24 November, 2010

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (8): Rare Langevin preamp, Emergency kit, Sony DVP-SR200P, PR50P, Martin Logan Source and Linn Kan redux

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (8): Rare Langevin Preamp, Emergency Kit, Sony DVP-SR200P, DVP-PR50P, Martin Logan Source and Linn Kan redux

Bargain Basement Emergency kit
Actually this picture is no longer update, but that's really not important. What's important is the my continuous astonishment by the sound of my new room. Even a cursory setup of bargain basement gears necessitated by household circumstance reveals the sound to be very different from our old flat, from which we haven't yet officially moved out. Interestingly, in recent issues of TAS, Robert Harley is also chronicling the joy of the sound of his new room/house (also better).

The ML is placed a little more than 1/3 into the room, quite close to the sides (bookcases and LP storage), with some toe-in. While listing the initial setup I shall take the opportunity to expound on some of them, especially on their suitability as "emergency kit":

Analogue: Audio Technica AT-PL120/Grado Gold using its BUILT-IN phono.
Both the TT and cartridge are the greatest bargains in analogue land (as reported previously). The AT's more-than-competent built-in MM phono, which you can bypass, takes the phrase "plug and play" to a new level. No need to have a phonoamp! The TT may be discontinued soon, if not already; a new version is the same TT but adds USB facility. The Grado is supremely musical and its warmth is a good match with leaner direct-drives).

Digital: Sony DVP-SR200P
Cousin of the now discontinued and already legendary DVP-PR50P, which is sold out in HK, discontinued, but perhaps still available in Malaysia, where it was made. The PR-50P even garnered attention in Europe (Lencoheaven thread). Since the PR-50P is discontinued, some people started buying the SR-200P, which has a different look, i.e drawer vs top-loading, but the same digital parts, though now made in China. The SR-200P is available in the USA for as low as $25! I bought one in HK but only made a brief comparison between it and its more handsome predecessor. I think the PR-50P sounds more wholesome, the SR-200P leaner, but they certainly share the same sound and the SR-200P shall not be shamed by comparison with many much more expensive and "proper" CDPs, not to mention CAS. Interestingly, in the Amazon link provided above, reader Jake wrote that the SR-200P and hence by extrapolation the PR-50P are actually re-branded PHILIPS. Fascinating, no wonder the musical sound! I'd advise everyone to buy one for its infinite portability and giant-killer sound before the next model change, while still available!

Preamp: Langevin studio preamp
My dear WE friend brought this rare beauty for trial. This uses 6SJ7 (changed to 6J7) input and 6V6 output transformer-coupled, lovingly restored by 臺北的黃老闆. I shall write more later on this priceless item.

Amp: McIntosh 2200 and later the amp section of the Marantz 1120
Speakers: Martin Logan Source or Linn Kan

Roll Out the Carpets!
On my last trip I was preoccupied by the Magnepan 1.7 and did not fire up my Martin Logan Source. Hooking them up after more than 1 year of absence, and after some positioning and trials of toe-in (a must) I was floored by the sound they made in my new room. Although there were huge speakers 2 ft behind them, they carved out a cavernous soundstage that was way deeper than in my old compromised LR. The sound was also a little smoother and more luxuriant in the treble, while the bass was tuneful and well-controlled. In all aspects the sound trumped that in my previous locale. The speed, uncanny imaging and realism was a constant delight. The near full-range hybrid also provided much more realistic playback of orchestral music than what I heard from the many whimpy and even down-right odd-sounding old Quads ESL 57s and 63s in HK (except icefox's, and perhaps cpsjj's on vocals).

As I now have a pair of large speakers, I was thinking of selling them for space, but now I have changed my mind. After the renovation of the rest of our flat is over, I shall move the Maggie 1.7 in and have a comparison. It is not unlikely that I shall sell my 1.7 as I continue to prefer ML. What a bargain!

Since a lot of dust will be generated by renovation, in the next two weeks there shall not be electrostatics! I retired the ML just now and wrapped them up. In their places went my Linn Kan's on Sonus faber adjustable stands. Sound was surprisingly robust and bore a strong resemblance to what went before. There, must be the sweet spots. I ended up at about 28" height. BTW, I always think the so-called "ideal height of 24 " stands" for LS3/5As completely mistaken. No disrespect, but that height was probably determined by shorter people and are for short people. Having them higher brings our more flesh and realism. For me, I'd say anywhere 28" and 30".

My WE friend loved the PR-50P and after being impressed by my SR-200P again snatched it away from me. It shall be useful for him to take to customers' house when their systems need to be de-bugged. A customer of his was so impressed by the sound and look of his previous temporary loan of the PR-50P that he offered $200 for a $50 product, which my friend declined. I have asked him to do an A/B comparison in his small rig (Wavelength 6BQ5 SE amp and full-range speaker).

What is clear to everyone who has heard the new room is that the room is the real star! I must count myself a lucky man.

21 November, 2010

Home Visit: ARC + Magnepan

Home Visit: ARC + Magnepan

(Written mostly at the Incheon airport when I was returning to the US, but finished in NYC)

You shall remember sowk, whose nice setup I visited sometime ago. Just recently, he became interested in a pair of Adams speakers and we talked. I said if he likes ribbon tweeters why not consider Magnepan, cheaper and most likely better? Imagine my surprise why hardly a week passed and he already had a pair of MG12 in his house. I was very glad sowk was instantly smitten by the sound of the Maggies and said he came to this brand "too late". Well, it's never too late...

The equipment was largely the same as my previous visit. The ARC LS26 is now gone. He bought another LS5 Mk III (the black one), and his nephew added power supply caps in the black box below. sowk also took out his unused AQVOX DAC, for which he bought a Stello transport. Since the AQVOX supports USB, at my prompting he installed iTunes (easiest) the night before and we also experimented with a little CAS. Gears used as of the visit (I understand the CAS stuff is changing fast):

--Stello transport to AQVOX DAC
--Meridian 508.24
--CAS-Windows 7-iTunes-USB out to AQVOX
Preamp: ARC LS5MkIII with power supply cap mod
Amp: ARC V70
Speakers: Magnepan MG-12
Connection all balanced.

The MG12 proved ideal for the room. After moving the Maggies out by more than a foot, we were instantly impressed by the clear and refined sound emerging from the setup. Once again ARC proves a wonderful match and the V70 had more than enough juice for even the biggest moments. In terms of overall balance, despite the newness of the Maggies this particular setup moves to the front rank of the Maggies I have heard. Need I say more...

For CD playback, we were quite impressed by the neutrality and evenhandedness of the brand new AQVOX. For the balanced and USB facility and upsampling ability, I think it's a good buy. Most of us prefer the upsampling OFF. However, for overall impression, com-buddy and I think the Meridian one-box still convincingly edges out the separates in musicality and fleshy tonal allure.

As for the simple CAS USB setup, the sound of the 44.1 lossless AIFF and WAV files were quite reasonable, but not quite as good as playing a CD. Again, I have heard quite a bit of CAS, even outrageously expensive setups, and NONE can outperform conventional digital playback of quality. I won't even mention vinyl.

12 November, 2010

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (7): My New Didicated Audio Room I

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (7): My New Dedicated Audio Room I

A Room with A Sound
Today marks the eighth day in NYC but, unusually for me, only the second time I am on the computer (via the free WiFi in the public library).

Almost from the moment I arrived I got busy with mother's new apartment in the same building, moving and packing things and never got out much. It is one more bedroom, but the significance of that is that I get to have a room for hifi only, a first for me in NYC, and of course I took the master bedroom!

This room does not really need refreshing, and the size is 10.5 x 16-18 ft. It is wall-to-wall carpeted. After some strenuous work in positioning things I was greatly relieved when my rudimentary setup proved great sounding beyond my greatest hopes. This room has a "blackness" I have seldom encountered anywhere in HK except perhaps at ML's place, and I attribute it to the thick wall-to-wall carpet. I shall report more on the sound later.

Writing is Life
One persistent feeling I had when computerless is an agitation to get back to my Blog. I must not be absent for too long! Some articles wait to be finished, while others are in the pipeline. And there were 2 readers' mail (one from the US and one from Canada) I haven't addressed.

People who don't write much, or write only to attack and criticize others, don't know what it's like to write on a more coherent, and larger, scale. There is a non-hifi reason why TAS and Stereophile, or HiFi News, are widely read; their writers are undoubtedly talented writers who imbue their articles with humor, little observations of life (sometimes surprisingly touching and candid). I may not like the preferences of some of the critics, but I can never doubt their passion. It takes a certain mindset, and a take on life, to bring an article to life.

Music is Transcendence
I get so tired everyday moving my equipment and storage units. But the hardest work, moving my >20,000 LP's, is paradoxically also the most rewarding. Browsing records after records, admiring the cover art and taking the opportunity to re-file comprise a journey of re-discovery. I would gladly file away for days! I am now about half done.

I don't actually listen that much right now, but when I do, starting with happy hour, I am so relieved that there is music in life. All the hard work is worth it.