26 March, 2011

Q and A:AES, Sonus faber, Clearaudio, VPI, Chinese made products

Q and A: AES, Sonus faber, Clearaudio, VPI, Chinese made products

Periodically I receive emails from readers on various topics. A few I answer right away because the questions are simple and easy. A few requests, like the circuit diagram on the extinct AES SE-1, took some time to satisfy. But there are many on which I procratinate; I hesitate not because I don't want to, but because I don't know the readers well. Many ask whether I'd prefer A to B, and these are not too easy to answer without knowing a lot about the reader. For myself, I simultaneouly enjoy many different things, though in the bottom of my heart I know my ultimate preferences. After some thought I have decided to periodically publish Q and A, of which this is the first. This is to let you know I hate to not answer mail, but sometimes it is not easy to give a conscientious answer based on the little I know of you. Now, from the newest first.

Q. on AES SE-1 (gwoods100) "...have you, by any chance, heard the standard SE-1 against the 'Signature' version? I'm contemplating doing the upgrade...do you know where I might locate a schematic for the Signature version? If there's not much involved, I might consider the upgrade and take a chance that it'll sound better.Incidentally, I have tried to contact Cary about this, but so far they've failed to respond to my emails (three so far, across ten days). Again, many thanks for the SE-1 schematic - and for other fascinating reading..."

A. No, I have never seen, let alone heard the 'Signature' version. What I have heard though, is the difference between the stock version I have now and the decked-out one (Kimber caps; upmarket diodes; better wiring etc) I previously owned. I'd say heavily modified the sound is clearer, but not necessarily musically better all-around. From my perspective, one's money would be better spent in another amp that has a completely different design, say the wonderful Elekit 2300 or 3200. Boutique parts are expensive and don't always pay dividends. YMMV. Some people build a tube recitified power supply for the thing, and I think THAT would be worthwhile, though drastic surgery.

Q. Sonus faber EAII (gysbertwillem)
"...I have had my Sonus Faber: Electa Amator 2 for years, very happy. Nad 330 to "feed" them...
I was not going to use the Nad that long anyway, however here I am now ( years later) and one speaker stopped in the low frequency! I have worked out that it is not my amp , could it be the xover, or is it the woofer it self. I have tried all the sonus faber people to advise me in this one ,simply no reply of none of them. Desperate as i am got me on to you when I found out about your web site. I know that you don't want to get back to the people who approach you, but could you please make an exception in this case of mine so I can listen to my music again. It is nearly 2months since this shit happened! Also I would like to hear your opinion about the Almarro 318 b in combo with Electa amator 2..."

I am really sorry that the second question is a lot easier to answer than the first. It depends on the music played. I think classical solo and chamber music and jazz would be OK for the Almarro 318, but big works or rock would not do for lack of power.

I have actually tried to contact also the SF HK dealer but got little. You have to make sure it's the woofer that's bad. In HK we have repairmen who can make it work, though how much up to spec's is not clear. It's too bad SF does not back up.

Q. Clearaudio and VPI (Babar)
"...I noticed your commentary on Clearaudio Concept. I just listened to this today and it sounded great even with the stock cartridge. I am considering to purchase this table, maybe with a better cartridge like Virtuoso or Maestro. I guess you still own this table so you must like it! I see you are very particular about your tables and the musicality is important to you as it is to me. I also considered Clearaudio Emotion CMB table which I have a line on for a very good price, with the Virtuoso cart. I was wondering what you thought of this table in comparison to Concept. Personally, I found it to be very present with great soundstage, but also overly bright and fatiguing (maybe was setup?). Also many people recommend me to stay away this table and instead consider Concept or others. There was something appealing about the sound but also maybe it was analytical or something bothered me as well which stopped me from buying this, as dealer was pushing me, insisting it was best value for the price ($2000.00 approx) The last one I think about is VPI Classic and would be interested to hear more what you think about this table. It is a little bit outside of my budget for purchase, however, so I am leaning towards Clearaudio (Concept most likely). How would you compare these two tables - i.e., will I be satisfied with the Concept!..."

A. Probably too little too late. Yes, I love the Concept and consider it one of Clearaudio's better efforts. To be fair, they do put effort in their lower end products, though the upgrade path is more of a pandora's box. As I alluded to in answer to another question, many times I'd prefer just playing with something else rather than upgrade. I suspect the Emotion itself, without the CMB, is probably a lesser turntable than the Concept. I am curious about the CMB myself, but the magnetic arm on the Concept is probably just as good as the one on the Emotion, and rare to boot. As for cartridges, Clearaudio would not be my first picks. Denon, Benz-Micro, not to say Ortofon, would be hard competitors. In any case I think all of them are OK. As for the VPI Classic, I think it is a bigger sounding beast, quite different and worth an audition. It too has too many upgrade paths. Too much temptation. Do let me know what you finally settled on and whether you liked it.

One thing though on the Concept: the price in HK is a bargain!

Q. China Made (Dana)
"...since you have strong Asia connections, how come you don't review more China components. It's my understanding that China high end audio components have improved dramatically in both audio and build quality. It would be most helpful to review some of these products like the DOGE 8, and maybe identify those vendors who turn out really good stuff..."

I thank reader Dana for his kind words elsewhere. As to why I don't review too many China gears, it's actually a complex question that merits an article on its own, and I am way behind. While I agree the audio and built quality have improved greatly, based on what I hear I still often have serious reservations about most of the stuff. As a rule, I generally frown on copy-cat stuff (especially cloning), and that eliminates many products (well western products too). The looks too of many of the gears put me off, neither here nor there. Most importantly, I think in general it can safely be said the Chinese designer is likely not quite mature in his MUSICAL TASTE, which makes or breaks a product. Many products do reasonably well on vocals but fail when it comes to full-bandwidth music. This is especially true of Chinese (including HK) tube audio products, of which I am not a fan. Despite claims, many of the transformers and designs just sacrifice both ends of the spectrum, to list just one of their sins. In contrast, I do think the Chinese solid state products are better than the tubes ones. As for speakers, well, they are few good ones, and most are just clones of existing big-names.

There are good manufacturers. Like YS-Audio from HK, which I plan to report more on. I also would like to write a full length reply, but no time yet.

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