systembuiding-for-lifelike-sound-my-system-by-waj

WAJ on AUDIO; for truth in hifi/stereo/high-end audio.
 http://wajonaudio.webs.com

SYSTEM-BUILDING for LIFELIKE-SOUND:

MY SYSTEM

by: W.A.J

INTRODUCTION

All over the world-wide-web there are postings of articles by many who have undertaken to share their views on diverse topics, including hi-fi. In similar vain, I have decided to share mine.

This is an account of the steps I have taken in a quest to achieve the most realistic reproduction of music possible – the quest is still ongoing. The philosophies espoused in previous articles are exemplified in this system. Hopefully, the thought-processes that informed my choices and decisions will be interesting to some, and helpful to others. This is a ‘shortened’ version of the original multi-part article.

Nearly all the articles, so far have been spawned from this mega-article. And some on D.I.Y. speakers, amps, pre-amp, cartridge, and turntables - are modified excerpts of this work. Readers, therefore, should be cognizant of that fact. Several segments of this article have been shortened, with a link provided to the full-length-version, elsewhere on this site.

This piece features only the components of my own system, and the sound they produce as a whole. A closer approach to the long-sought-after 'sonic-realism', now enjoyed, is what inspired this whole endeavour in the first place.

MY OWN AUDIO SYSTEM

(a) THE SPEAKER-SYSTEMS

It is a little-known fact that many of the very best speaker-systems in the world were never bought from any store or built by any manufacturer. Many of the world's greatest speaker-systems are actually do-it-yourself (DIY) projects carried-out by passionate audiophiles who're disatisfied with the offerings from the mainstream (some of these can be seen at the website; "High-End Systems Around the Globe"). Some manufacturers of 'state-of-the-art systems' (Avantgarde, Magico, etc.) are actually trying to emulate the tactics employed, and the quality of sound generated, by some of these DIY projects. Others, such as the original Wilson Audio WAMM (currently priced around $1/4 million) were themselves, originally, DIY projects built in homes and garages. This is one area where the knowledgeble DIYer wipes the floor with the big-boys, rinses them, and hangs them out to dry. If utterly uncompromising sound-quality is what you seek, perhaps you should consider your own project.   

‘FULL-RANGE’ TOWERS: The speaker-systems I'm about to describe could best be described as 'D.I.Y. specials' as I could find no commercially available items, locally, that completely fit all my criteria. Previously, I (among precious few others) have described most modern speakers as being; birght in the treble, thin in the (lower) midrange, and dynamically limited. [Re; "From HiFi to High-End; What's Wrong?" Pts.1-4, for an expansion]. In my view, these are the factors which account for their ineptitude at reproducing the realism of a live performance (as they should do) despite their other excellent traits. Having owned, and having been frustrated by one of the very best of these (Spendor BC 1) for many years, I set out on a quest to address the afore-mentioned short-comings with a view to achieving the most realistic sound-reproduction possible. The system(s) outlined below is/are the result of this quest, so far. These goals have, in large part, been achieved, resulting in the full-toned dynamic sound of yore combined with the exquisite detail-resolution and imaging-potential of modern examples - bass is also outstanding. Click here for the full report.

Each channel consists of an Altec tweeter, KLH hi-mid, a Yamaha NS10 (studio-monitor) 7" mid-woofer, and two dirt-cheap post-Henry Kloss KLH 12" mid-woofers (in parallel with the NS10). Lower mid-bass thru deep bass is by way of Goodmans of England's 18" woofers in collossal enclosures. I’m as happy as a boy on Christmas Day with these speakers, and cannot imagine anything below the level of a modified Wilson Wamm coming anywhere near in the areas of performance that matter most to me. 'Kloss TEN S10' + The Double-Bass system = class 1 realism? Perhaps!

But now well move on to the motivating force behind them – the power-amplifiers.

(b) POWER-AMPS

Most popular POWER-AMPLIFIERS should be locked-up in a secure room with the keys thrown away - solid-state especially. Their overall performance is that deplorable, in my opinion, but if one is willing to endure average performance then I suppose they’re fine. Limited aspects of their performance can be very good though - bass for sub-woofers, for example – and may be sensibly utilized within such a limited context. Furthermore, if one is content with an average system, then a high-quality amp would be unwarranted since the full quality of this amp would be obscured by the mediocre components in the chain.

I currently use three power-amps; UREI 6150 ‘full-range’, Crown Micro-Tech 1200 mid-bass, and Sherwood AM 7040 deep-bass. Overall, the Crown and Sherwood are nothing special, they should probably be locked-up too, apart from the fact that they are OK to very good, respectively, within their limited scope in this system. The UREI, however, is one of the three best power-amps I’ve ever used. The others were a Quad 303, and a custom-built (Tho-mas') tube power-amp, of which, the Tho-mas was better. I would need to compare all three in this current system to determine the ultimate winner, but I can say the UREI provides a level of performance never matched by those two in a top-quality system at the time.  Click here for the full report

And to think I’d literally given this amp away to a friend who turned around and sold it to the friend who had originally sold it to me in the first place. But after nabbing it again on an extended loan, I  practically begged for it to be sold back to me as my system had improved enough (with KLH speakers and new pre-amp) for me to finally appreciate how much better it was than those that seemed to equal it when my system was less revealing. I won’t make that mistake again, be assured.

And that ‘new’ pre-amp which, in conjunction with the KLH, was so revealing was/is – drum-roll and fanfare please - the Audio Research LS3.

(c) PRE-AMP (Line-stage)

The AUDIO-RESEARCH LS3 is one of the greatest pre-amps the world has ever known. It MUST be. I cannot imagine anything sounding much better than this. Sure there are some that cost more (Audio Research’s own latest Reference 3 is over ten grand) and I’m sure there must be, at least, a slight increase in quality, but critics will say they’re mostly pandering to those who like to brag about the cost of their equipment, and filling the coffers at the same time. Perhaps after several ‘slight increases’ I’ll reconsider my stance, but the point of diminishing returns must have been passed somewhere long before this pre-amp's moderately expensive price-point. The LS3 is one of the two components that have made the biggest difference in my current system (night and day). And no, good as it is, the UREI isn’t one of the two. Click here for the full report

It is a line-stage pre-amp, however, so for a turntable to be played thru it the signal must be boosted by a phono-stage pre-amp, obviously. For that purpose I use the EAR 834P.

(d) PRE-AMP (phono-stage)

The E.A.R. 834P phono-stage pre-amp is a giant killer, at least, that’s what many of the raves about it say. It sounds as good as, or better than, many that cost much more. But since my own experience with stand-alone phono-stages is limited, my own comments on this will be limited as I have no appropriate frame of reference. All I’ll do is refer to the many reviews on it, and add that I’m extremely happy with this little tube unit.

Robert Reina of Stereophile magazine once voted a $125k system at a New York High-End show ; ‘Best Sound At Show’. So what? That system consisted of Alon speakers, Audio Research amp, Audio Research pre-amp, and a VPI turntable with Clearaudio cartridge fed into, yes, an E.A.R. 834P, that’s what! At a mere $1000US, that’s what! It’s shaped like a brick, just a little bigger, and just as ugly, however, when one considers that its already exalted performance can be ‘significantly’ improved by minor mods, as they tell us, one has no option but to be in awe of this little Goliath. For now though, I’m happy with mine as it is.

The following statements are very closely paraphrased: The 834P’s sound was absolutely gorgeous in the mid-band, with at touch of ‘golden glow’, and an overall spaciousness and enticing musical wholeness that let him sit back and get lost in whatever was spinning on his turn-table. – Michael Fremer, Stereophile

Next: Really the mid-range of the EAR/Urishi was painfully lovely. Female voices especially came through this pairing with a feeling of virtual reality……Audio nirvana from about 100hz to 5khz…..In this range, the EAR was totally competitive with the phono section of this writer's Nagra PL-P ($9500).” – 10 Audio (Web magazine).

And again: He didn’t find the bass blubbery or overripe – in fact, it had a believable physicality that could make him think solid-state bass sounds a bit too tight and overwound. The 834P’s high-frequency extension and transient performance perfectly matched its bottom: not sharp and etched, of course, but not soft or overly romantic, either – another paraphrased account from Stereophile’s Michael Fremer.

Signals are fed to it, in my system, by a Grado Reference Sonata cartridge mounted on a Linn Ittok arm attached to the venerable Linn Sondek turn-table - a legend in its own time.

(e) TURN-TABLE (#1)

The LINN SONDEK LP12 spring-suspended, belt-driven turn-table was the undisputed KING of all turn-tables anywhere on this planet. That is a fact, acknowledged by all, and beyond dispute. But I use the word ‘was’ cautiously as I risk the wrath of many thousands of Linn-lovers who believe it still is no. 1 (and I really don’t blame them - it is that good). But honestly, judging from the reviews I’ve read, a few have surpassed it in overall performance, in my opinion, yet I comfort myself in the fact that those cost more. 

The Linn has taken the performance of my system to a (whole) nother level. Several levels north, in fact. To say that I am very-extremely happy with it would be another gross understatement (not to mention bad grammar) but I am. A friend of mine questioned the wisdom if spending as much as I did on ‘just a turntable’ (he hadn’t heard it yet). I have no regrets, however, it’s worth much, much more, I know for sure, mine was a bargain. For the pleasure and satisfaction I’ve gained from having it in my system, the Linn Sondek is priceless. I refuse to say it’s a dream come true, but I did dream about owning one for a long time. You be the judge  Click here for the full report

But still another reason for the quality of the sound is the quality of the cartridge mounted on the Linn. I use the Grado Reference Sonata.

(e) PHONO CARTRIDGE

The Grado Reference Sonata is a wonderfully human sounding cartridge, sometimes breathtakingly so: Words to that effect from Art Dudley, of Stereophile magazine, illustrates the strongest attribute of this reasonably priced ($500) cartridge, in my view. Robert Reina (of the same mag) felt that no cartridge reproduces the female voice better than this one. He also asserted that the Sonata reminded him more of his $4000 Koetsu Urishi than his older Grado Signature. From all I’ve gathered, the top-of-the-line Grados and Koetsus are the very best cartridges with regard to the human voice, and among the very best at reproducing the whole mid-range region. In those regards, I’d go so far as to say they represent the state-of-the-art, and therefore better than some (thin-sounding) $10,000 cartridges. Strong words, but I’m willing to stand by them.  Click here for full report

Fact is, in addition to keeping and, perhaps, modifying this sweet sounding Sonata, I may even be seeking another for my other turn-table.

(f) TURN-TABLE (#2)

That other turn-table of mine is the famous THORENS TD 125mkII with SME 3009 II tone-arm. I am proud to say that I’ve owned this outstanding machine for more than twenty-three years. I am ashamed to say, however, that when the cartridge went south, I put this tt aside for more than seventeen of those years as I was taken for a ride on the CD band-wagon along with almost everyone else.

Disillusioned by digital, when the opportunity to own a Linn came along, I grabbed it, even though I already owned this Thorens of high repute. The rationale being that; using only the Thorens, I’d always be wondering whether the Linn would have been better. Now I’m poised at the threshold of benefiting from the strong-points of two of the better tts ever made, as they say. Additionally, the convenience of using two tts is something I’m used to, from back in the day. Nevertheless, I’ll be sure to report on the differences, advantages, and overall winner, in standard form, and then after both tts have been modified. By reputation, I’d expect the Linn to be the more awesome with dynamics and deep-bass, in standard guise, but we’ll see. For the moment, the Thorens patiently awaits a new belt, head-shell leads, and an excellent cartridge. (Modified Sonata?).

I have nothing but pleasant memories regarding the sound-quality of this tt, but that was long ago in different systems from the one I now use. I’m anxious to experience its performance in this more revealing system in the more modern context. In today’s context, standard Thorens TD125s have, elsewhere, been compared to several late designs: At Vinyl Asylum, for example, one poster claims to have owned both VPI Scout and Aires II and disliked the way these non-suspended tts reproduced music, “…I don’t like the way the VPI and other similar designs sound……. The sound is too tilted towards the analytical…” He disposed of the VPIs and subsequently obtained a Thorens TD125 which he then A/B compared to other tts similar in design to the VPIs  “…After trying a dozen or so turntables in the past few years,……A/B and even A/B/C testing, I kept going back to my Thorens TD 125 mkII…”Another poster at Vinyl Asylum offered this, “... the Sota Saphire was considered the equal to the top VPI then available and, at least by some, better than the Linn……I pulled a couple of old THORENS tables out of storage (a TD 124 and a TD125 II) and BOTH of them were better than the Sota.

Modified Thorens TD 125s have also been compared to contenders for the no.1 spot among the world’s best tts. Harmut Quaschik, a reviewer from tnt audio.com modified a TD125 (partially) and compared it to two top European contenders; a LaPlatine Verdier and a Scheu. The German reviewer related that he put a record on the Scheu and  the Platine, and also on above modified Thorens. The Thorens did not have either all the dynamic impact of the Verdier, or the deep bass of the Scheu, but it was crisp and clear and he enjoyed it. It was real fun with pop music, and he liked the Thorens very much in the mid-range and treble, and he also liked the rhythm and pace, similar to the Linn LP12, it delivered from the grooves of the record.

Note that the above TD125 was fitted with the less accomplished Thorens TP16 tone-arm, as illustrated in the review. Substitution of the much better and expensive option, SME 3009II, would definitely have facilitated an even more impressive performance, as it always does. The highlighting of the Thorens mid-range is significant, in my opinion tough, as this is where I believe suspended tts like the 125 have their greatest advantage over the now popular non-suspended types, producing the warmer, more natural tone so many of us recognize as being more representative of reality. (Bye-the-way, if this is a coloration, as some detractors might want to suggest, then color me happy with that. It’s ironic that some of these same folks vehemently defend the colorations of the 300B tubes in their S.E.T. amps, but there you go –‘to each his own’, I’d suggest – I’ve no major problem with S.E.T.s, btw).

Another poster on Vinyl Asylum had this to say, “There was a review in ‘The Absolute Sound’ that compared a Chadwick-modded TD125 to a VPI HW19 mk3, and they were very close, but only with the mods.”

With two formidable phono foes at the front-end of the system poised for a shoot-out, exciting times are ahead. Is this hobby great, or what?

(g) DIGITAL

I love the convenience of the COMPACT DISC and almost everything digital. I also love the absolute silence between tracks on a CD. I wish consumer-digital would sound as good as analogue. But it does not. I wish CD (HDCD, DVD-A, Blue-Ray, SACD, etc.) would sound as good as LP. But they do not. So why bother? Here endeth the 'review' - with a smidgen of regret.

Oh bye-the-way, just for the record (and for those interested in trivia): There is a Sony CDP 610 ES (needs a head, or something, but I'm not motivated), 2 DVD players (brands irrelevant), and a Dell lap-top computer (‘Dell-ceeta’) which I may one day upgrade with a Pro-Tools M-Box as DAC (highly touted by a member of  ‘High-End Systems Around the Globe’ as outperforming many expensive and respected HiEnd DACs, and equal to a Mark Levinson CD player) – I’m in no rush however, even though I do play a fair amount of digital when I’m not seriously listening. Seriously speaking, digital sounds very good to me, but that is only until I play a very good record. So for now, at least – analogue rules!

TAPE MACHINE (Hi-Fi VCR)

A Sony SLV 675HF HiFI VCR is the work-horse in the system for non-critical listening. Several similar machines have been worn-out over the years. Why? The convenience of having 6 hrs of uninterrupted music per tape is hard to beat (music while you work, without interruptions to change discs/records). And many of the qualitative advantages of taped LPs still out-shine digital, in several respects. Obviously the live LP would still be better though. But even so, taped sound-quality of analogue or digital sources is of a fairly high standard. Bye-the-way, internet radio (or streamed music) from the Telarc label sounds very-extremely OK – limited material though. Wish there were more sites with that level of sound-quality, or better (most sound irritating) lots of empty tape to fill. Any suggestions?

TAPE MACHINE (Reel to Reel)

And speaking of tape, a semi-professional ReVox A77 mkIV 7.5 / 15 ips 2 track tape- machine is the currently under-utilized secret-weapon in this system.

It, and others like it, is the path to the absolute ultimate in sound reproduction achievable anywhere on this planet today. It is the reason why I’m content with my Linn/Thorens combo as I know they provide a level of performance close enough to the state-of-the-art in LP reproduction that I can scoff at the ridiculous prices of those that claim to surpass them, ESPECIALLY since I know that NO $100,000 turntable can even match the ultimate performance of a 2 track tape-machine operating at 15 ips (inches per second). This is master-tape quality, THIS IS THE VERY ULTIMATE IN SOUND-REPRODUCTION.  Click here for the full report

ACCESSORIES: So then, those are the main components of the system. Oh, there are some other accessories like inter-connects from Monster-Cable and Wire-World, speaker-cable from Esoteric Audio. A cross-over unit (for the bass only) is hidden under a chair, and an equalizer (centered at 30hz) for deep-bass only, is on the floor. Other equipment, connected to a TV in another room, are mostly rejects from the main system, and not worth mentioning.

Though all who’ve heard it so far seem impressed with the quality of the sound, that was never my aim. I certainly recognize that people have disparate preferences – some love booming bass, others like searing treble etc., etc. – but, with all due respect, those preferences were never factors in my decisions. Some may agree with my choices, others may not, that – again with due respect – is their prerogative.

The SOUND of the SYSTEM

Leaving the components aside, for the moment, and focusing only on the SOUND of the complete system, words can barely express the pleasures derived from listening to it. I’m sure I’ve never heard music reproduced quite like this thru my own systems, or many others. Never have I heard instruments sound so whole, so complete, so real. But especially voices; the realism is uncanny. On good recordings, voices are reproduced with such an organic aura it’s difficult to believe they’re being reproduced by mere electronic equipment; textures, vocal-shadings, inflections, dynamic expression, chest-tones, all are laid bare, and all contribute to a heightened sense of believability in the accuracy of the reproduction. Indeed, voices (and instruments) are reproduced with such a palpable presence, and sheer believability, you feel you could almost step forward and shake the performers’ hands.

For a system to reproduce instruments well is one thing, but voices are different.

Voices are much more difficult as we are more familiar with them, so we are naturally more competent in judging vocal reproduction more critically. So for a system to be able to almost fool one into thinking that a singer or speaker (talker) could be in the same room, or an adjoining one, that’s a remarkable achievement, in my opinion, and also uncommon. (My old Spendor system could, perhaps, have been as good, at this single trait). Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Roberta Flack, Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Norah Jones, Anita Baker, they all seem so real you feel you’re a witness to the original performance in studio, or in concert.

Conventional wisdom holds that it is most difficult for a system to get right the sounds of both the female voice and the piano, and that these sources are among the best tests of a systems true excellence. An audiophile friend recently came to visit just as I had started the lead-in to a new track on the system. We were outside on the porch when the piano introduction to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Ribbon in the Sky’ started. My friend suddenly stopped talking mid-sentence, his mouth agape. Then when he seemed to have come to the realization of what was happening he said, ‘Sounds like a real piano’.

I’ve since come to appreciate this as the greatest compliment to the system, so far. Greater than that of many who’ve said much more, as those compliments could have been contrived to be polite, by some who’re not really experts on the subject – no offence meant. But this was a true audiophile who knows his stuff, and I personally witnessed his amazement at the sound. That reaction could never have been contrived. I value that compliment above all.

And yes I do agree, well recorded piano does sound real on this system, so does the female voice. So it seems the system’s passed that test then. But acoustic guitar also sounds real, so does bass and electric-guitar, drums, horns, violins, they all sound more real to me on this than on nearly all others I’ve heard, overall, though the Klipsch and a Tannoy system also hold my admiration. And no, I’m not too easily impressed, neither is that friend above, bye-the-way.

Then there’s the ability for one to pick an instrument, any instrument, and follow it throughout the entirety of a performance. Even instruments that are way down deep in the background are revealed in their proper perspective with every aspect and nuance of ‘musicmanship’ and musical notes laid bare for one’s perusal, if so inclined. Long familiar recordings are replete with previously undisclosed information formerly edited by lesser equipment. Notes that previously seemed flat and unremarkable, in retrospect, are now brimming with life and vigor. Guitar notes, piano notes, now display the inner glow and the vibrant bloom they exhibit in live performance, not to mention the realistic weight of some of those notes in evidence. The trailing-edges of these notes are not chopped, as with some equipment, but tend to linger for an eternity before they slowly fade into oblivion, regardless of the intensity of other notes in the mix. Instruments and voices now seem life-sized and LIFELIKE. Micro, and macro-dynamic nuances are now much more apparent, revealing more of the effort and emotion invested in the performance.

Bass performance never ceases to amaze, to the point of almost being disconcerting, against the back-drop of the mediocrity to which one had become accustomed (even with the BC1). To experience that quick, tough, clearly defined, sometimes powerful, and always authentic sound of that kick-drum, for instance, (from the initial strike of mallet on drum-skin, thru the weight of the body of that note, to its ending) totally unaffected by the soft, round, awesome deep bass AT THE SAME TIME is certainly unique, illuminating, and compelling. This is something I’d previously only witnessed live (with un-amplified instruments). No system I had previously heard could produce those two distinct types of bass (hard and soft - and all tones between) simultaneously with this level of accuracy, and authenticity of tone. This is truly unprecedented, in my experience.

To put matters into proper perspective, so far as the overall sound of this current system is concerned, perhaps I should reiterate that (not counting my mobile pro-sound rigs) the best domestic system I'd previously owned consisted of; a Spendor BC1 speaker-system, Thorens TD125mkII/SME 3009II/Shure V15III turntable-system, a Quad FM3 - 33 - and 303 power-amp alternating with a 'Tho-mas' custom-built tube-amp (which was even better). That system was considered 'state-of-the-art', at the time, and would still be considered 'top-flight' today as it produced the sound which still defines, absolutely, the standard many systems aspire to achieve. But similarly in common with many systems today, it was generally incompetent at the ultimate goal of SONIC-REALISM (even though the BC1's depiction of the speaking-voice is still considered way above average). And the main culprit then - as I believe it is in many other similar instances - was the speaker-system.

For the many years I'd owned the Spendor (and associated equipment) I was confident that it was among the best. And it was, in many ways, if judged by common standards. But whenever I compared it to live instruments, I was always crushingly frustrated, and devastatingly disappointed . I was even more disappointed when I looked around for replacements among the popular high-end choices, as they all had similar strengths and weaknesses, and a similar sound - to this day. That sound is nowhere near to the real thing, as I discovered in my bouts of comparing Spendors to the real thing. Compared to the live sound, the Spendors, and many others, sound thin in the lower-mids, undynamic, too bright in the treble, and too 'refined' or processed. Needless to say, the live sound is the near opposite of all of these.

In terms of sonic-realism, to put it mildly, this current audio-system kicks its butt - big time! That is the closest I can come up with in terms of a comparison between the popular sound of today's systems, and that of this one, and others like it. 

And it may be interesting to note that this system embodies all the philosophies espoused in previous articles (especially parts 1 - 4) concerning the the order of priority regarding the most important factors necessary for lifelike reproduction. Ultimately, both systems (and a few others) have been compared, over the years, against the standard of the live acoustic instruments of a 30-piece band that plays regularly on premises next-door to my own back-yard. Speakers like the Spendor have failed dismally, but this current DIY speaker-system has been conceptualize and deliberately tuned to replicate the sound of those live acoustic instruments (and voices) playing in the open-air. And in that regard, it is a resounding sucess.

The opportunity to compare one's system to the live sound, in real-time, is priceless in the design and tuning of a speaker-system. Many years of frustration and disappointment, when comparing the Spendor's sound to those live instruments, have now been replaced by blissfull and deep satisfaction, with this current DIY speaker-system - its resemblance to the live sound is almost scary, at times. And the natural tonal-balance of some really cheap KLH speakers is a big part of the reason why. Against this back-drop I'm happy to report; this current system epitomizes SONIC-REALISM, to the extent that an audio-system can, in so far as I'm aware!

[More details of the sound the whole system produces are intrinsic to the full-length 'review' of the Audio-Research line-stage pre-amp - refer to the stand-alone article (not the shortened version included in this piece)]. 

RATINGS & SHORT-COMINGS: The musicality of the entire system is absolutely awe-inspiring - to me, at least. How would I rate it? Well, in today's context where there's an un-natural emphasis on middle-mid/hi-frequency low-level detail-resolution and pin-point stereo imaging, and where a 'neutral' midrange equates to a thin midrange, and an overly bright 'airy' treble is all the rage - then I'll happily conede to a Class 'C' rating, conservative though it may be. (The Spendors would still, perhaps, be close to Class 'A', judged by these criteria currently in fashion. Like several of the best today, the Spendor BC1 was extremely good at the things it did. Sadly, like many others today, overall realism wasn't one of them). However, judged against the real-world standard, as nature prescribes it, and to which my own system-design philosophy conforms, then the tables are turned. In nature's context, CORRECT- TONALITY especially for the WHOLE midrange (including the forgotten but critical lower-midrange) and DYNAMISM take precedence over the afore-mentioned fads. In nature's context, therefore, the rating for this system jumps to Class 'B++', in my estimation, shunning Class 'A' only (or mainly) because I believe the uncommon and outstanding dynamism of the speaker-system could still be improved even further.

SHORT-COMINGS: Coming back down to earth, I’d describe stereo imaging as only adequate, at this time, simply because the speaker system is merely at the experimental stage, at the moment, necessitating the placement of two mid-woofers in less than optimal positions. However, judging from the reputation of several of the components, and from the current performance, I do expect imaging to be another area of excellence when the speakers are finally configured. As I said before, it’s a work in progress.

The systems performance in the treble region is very good, in my estimation - with outstanding dynamics here too. And I certainly wouldn't want the emphasized treble that has long been so popular. But a system such as a B+W 802D, for instance, does seem to exhibit a delicacy, in the high-treble region, not equaled by my own, at this time - a minor concern easily addressed. Nevertheless, I'm not so sure I should, especially since tweeters which excel at delicacy may likely fall short on dynamism. Common-sense suggests that the 802's high-treble superiority may, partly, be a consequence of the prominence that system also exhibits in this region. And since there's no glaring deficiency, perhaps I should leave well-enough alone. We'll see.

Also, I believe the reproduction of the rarely employed lowest notes of the piano could be improved. A sub-woofer amp with prowess in this area (another UREI?) could be the answer. Or, perhaps, substituting a barrage of KLH 12's for the 18" subs (ie; 4 KLH's per channel - with their proven strengths in similar regions) may garner even better results in this one, rarely encountered, aspect of performance. I'm almost certain the first measure would suffice, but a combination of both is also another option. However, I'm not even sure there's a viable concern, here, since this 'short-comoing' could be that of the one or two piano recordings I own with piano-notes that low. In truth, no other instrument is depicted with any such 'short-coming', and no other pinao recording, for that matter. Therefore, it's perhaps unfair for me to entrertain doubts about only the lowest notes of the piano, especially when these doubts are based only on two recordings which may themselves be the ones at fault. Needless to say, no concrete conclusions can be drawn on that issue, at this moment. No doubt, we'll see what transpires on that front, in time.

Dynamic capability in this system is way above the norm, but it’s still bettered in this single area by that Klipsch system of yore, in my opinion. Yet, I’m not complaining since I did make a deliberate choice between the relative 'neutrality' of 'direct-radiators', over the midrange colorations of horn-coupled systems such as the Klipsch. (I may, yet, double the speaker compliment to increase dynamism. That alone may indeed suffice. Other options may also be employed - such as; other horn-types coupled to the existing drivers, for instance). However, as things currently stand, I believe systems like the Klipschorn are even more dynamic, despite their intolerable limitations (for me, that is).

The point, here, is that the system is definitely guilty of several imperfections, but so too is every other.

These minor issues notwithstanding, I’m compelled to say that I’m happy with it overall, and over all, basically.

THE 'State-of-the-Art' M.In.St.R.E.L.?

The performance of this system, or any similar system, cannot be based solely on any single component. Sure, the front-end MUST be top-flight, and yes, the speakers too, in their performance. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, therefore all the components between these two extremes must also be top-notch in their performance, otherwise all the qualities at the extremes will not shine through. Thankfully, there are no weak links in this system.

The system is very good to excellent in almost every area. However, it is especially good - no – superlative in that most critical mid-range region (where 90% of the music lives) and all the components conspire to this end: The Linn for instance is, among other things, well known for its ‘tube-like’ mid-range. The Grado Sonata is also known for its natural mid-range and especially exemplary reproduction of the human voice. The EAR, as with most tube electronics, is no slouch in that department either, Nor is the Audio-Research, which claims its notoriety on its neutrality (the ability to pass a signal thru without additions or subtractions). The same can be said of the UREI. Supreme accuracy in the mid-range and mid-bass is the NS10’s claim to fame, and superior capabilities in the lower mid-range is that of the KLH.

All these integrated components, and more, combine synergistically to produce a level of performance which probably approaches the state-of-the-art in mid-range reproduction. Who knows? Perhaps other areas aren’t too far off either.

I do hope something of what I’ve said has been interesting to some. For those so inclined, feel free to use any information gained in your own pursuit of the absolute sound. Feel free, also, to contact me with any comments, questions, suggestions, or constructive criticisms on the subject.

M.IN.ST.R.E.L. is my nick-name for the system. It’s a carry-over from the system I operated commercially (my pro-sound system). A minstrel was/is an entertainer – a fitting name for a music system, I think.

But the name has a deeper meaning. M.IN.ST.R.E.L. is an acronym for:

Musically INtegrated STereo Reproduction Equipment for LIFELIKE-sound.

Thanks for indulging.

http://wajonaudio.webs.com

 

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