27 May, 2018

Gotham GAC-2111 (10550) and DGS-1, Part II

Talk Cable: Gotham GAC-2111 (10550) and DGS-1, Part II
Parlez-vous Francais?

Background info can be found in Part I, from which I copied and mildly edited the following passages:

Gotham 10550 GAC-2111 (specs) This unusual cable is Gotham's replica of a classic EMT cable. The conductors are very small in gauge and the insulations rather stiff, making it difficult to handle. Sonically it is a winner. Superbly transparent and with an abundance of top end air, somewhat less exuberant than GAC-2 and GAC-4, this cable shoots straight to the top echelon of Gotahm cables. A great bargain.

Gotham 60001 DGS-1 (specs) This is a thin coaxial cable, the cheapest in the Gotham range. It is somewhat rolled off on top, not as detailed as GAC-2, GAC-4 or GAC-2111, but there is something very attractive (even definitive) about its midrange presence and ability to invoke the live atmosphere. Another Gotham winner, likely more suitable in brighter systems.

Lento GAC-2111 vs DGS-1
Yesterday morning, after cups of coffee I started to make some cables, two pairs of Gotham DGS-1 and one of GAC-2111. And I have been evaluating them since last night in my Kondo system. Note that previously I had not compared them rigorously, which is the reason for this article.

GAC-2111 First up was the GAC-2111 late last night, which sounded simply divine. Nah Youn Sun's Lento was the perfectly intimate album for the wee hours. And then I played The Best of Sinne Eeg (mine is the CD version). It is highly unusual for me to listen to "eurojazz", if these were "jazz" at all, but it was a fitting conclusion for the day. Both sounded magnificent.

Bach - Variations on variations | Rinaldo Alessandrini, Concerto ItalianoOn to today...This morning I continued to audition the GAC-2111. I loved the fastidiously dissected strands of Bach in Concerto Italiano's Variations on Variations (Naive), each clear as daylight. Sunshine in music, indeed.

Time Out for Food (Shenzhen) or, cover your ears...

The Freshest Beer Then I skipped out to Shenzhen for lunch. This time it was braised fish 紅燒魚塊 and pork sautéed with fine vegetable slivers and vinaigrette sauce 魚香肉絲. This joint always has the freshest beer. The so-called "Tsing Tao" (the version in Shenzhen is a Sino-Asahi venture which, though still a good light beer, bears no resemblance to its HK, Northern China and Export cousins, though they too are different from each other) has May 5th, 2018 as production date, how about that! The fresher the better, when it comes to beer! The food is, as usual, well prepared.

Would Confucius be Appalled? One caveat. Eating in China, you have to put up with certain things, and here are my pet peeves...In such eateries, some customers smoke, which is annoying. But what, to me, is equally irritating is witnessing the general public's Table Manner. Modern day (PRC) Chinese seem oblivious to their surroundings by letting out the sound of mastication without any inhibition. One hears "jap...jap...jap..." and, believe me, it is not for the faint of heart, as the sound can emanate as much from a well dressed and pretty lady as from a sweaty laborer. The lack of civic concerns/pride permeate every aspect of life. Just the other day, a few mainland visitors were nearly blocking the sidewalk in Yuen Long. I overheard a HK passerby remark to his wife: "Mandarin speakers..."; his wife asked what he meant, and he replied, "...don't you think Mandarin speakers (meaning those from PRC) think the public spaces are their private properties?" Food for thought.

I guess, you pay for what you get...but then, maybe not, as the same phenomenon can be observed even in high end restaurants, though the tables there are not usually as proximal to each other nor shared, thereby lessening the torture.

DGS-1 After I returned from lunch, I switched to the DGS-1. The richer midrange and darker hue of the DGS-1 was immediately apparent. The same Bach album I had listened to before lunch sounded surprisingly different. The DGS-1 has less details than the GAC-2111, but its presentation is fleshier and images are larger. The harpsichord's midrange is often too thin with many cables, but the DGS-1 gets it just right. This album is so good that I have listened to it several times. The arrangement for Goldberg Variations is just sublime.

Ne Me Quitte PasAlbum.jpgNe Me Quitte Pas I then listened to that most emotive of singers, Jacques Brel (Barclay/Universal). The difference between the two cables were startling.

With GAC-2111, this somewhat lean remastering is undeniably exciting, though sometimes unravelling at the edges. INe me quitte pas, Brel's iconic song,  the vehement declamations and word bending are sometimes discomforting. With the DGS-1, the delivery is more fluid. All that makes me wonder, which is the real Jacques Brel? At the bottom of the article is a youtube of this song (not the same performance).

Sonic Impressions
  • My impressions this time are in keeping with what I have observed before, but there are some additional findings.
  • The GAC-2111 is tremendously detailed, yet balanced. What surprises the most is its outstanding rhythm and pace, which loses nothing compared to the DGS-1. This cable will likely please those with an audiophile bent, but those whose systems tend to be on the bright side should use with care.
  • The DGS-1 paints with broader strokes, its presentation fleshy and dramatic. On its own, one is very satisfied, but in comparison with GAC-2111, one could clamor for just a little more resolution. Its excellent rhythm and pace is of a more subtle kind than the GAC-2111, but equally valid.
  • Since my Kondo system has quite high resolution, on the whole, and by a small margin, perhaps DGS-1 is preferred, yet I am sure I shall be rotating it with the GAC-2111. Both are wonderful!

26 May, 2018

Western Electric Altec 604

Yumcha Diary: The Longest Day, Heat Wave, 759, Mother Tongue, and more
Home Visit: Altec 604 and More Western Electric

Revised May 28, 2018. Pic of WE 130/124 added

HK is now suffering from a protracted Heat Wave, the highest temperature ever recorded in May (SCMP report). It is over 35 degrees where I live. What better way to kill some time than yumcha with friends!

Long Live 759 Yesterday was so hot that I didn't feel like drinking hot tea. So I brought a bottle of Ernst Ludwig medium-dry Riesling from the 759 store. It got better and better as it got chilled in the ice bucket, and fit perfectly with the meal. I actually don't quite understand those who insist on red wine with Chinese meal, as I find white wines much more suitable (sauvignon blanc is another favorite).

All of us are fans of 759 Store, a non-traditional food store employing an unusual business model (many stores and no warehouse), which gives the powerful supermarket chains a run for their money. 759 sells mostly imported items, otherwise unavailable, at rock bottom prices. We talked about its Spanish ham, which is certainly cheaper than in Spain. Similarly, my bottle of German Riesling cost me a mere HKD 45, likely cheaper than in most cities in Europe.

Mother Tongue Another topic concerned what recently embroiled HK, the debate on what is "Mother Tongue", which is yet another thinly disguised and distasteful onslaught on our collective Hong Kong consciousness. The whole thing is a joke - do we need other people to tell us who our mothers are? In jest, but with an element of truth, I say, whatever dialect you curse in is your mother tongue. If you say "x y z 母", your mother tongue is Cantonese; if you say "xxx xx xx xx B", yours is Mandarin (oh, excuse me, pu tong hua it should be); and if you say "xxxx you", English it is. Simple, and no politics involved.

After yumcha, I started my wandering in the desert. First stop was a home visit.

Click pics to enlarge. Behind the Altec 604's are a pair of classic Proac 5's.

Home Visit: Altec 604-D

This is my second visit to Vincent, to his "den" right atop the flower market. I forgot to take a picture of the view from his windows, a magnificent panorama with  the impressive backdrop of Lion Rock, symbol of Kowloon, even HK.

The setup here is relatively simple - CD replay only. The source is buffered through a WE transformer, then goes into a vintage Daven stereo volume pot before going into a pair of DIY Western Electric 133 employing all genuine WE parts (those interested in the WE 133 may want to read my article).

Nah Youn Sun - Memory Lane
The Magic HourThe star of the setup without doubt is the Altec 604-D. The cabinets are small but they are well nigh perfect for the relatively small space. Sonically, they are anything but small. After switching in my Gotham DGS-1, replay of jazz was well nigh perfect. This Wynton Marsalis Quartet CD is not one of Blue Note's better albums, but redeemed by the Diana Reeves cut. Even better is the enigmatic Nah Youn Sun, much better known in Europe and Asia than in North America (it seems Korean transliteration is even worse than Chinese, as there are many variations of her name on the internet; Nah is the last name; her official site). Her subdued and considered compositions on Memory Lane was intimately conveyed, with full atmosphere.

Because of it space saving coaxial design, the Altec 604 has a lot of adherents. I have heard nearly all of its iterations (plus the close kin 605), in systems ranging from the simple to the very complicated (electronic crossover), but this very simple system is likely the best sounding. The whiff of treble dryness pervasive in Altec's is not much in evidence with pop and jazz, though perhaps showing just a little in classicals, although replay of my current favorites, Esther Yoo's Tchaikovsky (DG) and Currentzis' Le Sacre (Sony) (roll down for last article, or click here) were more than passable.

Thanks to the Altec 604, which because of its efficiency and horn component is arguably more suitable for WE, in general Vincent's den sounded almost as good as his home, where he had the WE 130 preamp and 124 amps, last heard using ATC SCM-100 (pic below). For sure though, the home has just a little more WE magic. If it were me, I'd take the Altec 604 home.

Image result for 759 薯片Back to Central As I had some time to kill before my concert in evening, I returned to Central and met up with the WSS gang. First, a brief sojourn at Mr Lo's to audition yet again his current Goldmund/Rockport combo, not quite my cup of tea.

Then we headed for Pro Sound, where we audaciously opened a bottle of proprietor Mr. Chu's wine (a Chianti, not bad) while we shopped. I went to 759 again to procure my favorite potato chips (again from Spain) and we enjoyed the Happy Hour. The gang left for Kowloon, but I stayed behind a while longer and had a chat with Christine.

By now, the heat has subsided a little and I summoned the courage to sit and eat by the road side...

Dai Pai Dong 
The Dai Pai Dong is a veritable Hong Kong institution, now unfortunately threatened with extinction as the government does not issue new licenses anymore (read more here). The government, as usual, is short-sighted - this is precisely the kind of thing tourists love and what we hold dear. Perhaps, in due time, like "Mother Tongue" it will go by the way side. Sigh...

I sat down at Sing Kee (pic from Openrice), tucked into an alley in Central. This place used to have very good and cheap fish dishes but I hadn't visited it in a long time. It seems now only tourists come. I was surrounded by Mainland Chinese, all eating seafood (steamed clams and shrimps etc). Then came an Australian couple (see top pic) - the lady is stunningly beautiful, quite a sight in this environment.

I had a beer and ordered a beef dish, but the meat tasted like rubber. No matter, it was primarily a bit of nostalgia, something we people from Hong Kong indulge more and more in these days. The more we receive unsolicited and unwelcome instructions on how we should behave as adults, the more we long for our childhood. The more we are told the good old days are really "bad", the more we miss them. A person who has a memorable past to live in is a much luckier person than one who only has the politician's promise of a bright future to hold on to.

LentoI then attended an excellent concert given by the great pianist Dang Thai Son in City Hall (see my classical blog), which looks gratifyingly exactly the same as in my childhood.

Late Night Jazz After I returned home, I fired up my Kondo system and listened to Nah Youn Sun's Lento, perfectly intimate for the wee hours. And then I played The Best of Sinne Eeg (mine is the CD version). It is highly unusual for me to listen to "eurojazz", if these are jazz at all, but it was a fitting conclusion for the day.

Both beautifully recorded albums sounded significantly better than before. Perhaps it is the Gotham GAC-2111 (10550; EMT replica) I just made before going to yumcha? We'll see.

22 May, 2018

Naim Nait I, 47 Labs 4737, ATC S50

Naim Nait I Revisited
47 Labs 4737 Loudspeaker, Part III

For 47 Labs 4737, you may also want to read Part I (used with Kondo Ongaku) and Part II (used with Flying Mole).

Naim Nait I
This is one of the most famous and influential integrated amplifiers of all times, famously beloved by a die-hard crowd who would not have anything else beside Naim and Linn, for whom the term "Flat-Earth" was coined. For an introduction, I quote from my popular special article on Integrated Amps:

Nait Nait I, II, III
The III is completely different cosmetically. These are excellent but not as neutral as the Cyrus. The sound is bolder and Naim's famed "Rhythm and Pace" is very much in evidence (more than its modern counterparts), but there are things to watch out for: (1) the vital vocal midrange is a little recessed; (2) Lower midrange to upper bass is a little emphasized; (3) Treble is just that little bit reticent. Its primary strength is in its portrayal of the leading edge, an area I have not heard its equal. It is best partnered with its own CD players, which shall yield a sound that is uniquely rhythmic and pacey, not neutral but a paradigm in what it excels in. In a complete set, it can lay claim to a unique sound not heard with other brands, and here I tip my hat. An example is my Nait II and CD2 (TDA1541A) combo. With it, the ATTACK of a single plugged string (like guitar), or drumming, is phenomenally live. Even more surprisingly, the "rhythm and pace" benefits tremendously a slow instrument like the organ. With Bach's organ work, you can literally feel the different degree of attack that the organists applied on the keyboard, and it's a revelation. For a good read click for this TNT audio article. Note that the phonostages are either MM or MC, and they are excellent.

Although I don't count myself a Flat Earther, and am certainly not a proponent of the over-rated and over-priced LP12, I do appreciate these early Naim's. I have heard a lot of later Naim, but imho the very qualities Naim are famous for are found in greater abundance in the early products, be they amplifiers or CD players, and they are rightly legendary.

This is my third Naim integrated. I have used and written about the Nait 2 and 3 before, but they are now gone. For CD replay I use the Tuner Input with my own DIY DIN cable employing Gotham DGS-1.

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printempsSubwoofer Connection This created a little difficulty. It would be too involving to make a Tape In-Out DIN cable, so I had to use the high-level (speaker cable) connection. In so doing, I also had to switch my Kondo system from high level out to RCA pre-out for the subwoofer. Before that was achieved, I actually had both the 47 Labs 4737 and the TAD TSM-2201 sounding at the same time, and it was actually very good, showing that the Nait I is capable of driving the TAD.

Tchaikovskyvs Flying Mole CA-S10 Good as the Flying Mole was, the improvement was immediately apparent. The Flying Mole has very good PRaT, but in comparison is of a tighter, more generalized kind. The Nait I, like the Nait II I used before and mentioned above, astutely distinguishes the (even slightly) stronger beats from the weaker ones, and make things swing.

Even in classical music this is discernible, making for music that is easier to follow. Tonally it is also a little warmer than the Flying Mole. Replay of Currentzis' controversial Le Sacre with his MusicAeterna (Sony, here) fully justifies his claim that he is presenting the rhythms in a different light, and in this system it is highly exciting, not at all "smoothed over", as claimed by some classical critics (likely they have lesser equipment). Yo-Yo Ma's Bach Trios (Nonesuch) naturally just swings. And Esther Yoo's magnificent account of the Tchaikovsky (DG) was very well rendered too, her rich tone very much in evidence (though not quite like the Kondo system) and the way she naturally phrases impressive.

Image result for barenboim saensPhono By connecting my humble Pro-Ject RPM3 fitted with a Clearaudio Concept MM, I finally got to evaluate the phono section of the Naim, and it did not disappoint nor call attention to itself.

For some reason, this very humble and make-shift vinyl setup is just too lean for me - and I attribute that to the cartridge (it is just as lean going into the Kondo/Audio Note M7. Adding a small shim (made from expired credit card) between the cartridge body and tonearm effectively slightly increased the tracking weight and changed the VTA, and the sound warmed up a little; Swapping out the Gotham GAC 4/1 cable for the Kimber PBJ had a similar effect.

Image result for morricone missionThe Saint Saens Organ Symphony, in the version by Barenboim/Chicago (DG, New Zealand pressing), is undeniably exciting but somewhat artificial, being closely miked, but it plays into Naim's strength - perfect tracking of how the strings scoop, the bass grumble, the tympanis pound and the organ growl, giving the finale that precious take-no-prisoner inexorable feel. Meanwhile, Morricone's Mission is highly atmospheric, and haunting when appropriate. Often, replays I have heard struggled to fully portray the many vocal and instrumental facets of this score, but the Nait I is successful. Simply marvelous for a shoebox!

My friends WSS and JL came to audition yesterday, and they were very impressed by the big performance turned in by the 47 Labs 4737/Naim Nait I, aided by the subwoofer of course! Now, both of these people are Quad 2812 users, and they are contemplating adding a subwoofer now!

Home Visit- ATC S50 and another Ongaku
My friends and I also visited our old friend Andy, whom you last met here. His system has changed a bit.

Turntable: Clearaudio Statement/Goldfinger 2
Phonoamp: Clearaudio Statement Phono
CAS: Aurender N10
Amp: Kondo Ongaku
Loudspeakers: ATC S50

Gone are the Wilson Alexias. Instead he is using the rare 40th Anniversary Special Edition ATC S50 (official "blib", shamefully without spec's), on which there is almost no info on the internet. Only 10 pairs in the world (probably all for Asia). Basically, it is a take-off on the classic SCM-50 (same internal volume and dome midrange), finished in more "upmarket" fashion.

Surprisingly, Andy is using the Kondo Ongaku (its second coming; the first is here) to drive the ATC S50. That is even more of a tall order than mine driving the TAD TSM-2201. Sound is generally on the super clean side. Digital replay of audiophile tracks were reasonable (DAC-out routed to the Clearaudio Phono preamp, which I personally dislike, rather sterile to me) but the vinyl playback was inconsistent and a little too lean for me. Personally, I'd add a subwoofer.

Andy now enjoys motorcycle riding. His Honda is a beauty!