Talk Vinyl: Mono Replay IV - Filling Up the Space
Revised April 2, 2016: I had previously surmised that the humming encountered with the fully balanced Parasound and BAT phono amps may be due to the grounding of the Audio-Technica turntable, but I was proven wrong. In Part II, I swapped in the Pioneer PL-50 turntable, which has a separate ground wire, and the hum remained the same, so it is an issue of matching not particular to the turntable. Maybe balanced phonoamps are more problematic with downstream single-ended gears! This article is revised accordingly!
Note: For earlier articles on Mono Replay, click on the Label "Talk Mono" on the sidebar.
Early Bird Catches the Word As I slowly regain lucidity, I fired up all my stations, but the one I concentrate on now is my Reference Station III, because I am trying out new things and also because it is my early morning station. I get more done from 5-7 am than any time later in the day, including writing!
Diamonds in the Rough I managed a little foray into Manhattan where I chanced upon a pile of MONO records, mostly Westminster's. All were in bad condition, dirty and with many scratches. But there were several albums of Reine Gianoli that I simply could not pass up. Ever since I heard her unsurpassed Mozart sonatas (Doremi; borrowed from the library) I have wanted to hear more. Her playing is simply as regal as her name (Reine=Queen). So I grabbed the Debussy Preludes (Book I) and Mendelssohn recital, along with some badly scratched violin albums. I also managed to score a decent stereo copy of Erica Morini playing the Tchaikovsky. These I played as found with my mono setup (below).
Digital: Sony XA-5400ES SACD/CDP
Turntable 1: Clearaudio Concept/Ortofon Kontrapunkt C
Turntable 2: Audio-Technica AT-PL120/Raos MC Mono
Phonoamp 1: 47 Lab Shigaraki
Phonoamp 2: Fosgate Reference
Buffer Amp: Elekit TU-8500
Preamp: Langevin 102
Amp: Lepai 2020A+ or Wavac MD-811
Loudpseakers: Almarro M1A or Dayton B652 or YL Audio 4-way horns
Raos MC Mono Cartridge Mr Lei's handmade cartridges 雷子揚的RAOS雷氏手工
Now, this is a rarity, at least in the West. Info is scarce even on the Chinese internet.
Acknowledgement I thank my friend WoSirSir for the generous gift of this cartridge.
Mr Lei has long retired, but one can still find "official" sites/blogs (don't know who ran them), which however seem not to be active (last entries 2014; many new questions unanswered), and there are some other more useful links (in Chinese):
Official Blog, buried among the entries is a very useful chart with data on various models (bottom of this post)
raoslei's Wordpress Blog, a even more empty site.
wuming's review 吳鳴部落格 of the MC5B On the internet, there very few reviews, but here is a detailed review of the (stereo) MC5B (one of his most popular) by a private user.
Portrait in Chinese 台灣音響史國寶級工藝家雷子揚的RAOS雷氏手工唱針(源雜誌2008) This excellent article detailed the history of Mr Lei.
Short English Summary
- Craftsman/Artisan, then Inventor Mr Lei was in the records business, and because of that also did some trading of audio equipment. Soon, he started to repair and re-tip cartridges for customers and built up a solid reputation. At age 60, based on experiences gained over a lifetime he started building his own MC cartridges.
- EMT Lineage EMT cartridges served as models for Mr. Lei. At age around 80, he created the popular and reasonably priced MC5B (spec's in chart below). In the favorable blog review quoted above the author mentioned the engine is very similar to EMT TU-2, but the body is more like Supex.
- General From the photo above you can see that it looks almost identical to the MC5B, hence also an EMT "derivative". This was also a very reasonably priced offering. Mine did have a bottom cover, which fell out after a short while! Just as well; I like the nakedness even better.
- Spec's A little sheet says Tracking Force 1.5g +/- 0.2 Stylus HDE Diamond (looks rather sharp; likely elliptical) Output 0.5 mV Impedance 5 ohm Weight 9g. Note: the combination of relatively low impedance (less turns) and healthy output means a strong magnet must have been used. There is no figure on compliance; the suspension seems to be on the stiff side for me, so a low compliance design.
- Setup The body's height is shorter than most, which meant that I had to use several shims (cut plastic card) to achieve the correct VTA (especially since my AT turntable is of DJ origin). Otherwise, installation and alignment went smoothly. This cartridge should benefit from a heavier arm than what I am using, but this will do for the moment.
- Raos MC Mono By now I have about 20 hours on this cartridge. Tonality Sound still has a little of that MC peak (maybe I shall add some more shims as the cartridge still looks a little dipped down). But what a sound! Partnering Phonoamp Initially, the sound had some glare which did not sit well with Elekit's inbuilt (ss) phono section nor the 47 Lab. After some break-in the situation is getting better. At this moment, some warmth in the phono amp is still needed, and the Fosgate reference fits the bill perfectly. But I am also beginning to get good results with my 47 Lab (which is also unbroken-in).
- Grounding Anomaly/Problems in Phonoamp Matching I encountered a few problems. Both the Parasound JC3 and BAT P5 (both balanced designs) generated a more pronounced hum than the Fosgate, Elekit or 47 Lab. Also, with the JC3, pressing the mono button drastically lowered the sound level. I first surmised the AT-PL120 may be to blame, as it does not have a ground wire, rather like Rega (ground goes to the -ve of one of the leads). This proved incorrect, as a later swap to the Pioneer PL-10 resulted in the same (this will be dealt with in the coming Part II). Therefore, a problem matching! Maybe balanced phono preamps are just more problematic with unbalanced downstream gears?
- Mono Sound vs Stereo Sound Field Compared to my previous efforts, excitingly, more gets filled up between the speakers. There is little difference from the center fill of stereo. Balance and Touch Excellent touch and conveyance of force, but not skewed towards the jump factor like some can be, keeping a even hand with all kinds of material. I didn't miss stereo, and have been listening to one mono LP after another. You will hear more about this cartridge for sure; At some point I shall compare it to the Denon DL-102.