26 June, 2011

Battle of the Fisher Integrated Amps

Battle of the Fisher Integrated Amps
The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 18-06-11
Tannoy Canterbury SE (one more!)

Be it serendipity or pure chance, things are buzzing on the Tannoy Canterbury front!

When I first visited new Canterbury user SG (report here) I was told just a day before, in the company of limage, he was visited by a fellow who had expressed interest in the loudspeakers. By chance later I was talking to my friend icefox, who knew the fellow, abc2009, and the two came to my place for a second tasting of the Canterbury the day before my second visit to SG.

Since abc2009 wanted to know how the Canterbury would do with his equipment, he brought along his vintage Fisher integrated amp. After showing him what the Canterbury could do with SET amps, we proceeded to use his Fisher:

The Fisher X-1000
High Fidelity article
The Fisher X-1000 is the most powerful Fisher integrated, using a pair of EL34 in push pull. abc2009 was advised to purchase this integrated because some vintage guru told him that its preamp section is almost the same as the very expensive (and imho over-rated) 400CXII.

This particular sample seemed in good electronic shape, fitted with almost all Dutch Amperex small tubes and re-issue "Mullard" power tubes. The sound driving the Canterbury was very good, even brute in its power, but something was clearly missing. Even compared to my flea-powered SET amps, where was the bottom octave? And its lack of rhythmic finesse was also apparent.

The Fisher X-101-C
Most unlikely review in UK's Gramophone!
Great pics in Audio Classics Germany
I happened to have a Fisher X-101-C at home, and I had previously used it to drive the Canterbury to great effect. The model numbers of Fisher are sometimes confusing, this is the one with a "C". This is a later one with less power than the X-1000, a pair of 7591 in push-pull. My sample has all-US small tubes (RCAs mostly) and well used old 7591s.

The One-Sided Match
I would not mince words, the X-101-C just completely out-classed the X-1000
. It was not even close, and you should have seen abc2009's jaws drop! Although the X-101-C has less brute force than the X-1000, it has a lot more finesse, much better micro- and macro-dynamics. The amplifier delivered a stunning performance of that famous last track on the Manger Test CD. And, yes, the bottom octave is back!

So much for those silly Anglophile "tube gurus" in Hong Kong who look down on almost all things American, always saying things like "...EL34 is better than 7591...", "...Amperex is better than RCA..." etc. There is a good reason why I have long avoided that crowd, who should spend a lot more time listening to real music than roll tubes.

Convinced of Tannoy Canterbury's potential, abc2009 bought a pair of SE the next day!

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 18-06-11
On this day, icefox came to yumcha with abc2009 and a new friend AL (whom you shall hear about later). Afterwards, we went up to abc2009's place, and it was quite an interesting experience with the partnering gears too.

This very new pair of Canterbury never sounded less than very good at abc2009's place, even if they were pushed flush against the wall. We experimented a bit with placement. Depending on where on sat, some preferred them a bit further out, and some not.

We started with a full set of expensive Boulder Preamp + Amp. While sound was not bad it certainly lacked excitement, and in this case can be instantly dismissed. I have heard Boulder to better effect with speakers like the Wilson Sophia, but, like SG's Goldmund, it certainly is not the ticket to Tannoy. We then proceeded to the tubed gears:

Digital 1: Wadia transport + DAC
Digital 2: Sony PR-DV50P (that amazing best buy reported before; click for info; also here)
Vinyl: Lenco with Denon 103R
Phonoamp: ICL Model 4 (actually my loan)
Preamp: Gnostic Technology 27D (website inoperative)
Amp: Leak 12+
Integrated amp: Fisher X-1000
Loudspeakers: Tannoy Canterbury SE

27D + Leak 12+ The sound was immediately more engaging than the Boulder combo. However, it was lacking just a little in color. When we played the vinyl I was very surprised by the sound that came out. I had never heard the Denon 103 to have a lean mid-bass and bass. I think the preamp is brand new and should take some time to run in. I have previously heard the neutral 27D many times; although not by any stretch of the imagination a romantic device, it should sound a little richer and smoother than what we heard.

Fisher X-1000 The Fisher integrated showed a clean pair of heels to the previous combo. Richer, more textured, more dynamic, and, interestingly, not a whiff less in details. Preferred.

David vs Goliath I thank abc2009 for satisfying my curiosity. The humble Sony PR-50P delivered a more musical sound than the Wadia, particularly with its top open. It was even a little fuller in bass, and I think it reached slightly lower. Sometimes the Wadia was a little tidier, but overall I'd say, given the price spread, I'd opt for the Sony over the Wadia.

The Bottom Octave and the Bottom Line
Remember that bottom octave? Compared to my HE, it was still missing in abc2009's setup. Neither the Fisher nor the separates unearthed it. In the case of the X-1000, it is not surprising, as it was not able to do so also in my place, but it is the same case with the 27D/12+. I wonder if the speakers are just too new; the hard edges need a lot of run-in. Our friend whlee's Turnberry took forever to open up in the bass.

What bottom line? Well, let me say, yes, the Canterbury may be expensive, but it can be cheap to run if you have the right stuff. For peanuts, much less than a pair of boutique cables, the unsung Sony and Fisher X-101-C will deliver a very high level of performance. There is so much baloney out there in the high-end, particularly about very expensive loudspeakers that can only sound good with very expensive gears. Why should you bother?

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