06 January, 2012

Editor's Note: 2011 in Retrospective

Editor's Note: 2011 in Retrospective
Brief Reviews Manley Magico Shindo Fosgate M-Audio

Second Revision 22/06/2014 (on the Shindo Entry)
First Revision 13/01/2012 (on the Shindo entry)

This year's retrospective is different in that some of the stuff I cite have not been written up by myself yet, so I offer some brief reviews here. I have been a little busy lately and I hope in the next week I shall catch up with more of the backlog. Stay tuned!

Year of the Tannoy Canterbury Indeed, 2011 was year of the Canterbury, as far as this writer is concerned. Three friends have acquired the Canterbury SE, and I hope we have a happy future together.

Most Notable Event of the Year Rehabilitation of my Garrard 301 by my dear friend Robin the Scott.

pic of Magico courtesy of JCR33; click to enlarge.

Best Sound of 2011
Well, as I have mentioned before, the best overall sound, for the second year in a row, remains my NYC friend AL's magnificent Infinity setup (write-up here, not be confused with AL-HK, the jazz-wine connoisseur), and that's unlikely to change any time soon.

But this year I have heard several formidable setups, from which I have picked a handful. The first two by older masters were simply impeccable, disarming on hearing the first note. The ones that followed were yet imperfect, yet impressive and harboring huge potentials:
  • First must be counted AL's new horn system now being set up just outside his kitchen. As of two months ago it was using mostly professional, and reasonably priced, JBL drivers. yet the sound as driven by 300B amp already bettered almost all of the JBL systems I have heard in HK (except the one below). In a short time, I suspect it may usurp Infinity's place in the upstairs salon. I am positive you shall hear a lot more about this in the future, when master AL is ready for the system to show to the world.
  • Magico Ultimate horn system, as heard at HK dealer Sound Chamber (the same setup Romy the Cat heard). A brief write-up is due. I thank JCR33 for getting us to hear these behemoths, as the demo pair left for China soon after.
  • Our friend welborne's Bastanis Atlas Mandala setup (write-up here). I understand they are being updated, so I look forward to the next audition.
Most Important Acquisitions
There were several. Most important were three very different preamps.
  • Manley Neo-Classic 300B preamp (left pic can be enlarged by clicking on it) While the 300B SE/PP amp (which is excellent, I have used it before) of Manley's wonderful and statement-level Neo-Classics series has received many reviews and much accolade, its companion 300B Preamp has had quite a low profile. There are no reviews from the major English audio press. You can find reviews from hometheaterhifi, Audio Video Revolution and Image HiFi (in German). I suspect this is because of its ungainly nature, built like a tank and resembling more a serious amplifier. I ran into an irresistible bargain and acquired it brand new. It is absolutely outstanding and there shall be a detailed review in the future.
  • Shindo Monbrison I actually acquired this older version more than a year ago. The fellow who sold it to me claimed it was the unit reviewed in 6moons. I have no problem with the reviewer's sonic assessment, but he made some mistakes in describing the tube complement. This is not the place for rectification; that shall be done in my coming full review. It took me long to get it going because, contrary to the seller's statement on the unit's health, all the tubes that came with the unit were almost completely spent. Fortunately the ECL84/6DX8 used in the linestage of my unit are inexpensive and available on Ebay, while I already have good EF86's (used in the phono stage) in stock. After re-tubing, the sound is quite dramatic, with great presence, a good match for horns. You shall hear more about this in the future. Revision Note: A FULL Shindo Monbrison report finally been written. Please click here.
  • Leben RS28CX preamp Again, a full function preamp that stands up to the other illustrious preamps that I have. Suffice to say it serves me daily in HK! Review here.
  • Fosgate Signature Phonoamp (click pics to enlarge) The next item is yet another preamp, but for the phono. Ever since it came out it has garnered much attention, including a review in TAS. There is also a nice review in Audio Beat. This is one of those rare phono preamps with a fully active MC pre-pre section. As noted in the Audio Beat review, the 60 db gain for MC may be a little low for some people but it is perfectly fine in my case, even with the very-low-output Denon DL-304 (0.2 mV), since I mostly use preamps with high gain and efficient speakers. I am happy to report tube rolling is a breeze as the phonoamp does not seen to run the tubes unduly hard and many NOS tubes sound quiet in it. One thing that puzzles me about the industrial design: the two round cans flanking the tubes lead one to think they are input transformers; no, they aren't, this is a strictly active device and those are for decorations only. Incidentally, I think there is a new 10% price hike, but you can still find many selling at the original price of USD 2500. Review later.
Best Buys of the Year
Not surprisingly, digital products comprise half of my nominations. It is quite amazing how good cheap digital products are now. Why buy over-priced and over-rated stuff like Weiss?
  • Elekit TU-875 preamp and TU-8230 amp If you can solder, Elekit is it. Bargain of the Century. Reviewed here.
  • Musical Fidelity M1 DAC Better than it has a right to be. Reviewed here. I am curious about MF's V-Link now.
  • M-Audio Firewire Solo (click on pics to enlarge) You may be surprised by this inclusion. As you know, I dabble in CAS but it is just a marginal medium for me. I have long bought this very cheap device and did intend to write it up, but it was never a priority. M-Audio is a highly respected pro-sound company that makes cheap and great stuff. For less than $200 you can have a firewire DAC-ADC capable device that can serve both as a preamp via its analog out and headphone amp! Here are some reviews from Sweetwater and the excellent French Audiofanzine. I bought it because my dinosaur Dell laptop, which weighs a ton and should not be deemed portable, has a firewire output! I tested it two years ago with the super-bargain Sony DVP-PR50P and Audioengine A2 active speakers. I burned several CDs using lossless WAV format. The sound could not be faulted, even in comparison with the Sony's superb analogue out. I also tested its earphone output with my Audio Technica ATH-AD700 headphone and an old Sennheiser, and the sound was equally superb. The control software installed without a hitch and is easy and intuitive to use. The manual is clear and detailed. What more can you ask for such a paltry sum? I then shelved it for more than a year, so that alone was not enough for me to write it up. What prompted me to write this up now is because I lent it to my friend Tony 唐咭柯德 and his feedback is highly positive. Mind you, this is a man who has engaged in CAS extensively, and has numerous (mostly USB) devices in his systems, including Linn Majik DS. Basically, he thinks the M-Audio came out ahead. Why should you buy expensive things like Weiss, which I have heard several times and regard as good but way over-priced? Note that this device is 24/96 only, but M-Audio makes a 24/192 Pro 610. If any reader has used that, I'd be happy to hear from you. Note also it has only phone jack connectors, so adapters are necessary if you intend to use RCA or XLR. If you have firewire output, seriously consider M-Audio! But if you are a Mac user, research Mac issues, including at M-Audio's own forum.
  • AQVOX 2CI MkII A fantastic phonoamp, but perhaps not for everyone. Reviewed here.
  • Vibrapods Good isolation devices on the cheap (briefly reviewed here).
  • Belden 8471 Great speaker cables at giveaway prices, reviewed here.
  • Audioengine A2 active loudspeakers Review here. I hereby redress my previous failure to include it in my Best Buy 2010.
Vintage Best-Buys
  • Technics SP-10 What a marvelous turntable! It makes you think twice (just a little) about suspension and idler wheel designs. My experience here.
  • Denon AU-1000 step-up transformer. If you ask me, it stands up to the very best. Not cheap, but still a bargain. Reviewed here.
This is a new feature this year, and it is long due. Often in pursuit of the new we forget what we already had experienced. Re-visit your old favorites and it can be a surprise as your system improves!
  • Empire cartridges If you have one, listen to it! You may be surprised! My experience here.
  • Lehmann Black Cube If you are a vinyl newbie, or simply need another phonoamp, think about this one. It decisively trounced the Ray Samuels Black hawk during our recent tests. The old version is likely as good as the newer ones and a good buy at bargain price.


  1. Hello Dr John,

    I'm searching for a powerful power amplifier (tube or soild state) to push my low sensitivity 85db speaker - Rockport Mira Monitor and to match with my pre-amplifier First Sound MKII. Or use a powerful integerated amp instead. Could you give me some advice?

    V Chan

  2. I have been in your situation before, having used inefficient speakers like ATC20 and Maggies. The easiest way would be to use a high-powered ss amp (like a cheap and friendly old Bryston), as high powered tube amps like ARC sound great but are more trouble to maintain. In any case a tube preamp would be beneficial.

    Your situation is more complex. IMHO your REAL problem in driving the speakers may lie with your preamp. I know the passive original First Sound. The MkII is still passive, no? That is a no-no when it comes to inefficient speakers.

    Get a GOOD tube preamp (does not have to be expensive) to discover all the great music you are missing!

    1. Thx for your reply.
      My First Sound is an active tube pre-amp. Could you recommend models of Bryston and ARC?

      V Chan

  3. An old 4B is ugly but cheap and powerful. I rather prefer it to current Bryston S to SST versions etc. I still have one. Maybe hard to find if you're in HK.

    I am not a big ss user. Other ones that I have used and can recommend are the original Krell KSA100 MkII and Carver Sunfire.

    When it comes to ARC, most earlier tube models are quite excellent value. I'd get any SP model and LS series up to LS8. Later ones are too expensive.

    Good luck.

  4. Hello Doctor John,

    I recently acquire the newest version of Shindo Petrus, and need help identifying the tube sitting next to the 412a rectifier. The words have been disappeared over time, and I have no way of telling the model of this tube. It is a tube that uses the standard 9 pin format.

    Do you have any idea?



    1. AnonymousMay 16, 2022

      Hello Eric,

      I would imagine you have figured it out by now but if you haven’t and still read this incredible blog they are Tele EF800’s and have some of the worst printing I’ve experienced on a tube. Great pre-amp though !!

      Cheers !! Gord