09 May, 2012

Brief Review: Sonus faber Electa Amator II, Sony SCD-XA5400ES

Letter from NYC 2012 (23): A Wonderful Re-Acquaintance 
Brief Review: Sonus faber Electa Amator II, Part II
Brief Review: Sony SCD-XA5400ES 
Brief Review: McIntosh 2200

Since we moved into the larger apartment with dedicated audio room I have concentrated on my big speakers and not fired up the Sf. Just before I left this time I did so because a friend who has the Mk I wanted to hear them. As his Mk I has developed driver problem he wanted to buy mine. Incidentally, if anyone knows where to fix early Sf drivers in the USA, let me know! I'd also like to hear from fellow EA II owners regarding the surrounds of the drivers: my woofer's is rubber and the rear unit's foam (a bit unusual to see both in the same speaker).

I have always loved these speakers. Read my brief review Part I, as well as my Sf Overview.

My audio room is now dominated by my large YL horns (roughly 2/5 into the room from the front wall). I placed the EA II just in front of the inner edge of the behemoths. The rear driver had about 6" clearance. The loudspeakers were a little less than 6' apart, and listening distance was 7' or so. Equipment used:

Digital: Sony SCD-XA5400ES SACD/CDP
Analog: Thorens TD-124/SME 3009i/Denon DL-304
Preamp: Shindo Monbrison
Amp: McIntosh 2200

In Love Again
Despite my suboptimal placement, and despite these not having been played for more than 2 years, I was immediately taken by the sound emanating from the EA II. My friend's exclamation a few second into the first track sums up a good part of the allure: "...what the heck, such a big and deep stage..." Indeed, the soundstage was wide and deep. The important thing is the precise images are life-sized and solidly fleshed out, not the tiny-weeny ones of many a bookshelf. As noted before, the string sound was just luscious and en masse, as it should be, but rarely are. Amazingly, the boldness of presentation almost measures up to the big YL horns. So, using a cliche, they sound like big speakers.

I think this kind of Sf sound is now partially gone. Current models sound "updated" and much more modern. But I prefer Sf's golden age. It's too bad, since I decided to keep them; perhaps i just have to unload something else...

Now, some comments on some of the auxiliary gears used:

Sony SCD-XA5400ES I really had not listened to this SACD/CD player much before, though I had set down my initial impression. This time, I decided to just run it in for 24 hours. The sound opened up further and revealed much nuance. Just an example. I compared again the original red book Triloka CD with the current Analogue Productions hybrid SACD/CD of Hugh Masekela's Hope. Previously I preferred the RBCD, which seemed to have more oomph. This time, the story is not so simple. While the RBCD still seemed to have a bit more of the primal rawness (which befits some material here), there is no question the SACD layer is very close in this regard but a lot more detailed and nuanced in the vocals and instrumental timber - more analog if you will. the CD layer of the hybrid disc also comes pretty close to the SACD. The Living Stereo hybrid SACDs also sound brilliant (Reiner's Spain is just an example; I think they sound better than the earlier RBCDs due to better re-mastering). So, a wonderful SACD player! It is either phased out or being discontinued, but you can still get it.

McIntosh 2200 And now, a word on this venerable machine which has served me well. I had written about my previous listening experience. This time, it matched the EA II almost perfectly, giving excellent control but a warm and luxurious sound (of course with a tube preamp). I have heard many Sf's with sharper and more analytical and more powerful solid state amps, but I think I prefer these old McIntosh's for their musicality. A bargain!

07 May, 2012

Talk Vinyl: Mono Replay, Part II

Talk Vinyl: Mono Replay, Part II
Talk Vinyl: Denon DL-102, Part II

In this article I shall examine a few facets of mono replay. Specifically, what do we sonically value in mono replay, and are those values present in the majority of mono records?

Same recording, Stereo vs Mono
This section concentrates on recordings that were originally issued in both stereo and mono pressings, and seek to compare them. The comparison cannot never be fully valid. A complicating factor is that in most cases we do not know whether the mono version is just a "down-mixed" or "summed" stereo, or a different mix altogether (a good way to know would be to employ one of the full-featured vintage preamps. Comparing the stereo version played with the selector set to "L+R" one can compare it to the mono version and see if it is the same mix. One day perhaps).

Of course, there are even more worthwhile recordings only in mono, but for this article that is besides the point.

Equipment Used:
-Mono: Thorens TD-309 / Denon  DL-102 / Canare 2T2S lead out
-Stereo: Thorens TD-124 / SME 3009i / Denon DL-304
-Preamp: Shindo Monbrison
-Amp: Wavac MD-811A
-Speakers: YL 4-way horns

I believe this is a rigorous comparison. The two cartridges belong to the same family and they are fed into the same Shindo MM stage, though the MC is of course stepped up by the internal Lundahl transformers. Indeed, sonically both the stereo and mono replays have the same tonal balance that attests to their neutral character; I can play the stereo on the mono, and vice versa, and get similar sound. Of course, I have yet to do the ultimate in mono replay: Use a single speaker. Maybe one day.

You may want to read Denon DL-102 Part I.