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WAJ on AUDIO - for truth in hifi / stereo / high-end audio

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THE 'SYSTEM U DESCRIBED':

The 'REVIEW'

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 We begin with a repeat of a quote from the related thread;

"I'm blown away by the realism of the system. I never had an expectation for this level. Exceeds expectations.....

...I can't believe that following advice sight unseen could produce something so excellent. A lot of advice out there and lots of opinion . Following yours has produced good results so far.... "

.This regards a reader's system, which was designed and recommended by WAJ on AUDIO at his request.

This reader recently contacted me with a request for help in building the equivalent of one of the systems described in my article, 'High-End Audio on a Budget: Getting the Very-Best HiFi Sound at the Least Possible Cost'. Here's a copy of his first e-mail to me


Sent: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 7:28 PM
Subject: System u described 


I was intrigued by ur article about buying used equipment. I was especially fascinated about the system u proposed below. I was not initially familiar w the equipment u mentioned but I have researched the components and I'm now even more interested.

My question for u is how theoretical is the system u describe below? Are these components you have ever heard together or is it an amalgamation of famous components and only meant to be illustrative as a concept?

Thanks for your assistance. I am seriously considering putting this system together. The only piece I'm not fully with at this point is the ARC SP-8.
Thanks
Er

PS

Quoted from the article; 'High-End Audio on a Budget...'  -  "...An example? OK, consider a Thorens TD125 turntable with SME 3009II arm for $700, a Grado Reference Sonata cartridge for $500, an Audio-Research SP8 pre-amp with phono-stage for $1000, UREI 6150 or Quad 303 power-amp for less than $500, two pairs of original Advent speakers for $500. These Advents would be stacked, one inverted atop the other, to form one stereo pair - no mini-monitors advocated here. (There are two sets on e-bay for $249, each pair, even as I write). Total cost of this system (without cables and accessories) - $3200."                                  

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:The above-indicated system is the least capable of the three I'd advocated in that article. However, after he'd indicated a possible future aspiration towards Garrard 401 levels of performance, the design of the system was adjusted to the equivalent of the second most potent rig illustrated in said article, at a cost somewhere around $10k. And, as the article indicates, this system is easily demonstrable to be much more realistic than most of the popular types costing in excess of five-times as much. The following review (and, especially, the reader's prior comments reprinted at the end of this page) may indicate whether or not this goal was accomplished, or closely approached - as articulated by an independent source, not connected with WAJ on AUDIO in any way.

[In fact, this individual seems to be so impressed with the system that he now feels motivated to 'claim' credit for the design (even much more apparent in the thread leading up to the 'review'). And though this may be flattering, in some sense, my necessary response to this fallacy will have marred what could have been a pleasant ending to this saga. Nevertheless, it also indicates that there's no love lost between us. But, more importantly, while the related thread easliy illustrates who's responsible for the system's design, the tension between us, caused by his antics, also highlights the fact that this individual would not be inclined to exaggerate WAJ on AUDIO's accomplishments, or the quality of the system for which this site is responsible. Keep these points in mind as you contemplate the 'review' - ironically, this situation arguably adds to the credibility of his comments on the system. And note the difference in apparent honesty and forthrightness featured in his previous remarks at the end of the page, in contrast to the toned-down 'review', itself. Obviously, his previous remarks, at page's end, were made prior to his unfortunate affliction with apparent 'delusions of grandeur'.] 

He already has several systems (in two homes) and one of these systems was implemented by a reputable audio-consultant, incorporating highly-regarded Genelec speakers - at significant expense. Apparently, that system could be regarded as approaching the popular concept of 'state of the art sound'. [WAJ on AUDIO's concept, though, equates 'state of the art sound' with REALISM, not the popular hifi 'niceties' - therefore, the system in prospect exemplifies this concept (as espoused by this 'site) in which realistic  tone & dynamics are THE major players. Detail-resolution plays only a very important supporting-role, contrary to popular practice where-in it's the star - above all else.] At least one of this reader's other systems involves Marantz electronics and Infinity speakers. However, he was dis-satisfied with all these as they were 'not realistic enough', and did not motivate him to listen to music.

The requested system has now been assembled.

[Note; ALL the recommended components excel at the attributes advocated by this site; tone, dynamics, and detail-resolution, in that order. However, the one major deviation from the recommended components, vintage Sansui mono-bloc amps, may be responsible for a reported compromise in ultimate dynamism. Be advised that; the 97db/1w/1m Altec speakers recommended are renown for this trait, as are modified  idler-wheel driven turntables, in general, and the Lenco L75 in particular. ARC's SP8 is no slouch in this department either, neither is the Ortofon tonearm, nor the top-of-the-line Stanton cartridge. And master-tape capable R2R machines are also past-masters in dynamism. Therefore, IF dynamism is in any way compromised, in this system, then this could only be due to the amp being used, which is unfamiliar to me and differs significantly from the primary units recommended, which are neutral, natural, tonally-realistic AND, realistically-dynamic, i.e. combined with efficient speakers such as the Altecs. (A slight over-abundance of 'warmth' might be another trait of the Sansui, IF prior reports from the reader are also accurate). Other 'minor' deviations from the recommended course (i.e. super-tweeters for the speakers, and a stepped-attenuator mod for the pre-amp, for increased h-f capability and overall clarity/transparency, respectively - none of which are yet implemented) may,... no..., WILL definitely compromise the system's ultimate performance potential. Readers should keep these points in mind, regardless of the writer's enthusiasm concerning the system's realism - it can easily be MUCH better,... in fact, it was designed to be]  

Now, here's the gentleman's actual 'review' (somewhat lacking in info, and a bit 'misleading', unfortunately) and my necessary response in regards to the misleading aspect of said 'review'.

Here goes:

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The 'REVIEW'???. By X.

It started with a conversation I had with a good friend of mine who was at a dinner party hosted by a writer who writes for a national audio magazine..  The writer is fortunate enough to have some pricey equipment to "try out."  My friend was invited to listen to his system which he kept in a dedicated listening room.  My friends report was - " I wish you were there to hear this because it was incredible." 

 

The story reminded me that even though I still listen to a lot of live music and take the time to go to shows, my experience with listening to recorded music could be best described as lazy and boring.  It wasn't really a pursuit I was giving much thought to but I realized that given my enjoyment of listening to music I was wasting a lot of valuable time listening to music at a quality level  similar to wine aficionado mostly drinking whatever he could find at 7-11.

 

I'll admit I thought about the problem for sometime until I had the time to even start googling possible solutions.  Possessing a tendency towards frugality, the focus started to revolve around how to build a quality system on a budget.  That's where I tripped into the world of vintage audio options and the return to analog sources. 

 

I'll admit - I bought in even before listening to one piece of the equipment I was reading about.  While it sounds naive - keep in mind that I'm not a total newbie to this world.  I do own and  enjoy a few systems that contain a broad range of quality pieces including Genelec speakers.  But reading about vintage audio conjured up memories of listening to vinyl, Cerwin Vega speakers and an old Fisher tube amp I had when I was a teenager. 

 

I soon ran across WAJ on Audio blog on building a quality analog system from used equipment on a budget.  Intrigued, I emailed him and he got back to me obviously as enthusiastic about my interest as I was.   To make a long story short- he was a huge help and we traded many emails about equipment possibilities and sources.

 

My interest eventually led me to seek out local sources in addition to the online resources.  The equipment I settled on was not always what WAJ and I discussed via email.  Moreover, the project started to slip in some places as a pure exercise in building a system on a budget.  There are pieces where WAJ suggested equipment that might perform better than what I settled on (mono block amps)  but there are parts of the system I invested much more into than we originally contemplated ( turntable).

 

It took about five months to put this altogether but I'm very pleased with the system and am thoroughly enjoying listening to music on vinyl again.  It's a real luxury spending time listening to this and the system has reinvigorated my interest in recorded music again.

 

The system consists of a pair of Heathkit Altec Lansing Valencia's,

Pair of Sansui HFv60 mono block amps, Audio Research Corporation SP8 preamplifier, rebuilt Lenco L75 turntable, Ortofon  ta 110  9 inch tone arm, Audio Note mm cartridge, Audio Note v1 dac, and Sonos. (i.e. Not the complete system: Why? - Ed)

 

The sound exceeded my expectations for warmth and mid range strength.  What I had not expected was the intensity and shape of the sound staging and the harmonics that seems to be missing from sources other than analog.  Pieces of music I've used as references for years seemed new to me. 

 

The strength of the middle range is enormous. True, the high ends aren't what I'd get out of my Genelecs (recommended tweeters not installed - Ed) but I'm realizing that given my age and hearing - it's the healthy mid range I enjoy listening to.  Making a case for the dynamic range of the system is not a winning proposition (likely; a Sansui amp issue, the only major piece not recommended - all other pieces are renown for their dynamism - Ed) but for what it does - it does real well and I like what it does.

 

I will admit that after listening to digital material for so many years - analog and tube equipment takes some adjustment.  As I've had friends listen to it- they are at first often not impressed but by now I'm used to the reaction (again; no tweeters - Ed).  Give them 20 minutes and they start to warm up to it. It takes a little bit of time to adjust from evaluating sound based on dynamic range and sharpness to the depth and harmonics of this system. Like I've told friends - "if listening to music was like eating a piece of toast, then listening to this is like eating toast with a big slab of butter spread across it."

 

Specifically, the Valencia's are efficient, bold and deep.  They easily penetrate the walls of my apartment unlike other speakers I've used.  High end response was something I had to get used to but I decided not to try and modify these vintage pieces to respond more like modern equipment . I like the richness and dedication to mid range that they provide.  I'm a big fan of these large cabinet speakers.

 

The Sansui amps are from 1956 and are fairly rare. I have some other amps but have not tested them against other mono blocks or a Quad 303 I own.  I hooked them up, turned them on and they did exactly what I wanted them to do. Sound is rich, quick and warm.  They are also quite nice to look at.  One day I would like to compare them to other amps but I can't get myself to disconnect them.

 

The turntable took a long time.  I waivered for a while and finally settled on a Lenco L75.  I decided not to go with a XYZ (top-plate) but instead sunk it into a 30 pound birch plywood plinth without a separate top plate.  At first I went with a Jelco tone arm but I wasn't satisfied with the performance.   The sound was a little dull and at first I was concerned that my turntable project was going to be a bust.  I switched to an Ortofon ta 110 and an audio note mm cartridge.  The turntable sings.  Bass response is great.  Sound is sharp and snappy.  There is so much I'm hearing on vinyl I haven't heard for years on CDs and other digital sources.

 

Arc sp8 is fine.  This piece might be modified or switched out in the future.  The verdict is still not out if this particular preamp is net positive or negative to the sonic quality of the system.  Sometimes I like it and sometimes I wonder if a passive preamp would be better.  This is an entirely separate issue that could be discussed for a long time. Again, I don't want to pass judgement on this piece of equipment yet because there are also simple modifications I could make that would most likely increase performance (as persistently recommended - Ed).

 

I undertook this project to rediscover an enjoyment of listening to recorded music, not to build a system that met certain benchmarks or to make this a permanent hobby.  I'm satisfied with the results and thank WAJ for the wealth of knowledge he provided on his blog and the personal attention he offered which was a tremendous assistance.

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.The 'RESPONSE'; by WAJ on AUDIO (Shortened version. Extended version is here)

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You may have wondered at the cause of the delay in my response to your 'review'.

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Truth be told, I was  at a loss as to how to respond to a piece which; circumvented comment on the issues requested, reneged on your own commitments, and insisted on conveying an impression which is contrary to the reality (particularly in heaping credit upon yourself for the design  of a system you solicited another to accomplish for you) and contrary to the evidence borne-out by the thread. The fact that it seems more like a chronicle of your audio-life's story extolling your 'expertise' and 'prudence' in selecting proper equipment and mods, with some assistance (instead of the component/system-review requested) is even more incomprehensible against the backdrop of your previously admitted, and unquestionably demonstrated, lack of knowledge in the field of high-end audio.

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.I'll make no further comment on this, here, as the intense emotions caused by similar instances (among other things) throughout our correspondence, have already been vented elsewhere and may, or may not, be published later. There's no degree of hypocrisy involved in this stance, however, since several of my explicit responses to such shenanigans are already ensconced in the thread.

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.All that is left for me to do now, is to thank you for your 'review', and to wish you many hours of musical enjoyment as provided by that system I designed and recommended (and sourced for you, in many instances) excepting the Sansui amps, and DAC. The sentiments, as always, are sincere.

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[By the way, and since you seem to have 'forgotten', the items I'm directly responsible for, in that system, are; the Altec (Heathkit) Valencia speaker-system (to be augmented with super-tweeters, as recommended) the Quad 303 amp (as a backup, or interim-measure, preceding the acquisition and modification of the similarly-recommended Ampex or Stromberg-Carlson primary units - Sansuis were substituted, here) the Audio-Research SP8 pre-amp (to be modified with, at least, a stepped attenuator, as recommended) the Lenco L75 turntable (modified with a CLD-type heavy-plinth, at the very least, as recommended) an Ortofon arm - yep (tho the identical Jelco equivalent was/is my preference, due to its equal quality at much lesser cost - the 'test' cited in the 'review' does not mean the Ortofon is superior, especially since different cartridges were used - any real audiophile would know this) the Stanton 881 cartridge (not yet tested since a loaned A-N is currently being used) and, finally, the Technics RS1500 2trk/15ips tape-machine - recommended to be modified with a tubed payback amp, at least. (These were NOT your choices, as you are wont to imply, they were specifically recommended, and oft-times sourced, for you to simply purchase and, likewise, all mods were similarly, and just as painstakingly, specified for you to simply have implemented - one or two of these were your choices from the limited options  recommended - there's a BIG difference). Oops,... the preceding is, in fact, the WHOLE system,..... save and except for the two items mentioned in the previous paragraph.

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Therefore, I'm proud to confirm that this system is, indeed,  the BRAINCHILD of WAJ on AUDIO, as requested - it incorporates, in its specific and uncommon design, all the radical principles I've articulated at the said web-site. (i.e. Pending the simple, fore-mentioned and recommended, tweeter and pre-amp mods, of course).

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It is remarkable that one should solicit the hard-work, brain-thrust, and considerable time of another (over 3 months + 2, and free of cost) pursuant to benefiting from that person's design of a particular system, only to turn around (after being elated by the quality of the result) seeking to 'verbally minimize' the involvement of the other, in order to claim responsibility for the design of the said system  one was/is inept at accomplishing, in the first place. This is even more audacious against the backdrop of a published thread which irrefutably proves any such claim to be totally, absolutely, and laughably fictitious.]

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There's really no need for you to respond (and I truly wish you wouldn't) since, after 5 months of effort, sacrifice, and neglecting my own favorite web-site (not to mention my distaste for your obvious determination to distance that system from the 'small-fry' site responsible for its existence) I'm extremely anxious to be done with this affair which has long turned-out to be a 'little' less pleasant and a 'little' more tedious than it could/should have been, thanks to you - to put it mildly. I'd much prefer to end our association NOW. (Please do not try to contact me again).

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Nevertheless, I thank you for a bunch of life's lessons. Lessons which unfortunately result in the fact that I would never ever embark on such a project again, in similar circumstances. Others who would/could have benefited (free of cost) similar to you, or in some small way, have you to 'thank' for that, also.

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However, and despite the-above, I genuinely feel good about the fact that I was able to design that system for you and others to experience. [Though, by demonstrating it without one of the simple tweeter-mods (i.e. the 'cheap-trick', or 'the usual suspects'; JBL-075, etc.) and the simple mod to the SP-8, both of which I'd repeatedly recommended, you're demonstrating the system at a significant disadvantage - un-necessarily.]

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And I'm especially proud of the fact that this system stands (in the public-domain) as living testament to the veracity of the points I've continuously espoused at my site - this was my goal, and this is my reward. I'll leave you, now, with one final word of advice:

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Be cognizant of the fact that, by far,  the main key to the realism you now experience is due to the very first component I recommended and sourced; the Altec Valencia (or similar types, with efficient large-coned mid/woofers). If you were to substitute it for even the most expensive of the popular small-coned speaker-types, then most of that realism would disappear to be replaced by a thinner, less  dynamic, and less realistic sound, featuring the falsely-enhanced hyper-detail and similarly false hyper-imaging so popular today - I call that 'hi-analytics', not high-fidelity. The realistic tonal 'warmth and midrange-strength' you now so admire would, then, only be a memory. (Substitution of a passive- pre would also result in much the same degradation - modify the SP-8, or think 'Coincident Statement', in upgrading the pre). Always remember these points if, and/or when, you contemplate future 'upgrades'.

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.Enjoy the system.

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.Regards,

.WAJ on AUDIO.

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.P.S.

.Oh, by the way, instead of the cool calculated focus on 're-shaping' truth, in your final review and, especially, your utterances leading up to it, I much prefer the honesty integral to your previous spontaneous remarks, as expressed each time another of my recommended components (and even your choice of amp) was inserted into the system. 

.Nevertheless, and regardless of any shortcomings or discrepancies, that 'review' does proclaim the quality and realism of the system, along with your immense satisfaction with it. Yet, I prefer to close with a repeat of some of your prior remarks (as taken from the thread) and ending with one of your previous complete statements. That's only because (in addition to the fact that the last paragraph refutes a falsehood currently promoted - and in your own words, at that) this honest, uncalculated, spur-of-the-moment statement (similar to your other previous remarks, below) obviously reflects your genuine shock and amazement at the realism of this system, and obviously implies its superiority over those other popular types with which you are familiar, including your own highly-rated 'Genelec' system::

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. "...When I listened to Louis Armstrong on these speakers - it felt like he was actually singing to me - not like I was listening to a good recording of him singing..."

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"...I was literally trembling because the sound was so full and encompassing......... I listened to a few things I'd been listening to hundreds of times and it was a brand new experience.......... I've already reached my goal, which was to put together a system without breaking the bank which would give me an opportunity to listen to recorded music in a way I've been missing............  Tues and Wed night we're incredible for me...."

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.My comment, here:  ............I can't get over this tho; You listened to those awesome Western-Electrics, which demonstrate a ridiculous level of superiority over some of the most expensive modern speakers in existence, and then you said this;  "When I got home and hooked them up to the Valencias - I was impressed with the sound of my amps and speakers to same level that I experienced at his studio.  That's a good sign." Ha! "That's a good sign". What an understatement. I agree tho, that's definitely a good sign....

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 ".....Sounds great .  Really could not be more pleased.  Speakers sound so real.....   Im very happy w the sound right now.......".

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".....The turntable sings.  Bass response is great.  Sound is sharp and snappy.  There is so much I'm hearing on vinyl I haven't heard for years on CDs and other digital sources......"

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"....Sp8 is in. I could only listen for  a little while. I intend on auditioning them tomorrow. From what I heard - the sound is so real that I can only listen for no more than 2 minutes at a time and I have to give my ears a  chance to process. It's too good right now. I need to get used to it.

I'm blown away by the realism of the system. I never had an expectation for this level. Exceeds expectations which is becoming more difficult to do at this stage.

I can't believe that following advice sight unseen could produce something so excellent. A lot of advice out there and lots of opinion . Following yours has produced good results so far. 

Thanks"

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 You were welcome!                                                     

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The End

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