Vinyl Talk: SME, Kondo, TW Acustic Raven, mono replay
Audio Note M8 vs Kondo M7
The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 04/06/11
June 4th, a date we shall never forget. In view of recent events in the Arab world, perhaps it is even more poignant. How lucky it is to be alive and well, having dim sum with good friends! On this date, JC is around town and we welcomed him. I was also very glad to see BenYC, now a brave father of three! Also present was a new friend and fellow Tannoy Canterbury user, SG, whom JC and I visited just a few days ago. After yumcha, we visited him again.
SG lives in a house, and the large, beautifully adorned living room is on the first floor. Of his equipment, the analogue rigs, preamp and of course the loudspeakers have long been of great interest to me, so unlike my usual practice I shall introduce them in more details:
Analogue 1 (stereo): SME 20/12A with SMEV12 arm-Kondo IoM to Kondo KSL SF-Z to preamp
Analogue 2 (mono): TW Acustic Raven One-SME M2-12-Audio
Digital: Cary (not heard)
Preamp: Audio Note M8 with phono
Amp: Goldmund Telos (not sure 350 or 250)
Speakers: Tannoy Canterbury SE
Cables: Furutech mostly
SME 20/12A (official literature) has been well and widely reviewed (HiFi News, Stereophile, HiFi Choice ). It is the SME turntable that I once thought of buying. It took quite a struggle to banish the thought and save myself some money by sticking to the classic Garrard and Thorens. As mentioned in one review, sometimes people thought of SME turntables as dull, but I had heard the regular SME20/2A to excellent effect before (here). The SME M2 series (official literature) on the other hand has always been eclipsed by its own more expensive stable mates as well as older 3009 series widely available in second-hand. I like the looks, basically modernized 3009s and have read the few reviews (tnt, the crazy Romy the Cat, and curiously HomeTheaterReview) with interest, though I never heard one before.
Kondo Io-M (official literature) is probably one of the least known items in the Kondo line. While there are many people who use the Kondo SF-Z step-up transformer, few actually use it with the Kondo cartridge. The Io-M belongs to the group of hi-end Japanese cartridges that have very few coil windings, powerful magnets, low impedance and usually low gain (Air Tight's PC-1 is an exception). Personally my own experience is that really low output cartridges (including Ortofon's classic MC-3000 and 5000) are all exceptional in sound if your setup can handle them. I actually have this cartridge and in the near future you shall hear more about it, after I finish re-vamping my analogue rigs here in HK. For the moment let me just tell you that I did briefly test this cartridge when I bought it second-hand, and it was dynamic as hell when played through my EAR 912 preamp.
TW Acustic Raven One too has been widely and well reviewed ( TAS; 6moons has the best pics as usual). I noticed because it fits with my concept on what is a good turntable, which is counter to the current trend of massively overbuilt monsters sporting huge chunks of acrylic and polished metal, gaudy in looks and underwhelming in sound.
Mono cartridge is now all the rage
I have long wanted to have a dedicated mono LP source and in NYC this last time I set up my humble (and surplus) Audio Technica AT-PL-120 turntable for the purpose. Perhaps the very heavy Denon DL-102 mono cartridge (the only one I have) is a mismatch or simply too new, the sound is good but not excellent. So I am still looking for improvements. In case you don't know, mono replay has now entered the mainstream hifi publications! And numerous hi-end companies are putting out mono cartridges.
Audio Technica AT33 is an evergreen in the company's stable. Unlike many of its sharper sounding stablemates the sound of this cartridge is full bodied and mellow. However, it has a tendency to sound too complacent and bringing out its ultimate performance is perhaps not as easy as it may seem. In this aspect, I much prefer the company's other perennial, the hugely under-rated OC-9. This new AT33 mono version is a special edition.
YS Audio Concerto Plus (official literature), which I have heard to good effect in the showroom, with its unusual feature of London ffrr and Columbia curves, is a good buy for a second setup.
Audio Note M8
I am familiar with AN. My journey started with the Kit One, and later at various points I owned the M2 preamp and built the kit preamp with phono (sold). I still have the kit 4 and the earlier DAC-2 (non-oversampling, transformer I/O, Burr-Brown PCM63).
I have heard the AN M8 (official literature) several times before. It is interesting to me this time because we could compare it with the Kondo M7. Both contain much silver though the designs are drastically different. The Kondo M7 is a minimalist design (M-1000 is much more complicated), relying only on execution and few superior parts. The AN M8 on the other hand, has regulation and silver output transformer coupling (like the Wavac PR-T1) and is loaded with components. The AN M8 is fairly well known and reviewed in Asia, but has seen little formal reviews in the West.
Tannoy Canterbury (official literature)
And now for the piece de resistance. After Danz, whose system you have read about several times on this Blog (here, but much changed and in need of update), SG's is the 3rd Canterbury I have personally come across. Incidentally, another Patrick recently just heard our Canterbury's and decided to just acquired one, so we shall soon be a quartet. Formidable!
Although outwardly it has remained the same, Canterbury has gone through several iterations. I believe the concentric driver, an (alnico) Alcomax 3 magnet system with Pepperpot Waveguide, has remained mostly the same. (1) The first generation (which Danz has) has foam surrounds. (2) Next in time is my HE version, which stands for "hard-edge", the retro-styled accordion-like cloth surround. I am not sure what else the HE "improved" over the first version. I think they both use Van den Hull cabling. Speaker connection panel on the back is rectangular, bi-wire posts and a ground post. I have no details on other cables and components used in the crossover. (3) The current SE version has the same surrounds as the HE and has a circular plate for WBT binding posts (which I don't like). Cabling and crossover components have some changes. The change from VdH to Acrolink cabling is definite (and imho probably for the better, having personally a low opinion of VdH), but I am not sure which of the other crossover components, if any, is new. Official description (bold type by editor):
"...The Canterbury SE benefits from Acrolink cable right through from terminal panel to crossover, crossover to drivers and the LF board wiring itself; not forgetting the bi-wire links. Cables produced by Acrolink use self-stipulated 6N copper, constructed using the same process as is used with wires for semiconductor devices, which require a guarantee of high quality. More precisely, the purity of the copper needs to be over 99.9999% and the total of any impurity metals must be less than 1 part per million. The quality of this cable ensures that a powerful yet delicate and natural, fast response is accomplished throughout the signal path.
Very low loss laminated iron core inductors on the LF ensure that there is less resistance between the amplifier and driver, resulting in superior bass control. High purity silver (99.99%) link wires maintain signal path integrity on the separate HF crossover board and for the HF feed capacitor Hovland Musicaps are used with a special Tannoy DMT™ (Differential Material Technology) isolation sleeve. Hovland Musicaps are renowned for their exceptional dynamics, speed, focus, correct timbre and depth of field, and true inter-transient silence. Separate layers of polypropylene film and conductive foil deliver superior clarity of reproduction that metalised capacitors cannot match.
High quality ICW Musicaps are used in other areas. Vishay thick film non-inductive resistors are used in critical areas, with extensive heat sinking where necessary. The stable component temperature provided by the heat-sinking feature ensures maximum reliability and an even and consistent sound quality..."I am not sure either how much of the current Canterbury Spec's differ from the previous ones. I'd think very little:
|Recommended amplifier power||50 - 275 Watts|
|Continuous power handling||140 Watts RMS|
|Frequency response||28Hz - 22kHz -6dB|
|Sensitivity||96dB (2.83 Volts @ 1 metre)|
|Nominal impedance||8 Ohms|
|Dual Concentric™ high frequency||51mm (2.00") with aluminium alloy dome, Alnico magnet system with Pepperpot Waveguide™|
|Dual Concentric™ low frequency||380mm (15.00") treated paper pulp cone with HE twin roll fabric surround. 52mm (2.00") round wire wound voice coil|
|Dispersion||90 degrees conical|
|Type||Bi-wired, hard wired passive, low loss time compensated 2nd order LF, 2nd order compensated HF.|
|Adjustment||+/- 3dB over 1kHz to 22kHz shelving,
+2dB to -6dB per octave over 5kHz to
|Enclosure type||Dual variable distributed port system|
|Volume||235L (8.3 cu.ft)|
|Dimensions||1100 x 680 x 480mm
(43.50 x 26.75 x 19.00”)
|Weight||63kg (139 lbs)|
|Finish||Walnut veneer with solid|
Finally we are getting to the visits, and I am running out of time! Our first visit was preceded by a very brief sojourn at my place, where I played for JC and SG my full Kondo setup of M7 + Ongaku. Although my setup is new and audition brief, I am confident the Kondo signature sound was easily heard.
At SG's place, we heard only vinyl and the sound was a little too restrained, not a sound I was familiar with. But then SG's pair was bought from someone who said only 100 hrs has been put on them, so no more than a few hundred hours. The brochure says 20 hours of relatively high-level run-in, but I think it is much longer than that. My pair of HE took more than a hundred hours to wake up, and the previous owner has had it for years (in a smaller room though).
Like a good audiophile, SG had almost all his stuff on heavy (wood) racks and gears were placed on various tuning devices (which I usually avoid). The Goldmund Telos were placed on Nordost Pulsar Points over a Solid-Steel amp rack.
JC, a previous user of Goldmund, suggested removing the Nordost devices. It took a while, but the result was mind-boggling. Music became much more lively. Then we proceeded to remove the amp rack. With the amps on the floor now, there was further improvement, but not quite of the same magnitude as removing the Nordost devices. So much for isolation devices (at least for power amps).
Then, I noticed the Canterbury was really raised above the floor. Apparently, at least in the SE version, there are 3 spikes at the bottom which one can use as feet in lieu of the outer cabinet (the four edges not always balancing on non-flat floors). I suggested removing them and the casters beneath. To my ears, the sound opened up further.
One musical example shall suffice. On vinyl, in the famous scene from Phantom, at first we heard no menace from the Phantom, the organ lacked support from below, and Sarah Brightman was shrill. After the simple 3-steps, the phantom regained a much wider chest, the organ started to growl, and Sarah Brightman became at least tolerable, such was the release of music. Last, but not the least, the mono setup sounded at least as good as the stereo, attesting to the excellent performance of the AT33 cartridge and YS Audio phonoamp.
After yumcha, several of us headed again for SG's place (Thanks to whlee for trucking my Kondo and Wavac back and forth; the Ongaku was too heavy to be moved around). I noticed the sound was a little more restrained than when we left after the first visit. No wonder, SG had the speakers back on their spikes and casters. But, to each his own.
We first substituted the M7 phono and M7 line for the AN M8. The sound became a little more open, detailed and refined, but the difference was not significant enough for me. Then we substituted the Wavac MD-300B amp for the Goldmund.
Now we're talking! The Tannoy sound I know so well was back! Every character in the Phantom became energized, including the organ. :-) Well, if you don't believe a 300B amp can reproduce the organ better than several hundred watts of ss amp, you should have heard it. Yes, there was some clipping in one channel, but I think that may be due to tube bias. Incidentally, the Goldmund I think is a digital amp, and so far none of that breed has convinced me.
It was wonderful to meet another Canterbury user. SG has actually used several pairs of Tannoy before, including vintage ones, and he has also been a previous tube user. His next step (so many options!) shall be of great interest, but I am sure more tubes and SET amps are in the horizon.
During the second visit, I was perplexed by the lack of difference between the AN M8 and the Kondo M7. What concerned me even more was that I did not hear the sound of Kondo M7 (even if the amp is not Kondo) at SG's place. Back home I decided to reproduce the system. Driving my Canterbury with the Wavac, the sonic signature of the M7 line preamp was still very much in evidence, though less than when used with the Ongaku. I'd venture to guess in SG's place something in the tuning devices, cabling, power treatment of the source and preamp, or whatever totality had produced too strong a sound of its own, hence obscuring what should have been obvious differences. In my place, I use simple (but best for me) cabling (Gotham), no tuning devices and certainly no power treatment. Less is often more.