18 September, 2023

Denon DL-102 Adjustable Loading Resistor

Click pic to enlarge. The Red/White are the Tonearm Cables from my Technics SL-1200. The Orange Pair are loaded with small Trim Pots dialed to 1K by multimeter.

Letter from NYC (23-16): Denon DL-102, Part V
Talk DIY: Adjustable MM Loading Resistor

Written in Shenzhen

I have been using the Denon DL-102 for a long time - it's my mono reference. I have it on an SME type removable headshell. Whenever I scored a few mono LPs or simply wanted to hear some, I swapped it in. I always add some weight (a couple of blu-tac'ed coins) on the headshell and at the tail of the tonearm. I have written quite a bit on this cartridge (Parts I-IV scattered here), but usually in the context of comparisons with other cartridges.

The DL-102 made a significant impact in my record hunting. When I first set it up, I played my many mono Living Stereos (LM) and quickly concluded that the Heifetz and other soloists sounded  fabulous, perhaps even better than in in their stereo pressings. I also appreciate its way of playing a stereo record well. Say, while on a mono binge I suddenly wanted to play a stereo record, no problem! Unlike many true mono cartridges, it won't harm the stereo record. In fact, in Japanese Radio Stations, the DL-102 was used to play all records, mono or stereo!

The DL-102 is an MC cartridge, but a High Output one. Thus, most people, including me, just use the MM stage (standard 47K ohm). The vast majority of MM stages, even on phonoamps that accommodate MC, do not allow for loading adjustment in MM mode. Hence, 47K ohms is de rigeur. However, the DL-102 is said to be optimally loaded at 1K ohm (or is it >1K ohm?) and there are discussions on the internet. I have always wondered what a lower loading than 47K would sound like...

To alter the (47K ohm loading) of the MM phono stage, one has to insert a parallel resistor with the input. I discussed this with Andy and he lent me his ingenuous contraption (see top pic). Get a 2 (female) to 1 (male) RCA adaptor. Insert the phono cables into one set of female inputs, and in the other set insert a pair of RCA males loaded with desired resistors. This can be accomplished in 2 ways. The perfectionist can just solder (or screw on, with some connectors) the resistor of his choice between the + and - points of the male RCA connector. Or one can install a small Variable Resistor (VR) Trim Pot (like the ones commonly used as amp bias pots). The advantage of the latter is one can dial in a range of R values with the help of a multimeter. This is so convenient for experimentation - just make sure the pot has the range you want (the pot above looks to be 1-10K, just about perfect. Maybe 500-5K would be just as useful. Higher values near 47K are likely not necessary.

How to choose the Resistor Value? The law is of course 1/R = 1/R1 + 1/R2. So say we want 1K loading on the 47K ohm MM stage, it becomes 1/1000 = 1/47,000 + 1/R2 and R2 would be the resistor value you need. But no need to do that, as we all use the Parallel Resistor Calculators on the web! For the MM stage it is easy, you can even not calculate: since the 47K value is very high in comparison, the R2 value is basically just what you seek (within what we usually use - there are extremists out there) - say, 1000 ohm for desired 1000 ohm and 500 ohm for desired 500 ohm, 330 ohm for desired 330 ohm. Use a multimeter and dial in your desired loading. Error margin is smaller than the tolerance of the usual cheap digital meter.

How does it Sound (Loaded at 1K)? In a word, astonishing and transformative! One reservation I have always had with my Denon DL-102 running into 47K is it's a little too smooth. At 1K, there is significantly more top end air and a livelier demeanor. Very nice! Not kidding, sometimes one feels one hardly needs stereo!

Note: This is for MM Loading adjustment only. Does not apply to MC Loading due to completely different parameters.


As a parting note, I muse on the genre of High Output MC cartridges. They are interesting animals. because of their high output, they are almost always used with 47K ohm MM stages. Most of the time, results are satisfactory. Consider Denon's own DL-110, which I rate very highly, and it works very very well with MM phonos (despite some voices to the contrary). But there are times when one senses something can perhaps be improved. The case of the Denon DL-102 illustrated here points out that.

17 September, 2023

Ortofon MC 200 VAS Cartridge ReTip

Letter from NYC (23-15): VAS Re-Tipped Ortofon MC 200

Written in Shenzhen

Long-time readers of this blog, particularly those into analog, know about VAS Cartridge Re-Tip Service. Ever since I made the acquaintance of Steve and his son Ray, I have periodically covered them and used their services (as do others in our NYC group). So let this be known. It's astonishing that over the past decade they have repaired just about every high- to highest-end MC cartridge that you can name - and custom modified many! In our wechat group, it's astonishing what our friends show, all manners of cartridges old and new! They are so inundated with work now that they don't need my article; still, I always report on what I have heard, especially when it's good...

Summary of my Experience on VAS Restorations and Re-Creations
For this article, I re-read some of my past articles (yes, I'm quite compulsive about that) and, if I may say so, I am happy that I had been thorough. My first encounters were with the Denon DL-103 based cartridges, first the VAS Ebony 103, then the VAS Ebony Mono (Cartridge of the Year 2019), both wonderful creations. Incidentally, for the record I returned them to VAS after trying them out, not because I didn't want to buy them, but because I just know VAS will have something perhaps even more interesting down the road that I can borrow to try out. I also have some cartridges that I haven't even tried out yet, among those an Audio Techinca Art 2000 and a Kondo IO-M. I hope they have not gone bad in their boxes...

Excited by what I heard from the VAS cartridges, I sent my Koetsu Black to VAS for Repair, and the result was just fabulous. It pays to read this post carefully, as it kinda compares VAS' work with another's. I also sent my Denon DL-301 to VAS, and the result was great too! I just loved to have re-read this last post, as I had completely forgotten about my interaction with Richard (C)! This is one of the beauties of this blog - it's my personal Audio Diary. Another interesting experience was at Kevin's, with the "VAS" Ortofon 2M Red, a humble MM rendered much bigger! :-)

A few things of note. VAS gets many dead cartridge bodies, and they experiment with them. The Ortofon 2M Red had long been the part of the standard package in budget or super-budget offerings (I had one before) and Steve just played with it. Nobody would re-tip a 2M Red (cost of re-tipping would exceed value of cartridge), but VAS just had fun and ran with it, and we are glad we shared in the fun. It's good to have a kid's heart - especially to make something greater out of something humble! Incidentally, there seems to be a newer trend of diversification and expansion of MM offerings that use the same upgrade formula of MC (stylus material and profile). This last point on the Spirit of Experimentation is important when it comes to the Denon DL-103. Despite its humble price, it has a Golden Heart. It has long been a staple for me, something every cartridge is judged against. VAS holds the Denon DL-103 high in esteem and they have only praise for the excellent Alnico Motor and Sturdy Built. VAS told me some popular modern alnico cartridges are greatly inferior in construction. Of course, I cannot mention names! In conversation, they also told me of quite a few name brands to avoid, but I'd not buy those at those prices anyway - I had witnessed just too many terrible "high-end" analog setups! With VAS, there's a lot more to be had from the rock-solid fundamentals of the DL-103 - that I'm very glad to report! What I appreciate about VAS is their hearts are in the right places. No Nonsense.

Ortofon MC 200, Part I (Official Info)
This came as an utter surprise! When Richard and I visited them recently, Steve handed me this. I was perplexed. It looks like a DJ cartridge! Steve said, didn't you always wanted to hear the Ortofon MC200? And then I realized that something was lost in translation. I likely had once mentioned that I regretted not having bought an MC2000 (I had bought the wonderful MC3000 Mk II and 5000 on clearance in HK years ago, and I still have them).

But, as I scrutinized this completely unfamiliar Ortofon, I became more and more excited. Man, this is a veritable relic! This is an extremely low output (0.09mV) feather-weight (6g) MC cartridge that tracks light (1.3g) and can be used on a light arm, when the conventional practice is heavy MC cartridge on a heavy arm! From decades ago, we have this tiny cartridge that houses a Samarium Cobalt motor with a Boron Cantilever and Micro Line Stylus (wow, how modern that sounds, $$$ right?). This particular VAS restoration is with Boron Cantilever but a PA stylus.

I installed it on my Technics SL-1200, a medium-mass tonearm. I used the 37 ohm setting (1:36) on a Cinemag 3440AH (made by Ned Clayton) into the MM stage of my Aurorasound Vida, and the sound pleased me from the word go! It was very smooth, yet full of microdynamic details! It sounded like an expensive MC (which it should be)! Perhaps my Midas Denon DL-103 on the MoFi Studiodeck had a little more drama (and a little grain) but the MC 200 held its own. And I likely didn't even have the best SUT. I was running out of time and could not have taken it to Kevin to match it with its perfect partner, the Ortofon T20 SUT. This would have to wait for months for Part II on my next return to NYC, but I'm confident the Ortofon MC 200 is a winner. That it can be used on a light arm is highly unusual! I'm sure I shall install it on my SME3009i to try!

Another fascinating restoration from VAS! Salute!

 Cinemag 3440AH Phono Step Up Transformer SUT

Cinemag 3440AH Phono Step Up Transformer SUT

16 September, 2023

Gemme Audio Katana DS Audio E1 Tannoy

Click pics to enlarge. Tannoy 15" Gold's. Driven by Marantz 7 and (not seen) Stromberg Carlson monoblocks. Source is the legendary 2-chassis Philips 1000. Marantz 9's idle. Thorens TD-125 not heard. In left foreground is an upside down Citation II.

Letter from NYC (23-14): One Day in New Jersey, and other Loose Ends

Written in Shenzhen

One Day in New Jersey
During my stay in NYC, I made 2 trips to NJ. One was with Richard, a visit to VAS etc. But, before that, I had made a trip with Kevin., which is briefly chronicled here.

In terms of audio, the trip served 2 purposes, We went to NJ Paul's place, where Kevin picked up his CJ MV-75 (Paul installed 2 meters for him). We also met Leo there, and "my" Harbeth P3ESR SE went back to him. We spent a bit of time listening to Paul's simple but effective system. Kevin wowed at the sweetness of the vocals there. The Tannoy's sounded nice indeed!

Kevin then drove to Northern NJ to run an errand with his Auntie, an astonishingly elegant old, pedigreed lady from Shanghai and an accomplished pianist. Below are pictures of the lavishly restored old Steinway. Nearby laid piles of scores, including the complete Beethoven Sonatas. I would love to meet this lovely lady again! And to hear her play!

An Afternoon with Kane
This blog had visited Kane before. Once again, I went with Paul (NYC, not to be confused with NJ). Kane's system hasn't changed that much, but he has upgraded his loudspeakers to Gemme Audio Katana. These use Accuton Ceramic Drivers. Design is said to be quasi "horn"/Transmission Line (Soundstage review). NYC Paul and I had actually heard them several years ago, before the pandemic, when Kane just got them. They were kinda shrill at that time, but this time it was very nice. Quite an opulent sound (Kane is a cable man, particularly Siltech fan, and that's what he strives for). BTW, our NYC Andy wechat group members may not know he's in the group, as @Ren Kang.

DS Audio Optical Phono Cartridge
To this day, I don't know how good DS Audio Optical Cartridges are, but I take every opportunity to hear them. What I do know is, they are good. At the very least, There'd be many people reluctant to take up this technology, and I don't blame them, as I was perhaps once one of them! When I first heard DS Audio a decade ago at a HK show (here, a very expensive one), I was skeptical, but I also conceded the sound was not bad and deserved more careful evaluation. Fast forward to now, thanks to Andy, I got to hear the cheapest E1 (green light) at 2 venues! At Andy's place (on an SP10), with the JBL system, I can report the sound as totally "normal" and truthful and neutral to the material. Andy has changed the opamps used in the "equalizer/amplitude device and I think he now uses the Douk E6 to buffer it for a warmer sound. Whatever, I heard nothing unsavory at all. Even at R's place, where the system sounded subpar, the sound was not bad. I myself would like to try it out one day and, at least with the cheapest E1 model, you should think about it! With the insane prices of today's MC cartridges, the E1 seems reasonably priced! For a completely different experience!

Andy's Opamp Stash
NJ Paul's treasure trove!
What a beautiful vintage Steinway!

11 September, 2023

Altec 604E Infinity RS-1B ARC D90B 6F8 vs 6SN7

Click pics to enlarge. Bell 2122C atop the 604E. Note the contraption in front of the added tweeter, an imitation of the passive Xinshe 597. On the shelf Chinese Preamp with 6F8G, next to Conar SE EL84 amp (not used).

Letter from NYC (23-13): Labor Day Weekend+, Part IV (Tuesday), Escape from NY!

Written in Shenzhen

(Continued from Part III (Monday)) Now, I had not planned anything for this day, as I had to fly back to HK middle of the night. It was a busy day. As usual, I woke up early, and did laundry. Then I started to move the various gear back to their storage. Turned off some power banks. Closing up shop. Then the building superintendent came to inspect the balcony. And then the Telephone Rang...it was Kevin...

Kevin had some uncooked stuff left over from a BBQ party the previous day and wanted to invite me and Andy to listen to his recent endeavors (see below). I was hesitant, but how could I refuse? So I galvanized myself and did as much as I could have before Kevin picked me up around 12:00. We then picked up Andy, who had a big surprise. His friend had gone fishing and gave him a Fluke from his crop. This we took to Kevin's house. Dead but fresh Fish...

Altec 604E And so we listened to the latest iteration of Kevin's Altec 604E. I don't write about every one of our meetings - how could I? Suffice to say, over the 2 months in NYC, I came here a few times. I shall take this opportunity to explain it a little. The modern crossover is likely not bad. To balance the sound, Kevin had tried adding tweeters. The last round was with EV (the ones used in Klipsch) but he had settled on the ones in the pic (L-pad used). We don't even know what they are but they do help to raise the image height and impart a little more openness. More interestingly, sometimes Kevin adds a Diatone fullrange (mounted in the center of an LP). One time before, I listened to each, connected or not, and concluded it did make a difference for the better. This round, we listened to them being driven by Bell 2122C, but with a Chinese Preamp in front. This one employs 6SN7 and has regulator tubes. In a previous round, it sounded superior to its sibling without the regulator tubes. 6SN7 vs 6F8G Kevin had been running the preamp with the 6F8G (with adaptor) I gave him a long time ago. On this day, at his asking, I brought a pair of RCA 6SN7, and sure enough, it outperformed the 6F8G. The 6F8G has more oomph, but the 6SN7 is more subtle. Interesting, as many on the net professes the superiority of the ST 6F8G. Andy chipped in, and said from his own experience he prefers the 6SN7 too. This round of the 604E was the best I have heard, and really quite decent, but I still say, with A5/A7 around, why bother? They are all equally difficult (a way of saying: impossible) to get perfectly right, but the A5/A7 are for sure better endowed.

During all this time, Kevin was in and out. The dead fish took over and he prepared half of it for us in the upstairs kitchen. Perhaps you don't know this: he was a trained cook!!! Instead of steaming, he poached the fish and it was excellent, aided by some Chinese broccoli. Of course, Andy's wines helped!

Infinity RS-1B and Audio Research D-90B Kevin's Infinity had featured in the blog more times than I can remember (should you care to peruse). Previously, like Andy, he had used the VTL MB-450. He swapped in the ARC D-90B and it made a surprising improvement. There seemed to be enough power, and with the added benefit of a more refined sound. The D-90B (arcdb) is a somewhat unusual one from relatively earlier times. Instead of 6550, the B version sports 5881, at a slightly lower power. Driver tubes are different too, no 6CG7 and introducing 6922. Kevin's unit was bought from Leo and has good tubes in them. Russian 6L6WGC and nice Hungarian Tungsram 6922s. So it seems that the ribbon panel of the Infinity is not that hard to drive! Good news. It is interesting that the same ARC 90B sounded lean with the B and W M801 (Kevin preferred his CJ MV-75 there). And so, finally, the Infinity had come into its own this time around. We happily listened to Prokofiev's Cinderella Suite (OSR/Ansermet, London STS). Very good. The Infinity is perfect for Prokofiev, and it recalls listening to Romeo and Juliet (Cleveland/Maazel, London) upstairs at Andy's (it's been ages).
Kevin dropped me back in Flushing around 3:30. I returned some magazines to the library and ran some errands. Back home, I frantically mopped up and packed. Around 9:30 pm Kevin picked me up and drove me to the airport. Thus concluded this round of mad dash and my return to NYC. I had the feeling that I had escaped, far from the madding crowd.
Poached Fluke and Chinese Broccoli
Another occasion, authentic HK style food in a restaurant
Another time, cheese from NJ Amish Farm
Below Halal Food Take Out
A bit of the silver ARC D90B can be seem on bottom shelf
This Ultra-Analog Classe DAC is excellent. CJ MV75 below (meters added)
Wild assortment of Decca cartridges and accessories
TT Galore
Can someone give some info on this driver?

10 September, 2023

Western Electric 124 Langevin 102 LS3/5A


Click pics to enlarge. WE124B on the floor. Micromega Stage 2 CDP and Yamamoto CA-04 Preamp on the upper shelf. On top, from L, Aurora Vida with Cinemag 3440A on top, Fosgate Signature, Sparkler CDP (unused) and Elekit TU-8300 (unused).

Letter from NYC (23-12): Labor Day Weekend+, Part III (Monday), Chez Andy et Moi

Written in Shenzhen

(continued from Part II (Sunday)) I'm not sure how this came about. Western Electric must have been mentioned at some point in Andy's now much expanded (and very busy) Wechat group. In any case, I was the only one with some WE stuff, and the crowd wanted to hear them.

In Preparation and My Perspective You can imagine I had a busy morning. As it was going to be quite a few people, it had to be in the LR, where I had my LS3/5A system. The WE124 monoblocks had lied dormant for several years. It was not too much trouble getting them into the LR. I hooked them up to the Yamamoto CA-04 Preamp and they gradually came to life. Familiar and intimate sound that is very different from the 300B I had been listening to (and which Sam heard in Part II). In a small way, as the Yamamoto now has a pair of tiny WE 403A inside, it is a "full" WE system, LOL! Well, the 124s have all Sylvania tubes (6J7s and 6L6GAs) though, very importantly, the rectifiers are now WE274B! My WE friends may snicker, but I think it still delivers a reasonable fascimile of the WE sound. You may ask, what's the difference between the 300B amp and the WE124? The WE obviously has a fuller sound and is more powerful. Its air is smoother than 300B but some may like the more overt sound of the 300B. Most importantly, the WE has more of a subtle rhythmic savvy that befits all music. Also, I had actually taken out the WE106 but somehow I could find only one 274A and so had to drop it this time.

My HK taskmaster icefox (@E) again enslaved me, this time via remote! He all of a sudden mentioned the Langevin 102 in the Wechat group. He had heard it to great effect in HK apparently. So it took me quite a while to extricate this heavy beast from my dedicated horn room. It had not been used for a long time too. My unit uses no WE tubes. I swapped out the Yamamoto and the sound was a little congested at first. It opened up a bit gradually but was not as transparent as I had remembered and wrote about. I just let it run.

Chez Andy Just before noon, I walked all the way to Andy's place in Auburndale. This had actually been planned the previous week, before all the recent madness descended upon us. As usual, we casually listened to some records on Andy's mellow Altec A5 (if you search the blog [upper left corner] for "Andy + A5" you shall find lots of piecemeal bits I wrote. To sample, perhaps this and this to start? Andy prepared Beef Noodle Soup, his specialty, and we drank and ate. One funny thing is Andy opined that no wine ever can pair with the noodle soup. I'm rather less picky. I particularly enjoyed a Nono/Berio record; somehow the European Avant-garde (old guard by now), whom I favor, deliver a narrative (unlike much modern music) that sounds particularly good on horns.


About 2 hours later, the crowd descended upon Andy's. Philip, who had dim sum before, came with Johnny. MJ arrived around the same time, separately. They much enjoyed the A5 for a while. Somehow, we found out Johnny had not eaten lunch yet and Andy's Beef Noodle Soup saved the day for him. One recurrent theme during our meets is Bossa Nova. The laid back style is particularly suitable for horns. So a bit of Gilberto was played wherever we went.  Then we all squeezed into into MJ's car and headed for my place.

Chez Moi I had bagged up all Andy's wines, which we continued to enjoy at my place. Kevin joined us later. I used my Micromega Stage 2 almost exclusively. We played a lot of CDs. The system sounded good but something was missing. I swapped out the Langevin and back went the Yamamoto. All the air and soundstage came back. I reckon I need to re-run in the Langevin for quite a while. Next time maybe. I also demo'ed the el-cheapo but excellent 16 bit TDA1543 Magnavox, which is so different from the 1-bit Micromega. As Phil's CDP had gone south, I lent it to him to play CDs. Meanwhile, the horn room was active. A couple of people went in and I played a couple of tracks. I could not man 2 rooms and it was under-utilized. I also took out and played my Sonus faber Electa Amator II, which is more powerful and quite different from the LS3/5A.

The big question is: did they get what is the fuss about WE? I'm not sure at all. The small system was certainly not at the rarified level of my 133 in HK (also a different pair of 124 here), all utilizing big Tannoys (like our friends' GRF's). Even in HK, I had friends who failed to grasp what it's all about. The LS3/5A is a small loudspeaker that should be appreciated within its own envelope. But, I maintain, if you listen hard, it can still reflect what the equipment is largely about, in a subtle manner that big loudspeaker users may not be used to (or unable to mentally switch over in an instant). To me, the real distinction of WE is very subtle, an extra tug here or there, an accent that one never notices before, and a breathing whole. I'd think on the day I ended up likely demonstrating what an LS3/5A system can achieve more than what WE sounds like. It's like the effect of the WE274 rectifier (the real one, like what I used, not replica), which does not shout at you but instead persuades. I'd say the air and refinement of the system was excellent. It was also a demonstration of what near-field placement can achieve. I note that few of our friends employ near-field placement, and that is an important divide. For myself, I try my best not to have the loudspeakers against the front wall, as in-room confers a much wider soundstage and ambience (or venue and hall sound). Music is not just about texture and impact, though these are important. Next time, whenever that is, I shall try to have a larger pair of loudspeakers in my LR (maybe my Martin Logan Source). Or maybe I shall take my WE to their large systems!

Nice Coasters from Taiwan! Chez Andy

JBL C60 Altec A5 A7 604E Tannoy GRF Memory Electrovice B&W Matrix 801

Click pics to enlarge. JBL C60 against the wall. Citation IV atop the center pile driving McIntosh MC240, next to which was the Citation I.Note the huge Kronzilla to the right.

Letter from NYC (23-11): Labor Day Weekend+, Part II (Sunday), The Longest Day

Written in Shenzhen

(Continued from Part I (Saturday)) MJ came by in the morning and listened to my systems a bit. He was particularly taken by the deep airy soundstage produced by the LS3/5A in my LR (Yamamoto; Elekit, here). I packed some of the food I cooked on Saturday and we went over to Kevin's place, where he in short succession demonstrated his Altec 604E, B and W  Matrix 801, Infinity RS-1 and Altec A7 (I have profiled him extensively in many articles; will have an updated article somewhere down the line). We had lunch there with the stuff I brought over, supplemented with some nice Chinese chives (grown in the backyard) sauteed with bean sprouts. Andy was waiting for Godot in the morning. By 1 pm, Godot had not turned up and we were very happy to have our group leader join us. We picked him up and headed to Roslyn Heights.

Chez MJ We first hit his basement, and were immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of large vintage loudspeakers and gear. It is an L-shaped basement (see diagram). We enter first into the long-stroked arm. At the Tip of the Letter were the Altec 604E and a pair of EV, driven by very simple disc player and an old Sansui Receiver. The Altec cabinet is a little larger than Kevin's and I thought it also sounded a little richer. Not bad at all for the very difficult to get right 604E (like the bigger A series, most suffer from crossover woes). The EV Fullrange was also surprisingly organic.

Like soldiers going through landmines, we advanced inch by inch and sat down on the sofa and listened to the JBL C60. Wow! It's like the big brother of the 4320 the day before! Significantly larger with an extra passive 15" woofer. Driven by Citation IV and McIntosh MC240 the sound was utterly engrossing! And the LP was played on a humble Technics SL-1200 with a Denon DL-103 (rare variant D), Denon Step-Up but a cheap "professional" DJ phonoamp! Streaming through a Marantz, much like Sam. As you can see in the pic, the C60 is propped up on a dolly. Andy raised the question of listening to them in the original state, on the floor (though the tweeter would be quite a bit below ear level. And then there is the question of taking the mid driver and tweeter out and putting them on top - something many JBL users do to improve the sound.

How good is the C60? Near the top, for my taste. Incidentally, I had written a brief JBL Overview before, so you know where I stand. Looks like I have to update it! As I mentioned in Part I of this series, my hitherto favorite has always been the L300. But the C60 has mighty attributes of its own, like an extra, albeit passive 15" woofer. The sound of the C60 (as of now) tilts towards the bass, whereas the L300 likely has a more evenly sorted sound. It hardly matters - we are smitten! Kevin is already on the lookout. Andy and I have no more space.

And then we turned the corner to the short leg of the L. At the end was a pair of Altec A5, with Wood Horns! It was being driven by a pair of Acrosound EL34 monoblocks to good effect. Of course, this wing of the L shaped room is just too confining for the A5. Source was classic half-size Esoteric VRDS Transport and DAC. Preamp was a DIY by one of their friends. Beneath are some Stromberg Carlson integrated amps. I asked to substitute the Oliver Sayes 43 SE amp (this one had 1x 6SL7 and a 5Y3). I heard much the same mellifluous sound as the 71A amp I had at home (although the 43 is indirectly heated pentode and 71A DHT).

One thing I learned recently is, much to my surprise, Altec's can be less efficient than I thought. With my YL horns (YL drivers and Altec 416A woofer) the Oliver Sayes 71A (0.7 watts) was more potent than here with the 43 driving the A5. Similarly, at Kevin's my Conar SE EL84, though tonally excellent, was not that powerful with the 604E (article to come).

Flanking the Tannoys are the Klipsch Forte's used in HT. Pair of Chartwell LS3/5A on stands. Pair of Spendor SP-100 idle on left.

Chez Philip Phil lives across the Street and came over to MJ's for a while and we all followed him back to his VERY large basement. Aside from the speaker change, the room looked much as before. Unlike Sam and MJ, Phil maintains a more minimalist outlook. The Tannoy GRF Memory is earlier than Sam's, with Cork face. We're not sure if they are TW's, Alnico or Ferrite. Phil still uses the McIntosh MX110 tuner-preamp (hidden in cabinet), a great bargain in my book, which drives a pair of McIntosh MC-60 (atop cabinet). Streaming was through a Gold Note two-box (in open cabinet). Sound was decent and much like at Sam's, though here due to the wide separation and heavily carpeted and large space less focused and softer. But it was still very musical. However, with old Jazz, say a Trio, it's ridiculous - there is too much of a ping pong effect with one player far away on the right and another on the left. Many of these old stereos have weak centers to start with, so this is a problem. After giving it thought, I recently told Phil mono jazz small combo albums will likely play better in this system, though we didn't try it that day. With classicals and orchestrals, the wide span was not so much a problem. We also tried out his humble analog setup of Pioneer PL-12 TT and AT95 Cartridge. Through the MX110's excellent phono section. sound was decent. There was however significant imbalance between the levels of the 2 channels, which I balanced by using the MX110's convenient Level Controls (tubes need to be checked). The tone of Michael Rabin (Seraphim LP) was surprisingly opulent, but the orchestral part was kinda grey. We tried to play CDs but the player was unresponsive.

This room is really too large. If I had known years ago, I'd not have recommended the SP-100 for him. In the plan below I show my idea of how to improve placement, but of course I understand everybody has constraints. I know some upgrades and a rack are in the works but re-positioning will have even more decisive impact. just brainstorming.

The highlight of the evening was an outdoor BBQ. What's a Labor Day Weekend without one? The food was simple but high quality, washed down with good wine. We were joined by the two wives (delightful) and another audio friend Johnny, a seasoned vintage veteran whom the mosquitos zoomed in on. Andy and I were completely unscathed. The only regret of the day was that Sam could not have joined us, as he was having too much fun laboring in Las Vegas.

Below a clip of Phil's, all from a cheap cheap TT! 

 L, Phil's room now. R, my suggestion of subdividing by 2-3 ft. This allows for the Tannoys
to be closer together and have more soundstage behind. It'd also make connectivity better.
The TV being closer would be more impressive too.
L, Room Plan of MJ as of now. R, my suggestions
Preview: MJ's latest! Too bad I can't be there! Boy, these guys move fast!

09 September, 2023

Tannoy GRF Memory JBL 4320

Click pics to enlarge. JBL 4320 in front of Tannoy GRF Memory. Japanese (100V) 2A3 amp in foreground. Dared 300B PSE monoblocks in cabinet, atop of which are the Harmon Kardon Citation I and Lafayette Preamps. Cary 300B SEI atop a McIntosh Preamp. The shelf above shows McIntosh MR71 tuner, atop of which a Cary preamp and to the left a WE421A amp. More vintage on the shelf above, including Eico.

Letter from NYC (23-10): Labor Day Weekend+, Part I (Saturday), Labor of Love

Written in Shenzhen. Updated 9/10/23: Some corrections, re-writes and expansion (shaded boxes). Latest Video of  JBL 4320 added.

The weekdays before the Labor Day Weekend were unusually peaceful. Andy was having his contractors cleaning up his yard, and I was busy tidying up things before my departure. Things then happened so quickly all of a sudden that the older ones among us had great trouble keeping up! These new characters are much younger than Kevin and I, not to mention Andy. I certainly had a hard time sorting out the events for this article (especially since a lot of drinking was involved)!

The ball actually started to roll long before, when we visited R. As mentioned, I met Simon's friend Sam (in Whitestone - we all live close by) for the first time there, and it proved pivotal, indeed catalytic. Sam mentioned that we have a common acquaintance, Philip (in Roslyn Heights). Indeed, said Philip many years ago asked me some questions about Spendor SP-100, and I actually met up with him several times then (even with Andy!) Apparently, Philip had more recently taken after Sam in acquiring the Tannoy GRF Memory. I was delighted as I thought Philip had called it quits (his children were very young then). Sam had to fly away on Sunday, and Philip and family were coming back from the Carribean Saturday night, so Sam and I arranged to meet on Saturday with the wild hope of hopping over to Philip later (it was not to be).

Saturday was a long day! Sam had to go to New Jersey in the morning to pick up a pair of JBL 4320. I knew it was going to be a long day, so in the morning I prepared rice, a large pot of Beef Shank (金钱腱) Stew, and Chinese Cabbage with Bean Pockets (油豆腐). Richard came in from Manhattan, picked me up and drove to Sam's place around 2 o'clock. The timing was perfect, not a minute too soon, as Sam's return home was delayed because his pick-up truck had developed problems during the trip. We met Sam's friend MJ (Michael, also from Roslyn Heights, friend and neighbor of Phil, who was with him on the NJ trip. Later, Kevin joined us.

First, we listened to the Tannoy GRF Memory. This is the later one with Wood front baffle. Sam mentioned later it had upgraded German paper cones. Sound was excellent. TT was VPI HW-19 with early Graham arm sporting a VdH cartridge. Forgot the step-up. Preamp was the Citation I (also tried the Lafayette) and Amp was a Dared PSE 300B monoblock. Digital duties were served by a modern Marantz CDP/Streamer.

A word on these Tannoy GRF Memory. There were many generations (confusing) and they are basically predecessors of the Canterbury HE (which itself spawned SE etc). The earliest ones were Cork faced and there were designations of HW, TW, TWW etc.  Sam's later version is bi-wired (just like the later Canterburys). Only the very early ones were Alnico. Sam's is Ferrite. For the Prestige Canterbury HE that I have (and subsequent iterations) Tannoy had reverted back to Alnico. The sound is much more balanced and dynamic than older Silvers and Reds. This blog wrote profusely on the modern Canterbury's, which I believe are the best! These GRFs are very impressive. Indeed, Sam's pair sounded just like my Canterburys, and count among the very few best Tannoys setups (in HK heard too many horrible Silver and Red setups) that I have heard. Do not confuse these with the earlier corner GRF, nor the later Prestige GRF (alnico but 12").

Of course, we could not resist and asked for the JBL 4320. As with old JBLs (and TADs), only spring clip terminals in the back. Sam, an experienced DIY person, made some cables and adaptors on the spot. Sound was of course much more neutral than the Tannoy. Even though they had not been used in a long time and were suboptimally placed in this room, both Richard and I nodded enthusiastically in approval. We just loved the realism. We switched to a Japanese 2A3 amp that sports full Tango transformers (including interstages) and old stock double plates. Sound was sweeter but lacking a little heft. Now, I'd love to hear a stacked pair (my experience with stacked 4312A was stunning)!

A word on the 4320. My first time hearing these and was I impressed! These have superior alnico drivers. Although it bears JBL's "43" professional designation, it has a sturdy wood enclosure. In terms of drivers, the "home use" equivalent (subject to variations over time) is the L200 (just as the L100 is the home use version of 4312). I think these have a lot of potential. My absolute favorite JBL loudspeaker is the formidable L300, but these are no slouch!

We even listened a little to the DIY RCA 829 Preamp and Harmon Kardon Citation II driving the legendary but notoriously difficult to drive ATC SCM10. Not bad at all!

Then, MJ had to go pick up Philip and family from the airport and Kevin returned home. Richard and Sam and I went to my home, had dinner and listened to my LR system of LS3/5A driven by Yamamoto preamp and Elekit 300B amp (here). Afterwards, they spent a little time listening in my dedicated room with my YL horns driven by Shindo Monbrison and Oliver Sayes 71A amp. I had only set it up in the morning and I believe it was very good. The 0.7 Watts of the 71A was amazingly high quality.

A lot of wine (offered by Sam, a Cab drinker) and a day well spent! Sam's place is a treasure trove that I intend to visit again and again! Thx so much! Thx Richard too for being the driver! Incidentally, Richard was very happy as it was not so easy for him to hear big horns, not to mention 2 pairs in one day, no less. I predict a horny future for him!

Preview: Just received this Video from Sam. Swapping in the McIntosh C22
resulted in a fuller sound for the JBL 4320. Wish I were there! 

ATC SCM10 flanked by Philips fullrange in cabinets made by Simon. DIY 829 preamp
atop Citation IV. Citation II. Background various Stromberg Carlsons and Dynaco.
Chartwell LS3/5A atop Philips

Better view of the Dared 300B monoblocks.
Below: Video of GRF