04 January, 2013

Editor's Note: 2012 in Retrospective, Best Buy of the Year

Nothing beats Western Electric (pictured 133 on top and 124B). Click to enlarge.

Editor's Note: 2012 in Retrospective, Best Buy of the Year
Follow Up: Sony BDP-S190, Part II
Follow Up: Sony PlayStation 1, Part II

Revised Jan 6, 2013

Once again, I have failed to write the yearly retrospective before the year's end, but this time I have more excuse than before! The year 2012 had been quite a mad year for me, and personal matters took the helm. This necessarily means fewer things to write about, but it shall not be for naught I assure you. As I look back, my 2012 in audio was idiosyncratic (I like that), and MOST meaningful for rediscovery of "old friends" (I like that even more).

Most Notable Events
  • Western Electric Without a doubt, the biggest event of the year was: Nothing New Under the Sun. Western Electric (posted here) 133A and 124 amplifiers worked their magic, and reminded me in no uncertain terms that WE remains supreme in audio achievement, bar none. People have asked me repeatedly why I had put aside my 133A for so long; I can only say: so as to explore other things, worthwhile or not....
  • Mono Analog Replay Mono Analog Replay (treated in at least 3 articles here), which some have advocated for years, is definitely not anachronistic, not a step back. It is simply something that makes one re-evaluate what one is listening to. One asks again, perhaps Less is More?
Best Sound of 2012
I am not going to be humble here. The best sound I have heard in 2012 was from my very own Western Electric gears.

Most Important Acquisitions
  • TAD TSM-2201 (reported here). This paradoxically at once boldly-styled and low-keyed design was a match made in heaven with Kondo M7 + Ongaku (result here). You are certain to hear more about this.My loudspeaker purchase of the year.
  • KEF LS50 The co-axial design is superbly coherent. You shall too hear more about this (preliminary findings here).
  • Denon DL-102 Mono Cartridge (reported here). Mono is all the rage. This studio/transcription perennial deserves its fame.This very heavy cartridge needs a robust arm to do it justice.
  • Thomas Schick Tonearm is a 12" bargain compared with others more expensive (tested here). One day I'd love to install the Denon DL-102 on the Schick.
  • Sony SCD-XA5400ES SACD player for once convinces (reported here).
Thorens TD309 reviewBest Buy of the Year

  • Thorens TD-309A turntable (here) This humble turntable delivers more than one expects. The tonearm performs way beyond expectation, and is a great match with the heavy Denon DL-102 mono cartridge. In terms of one-stop solution, this TT now displaces even formidable rivals like Clearaudio Concept (a previous Best-Buy). I'd love to try out Koetsu and stuff on this arm, but time is in short supply.
  • CineMag CMQEE-3440A made famous by Bob's Devices (here). Whether you DIY or buy from BD you are certain to be happy.
  • Denon DL-301 Mk II MC cartridge is a dark horse but its superb musicality is instantly captivating (reported here).
  • Canare L-2T2S (here) is superbly musical for a ridiculously low price.
  • Sony BDP-S190 Blue Ray Player (here) is superb. Follow Up: Since that initial evaluation, I have confirmed the transport section of this entry level Sony Blue-Ray player is as good as any previous DVD models, every bit the equal of the underground classic DVP-PR50P (a previous Best-Buy) (in fact they are indistinguishable). The analog out sound too is very clean, audibly cleaner than the DV-PR-50P but perhaps just a little less warm and emotive. I suspect any Sony BD as well as DVD player shall deliver excellent sound. Best-Buy in digital for sure.
Vintage Rediscoveries

  • Yamaha NS-10M (posted here) shows the best of yesterday is fully competitive today.
  • NAD 3020 (here) proves it is immortal. 
  • Technics SL-1200 Mk II (here) surprises yet again.
  • Sony PlayStation 1 (here) shames most current digital products. Follow Up: In one go I performed two of the modifications outlined in the dogbreath page: removing the muting transistors as well as the output blocking caps from the signal path. I am sorry to report that while more details could be had the sound lost some of its musicality - its raison d'etre and its magic. I suspect I prefer the sound with output caps, though it may take some trial and error to reach an improvement. You shall hear more about this PS1!
Suggestion for a US $1k system that will shame your friend's $10k system
This requires you to source used goods, from the likes of Ebay, but you shall be rewarded amply. Not cheaptubeaudio, but cheap audio for sure:

  • Yamaha NS-10M
  • NAD 3020 (not the i version, please read my link)
  • Sony DVD player (as the Blue Ray is more expensive, I am sure the current entry-level DVD players are likely sonically as good as their over-achieving predecessors. I see the DVP-SR210P, successor to the 200P, sells for $30! :-) Even I may buy another one to try!)
  • Technics SL-1200 Mk II. Since the NAD only has an MM section, if you use the Denon DL-301 Mk II cartridge, you will need to add a step-up transformer (suggest the cheap Denon AU-300LC or the older AU-250 (here) and that will increase the budget a little. If you stay with MM cartridge, I suggest the cheap and cheerful Shure 97xE (<$80).
  • NAD 4020A (here), the original matching tuner for the NAD 3020, if you need a tuner.

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