25 June, 2014

Review: Manley Neo-Classic 300B preamp

Click pics to enlarge. L: cramped interior of heavily regulated design; R: battleship!

Letter from NYC (36) 2014 (8): Manley
Review: Manley Neo-Classic 300B preamp 
Review: Shindo Monbrison (old version), Part II

Revised July 31, 2014

Background Manley has never been popular in HK, and often lacks representation. Not surprisingly for a company with a studio arm, the old looks were workmanlike and probably low in WAF. But personally I prefer the old looks to the new ones. I have had previous experience with some Manley products. An untouted old DAC was a sleeper. The Neo-Classic 300B SE/PP amp (methinks old looks better too) (input transformer is a luxury!) of Manley's wonderful and statement-level Neo-Classics series has received many reviews and much accolade; it was good sounding as I recall.

Neo-Classic 300B preamp
Strangely, the 300B SE/PP amp's companion 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 (necessary for ventilation of all those tubes). I ran into an irresistible bargain and acquired it brand new.

Design The official link is excellent and a must-read. This is a tube rectified design. While I think a single rectifier tube may just do the job, the use of 2 certainly is no-holds-barred and a luxury. The interesting thing here is Manley does not state preference for either direct-heated 5U4 or indirect-heated 5AR4 (Manley's own photo shows the latter). Mine came with stock EH-5U4GBs, and I am happy with that as generally I have always had a preference for the greater presence in the sound the direct-heated tube produces. But one would think the sound would be different, as the 5AR4 would generate higher B+, though in a reply to my email Eveanna Manley said due to the regulation the end B+ would be the same. The use of 0D3 for regulation is certainly a "retro" move - these tubes were commonly found in really old designs.  In fact, the whole design, including the use of large octal based 6SL7 (double-triode; but older designs usually employed pentodes), does have something old-styled about it - many studio-originated old classic preamps, like the WE106 and Langevin 102 that I have, are huge. Make sure your have enough room on your shelf.

300B as preamp tube Manley is not unique in using the 300B as preamp tube, but the design had been around a long time and Manley may have been the first to do so (Manley also has a history of using tubes not commonly used by other manufacturers). As far as I know, several Chinese manufacturers (Audio Space, Ming Da) make 300B preamps, and there is an intriguing kit from Bottlehead called the BeePre (informative on the challenges of using the 300B as a preamp tube).

My System As you know, I have 2 Reference Systems (always updated in sidebar to the right), but both use the same amp and loudspeakers, differing only in source and preamplification (Manley is used in System I; Shindo in System II). Part of the reason is to compare and contrast, so you shall see a little of that later. For the last 4-5 years, although the turntables and phonoamps have been constantly rotated, the digital front end, amp and loudspeakers basically have not changed. System as of this writing:

Digital: Ensemble Dirondo/Dichrono Hi-DAC
Turntable 1: Linn LP12/Ittok LV II/Air Tight PC-1
Phonoamp 1: Parasound JC-3
Turntable 2: Clearaudio Concept/Koetsu Black
Phonoamp 2: Fosgate Signature
Amp: Wavac MD-811
Loudspeakers: YL 4-way horns

Sonic Impressions and Tube Rolling:
  • General There is nothing much "retro" about the sound, which is thoroughly modern - quiet, transparent, wide and deep soundstage, excellent imaging, accurate tonal balance and extended frequency response. The bass, as you can expect for 300B, is tightly controlled. However, one reservation: with the mostly stock tubes, although microdynamics were reasonably good, I had wished for better macrodynamics (but read on to Tube Rolling/5U4). This also implied rhythm and pace that is not quite of first order.
  • Microphonics/Isolation Despite its size and weight, the unit is prone to microphonics. Make sure it rests on a sturdy platform (mine is unfortunately not). The 6SL7 tube in particular is susceptible. Personally, I don't like these metal Manley legs with rounded tips: they slide on polished surfaces and cannot be as shock absorbent as rubber feet; also, they look like they are joined to the chassis by hardware, which adds resonance-prone weak points. This "industrial design" gets a minus from me. Beauty is only skin-deep, and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Why try your best to design a good product and get it compromised by cosmetics?
  • Direct vs Transformer Out Some of the reviewers cited above made a meal out of the superiority of Direct Out; indeed the Manley website recommends it. In my case, I find, as some listeners note, the difference is not huge. Now, in my setting I use long interconnects between the preamp and amp, and that may favor the transformer output. In any case, I'd think this shows the output transformer is of very good quality!
  • Headphone Output I prefer not to use headphones, but I did test it out with my Audio-Technica ATH-AD700, and the sound was excellent.
  • Tube Rolling/6SL7 I have to confess I never used the stock EH 6SL7s. I don't like them (nor the EH 6SN7s, even worse). I have a large stock of old tubes and any one sounds way better (though some may be worse in microphonics than the new Russian tubes). Consider rolling old-stock 6SL7 a necessity! I'd think even a pair of humble JAN Philips should be way superior!

  • Tube Rolling/300B Although my ultimate aim may be to roll in really old WE 300B (not the inferior re-issue WE), here for me the stock EH 300Bs are good enough. In my other 300B amps I have always preferred  Russian 300Bs to almost all other currently manufactured (more airy to me). I did briefly try Cetron (darker) and Golden Dragon (slower), but I preferred the stock EH. Keep in mind a good period of burn-in is necessary for best performance.
  • Tube Rolling/5U4 Every time I shifted to my Shindo front-end I developed the nagging feeling that the Manley sound was just a little too controlled, even polite. As noted above, macrodynamics was too reined-in for my taste, and not impressive enough on my horns. This time around, I decided to swap out the stock EH5U4GB rectifiers for a pair of old-stock Sylvania 5U4GBs. I played my Saint-Saens CD and I was dumbfounded by the difference. Now, that is macabre! The improvement in dynamics and rhythm and pace is so miraculous that I'd consider rolling in better rectifiers a MUST. The sound is simply bigger. I am a little surprised here: my experience with EH's coke-bottled 5U4G has always been positive, but I had never tried the straight-bottled (GT) EH 5U4GB before the Manley. The cheaper 5U4GB should have a slightly higher rating than the 5U4G, but the preamp has 2 rectifiers and won't need the margin. Use of straight-bottled tubes (ditto the 5AR4) though would allow more room for ventilation as the 2 rectifier tubes are close together. Considering how much real estate there is, not finding more room for the rectifiers is regrettable.
Manley vs Shindo Monbrison
  • Design Both use tube rectification (6X4 in Shindo) and tube regulation (6BM8 in Shindo), but the Manley is on a larger scale, necessary due to use of larger and direct-heated tubes. Manley also uses a lot of transistors in regulation, which Shindo eschews. Manley uses only triodes for amplification, whereas Shindo also employs pentodes (I don't know whether they are used as such or triode-strapped in some cases). Of course, the Shindo as a superlative phono section!
  • Parts and Stock Tubes Except for NOS OD3s (cheap) Manley's are current production tubes, whereas Shindo's stock tubes are good NOS. Similarly, Manley uses good modern parts whereas Shindo uses mostly NOS parts (like AB resistors), which are more expensive.
  • Sound The two preamps are very different. At its best (with NOS tubes), the Manley's sound is excellent, but it would not be easy to distinguish it from other high quality modern preamps (despite use of 300B). The Shindo possesses that elusive je ne sais crois quality, and is just more special. And despite the use of vintage parts there is nothing "retro" about its sound either - it is also quiet (a little less so than the Manley) and transparent (but warmer than the Manley) and it conjures a big soundstage (bigger than Manley). Its special appeal is harder to describe, and you may want to read Art Dudley's Stereophile writings on it. The Shindo just sounds big and sinuously full, and it takes you to the venue and goes right to the heart of music. Its dynamic expression and rhythm and pace are superior. A rough analogy: Manley is to panel loudspeakers as Shindo is to horns. At this moment I have to say I prefer the Shindo even if I have spent more time on the Manley to improve the sound (I haven't even rolled the 0D3). Of course, most importantly, the top-flight Shindo phono section is at least as good as any of my reference phonoamps that I use with the Manley (would be nice to try the well reviewed Steelhead one day), and that makes this one-box preamp a formidable rival (and a relative bargain) for whatever I could put together at Manley's end. Keep in mind the Manley is still excellent, just that as an analog man I have always preferred full-function preamps for convenience and integrated sound.

19 June, 2014

Letter from NYC (35) 2014 (7): The BIG Shindo Monbrison Report

Pics show unit of reader AA. Click to enlarge.

Letter from NYC (35) 2014 (7): The BIG Shindo Monbrison Report
Review: Shindo Monbrison (old version), Part I 

Addendum (10/28/17): Part II (vs Manley 300B preamp) and Part III (large phonoamp and preamp comparison) have been published.

Revised 30/06/14 New Info from reader PR added.

It is amazing that, aside from a brief mention in my 2011 retrospective, I have not written more about the Shindo Monbrison, one of my reference preamplifiers. I am glad finally I am redressing the problem. Since that post, I have received some feedback from readers, so first some consolidation, and revision of what I had posted before, then some new material.

My Shindo Monbrison I actually acquired this older version (serial number 153) in 2010!. The fellow who sold it to me claimed it was the unit reviewed in 6moons , and it certainly looked the same on the outside. 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 were inexpensive and available on Ebay, while I already had good EF86's (used in the phono stage) in stock. After re-tubing, the sound was, as I wrote, "...quite dramatic, with great presence, a good match for horns."

Tube Compliment - Mystery?

Initial Assessment I had no problem with 6moons reviewer Jules Coleman's sonic assessment, but it did seem to me he made some mistakes in describing the tubes and what they do (his description in italics, my comments in bold face):
  • "...Beginning on the left immediately behind the power switch, there is a chamber that holds the power transformer, a 6X4 rectifier, a 6BM8 pentode/triode voltage regulator and a smoothing capacitor bank..." Correct.
  • "...Along the rear behind the input jacks is yet another chamber running left to right that houses the ECC82 twin-triode line stage tube, another 6BM8 for line stage voltage regulation, two EF86 mesh plate phono tubes (one per channel), another 6BM8 for phono stage voltage regulation..." The 1x ECC82 and 2x EF86 are correct, but they are all positioned closely together by the PHONO inputs, so I think the ECC82 is NOT for the line stage, rather for the phono section. And the 2 other tubes are ECL84, not 6BM8/ECL82. Also these 2 ECL84s are close together and clearly far away from the other 3 phono section tubes, so both are for the LINE section, one for each channel (see pic above).
First Reader Feedback Soon after my post reader Ron from Germany was very nice in sending me emails (Jan 2012) on this old version:

"...I listen with this preamp (comparable "old" version) very happy for quite a while...The tube compliment of the latest version of the old casing version should be 2x EF86 Phono; 1x ECC82 / 12AU7 Line; 2x ECL82 / 6BM8 Line; 1x 6X4 / EZ90 Rectifier; 1x ECL82 / 6BM8 Regulation...I thought the actual (current) Monbrison with "window" in the front panel uses ECL94 not ECL84? I don't now if they are exchangable. All the old Monbrison I saw here in Germany and that are used by the people I know, all use ECL82. Only the very first Monbrison units have a completely other circuit with usual double triodes..." 

My Reply "...I thank you so much for contributing! These rare gears and old versions need more info. I wrote an addendum in my article:

Addendum 09/01/12 Reader Ron from Germany was very nice in sending me an email on this old version: "...I listen with this preamp (comparable "old" version) very happy for quite a while...The tube compliment of the latest version of the old casing version should be 2x EF86 Phono; 1x ECC82 / 12AU7 Line; 2x ECL82 / 6BM8 Line; 1x 6X4 / EZ90 Rectifier; 1x ECL82 / 6BM8 Regulation. Maybe the previous owner changed tubes by himself..."
So, it could be that Shindo changed something here or the previous owner had had his unit modified. Now, this raises the question on why mine uses the ECL84/6DX8 (close to the current version's ECL94) instead of ECL82/6BM8 (both are similar triode-pentode tubes, but they have different pin-outs). It is possible Shindo changed from ECL82 to the similar ECL94 because the former got more expensive and the latter is still quite cheap. At the least, re-wiring of the tube sockets would be necessary for proper operation. When I get back I'd check the soldering. Shindo is well known to change parts without notice and for variations between units. The mystery shall not be solved in a while.

P.S. I did check after I got back to NYC and my unit showed NO sign of rewiring.

Second Reader Feedback Then I got emails from reader AA in Bangladesh (Feb 2012):

Email 1 "...I have bought a pre-owned Shindo Monbrison...looks like to be the exactly the same version you have. And you are absolutely right that 6moons was wrong about the tube complements, and its good to know your one and my one is not one off. My one uses the following tubes:
2 x Tungsram EF83 mesh plates - EF86 is a direct replacement and will provide more gain;1 x Philips 6189W (12AU7 / ECC82); 2 x ECL84 (unknown brand); 1 x Brimar 6X4;1 x ECL82 (unknown brand).
Most of the tubes in my pre-amp is also spent. The phono tubes are extremely microphonic and has hum/noise. One of the ECL84 is meshed and provides less gain then the other causing channel imbalance.
Could you kindly let me know what tubes (brands) originally came with you Monbrison? and which ECL84 and EF86 you have installed now?..."

My Reply "...It is wonderful to receive your mail that clears up things! I'd like to ask you for permission to post your comment as well as the pics in the article...

I am not sure what brand of ECL84 and EF86 they were.
Not Tele for sure. Likely German RFT or Siemens.

The line ECL84 is not demanding. Any brand will work well. I got some Mullards (labelled RCA/GE) for nothing and they are fine. The phono EF86 demands more. I have some RFTs and they hum a little in my system, but then my speakers are >100 db.

Email2 "...I have ordered the following tubes from ebay: 2 x Valvo EF83; 2 x Valvo EF86; 2 x Telefunken ECL84; 1 x Telefunken ECL82; 1 x Siemens EZ90

Since my pre came with Tungsram EF83 mesh plates installed, I'd like to see what difference it will have with EF86. Studying the tube data, the tube pinouts are exactly same and the 86 should provide more gain.

I have seen another Monbrison series II got sold on ebay.de recently (highest bid 3900 Euros) and could clearly see pair of Siemens ECL84 installed. Also I have seen someone in Germany selling NOS unplayed backup set of tubes for Shindo Monbrison (but the seller's advertisement was expired dated 2011):Valvo ECL 84; Tungsram EF86; Telefunken.ECL82; RCA 6X4; Tungsram ECC82.

So I'm guessing, Siemens and Telefunkens being German and having a reputation of being very accurate and clinical, were used in the ECL 84 and ECL 82 positions. But the ECC82, I'm preferring a 1960s Mullard and the EF86 probably needs to be also very high quality and preferably a mesh plate. Also note the new Monbrison uses a Telefunken ECL94S which seems to be a fantasy tube relabeled ECL80 series by Ken Shindo.

BTW, I think all Shindo Monbrison series II has the same tube complements and 6moons was responsible for making people believe otherwise. Unfortunately I am afraid your German friend was wrong as well in reporting other Monbrisons using 3 x ECL 82.

...As much as I love this unit, its a bit frustrating with the hum and channel imbalance issue. I am waiting for the tubes that I ordered, and then I should be able to report back in details..."

I think Reader AA's emails strengthen some of my beliefs - at least our units are the same! I'd love to hear more from him! Or from ANY Shindo Monbrison user for that matter!

Third Reader Feedback Then I got emails from reader PR in the UK (Jun 2014):

"...I have recently bought an old-style Monbrison, serial number 160. I can confirm the valve complement to be: 1x 6X4 (Philips); 1x ECL82 (Mazda); 2x ECL84 (Philips); 1x ECC82 (no markings, brand unknown); 2x EF83 (Telefunken)...Works well ..."

This again agrees with what reader AA and I have! PR's unit also has serial number very close to mine.

Short Note on Monbrison (?Current Version) 
The next and ?current version of the Monbrison not only has a different look, but also different tubes. Jeff Day at 6moons reviewed it, listed the tube complement ("...two Telefunken ECL94S, two 12AU7, two 12AT7 and two 6X4WA..."), but unlike the previous review by Jules Coleman avoided remarking on what the tubes do. The dagogo review provided more details: "...The power supply is tube rectified, in this case with two 6X4 tubes where the old Monbrison had only one. The preamp is equipped with 4 line inputs and two phono inputs; one phono input is for MM cartridges and the other for moving coil, utilizing custom amorphous core step up transformers. There are a total of four twin-triode tubes in the phono stage, one pair in each channel, and the linestage tubes are genuine NOS Telefunken ECL94S’. These are the tubes on display in the ‘window’ on the front of the Monbrison..."

Research on earlier Monbrison 
For this article I re-researched the Monbrison. There is not much still but When I did an image search I uncovered some interesting things. Most intriguing is a French thread - I can read a little French so was able to find some info and translate it here:

Imagepic borrowed from thread
homecinema-fr thread on Shindo This is a long thread, but around page 24 (on my computer) muse92 posted both pics and tube compliment of his Monbrison. You will notice from the pic that the positions of the line and phono tubes are very different. His tube complement is "...2 x 12AX7 JAN Philips; 2 x 12AU7 Mullard; 1 x 6X4 USA; 1 x  6BM8/ECL82..." He thinks "...the 2 x 12AU7 are for the line section and the 2 x 12AX7 for the phono section..."

muse92 also asked what is the tube complement for the "1st version", as he has read (just like us) contradictions on the internet.

To which riesling replied: "...Il s'agit d'un Monbrison produit très probablement avant 2000, donc dans la version précédant celle avec les EF86 dans la partie phono.Il possède un transformateur en entrée et un transformateur Lundahl en sortie.Le 6X4 et le ECL82 (ou 6BM8) règlent l'alimentation.Les ECC82 (12AU7) sont dans la partie line (donc CD), les ECC83 (12AX7) dans la partie phono..." Basically he confirmed what muse92 said, that "..It is a Monbrison probably before 2000, so the version before the one with the EF86 in the phono section. It has a transformer input and a Lundahl transformer output.The 6X4 and ECL82 (or 6BM8) regulate power supply. The ECC82 (12AU7) are in the line section (ie CD), the ECC83 (12AX7) in the phono section..." riesling again: "...On peut appeler cette version la première version, celle avec les tubes EF86 la deuxième version. La version III est celle avec la fenêtre et le bouton vert (la dernière à être commercialisée en Europe). Le modèle actuellement vendu en Asie et aux Etats-Unis (fenêtre et bouton noir) est alors la IVe version..." "...We can call this version the first version, the one with the EF86 tubes the second version. Version III is the one with the window and the green button (the last to be sold in Europe). Then the fourth version is the model currently sold in Asia and the United States (window and black button)..."

Then there were some musings on the sonic differences between versions. Both persons knew someone who preferred the older versions, but let us not go further.

My Summation on the Tubes in the Various Versions of Monbrison
  • Variations Typical of Shindo san, the long-running Monbrison has had many iterations. Keep in mind Shindo has also been known to one-off modify/add/subtract features for clients.
  • Power Supply In my version (also the one that readers AA and PR have) and the version before mine (perhaps the one muse92 has) 1 x 6X4 does the rectification and 1 x ECL82/6BM8 provides regulation. The next (?current) version doubles the 6X4 and dispenses with the ECL82 regulation.
  • Line Section In my version 2 x ECL84 are used. In the next (?current) version 2 x (similar) ECL94S do the same job and are displayed in a window. In the version before mine (muse92) 2 x ECC82/12AU7 are used.
  • Phono Section In my version, the phono section uses (likely definitely) 2 x EF83/86 (still not sure which one is stock) and also uses (I judge likely, by topography) 1 x ECC82/12AU7. The next (?current) version uses 2 x ECC82/12AU7 and 2 x ECC83/12AX7. The version before mine (muse92) uses 2 x ECC83/12AX7.
  • ?Possible Variations/Reader Ron in Germany As mentioned above, Ron had a unit very much like mine (and AA's), except that in his opinion: (a) the 1 x ECC82/12AU7 is for the line section and (b) 2 x ECL82 are used also in the line section instead of the ECL84. After reflections and subsequent info from AA and my research info from the French thread I have my doubts: (a) the usual line section does NOT need that many tubes; the ECL82/6BM8 is a triode-pentode with high gain, so I don't think the ECC82/12AU7 is needed; (b) the ECL family tubes look alike, and can be easily mistaken; (c) since I haven't found anything else that corroborates Ron's assertions, and since no pics show anything like he described, for now, grateful as I was for his response, I have to discount his assertions. That said, I do think it is not impossible that certain units in Germany were wired for ECL82/6BM8 (different pinout from ECL84) and I'd love anyone to have such a unit to come forward with some pics! But until then, I have deleted the addendum to my original post, and THIS post represents my current thoughts. The only other source that reported so many ECL82/6BM8 is the original 6moons review by Jules Coleman cited above, but I do think he was seriously remiss in multiple ways.
My Sonic Impressions
  •  Having spent so much time on structural matters, I shall be brief. What I said before,
    "...quite dramatic, with great presence, a good match for horns...", sums it up. If you look, I have two reference systems, with two different preamps, but I can tell you the Shindo Monbrison is my favorite. It sounds big and airy, goes to the heart directly, without fuss, and partners well everything I throw at it. The phono section in particular is versatile and exemplary. If you need more description, I'd urge you to read Art Dudley's various comments on Shindo in Stereophile; he can say it better than I can.
  • Good as it is, I do think (as does Dudley) the Lundahl SUTs in the Shindo can be bettered (as related in my article on Cinemag). So, the tubed MM section is the star.
  • Original tubes frequently have an oval silver label with "SLC" inscribed on it. These are good tubes.

  • The tubes, especially the EF86's, can be noisy (maybe EF83 would be better?) and need some care (as AA also experienced).
  • It gets very hot; I keep the lid open.
  • Dudley thinks Shindo preamps are best placed on a wood platform, without any tweaks, but my Monbrison distinctly benefits from placement on Vibrapods (link here) (perhaps because my shelf is far from sturdy).
Postscript: This article is long in the making, but I hope I have finally added something to the Monbrison literature. I bet there may be future revisions. I'd love to hear from other readers and owners. I envision a Part II, where I'd attempt to contrast the Shindo with my Manley 300B preamp - they are very different!

    10 June, 2014

    Brief Review: Belden 1694A and Canare L-5CFB 75 ohm cables

    Belden 1694A HD/SDI 18AWG RG6 Serial Digital Coaxial Cable pic: Belden 1694A

    Letter from NYC (34) 2014 (6): Belden, Canare
    Brief Review: Belden 1694A and Canare L-5CFB 75 ohm cables
    Brief Review: Belkin PureAV Coaxial Digital Cable, Part II
    Review: Ensemble Dirondo and Dichrono HiDac, Part IV

    Revised Dec 26, 2014 (Part C added, see last part of article)
    Revised June 18, 2014 (Part B added, see second half of article)

    Part A
    This article continues my saga of testing out digital cables for my Ensemble  (last installment here).

    After the surprisingly good result I got from my Belkin coaxial I was eager to test out 2 cables I had bought a long time ago. Opting for BNC connection, I finally got some BNC connectors and assembled them. But not without encountering some headaches.

    Caution on BNC connectors: there are so many types. Aside from the rarer solder-on and screw-on types, most are crimp-on types of various diameter and construction, designed to fit various RG type cables. The Belden and Canare under discussion are both RG-6 types. I made the error of buying RG-59 connectors (Parts Express), and they prove not a good fit and I had to improvise the assembly. So, make sure you get the right RG type connector.

    Canare L-5CFB 75 Ohm Digital Video Coaxial Cable RG-6 Type 984ft Roll - Black-by-Canare pic: Canare L-5CFB

    Canare L-5CFB (official pdf)
    Belden 1694A (official pdf)

    Both are stiff RG-6 types, and the diameter is a little too big for the cable to thread through the RG59 connectors that I got.

    The Belden 1694A has a long history and is a well proven favorite of professionals and DIYers alike. I got it in the USA, where it typically retails for less than $1/ft. After some hard work I finally improvised the assembly with my misfit RG-59 connectors.

    The Canare L-5CFB is perhaps somewhat lesser known, but I have always had good sound from this company's offerings (see the 2T2S interconnect). I actually got this in HK, from the great people at 工程有限公司(深水埗欽州街66号).I happened to have a pair of screw-on connectors so fitting was easy, but if you buy anew, I'd advise you to use Canare's own connectors.

    So both cables were assembled without solder.

    Sonic Characteristics (Belden vs Canare vs Belkin)
    • Even not run-in, I was shocked by the Belden 1694A's superb transparency, easily a notch or two above the Canare L-5CFB and the Belkin PureAV (coaxial). This is easily the best link the Ensemble setup has enjoyed.
    • The Belden 1694A's transparency comes at no cost that I can detect. It is superbly musical, with utterly natural treble, a huge soundstage, excellent dynamics and rhythm.
    • Although lacking the last degree of transparency, the Canare L-5CFB is very musical and natural sounding, possibly an even better match with a DAC that is on the bright side. I also wonder if my screw-on connector is of lesser quality (nickel type, not as polished) or if it requires more run-in. I have left it connected and will be watchful.
    • In many ways the Belkin coaxial is still excellent and resemble the Canare L-5CFB, but now I can confirm my previous minor reservations (..."Belkin's treble lacks just the ultimate in extension and air; the mid-bass is just a tad too full on certain material and the midrange is slightly recessed...").
    • If forced to compare, the Belden 1694A comes out on top; the Canare L-5CFB second, and the Belkin PureAV a very closed third. But the Belkin can save you the hassle of DIY. In conclusion, all three are incredible bargains.
    Part B
    After the article was posted, I was delighted to have heard from an old friend, gbronn/GaryB, who contributed the very useful info below:

    There are several sources for pre-made cables using Belden 1694a or Canare L-5CFB so people can avoid having to add their own connectors.  One place that is very popular is Blue Jeans Cable.

    I've bought 1694a from them and it's reasonably good but only if you are using BNC connectors on both ends.  When I mixed BNC on one end and RCA on the other I thought it was pretty bad.  I've heard others report that mixed BNC and RCA is always bad and that if you can't do BNC on both ends then RCA on both ends is better than mixed.  But I haven't tried this myself.

    Markertek also sells premade cables using Belden 1694a, Canare L-5CF and others that I like. Search for BNC to BNC video cables.  Here a direct links for Belden 1694a and Canare L-5CF cables

    My favorite cable these days is RG179, which is a very thin 75ohm coax.  Markertek sells a premade version with high quality Trompeter BNC connectors.

    It's worth playing with the length of digital cables as well.  Try a 15ft or 25ft cable.  You'll be surprised to find that long cables often sound better.  The thin RG179 is good for this since it's easier to coil up and hide, unlike bulkier cables.

    Part C
    Recently, during a visit to my friend WSS (here) I got the feeling something is not optimal with his digital setup. Later, I made a Belden 1694A cable for him and also lent him my trusted Kimber D-60. He invited a bunch of friends to the shootout (I was not present) and all declared Belden the winner over even the mighty Kimber, not to mention the resident AN UK digital cable.

    08 June, 2014

    Book Recommendation: The Ultimate Digital Music

    The Ultimate Digital Music Guide: The Best Way to Store, Organize, and Play Digital MusicBook Recommendation: The Ultimate Digital Music
    Letter from NYC (33) 2014 (5): Book Recommendation

    I used to be an avid reader, but I don't read too many books these days. Once in a while however I make sure I browse the shelves of the library. This time I picked up 4 books; I cannot hope to read through them all, but they have given me great satisfaction.

    This book is the only one that is audio-related. And on CAS, a topic I am not particularly enthused about, though I use it on occasion.

    The writing style of author Michael Miller is impeccably lucid. It is straightforward and well organized. A perfect example of a how-to book that maintains interest. Whether you read every line or skip-read (as I do) you will not be disappointed, or bored.

    This is a minor miracle, considering that the first few chapters are on general matters. It is a sure sign of good writing that a chapter on legal ramifications of download is not only informative but makes surprisingly absorbing reading!

    I cannot recommend this book enough. At discounted prices on the net, it is a must-have if you think about getting into CAS. It will give you a better perspective than most writings on CAS you can find on the net, and perspective is one thing most lacking on the net (we are talking about both people who write and people who read)!