21 March, 2016

Letter from NYC (45) 2016 (1) From Sepia to Technicolor

Letter from NYC (45) 2016 (1): From Sepia to Technicolor

Note: this is more a diary than anything else.

Sepia Flying halfway around the world to fight against a 12 hour time difference is wearisome, no matter how purposeful the trip is supposed to be. The first days are spent in sepia, all senses almost nullified. This is quite different from depression, which may still have a ferocious life of its own, and casts the downtrodden against a world that can still appear technicolor.

Day 1 This time, my trip is shorter, thereby making everyday counts becomes more urgent. In the evening I dragged my tired body to turn on my system (Reference II). My mind was just too clouded for serious fare, and so I played some trivia. Bang, Baaroom and Harp was an attempt to counter sepia with technicolor, and it worked! Music is therapeutic! I was also pleased that the system sounded just like it should even after 8 months of hibernation! Audiophiles in drier climates are so lucky - in HK it could never be the same (the humidity adversely affects sound).

Day 2 I managed to reach my friend and guru Andy L. Surprise, I got to tag along to Long Island for some audio errands. I met again the energetic R, a psychologist well versed in many subjects, including wine. Andy L is also his analog guru, and the agenda of the day was to evaluate various vintage MM cartridges. Like us, his system is complicated. Suffice to say, in two short hours I got to hear 3 turntables: Rockport Sirius II, Versa Dynamics 2.0, Walker Proscenium; 4 cartridges: Stanton 500, Pickering, Jan Allaerts MC2, Kondo IO-J; Phonoamps and accessories: Lamm LP2, Triode Spirit, Kondo KSL-SFz and more. Preamp was Jadis JPS2. Loudspeakers Wilson Grand Slamm. Perhaps I shall get to report more on this one. Thanks for the Saint-Julien!

The conversation was interesting. We talked about people in online forums, and how majority opinion is by no means always correct. These two fellows are kindred spirits! This coincides with an article I am writing (HiFi Basics 3). Stay tuned.

Day 3 A day of rest. It was nice to shop for mother.

Day 4 I met my friend PH early in the morning for dim sum, then in the late afternoon we went to another friend Kane's place and chatted over music (their systems in previous visits). The 2011 Bergerac was delight!

Today is Day 5, a little snow flurry has subsided. Perhaps some record shopping? I have also fired up more of my stations and there shall be more reports to come...


  1. Dr. John, I hope you will say more about the Stanton and Pickering sounds. I've been tempted by a Jico stylus for a 681, but even the modest cost is a little much if it can't compare to current MM or MI types.

    1. These were vintage MM's, currently undergoing a great revival. Unlike my friend Andy, I am NOT an expert on these. What we heard that day was an even older Stanton than your 681, likely one of the 100 series (300-500). Don't know the Pickering model.

      On the mighty Rockport (tangential arm), the Pickering was a little peaky, which bothered Ralph. Andy fussed with it and got it smoothed out. But still everyone preferred the Stanton for its smoothness and musicality, even if it is slightly veiled. This was a hi-end system with Wilson speakers. Certainly the Stanton did not sound out of place.

      Modern ones sound more modern. For example, the Ortofon Black sounds a little like an MC, so I'd think traditional MM aficionados might not be totally satisfied.

      I may get together with them again this weekend, in which case I shall report more on it.

  2. Thank you. How interesting that it didn't "sound out of place." Most of the impressions that I read come from people who are not comparing to current high end products, and of course context is so important. After some disappointments with MC cartridges, I tried my first MM in many years - an Audio Technica 150mlx. I like it very much on my SME 10, though the sound could be more exciting. Maybe. Or maybe not!

    1. I'd think it also depends on what you listen to. If your diet is mostly pop and jazz then I could really see why an MM will appeal. My friend Andy L is very active in forums like lencoheaven. He has dozens of cartridges and tens of turntables (including many Versa, Garrard and now a Goldmund Reference) and yet is still experimenting with old MM's, so there must be something there.

      As our equipment got better (and you must have great stuff given your TT is SME10) we should re-visit some of our "spares" lying around. I was positively shocked when I tried my ancient Empire 2000; it trounced my Benz-Micro!

      I just read in TAS about the $350 new Shelter MM, very curious about that.

      Another great "MM" is the mono Denon 102. It is amazingly good with stereo discs! I played Miles Davis' Tutu and it was actually more groovy than my stereo MC!

      Then do not forget Decca. To me, that is almost the end-all of MM/MI. I am looking for one myself.

      If you have time, tell me about the rest of your system. I am curious abut your MC "disappointments".

      Cheers, as long as one has things/projects to look forward to, one is happy and lives a purposeful life! :-) So, do experiment more, not that much outlay compared with the price of your TT, and then you can still sell them used (a pain though).

  3. Thanks for asking, but my phono experiences are not as exotic as yours. I've had several Benz, Lyra, and Dynavector models. Some nice preamps; probably the best an Ayre K-1. I'm less serious about phono these days as my work is all focused on digital sound. Generally, I got to feel that I was not getting good value, as the carts seemed to wear out quickly. Quality control was a problem in a couple of instances. So, I'm happy to enjoy items that have less consequence attached to them. Maybe like cheap tubes!

    My junk drawer holds a worn out Kiseki, and a Clavis DC, both retip candidates.

    I've had all sorts of equipment over the years, but now have a simple system: the new Benchmark units, DAC2HGC and AHB2, and Clearwave Symphonia 7R speakers (Raal tweeters and Accuton woofers), products of a local designer. I get very good sound from the computer by using an Uptone Regen to clean the USB stream. The Tascam CD-200 turns out to be a good source of CD data.

    For phono there is a Musical Surroundings Nova II. I know you didn't care for another model in that series, but this one is quite good. I do miss having tube phono, so eventually that will return in some form. As a recording engineer, I have had to concentrate on good computer digital. That has taken some time to mature, but I'm very happy with the current setup.

    So, that's all very contemporary. But, packed away is a pair of Dynaco Mk. IIIs that I rebuilt and a little EL-84 amp. They are waiting for the day I have some more space and when I give in to the urge to buy a classic Klipsch. Good memories of those in my youth. I keep seeing Hereseys around and remembering your fascination with them. It's a road I must someday take.

    1. As a recording engineer, I am sure you know more and care about sound more than I do. I think generally, because of their line of work, recording engineers, like musicians, don't use very exotic or expensive stuff at home.

      I can't remember who it was, but Stereophile ran an interview of a famous recording engineer. He used Klipschorn in his home!!!!!!! Driven by vintage Yamaha electronics if I remember correctly. The Heresy's have no bass so perhaps the Corwall or La Scala or something.

      I'd say re-tip the Kiseki, they are so good. But after re-tip they really sound totally different. My re-tipped Koetsu Black sounds like an Ortofon more than Koetsu!

      Thanks for your inputs!

    2. Thank you, Dr. John. No, I would not want you the think that you care less about music or its recorded sound than me, or any other recordist. After all, except for the artists that we directly serve, it is sensitive, knowledgeable, and critical listeners such as yourself, that we serve. And, however certain we may feel about our respective approaches to the craft, all recordists are subject to the same uncertainty as any listener, as it is playback systems that we all rely on to hear our work. Much of the craft lies in negotiating that uncertainty. At least, that's my view on it. One of humility.

      You are right - many musicians and producers don't embrace high fidelity. But some do. There are all sorts. So many musicians, whatever their relationship with recordings, are so busy making music that they don't have much time for recordings, a fact that I have to understand when they might not give a high priority to my work for them! Musicians often listen for different things in the music and their own performances than I might expect them to hear. That has been a part of my education. It's a wonderful privilege to do what I do.