11 February, 2011

Overview: JC Verdier

Overview: JC Verdier
JC Verdier Control B, 220 MkII, 2300B Luxe

This article is unusual for me in its coverage of mostly my own equipment! This leads me to reflect a little. While my blog covers all sorts of things encountered in my hifi "life", I really have neglected coverage of most of my gears, particularly those which remain central to my experience. In truth, aside from occasional audition of really worthwhile nature (such as Robin's R2R recently), most auditions barely deserve a word or two, no more hifi event than social function.

My friend icefox visits me once in a while when he comes back from China via 福田口岸. This picky man often asks me why I don't fire-up this instead of that, questions of that sort. But that has positive ramifications (sometimes). His last visit resulted in my digging out my Garrad, which is now restored! This time he came when I had just finished assembly of my Elekit preamp. But let me start with my recent journey of Verdier.

Overview - Verdier
France has had its share in analogue replay history. Two eminent figures are Pierre Lurne of Audiomeca, and JC Verdier, the latter famed for his invention/implementation of magnetic levitation, now in vogue.

The flagship magnetically levitated TT, called simply "La Platine", has been in production for decades and has spawned many imitators. Monsieur Verdier obviously finds this amusing, and since he thinks most of his imitators has got things wrong, on his website he gently but certainly sarcastically derides them (here)!!!

We have heard several Verdier TTs, not just the La Platine, but also the Nouvelle Platine. They always gave pleasure. In case you wonder, JCV himself uses an SME 3012 with Denon 103.

Control B - True to its name (cached official page)
My experience with Verdier started more than a decade ago, when I spotted a used Control B in a shop. My friend Captain soon bought it and we did much listening to it, even fought over it, imagine! But I know the sound of the Control B quite well. It is an enigmatic preamp, often capable of stunning performance, but sometimes also a little disappointment. At least two more friends bought the preamp later. It was not until recently that I acquired a used one from a really nice gentleman, who delivered it to me in a Benz. Verdier deserves as much! :-)

Pictured is the old version with the Gothic looking black plastic knobs, replaced later by champagne-colored metal ones (as in my own; pic below); I am not sure which is more aesthetically pleasing, perhaps neither. In HK, all Control B's I have seen have the DRPS (Dual-Regulated Power Supply, a big unit with 3 tubes).

Although many think the look of the Control B is a joke, I rather think it is very well built. The chassis is solid metal and the champagne colored anodized aluminum front plates look better than most. The parts inside look humble, including the use of computer cables (which I actually think, like CAT wires, sound good), but that's part of the beauty. The Control B is a good lesson for those who judge components by their prices and looks! If you think about it, this is a 9-tube tube-rectified and regulated full-function preamp on 2 chassis, and you will begin to think of it as a bargain.

Sonically, the phonostage is a real beauty. It is quietly confident, yet dynamically expressive. You will be surprised by the music it unearths. Take one example, on violin replay, the Control B consistently captures the feeling of the bow's return, something the Elekit preamp doesn't quite manage. Options are limited - you are confined to moving a set of jumpers for MM or MC operation. No loading options nor dip-switches here, but we know MC loading is not important or at least not so critical with transformers. The MC input transformers are small (mine is not potted as in the pic) but they do an excellent job with low-output cartridges such as the Denon DL-103 (0.25 V).

The linestage also has 5 sets of jumpers for various gain settings, ranging from 0 db to 20 db. Since I use low-output MC's, I'd not recommend the 0 db setting. I used the middle one, 10 db; the even higher gain setting proved too noisy for my SET amps, which usually have high input sensitivities. It should be mentioned that if you do not spin vinyl, the linestage gain setting may be a different story.

In the past, in contrast to the excellent performance of the phonostage, the linestage of Control B sometimes sounded a bit rolled off and sedate, leading many to roll in the brightest 12AT7. For some reason, my specimen, a later one, has less of such a problem, and I was able to achieve balance between the phonostage and the line section without too much tube rolling and gain re-setting. Still, I think if you do not spin vinyl, this preamp may NOT be for you.

For the moment I retained the 3x stock Sovtek 12AX7 of the phono section and 2/3 RFT (East German) 12AT7 of the line section, rolling in only 1 Telefunken 12AT7 for what is presumably the cathode follower. Inside the DRPS there are 3 tubes. I did not change the EF184 (Valvo) nor 6Y6 (RCA black plate), but I did substitute the Chinese 5AR4 for a Raytheon military 5Y3 to great effect (more open and agile).

When set up optimally, and it is a little finicky, the Control B's considerable strengths, many subtle, will gradually engage you more and more.

left, 2A3; right, 6550

Pentode or Triode, push-pull or SE? Tale of 4 Verdier Amplifiers

The first Verdier amp I became familiar with was the Triode Spirit 2A3 amp, which my friend jules bought many moons ago. I was instantly smitten by the sound it produced with the Pioneer/TAD 300. It seemed more powerful than any 2A3 amp I have come across. This amp later went to my friend Danz, with a little soujourn at my place. The next Verdier amp I heard was the Triode Spirit 45, which is basically the 2A3 amp adapted, and the sound it produced with the Lowther Acousta at my friend Wher's place was delightful too!

The next two Verdier amps I came across were not SET amps, but push-pull pentode amps. First was the older L'Amplificateur 6550, sold to Danz by seamonster, (and now with Patrick). I always thought this amp was a little too warm for my taste, but recently I heard it at Patrick's place and it was not so when driven by Counterpoint SA-2000E! Ah, matching!

Only just before I acquired the Control B I Came across the 220 MkII (official material here; Control version, with selector and volume knobs), generously loaned to me by my friend relax173. The original 220 actually had many configurations (not to be confused with the later 220DE, which was "double-end"). The one pictured here uses EL34 but the one I heard used 4x EH 6L6/5881, outputting a grand 20 wpc in push-pull configuration! :-) But don't under-estimate this amp! Its 20 wpc was powerful enough to drive my ATC20 to satisfying level, if not plumbing its ultimate depth. Paired with easier speakers, like the Vienna Acoustic Haydn Grand SE, the 220 made great music, superbly transparent, rhythmically savvy and musically wholesome. A great amp, I was sorry to see it go!

J.C. Verdier 220C MKⅡ
曾在 2001 年獲音響論壇年度最佳器材大獎:"...很難想像,一家生產百萬元級磁浮LP唱盤、六十萬元級單聲道電源分體式唱頭放大器的公司,竟然會推出五萬多元的真空管擴大機?而且,這款採用四支6L6/5881真空管推挽輸出20瓦的後級,還可以當作綜合擴大機?...自然呈現的音質,清新暢快的音樂性,晶體機重現能力的透明感,都是它在聲音表現上的特點。「毫無保留,最佳推薦」的試聽評語為220C MKⅡ作下了最佳註解..."

Click here for some of my previous encounters with JC Verdier.

Let me use a classical symphony to describe the layout of this article. The introduction of the turntables was like a Haydnesque slow opening. The full treatment of Control B is the first movement (allegro), the briefer descriptions of the 4 amplifiers are like the two inner movements, two in pentode mode (scherzo), two in SET mode (andante). You guessed it, we have arrived at the grand finale...

left pic: internals of 2300B Luxe. right pic: bottom, Control B and Elekit TU-875; top, Verdier 2300B Luxe (click on pics to enlarge)

Luxe, Luxury, in every sense of the word
Just one week after I bought the Control B, the nice seller, who had also previously owned the 275DE, decided to sell me his 300B Luxe. One big caveat, his amplifier is not stock. JCV's Triode Spirit series, whether plain Jane or Luxe versions, all have similar topology and use similar components. Below is a pic of the 45 amp downloaded from the net (6moons review of 45). Compare with my pic you should see the 2300B Luxe has more tubes (EF184) inside due to the hum-hunting circuit. You should also notice various can type caps have been changed (to Black gates and Jensens of the same values). This did not concern me as much as replacement of the 4 coupling caps on the input board (from gray "AV"; can someone tell me what they are?) to bright yellow Auricaps. The modification had been done by 凱韻, and that worried me greatly. In the past I have heard too many mods by this shop that sounded terrible. Basically this shop doesn't care for original design, and since they sell the expensive caps they routinely do wholesale cap replacements without regard to sound. It is my experience using too many expensive boutique caps usually result in bad sound. But it is rare to encounter this amp on the second-hand market, so I bought it, thinking if necessary I should just restore it to stock form (all original caps retained). Interestingly I asked the seller what was the sound difference after the mod, and he said very little!

Initial listening had me worried. There was a curious lack of body to things, a sort of vacuity that just couldn't be JC Verdier! And this was matched with the Control B! I began to mentally get myself ready to do some solder work. But then things started to improve with a little tube rolling. Substituting 2 old RCA 5U4 for the stock Sovteks was not as effective as swapping out the stock KR VV300B for generic Shuguang 300B. I much prefer the Chinese 300B to the sterile VV300B for balance and musical involvement. I did not have 6AS7/6080 on hand. Be Careful NOT to swap the 4x EF184, as these have to be matched and internally adjusted!

After a few days, the combo miraculously snapped into focus. On the day icefox came we auditioned this system:

-Digital: Sony CDP R1/DAS R1
-Analogue: Technics SP10/Rega with Michell counterweight and Incognito wiring/Benz Micro Gold
-Preamp/Amp: JC Verdier Control B + 2300B Luxe
-Loudspeakers: Tannoy Canterbury HE

On the beautifully recorded Berlin recital CD Argerich's piano had a bloom that was not there just days before. Perhaps the amplifier had not been used for a while? Kremer's violin was silky and not at all acerbic even in this music. With the JCV combo, I was fully aware of Kremer's bowing, and able to feel the back-and-forth action of his bow, which eludes the Elekit preamp, good as that was. With the Verve LP (re-issue) one just felt the synergy between the musicians, which included Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown on this date. You could feel them tossing things at each other. That is not a feeling one often gets. JCV may not be the most analytical or most detailed, but the combo distinguishes itself in the capture of the musical event, the microdynamics and rhythm that constitute the atmosphere, if you will.

icefox I think really took to the combo. He is one of the few person who has heard my equally distinguished Wavac PR-X2/MD-300B combo (which I really should write up). We agree that the JCV imparts a richer and more soulful character 幸福指數高點, while the Wavac tends to be etched in more details and perhaps more alert (I'd not say more "hifi").

More useful links:
220DE MkII 音響論壇
6moons review of 45
JC Verdier Museum

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