07 September, 2010

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 04-09-10 and 28-08-10 and 21-08-10 (Yamaha, ESL)

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 04-09-10 and 28-08-10 and 21-08-10 (Yamaha, ESL, Magnepan)
Talk R2R: Otari

Part I.
04-09-10 Return to Robin's Nest

About a year ago, my good friend Robin the hairy Scott visited me and got smitten by the Yamaha NS-1000 (my review here). He soon got a pair and never looked back (for our visit at that time, click here and read Part II). Now he has upped the ante and gone one step further, and got the big brother FX-3, which shares the same Beryllium tweeter and mid-range, but with a larger 15" woofer.

As Robin is a very busy (and important) man, it took several weeks to arrange the visit, but it was worth the wait, not least because he finally got his recently acquired expertly-restored Otari MX-5050-B2HD Reel-to-Reel machine working for us! The visit was not without mishaps. Two of our cars were not able to find parking around Seymour Road, so I arrived late as the tapes rolled. Finally, six of us cramped into Robin's nest.

REELity Check
What impressed me most was an old Duke Ellington tape, which gave a remarkable presence, a live feeling that rivaled with the best I have heard. Some of the tapes were quite old and had minor pitch instability (due to stretching of tape) and I would guess the machine would benefit from a little alignment, but a Mozart tape was pristinely rendered too (see video below). Perhaps tape quality varies.

The ARC SP-11 and McIntosh 275 formed the same invincible combo; I doubt Robin shall ever part with them, and he shouldn't. He continues his TT tweaking though. Robin's Garrard 301 with highly modified RB300 (Michell counterweight etc) is now mounted on a double-granite plinth with some kind of expensive cones between the layers providing shock absorption. The Ortofon Kontrapunkt B gave a hugely pleasant sweet and crystalline sound that was addicting, particularly on plucked acoustic guitar strings. Though I felt it veered off from neutrality, it was towards the pleasant side and I was left in no doubt as to why there are so many aficionados for this variant (my C version is more hifi, for sure).

Robin played quite a few obscure but great-sounding albums for us, and Nelson surprised us by taking out his iPhone. The SoundHound software correctly identified every one of those songs. If you have an iPhone (or Android etc) I'd think it would be a very worthwhile download! Click here for a youtube demonstration on how this software works. Marvelous! Too bad I don't have a 3-G phone. If I do, I'd use it quite often, not least in concert to identify those unannounced encores!

As it was, I thought the vinyl setup more balanced, but the reel-to-reel surely had its allure. If I have any reservations, it would be about the height of the speakers. They were only a few inches off the floor, as it was sometimes in the studio, but I felt in the smallish LR sound was weighted down and most of the music was beneath the top of the speakers. I am used to much taller images and that caused me a little discomfort. Robin told me he had them higher earlier and balance was off. For these heavy beasts, it would take a while to provide the proper stands.

I eagerly look forward to our next visit. Robin is a handy man who gets literally to the bottom of everything. He is going to buy an oscilloscope and calibrate the tape machine. Now, THAT is an audiophile!

After the visit, we went for happy hour in Kennedy town, where we were joined by oozz. At his suggestion, we went to Saikung for French food. And then we all went back to my place to audition Nelson's B&W CM1. What a full and crazy day!

Reeling On

As Lascalawong could not make it for this return visit, I took a video clip for him to reciprocate his effort last time. Here is Robin introducing his prized Mozart reel. Enjoy!

Part II.
28-08-10 Small Panel, Big Sound

On this day I was in a hurry so I only stopped by icefox's loft briefly after yumcha, with a few others.

As soon as I was inside, I was surprised by the big and reasonably dynamic sound the Quad ESL57 produced in this large space, firing in the opposite direction as Spendor. This pair is actually daiwok's and it must be one of the most beautiful pairs I have seen. Look at those sexy legs! :-)

I believe icefox was drivng them with a pair of Manley 4xEL84 PP monoblocks. At less than 30 watts, the music was fluently rendered, once again proving that an EL84 amp is one of the best matches for Quad ESLs. The most surprising thing was that images were full and tall, the sound big. Once again this proves a large room sometimes works wonders. I have heard more "refined" Quads, but I prefer this big-hearted performance.

While I liked the performance, I cannot agree at all with those ESL freaks who say this panel performs better than icefox's Spendor SP-100. ESL, no matter how you work it, is not at all an all-rounded speaker. It does what it can very well, but is hopelessly bandwidth-limited and dynamically restricted. To call it the best transducer is not to know music in its full glory at all. My cohorts stayed for much longer and heard the SP-100 as well as 15" Tannoy Golds in corner York cabinets. They too reported that the Spendor SP-100, even the Tannoy, far-out-stripped the ESL in performance.

I'd use this space to briefly mention again icefox's Spendor setup. I have paid him several visits since my first visit, and his systems have steadily improved. The SP-100 now is mostly driven by legendary monster 200 wpc EAR 549 amps, and sometimes by Nagra VPA. These markedly outperform the previous Symphonic Line (of course). If you pay him a visit, ask him to play some Mahler!

When I have more time, I shall re-visit icefox and listen to the ESL57 in depth. Watch for more report on the amazingly rapid progress made by this young man. I call him 教父 now.

Part III.
21-08-10 Bigger Panel, Bigger Sound
Now, size matters. Our friend jules recently got a pair of Magnepan 3.5. We visited him while he still had the 1.6, and planned to compare them side by side.

As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, and BEFORE I stepped into the apartment, I knew there was no need to compare. Sound emanating from the room was instantly bigger than previously. Even if we did not listen to LP, as driven by Orpheus-Cello-ML, sound was pristine. Compared to the previous visit, there was more fullness. The big panel seemed just right for his not-big LR. Ry Cooder's Jazz was lightning fast and classical piano was thundering. It was so satisfying that our friend k.c., surely discriminating ears, instantly praised it and proclaimed it to be (+/- the word "among") the best Maggies he has heard. I agree. But I do have one reservation; none of the Maggies I have heard, including my own, goes deep enough, and I'd add a subwoofer.

jules' pair of 1.6 went to tubediyer, via welborne. More reports later I'm sure.

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