19 February, 2019

Elekit TU-8150 6V6 6AQ5

Click pics to enlarge. Right, atop my Wavac MD-811.

Review: Elekit TU-8150(DX), Part I

Being a long time Elekit fan, I own many of their products and have written a lot about their more recent offerings in my Blog. Should you be interested, here are some links:

Overview: Elekit, Part I
Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp
This article contains a 6V6 Overview

Imagine my delight when I learned about the new TU-8150. Beside 300B, my TU-8300 can run all sorts of common pentode/tetrode/beam tubes but that does not interest me. IMHO, none of those tubes (including NOS) run as triode can hold a candle to 300B (even current production). So, why does the TU-8150 interest me? Because it can use one of my absolute favorite tubes, the even more lower-powered 6V6, which neither the TU-8300 nor the TU-8200 can. If you run through my blog, lately I have been using vintage 6V6 push-pull amps, and I have been clamoring for a 6V6 SE amp, which I have heard to good effect before (here).

I immediately rang up and ordered one from Viktor of vkmusic, and I got the amp in 2 days. If you are in North America, buy from him, a die-hard supporter of Elekit who has contributed much to the company, who also offers reliable technical support.

This Flyer summarizes the Features of this amp:

 photo TU8150 leaflet Englishf_zpsv6shu1sz.jpg

DX version  Note that vkmusic supplies the kit as "DX" version, with the following upgraded parts: 1) Amtrans AMRT carbon resistor set; 2) 2 x Amtrans AMCO 0.1 for the Coupling Capacitors. And this is the version I built.

Building the Kit Like all Elekit's, building the kit was not difficult. The manual is beautifully illustrated and logical. Note: 1) the only difficulty I had was soldering the thick metal tabs that anchor the frames of the output transformers. My 40W solder, even temperature-controlled, was just not powerful enough, and it took me several attempts; 2) be careful with soldering the loudspeaker binding post - I had it upside down and had to redo it; 3) vkmusic's upgraded Amtrans resistors are longer than the stock resistors; Victor advises kind of an S-bend to shorten the distance between the legs so as they can be stuffed onto the board, but I found that too elaborate, and just bending the lead right where it exits the body does the job for almost all of them. I had it finished in a couple of days over the Lunar New Year.

In the above pic, note that the 6V6 socket modules are idling. Also note that the board uses pins which one inserts into the main board. The unit shows the 6AQ5 board installed. It is actually below the top board, which is just for anchoring and leveling with the taller 6V6 socket. Look carefully and you will see 3 levels where the sockets are.

Listening (6AQ5)
  • Tubes I did a lot of initial listening using the 6AQ5, which is a smaller tube with similar electrical characteristics to the larger 6V6. The stock pair are very late production GE 6005's (note different vendors have different tube options). For the 12AX7 I used an old D-getter RCA grey-plate in lieu of the stock JJ.
  • Jumper It was set to Elekit-recommended Ultralinear. The jumper's plastic handle felt loose but I was assured by VK that it is OK, as the same jumper has been used a lot in other models without any problem.
  • Op Amp  Op amp was the stock NJM4580D.
  • Power Socket Note that the Power Socket is the Figure-8 type (C7/8) which some may frown upon. I used the stock power cord.
    Image result for nezet bruckner 5
  • Sound with System II As used, the system comprised the Sony XA-5400ES SACD/CD player, Technics SP-1200 Mk II/Hana EL Cartridge (report to come on the Hana), Aurorasound Vida Phonoamp, Shindo Monbrisson Preamp and YL 4-way horns (104 db). The amp wasted no time in making an impression. My attention was seized by the very good Rhythm and Pace. At first there was a little grain in the treble, which quickly decreased with time, but it should be noted at least half an hour of warm-up is required for it to sound its best. Sound with the 6AQ5 is generally very full bodied and rich, perhaps just a little homogenous - after all, the new tubes and transformers especially needed to be run in (longer than caps and parts in my experience). But given the good transient performance, all was engaging. Dynamically it did a very respectable job. To cite two examples: the audiophile favorite, stimela (track 12) from Hugh Masekela's album Hope, while not as explosive as it could be (this is after all 2.9 WPC), sounded lively, involved and full of microdynamic detail; and Yannck Nezet-Sequin's Bruckner 5th (ATMA, not particularly well recorded) sounded organic and big, as it should, much better than it had previously through earphones. By this time, I was enjoying it hugely.
    Image result for nielsen concertos gilbert
  • As Headphone Amp At this point, I took time to construct my AkitikA amp kit (report to follow). I moved the TU-8150 to the living room, behind my workbench, and fed it with my Linn Karik CDP. Through the AKG-701 earphone sound was luxurious and detailed. Nielsen's three (somewhat quirky) instrumental concertos sounded better than I have ever heard them in the readings by NYPO/Alan Gilbert (Dacapo). The sound was so good I actually played this CD multiple times through the kit-building period. It should be noted: 1) the loudspeaker outputs automatically disengage themselves when a headphone plug is inserted. But I think as a precaution, to make sure there is loading when the amplifier is on but headphone not plugged in, loudspeakers should always be connected; 2) Using the TU-8150 as integrated headphone amp, the volume and dynamics were respectable and sound is excellent.
    Bowmboi by Rokia Traore
  • Back to System II After I finished building the AkitikA, which took several days, I re-installed it in my System II. Sound was surely a little better than before and I thought it was close to being run-in. I played the wonderful Rokia Traore's Bowmboi. While it was very good, I knew her voice was a little too smoky and that there is more delicacy and sinuous delivery to be had.
  • On to System III Desiring a slightly crisper delivery, I switched to System III, comprising Sparkler S-303 CDP and Schiit Saga as Preamp directly into the Elekit. Surely, Traore's voice was how it should be. Similarly, Masekela's men also had more rhythmic snap. This was in part due to the snappier delivery of the Sparkler, and in part due to the non-euphonizing nature of the Schiit, which did an excellent job driving a long interconnect. However, on some material, a bit of shrillness creeped in when played loud. In the end, I still prefer a tube preamp. By now, I knew that I had wrung most of the performance out of the amp, so it was time to move on.
 Listening (6V6)
MilesDavis MilesInTokyo1960s.jpg
  • Switching to 6V6 It was pretty easy. Only 4 screws needed to be removed to take off the upper chassis. Then I replaced the 6AQ5 boards and its top boards with the 6V6 boards (now only two tiers). I plugged in the pair of 6V6 I had been using in my Grommes LJ5, Sylvania smoked glass VT-107A's.
    Amtrak Blues
  • Sound with System II Everything else being equal, the 6V6 immediately sounded cleaner and clearer, as if a thin veil had been lifted. Now, Masekela's men and Traore sounded like in System III above, yet when the music got loud there was no roughness. From this point on, I concentrated on music only and here are a few that I really enjoyed. The first was Alberta Hunter's Amtrak Blues (CD, CBS). This lady is truly legendary and her life is an incredible story (wiki entry, make sure you read it). I actually got to hear her live and at the time bought her later The Glory of Alberta Hunter on LP. Her full voice on this CD is a delight and the session men were also very well recorded. And then there is Miles in Tokyo (CD, CBS/Sony), not the best recorded of the many Miles albums, but I positively dig the player of saxophonist Sam Rivers, who only appeared with Miles in those few days but was generally credited for pushing the sound of the Miles Davis Quintet forward. And two LP's were particularly outstanding. Boulez' Varese LP (Columbia) had delectable rhythmic swing and brilliant playing, a marvel from start to finish. Zubin Mehta's Bruckner Te Deum (London) had me dashing to turn down the volume, as the masterpiece opened with a choral fortissimo on an organ pedal. Yes, the amp clipped as I had the volume too high, but I was able to finish the piece at a slightly lower, but still very satisfyingly full level.
Comments Let me cut to the chase: this little amp is now my favorite Elekit amp!
  • Operation Ultra steady. I have it on all day and it barely gets warm.
  • Sonics It is always hard to describe the sonics of something. For this amp, I would choose Fluent. Many tube amps are easy listening, sometimes referred to as "liquid", but that is not at all the equivalence of fluency, which mandates a good sense of rhythm and superior transparency. Nothing about the TU-8150 grates on you, and everything contributes to keep your interest. Playing disc after disc attests to the superb musicality of this little amplifier with a big heart, neigh, soul!
  • As Amplifier As with most flea powered amps, particularly if you play vinyl, personally I'd use this with a Preamp to maximize the gain and delivery of the first watt. However, it will sound pretty good as an integrated amp (my System III's Schiit is essentially passive volume). Volume Knob Setting when used as Amp The TU-8150 employs an IC in its preamp section, so it is not just a passive volume knob on an amp. That said, I found not much degradation when the volume knob is maxed out - no overloading or undue hardness. Dialing back may bring a tad more refinement, but the optimal setting is likely dependent on the rest of the system. I have it anywhere between 12:30 and 3:00 Power My YL horns are 104 db, so I have no problems, even with big pieces, as you can read above. I'd think it will work well with loudspeakers over 90 db in sensitivity. Just for the hell of it, I did briefly hooked it up to the LS3/5A, but even with volume knob of both amp and preamp maxed out, there was only moderate volume; however, even then the music sounded nice and lively, not seriously compromised nor muffled, which to me means loudspeaker matching will not be too difficult in general.
  • As Headphone Amp I think this shall make a very nice headphone amp. But make sure the loudspeakers are connected if you even want to pull out the headphones.
    Te Deum (Vinyl, LP) album cover
  • Hybrid? The presence of an op amp in the preamp stage will turn off some tube purists. But I ask myself, do I actually heard sand? Honestly I cannot say I do. The sound is rich and creamy when it is supposedly to. I have heard many all-tube amps that sound a lot more transistory (like German Octave, not to my taste). Elekit has had a long history of using IC/op amp in their products and the designer's skill is apparent.
  • 6AQ5 vs 6V6 In my listening, the 6V6 is unquestionably better. I am staying with 6V6 just because I have a large stash. Although electrically similar, the bigger envelope of the 6V6 likely confers an advantage (just as 6SN7 has it over 6CG7). However, I am equally sure the performance of the 6AQ5 can be much enhanced by rolling in older and better tubes. The suppled GE's are coded 82-52, which is from the very end of 1982, just before tube productions ceased altogether. Older 6AQ5's are plentiful and cheap and one can have fun rolling tubes.
  • Power Cord The supplied C7 doesn't look very promising. The best way to upgrade would be to buy a C7/IEC adaptor and use your regular cables.
Coming Next I named this article Part I because there are more things that I'd like to test on and that will take time:
  • Pentode and Triode Operation These should be very interesting to try out. Triode lowers the output from 2.9 wpc to 1.6 wpc. I think it will work for me but for most others it will be academic.
  • Op Amp don't have anything other than the OPA2227 Victor sent me for the TU-8500. Victor told me it is OK to use here too, so I may try it.
  • Tubes I may tube roll a bit, particularly the 12AX7. I won't go crazy about it, but I may get a few nice used 6AQ5 to try out.
  • Loudspeakers I'd like to try out others, particularly my Almarro M1A, for compatibility, so readers with less efficient loudspeakers can get a better idea on what to expect.
  • Power Cord Not my usual area of interest, but in this case I shall seek some improvement using either adaptor or DIY power cord (the C7 female connector is not easy to get).
  • Headphones I'd like to try my high impedance (600 ohm) Beyerdynamic.
As I finish writing, I also just finished listening to Strauss' Alpine Symphony, one of my favorites. Great stuff! This is not the best version in performance or sonics, but it was awesome enough!

Alpine Symphony (Vinyl, LP, Stereo) album cover

05 February, 2019

Happy New Year of the Pig

I love Google for taking the care to celebrate everyone's festival and holiday. This year it is the Pig's turn, and you can see the other 11 animals waiting in the wings.

Related imageThe left pic shows Piggie, friend of Gerald the elephant, in the highly popular children books of Mo Willems that say more about friendship than adult authors. My favorite pig!

Happy Year of the Pig

In the US, it is Chinese New Year's Eve, but in Asia, it is already New Year's Day, and folks had already finished their big family meal.

I wish to say Happy New Year to all my friends in Hong Kong - I miss you fellows greatly. In many ways, HK has shaped my audiophile journey more than the US. Especially in the 90's, exposure to gears, be it modern or vintage, was unrivaled - priceless education.

Pigging Out

It is going to be a quiet evening for us here, but yesterday our unruly crowd made another Long Island trip (roll down page for last trip) and pigged out, not once but TWICE. That was like pre-celebration of New Year for us.

First we visited R. Simon and Andy worked hard to fix his Walker pump, while I continue my "job" of picking fault with the main system. The paella seafood lunch, with risotto and garnished with sweet peppers, was absolutely marvelous.

VAS Stephen brought over the Linn LP 12 he hot-rodded for R. The Akito arm was re-wired with VPI tonearm wire. His ruby stylus Denon "DL-103" was also installed. Together with VAS step-up transformer, the combo seemed to be making good music but I was too deeply in conversation at the dining table to listen critically, only sauntering in and out of the horn room.

Then we re-visited Mark. The Accuphase amp had surely improved the bass but it seemed the treble became coarser. No matter, the real purpose was to eat hot pot, to mop up the leftover from last time.

In all, it augured well for the year of the Pig. The same to you all.

01 February, 2019

Infinity IRS Beta MFA Luminescence ARC Reference Two Reference 600 Goldmund Studio Madrigal Carnegie

On center rack, under the Thorens TD-125 turntable (fitted with a Rabco arm) is the MFA Luminescence preamp; beneath is the Infinity Electronic Crossover; Audio Research Reference 2 seen on bottom shelf of rack to the left; Goldmund Studio Turntable on rack to the right.

I am truly delighted to publish this article on a second pair of Infinity IRS Beta in our circle. The first pair of course is Andy's (first reported here). Ever since he heard them, our friend Mark has clamored for a pair. After many years he is finally able to fulfill his dream. Congratulations!

HiFi Basics: Home Visits, Peer Influence, Mentors and an Open Mind

1205irsbeta.jpgPeer Influence Perhaps second to the unfortunate hyperboles regularly dished out by audio magazines (particularly TAS), one of the main reasons why audiophiles are so addicted to the hobby is actually peer influence. The more connections (including internet peers) one makes, the more things one discovers and potentially covets. This is the arguably beneficial aspect of having peer groups and peer support. Unfortunately, there are negative aspects too. The Peril of Like Minds One would think like minds would foster growth, but my experience tells me this is not so with audio. Small Circles of like-minded audiophiles usually have nothing much to offer in terms of good sound. Just three very common examples: 1) DIY'ers and modifiers put too much emphasis on material factors and sneer on commercial gear but their creations are often highly unmusical; 2) the majority of Tube Rollers and Vintage Aficionados are too into historical values to pay sufficient attention to performance factors; In HK, the "LS3/5A is the best loudspeaker ever" crowd mostly know nothing about high fidelity, indeed little about music reproduction. The smaller your world, the less the sound of your system is going to improve. Mentors are important in all fields of human endeavor, and audio is no exception. Problem is, no two individuals are alike, and social norms get in the way. The rare truly enlightened mentor works with the preferences and idiosyncrasies of his protege, to encompass them in a solution, but the average mentor often gets in the way, and forces his solution down the throat of his charge. The important thing is, the protege must grow up and there is always a "let go" moment. Unfortunately, in the Confucian East, where respect for the so-called sifu is taken to ridiculous extremes, we are all often left with a bunch of copy-cats. Astonishingly, "#me-too" is proving far too common in our age, even in audio.

Home Visits The audiophile experience knows no bounds. No audiophile, no matter how much time or money he has, can be said to have experienced everything great (our friend icefox in HK comes close though). Thus it is important to seize the opportunities for home visits in order to broaden one's horizon. But there is a catch from my viewpoint. Current vs Old Gears Unduly influenced by the magazines, many audiophiles believe in progress and foreswear anything but recent gear. This is a BIG mistake, as my experience tells me the best systems all have one thing in common - they have at least quite a bit of older or vintage equipment in them. Put it another way, I have heard many ultra modern systems, including much of the most expensive loudspeakers and electronics covered by TAS (like Jonathan Valin's stuff), but while at best they can sound reasonably good, mostly they don't make it to the best (this Blog has a Year in Review feature, where I list the best sound I have heard that year; browse should you like). Mind you, by no means is vintage anything better - far from it, most adherents don't do so well. But, and this is a big but, the discerning ear is capable of turning good vintage into gold. Stores and Shows For myriad reasons, Stores and Shows usually don't put forward the best sound, but they are important for audiophiles starting out or without peer support, especially in the US, where many are not even within driving distance of a dealer. In a place like HK, audiophiles are much luckier  - there are many stores and many specialize in second hand stuff, including vintage stuff. HK is also so small that many audiophiles get to do a lot of home visits.

Progress? There really has not been progress in audio. Detractors will point to the digital revolution (for it is that) but for us old-timers analog is still vastly better. The modern denizen of the world prides (positive) attitude and individuality, but ironically that is precisely what modern audio lacks, and this lack is unacceptable in audio, a venture into the senses. Beware! Reviewers always say something "tugs at the heart string", but if it is something modern or recent, take it with a coarse grain of salt.

Open Mind Hence, it is important to keep an open mind. While I am a big proponent of good vintage gears, efficient horns and low powered amplification, I am not adverse to other approaches. I still own ESL (the overachieving Martin Logan Source), panel (Magnepan 1.7), dynamic classics (LS 3/5A, Sonus faber Electa Amator II), which I enjoy from time to time. And I am certainly fond of BIG Line Source loudspeakers like the Infinity IRS Beta, as executed by my friends (this article tells you why), even if I personally would not take this approach. There are too many dogmatic audiophiles, all claiming there is only one way to heaven, but none of them are right.

Experiment, fail, stand up again, own, disown - there is no expressway. No amount of internet discussion and queries can substitute for hands on experience. Last, I'd like to say, for every successful system, there are dozens of failures. It is easier to identify problems than to appreciate virtues. Only the trained ear can do that. Aside from appreciation of real music (as opposed to audiophile stuff), getting to experience first hand the various approaches to audio reproduction helps one grow. Persist!

The Mighty Infinity IRS Beta, another pair!

On Sunday, Andy, Kevin, James, VAS Stephen, his lovely wife Jenny and I descended upon Mark's Long Island home to listen to his newly acquired Infinity IRS Beta.

Background This Stereophile Review by J Gordon Holt et al is truly excellent (no one writes like that anymore). Each side has 4 x 12" woofers - making it the equivalent of a 24" woofer. Given enough power, the system certainly can deliver real world dynamics. While touted, as Holt describes, the IRS Beta is certainly not without flaws. The Beta was supposed to be the flagship, but its success spawned the even bigger IRS V, which was regarded by some, including Harry Pearson of TAS, as better and the best (here). Unfortunately, the V's monstrous size and weight (the floor has to support 1,500 lbs), not to mention price, precludes its use for most people. Regardless, the IRS Beta is truly a legend.

Rather than dialing them in himself, Mark basically emulated the settings of Andy, which deviate significantly from the settings Arnie Nudell recommends. Infinity advises to have the bass cross over at 110 Hz, and the three knobs behind the panel to be close to center, which is not how Andy hears it (note too that JG Holt literally did it differently from Nudell; see link above). This is legitimate - after all the knobs have to be used to accommodate the room. It should be said too that the dimensions of mark's basement are quite close to Andy's (by eye).

The system we heard on that day comprised the following:

CD Transport: MBL 1521
DAC: MSB Link (Nelson) with Powerbase
Turntable: Goldmund Studio/Goldmund T3F arm/Madrigal Carnegie Cartridge
SUT: Ortofon T20
Full Function Preamp: MFA Luminescence
"Buffer Preamp: Audio Research Reference Two
Panel Amps: Audio Research Reference 600
Bass Column Amp: MBL

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 "Organ Symphony" / Debussy: La Mer / Ibert: Escales (Ports of Call)
I have recently been evaluating RCA Living Stereo LP's and CD's (article to come), so I immediately played the SACD (CD layer) of Munch's famous recording of Saint Saens' Organ Symphony, one of my all-time favorites. Just a few bars were more than enough to convince me that this system is going to be Best Sound of the Year in my Year in Review, and it is just January! So, I can totally understand the beatific smile on Mark's face. No, one does not come across this kind of sound often, and I reckon most audiophiles have never heard sound like this. You could pick out and "touch" any instrument in the mix, so clear was the soundstage. Most impressive for me were the clarity of the celli and the breathlessly chirping woodwinds, which most systems would struggle with.

This is not to say the system is perfect but the virtues far outweigh the deficiencies. While there was no grating in the treble, there was a certain "whiteness" to the sound. While this is to be expected from ribbons, I did think it should be warmed up further. With vinyl playback, I was surprised by how close the sound was to digital.

MFA Luminescence I had thought the MFA Luminescence (used for phono amplification and fed into the "Bypass" of the Audio Research) would contribute more warmth - the unit of my HK friend jules sounded warmer from memory; but then this model had gone through many iterations and a lot depends on tube rolling too. We played a Carpenters CD, and the voice of Karen Carpenter was definitely too lean. James started to tinker with the crossover frequency, opining that 134 Hz sounded better, but Andy and I would not agree; to me that muddled the sound. What really made the difference was Andy's highly effective move to switch the loudspeaker cables, which fleshed out the sound and restored normalcy to Karen Carpenter's voice.

Goldmund Studio/T3F arm and Madrigal Carnegie Cartridge These are exotic but coveted items.  Andy has the Goldmund Studio turntable but I have not heard it. It is an unusual beast, a direct-drive on a suspended chassis!!! Andy says it has a very special ambience (Roy Gregory of HiFi+ seems to be impressed too in his survey of new direct-drives). Andy told me the one Mark has is a later version with a better JVC motor than the original's Pabst, and the T3F arm is also better than the T5 arm. As for the Madrigal (Mark Levinson) Carnegie Cartridge, it too has a solid reputation. Judging from remarks made in this vinylengine thread, Benz was the OEM and its sound is highly neutral and resolved (various people compared it to the Ortofon MC3000, Ortofon Rohmann and AT OC-9), which jells largely with my own impression. Mark uses it with the Ortofon T20, which is itself on the neutral side. No wonder I found the sound to be quite similar to the MSB digital (I have to say MSB is not a personal favorite either). Next time I visit I shall bring a few SUT's that I think will change the sound.

In all, a fuller mid bass would be beneficial (for all ribbons indeed) and Andy suggested moving the bass columns more into the corners. This was not carried out as the loudspeaker cables were not long enough. As we left it, the bass contour could use some shaping. I thought the MBL (I don't like their electronics, especially in the bass - they all lack a tactile feel) was likely not the best candidate for the job. As this article went to press, I just learned that Mark had recently changed to an Accuphase amp, which reportedly did a much better job.

Rome was not built in one day, and neither would a great Infinity System be. Andy took a long time to arrive at his current settings and Mark had benefitted greatly from his experience. I am sure further improvements can be wrought with time, but it is already mightily impressive.

It was a great day. Icing on the cake was the joyful time we spent eating Chinese Hot Pot, one plain, the other fiery hot. There were fish balls aplenty, two kinds of beef, squid, large prawns, conch, bamboo shoots and other vegetables, all washed down with all kinds of alcoholic beverages. What was particularly gratifying was the long time spent at the table debating various issues.

Here, big thanks to Mark's wife and father-in-law, who had to skip church service to prepare all the food. There was so much leftover that we are already scheming for a return visit to mop them up.

31 January, 2019

B&W 801 Mk II, Belden 1810A

Brief Follow Up: B&W Matrix 801 Mk II
Belden 1810A Loudspeaker Cable

Since our last visit, our indefatigable friend Kevin had (once again) revamped his audio setups - for the sole purpose of allowing his beloved B&W's more room to breathe.

By pushing the horns backward, the 801's could be placed more backwards and further apart, as seen in top pic (compare with old setup in right pic). It thus forms a long isosceles triangle with the listener.

As I wrote in my report on the last visit, I'd not have done it this way. Were it up to me, I'd have moved them further forward, and then pull them apart, to form more of an equilateral triangle with the listener. More near field in this large space would not have been a bad thing - it would largely eliminate room effects for both the B&W's and the horns.

Nonetheless, as it is, the sound was excellent. While I know the sound stage could be even wider and deeper (if placed more forward), the tonal balance was very good and there was plenty of heft in playback, which is as it should be. Note that for this visit the Bass Alignment Module was in place (I didn't get to hear the system without it, which I'd like to next time). Although the pic shows a transistor amp below the the tube amp, it was not in use.

Besides the re-positioning, Kevin elevated the front of the 801's considerably, thus raising the soundstage and image size. To my thinking, that probably accounted for at least half the improvement.

Belden 1810A (official data sheet) I'd take this opportunity to talk about this cable, my go-to for bi-wiring, also used with great results on my pair of 801 in HK (here). This is a 4-conductor loudspeaker cable with solid performance. It is a bargain, but those interested may face the problem of not being able to get a good price for small quantities (a group buy is a good idea).

Sonically, the 1810A cannot be faulted in any department. From my own considerable experience, one of its greatest merits is its ability to match with a diversity of (good) loudspeakers. Before my B&W 801, I have used it on Magnepan SMG, Spendor LS 3/5A, Harbeth LS 5/12A, Sonus faber Signum, Proac Response 1 and 2, to name just a few, all to sterling effect. As a matter of fact, after I acquired the 1810A, I have never used any other cable for bi-wiring. Highly Recommended.

In Kevin's setup, he uses two different cables for bi-wiring (usually not a good idea in my book). On my visit, he was reluctant but obliged me. To my ears the Belden 1810A sounded more coherent, with a larger soundstage and more air, but I know he may think differently.

Kevin is a DIY person, making a large number of cables. He also recently DIY'ed a nice record weight using discarded industrial material. And, thanks for the wonderful lamb stew!

21 January, 2019

Subjective, Objective, Cables

Pic shows Andy's EMT 930 fitted with EMT TSD-15 Cartridge.

Subjectivism vs Objectivism (via Thorsten Loesch)
Home Visit: Chez Andy

While not this article's focal point of discussion, nothing better illustrates the great divide between Subjectivism and Objectivism than the Turntable, which is inferior to Digital in spec's, yet superior sounding.

The February 2019 issue of TAS was most interesting for Steven Stone's Coverage of RMAF 2018. Not for what he covered (CAS) per se, which is peripheral to me, but for a passage that even when browsing quickly somehow caught my attention:

"...I had a long conversation during the show with Thorsten Loesch of Abbington Musical Research and IFI. He told me a fascinating story about confirmation bias. That’s when you are so sure of something that even strong evidence to the contrary will not persuade you to change your mind. 
Thorsten put together a blind ABX testing where he told participants it was a comparison of two power cables. But when he went behind the curtains, ostensibly to change the power cable, what he actually did was switch the speaker cables on one channel, so the system was playing out of phase. Thorsten had three different types of audiophiles take his test: subjectivists, objectivists, and those who were neither. The subjectivists and neutral listeners heard the effects of the system being thrown out of phase. The objectivists heard no differences. It was a robust test with clearly correlated results.
And how noticeable is having one speaker’s channel out of phase with the other? Ten years ago, at CES I entered a room with an “All Digital System” that had all the DACs and electronics in the loudspeakers. I listened for about ten seconds, then I turned to the gentleman who was giving the presentation and told him, “One of your channels is out of phase with the other.” He told me that was impossible since all the connections were hard-wired. I thanked him and left. A day later he caught me in the hall and explained that indeed one channel had been mis-wired out of phase.
The fact that the objectivists in Thorsten’s test were the ones who were so set in their opinions that it blinded them to the aural facts in front of their ears is a delicious irony. Why? Because those audiophiles who embrace ABX testing with the most fervor are those who believe most strongly in effects of expectation bias, which is why sighted testing is, in their eyes, flawed. Thorsten’s test indicates a strong tendency for objectivists to listen with closed ears whether the test is blind or sighted, which isn’t very objective, is it?..."
Thorsten Loesch I have known (on the net only) him for quite a long time, long before he became an industry figure. I quite like the man. Opinionated, yes, but who isn't? Solidly grounded in engineering, yes, which cannot be said of most of his detractors. But I most admire him for the help he offered many people, and for his fondness for some vintage equipment despite being fully aware of numbers. He is someone who should really know both the subjective and objective sides of audio.

Internet Discussion Of course, his comments immediately seized attention in certain forums. In the long thread here there were debates on what he said, including a little vitriol. Nonetheless, it is an interesting thread:
  • I agree with what a commentator said, that the terms "Subjectivism" and "Objectivism" as used in audiophilia bear no resemblance to their more rigorously defined counterparts in Philosophy (or Psychology).
  • When it comes to SET amps, Non-Oversampling DAC's (what I like), no reader of Stereophile will have missed the gulf between the Subjective Assessment of the admirers of such gear (Art Dudley, Herb Reichert and Ken Mecallef) and the Objective Measurements (usually terrible in numbers) of John Atkinson. What do I believe when it comes to these things? The subjective side of course.
As the Subjective/Objective arguments most often pertain to cables, I now give a take on my own experiences by telling you my latest moves.

Two Recent Examples of How I Changed the Sound by Changing a Cable After I installed the Grommes LJ5 in my system to my great satisfaction (just roll down to my last article or click here), something nagged at me. Using the Grommes as Integrated's, I wanted to improve the sound delivered by my System III's Thorens TD-309/Denon DL-A100 (basically a DL-103) - it wasn't quite as good as the Thorens TD-124/SME3012/Denon DL-103 from System I fed into a SUT then directly into the Grommes. Grant you, although the two cartridges are virtually the same, there were differences in setup - the TD-309 goes through a solid state phonoamp (47 Labs Shigaraki) and then through a buffer amp (Schiit Saga); the TD-124, likely a better turntable to begin with, is used with an excellent SUT going into Grommes' tubed phono section. But I wanted to narrow the gap, even achieve near-parity.

What did I do? I just changed the phono cable of the TD-309. Out went the VdH The Second, not a favorite, but a stopgap that worked well when last used with the Wavac MD-811, and in came the Gotham GAC-2, one of my two go-to cables (the other is Gotham DGS-1, which is already in use for connecting the output of the 47 Labs to the Schiit Saga). The sound improved so much that the TD-309 setup no longer feels so different from the TD-124 setup, which is as it should given the similarity of the cartridges.

Another recent example would be the transformational change brought about by the Gotham GAC-1 Ultra Pro in Kevin's system (here). So, what a difference a cable makes! This makes me take this opportunity to write the following:

Cables, do they make a difference? The short answer is: Absolutely, and sometimes even profound (as illustrated by the examples above). This prompts me to write soon a "HiFi Basics" article in which I shall cover some of my beliefs on cables. Watch this space.

Home Visit: chez Andy

Andy and I do not need a reason to get together. Generous to a fault, Andy always cooks a simple but tasty meal and serves fine wines. On this occasion, Kevin and I enjoyed the excellent steak (actually from Mark) and wine.

Before Kevin arrived, I listened to two interesting cartridges. First was VAS Steven's revamped Denon DL-103 with ruby stylus! (on the Garrard 401/SME3012) which was used with a small Fidelity Research SUT (much like my beloved FRT3G, seen at the bottom of pic, right of middle). I also heard Andy's newly acquired EMT TSD-15 (current version; used on the EMT 930). The EMT is well known, as it has been widely and favorably reviewed, whereas the ruby Denon is an unusually tweaked oddity, but it is likely you will hear more about both in the future.

12 January, 2019

Grommes Little Jewel 5 LJ5 6V6 Authenticap

Note the replacement electrolytic cap (Authenticap).

Grommes Little Jewel 5 LJ5, Part I

My 6V6 Overview
Grommes LJ-6 Review (by Audiocraft 1958)

For details of my Systems, see sidebar to the right.

Grommes has always had a good reputation. Like some of its contemporaries, it offered kits as well as fully assembled products. It survives today as Grommes Precision, whose sloppy website has a History Page. There are also low res pics of pamphlets, which unfortunately cannot be downloaded. Most useful perhaps is the Past Product Guide. However, even there the info given are of dubious accuracy. The LJ2 and LJ5 are both "circa 1952", which cannot be.

One can see that, as in Bell products, by the time of LJ5 (likely 1956-7) the noval 12AX7 had replaced the octal 6SL7 used in its predecessor LJ2. There is more info on LJ5 (as well as LJ2 and LJ6) in radiomuseum. While there is little info on the net regarding the various models in the long running series, I did quite a bit of picture searching. Like Bell 2122, the LJ2 uses 6SC7 (just 1 though) and 6SL7. By the time of LJ3, these were already replaced by 2 x 12AX7, and this tube complement was maintained all the way to LJ6. There were minor cosmetic changes and I think the basic circuit likely changed little. I noticed two changes in the LJ6: the power transformer is mounted with the laminations horizontal rather than vertical (using some perspective scaling, I think it is smaller); and the rectifier changed to 6X5. Both of these I suspect are cost-cutting measures. By 1959, like Bell, Grommes amps had become slim-line as well.

Those interested should read the very detailed review of the similar LJ6 (link above).

LJ5 ; Grommes Precision (ID = 1977382) Ampl/MixerMy two units were bought separately a long time ago. If my memory serves me, it was not long after I acquired and enjoyed my Bell 2122's, and so wanted to further explore 6V6 amps. Their electrolytic capacitors needed replacement and recently after listening to the Bell 2122, Kevin replaced them for me, using German Authenticap. Initially I balked at the price of these cans, but after listening at my home recently, I am actually glad that these reputable caps were used, so good the result is.

The innards can look rather uneven, the more so as some of these were from kits built by amateurs. Parts quality were not bad, though the audiophile is likely to frown upon the ceramic caps even if they are known to be more reliable. My units are more or less stock and look like the pic from radiomuseum.

At first we listened to them briefly at Kevin's (here), where we found the sound to be softer than the Bell 2122, with less microdynamic nuance even if the smoothness was eminently suitable for classical replay. We surmised that the ceramic coupling capacitors were compromising the sound.

After I took them home, I hooked them up and was really surprised by how differently and brilliantly they performed in my setupsI swapped out the Grommes LJ5 for the Wavac MD-811 and was delighted by the results.

Bruckner: Les 9 Symphonies Product ImageUsed as Power Amps Either Line Inputs were used. The volume was turned all the way up. Treble and Bass controls were in their flat positions. With both my recently fired up System I (Manley 300B preamp) or System II (Shindo Monbrisson as preamp), the sound was just as good, if not better than before. Compared to the SET Wavac, the midrange is just as transparent and sweet, whereas the treble is a tad smoother and the bass a tad more fulsome and rolling. Curiously, in my system, there is none of the overly smooth and somewhat restrained manner experienced at Kevin's. I double-checked with my Mangar Test CD, and everything sounded just wonderful. I did not compare directly with the Bell 2122, but my memory tells me the Bell is likely to be a little airier and sharper, but the Grommes' richer palette is at least just as good - it is so good that I refuse to take them out!

Symphony No. 9 In D Minor (Vinyl, LP, Stereo, Quadraphonic) album coverUsed as Integrated Amp For this, I recruited my System III, but  wired the Schiit Saga directly to the line input of the Grommes. I maxed out the volume of the Saga and hence it is a 1:1 buffer only. I controlled the volume using the Grommes. The sound is slightly less punchy than through my big preamps, but of sufficient dynamics to play big classical pieces. I am going through yet another Bruckner cycle on CD (Nezet-Sequin on Atma). So far I have played Symphony 2 and 3, and enjoyed the sound of both very much. Used as integrated, the sound of the woodwinds are even more mellifluous than through the big preamps (the Symphony 2 I had played also through the Shindo), and that is not a bad trade off for the small loss in dynamics. Phono Section I hooked up the Thorens TD-124/SME 3012/Denon DL-103 (System I) via the Bob's Devices SUT into the Magnetic Phono Input (RIAA used; there are two other settings - Flat and "Old LP"). Sound is surprisingly quiet and excellent, given there is only one tube at work (12AX7), fully commensurate with the sound of System III through the Schiit Saga. Giulini's Chicago Bruckner 9th (a two Christopher's recording) was exciting and dramatic, which can also be said of Charles Gerhardt/Wilkinson's Borodin Symphony No. 2 (RCA, National PO/Tjeknavorian). What was most impressive about the phono section was that the different hall sound of each recording is easily audible. Believe me, most systems do not make such a good distinction. And the gain is sufficient; in fact, phono sounds a little more dynamic than the line level inputs.

Bruckner 9th (Giulini/Chicago on Angel) playing.

When I get the chance, I shall take this to Andy's place and give it another sounding. Grommes, like Bell, in an old name that has a solid reputation. But I kinda suspect many other 6V6 amps (though not all, as some are pretty flimsy) will sound great too with horns.

08 January, 2019

B&W Matrix 801 Mk II, Gotham GAC-1 Ultra Pro

The Big Fat Ladies, flanked by the Altec A7's. In the rear: on shelves, from left, VPI Prime, Lenco GL-75 and Thorens TD-125;  on top of rack, McIntosh MC-30's flanking Harmon Kardon Citation I and Chinese Preamp; on the shelves, my two McIntosh C-20's and Conrad-Johnson Premier 3 Preamps; in front, Conrad-Johnson MV75 amp flanked by Chinese Blue Velvet Preamp (with regulation diode tubes).

B&W Matrix 801 Mk II and Gotham GAC-1 Ultra Pro
Making the Rounds, Again

This past Sunday the same old crowd gathered again, this time a full house. VAS Stephen's wife, and electronic wizard Paul put in rare appearances. First, We first visited R on Long Island. Then it was a rare Sunday for Kevin to be available, and we all went to his house in the late afternoon.

Click pics to enlarge. Top, a pair of Bell 2122's flanking the Marantz 8B; Right, half way through lunch.

Altec A5 + 6V6 amps
R's stuff has not changed much since my last report (here). This time James sourced a pair of Bell 2122 and restored them for him (using teflon caps), so this pair in the pic is now R's, not mine, which I took back last time (for more on the Bell 2122, read here). All remarked that this pair did not sound quite as open as my pair, though still very good. Such are the vagaries of vintage gear restoration, or perhaps the caps are not yet broken in.

I brought with me my long time reference loudspeaker cable for horns (and most others), the Belden 9497 (reported here). I am not surprised that it sounded substantially better than R's lamp cords (literally). They are not coming out of the system.

A few meters of cable did not even begin to repay R's excellent lunch of Roast Pork and Home-Made Sausages, garnished by a wonderfully citric Apple and Fennel Salad tossed with honeyed walnuts, all washed down with an excellent vintage Chilean Shiraz at its peak. Magnifico!

I sincerely thank R for having us to lunch twice in a month! We have to think of more toys to keep him going...

The Return of B&W Matrix 801 Mk II

Click pics to enlarge. Top, the Appetizers, mostly Cold Dishes; Clockwise from 3 O'Clock, Bamboo Shoots, Pig's Ear, Beef with Tripe, Sausages and Fish, surrounding a very nice Merlot; Below Right, Addition of the Lamb Soup, served with Noodles.

Serendipity! After talking with Andy and I, Kevin had pretty much decided he'd like a pair of B&W Matrix 801. Our great leader Andy then happened to spot a pair for sale, and Kevin drove two hours to pick them up.

This is a pair of Mk II's in mint condition, with original boxes, and obviously well taken care of. They were inherited, which the seller then used for a while before re-boxing them.

The B&W 801 Mk II is one of the best loudspeakers I have heard (my experience). I am really glad that this pair is now in the possession of Kevin, as I'll get to hear it.

These as yet do not have proper stands. Kevin had improvised a pair of stop-gap stands which I am sure he will replace with something more suitable in due course.

At first, the sound as not at all close to what I know they are capable of. Well, these were placed very close and not elevated enough. I urged Kevin to move them further in room (in front of the Altec's) and have they wider apart, but for the day we only managed to have them a little more forward than in the pic, and even those few inches, which made the baffles clear the Altec enclosures, improved the sound.

The Chinese Blue Velvet Preamp, which works well with the horns (including at my place), proved to be less ideal for the system, now using CJ MV-75 amp. Things coarsened considerably at higher volume. The replacement CJ Premier 3 Preamp could play much louder. We tried several loudspeaker cables but settled with a pair of Straight Wire. But the most astonishing change came with swapping out the DIY cable between the preamp and amp for the Gotham GAC-1 Ultra-Pro I brought with me.

WOW! Now we are talking! The images fleshed out and the soundstage increased substantially in both depth and width, but the most impressive was the sheer coherence and liveliness. Andy turned around and said to me: "...just a cable change?"

Image result for B&W 801 bass alignment filterBass Alignment Filter They even came with the optional Bass Alignment Filter (read the very interesting treatise here), which we did not use on the day. Apparently, Kevin had briefly tried them out, reporting the result of less mid-bass. In Stereophile's review of the Matrix 801 Mk II, the reviewer deemed the use of the filter essential, but the same reviewer did not think it should be used in the more upscale 800 model that followed (here). Unlike Kevin's, my pair did not come with the filter, but the sound is already superb and full range to me. Being a tube preamp user, I'd be most hesitant adding the filter between the preamp and amp, but I surely would like to hear the effect at Kevin's. More fun (and articles) to come!

  • B&W Matrix 801 One of the greatest loudspeakers ever made, and for baby boomers many of their favorite recordings were likely mastered using these as monitors. It is very revealing, but at the same time highly musical and authoritative. Personally, I regard the Matrix series as superior to the Nautilus and Diamond series that followed.
  • Belden 9497 You never go wrong with the 9497. While I have never heard it sound bad with any loudspeakers, with horns they are simply the best. Next time, I'd like to try a double run to bi-wire the B&W 801.
  • Preamp Choice While the Chinese Blue Velvet Preamp (simple circuit with basic power supply and simple diode regulation) performs well with our horns, it did not do so well with the B&W 801. Instead the much better built and regulated CJ Premier 3 (not a personal favorite) performed much better. To me, this re-inforces my belief that simpler (including vintage) preamps are better for horns whereas harder to drive loudspeakers demand more modern (highly regulated) preamps (see my thoughts in my Citation I article).
  • Gotham GAC-1 Ultra Pro While I have never formally reported on this particular Gotham cable (previously mentioned here), I have used it a lot. To me, it is even cleaner and more detailed than the older GAC-2 and 4, not to mention the supremely musical DGS-1. The air and soundstage are tremendous. With the B&W 801 it sounds just perfect, but with horns it can sometimes be just a little too revealing. I have not tried the other more expensive Ultra Pro's, but I know some people in HK swear by them. Definitely worth a try.
What a wonderful day. Many thanks to R and Kevin!

More Pics

Thorens TD-125 with Rabco Tonearm and Pickering 380 Cartridge
Lenco GL-75 with Decca Tonearm and Shure M44-7
Tea and Fruits after the Royal Meal
Princess on Her Chair

05 January, 2019


USS Intrepid

More about the pic.

The Intrepid Audiophile

I love Museums, but mostly those housing Art. For non-art museums, I have to say the Intrepid Museum in NYC must be my favorite (browse the USS Intrepid's history, fascinating). And it took me only 36 years to visit it (it opened in 1982)! Never too late!

I took an intense interest in the equipment. As a tube aficionado, I am mindful of the fact that most, if not all, electronic equipment from WW II to the Vietnam War (at least) were tube equipment. And so, on the Intrepid, I scrutinized every meter, every box. For pics below, click to enlarge.

Tube collectors will recognize Westinghouse.

The Telephone is made by Stromberg Carlson, an illustrious name.

This is new to me. I know Western Electric, of course, and also Northern Electric (Canadian), but not Northwestern Electric!

03 January, 2019

Bruno Walter Mahler

Bruno Walter: Mahler
CD and LP Recommendation - Classical

Today I was surprised by the web edition of Stereophile, which published a 1963 article by J Gordon Holt, highly praising Bruno Walter's Stereo Mahler 1st (Columbia Symphony).

Personally I feel Walter's recordings of some of the Mahler Symphonies have never been surpassed, only sometimes equalled. They are essentials in the Mahler cannon.

The 1st is a record I have cherished ever since my first foray into classical's. Mine was an Odyssey reissue. I have always regarded it as one of the very best. My other favorite is the cataclysmic Kletzki/VPO recording, perhaps followed by Horenstein/LSO.

Image result for walter mahler 2Walter's Mahler Stereo 2nd (NYPO) was my first version, and it has remained my preferred version. The all-important opening imho has never been better served, so atmospheric it is. Mine was also the Odyssey reissue, and I still love that cover!

Image result for mahler 9 walter odysseyWalter's Mahler 4th and 5th are in good sounding mono, and very good, but perhaps not as outstanding as the 1st or 2nd.

When it comes to the 9th, Walter (Columbia Symphony) again is supreme. Mine is the Odyssey re-issue, and again I love the artwork! But what is even more unforgettable is the ancient/mono VPO version, sonic limitations notwithstanding.

And then there is Das Lied von der Erde, and I love both his versions for Decca (mono; VPO/Ferrier/Patzak) and the under-rated Columbia (stereo; NYPO/Miller/Hafliger).

There is a great survey on Musicweb-International of Mahler by Tony Duggan, a reliable guide:

Mahler 1st
Mahler 2nd
Mahler 4th
Mahler 5th
Mahler 9th

You can see Walter is always there.