30 January, 2011

Talk Vinyl: Analog is Chic!

Ron Arad, Concrete Stereo, 1983

Talk Vinyl: Analog is Chic!

Analogue has always been chic, but the digital people, particularly the hi-res CAS people, don't know what is chic at all. Artists do, however, and there are more and more artworks on Analogue themes.

Witness this exhibition, referred to me by by audiophile/photographer friend Leong Ka Tai:

Art Show titled Analog at Riflemaker (a gallery)

Make sure you download the entertaining book Analog and look at what artists do with turntables.

If you surf around, there are a huge number of artworks using turntables, LP's, tape decks, tube amplifiers and miscellaneous hifi equipment. Nothing as dull as hi-res files!

My favorite so far is Sean Duffy's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (pictured below). I found it reading this excellent article on artworks using turntables. Quote:

"...For a 2006 show at Susanne Vielmetter in L.A., artist Sean Duffy sliced apart and spliced together three different turntables to create his Frankenstein piece, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, named after the classic 1966 Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Duffy spun the film’s Ennio Morricone score using all three tone arms at once, the different starting points chasing each other sonically around the record. The result is an eerie atmospheric sound, like old records coming back to haunt us..."

Visit also this site to see more of Sean Duffy's works.

left pic: Sean Duffy's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This work impresses me greatly. For me, it has something of the cubists (many musical instruments in their works) in it. Ingenious!

27 January, 2011

Talk Vinyl: Restoration of Garrad 301 Part II

Talk Vinyl: Restoration of Garrard 301 Part II

In Part I of this report, I showed you the sorrowful state of my second Garrard 301. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to my good old friend Robin the Scot for restoring it for me!!! And doing it while he had his hands full with his own Otari reel-to-reel restoration project! Robin sent me several emails regarding the progress and they make a wonderful Cinderella story! Enjoy!

More than a Bath - The Scut Work
"...Your Garrard is coming along very nicely. I took a break from the Otari project and spent the weekend stripping it down, cleaning it and re-lubing everything, and over the last couple of evenings I've tidied up and re-sanded the plinth table, and also made an acrylic arm board to suit a Rega arm (using an old R200 I have - the first arm for the Planar 2 and 3.)

Everything's now clean, and 55 years' worth of accumulated gunk and grime has all gone. The motor was caked with rust and tiny grit, but luckily no visible damage to the armature or shaft/bearing (i.e. it's fine.) Likewise with the main turntable spindle and bearing: it was all jammed up with gobs of hardened grease inside, and there were serious score marks and pitting on the shaft itself (bad karma!) But after cleaning and rinsing in white spirits, followed by careful rubbing with 0000-grade steel wool, all the scoring and pitting turned out to be just superficial accretions, and were easily removed -- so again, no damage!

Next, I stripped down, cleaned and re-lubed the idler wheel bearing, and thoroughly cleaned the rubber idler wheel itself. Fortunately, it's in excellent condition -- no significant wear or flat spots in evidence. As for the original gray paintwork on the deck: half of it was worn away, so the aluminium surface is showing through, but I quite like the aged, patina effect, so I wouldn't recommend having it resprayed.

I did a first test-run the other day, using thick motor oil in the main bearing and shaft, and it all worked very smoothly. Then last night I drained and repacked the main bearing and shaft with proper, heavy-duty GREASE -- the real McCoy, made from pure distilled black petroleum (no fancy modern additives such as Molybdenum) -- just what Garrard would have used in the mid-1950s. This stuff is really thick, but amazingly, the turntable fired up without a murmur and got up to full operating speed within 2 or 3 seconds. (A round of applause for that huge, shaded-pole synchronous motor, please!) I left it running for a few hours to warm up the grease, tightening the shaft lube adjuster every now and then to force more grease in, as it gradually softened up and circulated around the shaft sleeve and bearing. I'll top it up again tonight, then we're done..."

Fitting an Arm
"...I've also set the arm pivot hole / turntable spindle geometry exactly right -- 222 mm -- using a Dr Feickert protractor. So you can drop any 9" Rega-style arm in there and it should sing very nicely. Right now, I've got the plinth board sitting on four wooden legs, but that's just temporary. Next time you're in town, please bring over the wooden plinth frame I gave you, so we can finalize the support structure. I have various nifty design ideas on that to run by you

Setting the arm height correctly is always a problem with the Garrards, because the platter is set so high. The acrylic arm board I've made brings it up to roughly the right height, but to get the arm sitting parallel to the platter, as required, we'll really need to get a Rega VTA adjuster (I have one on my own Garrard.) I think they're about GBP 25 -- shall I go ahead and order one?..."

Minor Surgery
"...Speaking of which, I've ordered the items I mentioned to you in my previous email -- new speed change lever, felt brake pad, plus new motor circlips (the old ones fell apart when I removed them). And it turned out you also needed a new spark suppressor/start switch -- the original one had died long ago, and the previous owner had "fixed" this by adding a 600 volt capacitor across the power leads -- a horrid solution that produced a scary noise from my speakers when I first switched the Garrard on. The parts should be arriving in a few days time, and then I can finish the job. Hopefully, you'll be able to start using using the turntable by Chinese New Year!..."

Extra Musings
"...Once we've got everything working nicely using this basic plywood plinth board, let's start thinking about a more elaborate plinth that will realize the full potential of this wonderful machine. I'm a big fan of using heavy slate board : high mass, supported on either ball bearings or chunky cones (Stillpoints are perfect, but pricey! http://www.stillpoints.us/Stillponts/Risers.html), to disperse the low-level vibrations from the motor and the subterranean rumblings from the planet. Also, that would be the time to add a 12-inch arm -- or have holes for two arms, if you fancy it.

Despite this several-day Garrard hiatus, my Otari project is moving ahead nicely too. Just yesterday, I decided to take the plunge and order an Eros tube tape-head repro amp kit from The Tape Project people. (There was no way I was going to replace the 100-plus caps on the existing repro amp board, and anyway the internal electronics on all tape decks, including even the high-end ones like Studer and Ampex, are really not up to scratch.) PLUS, after reading this: http://townshendaudio.com/hi-fi-vibration-isolation/stella-stand/ , I decided to try cork supports (the big chunky ones from Ringmat I had lying around) to raise up the front of my big Yamaha speakers, instead of the metal cones I was using before. It really works: there was an immediate added clarity and coherence to the entire sound. And I didn't have to pay Townshend GBP 2000 to get this result..."

Singing Again
"...This afternoon, I set up an AT OC-9 cartridge on your Garrard and tried it out with an actual LP. For some reason the right channel wasn't working -- must be a wiring problem in the R-200 arm. So instead I switched to a mono LP (Julian Bream's classic Westminster anthology, "A Bach Program for the Guitar"), set the preamp to Mono, and sat back and listened. Divine sounding! Not a hint of any mechanical glitches!

Next I compared the same record playing on my own Garrard setup, to see if any obvious differences emerged between the basic wooden plinth and my slate one. Happily, mine sounded even better -- but one would expect it to do so, what with the kontrapunkt B and Stillpoint supports etc. Right now, yours simply has four wooden legs attached to the plywood board. Preliminary conclusion: once we're all done, your Garrard should sound every bit as good as mine, and possibly even better. When you come over, we can do an A-B shootout between the two setups. Winner pays for drinks afterwards!..."

Complete Rehabilitation!
"...I just fixed the R-200 wiring problem (loose wire inside the arm base!), then reconnected the deck to the amps -- and everything works beautifully in stereo now. I'm playing Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No.3 right now on your Garrard. I did a pretty good cartridge setup -- the alignment geometry and stylus pressure are both correct -- but I can't set the anti-skate bias, as the bias adjuster is broken on my R-200 arm. Even without the full-nine-yards setup, however, I'm hearing great dynamics, excellent channel separation, and an overall lovely sound. I think you're going to like it. My only regret is that I didn't take any photos of the motor and platter spindle/bearing assemblies just after I first stripped them down. The sheer amount of gunk and dirt was fairly spectacular (DJ-I'd have loved to have seen it)! ..."

"...I went ahead and stained the plinth a dark Indian Rosewood colour -- I think it looks rather sleek and sexy, alongside the grey metal turntable!..."

CD (DVD) Recommendations (4)

CD (DVD) Recommendations (4)
I cannot begin to tell you how the 2 sets I am recommending today have delighted and stunned me. All I can say is grab them!

Classy, Classic and Classical
Classically trained Cecil Taylor is a grossly under-valued jazz pianist. This issue is by the curiously named Real Gone Jazz/Music Melon, part of the ubiquitous mcps group, one of those re-issue labels that proliferate wildly in Europe. I ran into some of these CDs at HMV Hong Kong.

This 2-CD set, at HK$69, comprises three rather early but utterly magnificent Taylor albums, Looking Ahead (1958); Hard Driving Jazz (1959) and Love For Sale (1959), and the original covers are shown here rather like iTunes. Irritatingly, no personnel info is given (but you can find that on the net), though a rather surprisingly thorough and up-to-date biography is included.

One listen to the first cut and I was hooked, and transfixed. Sound quality could be very good. The front says "Digitally Remastered and Enhanced for Superior Quality". As no licensing info is provided I presume these used alternate sources (such as LP). These should be early stereo (and sound like such) but I did wonder whether "Enhanced" means re-channeled stereo from mono sources.

In Europe, the copyright for these recordings have lapsed. In the US, these probably could not be sold, and indeed Blue Note still issues these as singles. It would be fun comparing a Blue Note original and this. Nonetheless, if you are interested in jazz piano at the highest level, grab it.

While researching Taylor I came across an interesting Taiwan Blog in Chinese (here).

Jazzy Beethoven!
Paavo Jarvi, son of the wonderful Neeme Jarvi, is a conductor that I admire greatly. Very much his own man, and of the modern age. Here, his Beethoven cycle with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen out-HIPs any of the period specialists. Interpretively fresh as daisy, the performances are fast, rhythmically propulsive, texturally lean, very much sturm und drang, and shed light on every symphony. On the way were countless rhythmic felicities and unusual sonorities, bringing Beethoven much closer to Haydn. The playing was excellent throughout.

My set of DVD (Sony) sound first-class, but you could also collect them on CD or SACD (Sony/BMG). This is a set I'd not do without.

25 January, 2011

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 08/15-01-11 The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 15/22-01-11 (Maggies x 2)

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 15/22-01-11 (Maggie's x 2)

15-01-11, Long Time No See, Grandma Maggie!
After the Tannoy Kingdom Royal, we were delighted that we were able to squeeze in a short visit to limage on short notice (thanks!), to both listen to his system and catch a last glimpse of his wonderful house before he moves. I had also not heard his 27D preamp. Equipment used:

Analogue: Technics SP10-(forgot what arm)-Ortofon A-90
Phonostage: EAR 834
Digital: Ensemble Dichrono combo (last generation)
Preamp: Gnostic Technology 27D
Amp: Conrad Johnson Premiere 1
Loudspeakers: Magnepan 3.5

limage's setup is probably one of the most visited in HK, and for good reason. For decades, he has stuck to the Maggie's and the CJ and was consistent in obtaining good sound from them. limage takes pride in the imaging ability of his system, hence his moniker. The Maggie's are placed REALLY up front, almost near-field, resulting in a deep and wide sound-stage, and vivid though upfront sound. Not all, including myself, are convinced that the soundstage represents the absolute truth in its rendition of the live event. I'd think not; nothing less than a horn can do that. As a matter of fact, with these so-called true-ribbons, perhaps due to the disparate speed of the treble and bass, or perhaps due to multi-miking, sometimes the image shifts in size and presentation a little too noticeably for comfort. And the large image of near-field does not suit everyone.

I have visited limage many times, and overall the sound is consistent. However, there are noticeable differences between visits that are attributable to gear changes perhaps. This time, despite the system's considerable virtues, something nagged at me as I found both improvements and disappointments. For the former, I think it could go louder than before. Compared to the last incarnation (Pass Lab preamp and Kiseki cartridge) it was smoother, but rhythm and pace was not quite as good as before. For my own taste, I think I actually prefer the time just before limage changed to the Pass Lab preamp, when he was still using the ARC SP-11 preamp (still Kiseki too). I would venture the combination of an analytical preamp and a neutral cartridge on a direct-drive steered things a little too far towards the literal for my taste, ymmv. While Britten's masterpiece Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge (Argo/ASMF/Marriner) was delivered energetically, limage's 首本名戯 Lehar's Merry Widow lacked just a little sense of the dance, which had manifested itself more dramatically before in largely the same system and which should be pervasive throughout.

It is only with true friends that I write so candidly. Despite the unfortunate events in the past used by dubious characters to advance themselves or to purge opponents (I despise that), limage and I have remained friends. It takes a straight shooter to appreciate another. Have you noticed that HK websites are either loaded with vitriol/arguments or obsequious (肉麻) tributes? It would be hard to decide which is the lesser evil. In my mind, limage is much taller (figuratively) than some of the virtual company he keeps and does not need either.

Maggies Now and Altec Then

22-01-11, A Run for the Money?
On this day we were happy to see a large turnout, greeting some old friends and meeting up with some new friends, particularly two from R33's 書房讚嘆區 . What a delight!

Serendipity! Our friend ivanto popped in to yumcha and we eagerly hurried to his den afterward. It's been more than a year since last visit, and the system has changed completely (for the last visit, click here). We were amply rewarded. System:

Analogue 1: Kenwood direct-drive/Dynavector
Analogue 2: Chinese TT with 12" carbon graphite tonearm/VdH Frog
Preamp: Canary monoblock preamps
Amps: Bruce Moore 4x 6550 monoblocks
Loudspeakers: Magnepan 3.6R

We were captivated, even soothed, by the musical sound emanating from the 3.6's. In this very large room, I'd reckon the ~100 wpc amps were sweating a bit, but overall I'd say whatever bass deficiency mattered little. As there were several turntables on hand, several of us asked to play the same recording on different TT's, and sat in different seats for assessment, and this fact alone attests to the likability of the system. Would you ask to play the same recording again if the sound is grating? Personally I'd guess the preamp, Canary, belongs to the camp of objective performers; despite that, the system worked well enough.

Comparison of the 2 turntables was fascinating. The Kenwood was less resolving but richer and more forgiving. The Chinese newbie was more incisive and rhythmic, though I think the suck-out in the midrange was due to the VdH cartridge. Have you heard a VdH cartridge that you really like? I have not.

Overall, quite a few of us enjoyed this pair of Maggie's as much, or perhaps more than, limage's. Now, let's move on to jules' 3.6...

18 January, 2011

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 08/15-01-11 (SP-100, Tannoy Kingdom Royal)

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 08/15-01-11 (SP-100, Tannoy Kingdom Royal)

08-01-11, SP100 Works its Magic again
Those who have known me know that I have been a Spendor fan for the longest time (those who don't can read about my experience in my Spendor Overview). I have owned the SP-100 for more than 10 years and had only recently sold it to a friend. This bulky yet non-floor standing speaker is old fashioned by any standard, and not popular with space-constrained HK people. That is unfortunate. Despite this, for various reason, SP-100 is gaining ground these days. I'd like to think it is because of value. When so many of the speakers now, regardless of price and "prestige", focus more on appearance and deliver anemic sound, a classic like the SP-100, now in its silver-wired R version, shines more than ever.

I only recently made the acquaintance of Patrick, an old friend of whlee. An avid cyclist, Patrick is new to hifi, yet the speed with which he transforms his system is amazing. He recently started with a pair of demo B&W AV floor standers, and made the plunge for a pair of SP-100 soon after.
Considering the newness of the speakers, their performance was striking, especially after some work. His equipment now:

Digital: Naim CD2
Preamp: Counterpoint SA-2000E
Amp: Verdier L'Amplificateur (also briefly the Naim Nait 2)
Speakers: Spendor SP-100R on Sound Anchors stands
Cables: Mogami interconnects and various others.

His beautiful cabinet functionally serves as a divider between the dining and living sectors. When we started, the speakers were further back and in the way for access to some of the dining seats. Sound was good but could use a little more clarity in bass definition. We experimented quite a bit with moving the speakers forward and more near-field. All the way upfront, forming an equilateral triangle with the listener, the sound was quite "hifi" (rather like that preferred by some planar people), but a bit uncomfortable and artificial (also like some of the planars we eard). Moving back a little was more comfortable and we locked in on that.

Despite some quirks, Patrick's long rectangular room is actually a good one. There was very little room-mode problems (and these speakers can pump out bass!), soundstage was deep and wider on the left than the right. Toeing-in was not necessary.
The combination delivered lively music full of air. At first, treble was slightly reticent, but removing the "cold-solder" (screw-on) spades on the jumper wires and using bare wires instead restored treble clarity. Here I'd like to direct you to a 2008 UK HiFi+ review of the SP-100R. The reviewer did not spend much time describing the sound but what he wrote was exactly what we heard:

"...From the word go I was extremely comfortable listening to the SP100’s. OK, you’re probably thinking that this was a nice nostalgia trip back to the days when everything seemed less complicated and loudspeakers sounded warm, a bit flabby and rather vague. And I won’t deny that there was a little bit of nostalgia, and there was a very, very mild hint of character that did evoke the days before Dire Straits were invented. But as for the other negative traits that one used to associate with the generation, forget it. To begin with the Spendors possessed a snappy, tight and extremely rhythmic bottom end, with an attack and punch that could be quite ungentlemanly when required. Sluggish? Definitely not, and with the ability to go loud and deliver decent in-room extension to about 30 Hz, orchestral music had that great sense of authority and scale that makes it so believable, while well-recorded rock music with real drums was just awesome. So the midrange then, a bit syrupy and thick? No. Fresh from having been hit between the eyes by a snare drum and sawn off at the neck by Robert Fripp’s astringent guitar on the 12” single of David Bowie’s ‘Fashion’ I can report that things were very much up to speed in the midrange department, and I can’t honestly say that I was missing the top end extension of some rare and expensive tweeter diaphragm, as it sounded suitably sweet and open to me..."

Even tough k.c. nodded in approval. Enough said? Mission accomplished, almost prematurely!

15-01-11, Let Thy Kingdom Come
This was a busy day. First up was gthk's Tannoy system. Back in the heydays of JC yumcha, I heard his system of Westminster Royal. Some of my cohorts had heard his next Tannoy, the Kingdom, but I didn't. He has recently upgraded to the Tannoy Kingdom Royal. Equipment used:

Turntable: Clearaudio Reference with new arm
Phonostage: Viva Fono
Digital: Accuphase DP800/801
Preamp: Audio Note M8SE
Amp: Audio Note Ongaku
Loudspeakers: Tannoy Kingdom Royal
picture of gthk's system

Looking more snappy than the old version they replaced (yet still a little odd-looking; has a trace of the Italian crept into England?), The Tannoy Kingdom Royal (you must read the link and pay attention to the spec's, 24-61kHz! -6db) are very new and, believe me, as a Canterbury user I know how long it takes to really run-in the accordion-like "hard-edge" of Tannoy concentric's. Yet at least the concentric portion, including its larger than ever 3-inch HF driver, sounded quite musical. Together with the exceptionally revealing gears used and contribution from the supertweeter (this one is a real one, not like the ones of old), the high frequency might be more prominent than traditional Tannoy users may like, yet commendably it delivered airiness and stayed clear of stridency. The 15" bass unit was certainly not run-in and understandably sometimes not perfectly controlled by the amp (which has only 20+ wpc) in this VERY large living room (500+ sq ft). The Audio Note amplification as usual delivered excellent PRaT. For a change, some day I'd hope to hear The Kingdom Royal driven by high-powered tube amps in big works like Mahler and Bruckner! This is definitely a pair of speakers with infinite potential.

Gary is a vinyl junkie who listens mostly to vocals and pop. Of all the LPs played, we were most impressed by the sonic realism of the exceptionally expensive Bianca Wu LP (even the CD is excellent in sound), more for the great playing of the New York musicians than her singing perhaps. In no small measure I think this was due to the contribution of the Viva Fono phonostage (click on link above), which was superbly quiet, detailed and nuanced. I was most interested in its use of 2x 300B tubes as rectifiers!

The poor Accuphase flagship! If we had not requested a demo they would have sit out the session. The sound was not quite up to the vinyl setup but was still smooth and enticing (and they better be at that price!). Note much of the equipment are more prevalent in Asia than in the West, judging by the absence of formal reviews.

Then went to visit limage. Post later.

13 January, 2011

Letter from NYC 2010 (10): Infinity IRS Beta, Versa Dynamics, Quad, Futterman and more

Letter from NYC 2010 (10): Home Visit Infinity IRS Beta, Quad ESL, Futterman and more
Talk Vinyl: Versa Dynamics galore, Garrard, Ikeda and more

(article completed in HK)

Click on pics to enlarge


Just before I left NYC recently I was fortunate to have made the acquaintance of a new friend, AL. Andy is a vinyl connoisseur, said to own more than 20 turntables. I didn't see quite that many, but certainly I saw enough to turn my heads several times around, including SEVERAL rare and legendary Versa Dynamics.

As soon as we entered the very nice old house, my attention was held by the lovely sound made by a pair of Quad ESL-63, driven by ARC SP-8 and a rare Futterman OTL using EL509 (no doubt in place of the rare-as-hen's teeth 6LF6). Mercifully, I heard none of the frequently abnormal, even bizarre, sound obtained by some HK ESL users, just great music. On the table were placed an a Technics SP-10 and an old AR fitted with Decca arm. AL jokingly said any TT coming in has to pass muster by comparison with the latter first; not as easy as it seems, he said.

click on pic to enlarge

New World, Old World

Then we ascended the wood staircase to literally a new world. The large room was laden with audio classics. Besides the TTs, the collection of cartridges was even more astonishing, literally strewn all over the place. We marveled at the fabled Ribbon cartridge. From the point of equipment, AL is a man after my own heart. There were more than one stations, though we listened only to one. Like me, AL uses long cables. I asked him whether he worries about loss, he said not at all. Well, it's the sound that counts, and the sound was exemplary. Brief list of equipment used during the visit:

TT1 - Versa Dynamics 1.2 with Decca SC4E
TT2 - Garrard 301 with Ikeda Rex Kiwami on IT-407

Phonostage 1 - Audio Research Phono Reference (for VD)
Phonostage 2 - Conrad-Johnson Premier 15, Nagatron Z Coupler X'former (for Garrad)
Preamp - Audio Research Reference II Mk I.
Amp for Tweeter/Midrange column - VTL MB-450 monoblocks (8 x 6550 each)
Amp for Bass column - McIntosh MC-2500 (for bass column)
Loudspeakers - Infinity IRS Beta

click on pics to enlarge

The Best for Last, 2010

AL first played for us an old Vanguard LP of Varese' Ameriques (now available as a re-issue) on the Versa Dynamics TT. I was instantly drawn to the holographic sound of the Infinity. AL must have done a tremendous amount of work on the system as it is one of utter refinement, no easy task with the array of ribbon tweeters. In comparison, many of the Maggies I heard in HK would be at least a little coarse in comparison. The uncanny imaging have the right sizes, unlike many of the HK Maggies which have exaggerated (and highly artificial) imaging. Mind you, this is with the Decca cartridge, famous for its upfront (hot) tendencies. Then we asked to hear AL's Garrard. The sound was more meaty, less refined, but quite musical. It was hard to decide which TT was the better one.

As we had to meet other people, we didn't stay long, but it was definitely the best sound I have heard in a long time. I think we would have to visit many more times to sample some of the other treasures.

More pics (see how many TT and arm can you identify)

10 January, 2011

CD Recommendations (3)

CD Recommendations (3)

It's been frustrating that due to family affairs I have not attended even a single concert in almost 3 months. Hopefully that should be rectified soon.

Fortunately there is still home listening. And some CDs I recently borrowed from the library have been exceptional.

Foremost have been 2 Mahler recordings issued by the superb RCO Live label. These Dutch recordings are always superbly recorded in DSD, by the same Polyhymnia team responsible for Pentatone etc. Even if you cannot play the SACD layer, the CD layer sounds superbly natural. Jansons' Mahler 5 is absolutely splendidly controlled, yet exciting, that is, until the last movement, which seemed willful and anti-climatic. Nonetheless, it's better than his Mahler 1 on the same label, a much blander reading. Spontaneity also characterized Haitink's Mahler 4. People who have heard this great conductor live knows his studio recordings are much more cautious. On both, the playing of the RCO is beyond imagination, I think unparalleled (even taking the VPO into account).

We all criticize record companies, yet sometimes they surprise us. Ravel cannot possibly sell very well, yet EMI recently recorded some familiar staples with their new artist, Yannick Nezet-Segun, a rising star familiar from other labels such as Pentatone. The playing of the Rotterdam PO, of which he is now music director, is exemplary. The interpretation is fresh and the sound is excellent. If you don't have much Ravel, grab this one. Bravo, EMI, for showing support for their artists (other examples include Argerich's Lugano series and their popular budget Debut series).

On a lighter note, I think current baroque music playing overall is simply divine. Even HIP, gone are the austerity, replaced by warmth and flair. This is much evident in Vivaldi playing, of which this Naive CD (part of their generally excellent Vivaldi edition) of "Il Ballo" is a superb example. Sonically spectacular too.

04 January, 2011

Second Site Visit: cnamusic Elekit TU-8230

pic: Elekit TU-8230 2A3 amp

Second Site Visit: cnamusic (Elekit TU-8230)

cna (Elekit)
Elekit official website

Just before I went back to NYC I visited cna, now distributor for Japan's Elekit. That time I bought the TU-8300 300B amp (see recent article). I also ordered a TU-875 preamp kit, which has arrived and this time I went to pick it up.

Ulterior Motive: TU-8230
Actually my visit had another reason. I read about the new limited edition TU-8230 2A3 amp, and I was curious to have a look and listen. Mr 劉 greeted me. He had just completed building the 8230 amp and is now using it with EH 2A3 (stock is Chinese; interestingly, output is higher with the EH, as written in the Elekit spec) and an older pair of Elekit speakers. The sound was very good.

I asked to see the inside of the amp. Mr Lau obliged and I saw the circuit board and innards are actually a bit complicated. Mr Lau used silver solder, had changed some of the cabling to silver wires and installed Jensen caps instead of the stock caps. So beware that what you hear is an "upgraded" version.

At over $6k for only the kit, and with much less power than the 300B amp, the TU-8230 would be a harder sell than the 300B amp. Many years ago, the Sun Audio 2A3 kit sold for about the same (but much more now). If the power is enough, I'd still urge you to investigate due to its excellent sound and good looks. This circuit is quite a bit different from that of the TU-8300 300B amp. There is only one FET used in the B+ supply. No other transistors used, nor constant current source.

Me? Being a SET fan and an Elekit fan, I could not pass this one up. I hope to get the TU-875 and TU-8230 up running over the coming Chinese New Year, but assembly would take days. At that time, I would report on a complete Elekit system (except speakers).

Talk Vinyl: Air Tight PC-1, Ortofon MC-5000 (and MC3000MkII)

Talk Vinyl: Air Tight PC-1, Ortofon MC-5000 (and MC3000MkII)

HiFi Letter from NYC 2010 (9): Magnepan 1.7 Redux
Clearaudio Concept Part IV

Right before I left NYC, I invited newly acquainted AL, a vinyl expert, to listen to my new cartridges (he had expressed interest in the Ortofon MC-5000). He brought a friend and my friends Mark and princetonsound also came. I barely had time to set up 2 systems for them to listen to.

Air Tight PC-1
I first heard the Air Tight PC-1 at ML's place several months ago (report here). I liked it but did not scrutinize it too much as we focused on comparing the Continuum and Clearaudio flagships.

Fortuitously in NYC I acquired a used, but low-hours, sample (not Supreme). I swapped out the Koetsu Black (mentioned previously here) on my Linn LP12 and the sound was instantly captivating through my reference balanced system, similar to that reported before :

Analogue Source: Linn LP12 Lingo/Ittok/PC-1
Phonoamp: BAT P5
Preamp: BAT VK3i (reviewed here)
Amp: Audio Research VT130
Speakers: Magnepan MG1.7
Cables: Fully balanced Gotham GAC-3

The PC-1 has a healthy output of 0.6 mV and did not cause the Phonoamp undue distress. Its internal impedance is 2.5 ohm and I loaded it at 30 ohms on the P5.

It excels in mid-range presence, and with its well-controlled yet full midbass yields a very live and direct sound not unlike horns, or a little reminiscent of Decca cartridge if you will (funny that JV in his TAS review compared it to a Decca). Its bass control is obviously superior to the sometimes rowdy Koetsu Black (the LP12/Ittok may be to blame too), but the treble and high-midrange is a little more clinical than the Koetsu. All in all, all my friends, including Princetonsound and AL, were impressed.

Just a brief word on the Maggies. They sound better in my new room, like all other speakers. Bass is more robust and the top smoother. I am pleased.

Ortofon MC-5000 (and MC-3000MkII)
This time I brought both the Clearaudio Concept TT and Ortofon MC-5000 to NYC. The MC-5000, like the similar MC-3000 MkII, has a ceramic body, uses the replicant stylus (same as in the previous Ortofon statement product, MC Winfield, as well as the current A-90!), an has a very low output of barely over 0.1 mV, mandating the use of step-up transformers. Installation on the Verify arm proved a breeze, and I was immediately rewarded by the sound through the more casual setup:

Source: Clearaudio Concept/Verify arm
Step-up transformers: WE 285L and Langevin 402B (into AN silver cable)
Phonoamp: Linn Kairn (using tape out and Gotham GAC-4 cable)
Preamp: Langevin 102 preamp (vintage cable)
Amp: McIntosh 2200 (Acrotec cables)
Speakers: Magnepan 1.7
As I'd expect the sound was wonderfully detailed, dynamic, and with very wide bandwidth. No frequency called attention to itself. I had actually worried whether the 5000 would be a good match with the crisp sounding Concept. There was no trouble whatsoever. In this different system it did not quite project like the PC-1 did, but in terms of neutrality it was well nigh perfect. By neutrality, please do not think of the clinical kind. Percussion were reproduced with all their sheen, not tinged with whiteness as in lesser analogues (not to mention digitals).

I am also very pleased by the Concept, particularly the arm, which seems to work well with everything, and I still have room to spare in the counterweight for a somewhat heavier cartridge (these now are around 10 gm).
America, in music
Mr AL evidently liked the reproduction of one of his favorite LPs, Varese's Amerique (Vanguard). My copy was an early one, not a re-issue. If you don't have it, I'd urge you to get it for the strangely beautiful music that still sounds modern after all these years.

Words about the 5000 must have spread fast! Despite my protest, my copy was snatched up by AL's buddy, guru TM who merits a separate report all by himself.

A brief note before I stop: In HK previously I had installed the "legendary" MC-3000 MkII on the same TT and if my memory is correct, the 3000 is a little smoother and richer, particularly shining on massed strings. Both are cut from the same beautiful cloth and would be great buys. There are out there a lot more users of the cheaper 3000, and very little info on the later 5000. I hope my little bit helps. You'd be sure to hear more of these beauties in the articles to come.
Addendum on PC-1:
reviews by Ken Kessler; TAS

03 January, 2011

Editor's Note: 2010 in Retrospective

Editor's Note: 2010 in Retrospective

Just a few thoughts to tie up 2010, a relatively eventful year in terms of hifi for me.

Most Important Acquisitions
1. New hifi room in NYC. Heading this year's list shall not be any hardware, but rather my new room, which makes every speaker I have sound splendid. Discovery of the benefits of thick wall-to-wall carpeting was also enlightening.

2. Air Tight PC-1 MC cartridge. Review to come for this marvelous cartridge.

3. New Horn Speakers in NYC, the identity of which I shall withhold for a while.

4. Wavac MD-300B. This simply has to be the best SET amp I have heard, one which needs not fear even if compared to the Kondo Ongaku (believe me, I know...). Review to come.

Best Buys of the Year
1. Sony DVP-PR50P and its twin DVP-SR200P (previously reviewed here). These ridiculously cheap players surprisingly play CDs really well. The DVP-PR50P is no longer available, so grab the SR-200P while you still can. Some people use these as transports, but I think they are missing the point. The analogue outputs are the real stars here, an uncanny mixture of detail and musicality that is missed by the majority of expensive digital products. If the analogue outs don't sound good in your system, question the balance of your system first.

My friend princetonsound thought so highly of these players that he did a detailed comparison between the two using his small system of Wavelength EL84 SE amp driving a fullrange speaker. His conclusions: (a) the two sound virtually identical; (b) he prefers the Sony's to Philips LHH-1000 and Revox 225 (now, THAT is a tall statement!!!).

2. Ortofon Cartridges. I have previously written on the Kontrapunkts C and H, but have yet to report on the older MC-3000MkII and MC5000. I shall be brief here. The first things about the 1000 series to note is the very low output, which presented no difficulty to me, as I have the EAR912 preamp as well as various step-ups, but many people may have difficulty. If you can cope with the low outputs, the sound is worth every penny. Reviews to come.

3. Clearaudio Concept. Ongoing reviews (Part I and Part II). What a bargain in HK! For your information, I brought it back to NYC, and used it with the Ortofon MC5000, report to come.

4. Pro-Ject RPM1.3 Genie. The perfect starter turntable! Read my review.

IRS Beta still reigns! (click on pic to enlarge)

Best Sound of 2010

This came very late, in NYC, Infinity IRS Beta no less! Report to come.

Greatest Disappointment
This has to be the Clearaudio Statement, a turntable that severely lacks PRaT, and hence musicality (previous write-up). I hope one day I get to hear it with a cartridge other than the Goldfinger. And would it be too much to hope for, pairing with another arm?

Looking Forward
What's to look forward to in 2011? I'd think more focus on vinyl. My acquisition of the bargain TTs and cartridges have paradoxically brought vinyl back to my life in HK. I think you will hear a lot of Vinyl Talk. there will be less and less home visits, and more reviews of equipment that I already have and deserve closer scrutiny.

Some of the things lining up: Denon-103 with the Midas Touch; restoring Garrad 301...