27 February, 2018

Bell 2122, Citation I, and more

For all pics, click to enlarge. Left, Chez Andy. Note Bell perched on top of Cary. Garrard 401 with Odyssey arm in foreground.

Letter from NYC (80) 2018 (6): Making the Rounds

I think I have been a bit under the weather of late, the symptoms even premonitory of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). So what better than to counter with time spent in good systems? That all the visits came with great food and wine made it all the more enticing. Many thanks to Andy, Kevin and Stephen for their hospitality. There is too much to cover, so I shall try to be brief and, sorry (anonymous reader who had left a comment), no food pics (for this post)!

Chez Andy - Bell and Citation redux
Andy had recently gotten himself a pair of Bell 2122 (info here) and spent a great deal of time doing basic restoration on the line section (phono section and tone controls left in circuit). On this occasion, Andy had switched to the Citation I's line section, so it was used as full-function preamp. Equipment has changed a bit since last reported:

Analog 1: Garrard 401/Odyssey tonearm/Ortofon 2M Red (hot-rodded; see below)
Analog 2: Walker Proscenium Gold Signature/Pickering 380 with elliptical stylus
Preamp: Harman Kardon Citation I
Amp: Bell 2122
Loudspeakers: Altec A5 (with JBL 075 tweeter and Entec subwoofer)

Although I had listened to Andy's system quite often, I had somehow neglected to report that for quite a while he has been using the Altec 288 driver (instead of the JBL) with the 515 woofer, so that makes it a bona fide A5 system.

Despite some obvious anomalies, the sound this time was truly inspiring. Every note of Ivan Moravec's Beethoven (Connoisseur Society LP) was clear as a Bell (punt intended). Most impressive were the inner voices, which were never subsumed. The PDQ Bach LP (Vanguard), recorded live at Town Hall, was full of life, yet never strident.

Back home, the Rostropovich/Richter Beethoven Sonatas (Philips) had a much weightier tone, which also benefited the two Jazz LPs, Portrait of Marian McPartland (Concord) and Oscar Peterson We Get Requests (Verve/Speakers Corner). However, I could not quite reproduce the palpability of the Moravec, and the PDQ Bach became a torture LP, which set me on a new quest, the details of which shall follow in a future post.

Chez Andy, the lightness probably had multiple causes: the fast speed and relatively light balance of the Citation I, compounded by the exact same qualities in the Bell amplifiers. But it too threw into sharp relief the sterling qualities of the system, a palpability and clarity that would be very hard to emulate.

We had listened mostly to the Garrard/Odyssey/Ortofon. But it should be noted that the Ortofon Red was specially modified (in particular a shortened cantilever) by Stephen (of VAS, see here). Andy has high regard for it, and I can hear why. Also, Andy loaded it at 100k, which he said smoothed out a rough peak. The exercise also once again reaffirm the exemplary qualities of the Citation I.

The visit was made even better by lunch: excellent lamb and wines! Sorry, no pics!

Chez Kevin
A few days later, I re-visited Kevin (system covered in great detail here). James brought his newly acquired CJ PV 5, and the purported purpose was to compare with Kevin's unit. I also brought my newly re-enlisted Dynaco PAS 3. My impressions will be published in another article.

Keep the Distance! Somehow we ended up re-positioning the smaller loudspeakers. The Conrad Johnson MV-75, so lackluster with the Altec A7, fared better (as it should) with the B&W CM5 and Rogers LS3/5A (late bi-wire version), which are much hungrier for power. Way in-room and free of boundary effects, the bookshelves performed admirably with all kinds of music: soundstage was deep and wide, and images were close to life-size. Indeed, with simpler music one can almost mistake them for the big horns in the back! As expected, the B&W sounded bigger but more diffuse and the LS3/5A more accurate and well proportioned. I was also impressed by the performance of Kevin's second-system turntable, a lesser known Technics direct drive fitted with a humble P-mount Pickering MM.

Many thanks to Kevin for the delicious lunch (fried rice and turnip soup) and hot-pot dinner washed down with a surprisingly good vintage Australian shiraz! Again, no pics.

Whirlwind New Jersey Tour
The next day, the full gang headed for New Jersey. First stop was a short stay chez Paul, an electronic wizard. It was too bad we were only doing drop-off's and pick-up's, as among his goodies I spotted Tannoy 15" Gold, Marantz 7 + 9, Philips CD-1000, Dahlquist DQ-20, Stromberg Carlson monoblocks and much more.

Next we re-visited Stephen at VAS (covered before here). Partnered with Focal floorstanders, the same setup sounded much airier. We were even more impressed by his bespoke MONO cartridge than his very good stereo one. This guy is seriously talented!

After a quick lunch hosted by Stephen, we visited veteran Mr Ma, a well respected electrical wizard. In his crazily jam-packed workshop we listened to Classe Digital/ARC SP 6/Eico HF-20 (modified as power amps) driving Altec 604H's. Sound was very good with simpler material. Littered around the room were, to name a few, ARC CL-60, Meridian/Philips CD100, IMF, R2R decks, Counterpoint SA7 and Radio Craftsman RC-2 (which R bought and hopefully I'll get to hear soon).

As if that wasn't enough, Stephen and his lovely wife treated us to a marvelous Chinese dinner, washed down with an excellent Napa red and a refreshing Riesling. Again, sorry, no pics.

Life is good.

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