13 February, 2018

Altec A5, WE124, Marantz 8B, Jadis JA-80, JPS2, Citation I, McIntosh Verdin P-153

Click pic to enlarge. Front to Back: WE 124; Marantz 8B, Jadis JA-80, McIntosh Verdin P-153. Subwoofer behind center channel.

Growing Up Without Pain! One Lucky Man's A5
Jadis JA-80, Marantz 8B, WE 124, McIntosh Verdin P-153
Jadis JPS2 vs Harmon Kardon Citation I
Letter from NYC (76) 2018 (2): Smorgasbord!

That Horny Feeling What would life be without our taskmaster R (you last met him recently, here)? Contented now with the big Wilson rig in his cavernous living room, he immediately set about to fill the void in his previous man-cave and theater room, where the Wilson's had literally struggled to be heard. Being a jazz fan under the influence of mentor/team leader Andy, he was somehow (rightly) drawn to horns (without having heard much).

The Great Debate Since the den was vacated, the team had spent much time fruitlessly debating on whether JBL or Altec or even Klipsch would be best for R. Simon has always been a JBL fan, and in some ways I concur - it is usually much easier to get good sound out of JBL (better crossovers) than Altec (notorious crossover woes, which I am not at all sure is always justified). On the other hand, I thought a good pair of classic Klipsch is a complete solution - the stock crossovers work well (and I prefer them to the many overhyped aftermarket kits) and you need not do much tweaking. However, some of us, myself and likely Andy, do feel that, when properly implemented, Altec delivers the most.

Men at Work It all came to fruition during my absence. A late alnico Altec A5 system was sourced from Andy's friend P and the I heard the team had recently labored quite hard to implement the system in R's den, one of those occasions when everything that could have gone wrong did. I reaped the fruits of their efforts as I got to hear them this past Saturday, and I brought with me a pair of WE 124.

The A5 came with the original crossovers as well as ones DIY'ed by the previous owner P. I only got to hear the latter, which have attenuators for the 288 drivers. We played several jazz records, including mono Clifford Brown, audiophile fav Saxophone Colossus etc. All with a little subwoofer dialled in (crossovered high).

Equipment (for more detail on some items, please refer to 2016 visit)

Phono 1: Walker Proscenium/Kondo IO-J
Phono 2: Versa Dynamics 2.0/Stanton 380 (with nude elliptical stylus inserted)
Phonoamp 1: Kondo KSL-SFz step-up into Harman Kardon Citation I phono section (via Tape Out)
Phonoamp 2: Lamm LP2
Preamp: Jadis JPS2 (and Harman Kardon Citation I)
Amps: Jadis JA-80, Marantz 8B, WE 124, McIntosh Verdin P-153
Loudspeakers: Altec A5 (DIY crossover)
Subwoofer: Focal/JM Lab

Sonic Impressions Overall, the sound was good and quite coherent, though not the last word in detail or nuance. I am sure a lot more of the strengths of the Altec horn system are still waiting to be unearthed but, for now, it does sound more lived in than horn novice R has a right to expect!
  • Jadis JA-80 This has always been a Jadis staple. This pair is the older, pre-KT150, version, modestly tubed with old-stock 12AU7's, Chinese 12AX7's and Russian 6550's. I know this amp quite well and in this setting it delivered sound just as I remembered it - punchy, weighty and smooth, with good transients and macrodynamically adept (with these efficient horns) but with sub-par microdynamics, failing to convey all the low level signals in the music. Painting in broad strokes, so to speak, and that is not quite acceptable for expensive electronics.
  • Marantz 8B For the EL34's, this unit has a melange of 3x RFT's and 1x Russian that necessitated some re-biasing. That done, no surprise, the ever reliable 8B turned in a good performance - the microdynamics walked all over the Jadis JA-80, restoring most of the nuances in the music. However, used with the Jadis preamp, it had a significant flaw - the slow transient speed drained the zap out of jazz.
  • Western Electric 124 What more can I say! As usual, the WE immediately established its credentials. The music simply came alive: the superb microdynamics revealed infinite shades in the music's rhythm and color. Transient speed was excellent without being breathless. The only criticism that could be levied was a somewhat lean bass in this setting.
  • McIntosh Verdin P-153 Now, this is a rarity! Likely this was not intended for audio applications. It employs McIntosh transformers and the typical driver tubes, 2x 12AX7 and 1x 12BH7. Output tubes are 4x 8417. R reported the plates of the 8417's in one amp turning red after an hour of use. We did not listen that long, but what we heard was classic McIntosh sound - Ballsy, big and bold, like the Jadis, but with much better microdynamics, though still not quite in the league of the Marantz, not to mention WE. Right is another pic from the net (click to enlarge).
  • Harman Kardon Citation I I mused at the frequent lack of microdynamics. Suspecting the Jadis JPS2 to be inadequate, I asked for the line section of the Citation I to be substituted. We had trouble with the connectors, as so often in R's place, but we did manage for a while. Suffice to say, the Citation I was snappier and much more detailed and articulated in its line stage than the Jadis - it was not even close!
  • Jadis JPS2 As heard, it performed quite sub-optimally in this system. I am pretty sure it is robbing the music of much microdynamics, no more obvious than in its pairing with its own stablemate JA-80! The JPS2 is not a favorite of mine, but I have not been previously aware of such deficiencies in the systems of my friends Paul and Simon (here; the latter in the form of the line stage of JP80). I am not sure whether the deficiencies are intrinsic or if it is amenable to tube rolling, but my feeling was echoed by this comment posted by a user on the net: "...does anyone know any other pre which has the midrange magic of Jadis JPS2 plus more resolution on complex orchestral music and more control in the bass?..." I am also curious because Dick Olsher, a reviewer with priorities somewhat in line with mine, specifically lauded the similarly configured but cheaper Jadis JPL (one chassis, no separate power supply) for its dynamic prowess. For this write-up, I went back to my post on my one of my early visits to R, and was reminded that I had already documented the problem when I much preferred my Shindo on that occasion.
  • Harman Kardon Citation I Once again, the Citation I showed its mettle. Just as it worked well with my YL horns (here), it seemed to work well with R's A5's. I also urge you to re-read what I said about it in our last preamp shootout (here). Next time, I'd like to spend more time with it IF the connection quirks were dealt with.
  • Jadis JA-80 I have long familiarity with this amp, since the 80's in fact, when a friend owned it. But I had never really taken to it then; I only liked it when it was used with GEC KT88, but then that was almost solely due to the excellence of those valves, which also could transform the McIntosh MC275 from a good amp to a great one! Speaking of which, the Jadis JA-80 is no more powerful than an MC275 in good condition, and the latter only employs half the number of output valves and occupies a fraction of the real estate.
  • Marantz 8B To me, the Marantz 8B is an evergreen. It is not perfect, nor does it immediately grab you in any parameter, but it never puts a wrong foot forward, safeguards the big musical picture, and rewards patience and time spent. It should be partnered with a modern preamp of lively presentation (think ARC, Shindo etc), or else sound may be a little slow.
  • McIntosh Verdin P-153 I think this one has potential, if one manages to get around the conundrum that is 8417, famous for its excellent sound, rarity and sometimes finicky behavior (QC issues for later production tubes and issues of ?oscillation). Given its solid state rectification (selenium) and power envelope, I wager it should sound like a more powerful MI-75, but not quite in the eschelon of tube-rectified MC-60. Just a guess.
  • WE 124 Simply, in a league of its own.
  • The Lunch Raison d'etre for the day? The specially sourced lamb, served with risotto and Shiitake mushroom sauce, was an absolute delight, washed down with a very fine 2005 Saint-Emilion and a mature Cotes du Rhone. Surely enough to make one forget audio woes. What more can one ask for?

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