04 July, 2020

Tannoy Black Silver ICL Model 2 DAC Sun Audio VT-25

Click Pics to Enlarge: From Front to Back, 12" Tannoy Black's in DIY Cabinet; 12" Tannoy Silver's in HPD Cabinet; 15" Tannoy Gold's barely seen. 

Virtual Home Visit (3): Tannoy Rarities, Softone/ICL, Sun Audio and DIY Cabinets and Tube Amps

How Time Flies! Last time I reported on our Hong Kong Yumcha Friend K.C. was almost 10 years ago (here)! I have maintained a connection with them via our yumcha WhatsApp group, and it comes in handy during these tough times. You can look forward to many home visits down the pipeline.

Tannoy Black Silver Gold In that article I gave the details of his setups, particularly the extremely rare and expensive Tannoy Black drivers, so please read that for background as I am not going to repeat myself here.

Softone/ICL Model 2 DAC For Digital, K.C. has always used his trusty Philips CD-850 as transport. I sold him the Softone/ICL Model 2 DAC  (still sold here). IMHO it is excellent value for price. It employs a pair of 6DJ8 valves and can handle up to 24/96. Being a DIY'er, of course K.C. had modified it to his satisfaction (I'd change those Japanese brown caps). Should you like to read more on this small but interesting company, I have previously reported on Softone/ICL Models 1, 2, 3 here; I also reported on the Model 4 Phono here. You can call me a fan of this company.

Sun Audio VT-25 Amp Sun Audio is justly famous for their 2A3 amp, which my NYC friend Kevin also owns. It has two primaries, 2.5K and 3.5K and can be easily converted to 300B (I had both, but sold them before I left HK). But the VT-25 is a rarer bird. It uses a lower 8K for the VT-25 and also has a 5K winding, which can be easily converted to a 45 amp (I have done it for a friend). I had another one which I converted to 300B ("mismatched" impedance) and the result was excellent. This is rated at 1.2 wpc, and can drive the La Scala pretty well, but not so much Lowther or Tannoy Canterbury. I loaned it to K.C. before I left HK, and he said it surprisingly drives his Tannoy's very well. Note that the older Tannoy's are easier to drive than current ones.


Below is a Chinese TV series which features on the sideline hi-end audio. This Lady
got to listen to a 40K RMB system and got the shivers. She borrowed the CD.
But in the next episode (plays automatically) she discovered it was not the same
on her computer,and she went shopping for a system.

03 July, 2020

Life-Changer icOn4 Sparkler S-503 v2 47 Labs Midnight Blue Stratos Lonyu

slagle-autoformerPic from Official Website. Click all pics to Enlarge.

Letter from Hong Kong (20-3): Eric L on icOn4, Sparkler S503 v2 (vs 47 Labs Midnight Blue)

Editor: We are delighted to present the third installment of Eric's recent audio journey. Unlike the first two, which concentrated on Bluetooth, this episode highlights the Autofomer Line Control icOn4 and the Sparkler CD Player. As usual, his recounting of his journey is full of drama...

Last time we mentioned that Eric had previously blogged on Wine and Food. The material is currently preserved on weshare.hk. Wow, That's a lot of fine (mostly French) wine and food under his belt! Green with envy, in particular since I have orthodox taste in wine and harbor little affinity for much of the New World high-end, Robert Parker and wine ratings.

At the End of the article proper, I have added some footnotes for further thoughts as well as an important question for Eric, which he answered in detail.

I asked Eric for some wine and dine pics. Boy, am I thirsty, and drooling-------p

Life Changer Audio’s icOn4, Less is More

My First Sparkler A few years ago I acquired the 47 Lab Gaincard. Soon after I was lucky enough to have the chance to compare the 47 Lab Midnight Blue and the Sparkler S303 CD Players, both non-oversampling (NOS) and designed by Tsukahara san (the Sparkler was designed after he left 47 Lab). To me, being the more dynamic of the two, the Sparkler was the clear winner [Editor: see Footnote 1]. I was content with the sound.

Conundrum Then I started to feel the limitation of the Gaincard. Not the sound itself, which was fantastic, but its lack of connectivity: it only has one input, so I could not hook up other devices without a preamp. It posed a big question to me: since I really enjoyed the sound of the shortest signal path, would the natural and engaging sound be compromised or altered if I were to introduce an active preamp made out of hundreds of parts (the Gaincard has a mere 9 components)?? The 47 Lab line has an Input Selector. but it was not widely popular and the user comments have not been positive [Editor: see Footnote 2].

Enter the TVC I then consulted Dom, local dealer for Sparkler and 47 Lab (we are also friends who sometimes gather together for some wine and dine). Dom was also using the Gaincard to drive his Avant Garde Duo loudspeakers. He also faced the same connectivity problem. Due to his unlimited budget, he bought an MFA Reference Transformer Volume Control (TVC) passive preamp and later changed to Bespoke. Dom told me TVC would not deteriorate the sound, which appealed to me given my main goal was for the preamp to act as a line selector for up to four sources while not compromising the sound quality of the Gaincard. Dom's Bespoke TVC had achieved this and actually gained additional dynamics [Editor: see Footnote 3] but the price of the unit is far out of my reach. At that time, TVC was a very new concept to me. but after reading many articles and considering their price and user friendliness, I became convinced that it might be a fit-for-purpose solution that would not impose any unwanted sonic signature onto my system. Balance has always been of paramount importance to me.

Detour My plan was derailed when I noticed that Sparkler had released a new series of gear running on current mode, and the amp had more than one input channels! I was hoping that the sound would be comparable to my Gaincard, as that would solve my problem once and for all!! I bought both the amp and the S503 CDP (current mode option). However, it turned out that the 7 watt of the amp could not properly drive the Dynaudio Crafft [Editor: see Footnote 4]. I fell into the Eternal HiFi Hell again…

Life-Changer About two and a half years ago (thanks Pal Nagy for reminding me), I read an article about Life-Changer Audio TVC icOn2. I started exchanging emails with Pal and I was close to being sold on it. For some reasons, I held up my decision making, either due to my cooling off on audio or the COVID19 etc. Then, icOn4 was released with a more sophisticated look and a slimmer design. Most importantly, it employs the famous Autoformer from Dave Slagle and was totally redesigned with a new concept on volume control. Icing on the cake is a remote control from Apple and that makes perfect sense to me!! After much deliberations and comparisons I finally pulled the trigger and ordered it, and getting there has been half the fun! By now there are already many positive reviews of this product with descriptions which you can read online. Here I would focus on the sound of this unit. Its small size and ergonomics are perfect for me, and I was hopeful for an extremely transparent sound! [Editor: see Footnote 5]

Intermission: Eric on his changing View of Audio
Before I go any further, I would like to share some of my views on the pain and pleasure (pain more often) of equipment matching. Whether one is well endowed or on a tight budget, finding the perfect system for any HiFi enthusiast is a pain on all levels. I had once fallen into the eternal hell of infinite permutations - equipment in and out of the revolving door, cable mix and match, tweaks with fuses, spikes, shelves etc. Often, it would be hard to stay focused on identifying subtle changes, sometimes to the point where one would start doubting himself. Even if I’m pretty confident about my hearing skills (I am more likely to pick up subtle difference than a lot of people), it’s still a pain to constantly plug in and it is mentally draining when the problem persists….

Earlier on, I would concentrate on fixing whatever part of the audio chain I perceived to be the problem. Say, if the amplifier was too warm sounding, I would try to use a “faster” interconnect or CDP. If the speaker was power hungry, I would change to a more powerful amp. Once I tried to use a McIntosh MC7300, a 300wpc power amp, to drive my Dynaudio Compound 2, a mere bookshelf speaker; I ended up with bloated and undamped bass filling every inch of space in my living room!!! After I realised that this kind of piecemeal approach was not ideal, I began to rethink my strategy, to look for root causes and to revamp my system in the simplest and most direct way. Since I’m not a perfectionist, as long as I can tap along with the music, I can live with some minor flaws.

My Equipment Right now, I no longer chase after expensive cables or power cords; stock power cords are quite good already, especially those from 47 Lab and Sparkler. For interconnect, I use mainly 47 Lab’s Strato OTA solid copper [Editor: see Footnote 6] and Belden (as recommended by Doctor John). I have been using Mogami Speaker cables for the last 20+ years (after I sold all my OCOS cables). These cables are all extremely neutral and balanced across the spectrum, but without being too analytical and cold. That means I do not have to worry about each adding their own sound signature. My Gaincard and Dynaudio Crafft are again extremely transparent, natural and colourless, and so is the Sparkler! As a result, I can easily achieve the balanced, engaging, neutral and natural sound that I have always looked for, and the need for tweaking is minimal! I know, what to some is Hifi Hell maybe Heaven to others! I do root for them to chase after the absolute sound and I wish them all the best! As for me, I prefer to sit back and enjoy MUSIC with a carefully selected stereo system that takes into account the overall balance and neutrality of each component. I also use a tiny power conditioner from China made by Longyu, an entry level one, which does yield marked improvement (thus it‘s staying). My friend is using their 100 lb monster Model 5000; but I have got only a tiny 25 wpc amp, so I laugh off the idea but deep down I know it might help. As I’m already content with my flawed system, I would rather spend the money on my other hobbies!! BTW, I now take most of my photos using an all-in-one Fujifilm X100F camera and all my lenses and bodies are just gathering dust at home, another manifestation of my less-is-more principle!

Ergonomics Once I decided to purchase the icOn4, things went very smooth and the unit was couriered to me in less than a week's time. Hooking up was a piece of cake. Volume/impedance matching with my system is good and the remote is useful. I maxed out my Gaincard and adjusted the volume through the icOn4's 40-step volume control (in general, for sufficient sound pressure, BT is around 34 and CD around 30). All set and I was ready to rock and roll!

How does it sound? Due to laziness, at the beginning I used mostly Bluetooth to play the limitless selection of performances on Youtube and was quite satisfied with the sound. The icOn4 blended into my rig seamlessly and quietly and did not change the sound of the system. To make a statement that the addition of a component does not change the overall sound quality - is this a complement at all?? In my case, that's something of utmost importance to me, and hence the highest accolade! So now I got this all figured out and the rest of the script is predictable and I can just switch back to the "ENJOY MUSIC" mode, right? If things were that simple...

Sparkler S503 v. 2 (official link) Recently, I have been struggling with my 47 Lab Interconnect, which suddenly refused to make any sound. I replaced it with the Silvercom's, which worked well but did not give me the "everything clicked" feeling compared to just a few minutes before. This morning, I finally got the interconnect to work and was in the right mood to do some critical listening on the icOn4 with the Sparkler S503 v 2 [Editor: see Footnote 7].

I ran through some of my CDs, some bought some 30-40 years ago (like the Opus 3 Test Records 1, 2, 3; Dave Brubeck's Take 5; Naum Starkman' Chopin (Pope); plus one of my favorite Cantopop CD by Lee Kwok Cheung (recorded in Shenzhen). The result caught me totally off guard, in ways that I had not expected. I don't know whether it's because of the Sparkler CDP or the icOn4, but the combo has transformed my overall system and elevated the performance to another level! In a nutshell, I am now excited to revisit my CD collection again, yet also hesitant as this would take hundreds of hours because once a disc is played, I don't think I can resist the temptation of listening to the whole disk, and I just don't have that much time!

The overall sound has improved markedly. Bass is tuneful, bouncy and one cannot help but tap the feet and move. Instrument separation has vastly improved without compromising the musicality. Instruments played together with the coherence and meaning of a live performance. Now, the subtle but deliberate off-beats by the musicians are easily picked up, and somehow the whole performance makes more sense. The airiness, reverb and decay around the instruments are also now more pronounced! Soundstage is wide and spacious so long as the recording has captured it. Vocal is honest, uncanny, dead flat in frequency response, with no humps nor special boost to artificially make it sound more dramatic, ans so is truthful to the recording's content. All the minutiae in the singing technique and emotion flow are now revealed effortlessly and they make the performances more convincing than ever!

Back to Bluetooth, it's still very musical although it cannot compare to the performance of CD, but it is respectable enough in the musicality department and overall the excitement is there depending on the video. Again, I swear NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts is my "go to" channel!

Conclusions To me, icOn4 was definitely a very important purchase. So was the upgrade of the Sparkler Audio CDP, and both are keepers! To all who wants an honest component, I would highly recommend the icOn4 to be an integral part of your system. It can work well with the rest of your components and not give away any of the virtues! If the system is improved, the icOn4 will honestly report it, and if the recording is poor, the outcome will be reflected as well.

The vibration tuning kit (Taobao bought~) placed under my CDP is actually quite good indeed but I will compare it with my Rollerblock Jr. on loan from my friend Kwong who has been luring me 渡我升仙 all these years by introducing more cheapo gadgets to me from the almighty Taobao!! Takes at least two to tango, haha.

Music Enjoyed through my setup

More Tiny Desk Concerts:
-Taimane, fierce and passionate Ukulele, Guitar and Cajon, which is scintillating. Her fingering is like a workshop for players.
-Alicia Keys, diva, needless to say, lots of love and true music from the heart.
-Monsieur Perine, dazzling and top class Colombian music.

-Snoh Aalegra, another crafty and honest female vocal.

-Take 5 by Dave Brubeck. Man, the drum solo is so wicked, plus the slick saxophone from Paul Desmond! One of my all time favorites!
-Opus 3 Test CD Therese Juel 's Tidan bara gar. Therese’ voice is full of energy and force.
-XRCD Sampler (first one), whole disk is worth listening to!
-Numerous piano recordings from Hiromi Uehara on YouTube, she's crazily talented. Probably best virtuoso pianist in the world currently ! Check out Hiromi duet with Chick Corea playing Spain!

Somehow, I still spend considerable time listening to music through BT :
1) Sea wealth of FREE great music videos and live performances!
2) Easier to put down the critique mode and enjoy the raw and vibrant music
3) Don't need to change disc all the time
4) Sound quality, though not comparable to CD, is close enough to excuse the flaws.

Sparkler S303 vs S503 v 2 Editor: As I have a S303, Sparkler's first CDP, I asked Eric what he perceives to be the difference between the two. Mind you, this is recollection, as he no longer has the S303, and previously did not really put the current mode S503 to good use (until now when he had it upgraded as well as converted back to voltage mode). His answer:

This is a difficult question as I did not give the original S503 v 1 a good chance to perform previously. Now that I have the S503II in my system, assuming the icOn4 is transparent, no gain , no loss in overall quality, there is definitely some difference. In a nutshell, metaphorically speaking , it's like an energetic young lad vs a full grown gentlemen when comparing S303 to S503II. With the S303, the sound is more raw and upfront, while with the S503II, it's more composed, stable and with more details. Bass line is more defined and provide a better foundation to the whole picture, more micro details on instruments; everything is well put in place. At first, I was drawn to the newly discovered details from all CDs. But if I switch off the critique mode and begin to relax and enjoy music, I can appreciate the music from the CDP which reminds me of analog, notes floating in the air effortlessly. I also appreciate the bouncy and lively bass even when playing some mellower music, as it provides a nice foundation. I especially like the portray of music, with connection between every music note which make sense of the whole piece [Editor: I trust Eric's mental comparison. The S303 is indeed pacey but settles down quite a bit after burn-in; see my link below].

Editor's Footnotes: 1) Before Tsukahara san left to strike out on his own, he designed two series for 47 Labs, the commercial Midnight series and the briefly available (now legendary) Treasure series Kits. I still own the S303 CDP (review here); 2) The separate 47 Labs Input Selector as well as the volume control on the Gaincard are just passive volume controls and, as can be predicted, tethering two passive controls together is detrimental; 3) Unlike Unity Gain Autoformers, TVC can have Gain on its Secondary Winding; 4) Eric's 7 wpc Sparkler amp would look like the S502, but Sparkler now also makes a 25 wpc version, S505; 5) TVC has been around for a long time, and there are a lot of companies making them, the most famous of which being UK Music First Audio (which I have heard to good effect), Bespoke and Swiss Audio Consulting. Autoformers is a more recent phenomenon, being somewhat different from Transformers in the way they are wound (see here). Autoformer Line Controls have appeared in this blog before. Here you will read about another David Slagle device (its heart similar to icOn4) as well as UK's Townsend Allegri. For the icOn4 I suggest this review, which actually compares it to the Townsend; 6) the 47 Labs Stratos Cable is basically a very thin, solid core OFC strand inside a plastic tubing (0.4 mm = 26 AWG). I doubt 47 Labs made them, whereas the ridiculously expensive bespoke connectors are probably their own. The bare cables are widely available Asia-side for about USD 1 per foot (Oyaide website in Japan; also from Taiwan, but good luck in communication). You need 4 strands to make a pair of interconnects. I use regular RCA connectors; 7) The 47 Labs Connector is particularly finicky. Unlike soldered connectors, it is not the whole hot male center metal pin that makes contact, instead, it is just a sliver of 0.4 mm wire. Readers may not know that a lot of these RCA female connectors deform after rounds of plugging in and unplugging. Shindo is a good example, and infamous. Compounding the problem is the fact that many of these Japanese designers prefer the older, less sturdy connectors (I agree) which gets worn out more easily. This happened many times to me in my Shindo preamp, and it can be frustrating as hell. Usually wiggling can restore contact, but the plug types matter. For universality, my Switchcraft and Rean work better than Amphenol. Keep in mind, if you mix vintage and new gear, interconnect contacts will also be a persistent problem. There is NO perfect RCA connector. This actually can be an article into itself.  

What a Selection of Wine and Spirits!
Boiled Fresh Shrimps

Scallops Steamed in Shell with Garlic, Scallions and Bean Vermicelli

Drunken Chicken (in Shaoxing Wine)

Steamed Eel with Preserved Dried Berry Sauce

Camphor Smoked Duck

Brined Duck

29 June, 2020

JBL L300 Le85 LE15B 2045 Cary SLP-98P JVC XL-Z 1050

New York Diary (20-20): Technology and Green Credentials in Our Daily and Audio Lives

Revised 6/30/20: More details on the JBL system added. Also, filled in on Simon's vinyl credentials, as well as his servicing of vaccum pumps.

Technology is a doubled-edged sword. While raising our standards of living and health care, our environment is being ruthlessly destroyed. Advances in many fields, ranging from transportation to farming, have probably done more harm to the environment than coal-burning plants. And it can be argued that growth is not equitable - it benefits the have's disproportionately more than the have-not's.

I pride myself on my Green Credentials, but this pandemic makes me re-examine myself, and how things are done. First of all, understand that I have never owned a car, and I live in a neighborhood where most big national chains do not have a nearby presence (exceptions being BJ's, Target, Best Buy and pharmacies like Walgreen).

I have tried my best to curtail my desires and online orders. I don't order food or easily obtainable household items online. But I did end up with still more orders than I'd have liked. One reason is, as I have relayed before, all my old computing devices gave up on me, so I bought computers and accessories. First a cheap Chromebook, than another cheap Windows laptop and an iPad. Some extras too, like wireless mouse and keyboard. Another important reason is, many items are not available in-store. It is a fact that during the pandemic things tend to fly off the shelves and re-stocking can be slow; but it is not only that, and the pandemic made me gain some insight into the logistics of operations.

Rather, the illogical, and immensely wasteful way of doing things. Say, I order three things from Walmart or Staples and it comes in THREE packages from different warehouses. What a waste of cardboard and packing material! Making this even worse is that some items come in packaging much bigger than their sizes mandate. I discussed this with Andy and he finds the same thing. He thinks they are just packing things into the same few boxes available. I also think perhaps they are spending less time than before in packing due to labor shortage. In any case, these make me feel much guiltier than usual.

Green Credentials in Audio Let's face it, while music is essential, audio, as practiced by fanatics like us, is not. No matter what, we waste quite a bit of electricity. Tube, which consumes more energy, is the Archilles' heel of my green armor. Right now I feel better, as I am streaming via bluetooth to a low consumption all solid state system which I shall later write about. Manufacturers, particularly those in the "high-end", should re-examine their own lack of environmental concerns in their excesses: to name a few, low efficiency loudspeakers with terrible impedance curves (which require muscle amps to drive); solid chunks of aluminum just for looks (most of these in solid state amps that do not sound great); large chassis for meager content (particularly prevalent in digital equipment and preamps); futile Class-A solid state attempts to emulate tubes (I have heard a lot of them, from Gryphon to Krell to Pass; I used to own the Aleph 3, which though good was not a 300B amp by far). Low powered amps and high efficiency loudspeakers are the way to go. Now, there are some who are deserving of praise, like David Berning and Linear Tube Audio (LTA) for the efficient and great sounding ZOTL design and, in the case of LTA, very beautiful but compact and not extravagant industrial designs.

The Greatest Advance in Audio What do you think it is? Sampling Frequency? Class D?  Super Earphones? None of the above. It is Social Media. Manufacturers, critics, dealers, everyone has taken to social media, and Youtube. If not for social media, I'd not have been able to bring you Virtual Home Visits (many more coming).

Virtual Home Visit (3): JBL Horn System

If you are a regular reader, you would have encountered Simon before. He is in Andy's entourage. Simon is quite an experienced audiophile but now he has long sold just about everything and just keeps a simple system. That's commendable and environmentally friendly. As I have said many times before, good enough is indeed good enough. Forget about endless upgrades.

Simon is a JBL expert, and has considerable experience with different JBL horns and components. As a matter of fact, he is behind Andy's sorrowfully under-utilized JBL system (here). Whenever the gang get together, the heated topic of JBL vs Altec invariably comes up.

Simon is a technician who services dental equipment. His expertise comes in very handy for people like Andy (and by extension R, whose fabled lunches had been featured on this blog many times) when their vacuum pumps (for their turntables) break down. God knows how many times I have watched them do repairs. In the case of R, he would make us wait for lunch and go famished to make sure work was done. Fanatics!

Simon had once been an avid vinyl collector. His work takes him all over Manhattan, and over the years, whenever possible, he would pop into the record store and spend a few minutes sifting through the New Arrivals. By Andy and his own accounts, he had once owned every LP on the original HP list. Again, being such a sensible fellow, Simon sold off all those he did not really care for, which was a lot. Simon is a seasoned Classical Listener. I particularly remember his comments on how weary he feels after listening to Mahler. Again here, in terms of possessions, Simon serves as a model for those of us who wallow in excesses.

According to Simon, the JBL horn system is basically a DIY variant of L-300 (my model of choice). The mid-drivers are Le-85 horn,16 ohms (same as L300); Woofers are LE15B, 4 ohms; JBL 2045 tweeters. DIY Crossover (which evolved over a long time). The "L300" critically retains the soul (midrange driver) of the original. Apparently, Simon has had the iconic 375 but prefers the original's Le85. As for the original's 077 tweeters, he's had them too but he prefers the 2045. It should be noted that the woofer enclosure is a DIY variant of the Tannoy GRF! Boy, a lot of work there!

Ancillary equipment comprise: Cary SLP-98P Special Upscale Audio Edition Full-Function Preamp; McIntosh MC-225 amp; Technics SL-1200 Turntable with old Audio-Technica OC-9 Cartridige  connected to his friend's no-name SUT; JVC K2 CD Player.

I didn't get to hear this present setup, but did hear a slightly different previous iteration with the same partnering equipment, and it was quite enjoyable.

Editor's Notes: 1) I am not a fan of Cary, but I have heard a lot of their stuff. This particular preamp uses the larger 6SN7 tubes in the line section, and is definitely much better sounding than the previous models which use smaller tubes, as Art Dudley mentioned in Stereophile; 2) I am pretty sure the JVC CDP is the legendary XL-Z 1050 (without suffix TN) with JVC's proprietary K2 circuitry (here and here).

25 June, 2020

B and W Matrix 801 Mk II Garrard 301 Thorens 124 Lenco 75 DIY Tonearm Decca Cartridges

Click all pics to enlarge. The Ever Changing Landscape. Compared to before, the Infinity Ribbon Columns are further back, and the Resurrected B and W Matrix 801 are in more advantageous positions. 

Virtual Home Visits (2): Man of the Year at Work

Regular Readers know all about Kevin, our super-diligent friend who is constantly on the move. In my 2019 Year in Review (here) I named him "Man of the Year": "...This category is a First! Of course, it has to be Kevin, who has acquired and done so much this year that this blog has worked hard to track him. I thank him for all the good time, the great food, and of course for making my Thorens TD-124 arm board! His DIY and restoration efforts are also deserving of praise. I am still amazed by his DIY Tonearms (bottom pic; feel my admiration? description here) and Cactus Cantilever/Stylus (left pic, click to enlarge, here). This man re-invents himself virtually every minute; watch this space!.."

Well, that happened to be the last time he was mentioned in this blog! I actually saw him a couple more times before the lockdown but did not write about it. Fear not, his tinkering has not stopped. I just got a lot of pics from him to update you. He mostly worked on DIY turntable plinths and tonearms.

According to him, the sound just kept improving. Most gratifyingly, he resurrected his B and W 801 Mk II and now the sound fills the room (as it should, and didn't last time).

Sometime ago he helped repair the Wadia Transport of Andy's brother-in-law. He could not forget the sound (better than the computer for sure). He consulted with Andy and I about transports. I asked him to try out hid DVD players first. He did and told me the result with a Marantz was not bad (though not quite a Wadia). This morning I asked him to try Bluetooth; I hope to get something from him later! Sorry, no food pics...

A newly acquired Garrard 301 Grease Bearing, with DIY Plinth and Tonearm. Cartridge is
VdH tipped Decca Super Gold

Thorens TD-124 in a New Plinth, with Decca Professional Arm
and H4E Cartridge. Note a Pair of Bell 2122C Behind.

Lenco L-75. Note the Modifed Double Platter. The Plinth has a New Top. The DIY
Tonearm Employs SME Bearings. Cartridge is Ortofon MC-5000

 At the very back is the VPI with Decca SC4E Cartridge.
Next to the Thorens 124 is the Citation I

He is Working on his Digital (Computer Music) too. The box with the screen is the
Digital Interface, which connects to the small TEAC DAC next to it.An old
Marantz professional DVD Player serves as Disc Player.The cheap
Chinese "Blue Velvet" Tube Preamp Buffers the signal before the Preamp

23 June, 2020

iFi Zen Blue Bluetooth H9A Wenliang


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Letter from Hong Kong (20-2): Eric L pitches $7 generic Bluetooth Device against $125 name brand.

Editor's Preface: This Second Article from Author Eric L is a delight. It starts with how he got into HiFi in a Hong Kong era that I had missed, but that would be familiar to many of my HK friends. And then he went into Critical Mode and the Result Surprised him! I absolutely relish his completely unbiased comparisons. At the End I'd like to say a few things in the Postcript. The above is another of Eric L's photos.

How I started my HiFi Journey I started listening to music when I was a little kid of 6. I grew up with music from LPs, played through a Thorens Turntable and a Sansui SS Stereo Amp [Editor: HK in that era was not what it is now; that setup would be at least mid-fi]: Sound of Music, Beatles and Carpenters. For some reason, I also liked to play Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, even if I was not exactly a classical guy. When I grew older (still some 40 plus years ago) I started to hang around HiFi shops like Excel in Central, HK, a renowned stereo shop selling Linn Sondek , Naim (I'm still a fan of older Linn and Naim stuff), Mark Levinson and JBL 4343 etc [Editor: Excel is still around]. There was also Radio People, that carried B and W, KEF 105, Quad, Nakamichi cassette deck etc. Of coz, the salesmen knew exactly that I could not afford to buy even a screw off any of their products but they still had fun teasing me and occasionally would allow me to sneak behind the big spenders to listen to some of their exotic setups [Editor: how heart warming! Try that today!]! That would have definitely made my day and enabled me to boast to others; but wait, there's none like me at my age group to boast to...

My Uncles I'm lucky in a way that I have a few uncles who owned some really expensive and exotic equipment. One owned a full set of Cello (total 8 pieces): Performance Amps, Preamp , their crazily expensive equalizer and flagship Stradivarius speakers, plus dCS DACs. He would invite me to his place from time to time to "enlighten" me and my friends (I got company finally~). Of course, no matter the sound was good or not, or if I knew if it was good or bad, I would pay him back with generous eulogies and praise to secure a future invitation, hehe! Down the years, as I came to know a bit more about the meaning of good sound, I can safely say that his stereo system did have amazing dynamics and sound effects. Another uncle had a completely different approach and they both would laugh at each other's setup; this one was using a Philips CD100 connected to unnamed 845SET monoblocks driving a pair of Top Tannoy. Imperial Sound? Quite musical to my limited ears.

All through my journey, I kept asking what the best sounding system should sound like. I kept finding cheap ghettoblasters with poor HiFi attributes to be extremely musical despite exhibiting a lot of distortions. On the contrary, the more expensive the equipment, the better the soundstage, depth and slam, the more embarrassingly the lack in excitement and musicality! It is so hard to have HiFi attributes coexist with feet tapping musicality! 
One thing I truly look for is honesty of a system. After all, the sound coming out of it cannot be better than the actual recording or performance, be it live or a studio effort! Well, stereo equipment is not an art to me, it's more like a craft instead. It has to portray the essence of music such that one can effortlessly immerse in it.

Back to HK Coming after the LP era, CD  was hailed as the most convenient format that can replace cassette and analog. Since my Red Dog RCA LPs that I bought with my pocket money were all given away generously by my cousin (thanks a lot pal!), I sold my  system in Canada (LP12/Ittok2/OrtofonMC20 Naim pre-power/ Linn Kan) before coming back to HK. I had to start from scratch again, yet another painful search for musical truth!

After a long search for the absolute sound of my own, with limited financial capacity, and numerous failures, I finally came to realise what I'm looking for. Thanks to a few experienced veterans, in particular Dom (HK distributor of 47 Lab, Sparkler Audio, Mussette, TotalDac etc; he persosnally uses the Pitracer CDP and 47 Lab's top turntable and the extremely scarce Miyabi cartridge, among other exotic stuff), I settled down with Gaincard as my ultimate amp. With a mere 25Wpc, it fits the job perfectly for my purpose - that is to play music which can touch my soul. I'm also extremely satisfied with my Dynaudio Crafft, which I think can sound as natural and dynamic as many speakers up to 3 to 4 times its price today. Even after 30 years, the sound is still as good. Is it the best? By far no, but it ticked all the boxes for me!

友昂aux蓝牙音频接收器转音箱无线高保真 老式音响蓝牙接受器接功放家用适配器手机通用蓝牙接收器15米距离Everyday you learn something new! Three Bluetooth Receivers under 125 USD Face Off

So much for the babbling. After you heard about my $7 USD cheapo BT receiver (H-9A), I got another cheap BT (Wenliang) from my friend. AI also acquired an iFi Zen Blue. So I was ready to carry out a mini face off of the three! Source is still the almighty You Tube through my ancient 10 year old Mac Air which no longer supports the latest IOS.. Plus I have my Sparkler CDP 503 II Spiral back. I also borrowed from my friend Kwong a pair of Silvercom silver I.C. and some cones bought from Taobao (again). I was ready to rock and roll.

My anchoring system is the 47 Gaincard and the newly acquired icOn4 TVC AVC Line Control and Dynaudio Crafft. The newly acquired icOn 4 is so good that it blends into my system effortlessly and seamlessly. I would talk about it more perhaps in another separate post. But this is definitely one of my most important purchase recently, since finding the perfect linestage to match with my Gaincard is actually more difficult and demanding than one would imagine!

Fast forward to Father's Day weekend; I negotiated a full weekend's privilege to listen to music almost all day long (if not, it would take another week or two to complete this A/B/C comparison). Analyzing is usually demanding in terms of the focus and concentration needed to critique the minute difference between one piece and another. But interestingly this time, this was not so much the case!

H9A out, ZB in I unplugged the cheapo H9A and hooked up the iFi Zen Blue (ZB). I was expecting some sort of improvement over the H9A, but the sound , though different, did not seem better. I decided to run more songs through it. The night before, the ZB somehow refused to produce sound even when paired but it miraculously worked smoothly the next morning. Occasionally it would get unpaired but pressing a few buttons would make that work again. It's a nice looking device made of metal and has a "zen stone" shape. After fiddling with different combination, I sensed something was missing with the ZB which I could not explain. 

ZB out, Wenliang in I then hooked up the Wenliang that my friend Kwong lent me to see if I had missed anything. The unit is well built with a built in LPS but unfortunately once it was hooked up the sound became one-dimensional and soundstage had collapsed completely. I immediately unplugged it and listen to my CDP which was a treat but I sensed the sound can be further improved (perhaps another post). Now I began to question myself if my previous wonderful BT experience was for real??

H9A back in On the morning of Father's Day, with the special freedom granted me in full effect, I woke at 7am and the first thing I did was to unhook the ZB and swap back in the H9A. Voila, everything came back to live again!!! All the musicality, involvement, soundstage, airiness, PRAT were in full swing and I was involuntarily tapping my feet and following the tunes with immense pleasure and delight!!

I tried all the songs that I have used as reference, esp the Youtube Tiny Desk 's Free National mini concerts. I just loved the vibrancy and sophisticated dynamics of the musicians ! I even tried Chris Jones' No Sanctuary and compared it to my Audiophile CD version - I must say perhaps the BT is 80% in hifi terms but I feet no loss of musicality. Man I can live with it any single day!

ZB may have an edge on speed and instrument spacing, but the airiness as well as the ebb and flow of music have been largely missing, even simply lacking. Sadly my very high hopes did not pan out; of course, I would not give up that easily. Be prepared for a follow up once I can get a handle on it.

In the end, I am keeping my H9A. I also learned that they have a latest version with BT 5.0 and an additional USB input too, and for almost same price! I have already asked my friend to buy a few more H9As for me as spare, LOL!

Free Nationals at Tiny Desk
Chris Jones "No Sanctuary"
Nils Lofgren' keith Don't Go" 
Nils Lofgren's guitar is so fierce and piercing and his voice so sincere that how can one not be touched by it?

Liang Bo 's "That Boy" is so polished, forceful, soulful that I think even those who don't understand Chinese will like the song. [Editor: this video is from a Chinese version of America Got Talent; this fellow took the crown]

FKJ performance at "Live at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia" is so spiritual and uplifting that I can dive into music while watching the grandiose and breathtaking scenery. Such a treat. These are songs that I must play once or twice every other day or two~ Another live performance from FKJ at La Fee Electricite is shorter but no less impressive and this is the one that i would loop as well! Yet another favorite is 
FKJ and Masego playing "Tadow" and I can't stop tapping my feet on this one. Those slickest saxaphones, but both of them are crazily skilled and talented!

Man, am I having so much fun listening to Bluetooth! With a sea of live performances not available on Spotify and CDs, I am in heaven!

Editor's Postcript: 1) We thank Eric here for bringing us more Virtual Home Visits as well as more music suggestions, and we look forward to more articles from him in the near future - a round of applause for cheap fun!; 2) After I posted my BT experience, Eric left comments that echoed mine and one thing led to another. I think I can relate to his experience (and that of my HK friend icefox) but those who have not yet used BT, or who dismiss it (including some of my friends), may not. The important thing of course is: does BT get across the music experience? We obviously think so, but you have to try it as a musical, not hifi, experience to see; 3) The H-9A may be viewed as a David by some, but I actually think there are many David's, such as my Aukey and HK-008 that I wrote about. BT is very basic, and there is not much that you can do to improve or degrade the sound. Newer chips may be more inclusive but they are still functionally similar to older ones. In all these devices, the onboard digital to analogue conversion and power supply are generic and rudimentary. I think there is no need to hunt for a particular model - just experiment on your own. As a corollary, the still inexpensive iFi is not a Goliath either. After run in, who knows? Perhaps Eric L will reconsider. Also, it has digital outputs, which from my experience is unquestionably an upgrade path, though that feature can be had for much less too. Of course, that's an extra component and another cable. As I have said, the built in digital to analogue conversion in cheaper devices cannot be very good and an extra DAC of one's choice will reap benefits. Until the next round...

Remembering Vincent Chin Voyager Golden Record

A documentary by filmmaker Renee Tajima-Pena was made about the case, called Who Killed Vincent Chin? Photo: Courtesy Renee Tajima-PenaNew York Diary (20-19): Remembering Vincent Chin 

Today in 1982, Vincent Chin, a Chinese American around my age who was about to be married, died after 4 days of coma that followed a brutal lynching. The incidence galvanized Asian Americans and is bitter memory.

The incidence is recounted in Hong Kong's SCMP today, but not in the US media. Everyday I read online news from various sources, msn, New York Times etc. I found no mention of this incidence in the last few days, not even in the local Chinese Newspaper.

One day in the early eighties, I was waiting in a New Jersey town for a bus back to New York. A convertible drove by, a guy pumped his fist and yelled at me: "Remember Pearl Harbor!!" Luckily, they just sped away and I went on with my life. Despite occasional tribulations I was able to enjoy life a bit, travel a little, like any human being would like to. Vincent Chin had all that taken away from him by an animal wielding a baseball bat.

Five years before his death, NASA launched two Voyagers into Space. Each carried a Golden Record with an eclectic selection of music, to be played to Aliens in the event they are encountered. Meanwhile, down on the continent, there were, and are, still a huge number of people who look at people different from them as aliens. The irony is, we make overtures to aliens, but become violent to human beings that look different from us.

Basic Repertoire
Beethoven's Quartet's are among the greatest works in the genre. The Cavatina, from String Quartet No. 13, Opus 130, a late work (played by the Budapest String Quartet), is the last track on the Golden Record. I listened to it with Vincent Chin on my mind.

Trivia: Find out more about the Golden Record from Wiki. Note that the record is to be played back at 16 2/3 rpm, a speed half that of our usual 33 1/3. This means each side can yield about an hour of music. This speed is basically only used in studios.

21 June, 2020

EMT 950 JBL 4343 Quicksilver Integrated Norma LPA 140 Graham LS5/9 Bestvox RATOC

Click all pics to enlarge. Top, what a place! Fantastic! this must be one of the "simplest" systems I have ever seen in the high-end. 

Virtual Home Visits (1): Two Systems in Mumbai!
Overview: JBL

Editor: Readers, it is terrible that during this Lockdown we cannot hang out with friends, whether it is having a pint at a bar or sharing a meal. Home Visits are even more of a no-no. Hence, this is the first in a new series. Today, we visit two audiophiles in Mumbai (Bombay), India. For quite a while, I have been in occasional email communication with one of them (Vivek) and got to email too with his friend Prem recently. I hope to meet up with them some day! It is too bad they are too humble to write, despite their perfect English! I tried to entice them to be the Blog's Indian Correspondents but did not succeed. Both use loudspeakers that were Monitors.

Solicitation: If you like this Virtual Home Visit and are a regular reader (even not) of this blog, would you mind other readers to pay a virtual visit to your home? If you don't, consider emailing me a couple of photos, an equipment list, and a few lines on: 1) what kind of music do you like; it'd be great to pick one album that you think your system does well on; 2) what do you think is the greatest strength of your system and; 3) what is your next goal and ultimate direction? Anything goes really. I'd just like to carry this out - I'd not mind whatever you use and will not ad lib. Easy does it and cheers.

For today's Home Visits, some of the equipment are close to my heart (or experience), so I shall ramble quite a bit. So that you can skip, some of my rambles are in italics. At the end of the article I shall write a concise Overview of JBL.

Big Loudspeakers, Simple Setup
First we meet Prem, an engineer. The equipment he has now and the stuff he had before add up to a mightily impressive list, even by my standards! And his curiosity knows no bound.

Prem is one of the few audiophiles I know who only listens to vinyl (at least at home). His main diet is Bollywood Classics, Indian Classical Music, Classic Rock and a bit of Fusion.

This is analogous to many HK audiophiles, who enjoy Canto-pop and Cantonese Operas. For myself, as one who knows Chinese Opera, I relate to Indian (the region's) classical music. In fact, I really admire a lot of their classical music, so sophisticated (when I was younger, like many Westerners, including prominent musicians, I loved to listen to raga's as well as sufi music - I should dig out those CDs!)

EMT 950 with the 929 arm, TSD 15 cartridge and the built-in EMT phono with their step up transformers. I am green with envy! Prem's unit had been completely serviced and restored to original specs by ex EMT engineers in Germany. At the time of purchase he had the option of opting for the original tube phono supplied with the 927 and 930 instead of 950's Soild State Modules. But both the ex EMT engineers and Stefano Passini, who’s written a book on EMT, suggested he stuck to the SS one supplied with the 950 since it mates best. They said if EMT engineers thought the tube sounded better, they would have supplied the tube phono and not the SS phono, and Prem went with their advice. The 950 was a statement product, used by most prestigious radio stations, including the BBC. On this complete unit, one can adjust the output voltage gain anywhere from 0.77 v to 10v (!). It has 2 gain controls, one each for left and right. Since it has a built in pre, Prem just uses it to drive the power amp directly.

Having encountered many EMT's in Hong Kong, I know this is the Centerpiece of Prem's System, something he will never change. And why should he? Few can afford it and it goes up in value steadily (better than volatile stocks). The EMT's I heard in HK varied in condition; all had EMT arms and cartridges, and they always sounded musical. Ditto the 930's of my friends Andy and Mark in NYC. I used to wonder why I never owned an EMT; I guess that is because my smaller abodes in crowded HK and NYC made me adverse to over-sized TT's. I can only take solace in the fact that my Thorens TD-125 is basically an EMT 928. Now, if I have a whole basement (and the dough)...

JBL 4343 This needs no introduction. It was actually the Centerpiece of a 2009 Home Visit in Shenzhen, China, a rare early entry that I wrote in Chinese (English here). In 2017 we also heard it briefly in NJ, but it was too casual a visit to record much (here). I am glad this iconic loudspeaker makes a formal return in this blog! Prem's are the more coveted earlier alnico version.

JBL's, because of their easy load, generally work as well with tubes as solid state, so the HK users are kind of split down the middle in terms of what they use. Though a benign load, despite the spec's, like latter day TAD's, db for db, JBL's are not as easy to drive as, say, Klipsch, Altec and Tannoy. Generally, you don't find SET and low power amp lovers using JBL. It should be noted, HK has close ties to Japan, and is heavily Japanese influenced. The Japanese revel JBL and the subset of HK  Japanese gear aficionados (I am one foot in) also are JBL fans.

In HK, I have listened to a lot of 4343's (both alnico and ferrite), as well as quite a few pairs of its sibling 4344 (largely for the Japanese market), and I prefer the 4343 for its greater versatility. See, JBL, because of its rich sounding midbass, are often favored by jazz, pop and rock listeners. In many setups that I have heard, classical music was not reproduced as well. This tendency is worse in 4344, which I personally think sounds better with ss amps. I have more to say in my JBL Overview at the bottom.

Quicksilver Integrated This is a current QS product (official site). The stereo amp uses 4 x EL84/6BQ5  and 1 x 12DW7/7247 (remember Dynaco ST35, which also uses the same EL84?). The topology is not that dissimilar to the now legendary VTL Tiny Triode's, which differ in that they are monoblocks and run in triode mode.

I have always loved the EL84 tube. Prem's words "...I like the EL 84 sound. It’s got good tone, it’s pretty quick, immediate and lithe..." are completely in sync with mine.

Although Prem has had all kinds of brand name cables before, he now prefers Radio Shack speaker cables and generic interconnects with connectors upgraded to Rean (a Neutrik sunsidiary). This kind of preference may be anathema to the average audiophile, but it is not at all uncommon among horn users (my friend Andy uses lamp cords for his Altec A5's).

What are Prem's priorities and where does he want to go? He said: "...I am looking for an honest, natural sound. Focus is on tone, presence and dynamics. The Quicksilver is very decent. In fact the designer Mike Sanders too has a vintage JBL which helped. While the Quicksilver is very musical, I am looking at a bit more resolution and transparency but not at the cost of tone, immediacy and dynamics." He is constantly moving his loudspeakers little by little to maximize their performance. Some of these exercises are discussed in HiFiVision Forum, an Indian high end forum, where everybody posts in English. Judging by some of the posts, that's a pretty high end crowd! Audio seems thriving in India!

I cannot resist to list some of the stuff Prem had used before. He had owned a variety of speakers from Tannoy 15 inch Gold's to B and W 801 Matrix Series 3 to Audio Artistry Beethoven to Martin Logan’s to Rethms (Lowther-like loudspeakers). For amps he had used Mark Levinson ML2, Parasound JC1 monoblocs, DeHavilland 845 monoblocs, Dave Slagle customised 2a3 amp and a few others. He had also tried an Audio Note amp but it was too warm and rich for his taste (I agree). As if that's not enough, here is one more for you (mrgoodsound will take note), in his own words:

"...Prior to Quicksilver I had a David Berning customised class A zero feedback amp using 6b4g triode tubes in a push pull configuration. It was a 10 watter but could easily drive my JBL. It’s the same amp that David uses for his personal listening. I found this amp made it a bit lean in mid bass but otherwise it was excellent. Probably not a good match. This amp according to Berning is probably the best he’s designed..." FYI, he preferred that amp to LTA's current Ultralinear amp.


Graham LS5/9 on stands. Norma IPA140 on bottom shelf.

BBC Bent, Small System and Big Music

Now we meet Vivek. How time flies! I was sifting through my emails with him and was shocked that it has been 8 years! As one who is soon to be eligible for Medicare, moments like these are kind of frightening.

Like me, Vivek is a big classical music fan. By big, I mean he doesn't just listen to the usual suspects; instead he is adventurous (aside from me, I have never heard anyone mention Martinu!) Just like me in the HK and even the US audio communities, he is among the minority. Vivek enjoys live music and frequently attends concerts. Given that India has its own (and very sophisticated) classical music, it surprises me some of the names that appear in Mumbai with the Symphony Orchestra of India, including conductor Alexander Lazarev, one of my favorites. Western music seems to be thriving there.

Graham Audio LS5/9 Given his classical bent, and given that the space available to him is modest, Vivek is wise in preferring loudspeakers with a BBC heritage. Graham Audio specializes in reproducing classic BBC loudspeakers, and from a humble beginning has evolved quite astonishing a range (not surprising, as Spendor is behind them). Their products are generally well received, including the LS5/9 (TAS review by fellow BBC enthusiast Robert Greene).

I'll weigh in here. I have previously used the second generation Rogers LS5/9 (also called Mk II, bi-wired; now, please don't confuse this with the current reproduction Rogers LS5/9 - it must be lucrative that everyone wants a piece of the pie). The sound of the old Rogers was quite mesmerizing but I did have one issue with it: during that time I only used tube amps and the bass was too loose for my taste. I am sure solid state will do better. I have also heard several times the original (Mk I) and I think it is better than Mk II. When we listened to the larger and excellent Graham LS5/8 (here), I didn't write about it but we actually briefly listened to the Graham LS5/9 (not a fair comparison to its much more voluminous sibling) and I did think the bass was more tightly controlled than both Rogers Mk I and II. BTW, there is a Chinese company called Bestvox that also reproduces BBC LS loudspeakers (not BBC sanctioned, but at a fraction of the price). They are pretty popular in Taiwan, especially the LS3/5A. There is a U-Audio review of Bestvox LS5/9 (translated to English; original) . This review is actually thorough and went into details about the design and it talked about the bass issue. For this article, I read some other netzine Graham reviews (LS5/9 reviews as well as some LS5/8 reviews that came after mine) and I think they are mediocre. These lousy reviewers write the same thing about everything and are boring; you wonder whether they use the same template and just change the brand name. Of course, they know little about the BBC sound and design philosophy. I'd personally avoid those sites for any review.

Norma Revo IPA 140 As of this writing, Vivek is testing out this amp, which is on loan to him. This is a new name to me, designed by yet another Rossi (no relation to Vinnie). It has been well reviewed in HiFi+ but, interestingly, Vivek said he was even more swayed by a review in Taiwan's U-audio (in Translation; in Chinese). Obviously, the Translators have gotten so much better to allow English speakers to comfortably read Chinese articles and, as in this blog, for Russians to read English!. That has not always been the case, and does represent progress.

I asked Vivek what he thinks about the Norma and he said: "...I have the perfect description for the NORMA...Take the LFD that you reviewed (here). Strip away some excess warmth and add some more resolution, mid-range solidity/palpability, more bass control and less sweetness (a pinch) in the treble and voila!" That sounds pretty good to me! FYI, Vivek had previously used LFD Mk III.

Analog - Rega P3-24
Digital - Cambridge audio CD player and SOtM player (Pi with JRiver as server) feeding into RATOC RAL 24192DM1 (link).

Vivek also has the TEAC PD-H600 CDP, Elekit TU-8500 preamp and a Clones (gainclone) amp. Previously I recall he had used the Harbeth C7ES and Leben integrated amp.

I am very grateful to my two Indian friends for entertaining us! A round of Applause!

Brief Overview: JBL
Although in HK I have likely heard more JBL's than any other loudspeaker brand, this Overview is brief. Why? Because on the internet there is so much information already. JBL's own pages are not worth anything; Rather Lansing Heritage is a good place to start. Here I shall only briefly chronicle my own impressions, experience and assessment.

General Character Because of its popularity in home use, people tend to forget that JBL is a company with a professional monitor heart. As with other monitors, they usually have a flat response and are easy loads. Because of that, they generally work as well with tubes as solid state, so the HK users are kind of split down the middle in terms of what they use. Despite the spec's, like latter day TAD's, db for db, JBL's are not as easy to drive as, say, Klipsch, Altec and Tannoy. Generally, you don't find SET and low power amp lovers using JBL. It should be noted, HK has close ties to Japan, and is heavily Japanese influenced. The Japanese revel JBL and the subset of HK Japanese gear aficionados (I am one foot in) also are JBL fans. Mid-bass and Bass When JBL lovers tell of their love for the bass, they are really talking about the full sounding midbass. This is not to say there is a midbass bump, rather the bass rolls off very cleanly. Inch for Inch, JBL (and TAD) actually has less bass extension than many other loudspeakers (like Tannoy). For classical replay this is a disadvantage. Electronic Crossovers Perhaps influenced by Japanese, in HK, there are a number of people who insist on using electronic crossovers. My view is simple: it can do good but it always do some wrong too. Basically it is a more hifi kind of sound if done well, and subpar when not. It is also more demanding of power. Not my cup of tea.

Now this is something: I have almost never heard a really bad JBL setup. An easy choice for audiophiles. Also, despite the time span and evolution of drivers, the basic JBL sound is pretty consistent. Now, I don't know the current products, but  I doubt they are better than the vintage classics.

4343/4344: adapted from above. The 4343 needs no introduction. It was actually the Centerpiece of a 2009 Home Visit in Shenzhen, China, a rare early entry that I wrote in Chinese (English here). In 2017 we also heard it briefly in NJ, but it was too casual a visit to record much (here).

In HK, I have listened to a lot of 4343's (both alnico and ferrite), as well as quite a few pairs of its sibling 4344 (largely for the Japanese market), and I prefer the 4343 for its greater versatility. See, JBL, because of its rich sounding midbass, are often favored by jazz, pop and rock listeners. In many setups that I have heard, classical music was not reproduced as well. This tendency is worse in 4344, which I personally think sounds better with ss amps.

L300 For me, if I have the chance and dough, I'd grab the now very expensive L-300, which is time aligned, more home oriented and I have heard that perform very well with classical music. One of my dream loudspeakers.

4310-L100/4311/4312 Because of the large number of units out there, these are the most commonly encountered, particularly the long running 4312 series. I have heard a lot of these. My own experience with 4312A included stacking two pairs 4312A (here). That was a high point of my audio journey and I remember it with fondness. I have also heard some 441x, of similar sound.

4430 This Bi-Radial model is also frequently seen. I have heard it several times (even its larger sibling), and they do a good job, but personally I think the 431x and 441x sound better.

K2 Series In my opinion, these are very suitable for home and they sound wonderful. They are truly home-friendly horns. I have heard the 9500 but I prefer the later 9800 (with a supertweeter). I still remember my 25 wpc Fisher X-101-C driving the latter to perfection in a 200 sq ft room (outperforming the very expensive and artificial sounding Swiss FM Acoustics). Too bad I never got to hear the Everest.

Everest DD66000 I got to hear this several times! In HK, at an audio show and at an audiophile's big house; in NYC, in a small house(!), and in Guangzhou, China, in a warehouse. They all sound "good" but I was never impressed. The experience in the HK audiophile's house was seminal. This fellow has always been a JBL man, "upgrading" all the time. He "upgraded" from the K2-9500 to the DD66000, and we all thought it was for the worse (I heard he later went for the current 67000). The most incredible thing is, bass was seriously lacking, despite the double 15" woofers. It should be noted that he used electronic crossover. He later added 2 Wilson Thor subwoofers I heard. I shake my head. If you ask me, I have never heard good bass from this .5 way of dividing the bass duties between 2 drivers (a lot of loudspeakers do that). Maybe on paper, but not in action.

Hartsfield Although my experience here was not perfect (placement in particular) I could tell these could be superb. But any corner horn is difficult to implement.

Paragon Yes, I have heard it. This odd duck can make OK background music but there is no way it is serious audio!

L101 My experience here.

L20T/4406 Excellent. My experience here and here.

Century Gold Excellent. My experience here. The sound is tighter and more modern than the 43/441x series.

Studio 5 Series mrgoodsound reports on Studio 590.

Professional By this I mean older professional products. I am not familiar with the model numbers of the drivers but I have heard them to good effect in DIY horn systems in HK, as well as in NYC, with my friend Simon and Andy (here and here).

Subwoofer In HK I loved my vintage JBL subwoofer (mine is Digital 12). It has a paper woofer, and I prefer the sound to the more famous and upmarket REL Strata III (rubber). Look up craiglist and you may get a pair for next to nothing.

20 June, 2020

Klipsch La Scala AL5

Pic from HiFi News. Klipsch La Scala AL5.

New York Diary (20-18): Rehash! What are you Reading?

Whenever I research for my articles, particularly on more obscure things, I am astonished by websites that I don't know at all (and I thought I know them all) that only do rehash! So many sites are doing that - it's basically AI Bulletin Boards, with no humans behind (aside from a desire to make money)!

I do rehash too, but when I do that I do it for a reason. To promote products or people that I like; but I always put in a comment (often more) on why I am doing that. Ditto this post (and the last).

Klipsch La Scala AL5
I have not heard the most recent incarnations of Klipsch Classics. Aside from the official Klipsch forum, I have probably published the most on Klipsch. The La Scala is particularly close to my heart. I have never accomplished my dream of stacking 2 pairs (I harbor the extravagant hope that my colleague mrgoodosound can one day do that).

This HiFi News review of the Kilpsch La Scala AL5 is the best trade magazine Klipsch review that I have read in the last few years. Author David Price is someone I have always liked, from eons ago when he wrote for HiFi World. Some of these British writers honed their craft on very modest equipment but their hearts are in the right place.

This one is particularly interesting to me because it shows the back! The top part is now closed, so one cannot easily access the crossovers! I'd rather think we prefer the older versions, where we can easily change everything. Grant you, I am not a fan of the aftermarket mods, but it is reassuring that a backdoor is left open.