23 November, 2011

Letter from NYC 2011 (21): Martin Logan

Letter from NYC 2011 (21): A Moveable Feast 
A Day with Old Timers

Revised December 2nd, 2011

I ask, how often are you unconditionally offered two full meals a day by your fellow hobbyists? Well, thanks to my friend AL, whose best-of-2010 system you may recall, that was exactly what I got the other day.

Aside from the royal treatment and the conviviality, what impress me the most is the undiminished enthusiasm these old timers exhibit, for audio as well as for music. AL and his friends are all my seniors, but they are all young at heart. I returned convinced that audio shall make us live longer, and more healthily. Here's a toast to you all!

Click pics to enlarge. L, the big lunch; R, the beautiful roomElectrostatic Old Timers
After a pleasant drive up the Palisades, my chauffeur AL, Lao Wu (Peter) and I were the first to arrive at the cozy home of Milty. We were soon joined by Al, Larry and Lao Tang. The hosts were effusively warm and engaging. Imagine, a shot of McCallan as greetings!

While we were feeling the sting of the mid-morning scotch, Milty's lovely wife was toiling away in the kitchen. The crowd was served a huge and delicious lunch of home-made barley soup, roast turkey and corned beef, washed down with two bottles of wine. We ate and talked for a long time, a little on audio but mostly on classical music and other sundries, during the course of which it was determined there are 4 Quad ESL users present, a majority. I must say it was the kind of long lunch that I really enjoy, and I cannot thank the host enough.

The host was proud of his sculpture in the center of the front wall, a smaller replica of the 2 century B.C. The Wrestlers (in the Uffizi). Close inspection shows excellent quality.

We had two sessions, a short one before lunch and a longer one after. We listened only to digital, mostly CDs and, unusually, a little DAD and DVD-A too. The sound produced by the unusual system, "augmented electrostatic" if you will, was wonderful.

The gears, roughly:
Analog: VPI early HW/Eminent Technology arm/Decca Gold (unfortunately not heard)
Digital multi player: Oppo 93SE
Preamp: Luxman CL-35 MkIII (restored; up to spec)
Electronic crossover: DBsystems
Amp: Parasound 2250 (old)
Speakers: Martin Logan CLS (with augmentation)

Sympathetic Vibrations Although Milty's ML is "full-range", for him, a music lover and avid concertgoer, it does not go low enough. To flesh out the sonic picture, with only minimal use of electronic crossover, Milty made elaborate use of surplus. The DBsystems crossover was used only for bass augmentation, to a Belles One amplifier for the low base, driving M &K double woofers with KLH 6 1/2 inch woofers (high base speakers). Interestingly, the small B&Ws were used to beef up the mid-bass a little. High frequency was augmented (connected passively with caps) by the Decca horns in the center (6 of them)! I am sure purists would frown upon reading this, but the great result speaks for itself!

Luxman CL-35 MkIII A word on this classic preamp, revered mostly but denigrated by some. This 70's preamp was likely designed by the great Tim de Paravicini (EAR). There is not much solid information on the net. Try this translated German website (original in German) for the spec's as well as some nice pics. Here I'd have to chime in. My previous experience with an early, and regarded, Luxman all-tube preamp (forgot model number) was not as favorable. It was just a little slow and not dynamic enough. Not so here. Perhaps it has to do with the restoration and of course the speed of the electrostatics. I'd not mind trying out this CL-35 one day.

Oppo 93SE It was great to be able to have just one player that could play everything, including DAD and DVD-A. But without a screen, we could not navigate to get some of these played. Sonically, Milty said he misses his old Meridian 508-24. The player is likely responsible for the little whiteness when the going gets rough.

Reassured Sound It would be a given that the MLs delivered utter transparency and fast transient speed. But even more impressive was the ability of the system to play loud. Integration of the large number of drivers were seamless. The DAD replay of the Classic Records issue of an old Everest classic, the exotic Corroboree of Australian composer John Antill (not to be confused for American George Antheil), was scintillating. Knowing I liked Bruckner, Milty took out his stack and we played both the new Jaarvi/Frankfurt and the old Jochum/Dresden; all preferred the latter. What an orchestra! The DVD-A of the second Kempe Ein Alepnsinfonie with the same orchestra was likewise a pleasure. Just as in the Alpine symphony, one has to make exit when daylight dwindles, so we bade farewell as it was getting dark.

DIY Paradise
Next we hit Lao Tang's house. His dedicated listening room is on the small side. Strangely, his wife decorated the room and the "hifi cabinet" and setup are unusual to say the least. For best sound, we opened the cabinet doors.

Digital Transport: Roksan ROK-DP1
DAC: Parasound D/AC 1600
Preamp: DIY 5998 with tube rectification.
Amp 1: Canary 300B SE monoblocks for high
Amp 2: Modified organ amp using 2x KT88 per monoblock, for low
Speakers: Celestion 662 inverted; tweeter replaced by Morel
Earphone amp: DIY 5998 with tube rectification (not auditioned)

Celestion 662 I was surprised by the full and balanced sound, with no booming even in the small room. The Celestion 662 surely was a quality (and expensive) speaker in its days, and is probably a tweaker's delight. It has 2x 12" bass units, one active, one passive, a 3" dome midrange and a tweeter (which most people replace). Whether it was classical or rock, the results were highly musical. The inverted placement likely helped to keep the bass clean. With classical though, it was also obvious the last degree of resolution was not there, limitation of the speakers. Even so, I was impressed by the cost-effectiveness of the setup and the quality of the DIY.

5998 According to Lao Tang, the quality of the 5998 as preamp/headphone amp tube is nonpareil. If I am not mistaken, the 5998 (made by Tungsol) is a close kin to the WE421A, and similar but not identical to the ubiquitous 6AS7/6080. Lao Tang is obviously an experienced DIYer, who concentrates on substance and not cosmetics. He eschews cathode followers and prefer direct outputs and OTL, hence his fondness for the 5998.

Home made Shanghai Cuisine As wonderful as the sound was, I have to say I was even more captivated by the host's cooking. He had apparently informally "apprenticed" himself to a chef uncle in his younger years, and it showed in his cooking. What a feast! The centerpiece was the ham and whole chicken soup 火腿燉雞湯, the stock of which were also used to braise Chinese cabbage 煨大白菜. Complementing the main dish was an immaculately prepared 四季豆, a variation on the dried string beans version (乾扁); and sauteed beef with home-made Shanghai preserved vegetable (雪菜牛肉). This was some of the best home-cooking I have had in a while! Thank you Lao Tang!

Many thanks to AL for arranging the delightful trip!

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