19 March, 2015

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part IV

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part IV

See Part I, Part II, Part III, Part V, Part VI

Bit of Tube and Opamp Rolling

I managed to squeeze a little time to go back to the old house to get more tubes. Equipment is as listed in Part II, but below are impressions of tube and opamp rolling.

Line: 6201 vs 5965 I swapped in 2x clear-top GE 6201 (white letter) for the 5965. While the extra energy of the 5965 came back, the bass was better controlled. No microphony. However, I missed the refinement of the 6189 (see Part II), as the GE 6201, by no means a top tube in the T7 family, sounded a little coarse here.

Oh MercyPhono: OPA227P vs NJR2068 Victor had sent me 2x OPA2227P, which I installed. Believe it or not, this marked my first time rolling opamps (a tube man is busy enough as is). Playing the same Oh Mercy LP, I thought the proceedings became a little tidier. It seems this is a worthwhile investment for very little outlay. Recommended.

Then it is back home to Systems B and C
I reinstalled the 5965, and for some reason there was much reduced microphonics. Maybe run-in reduces it (though I have never heard of that)?

For the moment, the system makes beautiful music, and I am content to let it be.

11 March, 2015

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part III

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part III
Brief Review: Micromega CD-10

See Part I, Part II, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

The Elekit TU-8500 came back for the last few days. I just kept on listening, much as in Part I.

Effect of Tube Change In Systems B and C, the change (from 5965 to 6189) was pretty much like in the old reference system described in Part II.

As Buffer In System C (see Part I) I switched the TU-8500 to unity gain, then control the volume by the Flying Mole's volume knob. I was hard pressed to tell the sonic difference between 1x and 3x gain, effectively indicating the TU-8500 works beautifully as a buffer.

Day 6 Elekit Meets Western Electric
Serendipity! I got a few hours to myself and lost no time in putting the Elekit into my Reference System A (decribed here):

CDP: Micromega CD-10
Preamp: Kondo M7
Amp: Western Electric 124B (original)
Speakers: Yamaha NS-1000

The Elekit TU-8500 preserved all the tactile quality of the Micromega and all the sinuous quality of the WE124. Just as in Systems B and C, this attests to its transparency. To hear the guitar solo's of Keith don't go (track 5) in Nils Lofgren's Acoustic Live to to marvel yet again at the rhythmic prowess of the WE124, inimitable in my experience. serving to remind one how wrong much of modern hifi is.

Micromega CD10, CD20, and CD30 CD Players (Hi-Fi+)Micromega CD-10 (official link; you should read the technical details). Here I welcome yet another member of Micromega into my family. Launched quite a long time ago (I commend Micromega for not changing models often), it has been well reviewed (I particularly like HiFi World and the ever-reliable Alvin Gold in techradar; for comparison of the whole line, read HiFi+ or in Chinese only u-audio)

The CD-10 (as do the CD-20, 30) uses the ever-reliable AD1853 chip, in contrast to the Cirrus Logic chip used in products meant for CAS (see my reviews of the fantastic MyDAC, Part I, Part II). The amazing thing is, the sound is like deja-vu: very much alike! And that is all to the good.

Just like the MyDAC, the CD-10 delivered all the important things in music, the venue, the tactile quality, the timing.

Part IV shall be back to the old house.

08 March, 2015

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part II

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part II
Brief Review: Sparkler S303 CDP, Part II
Talk Vinyl: Fidelity Research MC-202 MC Cartridge, Part II
Brief Review: Lyngdorf CD-2
Yumcha Diary 07-03-2015

Revised 9/2016

See Elekit TU-8500, Part I for Basic Info and First Impressions, and Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI for more.

For initial impression of Sparkler S303, see Part I. For my definitive view after run-in, see Part III.

Day 2 In my Reference System
On Day 2 I took the Elekit to my old house, and hooked it up in lieu of my trusted Leben RS28-CX. I mainly wanted a first glimpse into the phono section.

Equipment Used

Digital: Sparkler S303 CDP (120V; but using my 100V line)(Best Buy 2014; see here and here)
Analog 1: Thorens TD-124 MkI/SME 3009 series 2/Denon DL-103 (briefly mentioned here)
Analog 2: Garrard 301 (grease bearing)/Thomas Schick 12"/Denon DL-103 (Midas)
Comparison Phonoamp: Micromega MyGroov (Best Buy 2014; see here)
Preamp: Elekit TU-8500 (Gain 3x)
Amp: Wavac MD-300B
Loudspeakers: TAD TD-3401

Oh MercyLine Section With the CD (well recorded, as is usual with Daniel Lanois production) of Dylan's Oh Mercy, the Elekit capably served up the requisite jump factor, albeit at this point with a broad stroke. With music that I know this well, even from memory I am fairly certain the Leben resolves just a little more (it better, costing so many times more!). Also, there is a little smearing of the bass which I had not noticed on Day 1 - this could be due to the microphonics or a character of the GE 5965.

MC Phono Section Again, through the Thorens turntable, I played the vinyl (original) of Oh Mercy, which is one of my trusted Test LPs. First, I played it through the Micromega MyGroov (which had received some run-in as I had lent it to my shidi and also trazom), then through the Elekit. The two solid state phonoamps are more alike than different. The Micromega MyGroov might just be a tad sweeter and the Elekit a little lean, but I do think the Elekit resolves a little more detail and has a somewhat larger scale. Promising, considering that the Elekit phono section had not seen a signal before.

I left the Elekit in the house, to be used the next day.

Image result for solti brucknerDay 3 In my Reference System 
On this day, shidi came to my place, and we listened for 2 hours. I wanted to get a glimpse into tube rolling and understand the 5965.

5965 vs 6189 I dug out a pair GE 6189 (green letter), a 12AU7 variant. These are humble tubes, not at all the best of 12AU7, but still much better than current productions, and likely a real-world choice for Elekit owners. Actually I think this pair came with my TU-875 long ago, and I had not used them much. The difference is immediately felt.

The 6189 instantly provided a little more air, more fine details and in general a more sophisticated presentation. With the 5965 tube, through the razor-sharp Sparkler S303, CD replay with certain material was a just a trifle overbearing. For instance, the brass of Bruckner 9th (Solti/Chicago/Decca), which shidi requested because we had both recently attended a live performance of Dresden/Theielemann, sounded borderline strident with the 5965 tube, but swapping in the 6189 ameliorated that to a large extent. But there is the other side of the coin: shidi astutely pointed out that the 5965, although rawer, had a faster transient and, despite the lower-mu, more oomph factor. This surprised me a little, but it also shows tube rolling should be fun with the TU-8500. You will hear more about the 5965 later, but I will acquaint myself with the 6189 a little more for now.

MC Phono Section Suddenly I got only intermittent signal from my Thorens right channel, so I switched to the Garrard setup, As before, the Oh Mercy LP sounded distinctly better than the CD, more dynamic gradation and rhythmic finesse. We actually compared it to another more famous phonoamp (won't reveal it at present) and shidi thought the Elekit was better, a little less refined but more wholesome.

Short Note on Sparkler S303
Through the Sparkler S303, Dylan's band simply pulsates, full of electricity. The live atmosphere of the excellent Sarah Vaughn album was also well conveyed. This is a CDP that excels in Rhythm and Pace, hence a good choice for jazz and rock aficionados.

As mentioned above, when the going gets heavy, the CDP can be a little lean with classical and big orchestral stuff. Part of this may be due to the non-oversampling and minimalism. So partner with care.

Note 9/2016: after run-in, the Sparkler gained much ground! See Sparkler S303, Part III.

Yumcha - Audio Takeout
After the session, shidi drove me to Central, where I joined yumcha. After yumcha, I took the Elekit to match with the Spendor SP-100 (more description and previous visits here), but the attempt was not entirely successful. System:

CD-2 Front_angleCDP: Lyngdorf  CD-2 (official link)
Analog: Thorens TD-321/SME 3009S3/Fidelity Research MC-202
Preamp: YS Audio Balanced A2
Phonoamp: YS Audio Concerto Plus MC
Amp: YS Audio KT-120 monoblocks

Lyngdorf CD2 Playing the CD of Kondrashin's Scheherazade, although a little less resolving, imho the Elekit was more musical than the more matter-of-fact YS Audio Balanced A2 preamp. Here, I must mention that I have heard the CD2 before at the host's, and also the previous CD1. I think it is a very fine CDP, resolving, dynamic, yet relaxed (for analog lovers, the midrange is a little less rich, yet never wanting).

Fidleity Research MC-202 The resident LP system proved a foil for the Elekit. The Fidelity Research MC-202 had previously belonged to me (see my experience here). With the LP version of the same Scheherazade the sound was slow and lacking in spirit. Surely, the cartridge's low output of 0.17V was too low for the Elekit MC section (nominal 63 db gain; keep in mind the gain of the line section (9.8 db at 3x gain) is not very high either). Somehow, although the total gain is almost 73 db, it sounded like less. The hosts preamp/amp obviously had higher gain and brought the music to live. In fact, I think he got better sound from the MS-202 than I.

At this point, it seems to me the TU-8500's gain structure tends to be more suitable for higher efficiency loudspeakers (like my TAD 3401.)

Watch for Part III, coming very soon.

06 March, 2015

Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part I

Elekit on top of Flying Mole CA-S10. Click to enlarge.
Review: Elekit TU-8500 Full-Function Preamp, Part I
Overview: Elekit, Part II

Review: Elekit TU-8500, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI published.

Overview Elekit, Part I (article contains my review of Elekit's previous preamp, the hugely popular TU-875, which I think should interest you)

Note: As one sometimes does in a Blog, this review of TU-8500 would be in several chapters/parts, over several months, so if you are interested, check back regularly. The first parts would be from HK, where I will run in the unit thoroughly. In April, I shall take it to NYC where I could further assess its phono section. Based on my experience with the TU-875, the unit deserves lavish attention. Few things have excited me more recently. On close examination, the TU-8500 is a very interesting product, more than I had thought. Much thought had gone into its design.

Basic Info on Elekit
vkmusic (North American dealer); Victor Kung, whom I have yet to meet, is a great guy, very passionate about what he sells, very helpful to his clients and well regarded in diyaudio, where he runs the Elekit forum. Victor had put in a hell of a lot of work on Elekit, including translating manuals and flyers from Japanese to English for their older products like TU-875 and TU-879 (and his English versions were then used by other vendors without crediting him!) All Elekit users, especially those who DIY, should give him credit. If I were a North American Elekit fancier, I'd buy from him rather than from others who had less dedication.
Elekit official website
cnamusic (Elekit HK seller); Mr Lau is also a pretty helpful guy.

Click the image to open in full size.Click pics to enlarge.

Basic Info on Elekit TU-8500 (vs TU-875)
Once again, Victor was the first one to provide detailed info in English to the world. In addition to his website listed above, diyaudio's Elekit forum has 2 threads on the TU-8500: one with basic information (make sure you read this page also) and one on tube and opamp rolling. I got all of my info on this preamp initially from Victor.

With help from Victor, I bought an assembled unit from Japan (not much time for DIY these days). The DIY manual is provided (necessary for future mods etc), only in Japanese, in the typically lucid pictorial Elekit style. Although I am not well versed in electronics, the included schematic is useful to me. I hope Elekit will publish an English version of the manual soon.

Click the image to open in full size.Spec's from vkmusic:
Stock tube: NOS 5965A X 2 (option :12AU7 x 2pcs)
OP-amp: NJM2068DD x 2pcs
INPUT/OUTPUT terminal: Phono IN x 1
LINE IN : 3 (3.5mm stereo jack(LINE3 priority) x 1)
Power voltage: AC100, 115, 200, 230V
IEC standard, 3P inlet
Rated current: 8W
Dimensions: W252 x H73 D270 mm
Weight: Approx.3.1kg (when assembled, excluding power cord)

[Line amp]
Max output voltage: 22Vrms (1kHz)
Gain: x3.1(9.8dB), x1.15(1.2dB)
Frequency response (-3dB): 2Hz – 70kHz / 2Hz – 280kHz
SN ratio(IHF-A): 122dB / 129dB

[Equalizer amp]
Cartridge: MM(Low) / MC(High) – Select by switching
Max output voltage: 7.4V rms (1kHz)
Gain (1kHz): [MM]37dB / [MC]63dB
SN ratio (IHF-A): [MM]108dB / [MC]88dB
Input resistance: [MM]50kohm / [MC]100ohm

Built The built is excellent for the money. Starting from the chassis: not the usual box, but one thoughtfully designed and put together. Loosening only 4 screws enabled tube insertion. For the bargain price, the chassis is rather nice; I love the curved edges. Though not the most substantial, it is much better looking than its predecessor, the TU-875!

Click the image to open in full size.Component Quality I'd say very good for the price. DIYers are notoriously picky, but I always maintain a good designer can produce great results from everyday components, and one should be careful second-guessing him. Also, another most important thing is reliability, and you can count on Elekit for that.

Kit vs Assembled If not for the lack of time, I'd opt for the kit and the pleasure/pain of building from the ground up, no better way to understand a product. I do think this is NOT for beginners, rather someone who has at least built a kit or two. As with the TU-875, you have to solder some very closely spaced pins (see Elekit Overview Part I link above), among other difficulties. Victor told me there are 65 resistors! Victor also told me AMTRANS resistors would be an upgrade, especially in the phono section. If you are building one, you may want this upgrade; otherwise, if you upgrade later, de-soldering and re-soldering 65 resistors would be a pain in the ass. Contact Victor if you want these. Note that many of these low signal level 1/4 watt Amtrans were custom made!

Power Supply In contrast to the TU-875, the power supply is a much heftier linear power supply, with a substantial R-core transformer. Tube filament supply is DC and there is a lot of regulation for the B+.

Tube Complement Victor told me the unit was designed by Mr Fujita to operate well with most (but not all; manual states 12AU7) 12AU7 and 12AT7 variants. It looks like a Cathode-Follower Circuit. My unit was shipped with NOS 1985 GE clear-top 5965, a good choice in my opinion, better than Chinese or Russian 12AU7 tubes for sure! However, keep in mind that the 5965 resembles a lower-mu 12AT7 (47 vs 60), so would have a little less gain than a 12AT7, not to say a 12AU7. Note too the 12AT7 has a lower output impedance, better for longer interconnects. I shall tube-roll later, of course.

Opamp The stock opamp used in the phono section, out of cost concern, is the cheap but well regarded dual NJR2068, often used in professional gears. According to Victor, OPA2227P (dual version of the well-known OPA227; a TI/Burr-Brown chip) betters it significantly (endorsed by Mr. Fujita too). I am soon to get 2 of these and will roll them.

Line Section and Use as Buffer The TU-8500 differs from the TU-875 in that 2 tubes rather than 1 are used for the ALL-TUBE line section, and this can only be a good thing! The tubes have DC filament supply, ensuring quietness. The GAIN button on the back is an interesting feature: you have a choice of 3.1x or 1.15x gain. Looking at the schematic, the lower gain (almost unity gain) setting switches in paralleled resistors to decrease global feedback. Look at the spec's and you will see 2 sets of spec's for the high/low gain; as usual, the higher the feedback, the better the spec's (sound is another matter). The near-unity-gain also enables it to be used as a buffer - it would be interesting to compare it with the somewhat similarly conceived iFi iTube (review to come too).

Phono Section and Use as Phonoamp In contrast to the TU-875, which employs 2 x 12AU7 for the MM section, the phono section of the TU-8500 is all solid state, with CR type equalization. Like TU-875, you can choose MM or MC by pushing a button on the back. In contrast to the TU-875, there is no Tape Loop. Hence, if you want to use this as a phonoamp you would have to use the line output. This is where the unity-gain comes in, effectively adding a tube buffer to the phono section, though you can also add even more gain by selecting the high-gain setting. Clever!

Day 1 Sound and Observations
I lost no time putting it into my Systems B and C (originally described here; but updated lately, with final setup detailed in text below; see also my equipment listings in the side-bar of my blog.)

System B Right out of the box, after installing the tubes, I inserted it as a preamp (3x gain) into my latest incarnation of System B: 47 Labs Shigaraki Transport/DAC-Kondo Ongaku-47 Labs 4737 alnico loudspeakers. I am highly familiar with this system and listened for an hour, including my recent favorite, the Sokolov Salzburg Recital. Cold, the Elekit revealed itself to be transparent and quiet. Compared to direct-in, inserting the preamp (volume knob of Ongaku at 12 o'clcok) loses just a tiny trace of resolution (cannot even be sure on that) but brings greater grunt, all the time not losing the tonal splendor of the Ongaku. VERY promising.

System C I then inserted the TU-8500 into my System C, using the Flying Mole CA-S10 as an amp, driving Harbeth LS3/5A. With either 47 Labs Shigaraki or Arcam rDAC (CAS/iTunes/AIFF/wireless) as source, sound was shockingly good, but I noticed some hiss! The Mole is a true integrated amp (review to come) with an active preamp stage that apparently has very high gain. By turning the Mole's volume down to around 10 o'clock I was able to use the Elekit normally, with little noise. Addition of the preamp brings just a tad more warmth, a little more air and ambience. Again, the super-clean character of the Mole was well preserved.

Neutrality With the 2 very different true integrated amps, the Kondo Ongaku and Flying Mole CA-S10, adding the TU-8500 does not mask their true colors. For me, there is no better proof of the TU-8500's neutrality than this. Also, this makes me think the TU-8500 would work very well as a tubed buffer, which I shall test out later in the same systems.

Gain Even at 3x, the preamp has only moderate gain, and I have to advance the volume knob beyond 12 o'clock. This is in contrast to many high-gain preamps from Japanese SET designers.

Microphonics I was surprised that the stock GE 5965 are microphonic, easily audible by tapping on the chassis. However, I know my placement on a bookshelf is not ideal either. No matter, as I shall be tube rolling soon.

Running In While I slept, I kept the Elekit on and ran computer music through it. When I woke up in the morning, the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas (Annie Fischer/Hungaroton) had been played! That said, I do believe the tubed line section of the TU-8500 sounds great out of the box, and does not need long run-in.

Part II shall come very soon and chronicle the TU-8500's performance in my old house, with my reference gears and phono. Check back soon.

04 March, 2015

Overview: Klipsch Classics, Part II -Klipschorn, Belle, Cornwall, Heresy

Overview: Klipsch Classics, Part II -Klipschorn, Belle, Cornwall, Heresy and more
Talk-Horns: Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part II

See Part I for General Info, Klipsch links, and La Scala in depth; Part III for the best La Scala system I hace heard; Part IV for the later Quartet/Forte.

Now, on to the other Klipsch Classics. Aside from the Heresy, I don't have personal experience with them, but shall report here my various auditions.

My one and only experience was the Klipschorn of my friend Jeff. You just walk into the house, awash with music. Given that the drivers are the same as La Scala, the sound is very similar, with just a little more bass extension and authority. As reported in that article, There's a wonderful article on Klipschorn in the July 09 issue of the HiFi news, which includes much praise by David Wilson. One day if I source a pair locally (it cannot be otherwise) I will get it. Meanwhile I am content with my time spent with La Scala, not a wasted second.

Image result for klipsch cornwall
Now, how did that slip away? Somehow, I never wrote about my friend Jeff's Cornwall (likely alnico), which he got after the K-horn! It was placed against the long wall, and the sound was rich and authoritative driven by Rogue tube amps, if my memory serves me. For those lacking the space for the K-horn or La Scala, these are ideal. Originally intended to fill the center for a pair of K-horns, the treble and midrange are horn-loaded, and the infinite baffle gives the 15" bass a tight and tuneful sound. It was not produced for a while, but is now resurrected as the Cornwall III. Highly desirable. Some may even prefer it to the models with horn-loaded bass.

Belle Klipsch  Floorstanding Speaker | KlipschBelle
In the past two decades, I have encountered the La Scala many times, but the Belle only twice. First was more than 10 years ago, in a second-hand shop; I did not get to hear it. Fortunately, recently, I made friends with ama333, a gentleman who owns the non-alnico Belle II.

As you can see, the Belle looks like a tamer La Scala. Indeed, that likely was the original intention, using the same drivers to create a more domesticated version. General consensus has it that the sound is more polite too. Apparently, it is not as popular as the La Scala, and Klipsch has unfortunately discontinued it.

I only got to hear the Belle at my friend ama333's place. It sounds fabulous, all of one piece, and much like the La Scala. He drove them first with Marantz 8 and 9 amps, now with Welborne Lab Laurel 300B amps. Sound was much like La Scala, beyond reproach. For me, I'd be just as satisfied with these as La Scala. ama333 also has a pair of JBL 4344, but I prefer the Klipsch.

This is like a scaled-down Cornwall. Its size is awkward, too big for a bookshelf and too small to stand alone. But I tell you, the sound is another matter. My experience is detailed here.

A quirk about the Heresy. Like a guitar amp (which it is sometimes used as) it was designed to be placed on the floor, with a wedge to prop up the front. If you place them on stands, bass is lean. You need to place them closer to the floor and time-align by raising the front. This is the only Klispch classic that I think pairing with a subwoofer might reap benefits. Also, I wonder what a stacked pair would sound!

Other horn-equipped products
Klipsch made many products that incorporated horn tweeters and/or midranges, like smaller Cornwall's. A large number of these are highly worthwhile. The Klipsch Official Website has plenty of info on discontinued products, but you have to type in the model names. The most famous one is likely the Forte.

Quartet I have the chance to hear the Quartet, slightly smaller version of the Forte II to good effect (see Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part IV).

Mods As with the La Scala, numerous after market mods are available. Given my experience with some of these on the La Scala, I doubt I'd like them. Leave Paul Klipsch's masterpieces alone!

A great company, the best!

Overview: Klipsch Classics, Part I - La Scala

https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2356/5754424464_0207803950.jpgpics show La Scala spec's and cabinet design.

Overview: Klipsch Classics, Part I - La Scala
Talk-Horns: Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part I

Revised April 5, 2015: Part III, the latest and ultimate La Scala experience (bottom of article), is appended at the end of the original Part I article.

See Part II for Klipschorn, Belle, Corwall and Heresy. There is also a Part IV for the Quartet/Forte.

For most of the last decade, which coincided with my time participating in HK's review33 forum, where I met a whole lot of people good and bad, I have been known to be a Tannoy man. But few in HK knew that the decade before I spent most of my time with the Klipsch La Scala. I did not switch to the Tannoy because I preferred it, but because an opportunity came and I ran with it. Truth is, I shall always regard Klipsch as among the best horns. First, capsular summaries of my Klipsch experience and views:

General Views
  • Klipsch classics (we are talking about various iterations of what is now called the "Heritage Series") are basically plug-and-play: you get very good drivers, horn throats and a great cabinet all at once. Now, I am not making a claim that Klipsch made/makes the "best" horn systems, but I am telling you they are by far the easiest to get GREAT sound from. You can do a lot worse by buying various drivers and horns, making crossovers and cabinets and trying to make them sound a coherent whole, but that is for my next article!
  • "Heritage Series" All models are, design-wise, more "horn" than most rivals. They are all 3-way's, with at least horn-loaded tweeters and midrange drivers. The top models, Klipschorn, and La Scala, have the same drivers and in addition have horn-loaded bass. The Cornwall was once a center speaker for the Klipschorn's and for a period had the same drivers too.
  • Most of these have been in continuous production for the longest time: Klipschorn more than 65 yrs; La Scala since 1963; Heresy since 1957;  Belle (same driver as Klipschorn and la Sacla) ran from 1971 to relatively recently. Cornwall has been recently resurrected, deservedly so! Name me some other audio products that enjoy similar longevity!
  • Alnico vs Ferrite In the late 70's, due to cobalt price rise after Zaire's troubles all major loudspeaker manufacturers (including EV, Electrovoice, one of Klipsch's suppliers) switched from alnico to ferrite magnets. Soon all Klipsch drivers became non-alnico. The older alnico drivers are today much coveted by devotees. More on this later under the "La Scala" section.
  • First-Class Cabinet Designs Considering the relatively manageable size (compare the Klipschorn to, say, the current Avantgarde, and you will agree, Paul Klipsch's cabinet designs are imho masterpieces of economy). Name me a few loudspeakers that have true horn-loaded bass! Note too that Paul Klipsch's cabinet designs were all mature, field- and time-tested designs. The design for Klipschorn evolved a lot during its early stage, and PWK took a long time to design the other models. The loading for the bass horns in particular are really sophisticated, second to none (JBL and Altec included). No present loudspeaker manufacturer (new model every year or two) would do that!  Note: Reader thebeathunter alerted me to an interesting link of a DIY La Scala, a great job!
  • Given the complete package, and completeness of sound, the Heritage Series are still bargains! Of course, used old versions are even more so, downright screaming bargains!
La Scala
  • My First Pair (non-alnico) The La Scala gets the treatment first because I have used them longer than any other loudspeaker, including Tannoy. More than 15 years ago in HK, at a friend's place (LeeHC's) I heard a pair of Klipsch KLF30 driven by 300B amp to good effect. Not long after I spotted a used pair of non-alnico La Scala in Sound Glory in Mongkok. Given the bulk, Mr Sim the owner seemed rather happy to get rid of them and sold them for a reasonable price. As they say, the rest is history. The La Scala is singularly responsible for my ever-deepening involvement in the Single-Ended Triode world. I loved the efficiency (104db), the sound, even the black color (not everyone will). At first, coming out of dormancy it did not sound too good, and I remember LeeHC coming by to tweak around for me! Happy memories! Over time they just got better and better.
  • Matching Electronics The La Scala is not choosy: they are revealing but will sound great with almost any decent equipment thrown at them, including ss stuff. Of course, with an efficiency of 104 db, SET amps are matches made in heaven. Over the years, I must have used several dozen of them. Even the 1-watt Sun Audio VT-25 amp makes great music, and in that respect it shows they are more efficient than my Lowther TP-1, which will cause the VT-25 to clip.
  • Speaker Cable With high efficiency loudspeakers like these, I always use thin multi-stranded cables. Something like the Belden 9497 would be ideal.
  • Does it Shout? If you surf the net, you will see that La Scala incites all kinds of opinion, many negative. Detractors say it beams too much, or is harsh, or is bass-shy. I am sure that is because they use inferior equipment, or have incorrect placement. My pair did sound a bit rough at first, but that was ameliorated with a little tweaking (a little blu-tac on the tweeter horn lips); later, after re-running them in, this was not necessary. My pair have never failed to sound wonderfully musical whatever equipment or music I threw at them.
  • Positioning The La Scala was designed not to need corner placement, but that doesn't mean it should not sit in corners! Placing them in-room gets you a somewhat larger soundstage, but a leaner bass. This is the sound of my friend lascalawong's pair, placed in-room (left pic; report link here; in capsule, the sound was controlled and clean but not too horn-like). Corner placement gets more bass (while soundstaging is still surprisingly good). Personally I think they benefit from being placed near the side walls at least. I used them in the corners. See below.
  • No Bass? One of the most contentious issues about La Scala is the bass. Many, especially JBL users, claim that there is no bass. This is not true at all. When done right, the La Scala is a very neutral and clean-sounding loudspeaker, without the midbass emphasis that some like. Depending on placement, the La Scala actually goes deeper in the bass than JBL! The 1965 spec says: "The response shall be within peak-trough limits of 10 db from 58 to 16,000 cps (editor: i.e. +/- 5 db) and not more than 10 db farther down at 40 and 19,000." In my system, placed close to corners, I got clean output down to at least 40 Hz (much lower than JBL), so playback of big orchestral pieces were utterly satisfying. My friend conrad2002 also had them against the wall and got excellent bass (right pic; see report here).
  • Tweaks Horn users are almost by definition tweakers (and both my friends did some tweaking). There are endless tricks, and I shall just touch upon a few here. As mentioned before, if necessary, applying some blu-tac (use spaghetti-thin strips) could "tame" the sound, but if you ask me, when properly done, the sound needs no taming! As with many of these horns with short cabinets and low-lying drivers, you need some distance to get the best sound. If you don't have the room, or sit close, raise the speakers (cinder blocks or bricks would be ideal) a little to raise image heights (just like what lascalwong did above, but he used wooden platforms and spikes). Or, even better, you can take the tweeter and midrange horns out and place them on top. (like what conrad2002 did for the tweeter, though he also enclosed it in yet another horn!).
  • Supertweeters I never felt the need, but some swear by them. Given the efficiency, it is not easy to find matching supertweeters. As for subwoofers, I have never had the need, nor tried.
  • My Second Pair (alnico) My friend tubediyer arranged for my second pair. At this time I had just got the Tannoy Canterbury, so to make room I had to reluctantly sell my first pair. This pair is in natural wood color. The sound was instantly different from my first pair. There is little question treble and midrange are sweeter than the non-alnico version. But with my pair, this came at a cost: the bass is worse, indeed rather wooly. This could have been due to long-time disuse, or permanent loss of magnet, as can happen with alnico. Getting the Tannoy Canterbury to sound good (and running them in) took up most of my time, and the La Scala was forgotten. I recently sold them to a my friend Bernard, who was reported to have made them sound great; I have to visit!
  • La Scala II The current version is dubbed the II (review from Stereophile, a good read). I have never heard one, but see my Belle Klipsch section. I am sure they sound very fine. They also remain bargains, though a used pair of I is even more so if you can find a pair locally.

  • Stacked La Scala? It has always been my dream to stack 2 pairs of La Scala. Both pairs can fire forward, or the bottom one can fire backwards (likely using only the woofer) since this would create bass not dissimilar to the Klipschorn. When writing this article, I did some research and was ecstatic to find that actually a few others had the same idea too! Look at these pics from Volti Audio, with La Scala bass firing backwards, corner loaded. (link). So I have not been mad all these years!
  • Dipoled La Scala? I also thought of having them in a dipoled configuration, one firing forward and one backward. Obviously only if you have the space.
  • Mods There are many after-market mods offered for the corssovers, or even more wholesale mods like what Volti audio does. Personally I have heard some of these crossover mods and I always find them too sharp, or not musical enough. As for Volti Audio, I have not heard their products (expensive), but keep in mind their products are based on something that looks like La Scala, so that gives you an idea on the basic soundness of the La Scala. Why second-guess a masterpiece?
The Ultimate La Scala Experience

 Dining Room. Click to enlarge.
The Best La Scala System I have ever heard

No, it may be the best system of any sort I have heard (whlee thinks so and I tend to agree).

Image result for stokowski rhapsodiesAfter yumcha on Saturday, whlee, trazom, captain, jules, oozz (Edwin) and I went to Bernard's spacious home in Clearwater Bay. Regrettably, ama333 did not join us. It turned out to be one of the happiest days in my HiFi life!

It is very rare in HK to encounter a split-level living-dining room. Here, the dining room is elevated. The total area must be close to 1000", and ceiling of the living room is at least 15' tall. Equipment:

CDP: Naim CD5XS; Ekco EV55DP
Turntable: Clearaudio Concept MC
SUT: Audio-Technica AT-1000T
Preamp: Marantz 7 (re-issue); also (April Music) Eximus DP-1
Amps: Marantz 9 (re-issue)
Loudspeakers: Klipsch La Scala (alnico; 16 ohm); also JBL 4343

Dvorák & Walton Cello Concertos
How Two Cousins came into our HiFi Lives Let me take a detour first and introduce you to the brothers. About a year ago, Alfred, aka ama333, joined the discussion thread entitled JC's Letterbox on review33.com. He finally came to our yumcha and now is a regular. Alfred uses the Klipsch Belle you have heard about previously, as well as the JBL 4344. He then brought his cousin Bernard to yumcha too. Alfred wanted to hear my La Scala, so one day the two cousins came by my old house and I once again connected my alnico La Scala after many year's neglect. I was a little surprised that from the word go the La Scala gave all music all the flesh and blood they needed. As they say, the rest is history.

Bernard immediately took a liking to the big bold sound of the La Scala. He also liked the vinyl playback so much that soon after he bought his vinyl system (the SUT actually belonged to his cousin). And some time later, my La Scala pair became his!

Previous visit to Bernard Before the La Scala took over, it was the JBL 4343, placed not in the positions you see now in the pics, but along the long wall, flanking the equipment rack and the AV speakers on stands (facing the beige sofa). Sound was excellent, with the vinyl outstripping the digital by a substantial margin. In turn this impressed our friend trazom so much that he took up vinyl again (see here) and now is happily cleaning and spinning his very good collection of pop LPs!

Initial Sonic Impressions
  • Initially the La Scala's were placed along the long wall, facing the beige sofa. When we arrived, Bernard was using the Ekco CDP's analogue out into the Eximus DP-1 (used as preamp). Sound was a bit pale, treble a touch hot and the whole thing just did not have the juice the La Scala is famous for. In fact, I thought his previous setup of JBL 4343 was better.
  • Eximus DP1 WE suspected some of the flat and white quality to the Eximus DP1's preamp section. Our suspicions were confirmed when the Marantz 7 was swapped in; immediately, the sound gained much flesh and tactility. Eximus has been well reviewed by the audio press (see official website) but this its performance here has been disappointing. We happened to have the Sokolov Salzburg Recital CD and LP around. The LP fared better but the CD still should convey more of the fanciful and mercurial character of the master pianist's playing.
    Image result for mingus ah
  • Ekco CDP Ekco used to be a radio and television manufacturer. The official website gives a detailed history of the company up to the 60's but did not go further and did not mention that it is now part of the Chinese IAG group. In fact, to my eyes their products look like Chinese products in new skin; this is certainly true of the round window displaying the tube in the EV55DP. We did not like its somewhat sluggish leading edge. Changing to the Naim CD5XS brought much improved articulation, rhythm and pace. Sokolov became a more subtle pianist but still not quite what we know he should sound like on this popular album.
  • After all that work, sound was much better. I forgot but trazom reminded that we had made the same, exact changes to the system last time to improve the JBL's performance. Still, sound was not quite what I know can be obtained. On the Mingus Ah Um re-issue LP, while the sound was decent and full of details, the brass should sound more throaty. Bass was somewhat woolly and truncated and sound did not fully open up and project like a good horn should. The La Scala's sounded more "confined" compared to when they were in my house - something is waiting to be let out here.
  • I did not expect Bernard to say "yes" when I suggested that he should try the La Scala's placed along the short "wall" (the windows). Well, we men of action just jumped up and did it. Easily firmly gripped, La Scala must be the easiest loudspeaker to move around. well, we just plonked them down and did not fine-tune. Again, the rest is history!
PATRICIA_BARBER_-_COMPANION_(180G_33RPM_AND_45RPM_Vinyl_2LP)"Sonic Impressions (after Re-Placement)
  • From the first note, the La Scala I knew came back; everything bloomed and birds sang! Everybody had a big smile and the party began! The sound was just so much BIGGER!
  • With pop and jazz, the sound was truly live, and difficult to fault. The percussion and bass attacks of the Let It Rain on Patricia barber's Companion re-issue LP were perfectly rendered, fast in transient response, colorful in timber, an assault on the senses. Most importantly, they sounded like real people right there in the living room.
  • With chamber music, as in jazz, the muscians were palpably present in the living room. We played a mono Casals/Horzowski CD (oop; Philips) and Casals was with us, his inimitable tone enchanting.
  • To us concert lovers, the sound of the dining room was even better, and exactly conveyed the sound of the concert hall balcony. With the two Living Stereo re-issue LPs, Stokowski Rhapsodies and Piatigorsky Dvorak Cello Concerto, the full orchestra were laid out below us. The solo passages and horn tutti were absolutely faithful facsimiles of the concert experience from above. whlee was absolutely delighted, and I haven't seen him like this in years!
    Image result for 王菲 天空
  • For a final cut, we played 王菲 “天空”. This cut usually sounds rather white and monotonous in the majority of setups, but here it is fully fleshed out and atmospheric. What a fitting end to the day,  “天空” is "The Sky" in Chinese, and the La Scala serves as a window to it!
  • Lest you think I have lost my faculties for judgement, I am obliged to point out the imperfections in the system, especially when it comes to classical orchestral music replay: The mass violins need an expansion in scale and nuance; the bass, while good, needs to reach a little lower; and just a little more ease at climaxes would not be amiss. But I think these can be easily achieved with further tuning.
  • There is no question that speaker choice and placement are the most important factors in one's system.
  • Placement The most valuable given asset is a good room, and Bernard is more fortunate than most of us. Yet, the previous incarnations before re-placement serve as reminders that our habits (or constraining factors, such as WAF) are often (understandably) at odds with the needs of the system. In a way, we are our worst enemies. Do not fight or neglect the room!
  • Speaker Choice Once again, the experience shows that horns are irreplaceable, and this was exactly what oozz and I talked about on our long way home. There is no better conveyance of the live music quality than horns (oozz's own German Physiks is a variation on the horn). This setup is not expensive, yet it gives more of the illusion of the live event than systems we have heard that cost millions of dollars. Also, the simplicity of the system should give tweakers much thought! So many people spend megabucks on power treatment, cables and tweaks etc; yet all they get are frustrations. Attend to the basics!
  • It is really gratifying to hear a system truly transformed. People claim all sorts of improvements, but epiphanies do not come so often without drastic measures, usually not voodoo but attention to basics.
  • What I would do In this system, were it so fortunately mine, within aesthetically acceptable limits (and WAF) I'd fine-tune the placement. I'd also try to drive it with less power (SET or, as whlee thinks, low-powered PP amps). I think a even better sound can be easily achieved without much cost.
  • The Klipsch Lesson Once again, the experience confirmed one of my convictions, detailed in previous articles. Well executed, a Klipsch system outperforms most ad-hog conglomerates of arguably superior components. The coherence is compelling.

  • Is it the best-ever system I have heard? Not in all parameters, but in terms of the live experience, this is the absolute best (surpassing my own efforts)!
What A Happy Day!