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.

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