Figure: The making of Yamaha Beryllium drivers (via TheVintageKnob)
Review: YAMAHA NS-1000 (Sony CDP-R1/DAS-R1 and CDP-553ESD; Meridian 206; Counterpoint SA-2000E; Bryston 4B)
Before my coming articles on iPod and Music Server, I'd like to introduce you to this famous pair of monitors, which I happened to be using for the assessment of my digital iPod files.
YAMAHA NS-1000(M), from the mid-70's, enjoyed a long production life, and has several permutations. It is famous for being a very accurate monitor, and even more for being the first to utilize Beryllium drivers, not one but TWO at that, pre-dating Focal JM Lab by almost 30 years! Talk about "progress"! Read this site for history, spec's and more (make sure you click "more")! NS-1000 is also undeservedly infamous for being "bright".
Figure: Right speaker (designated) of mirror-image pair.
My pair (serial # 11466R/L) is the heavier "home-use" version with REAL wood cabinets, and how beautiful they are. These used to belong to a friend of tubediyer and I had the luxury of trying out before buying.
When they first arrived, sound was decidedly sluggish, probably due to long-term dis-use. I have them 2/3 of the way into the room, in relatively close-field position. After re-running them in, sound steadily improved. One day, I began to get only intermittent sound from the right mid-range unit and it eventually lost sound altogether. I took it out and found that the soldering joint for one crossover cable had completely disintegrated! I had difficulty cleaning and re-soldering the terminal. But after I finally managed to do it, sound took a significant step forward.
I have been driving the Yamahas from my second station, appropriately a half-Japanese one. Let me digress a little to talk about these CD players. The SONY CDP-R1/DAS-R1 was the flagship of the 16-bit TDA 1541A era. Connection using the propreitary SONY Twin Link optical cable is said to offer the best jitter reduction. Although this method does not seem to confer more details (and non-ATT opticals are not my favorites), compared to the other S/PDIF inputs though a darker background is revealed. What I love most about this DAC is its composure, an ability to maintain a rock-like stability during loud passages. I personally judge its ability in this regard to be better than most of the theoretically superior 24/96 and 24/192 decoders, including the very expensive ones. And better than most of the famous professional CD players of this era, including Studer/Revox (D730/226) and EMT (mind you, I have the EMT 931) , though perhaps not better than the little-known SONY professional 3000, a rare bird that I had the good chance of hearing in NYC recently.
A replay of a Bruckner or Mahler symphony is such a pleasure through this machine. Let me cite some examples. On the Tennstedt Live LPO Mahler 5 (Japanese EMI) the first BIG orchestral crescendo is not rendered correctly on most machines. On the R1/D1 you can hear the entire backbone of the cresendo, and it just seems steadier, longer and better, each moment a little more than the previous, and isn't that what we want?? On most machines, the crescendo just peaks too quickly, a sort of premature ejaculation! Last night I played the ALTUS (Alt-129) Shostakovich 1st, captured by Japanes engineers in the late 60's, and the recording has a shocking realism, definitely among the best live recordings I have heard. I must tell you that through the Sony combo it doesn't matter whether I am using the Yamaha or the sensational Usher X-708 I can rest assured I get all of that. Here I must also praise the worthless (in terms of current price) CDP-533-ESD, which uses a priceless transport and delivers a pristine signal that I sometimes prefer to the R1 (hush...)!!! If you find one with laser in good condition, grab one, it'll slaughter most modern transports! And the sound through its own DAC is not bad either...
Figure: Meridian 206
That said, there's a downside to the Sony R1/D1: a certain inaccuracy in rhythm and pace, something most audiophiles who just listen to slow saliva songs do not undertsand . So, while it plays the 3 B's great, Stravinsky's unusual meters may just seem too earthbound. Even in vocals, my newly acquired Meridian 206 (Delta-Sigma version) just beats it. Nothing is perfect, as the Meridian shall lose something in large-scaled replay. There are many generations of Meridian. I don't quite like their 1-bit era, but this 206 is a surprise indeed. The sound bears more resemblance to later 506/508 Meridians, which are not that far off (even better in some ways) than current ones. One can safely say though, Meridian knows their digital!
Figure: The original Bryston 4B. Ugly!
Where are the contributions of the preamp and the amp? They are sleepers and guardians. The Counterpoint 2000E is just a 3000 in linestage configuration and a close approximation to the 5000. The Thousand Series is in general more analytical than the older Point One series, more extended at the frequency extremes and less euphonic. The E version denotes balanced-out option provided by IC conversion. Despite that, I have determined that it is the better way to connect the XLR-in-only Bryston 4B, losing very little the tube liquidity and gaining dynamics. Now to the amp, my 4B is an old version, which looks a lot coarser than the subsequent ST and SST versions. However, in terms of driving power, the older versions is a powerhouse and more powerful! It is supposed to be "coasre", but I find an hour of warm-up and mating with a tube preamp is just fine. The 4B its little brother 3B are my ss workhorses.
The setup drove Yamaha beautifully. I get a big sound and do not suffer from so-called "agressive highs", and this without attenuating much of the pots! The 90 db Yamaha's are not that difficult but do need power for the bass to fill out. After a good amount of run-in at good level, sound is fast. and the amount of detail it retrieves is simply phenomenal. With my setup, nothing grates the ears. Most of the negative criticisms simply reflect the low-quality equipment people partner these with. What's pricelss is the sense of presence, as evidenced by playback of the CDs mentioned above. The comments about its similarity to JBL is not completely unfounded. Bass is deep and tight, but peters out around 40 Hz, though it does not have the mid-bass coloration of JBL. Meanwhile, the soundstage is to die for, matching the best of the modern speakers. What is really unusual to me is that they lack almost nothing; it's hard to pinpoint particualr weakness. Great Monitors that I can trust testing to!
A lot of people have heard my Yamaha's and they were all surprised by the performance of these 30+ year-old designs. Robin the music-loving Scot came one fine day and could not stop marvelling. He is as good a judge as any, as he has recently got a pair JM Lab Mini-Utopia Beryllium! Two weeks ago Danz also came by. He was amazed that they sounded nothing like what he heard before. We had all heard these previosuly at a delaer, driven by a Music Server and Benchmark DAC. Very dry and distorted sound; perhaps the computer playback had needed some improvement. Well, matching I guess.