22 May, 2018

Naim Nait I, 47 Labs 4737, ATC S50

Naim Nait I Revisited
47 Labs 4737 Loudspeaker, Part III

For 47 Labs 4737, you may also want to read Part I (used with Kondo Ongaku) and Part II (used with Flying Mole).

Naim Nait I
This is one of the most famous and influential integrated amplifiers of all times, famously beloved by a die-hard crowd who would not have anything else beside Naim and Linn, for whom the term "Flat-Earth" was coined. For an introduction, I quote from my popular special article on Integrated Amps:

Nait Nait I, II, III
The III is completely different cosmetically. These are excellent but not as neutral as the Cyrus. The sound is bolder and Naim's famed "Rhythm and Pace" is very much in evidence (more than its modern counterparts), but there are things to watch out for: (1) the vital vocal midrange is a little recessed; (2) Lower midrange to upper bass is a little emphasized; (3) Treble is just that little bit reticent. Its primary strength is in its portrayal of the leading edge, an area I have not heard its equal. It is best partnered with its own CD players, which shall yield a sound that is uniquely rhythmic and pacey, not neutral but a paradigm in what it excels in. In a complete set, it can lay claim to a unique sound not heard with other brands, and here I tip my hat. An example is my Nait II and CD2 (TDA1541A) combo. With it, the ATTACK of a single plugged string (like guitar), or drumming, is phenomenally live. Even more surprisingly, the "rhythm and pace" benefits tremendously a slow instrument like the organ. With Bach's organ work, you can literally feel the different degree of attack that the organists applied on the keyboard, and it's a revelation. For a good read click for this TNT audio article. Note that the phonostages are either MM or MC, and they are excellent.

Although I don't count myself a Flat Earther, and am certainly not a proponent of the over-rated and over-priced LP12, I do appreciate these early Naim's. I have heard a lot of later Naim, but imho the very qualities Naim are famous for are found in greater abundance in the early products, be they amplifiers or CD players, and they are rightly legendary.

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printempsSubwoofer Connection This created a little difficulty. It would be too involving to make a Tape In-Out DIN cable, so I had to use the high-level (speaker cable) connection. In so doing, I also had to switch my Kondo system from high level out to RCA pre-out for the subwoofer. Before that was achieved, I actually had both the 47 Labs 4737 and the TAD TSM-2201 sounding at the same time, and it was actually very good, showing that the Nait I is capable of driving the TAD.

Tchaikovskyvs Flying Mole CA-S10 Good as the Flying Mole was, the improvement was immediately apparent. The Flying Mole has very good PRaT, but in comparison is of a tighter, more generalized kind. The Nait I, like the Nait II I used before and mentioned above, astutely distinguishes the (even slightly) stronger beats from the weaker ones, and make things swing.

Even in classical music this is discernible, making for music that is easier to follow. Tonally it is also a little warmer than the Flying Mole. Replay of Currentzis' controversial Le Sacre with his MusicAeterna (Sony, here) fully justifies his claim that he is presenting the rhythms in a different light, and in this system it is highly exciting, not at all "smoothed over", as claimed by some classical critics (likely they have lesser equipment). Yo-Yo Ma's Bach Trios (Nonesuch) naturally just swings. And Esther Yoo's magnificent account of the Tchaikovsky (DG) was very well rendered too, her rich tone very much in evident (though not quite like the Kondo system) and the way she naturally phrases impressive.

Image result for barenboim saensPhono By connecting my humble Pro-Ject RPM3 fitted with a Clearaudio Concept MM, I finally got to evaluate the phono section of the Naim, and it did not disappoint nor call attention to itself.

For some reason, this very humble and make-shift vinyl setup is just too lean for me - and I attribute that to the cartridge (it is just as lean going into the Kondo/Audio Note M7. Adding a shim (made from expired credit card) between the cartridge body and tonearm warmed up the sound a little, and so did swapping out the Gotham GAC 4/1 cable for the Kimber PBJ.

Image result for morricone missionThe Saint Saens Organ Symphony, in the version by Barenboim/Chicago (DG, New Zealand pressing), is undeniably exciting but somewhat artificial, being closely miked, but it plays into Naim's strength - perfectly tracking of how the strings scoop, the bass grumble, the tympani pound and the organ growls, giving the finale that precious take-no-prisoner inexorable feel. Meanwhile, Morricone's Mission is highly atmospheric, and haunting when appropriate. Often, replays I have heard struggled to fully portray the many vocal and instrumental facets of this score, but the Nait I is successful. Simply marvelous for a shoebox!

My friends WSS and JL came to audition yesterday, and they were very impressed by the big performance turned in by the 47 Labs 4737/Naim Nait I, aided by the subwoofer of course! Now, both of these people are Quad 2812 users, and they are contemplating adding a subwoofer now!

Home Visit- ATC S50 and another Ongaku
My friends and I also visited our old friend Andy, whom you last met here. His system has changed a bit.

Turntable: Clearaudio Statement/Goldfinger 2
Phonoamp: Clearaudio Statement Phono
CAS: Aurender N10
Amp: Kondo Ongaku
Loudspeakers: ATC S50

Gone are the Wilson Alexias. Instead he is using the rare 40th Anniversary Special Edition ATC S50 (official "blib", shamefully without spec's), on which there is almost no info on the internet. Only 10 pairs in the world (probably all for Asia). Basically, it is a take-off on the classic SCM-50 (same internal volume and dome midrange), finished in more "upmarket" fashion.

Surprisingly, Andy is using the Kondo Ongaku (its second coming; the first is here) to drive the ATC S50. That is even more of a tall order than mine driving the TAD TSM-2201. Sound is generally on the super clean side. Digital replay of audiophile tracks were reasonable (DAC-out routed to the Clearaudio Phono preamp, which I personally dislike, rather sterile to me) but the vinyl playback was inconsistent and a little too lean for me. Personally, I'd add a subwoofer.

Andy now enjoys motorcycle riding. His Honda is a beauty!

21 May, 2018

Why are Horns the Best?

Why are Horns the Best? 
SPL, Loudness, and Dynamics

The May 2018 issue of HiFi News had just arrived at the local library. I was shocked to read that HiFi News had just absorbed Stereophile. Well, I suppose that is good, two of the better HiFi magazines (Ken Kessler notwithstanding). But that is not what I want to talk about.

In the issue there is an excellent article by Keith Howard (as usual) on how loudspeakers struggle to reproduce musical peaks. He cites the research of Marshall Chasin, which is basically the benchmark. The table below is from Chasin:
Image result for decibel levels of musical instruments

Basically there are several points to note:
  • By Peak Level it is meant the instantaneous oscilloscope peak, which can be very short (milliseconds), not the much slower averaging response you see on the average VU meter.
  • Basically nearly all loudspeakers fail BADLY trying to reproduce such peaks. EXCEPT horns! This is incontrovertible, as Keith Howard had made dynamic simulations.
  • Aside from horns, only Line Source Loudspeakers need apply. The Infinity IRS V (more info here) is cited as an example (others would be Carver, McIntosh etc). Indeed, I have heard these, and can attest they are great. Note that for a stereo pair, there are 108 driver units, and 4000 watts of built in power amp for the woofers. By my calculation, the surface area of each woofer column is equivalent to a 30" driver.
Seen in this light, the large total area dedicated to bass reproduction in our friend Eric's horn system (last article; just roll down) is not at all extravagant (30" subwoofer, plus double 15" woofer each side).

Horn Colorations? I reckon the horn's ability to play loud and sound dynamic, and real, is tied to its ability to reproduce peaks. This is why horn lovers, including myself, find the horn's realism unrivaled. Keith Howard freely admits horns can achieve these peaks naturally, but he pointed out the horn colorations. Now, this so-called cusped-hand phenomenon is commonly quoted, and indeed can be heard in badly implemented horn systems. However, in a well implemented horn system, such as Eric's, or the many I heard in NYC, including mine, I almost never hear such undesirable sounds.

Horn is the ONLY way to go, if you have the space!

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.