23 April, 2011

My Corner: Casual Listening in NYC

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Letter from NYC 2011 (15): Setting Up (I)
My Corner: My Listening Stations in NYC (I) - Casual Listening

Talk Tuner: The wonderful McIntosh MR-71

Martin Logan Source redux

The Many Stations of Life
Last time I left NYC after we had just moved into our new apartment. I did the rudimentary setup of my dedicated listening room, dictated mostly by the large horns. I bought some racks and set up multiplt stations. You may ask why that many? Well, yes, I have always liked to be able to switch gears on the fly, but the reasons behind are mainly twofold: multiple stations provide better ergonomics for my various turntables; and horn speakers and panels have quite different requirements, difficult to fulfill by just a single set of equipment. As I have the number of gears required, why not?

The Casual Listening Station: Last, but not the Least
In terms of monetary value, this station comes a distant last, but in terms of use it probably comes first. In NYC I get up very early, in the wee hours, as described previously. As I drink coffee and work on my computer I listen to music at a very low volume. It's really too much of a luxury to have expensive WE tubes or the battery of the Nagra taxed for such purposes. To this end, I created my Casual Listening Station, one located right behind my listening seat and working table. The goal is to have relatively simple gears to provide what I need:

Analogue: Technics SL-1200MkII-Benz Micro Silver
Digital: Meridian 506-24 or Rega Apollo
Tuner: McIntosh MR-71
Preamp: ARC SP-9MkII
Amp: McIntosh 2200
Speakers: Martin Logan Source

Much of this I have described before. Despite the "marginal" existence of some of the gears in my cannon, this system not only excels in casual and low-level listening, it also serves as a "watchdog": the other stations have to at least equal the performance of this station to justify themselves, and it has not been easy, for a myriad of reasons! I shall make brief comments on each component in the chain.

The Source (TAS review)
I know, I have mentioned it many times: the Martin Logan Source just constantly amaze me (previous write-up's). They sound fantastic even at very low volume. The electrostatic panel and dynamic woofer are seamlessly integrated, and the latter plumbs depth that still surprises me. Unlike the Maggie 1.7, they are also small and narrow enough to stand in front of my large horns without undue negative effect.

Like the Magnepan 1.7 I had up a while ago before I fired up my horns, at first I had them placed in a relatively near field isosceles triangle of 6 ft or so. In this position, the imaging was not quite as big as the Maggies (not true when I had them much further in my old LR) and it took a little fine-tuning to achieve optimal atmosphere. With the Source relatively near field it is amazing how much the front end affects the size and height of the image.

Just 30 minutes later, I finally moved the Maggies out of the way. I was able to increase the distance between the speakers. It made a huge difference. The soundstage is now as wide as the Maggies and ambience is further improved. A trace of leaness with my vinyl playback also disappeared. I consider my setup nearly finished.

A Well-tuned Tuner Needs No "HiFi" Tuning
I acquired this McIntosh MR-71, one of the great tube tuners, a couple of years ago. Not quite true to advertisement, it was great in cosmetics but weak in performance. I had this aligned by a technician but never hooked it up until now. Wow! What a surprise! It was like having a completely different tuner, so much better the sound had become!

To tell the truth, I had not been able to tear myself away from this tuner, and to our wonderful WQXR. The announcers seem to be present in my room, in real flesh of the right size, making my speakers sound much larger than they are, equalling the image produced by the Maggies previously in the same spot. Imaging is wonderfully focused, and there is a superbly natural and palpable feel to all kind of music. And the stunning look; they don't make them like this anymore! We should give thanks that we are still able to enjoy analogue FM broadcast of high quality, and nothing does that better than a tube tuner in good alignment. Internet radio? useful but not even close in quality.

Technics Sl-1200MkII
I should put in another word to this workhorse. matched with the right cartridge, and the Benz-Micro Silver is certainly one of them, this is also another "watchdog" item in my arsenal. I am copying the use of this term from my friend AL, whose AR turntable has to be surpassed for any newcomer to be admitted. The sound from this TT is always clean and fun to listen to. It only loses to the tube tuner in body and flesh,but still outperforms the CDP handily.

Audio Research SP-9
Another word for this lovely hybrid workhorse too. Some say it has some transistor haze, but I find it just sounds neutral and transparent in the right system, and with the right tubes. It economically uses 1 6DJ8 each in the phono and line stages (I use Amperex Holland). The phono section in particular seems a great bargain. It's worth more than its low second-hand price for the phono section alone. It has enough gain and quietness for even medium output MC cartridges. An ARC preamp is also a perfect match for a McIntosh amp, be it tube or solid state.

McIntosh 2200
Under-rated musical vintage solid state amp with output transformers, stable down to 1 ohm. Perfect match for panels when used with a transparent tube preamp. Currently my only ss amp in NYC; why would I need more?

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