07 June, 2012

Talk Vinyl: Two Top Values

Talk Vinyl: Two Top Values
Talk DIY: MC Step-Up Transformer
Brief Review: CineMag 3440A SUT 
Brief Review: Denon DL-301MkII

Revised July 10, 2016 (Budgie SUT mentioned as 3440AH alternative)

As promised, brief looks at two items that really surprised, and delighted me! Both are phenomenal values that unambiguously within the first notes earned my greatest admirations. They are sure to go into my Best Buy 2012 list, if I remember by then that is!

Gears Used for this Evaluation:
Turntable: Thorens TD-124 Mk I with SME 3009S2i (and Denon DL-304)
Preamplifier: Shindo Monbrison
Amp: Wavac MB-811A
Loudspeakers: YL Acoustics 4-way horns

pic of unit that is like mine

CineMag 3440A Step-Up Transformer (SUT)
I first learned of the CineMag CMQEE-3440A SUT (used and likely popularized by Bob's Devices) from Art Dudley's review in Stereophile. I first wanted to just buy the  transformers and build one myself. They are available on Ebay (currently $180 per pair), and if you are into DIY, that is the way to go.

I got caught up by other things and promptly forgot about them. But some time later, by chance, I came across a used unit on Audiogon and bought it for a reasonable sum. The seller claimed it was an older version of Bob's Devices, but I have some doubts after checking pics available on the internet. While the enclosure is in hammer tone, there is no marking, the inputs and outputs are on the opposite long sides and there is only one toggle switch on top for gain (no ground defeat). Although I am not entirely sure of its provenance (I think I shall write to Bob after publishing this post for him to read), I think it is closer to what was sold on Audio Asylum. I can assure you though that the unit uses the genuine CineMag CMQEE-3440A (red logo) transformers and that it works great.

I can also assure you my listening results are valid as they almost completely match Art Dudley's descriptions, doubly so as Art Dudley and I both use Shindo preamplifiers. His  Shindo Masseto is, as far as I could judge from the pics and descriptions of components, very much like a beefed-up version of my Monbrison. I am certain the same Lundahl moving coil step-up transformers are used in both units.

As I have said, I got the same results. Fed into the MM stage of the Shindo, the sound is superbly detailed and punchy, bringing life to my Denon DL-304 like nothing before. And yes, it trumped Shindo's built-in Lundahl's. I also briefly compared it to my rare and expensive WE285L and Langevin SUTs; to say the least, the 3440A is their equal, and actually bettered the WE in this application. That says a lot.

Incidentally, Dudley has recently reviewed the more expensive BD CineMag 1131, and the review is worth reading for the story on CineMag's recent developments. I hope one day I could get my hands on one of those.

A concern: BD has gone up quite a bit in price. BD's 3440A version now is almost double the price quoted in Dudley's review, but for its performance can still be counted as good value for those not willing to DIY. The spread between the transformer costs ($180 on Ebay) and BD finished product ($650) is kind of big imho, but I am sure BD makes excellent products and they certainly deserve the credit for putting the CineMag SUT on the map, though I do hope BD shall hold the line on its price. (2016: Note that Bob's has gone upscale and no longer offers the 3440A, instead the 1131 and SKY versions. Also, Parks Audio Budgie uses the CineMag 3340AH, sells for a reasonable sum and has a good reputation. I haven't heard it but would love to.

Denon DL-301 Mk II Moving Coil Cartridge
I have used Denon cartridges for over a decade and am a die-hard fan. Surely there are no greater bargains in the entire analog domain. The Denon DL-103 has always been my go-to cartridge, and the DL-102 is now my mono reference. Numerous friends use the 103R and I also use the DL-304 in NYC. I have always been curious about the 301, now in its Mk II incarnation, as it has a body that resembles the DL-304.

I installed this on the SME3009S2i in lieu of the DL-304, just one day before I left NYC last time, so it is not even close to broken in. But its performance instantly captivated and surprised me.

In the same system, the DL-304 had produced a very detailed and neutral sound that could be a little lean if care is not taken. But the DL-301MkII is very different: it immediately grabbed my attention by its sheer presence, thereby making the DL-304 sound a little clinical by comparison. It is balanced, tuneful, and, like the DL-103, not the last word in details, but it is early on. There are no formal reviews on the internet, but read this review in Audiogon; the author likened it to the long discontinued DL-103D, which I have never heard. Personally, I think its sound is like an amalgamation of the highly detailed DL-304 and the highly musical DL-103, not a bad place to be! Part of this may be attributed to its "healthier" output of 0.4V, as compared to the DL-103's 0.3V, not to mention DL-304's paltry 0.18V.

The DL-301MkII deserves to be better known. It is a much easier cartridge to like than the DL-304 and an even higher output than the ubiquitous DL-103(R). I suspect in actual use it will sound better in many cheap and moderately priced systems than its more famous siblings.

Last but not the least. The retailers usually have this at $329, but if you are willing to wait, consider ordering it from Comet Supply. You shall save substantially. This curious retailer offers steep discount but does not always display Denon products on its website. Call if in doubt. See, they basically collect enough orders for a group buy before action. My DL-301MkII took several months to ship. I have ordered another lot of Denon, which I am sure won't ship any time soon. But the price is worth the wait. While you are at that, seriously consider ordering more than one Denon cartridge; they are that good.

1 comment:

  1. Did you ever get a response from Bob about that mysterious Cinemag 3440A sut you reviewed?