06 November, 2009

HiFi Letter from New York (1): Martin Logan, Jetlag

(pic taken in the wee hours)

HiFi Letters from New York (1):

Martin Logan Source redux; Jet-lag

JETLAG (and how to make the best of it)
and mental stamina
As one grows old, flying long-distance becomes more of a chore. In my case, jet-lag is more severe than in my youth. I wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and try to kill time by catching up with my Stereophile, TAS and American Record Guide subscriptions. Then I make some coffee and have breakfast.

What does one do when one is in physical decline (and you know what I mean I presume)? One compensates by fortifying one's mental attitude, honing one's technique, to better focus on the task at hand, and to be more efficient. As it is with most things in real life, the approach to hifi and music is the same for me.

In the past, I'd just putter around doing nothing for a few days. Not now. Older people with less time left should gear up, not down. I arrived at night and after barely any sleep started building my hifi setup from the ground up early next morning. You may not know this: I dismantle my hifi every time I leave, so as to give my mother more space.

I give my gears some rotation. Last time I did not take out my Martin Logan Source. This time I did the big job, dragging the big boxes out and setting them up. Some of my gears, including my beloved BAT preamps, were on loan to my dear friend M, so I started with the following:

Digital: Linn Karik/Numerik; Rega Apollo (connected by Linn generic cables)
Vinyl: Linn LP-12/Ittok/Benz Micro Silver; Audio Technica 1200/Denon 102 (mono)
Preamp: ARC SP-9; PS Audio GCPH
Amps: Almarro 318B; NAD 325BEE (used as amp)
Speaker cables: Belden 9497 and Mogami

After hooking them up I went out and bought myself a roll with bacon and egg. Sipping strong coffee and satisfied with my hard work, I started my first serious listening session. The speakers, having been idle for a year, took some time to wake up. Ditto my other gears. Placement also had to be gradually evaluated, especially the toe-in angle of the curved panels.

For those of you who have followed my Blogs, you'd know I rate the Martin Logan Source VERY highly (see my extensive original review; now that you have the pic here you can visualize my placement limitations better), hmmm, higher than many Maggies and ESLs. By the second day, the Martin Logan Source was performing its miracles. I started my listening with CDs. Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings and Food, which I was listening to for the first time, was so richly textured that it literally stopped me from eating breakfast. A great recording of masterfully arranged songs, if you can take a full dose of David Byrne's vocals that is. I then put on Van Morrison's Moondance and was yet again surprised by the presentation. You see, I know every song of this masterpiece inside out (but have never heard it on the ML), yet almost all instrumental touches (of which there are many in the rich arrangements) have a different presentation from what I had known before. Most of this can be attributed to the speed of the stats, which when implemented correctly give you a fast but natural leading edge that is more richly nuanced and very different from that rendered by dynamics. I say "when implemented correctly" not to praise my modest efforts ("basic" is frequently the best) but to say that quite a few people I know had ruined their panels by partnering them with highly esoteric and costly gears (notably cables) which unfortunately instantly and negatively color the sound.

While the sound was wonderful, two things began to strike me as somewhat different from before. The first is a good thing: the bass seems even more tuneful than before; the walking bass line has even more of a boogie factor and I became more aware of rhythmic subtleties, particularly with the pop albums. That was the good part.

The Source as revealed by The Source
The second thing nagged at me for a couple more days.I was diligent and had gotten out LP-shopping. I played a few on the LP-12 but the slightly rough sound just nagged at me. It was not quite on the level of the CD playback, and that wasn't the case before! I had installed the Benz Micro Silver just before I left NYC last time. It is not broken in but I remember the sound last time had more brilliance to it. This time instead of brilliance the treble just stood out a little too much and was actually grating on some LPs. I made changes which unfortunately did not ameliorate things. Perplexed, I checked the cartridge again. It was tracking at 1.5 gm. I checked the manual which says optimal weight 2 gm! So in haste at set-up I had not given it enough weight and my system did not reveal it last time! I re-set to 2 gm and played over the LPs that bothered me. BINGO! that unpleasant leading edge was gone! If you have ever listened to Francescatti you'd know what a little over-representation of the treble does to your ears!

While we're on this, don't you think most hifi systems we hear mis-represent the violin? More often than not, we hear the strings but not so much simultaneously the vibrating body. Not so with the ML. Every instrument captures your attention with its unique signature. You don't find yourself dwelling on just the upper strings in a symphony when the winds are also playing. Every solo receives its due. Despite the somewhat limited soundstage, things just seemed a lot more real than, eh, say, most dynamics and, eh again, Maggies. Should I be clearer? Well then, the ML sounds more real than the Maggie. The interesting thing is, the reality portrayed by the ML is more than a little reminiscent of the horn speaker!

One day I played the LP of Bohm's live Daphne, which I just picked up because of a superb photo of Hilde Gueden on the cover. I was stunned by her vocal portrayal, surely amongst the best Strauss vocals I have heard. This is not the greatest sounding recording, but it is clear enough. Most importantly, the ambience of the theater, and of the electifying orchestral sound emanating from the pit, was rendered in all its glory by the truthful transducer that is Martin Logan.

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