27 June, 2013

Magnepan MG 1.7 Listening Tests (4), Carver, Manley, Ensemble

Letter from NYC (25) 2013 (2): Magnepan, Carver, Manley, Ensemble, Part II
Review: Magnepan MG 1.7 Listening Tests (4)

Scroll down to last post for Magnepan, Carver, Manley, Ensemble, Part I

Magnepan MG 1.7 Listening Tests (4) (scroll down for (3) and links to older posts)
I should like to share with you details of my effort to improve the performance of the Maggies. Partnering gears was listed in the previous article. In this article I shall concentrate on the Maggies, but I shall write more about the gears later.
Placement As mentioned, I had the 1.7's in nearly a "near-field" situation. The Maggies are constrained between my low equipment rack (in front of me) and my YG horns (middle of room). I pulled them as much towards me as I could. The left speaker's bottom is obscured by the rack, but this is of little import as the bottom part of the 1.7 is just the frame, and most of the speaker is visible to me. They have about 2 ft clearance from the horns. The speakers form a near-isosceles triangle of about 8 ft with my listening seat.

Soundstage Depth is excellent, reaching further than my front wall (20 ft); Width is good, but mostly limited to the lateral span of the speakers, though on certain material images clearly exceed this limit.

Tweeter Position As I have said many times, Magnepan has no official dogma about this, though there are imaging fanatics/idiots out there who insist the tweeters of any mirror-image loudspeakers have to be on the inside. In our old flat, inside worked better, but in my current room, imaging and just about everything else just locked in with the tweeters on the OUTSIDE.

Toe-in Again, some idiots can be dogmatic about not using toe-in. Magnepan doesn't need much of it, for sure, but in my case, a small toe-in further tightened up the focus. As I was reading my older writings I was stunned to come across what I wrote in 2010: "One interesting thing. In the manual AND in a separate sheet, Magnepan says: "The 1.7 has exceptional phase characteristics that are accomplished without the use of compensation networks. To realize the optimum phasing, the 1.7 should be angled inward to be on-axis with the listener (Do not place parallel to the front wall)". No doubt this is not going to happen with HK users who cling to the superstition of "no toe-in". Well, some people want to show you they know better than the manufacturer. With electronics and modifcations I'd say maybe (but only occasionally), but with loudspeakers of good repute, and in the absence of measuring equipment (not just a microphone to measure room response) it would be foolhardy, not to say arrogant and ignorant, not to consider the manufacturer's suggestions. I experimented quite a bit and did find toeing-in to yield a more focused sound." See, I had completely forgotten about that!! Fortunately, my own efforts and intuitions arrived at the same conclusions! But, do remember to read the manual! :-)

Subwoofer Now, we arrive at the big issue. Yet again, some people are dogmatic about not using subwoofers with panels or electrostatics. What these people insist is that quality and coherence matters more than quantity. But it is not that simple, and that statement shows unfortunately a misunderstanding of live bass, even with people who pride themselves on their taste and "understanding" in bass.

I wrote something on this subject a long time ago, when I first got my 1.7, but had not published it. Time to include it here:
  • Subwoofer? After driving the 1.7's with everything under the sun, I turned my attention to the bass. Although it certainly has more useful bass than the MMG, their characters are really not that different. A few more hertz of extension does not equate a lot more weight. We don't even mention percussive drum music here. On recordings such as Mahler's 6th, on the Maggie (anyone's that I have heard, bar none) the double-basses attack furiously, lean and mean, but where is the menace that one should feel? My friend, this is not just one single bass, not closely recorded Ray Brown doing a solo against Almeida, nor within the Oscar Peterson Trio, not jazz, this should sound MASSIVE.

    Again I used the lowly AR "sub-woofer", and the benefit it brought was substantial and, importantly, almost subliminal! I only used a couple of notches on the volume. As for the crossover point, it varies with the equipment used and is best tuned by listening carefully to a piano recording with substantial bass content. It was immediately apparent the double-basses were more threatening, and that was what Mahler wrote and wanted. When I disconnected the Maggies and listened only to the sub-woofer, there was only the faintest of rumbles, and one would never guess from that that the difference would be so significant.
  • Coherence
    In the world of hifi, I have met many so-called "purists", but IMHO few of them are true spirits. Why is that? Because they are "true" to themselves and their own beliefs, but almost never true to the music they are listening to. In other words, they are hardly true music lovers.

    The "purists" insist that a sub woofer would pollute the "purity" of their beloved Maggie, bringing forth disastrous incoherence. But where were they when the 1.7 is touted for new level of coherence? Can we reason that the collorary of that is that all older Maggies are in comparison more INcoherent? Wait a minute here, has anyone said anything close to that before?
+Pioneer SW-8 Now let's move on to my current game. I mated the humble (Pioneer SW-8 subwoofer
(previous write-up and info here) and immediately found the result promising. The subwoofer was positioned between the Maggies in mid-room, largely free of boundaries, and connected to the subwoofer out of the Manley preamp: Crossover Point The budget design has a continuous pot for this, so I cannot tell you at what frequency I finally settled. I started around midway (12 o'clock) and worked worked my way around. You have to listen very carefully to bass quality. The body sound of the doublebass, the attack and finish.This is important: the leading edge should not feel blunted. I ended up around 10 o'clock, surely rather low crossover point; Volume of course, concurrently you have to adjust the volume. I tell you, just a little is enough! When you can "hear" the subwoofer contribution, you are likely turning it up too much; Phase This should be done last - in my case 180 degrees audibly snapped things in focus. If not, you may have to start all over again and go back and forth.

The difference with the subwoofer connected is hard to explain. It just adds a touch of fullness to the bass, perhaps because the finish is longer (like a good French wine). Ultimately, the lean and fast bass of Maggies does not always unfold the whole bass note adequately. It is a tribute to modern-day subwoofers that they can work in concert and not get left behind.

I am not at all a bass freak, but I know what should be there in a good orchestral recording. There is no question in my mind that Maggies need subwoofers. Just a bit of augmentation. Can I go back to listening without the subwoofer? Yes, I can, but it just sounds more real with one. One listen to the mighty opening of Mahler's 3rd Symphony  (LSO/Horenstein) (I have the LP) and you will agree with me that both the mighty brass and percussion forces benefit from a subwoofer!

18 June, 2013

Magnepan MG 1.7 Listening Tests (3), Carver, Manley, Ensemble

Letter from NYC (24) 2013 (1): Magnepan, Carver, Manley, Ensemble, Part I
Review: Magnepan MG 1.7 Listening Tests (3)
Review: Carver Sunfire Amplifier, Part I
Review: Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier, Part I
Review: Ensemble Dirondo and Dichrono HiDac, Part I

Article started in the UK, posted from NYC

Very very busy days for me. Still, it's time to catch up with older and unfinished business, if we ever arrive at the HiFi finish line, that is.

Magnepan MG1.7 Revisited (3) (see previous reports, Part I, Part II)
As soon as I got back to NYC, and before my UK trip, I listened to my usual horn system. Within a few days, I got the impulse to fire up my Maggie's again (or else it will be dormant for too long). This time I brought the 1.7 further upfront, about 2 ft in front of my YG horns and 2/3 of the way from the front wall. I also pulled them even wider apart to form a near-isosceles triangle with my listening seat. To my delight, after an absence of I think 2 years, the sound was better than before! Although the improved placement was likely the most critical, I do think the partnering electronics contributed to this immeasurably too. This report is going to take several parts. Let me start by introducing the players. Particulars in performance shall be treated in the next article, Part II.

Sunfire Carver Sunfire Amplifier

Although Carver's Sunfire amplifiers were famous for its time (cited in TAS' Ten Most Significant Amplifiers of All Time), there is not much info on the internet.

There appeared to have been several versions. Mine was certainly an earlier one, not a Signature version (see Audiophilia 2004 review and avrev 1998 review; see also review of the related Lightstar). The simpler front and back matches well the version described by one of my favorite writers, Robert E Greene, archived in his own website: regonaudio TAS 1996.

I should mention that I acquired the amp after I heard my friend Vash's Sunfire Architect's Choice driving Maggie.

Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamp
For introduction, see my previous blip.

Ensemble Dirondo + Dichrono HiDac 
This is my one of my reference digital sources and it is a shame I haven't given it treatment before! For a good description, read this Positive Feeback favorable review. Note that the reviewer uses gears that are more in keeping with my preferences, like Audio Note CD players and EAR amplification. To be complete, you should also know there is a considerably less enthusiastic review in 6moons, but I do think the reviewer was seriously remiss there, as happens so often in that site, which though frequently informative, seems more keen on tasting plats du jour than maintaining any long term philosophy. Suffice to say the Ensemble duo is a greatly nuanced player in my system.

The coming articles shall examine the system in great detail.