25 June, 2011

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 11-06-11 Sonus faber Jadis Boulder Linn

2 views of the Phoenix

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 11-06-11The Sonus faber Fenice
Jadis JP800 JA800
Boulder 2008
Linn LP12 with Akiva and Urika

I just got back from NYC when I received a surprise call and from our dear 鄔 Sir Sir, and an invitation to re-visit 盧華煇, aka ML. I had long gotten wind that shortly after our last visit, his system had undergone several major changes. After yumcha, I went alone. Here's the current setup (changed component in red):

Vinyl 1 - Clearaudio Statement-Goldfinger
Vinyl 2 - Continuum Caliburn-Cobra arm-Airtight PC-1 on dedicated stand (not heard on this occasion)
Vinyl 3 - Linn LP-12 Lingo, with Akiva cartridge and built-in Urika phonostage.
Phonopreamp - Boulder 2008
Digital Transport- Metronome Kalista Reference SE on stands
DAC - Wadia 931 Controller + 922 monoblock DAC
Preamp - Jadis JP800
Amp - Jadis JA-800 monoblocks
Speakers - The Sonus faber Fenice
Cables - Siltech speaker cables
da Venezia, the Sonus faber Fenice
Must-Read: Detailed Examination of the speaker (What HiFi)
The raison-d'etre of the visit was this limited edition flagship, called Fenice, one of 30 pairs in the world. I wonder whether the mainland Chinese owners will ever learn how to pronounce the "c" in Italian, though as a whole things have improved - at least some of the newly rich know how to pronounce Gucci, a testament to the success of the Italians in promoting their luxury goods.

In case you do not know, La Fenice, the phoenix, is also the name of Venice's venerable opera house, which had literally risen from the ashes to remain as much a symbol of the city as San Marco, the gondola or whatever (good read). While I have never set foot inside, I did once stay in the very nice hotel next to it, of the same name.

You may know from my Sonus faber overview (last article, scroll down; or click here) I am a fan of the company's founder Franco Serblin, who has NOT been with the company since 2005. But I no longer have interest in this company now that Serblin is long gone. To draw a parallel, do you think current Mark Levinson is nearly as interesting or as good sounding as the older classics (the answer is, for my taste, no; and they are boring as well)? Still, I'd not miss the chance to hear this rare bird and I am glad I did.

It should be mentioned that in ML's room, the speakers look smaller than his previous ones, and more right in size. Make sure you read the interesting link I provided above, for the design is really quite unlike anything else, though somehow something reminds me of the Clearaudio Statement, also residing in the room. ML told me one of my "friends" (he never mentions names but usually use the euphemism for this "class" of ignoranti, arroganti, illiterati and stronzi of the HK audio scene) insisted the design is totally wrong before hearing a note, but ML thinks the designer should know better. As long as all roads lead to Rome, it is beneficial to try out new things.

Jadis JP800/JA800
ML aptly switched to a tubed system to drive the Fenice. I am sure Sonus faber Asia is still mightily disappointed that ML did not choose Audio Research, which is also not only distributed by them, but owned by the same mother company (incidentally, it may be time to write an overview to recap the glorious past of ARC, now that it is a completely different and much less interesting company without the great William Johnson).

As you may have read from my short Jadis Overview (scroll down below; or click here), I think the JP800 is an updated version of the venerable JP80, and even the tube complement look familiar (ECC82 X 6, ECC83 X 2, EL84 X6, EF86 X 2' all those tubes used in the power supply!). I was glad for the opportunity to hear it. Being a SET user, I am less enthused about the monstrous high-powered JA-800 monoblocks, which employ KT90. They surprisingly did not run too hot, and apparently each tube can be individually biased.

Boulder 2008 phono preamplifier
I was really pleased to be able to also audition ML's new phonoamp, the wonderful Boulder 2008 (Stereophile review). I have previously heard this at our friend 珠寶梁 Jewelry Leung's place to marvelous effect. It was an experience difficult to fault and since then it has gone to the top of my wanted list, despite my usual preference for some tubes in the phono chain.





Volare, or plus ça change?
Since I have previously examined in extreme detail about sound at ML's place, which in my opinion is much more determined by the room as well as power conditioning than by equipment, and the tonal difference between loudspeakers at his place is much smaller than usual, I shall make just a few points:

--The overall sound is improved from the 2 previous visits. A fuller and somewhat more alert sound that can go louder than before without altering image specificity.

--The phono setup is improved. Compared to the FM Acoustics 222 MkII used previously, through the Boulder the Clearaudio Statement/Goldfinger gained some much needed rhythm and pace, though it is still definitely no champ in this department (as a comparison with the LP12 shows). For myself, I have always preferred the sound of Boulder to FM Acoustics (its home electronics all sound colored and artificial to me), so this result does not surprise me.

--The LP-12 shows a clean pair of heels to the Clearaudio in many areas. While everyone preferred vocals through the Linn than the Clearaudio, with guitar music I also found the Linn to be much more informative when it comes to the feeling of plucked strings, portrayal of the leading edge and even the quality of the bass notes' sustains. The on board Urika phonoamp seems to me an excellent one.

--We spent quite a bit of time testing out 2 sets of jumpers for the speakers. IMHO the Audio Note silver jumpers decisively outperformed the stock ones as well as a set of Siltech. I should say though that personally I always bi-wire with loudspeaker designed to be operated so.

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