Eric is one of a rather prominent breed of HK audiophiles who have a dedicated space in an industrial building. I had visited him once a long time ago, but in a very short time this man has morphed into a WE man with one of the best horn systems I have heard.

Click pics to enlarge: Center Rack, Vintage Volume Knobs atop the Marantz player, and above it, the tiny Streaming Devices; beneath, buffer WE transformers. Further down, the pair of WE 46 amps. Flanking the 46's are a pair of WE 87 in disuse. Above the right 87, a pair of WE 124, and a WE 133. To the right, on separate rack, pair of WE 49.

Source: Marantz player into highly modified Musical Fidelity Digilog (a TDA1541 DAC); also Tidal streaming using cheap Bluetooth renderer. These are connected to a pair of vintage potentiometers and then a pair of WE 1:1 transformers for buffering before going into the amps.

WE 46 I count myself very lucky to have finally heard the legendary WE 205D tube in action. The Japanese WE crowd have long placed this tube in the stratosphere, calling it the stuff of dreams, 夢幻之球. This is really an integrated amplifier, with an output of 1.5 watts from a pair of push-pull 205D.

Not that much info on use or sound on the English internet. Fortunately, there is Official WE manual with schematics and there are some pics in radiomuseum.

Image result for gaumont kaleeGaumont Kalee 379 The horn system is unusual too. The Gaumont system is a UK unit said to be similar to the Altec 288 system. There is next to nothing on the internet, and it is my first encounter of this name.

The RCA 15" field coil woofers have their own amps (click right pic to enlarge).

The Electrovoice Patrician 800's are, ha, used only as subwoofers. There are plenty of info on these, legends on their own. Peruse the Official pdf, and there is this beautifully written article on the EV Patrician series in the Finnish INNER magazine, plus more pics on itishifi.

Celibidache Volume 3: French and Russian MusicImpressions
Easy. This is one of the very best horn systems I have ever heard anywhere (giving our other WE friend Humphrey a run for his money). To me the greatest virtue of this system is not just the WE 46 (which I wager potentially can be even more sinuous sounding than here), but the system as an integrated whole. Most preciously, the system conveys atmosphere like few others. I think the large surface areas here dedicated to bass reproduction is one of the reasons.

The opening of Celibidache's Pathetique (Warner) conveyed fully that brooding atmosphere that only a good horn system can. It should be mentioned here that I am a great fan of German radio recordings, which are more successful in capturing atmosphere than most others. Similarly, the third movement of Shostakovich's 8th (Andris Nelson/Boston SO, DG), also a live recording, has plenty of atmosphere, and symphonic weight.

Yes, I went home and played these, but there is no way a small system, no matter how meritorious, can come close. Salut!

All this from 1.5 watts, the magic of WE!

18 May, 2018

47 Lab 4737, Yamaha NS-10M, Flying Mole CA-S10, Micromega MyAmp

Click pics to enlarge. Top, TAD TSM-2201, inverted. Under, 47 Labs 4737. Flying Mole amp close to the right speaker.

Small Systems, Simple Foods, Simple Pleasures
47 Lab 4737 Loudspeaker, Part II
Yamaha NS-10M, Part II
Flying Mole CA-S10 Revisited
Micromega MyAmp revisited
Home Visit: Quad 2812 + WE 124
Kondo Loudspeaker Matching, Part III
CD Recommendations: Three Versions of Misa Criolla, and more

Modified May 19, 2018

When I grew up, we didn't have much money, but spiritually we were rich. Father was a complete artist 琴棋書畫,無一不通, renowned especially for his Peking Opera performances and Chinese brush paintings. Naturally, I grew up with paintings and going to the opera. These activities were frequently interminably long for a kid and often dreaded, but every day today I am grateful that the idea of art appreciation was thus ingrained in me.

Father was also a diligent student of the ancient scripts 文言文 - he read voraciously his whole life. For a living, he was editor of a movie magazine for several years, and after each mandatory visit to the press would bring back children's magazines (especially 兒童樂園). I thus grew up with books and developed a healthy reading habit, though these days I read more CD booklets than books!

More important than even the events were the conversations overheard. Artists and those around them appraise, value and weigh things quite differently from the rest. Merit is tied to inborn talent, creativity, artistic achievement, even moral and humanistic concerns - and money definitely cannot buy everything, not the intangibles. What better way to teach children, I ask? Although I possess none of father's talents, I am an art lover for live, and art has immeasurably enriched me.

That brings us to: why are we audiophiles? I am sure you, like I, think many audiophiles are just in it for the primeval sonic thrills, not the music. That is fine, but just too bad - a spiritual quest in music adds a dimension to the quest for ever-better audio replay, and vice versa - they complement and enhance each other, like wine and food.

Bubbles: Audio Breakthroughs, Nouvelle Cuisine, New World, One World, Robert Parker and his likes 

Father had many friends better-to-do than him, and he frequently took me along to their dinners, and I had a lot of fabulous food (imagine real 青衣 and 花旦魚 for a late-night meal). Those were also days when food tasted a lot better. It is hard to believe that in my life I actually had witnessed the near/extinction of several fishes - basically gone is the incomparable (particularly to one with a Shanghainese heritage) 黃魚, and now even the venerable 紅衫 is reported to be on the brink!

Two kinds of Richness: Aside from the richness of my LP and CD collection (and audio gears as renderers), I am not a rich man (early retirement doesn't help). But I am blessed with friends better-to-do than I, or simply over-generous, that I often get to sample and taste a lot of what I cannot afford, even esoterica. This got me thinking.

The sheer variety of everything available today is truly astonishing. You can (literally) make a career tasting wine or beer or whatever of your choice. But is most of it worthwhile? I think not.

It is a kind of decadence (gluttony is after all one of the seven deadly sins) that everybody is in a race for discovering the latest new taste, but is that really new? And what is it that is new? Take wine as an example, when New World and Robert Parker exploded on the scene, even I was swept along. But for me what was hailed as revelatory, or revolution, soon turned into perfumery, even perfunctory. Today, although the quality of French wine is possibly/certainly in decline, I remain indifferent to the vast majority of New World wines (though there are always exceptions, especially in the bargain sectors). Most of the highly rated Robert Parker wines don't do anything for my admittedly Catholic taste. Perhaps my palette is shot, or is it?

One World and Fusion is even more over-rated. Take 1986's Graceland as an example. I don't understand what all the fuss was all about. In this album, Paul Simon did a good thing by bringing extremely talented African musicians to the fore (revived his own career too), and they deserved all the accolades. But what of his own contributions? To me his lyrics and singing were just patched onto the African stuff (there is no way he can really play African rhythm), and the two run parallel and never meet. YMMV.

Fusion food can be good, but there is still little point, and you will never get me to pay for so-called gourmet foam food. In the film Babarella, set in a future age when humans have sex by taking pills, Jane Fonda wanted to repay the hero with sex, but he wanted it the old-fashioned way, which she discovered she actually enjoyed. Wouldn't you want the same with Jane Fonda?

Time Out for Food (Shenzhen)

Much of the current (affordable) HK food is sloppy or gimmicky - the basic ingredients are not good enough. As I live close to the border with Shenzhen, it is actually just as easy for me to go to SZ for food. So, on this Sunday, I did go to a favorite local no-frills dive 快餐店 in Futian 福田 for my favorite spicy beef with pickled chili 野山椒牛肉. Marvelous. 不但止牛肉是牛肉,而且手工細,切得細,炒得剛好。魚香茄子超正宗,酸甜辣剛好,絕無取巧。The other two non-spicy dishes are for take-out. Four dishes, including beer, all for RMB 65.

Back to audio. Simple can be very good. I hope you don't get lost in all that computer stuff. But be wary of "breakthroughs" and "progress" - more often than not, they may bring more convenience but not better sound, not at all.

In HK and NYC, more and more I hear people say: "I only want the best!" But, is there such a thing? I say, it is all good to stick with one's best, hold on to one's beliefs while remaining open-minded, but it is no good to relentlessly search for the best, to have no sense of arrival, no room for happenstance, no thankfulness - which, actually, I say, is a manifestation of no self.

The Complete Columbia Live Albums Co LlectionLiving Room Small System gets (sonically) Bigger

This system is simple in the extreme. My trusted Sony DVD player DVP-SR50P as source, fed into the Flying Mole CA-S10 amp, which drives the 47 Labs 4737 loudspeakers, though now, there is addition of subwoofer...
  • 47 Labs 4737 Loudspeaker, Part II  For background and previous exploration of the 4737 ("Part I"), see here. With the small Flying Mole amp, the 4737 sounds exceptionally good, and surprisingly big, again reinforcing my previous conclusion that it works better with solid state amps. One thing to note is that it is sensitive to interconnects. For its size, the sound is detailed, full and fleshy, and bass is amazingly good (better than the Air Tight Bonsai). Thelonious Monk's Live at The It Club sounds resplendent, and redolent of atmosphere. It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing - absolutely, and the 4737 swings ( a key feature of its excellence)! But you know, I am a classical orchestral man, and so I decided to make use of the Flying Mole's preamp-out, which I hooked up to the same JBL subwoofer (the Kondo setup uses the high-level input; the Flying Mole the RCA-in). Wow, the bass augmentation makes the sound even bigger and it gets close to the Kondo system above. The live atmosphere of the excellent 1977 Giulini/BPO recording on Testament was miraculously rendered - the Webern Six Pieces unusually lush and Pictures majestic (better than his studio efforts). The way Giulini carefully managed dynamics is mightily impressive, and those BPO brass at their finest! The German Radio recording is excellent. Another morning I audaciously played one of the Fantasias disc in the DG Helmut Walcha box. The system sure-footedly tracked the very great organist's every move (they are lithe), and one does not want for the ultra-deep notes. Just Grand!
  • Flying Mole CA-S10  This is a model from over 10 years ago, when Class-D digital amps and switch-mode power supply were not as ubiquitous as today. And so it had garnered quite a bit of press (see Stereophiletechradarsoundstage). All noted its very clean sound but some concern were voiced about the well-lit treble. As with all things digital, second-hand price a decade later is a mere fraction of the original cost, and that makes this superbly built and classily finished item a bargain. Ever since I had acquired one, I have used it in a bookshelf system in the living room (see top pic), and over time I have tried it with almost all of my small loudspeakers (Dayton B52; Pioneer S-A4SPT-PM and -VP; Pioneer SP-BS21-LR; and KEF 11 ohm and Rogers 15 ohm LS3/5A), and it had always delivered pristine sound in this setting, and I had never suffered any treble issues. The sound has always been highly detailed, lucid and with excellent rhythm and timing. With 47 Labs 4737 As noted above, the sound with the 4737 is superb, but that was after I had tackled an unexpected issue. Initially, there was a high frequency ringing that I had never noticed before with any of the other speakers. Changing interconnects did not help and I was getting frustrated. Then I thought just perhaps it was amplifying RF noise (my power bar behind was quite overstuffed), and so I swapped in a thicker power cord (presumably more insulated) and that did the trick. I am not sure why the 4737 brought out this aspect of the amp whereas the other loudspeakers didn't - the 4737 does not seem to have a more hyped-up treble to me. In any case, as noted above, with the addition of the subwoofer, the sound is taken to another level. Of all my setups, I actually listen to this one the most - the Kondo just generates too much heat in summer.
Time Out for Food (Yuen Long)

HK has a thriving Food Writing industry, but like audio reviews, most of the hyperboles are undeserved, and much is gibberish. In my opinion, there is not much good food in Yuen Long. Thankfully, there are exceptions (aside from the one mentioned here, 添記 is another one - the roasted pork belly 燒肉 is simply divine).

一份蠔餅,背後藏有一個母親的感人故事。One of my favorites is the roadside 肥姐 蠔餅 (Fat Lady's Oyster Omelette), which she serves with coriander and a chili sauce that is likely Thai or Vietnamese derived. The Lady is super hard working and super nice and I always have a chat with her when I visit. She is famous not only for her oyster dish, but also for the wrong reason - her daughter was plagued by the very rare Guillain-Barre disease and is still today suffering from its aftermath, which made her life very difficult (for reports and more pics in Chinese, see here and here). The lady sometimes had to close shop for a day to take care of her daughter - a substantial financial loss given the exorbitant rent.

Bach Trios
A few days ago, I had one of these for dinner (calorie watchers need not consider), but here let me tell you a secret. Wash it down with a simple white wine - the wine need not be great, but the effect is dynamite. If you consume this roadside, which is best, go to 711 and get a small bottle of wine. They don't have great stuff, but the HKD 10 bottle of Chilean Chardonnay (which tasted as much Sauvignon Blanc as Chardonnay - I had a double-take) on sale was more than capable for the job. The combination was explosive on the taste buds (yes, mine are still alive)! I had this at home, accompanied by Yo Yo Ma's divine Bach Trios, immaculately rendered on the small system. Yes, as much as the wine enhanced the food, the music did the same - the mandolin danced on the taste buds, and the bass drew out the after-tasteMarvelous!

A few days later, some good friends gathered for dinner. There were a lot of great food, Spanish ham, premium sea-cucumber, rack of lamb etc. A bottle of Lalande de Pommerol and another Haut-Medoc were both splendid. While I enjoyed it greatly, should I compare it with my humble solitary moment above with a Robert Parker-like scale? Absolutely not - each moment is a capsule, influenced as much by circumstance and the intangible as the quantifiable.

I am a fish lover. I like all kinds of fish, no matter cheap or expensive. I always say God is magnanimous, as He has imbued each species with its own taste, and you can find even in the cheapest offering things that you cannot find in the most extravagant. To translate - a very expensive fish is not necessarily better tasting than a cheap one, it all depends. The important thing is, there is no best.

Happy Hour at WSS and Misa Criolla
You have met my dear friend WSS, the Quad 2812 user, before. Although his equipment has remained largely the same as last visit, there is an important new addition: a pair of Western Electric 124.

Los Calchakis La Missa Criolla des CalchakisAfter his recent rearrangement of equipment I have visited him several times. I have little spare time these days, but when I suddenly have a few hours to kill my first choice would be to visit WSS because I really enjoyed chatting with him, and listening to his many CDs. Most importantly, here is a real music lover and a well read man. Sound here is always good enough for me to sit through several hours, but each time my audiophile vistor ego would act up. The sound seems just a little muted (not an unfamiliar feeling here, just like last time). Personally I find the WE 124, though still not quite as sinuous sounding as they can/should be, to outshine the much more powerful Quad Elite QMP monoblocks - the microdynamics is just more nuanced and better, and that is needed here.
Ramirez: Missa Criolla / Navidad Nuestra
One discovery at WSS. A scaled down version of Ariel Ramirez' folk mass Misa Criolla, made famous in audiophile circles by the long out of print Philips recording featuring Jose Carreras (good news: it had been recently reissued on CD, but labelled Decca, I urge you to grab it quickly; be warned that Carreras made other versions but this is the one). This chamber version is by Los Calchakis (Arion). You may have to source it from overseas, but though a stingy 17 minutes, it is worth it, as the recording and performance are exemplary. WSS also played me another oop Philips LP of the composer conducting the mass, a rare collector's item apparently.

Sometimes I wanted to tweak his system, but WSS wasn't always enthusiastic. Things could always get better, he says, but it is just a system used to listen to music. I agree, but I wager few audiophiles would really understand the sentiment.

Click to enlarge. Note the small white Micromega MyAmp in the center.

My Desktop Gets Bigger Too

Like the Living Room Small System, I have tried all my other bookshelves ((Dayton B52; Pioneer S-A4SPT-PM and -VP; Pioneer SP-BS21-LR; 47 Labs 4737, TAD TSM-2201 and LS3/5A) on my desktop, but the Yamaha NS-10M easily takes the palm.

    Image result for pacini beethoven liszt
  • Yamaha NS-10M For some background on and my previous words on the venerable NS-10M, see here and here. On the desktop I have them inverted so the tweeters are at ear level. Driven by the solid state Micromega MyAmp, the sound is truly astonishing. Although everything played well, the most astounding aspect is how well it renders piano playback. Sophie Pacini's breathtaking Waldstein and Liszt (Warner) literally pinned me to my uncomfortable seat, as do Daniil Trifonov's Transcendental Etudes (DG). No bass overhang, no fizzy treble, perfect leading edges, every strand clear as daylight, yet emotionally true. No subwoofer needed. Here, I'd like to add that this experience makes me think the NS-10M, like the 47 Labs 4737, is more suited to good solid state amplification.
    Image result for trifonov liszt
  • Micromega MyAmp Considering how much of a Micromega fan I am, it is surprising I have not really "reviewed" this. Truth is, I have too much stuff to test, and desktop is not priority. Since I have written capsules on it, the MyAmp has received many favorable reviews (TAS, HiFi Choice, Chinese U-Audio). Recently, I have been using the MyAmp on my desktop. Its small footprint and superb connectivity go without saying, but what matters most is the sound - simply superb! It plumbs the depth of the NS-10M, while simultaneously offering the most subtle of tonal and rhythmic virtues. Through USB, I connect it directly with the iTunes of my Macbook Pro, and its replay of the various CDs mentioned is beyond reproach. I also connect it with my Micromega CD-10 (here), and the sound is just as good, though I do not detect any glaring superiority when compared to ripped files through USB - attesting to the excellence of the USB implementation. A winner!
Brief Update on My Kondo System - Loudspeaker Matching System Part III

In Part I of Kondo Loudspeaker matching, I detailed my previous experience with Kondo driving the TAD TSM-2201. I liked the sound, but it was on the lean side, likely indicative of lack of power.

Recently, I re-instated the TAD TSM-2201 in my Kondo system, in inverted positions (see top pic). For some reason, the sound appeared to be better than before, and so I decided to work on it. After some careful dialing in of the subwoofer and a few changes of interconnects the system performed so well that it is what I use now. No, it is not as relaxing as the LS3/5A, but for the mean time I like the more accurate nature. It could still be fuller, but playing loud is easier than before. My friends seemed to like the system on their visits too. I am quite satisfied.

02 May, 2018

Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
CD Recommendations: Classical Vocal

Regular perusers of my CD recommendations will have surely noted a dearth of vocal works. There are several reasons.

Although I have always preferred orchestral works, in my youth I had gone through most of the famous operas and sacred vocal works, and know them reasonably well. These days, however, I don't often listen to them, as usually I don't have time to read the libretto, which I consider a must, especially in the absence of visual clues.

Writing for an audio blog means most of my readers are audiophiles, who as you know don't usually listen to vocals outside of the pop and jazz canon, so it is easier to recommend orchestral works. Also, as I buy very few CD's in recent years, to ensure someone can get it, the CD's that get posted all come from the library and usually date within the last few years. The library separates classical vocals from the rest, and it is a much smaller section which I peruse only once in a while. Just the other day, however, I came across several exceptional issues and decided to write this article.

Purcell Dido and Aeneas This has long been one of my favorites. The music is splendid; the libretto a model of concision - quite the opposite of, say, Donizetti (you guessed it, not a favorite composer). I have several old versions on LP's (remember Janet Baker?), but the version here presented by Fabio Bonizzoni is a modern one (hence HIP informed). The period band La Risonanza play with great feeling, and the singers are very good. I have always liked Belinda's music the most, and here Stephanie True sings o so sweetly. Superior sonics. (Challenge, SACD, 2016)

Handel Cantatas (Agrippina condotta a morire; Armida abbandonata; La Lucrezia) The tragic heroines are sung with great flair by soprano Eva Mei, who is accompanied with equal flair by the period band Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini (read their website on the stories behind these cantatas). To avoid sameness, it is still recommended that you listen to one at a time. Superb sound. (Teldec, CD, 1999; available in several versions; this library copy is Japanese).

Mozart Soprano Arias I have actually heard quite a few single CD's by famous current singers. Most of them are well sung, but perhaps too well - 60 minutes or more of creamy tone can get a bit too much. Not so Dorothea Roschmann, whose superb characterizations hold one's attention. Praise also to the alert playing of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Harding. (Sony, CD, 2015). Sabine Devielhe's album is even more interesting given the scholarship and direction of Raphael Pichon, whose period band Pygmalion play with great passion. (Erato/Warner, CD, 2015).

Rachmaninov's Vespers gets a good outing here from the always excellent LSO Chorus, directed by Simon Halsey, but without orchestral support it is not for everyone (LSO, SACD, 2016). More interesting to me, but not for anyone with catholic taste, is the choral and organ music of Sofia Gubaidulina. Sonnengesang = Canticle of the Sun (written for Rostropovich). Here the cello solo is superbly projected by Ivan Molighetti, with excellent organ and choral contribution from the NDR Chor, all in superb sound. The other two works are to me equally excellent and no mere fillers. (BIS, SACD, 2016).

Many of these works can be heard on TIDAL.

Sofia Gubaidulina: SonnengesangMozart: The Weber SistersRachmaninov: All-Night Vigil (Vespers)

Mozart Arias

10 March, 2018

Dynaco PAS 3 Mods

Click pic to enlarge. L: Slightly modified PAS 3.

Dynaco PAS 3, Part II
Letter from NYC (84) 2018 (10)

Revised Mar 11, 2018.

PAS 3, Part I saw the stock Dynaco PAS 3 run for may hours. The sound then was remarkably detailed at low volume, but stressed when pushed harder. While mods were definitely on the agenda, as is my wont I decided to go against the fashion of sea change (replacing everything) and start with a minimalist approach. First, I researched on the internet, but found the documentation of sonic changes to be quite lacking, even contradictory (as opposed to electrical changes, for which most would agree on). I ordered just a few caps and resolved to do one mod at a time to hear the individual impact each has on the sound. Yes, I heard enough potential to think my efforts would be repaid. They were, amply.

Tone Control Mod Dilemma
Most people bypass the tone controls, which is not hard to do. One popularly discussed method is the Curcio Tone Control Bypass. It seems, however, this increases the DC present at the PAS 3 Output, which can be resolved by adding a 0.1 Output Cap, as done at audioregenesis. As I did not have the requisite caps, for the moment I decided to leave the tone controls in the circuit.

Now the Mods I have done this time, numbered in order and rated in efficacy from * to ***:

1. The Amazing $0.25 Non-Electrical Mod (***)
While waiting for the caps to arrive, I thought about how to improve the preamp. Staring at the innards, I saw both PC Boards (PC-5 and PC-6) were affixed to the chassis by 4 screws, bolts and washers. Since the chassis also has the transformer directly bolted on it, the idea of providing some measure of isolation against vibrations came to me. This did not come out of nowhere. Similar tweaks can be found in some modern manufacturers, but also in vintage equipment (e.g. the Marantz 7 has some isolation for the tube socket mounting plate.) As I did not have rubber washers around and as I was working on some Gotham DGS-1 cables, I slotted in small cross sections of the springy PVC jacket between each screw and the PC board, and between the chassis and transformer. The length was not enough to completely encircle some screws, particularly the ones fixing down the transformer, but that would have to do for the moment. I figure, proper rubber washers would cost you less than 25 cents. With just this done, I sat down to listen. !Oh My! The difference was unbelievable! Not only did the sound smooth out a bit, I now could play significantly louder before the sound tightened up. No, it did not completely cure this particular ill, but it went quite a way towards ameliorating it. Even if you have already done all your mods, I can still confidently recommend this easy and reversible step. Do keep in mind that the PC Boards are a little looser than before and a little more care should be exercised when swapping tubes, particularly during insertion (use gentle wiggles).

2. Output Cable Change (*1/2)
The stock hook up cables are tinned solid cores. As I usually prefer stranded cables in interconnects, I decided to first change the high level cable from the output tube to the main out. I swapped in a run of Gotham 2-conductor GAC-2, one of my reference interconnect cables (center run in pic). The copper shield was not connected at either end. Compared to the above, the result was a small (but audible) improvement in the same qualities.

3. $3 Capacitor Change (***)
I replaced the two 0.22 Output Coupling Caps (the green globs seen in the Part 1 pic) with German Audyn (Parts Express, bright red ones in pic). I wanted to also replace the two 0.02 caps that couple the two sections of the 12AX7, but that would have to wait as I don't have the parts, and the original Black Cats are not bad in my previous experiences. The Sonic Improvement was Dramatic, on par with the isolation measures above. Considering that there were only two cap changes, the degree in improvement is quite amazing! As the tone control circuits, which employ all Black Cats, are still in-circuit, this strengthens my belief that they are not as nearly as bad as they are often made out to be.

4. Line Input Cable Change (*1/2)
Emboldened, I then re-cabled with GAC-2 one of the Line Inputs ("Spare") and the same small incremental improvement was audible. Note that I only replaced the segment immediately leading out from the Input Sockets (the longest, see pic). The Selector has three gangs, and it would be a major task to replace all wires going to the PC Boards and Switches (it would be simpler to install a new selector).

5. Phono Input Cable Change (**)
I then made the same cable change to the Phono Input, though this time I used the shield, which was tied at the Input End only (not in the pic, as this was done after). The sonic difference was more substantial than cable change in the line section, resulting in a smoother sound and quieter background. However, I did notice a very subtle drop in the presence factor, but that did not worry me as the PAS 3 is super strong in this department.

  • Chez Moi As reported in Part I, the PAS 3 always had excellent transient speed and great presence. The challenge was to get it to smooth out, and it was immensely gratifying to hear it do exactly that as the mods progressed. After the Cap and Line Input Cable Change I went through the CDs I used in the last visit to R (here). I knew my job in the line section was complete when I tried out Masekela's Stimela; yes, that crescendo was perfect; the train imitations were strongly rhythmic; and the loud cries were heard without strain. After the Phono Input Cable Change I listened to cuts from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (Ozawa/BSO, DG), which had previously sounded strained, and all was well. Finally, it was time for the real litmus test - the two LPs I heard last time at Andy's (here) that so impressed me. Moravec's Beethoven (Connoisseur Society LP) showed considerable dynamic range, and the inner voices were clear and vital, the atmosphere charged. The PDQ Bach LP (Vanguard) was very lively; though occasionally the recording still appeared a little hot, it was quite listenable and never strident. The PAS 3 now joins my Reference System II, which has just been completely revamped (sidebar)!
  • Chez Andy As with most of my projects, I took it to Andy's for a final assessment. Kevin was also present for the excellent lunch of rack of lamb. In his system the PAS 3 sounded slightly brighter than usual but with less grain than the Citation I even when pushed hard. Throughout the afternoon, we played many records and everything sounded very good. Yes, replay of the PDQ Bach and Beethoven were just as beautiful as before, but it was the album below that deserved the limelight. Project Accomplished!
  • Radka Toneff Transformed Most amazingly, Andy played his original pressing of her mostly digitally recorded Fairy Tales (Odin, LP). Her rendition of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress needs no introduction to audiophiles, but although I have probably heard it close to a hundred times in the past two decades, I have never taken to it, or understood what the fuss was all about. This time, however, the fine modulations of her voice were more impressive and I actually managed to hear several other tracks. Most importantly, I finally heard at least some emotion and charged atmosphere, which were devoid from all the CDs and 2015 re-issue LP I have heard in other systems in HK. Incidentally, a new re-issue is just available and the April Stereophile (not online yet) has a story on it by Atkinson. Apparently, the 2015 issue was flawed technically (see this google translated link). I note too that I had also heard the original LPs in quite a few very expensive systems in HK, but never to this effect, attesting that the horn reigns supreme.
  • PAS 3 Then and Now The transformation of the Dynaco PAS 3 was utterly amazing. Indeed I had to ask the same question that I asked after I brought my Citation I back from obscurity: Why had I not appreciated it before? Likewise, there is no easy answer. Horns perhaps just show everything in a new light. For more musings on this subject, see here.
  • Thought on PAS 3 Mod As you have read, my mods are minimal, cost almost nothing and can be accomplished in little time. I believe the isolation work is very effective. Also, before you decide to embark on a wholesale mod, ponder this: as I had changed only two caps, I believe the original Black Cats are no at all as bad as they have often been made out to be. For the moment, I do not have that great a desire to do further mods. It is already an excellent preamp and can fully stand alongside the Citation I.

Lucy Dacus

Letter from NYC (83) 2018 (9): Good Indie Singer

Just heard Lucy Dacus on CBS TV singing selections from her sophomore album and it was great. I have never heard of her before and the album (CD and vinyl) may be difficult to find in stores (easier to download, if you do that kind of stuff).



06 March, 2018

SMSL SA-36A Pro, Citation I, Conrad Johnson Premier 2 and 3, Cary CAD 211

For all pics, click to enlarge. L: Note the weighted down SMSL on top of HT center loudspeaker, behind which is the subwoofer. On the flanks are the Cary 211 monoblocks. Marantz 8B and Jadis JA-80's in front.

Review: SMSL SA-36A Pro
SMSL vs Cary CAD-211
Conrad Johnson Premier 2/3 vs Harman Kardon Citation I
Cary CAD-211 vs Jadis JA-80 vs Marantz 8B
JBL L20T, Part II
Letter from NYC (82) 2018 (8): Smorgasbord

R's Altec A5 saga continues. After the last report, we made two more visits and exhaustively tested numerous combinations. This article summarizes the two visits. But first, a little diversion.

SMSL SA-36A Pro (TDA7492PE) 
  • T-Amps Though I firmly believe in the superiority of tubes, for some fun at low cost I occasionally do dabble in T-amps (expensive implementations are ridiculous). My first one was the (discontinued) Lepai LP-2020A+, which employed the well-regarded Tripath TPA2020 chip. I was delighted by its performance (as an amp in a humble system here and even more as a power amp in a hi-end system here). I also bought one of its successors, the Lepai LP-2024A+ (employing TPA2024) which was almost as good, though a shade cooler in sonics (no report yet). As the TPA2020 chip had long been unavailable (Tripath had gone bankrupt), my curiosity for a better built one with a better power supply had me turn elsewhere.
  • General Info This model from the interestingly named (in Chinese, 雙木三林) company (official info) has been in production for a long time and had gone through many iterations. The earliest used the Tripath TPA2020 chip, but it was replaced soon by the Texas Instrument TPA3118 chip and all of these garnered a good reputation. However, after the company switched to the current TI TPA7492PE chip, there were quite a bit of noise and confusion on the net (read the incredible fuss made over something under $50), and that is the version I have just bought. There are variations, and mine is the more common 12V version.
  • Ergonomics The build quality is very good, though for the bare wire user (me) the small speaker binding posts are no more convenient than the cheap posts on the Lepai. What really bothers me is the lack of an indicator lamp, so be mindful of the on/off status.
  • Round 1/Chez Moi/JBL L20T I tested these on my JBL L20T (Part I here). Direct-In First I fed the output of my reference Aurorasound Vida phonoamp directly into it, and the sound was very good. As Power Amp Next, I used it with my reference System III (last described in detail here) driving the JBL L20T's. The sound was surely even better. Compared to my bookshelf reference Almarro M1A (reported here; a tall order indeed), the L20T's were just a little more weighted towards the midrange, less pure in the treble (which may be the amp too) and smaller in soundstage. It should be known that my relatively near-field and way-in-room placement minimizes the room effect and difference between loudspeakers. Although the JBL's likely would like even more power to pump out more bass, the SMSL did an excellent job driving them. The 
  • Round 2/Chez Kevin/Altec A7 It was briefly tested at the same session reported here (note in the R pic the SMSL perched atop the Dynaco PAS 3). Suffice to say the the SMSL stood up to the Conrad Johnson MV-75 amp very well.
  • Round 3/Chez R/Altec A5 The result was astonishing, as detailed in the section below.
Home Visit 1: Sometimes I think of the squad as the coaching team, trying to coalesce the players (the equipment) into a winning whole. Andy is the mild-tempered and democratic head coach, myself a temperamental assistant; R of course is the owner of the franchise - demanding at times, but not quite a Steinbrenner. On this occasion, Kevin was the fourth man, and we tried out numerous plays. The lunch (L pic) as usual was wonderful, an overstuffed omelette washed down with a brut sparkling.
  • My Agenda During the previous visit to R's smaller room, I thought that although the Altec A5 sounded quite nice, the leading edge/attack was slower than what I am accustomed to hearing from Altec (e.g. Andy's) and other well implemented horns. Remembering that none of the amps were quite satisfactory, I decided to take along my SMSL for "diagnostics". Since I also thought R's turntables in this small room had anomalies, I wanted to use digital playback as a reference. The California Audio Labs Delta Transport/Sigma Tubed DAC were dusted off and pressed into action. I brought several of my own test CD's. Equipment used were somewhat different from last time (see link above). The CJ Premier 2 served as full function preamp in lieu of the previous Jadis DPL2, its phono section also replacing the Lamm. This section described mostly the results obtained using digital playback, which was very instructive.
  • CJ Premier 2 + Cary CAD-211 We didn't hear the Cary's last time, as they had only just recently returned from electrolytic cap replacement (the big blue cans, which R had listened to for several days and heard them opening up). This long running model has had multiple iterations - these are from way back (no bias meters). The 211 designation is a misnomer, as these use a pair of 845's in each channel. Used with the CJ Premier 2, the sound was powerful but overly warm and woolly, somewhat rounded off and slow in the leading edge. These were touted for their "life sized" images, which unfortunately were rather fuzzy through the horns. Substitution of the RFT EL34's for the Russian fat bottle 6CA7 brought a significant improvement - more believable outlines.
  • CJ Premier 2 + Cary CAD-211 (vs SMSL SA-36A Pro) Using the same CJ Premier 2, the very humble SMSL showed off the glaring weakness of the Cary. Aside from a warmer tone and more power, there was nothing favorable. On Masekela's Hope, the audiophile fave stimela (Track 12) best illustrates this: the big crescendo was perfectly gauged and proportioned through the SMSL, but ill-shaped and prematurely saturated through the Cary's; the rhythmic imitations of the train were incandescent through the SMSL but sorrily flaccid through the Cary's. The trombone and double bass in the vivo movement of Stravinsky's Pulcinella (ASMF/Marriner, Argo/Decca) commanded their own lines and were perfectly integrated as a duo though the SMSL, but through the Cary's they were just plain mushy. Even worse was the Bach Double Violin Concerto (Kuijken/La Petite Bande, Pro Arte) - through the SMSL, the lines were perfectly clear, and one could feel the up- and down-bow's, all hopelessly lost through the Cary's. The playback of a jazz CD, Shirley Horn's You Won't Forget Me (Verve) was similarly excellent and, imho, much better balanced than the analog rigs.
  • CJ Premier 2 vs 3 vs Citation I We used the two turntables mostly. As there were two full function preamps with both phono sections and tape out, we went  through quite a few permutations that we had to go through. Suffice to say as a whole: CJ 2 vs 3 The CJ Premier 3 is very similar to 2, but solid state rectified, and they sounded more similar than different to my ears. Citation I As expected, the Citation I was obviously more neutral and did not unduly soften the leading edge, making it a much better match for the lugubrious Cary. Not only that, as we had fed the CJ (can't remember whether it was the 2 or 3) phono section into the Citation line stage, I can conclude that the Citation I phono section is superior. Just before we left, we played the Masekela track, and it was a lot better than before, but the crescendo was still not quite shapely.
Home Visit 2: On this occasion almost the full gang showed up. We were also joined by R's friend Louis. This occasion was marked by the arrival of an Audio Research Reference 2 preamp, which we compared to the Jadis JPS2 in the main Wilson rig. Then we tried out more combos in the A5 room. Lunch was R's wonderful home-made sausages and, for novelty, venison burger, all washed down with an excellent Chilean Shiraz and  California Red.

  • Reference 2 vs Jadis JPS2 We used the Rockport Sirius turntable, now fitted with 100 ohm loaded Ortofon 2M Black (Andy said this eliminates the unpleasant peak). We first used the Lamm LP2 phonoamp, which did not woo us, and so we replaced it by the sweeter phono section of the CJ Premier 2. We unanimously agreed that the venerable ARC (with completely stock tubes) had much better focus and control than the Jadis JPS2. In this room this is of great importance as the ARC obviously consolidated the center stage, which has a tendency to be less filled up. Naturally, with the all-Russian tubes, sound was not quite as sweet, but it is a trade-off I personally would gladly take. Interestingly, although this setup was targeted to play classical music, jazz sounded even better. On Ellington - The Pianist (Fantasy LP) Ellington's piano sounded smart (as it must) while Sam Woodyard's brushwork was breathtaking on (side 2, track 1) Tap Dancer's Blues. Sony Stitt also was very much his golden-toned, comforting self in one of his late outings, Sonny Stitt meets Sadik Hakim (Progressive, LP).
  • Cary CAD-211 vs Jadis JA-80 vs Marantz 8B based on the session reported above, we stayed with the Harman Citation I as preamp. The Cary was just as I remembered it, but the Jadis JA-80 fared not one whit better. Then we swapped the Marantz 8B in. Previously, we had heard it with the CJ Premier 2 and its slow speed bothered me. Not this time: partnered with the Citation I, the Marantz 8B showed a clean pair of heels to the Cary and Jadis. The leading edge was faster and cleaner; Masekela's Stimela almost edged up to the SMSL amp. The tonal qualities too were way superior to the Cary's and Jadis'. I was quite satisfied and would personally stay with this combo in this room.
  • Jazz vs Classical? Although the results were satisfying enough, I still think on this day, in this room, supposedly the jazz room, the jazz playback was not as as good as in the living room, supposedly the classical room. Similarly, the classical (digital) playback through the A5's sounded to me as good as the big rig. For myself, there is no such division, and indeed may write more on this in a coming article. I do think now that there is much competition between the two setups, we can expect improvements in both in due time (they are already quite wonderful).
  • SMSL SA-36A Pro This is a wonderful little amp. The sound is excellent, particularly with efficient loudspeakers. It is more robust than my Lepai  LP-2020A+, and I have yet to hear it clip with my less efficient JBL L20T. Mine is the current version, which uses the TI TPA7492PE; I think if it can pass muster with me, there is little point in struggling to compare it with past iterations. The treble is generally good (witness how it renders violin and massed strings) though not as pure as tube, but there is a little grain at the very top which becomes noticeable at high volume. I think a little mod or a better power supply could take the amp to a higher level, though I shall stop at here for the moment. Horn users should have one of these amps on hand to compare with the tube amps (and preamps) they are using - they may be pleasantly, or unpleasantly, surprised. Its neutrality and simplicity reveals most of the music, which is more than can be said about severely flawed lesser tube gear (and this from a tube lover).
  • Conrad Johnson Premier 2/3 To my ears, the 2 and 3 are more similar than different. They share similar sonic characteristics - a big, bold sound that many like. However, their weaknesses - lack of dynamic and rhythmic exactitude, not to mention refinements - preclude my endorsement. In many ways, I think the Premier 2 and 3 are just beefed up PV-5's (substitute your favorite numerals) and may be even the worse for it. This is true of the line stage for sure. Although we had tested it less, I do also think the phono sections are too colored for me (much prefer the Citation I).
  • Jadis JPS2 Much the same can also be said about the Jadis. There is some measure of opulence, a la creme, but where is the finesse?
  • Harman Kardon Citation I The Citation I continues to impress. The phono section is superior to those in the Premier 2 and 3 and, if you ask me, likely the Lamm LP2. I also much prefer the line section over the sluggish CJ Premier 2/3 and Jadis JPS2, all cathode follower designs (Stu Hegeman was definitely onto something). Yes, the line section gets stressed a little when playing loud but this is largely ameliorated by partnering with a more forgiving amp, like the Marantz 8B.
  • Cary CAD-211 and Jadis JA-80 Not my cup of tea, as you must know by now. They were decidedly bettered by the Marantz 8B, not to mention the tiny SMSL. I actually think these have no place in a horn system but would probably do better with conventional dynamic speakers of good to moderate efficiencies and a fast modern preamp.
  • Marantz 8B Like I said before in my last report quoted above, it is hard to go wrong with this amp; the more you work with the 8B, the better it is - it repays your efforts.
  • Altec A5 Absolutely marvelous! R's pair surprise me by how well they play classical material (via CD though). I am not sure why the analog rigs are not quite performing as well - I'd venture to guess the very revealing A5's just reveal every anomaly in the chain. Personally I think, factoring in the difference in partnering gear and room, the A5 renders classical music (again CD only) at least as well as the big Wilson's; in fact, in dynamic gradation and presence they are unquestionably superior. If placed in the big living room I am confident they will easily trounce the Wilson's. Remember, the good sounding living room rescued the Wilson's, and it would do wonders with other loudspeakers too. Also, further improvement in A5 playback can likely be obtained by substituting a better subwoofer (e.g. my cheapo but over-achieving Pioneer SW-8, reported here) for the subpar (home theater) Focal. 
  • Audio Research Reference 2 This definitely has potential. I await the results of some tube rolling. I have heard this many times before in HK, and it has aways turned in reliable, if not often exciting, performances.
  • California Audio Lab Delta/Sigma This is a combo that has stood the test of time; I have heard it many times in HK, always to good effect. Although I am a fan of true multi-bit players, this is nonetheless a very good implementation of Delta-Sigma. A classic.
  • JBL L20T Impression here is the same as in Part I. Typical JBL quality that needs no further touting.

28 February, 2018

Overview Dynaco, PAS 3, Conrad Johnson PV-5,

For all pics, click to enlarge. L: innards of my bone stock PAS 3.

Dynaco PAS 3, Part I
Overview: Dynaco
Letter from NYC (81) 2018 (7): PAS3 vs Conrad-Johnson PV-5

This article is the first on the Dynaco PAS 3. The coming, more important Part II shall center on mods, but let us get the CJ out of the way first.

Communication Woes I detest it when people talk loudly and incessantly on the phone in public. In HK and China, many chat loudly away in public, even in the closed confines of subway cars and buses, much to my annoyance. The US fares much better. Here I believe the telephone conversation is going the way of vinyl - that is, not dead but a minority activity. Texting is more instantaneous and in widespread use. It is almost rude to call someone, one of my friends says. As I write, a TV ad against texting while driving flashed on the screen...

Not when it comes to Audiophiles. Our long conversations tirelessly scrutinize every component and combinations. I am not the worst example, but am not completely immune. In NYC, I frequently call (though I keep them short) Andy to discuss the audio issues at hand, which is how the idea of resurrecting my Dynaco PAS 3 came about. I don't remember exactly how. I think we were talking about the Citation I and Andy reminded me that the Cathode Follower so favored by tube designers slow down the sound. The PAS 3, like our beloved Citation I, does not have one. I decided to dig out mine for a reappraisal.

"If there is one name in Hi-Fi which is synonomous with excellent sound, and at the same time with excellent price, that name is Dynaco.(from TNT)

Overview: Dynaco

  • Background Read this comprehensive wikipedia entry on arguably THE most famous tube company of all time. Many people, including industrial professionals, got their first taste of tube audio from Dynaco, at a time when solid state started their domination. The HUGE amount of information and after-market products and support on the internet testify to the excellence, indeed immortality, of the products. The reader can easily search for any info on any Dynaco product, so I need not elaborate.
  • Online Resources, Mods and HiFi Lore As the stuff were bargain kits without frills, mostly home-built and easily available, they were, and still are, undervalued. You know, cheap stuff, no matter how good, do not engender pride of possession, an unfortunate human trait. This leads many people to buy and modify Dynaco for fun, to satisfy their own DIY penchants and David vs Goliath mentality (whereas few would do drastic surgeries on, say, a Marantz or McIntosh). What matters more to me, however, is how perceived monetary value undermines the objective assessment of their true sonic merits. As an example, is Dynaco PAS 3 vs Marantz 7 really David vs Goliath? I think not. But many of the DIY people and mod squads buy into this line of thinking, partly because they have been taught so (for people who supposedly are thinking outside the box, many of them have a surprisingly herd mentality) and partly because many of them do not have much experience with more expensive gear nor high end audio. The internet can provide any number of instructions on how to do this and that. Aside from basic restoration, you are urged to defeat the tone control, remove the selenium rectifier, beef up the power supply, use expensive caps, improve the speed, firm up the bass, make the RIAA flatter, add stages and stand up to perceived Goliaths. All of these promise improved sound, but should you believe in all of it? Based on my experience with mods, exercise caution and restraint. I have yet to hear a wholesale mod of anything that sounds good. Also, our beliefs in Google are seriously challenged these days - it buries the small voices, much dissent, and the Google algorithm is no less commercial than advertisements as it is calculated to increase traffic and income. When you get tired of the monolithic views prevalent in most popular and most googled sites, perhaps you can search in audioreview user reviews, which offer capsular opinions that are much less didactic and more varied.
  • Dynaco ST-70 This is THE most iconic product, and deservedly so. As with all Dynaco products, it is a masterclass in economy - in a relatively small footprint, we have a tube rectified (valued by many tube aficionados), adjustable bias amplifier with very good irons. Many people think the treble is too soft, but I disagree and think (given a good specimen) in this parameter it is amongst the best in EL34 amps that I have heard - there is a silken smoothness that is just mesmerizing. People also complain about the somewhat loose bass, which is also why many mods and later iterations switched to solid state rectification, but I think it is the opposite - the tube rectification makes the amp more wholesome. I think it sounds better than the Marantz 5 and gives the Marantz 8B a run for its money. In my early years in HK, I had a pair (with the later and supposedly inferior Japanese output trannies) and it produced delightful sound with a DIY Marantz 7 (constructed for me, before I took up the solder, by an audiophile student) and Rogers LS 3/5A. I still have one in NYC with the A470 trannies, which I occasionally listen to (read my report on the ST70 and 8B driving the Maggies). Maybe it is time to resurrect it in view of my PAS 3 project.
  • ST 35/SCA 35 I have one of each in HK. They are wonderful examples of EL84 amps, which I prefer to EL34 amps.
  • Mark III This is another classic product that offers more power than the ST-70 in small monoblock chassis. Very fine sounding if tubed right.
  • FM 3 A marvelous no-frills tuner that is a sonic match for many much more well known tuners (like McIntosh). My specimen is mint and sounds great.
  • PAS 3 In shocking ways, my experience with the PAS 3 pretty much parallels mine with the Harman Kardon Citation I. That is, for the longest time, I did not think much of it, but my opinion drastically changed when it was finally used with my horns, but not without struggles! Read on, as it may be a long series!
  • Other Products I have no experience of the earlier products, some mono. I have heard quite a few of the solid state products and they all sounded above average. There is some good engineering behind this brand! But these are largely outside my radar.
  • Panor and Later Products In the early 90's I heard in HK the Panor ST-70 Series II (in the now defunct Man Yee building), and it did not impress me, but that could be the dealer, which was not known for setup skills. It had divided opinions (panned in Stereophile but well received by TNT). If you google, you shall find out how much furor it had stirred up. I'd think that is par for the course - it takes a courageous soul to try to bring back an "updated" version of a legend. The lesson continues to the present day, right now, when Canadian company Raidial Engineering tries to bring out its Series III (here). Although publicized in trade magazines like TAS, apparently Panor, which seems to still own the trademark, had instigated lawsuits which may or may not have been settled.

Dynaco PAS 3

  • Round 1: Initial Impressions I am not sure how many years had elapsed since the last time I heard the PAS 3 - perhaps two decades? Hooked up to my horns, I was quite take aback. Whereas I had remembered it as slow and gray, it was now lightning fast and quite aggressive. The leading edge and transients were very exciting, but the treble was very rough and the preamp could not play loud at all, as it turned strident fast. But I knew: it has potential.
  • Round 2: vs Conrad Johnson PV-5 I took it to Kevin's house (equipment more or less detailed here), where it was matched with Conrad Johnson PV-5. As expected, the PAS 3 sounded smoother here but its fast leading edge and weakness at loud volume were still very much evident. Listened at a reasonable volume the sound was very promising, very much more so than the CJ PV-5: while the CJ painted a more comforting broad stroke and bold colors, the stock PAS 3, even when tethering at the edge, revealed a much broader palette of infinite shades and hues, in both tonality and rhythm.
There is a LOT more to Part II. Stay tuned.

27 February, 2018

Bell 2122, Citation I, and more

For all pics, click to enlarge. Left, Chez Andy. Note Bell perched on top of Cary. Garrard 401 with Odyssey arm in foreground.

Letter from NYC (80) 2018 (6): Making the Rounds

I think I have been a bit under the weather of late, the symptoms even premonitory of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). So what better than to counter with time spent in good systems? That all the visits came with great food and wine made it all the more enticing. Many thanks to Andy, Kevin and Stephen for their hospitality. There is too much to cover, so I shall try to be brief and, sorry (anonymous reader who had left a comment), no food pics (for this post)!

Chez Andy - Bell and Citation redux
Andy had recently gotten himself a pair of Bell 2122 (info here) and spent a great deal of time doing basic restoration on the line section (phono section and tone controls left in circuit). On this occasion, Andy had switched to the Citation I's line section, so it was used as full-function preamp. Equipment has changed a bit since last reported:

Analog 1: Garrard 401/Odyssey tonearm/Ortofon 2M Red (hot-rodded; see below)
Analog 2: Walker Proscenium Gold Signature/Pickering 380 with elliptical stylus
Preamp: Harman Kardon Citation I
Amp: Bell 2122
Loudspeakers: Altec A5 (with JBL 075 tweeter and Entec subwoofer)

Although I had listened to Andy's system quite often, I had somehow neglected to report that for quite a while he has been using the Altec 288 driver (instead of the JBL) with the 515 woofer, so that makes it a bona fide A5 system.

Despite some obvious anomalies, the sound this time was truly inspiring. Every note of Ivan Moravec's Beethoven (Connoisseur Society LP) was clear as a Bell (punt intended). Most impressive were the inner voices, which were never subsumed. The PDQ Bach LP (Vanguard), recorded live at Town Hall, was full of life, yet never strident.

Back home, the Rostropovich/Richter Beethoven Sonatas (Philips) had a much weightier tone, which also benefited the two Jazz LPs, Portrait of Marian McPartland (Concord) and Oscar Peterson We Get Requests (Verve/Speakers Corner). However, I could not quite reproduce the palpability of the Moravec, and the PDQ Bach became a torture LP, which set me on a new quest, the details of which shall follow in a future post.

Chez Andy, the lightness probably had multiple causes: the fast speed and relatively light balance of the Citation I, compounded by the exact same qualities in the Bell amplifiers. But it too threw into sharp relief the sterling qualities of the system, a palpability and clarity that would be very hard to emulate.

We had listened mostly to the Garrard/Odyssey/Ortofon. But it should be noted that the Ortofon Red was specially modified (in particular a shortened cantilever) by Stephen (of VAS, see here). Andy has high regard for it, and I can hear why. Also, Andy loaded it at 100k, which he said smoothed out a rough peak. The exercise also once again reaffirm the exemplary qualities of the Citation I.

The visit was made even better by lunch: excellent lamb and wines! Sorry, no pics!

Chez Kevin
A few days later, I re-visited Kevin (system covered in great detail here). James brought his newly acquired CJ PV 5, and the purported purpose was to compare with Kevin's unit. I also brought my newly re-enlisted Dynaco PAS 3. My impressions will be published in another article.

Keep the Distance! Somehow we ended up re-positioning the smaller loudspeakers. The Conrad Johnson MV-75, so lackluster with the Altec A7, fared better (as it should) with the B&W CM5 and Rogers LS3/5A (late bi-wire version), which are much hungrier for power. Way in-room and free of boundary effects, the bookshelves performed admirably with all kinds of music: soundstage was deep and wide, and images were close to life-size. Indeed, with simpler music one can almost mistake them for the big horns in the back! As expected, the B&W sounded bigger but more diffuse and the LS3/5A more accurate and well proportioned. I was also impressed by the performance of Kevin's second-system turntable, a lesser known Technics direct drive fitted with a humble P-mount Pickering MM.

Many thanks to Kevin for the delicious lunch (fried rice and turnip soup) and hot-pot dinner washed down with a surprisingly good vintage Australian shiraz! Again, no pics.

Whirlwind New Jersey Tour
The next day, the full gang headed for New Jersey. First stop was a short stay chez Paul, an electronic wizard. It was too bad we were only doing drop-off's and pick-up's, as among his goodies I spotted Tannoy 15" Gold, Marantz 7 + 9, Philips CD-1000, Dahlquist DQ-20, Stromberg Carlson monoblocks and much more.

Next we re-visited Stephen at VAS (covered before here). Partnered with Focal floorstanders, the same setup sounded much airier. We were even more impressed by his bespoke MONO cartridge than his very good stereo one. This guy is seriously talented!

After a quick lunch hosted by Stephen, we visited veteran Mr Ma, a well respected electrical wizard. In his crazily jam-packed workshop we listened to Classe Digital/ARC SP 6/Eico HF-20 (modified as power amps) driving Altec 604H's. Sound was very good with simpler material. Littered around the room were, to name a few, ARC CL-60, Meridian/Philips CD100, IMF, R2R decks, Counterpoint SA7 and Radio Craftsman RC-2 (which R bought and hopefully I'll get to hear soon).

As if that wasn't enough, Stephen and his lovely wife treated us to a marvelous Chinese dinner, washed down with an excellent Napa red and a refreshing Riesling. Again, sorry, no pics.

Life is good.