04 April, 2016

Walker Proscenium, Goldmund, Jan Allearts, Versa Dynamics, Stanton, Nagra and more

Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, the girl from Ipanema. See below for more. For all pics, click to enlarge.

Letter from NYC (47) 2016 (3): Land of Esoterica, Men from NY, Girl from Ipanema
Talk Vinyl: Goldmund, Versa Dynamics, Walker Proscenium
Talk Vinyl: Shindo and Nagra vs Lamm and Jadis

The sophistication of New York is astonishing. Being a hotbed for music of all genres must have been related to the flowering of audio as hobby. I was just on the phone with Victor of vkmusic, Vancouver based North American distributor for niche market Elekit and Sparkler, and he said a lot of his sales are to NYC.

Here we are focusing on the underworld of man caves, where nearly forgotten treasures are brought back to life. Of course, you have to know the right (meaning crazy) people, and I count it my luck to have a friend like Andy L.

Poor me only knows the 1812 Overture, but R knows about and collects Napoleonic-era Port! Pic from Chistie's.

Lady and the Tramp I
Back to R, sort of Andy's protege, whom we met two posts ago. I actually had heard his system one year ago, but it now sounds immeasurably better. Andy just told me they had completely re-aligned the Wilson Grand Slamm's recently. No wonder, that was a LOT of work!

Together with Andy L and his friend Simon, we met up again a week ago. Simon services dental equipment and together with Andy they fixed his Versa Dynamics 2.0. Damping oil was also added to the Walker Proscenium (older version). I brought along my Shindo Monbrisson (MM/MC) and Nagra PL-P (configured for MC). Brief Notes:
  • Jadis JPS2 (official link) This is classic Jadis and I know it well. My friend PH listens to digital only and he only uses the buffered input (here). There is not much on the net on this per se; the best is a French review with a lot of nice internal pics (translated here; original link in French). However, its phono equipped brethren, the JP80MC, long-time Stereophile Class A, has had more reviews. This Stereophile is worth reading, and I think it described the sound accurately - lush, but potentially sluggish with some material. vs Shindo Monbrisson I was a little surprised that the Shindo (my review here), which uses vintage components, sounded more alert, with more pointed rhythms. Note too that later Jadis' have a more modern sound. While googling, I was surprised to come up with one of my own articles that I had forgotten about - a Jadis Overview! Luckily, after a re-reading, I didn't feel any need to revise...
  • Lamm LP2 This is the original version using the great sounding but troublesome (prone to microphonics and noise) 5842/417A tubes. This tube was famously used by the late Arthur Loesch and emulated by DIY'ers. A variant claiming direct heritage is now manufactured by Tempo Audio (Stereophile review). As for Lamm, I had previously heard its excellent LL2 preamp, so I had high expectations of the LP2. R has the WE417A in them and surprisingly I heard no noise at all. Good as it was, I also did not quite hear the sinuous quality that WE can bring to the music. vs Nagra PL-P Surprisingly, the Nagra used as MC phonoamp was more neutral and even across the frequency spectrum, with more low-level nuances. This was with the AC engaged.
  • Stanton 500/Rockport Sirius II This must be crazy, and only Andy can come up with this kind of combo. A cheap and cheerful vintage cartridge on a reference level turntable! Isn't that Lady and the Tramp? Talking about Rockport, they don't make turntables any more and have basically nil service. I have a friend who waited years for a part to no avail, and who finally gave up. Although a little veiled, the cartridge is eminently musical and plays all kinds of music well. Even R said for long-term listening he prefers it to his others. Note that I have a coming report on another "DJ" evergreen, the Shure SC35X...
  • Versa Dynamics 2.0/Jan Allaerts MC2 This setup somehow did not quite gel with the resident phono amps during last visit. This time, we didn't A/B but it seemed to like the visitors. I can attest that the Jan Allaerts is a very even-handed performer, with nothing calling attention to itself. I don't think this is the kind of cartridge that will reveal its secrets easily, so I'd like to hear more of it.
  • Kondo IO-J/Walker Proscenium (not sure which generation) Here the cartridge arm is also wired with Kondo silver wire. Needless to say, the cartridge is used with its mate, the Kondo KSL-SFz step-up. Here too, the rig seems to prefer the MM section of the Shindo. A very live sound with good attack and presence.
R showed me his unbelievable wine cellar; the collection has great breath and depth. It was the first time I laid eyes on port wine from the Napoleonic era (when there was no sound reproduction)! He then cooked us a nice dinner, washed down with very nice wines. No, we did not get to taste the port...

Andy's downstair setup. Pic is from last year. Setup has much changed. See text.

Lady and the Tramp II
Remember before my last visit (last year) to Andy he told me he had a surprise for us, which turned out to be a Goldmund Reference turntable (reported here)? Well, I just visited him a few days ago and was surprised again, this time without prior announcement!

I walked in and was shocked to discover yet another Walker Proscenium (not sure which older version), not something the man would usually identity with. At the crazy price, there cannot be too many Walker's around, and I have seen two within the same week!

Now, what is its mate? Gentlemen, Lady and the Tramp, episode II! Another cheap and cheerful vintage cartridge, the Stanton 380! A new preamp too, the Conrad-Johnson Premier 2. Amps are still the Canary 300B mono blocks. The horn system has changed much. While the Altec A5 cabinet and 515 driver remains, the midrange and tweeter horns have changed to JBL. Sound of the horn has changed much for the better, now smooth and eminently listenable. Andy has deliberately set up the LR system for listenability, to make even bad records playable, reserving classical playback for upstairs.

Girl from Ipanema We spent a whole morning listening to old records, including some mono's, and everything was pleasurable. But two records impressed the heck out of me.

Everyone has heard the classic Getz/Gilberto album, the epitome of Bossa Nova. In this setup, against a perfectly paced rhythm (most systems are too insistent), I heard nuances in Astrud Gilberto's voice that I have never noticed before, as if she were whispering, murmuring, purring and puffing to me. Engaging stuff! After the languid moment, the duel between Ben Webster and Don Byas popped me out of my seat. Outstanding playing! We finished with just one classical piece, the Elgar cello concerto (Tortelier/Boult/LPO; a classic Bishop/Parker recording; EMI ASD). The frequency extremes were rolled off but it still sounded reasonably good. Mission accomplished for a system that can play even bad records. Andy is quite satisfied with the Walker/Stanton combo.

But do you know the story behind the song? It is an entertaining read, as it involves a real persona (here and here). I only just discovered it during some googling. This is one of the reasons why I write - I almost always learn something while researching what interests me. Don't you think that is better than being fed with jokes, pics and links on What's App that make you have second thoughts about your friends?

Andy's Upstair Systems After two hours (!) we broke for a simple lunch of dumplings, washed down with some wine, of course. Then we ascended the stairs to the main cave for some classicals. The main setup hasn't changed much since a long time ago (reported in detail here), except for turntable rotation. Menu du jour:

TT1 - Goldmund Studio with Monster Cable cartridge
TT2 - EMT 930 with EMT cartridge
TT3 - Goldmund Reference with Ortofon 2M Black
Phonostage 1 - Conrad-Johnson Premier 15, Nagatron Z Coupler X'former (for Goldmund Studio)
Phonostage 2 - Audio Research SP-10 (for EMT and Goldmund Reference)
Preamp - Audio Research Reference II Mk I.
Amp for Tweeter/Midrange column - VTL MB-450 monoblocks (8 x 6550 each)
Amp for Bass column - McIntosh MC-2500 (for bass column)
Loudspeakers - Infinity IRS Beta
We played the same Elgar LP, and sound was very good all around. All three turntable setups sounded different, but I did not spend enough time to accurately nail the characters of each. EMT is EMT is EMT, always enjoyable but not the last word in anything. I have heard the Goldmund Reference several times before; with the 2M Black (not quite run in), sound was detailed and more brightly lit, but without the subtle nuances a good MC can give (and without MC peak either), nor the emotive broader stroke of an MM. This occasion also marked my first encounter with the Goldmund Studio. This is an unusual beast, a direct-drive on a suspended chassis!!!  Andy says it has a very special sound, and Roy Gregory seems to think so too (in his survey of new direct-drives).

I can spend whole days at Andy's. Not a boring moment!

Note on Versa Dynamics In researching I chanced upon some of Andy's postings on Versa Dynamics in Vinyl Engine. I copied them below:

"..I use Versa Dynamics Model 1.2 and Model 2.0 on regular basis. I love their performance so much in my system that I would never think about parting with them.  

They were designed and marketed by John Bicht in the 80s. In fact, John still provides parts, manuals, and repair services for these units through his Versalab website. 

Model 2 came out first. It has a air-bearing platter with vacuum hold-down and a straight-line tracking air-bearing arm. Gordon Holt of Stereophile gave it a great review in 1987. Then followed Model 1 with an air-bearing arm and a vacuum platter with a very unusual bearing arrangement. The styling was completely different from the Model 2 which was quite a bit more expensive than the Model 1. Both models went through some similar modifications during their rather short life spans on the market.  

Both turntables come with separate controller boxes and huge air supply systems which need to be placed outside of the listening room. Compressor for the Model 1 is considerably quieter than that for the Model 2, but still not quiet enough to be placed nearby.

Both models use stepper motors and are belt driven. Both use a 4-spring suspension system. Major difference is that Model 1 doesn't have a air-
bearing platter. The arms are essentially the same in design and performance, although the one on Model 1 looks like a simplified version of the one on Model 2..."

tonearm pics: L, Model One; R, Model 2

"...Here are pictures of the two Versa Dynamics Arms. You can readily see the difference. Model 1 looks like a simplified version of Model 2 which preceded Model 1. There is a difference in the recommended air pressure level for each model. They sound different since the two tables are substantially different in terms of platter, plinth and base design. However, the major difference between the two is that Model 2 has a levitated platter. 

Although there was a eddie current damping device for the tone arm on Gordon Holt's review unit, there isn't one on mine. When asked, John Bicht said they decided not to implement it on the final product for fear of causing interference since it was so close to the cartridge. I'd love to experiment with one, but I have no idea how it's done. Maybe some knowledgeable members can shed some light on this..."

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