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



by: W.A.J


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 exerpts of this work. Readers, therefore, should be cognizant of that fact. Some may want to skip segments they've already read, though some of these are shorter versions of the 'stand-alone' articles. This piece now 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.



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, in my opinion.

However, before I continue, I must mention that the Klipschorn is the most lifelike speaker I’d ever heard. Its colorations in near-field critical listening are absolutely intolerable to me, but its considerable efficiency (104db/1w) arms it with the awe-inspiring dynamic capability to which I aspire. Still I went and bought a pair of super efficient Altec-Lansing horns to see if I could learn to live with a horn's colorations. I simply couldn’t. The compression-drivers (without the horn-sections) now serve as tweeters in my system. Perhaps I’ll try some other type of horn system in the future, but right now I’m not feeling so ‘horny’.

In my quest for high-efficiency/dynamic-capability, I’ve decided to go with multiple dynamic drivers instead. With the drivers I’ve obtained the system is at around 94db/1w. I’m considering doubling them and going for 97db/1w (an average system is only around 88 to 90db/1w efficient).

KLH: Some time ago, a friend offered to sell me a pair of inexpensive, non-descript KLH speakers. He claimed he’d bought them from a studio which had been using them as monitors – yeah, right. But the more I listened, the more I recognized the mid/woofers’ rare and outstanding abilities (most systems will mask these abilities though - re; the section on power-amps – which probably explains why these abilities aren’t more widely appreciated). Well yes, the treble was subdued, the mids were smooth but recessed and not very well defined, as if these mid/woofers were crossed-over below their optimal point. However, the lower mids were EXTRA-ORDINARY. They had the very rare, but equally crucial, LOWER MID-RANGE BODY that is so lacking in so many – no most – speakers, top-echelon high-end included.

But that’s not all, these light-coned 12” drivers rendered HUGE amounts of LOW-LEVEL DETAIL in this region. The detail so many other speakers slight, or miss completely; the sustainment and decay of notes slowly fading into oblivion, the haunting guitar melody, deep in the mix, which those other speakers ignore. They portrayed voices with realistic chest-tones, yet no hint of boom, singers really sounded REAL. They also made instruments in this region sound real, and whole, and big, as BIG as life, even the piano. Notes were complete with the requisite weight for uncanny realism. They displayed the sort of lifelike musicality and liquid lucidity so loved by tube-amp aficionados, myself included. I love them so much, I’ve since bought two more pairs on eBay, and I’m contemplating more. [Perhaps the newer versions such as those sold by Amazon.com would be as good, I’m not sure – check on them if you’re so inclined. But I am absolutely sure that the corrugated-coned 12” mid/woofers in such model as KLH 7500, AV4000(1), AV5000(1), etc. are truly top-notch, in the areas I’ve articulated, despite their cheap prices].

OK, so I’m definitely throwing away the tweeters. But what to do about the less than stellar middle mid-range?

YAMAHA NS10: Moderately expensive for its size, the Grammy Award winning Yamaha NS10 studio monitor is legendary. Revered by the many, and reviled by the few. Some criticize its tweeter, others – its low- bass (or lack thereof). But all acknowledge the superior CLARITY and ACCURACY of those 7” drivers’ mid-range and mid-bass. These are the little white-coned speakers that can be seen atop the mixing-consoles of almost every popular music-studio (and videos there-of) around the world. Almost every popular song we hear (produced within the last 20-odd years) is a product of the sound quality of these little speakers. One listen will tell you why they’re so dominant in the industry. The treble isn’t special, but their accuracy in the mid and mid-bass is outstanding. And especially in the context of the mediocre performance of most others in this area, the accuracy of the NS10 in the mid-bass region is really ASTOUNDING, in my view, as compared to the sound of actual instruments.

However, though their superiority at mid-bass does improve upon that of the KLH's, for the moment what was more urgently needed for the ‘full-range’ section of my system was their supreme prowess in the middle mid-range. Their reproduction of percussive instruments is revelatory. Drum-sets, for instance, are precisely depicted, with a ‘you are there’ presence. Snares are bitingly crisp, piano notes in this region are sharply defined. In fact, all instruments portrayed through the midrange benefit from these drivers’ extreme accuracy and clarity. Nevertheless, their performance in the lower mid-range region, is just like that of most other high-end speakers I’ve encountered – dismal!

Having gotten hold of a few of these icons, I alternated between KLH and Yamaha. I agonized for months over which to use since each was so outstanding in its areas of strength. Moreover, whatever the KLH lacked in middle-mid-range, the Yamaha supplied in spades, and what the Yamaha lacked in lower mid-range body the KLH supplied in buckets. Finally I decide to combine the two, and voila, my super-speakers were born. I’ve nicknamed them ‘Kloss 1’ which is a pun on Class 1, but also a tribute to the esteemed designer and co-founder of  KLH, Henry Kloss, the man whose design philosophy for realistic reproduction is responsible for one of this speaker-system’s greatest attributes (lower midrange body and articulation) so rarely found in others – even many of the most expensive. Perhaps I should dub it, 'Kloss TENS 10' in tribute, also, to the NS 10. For now, each channel comprises two KLH 12”s and one Yamaha NS 10 (7”er) complemented by a 4” hi-mid. An Altec compression driver serves as tweeter.

CROSSOVER-LESS OPERATION: A recent experiment seeking the benefits of crossover-less design has yielded extra-ordinary results. The little white-coned Yamaha that operates as a mid-woofer in each channel was divested of its crossover network, and because of this, believe it or not, the sound of the whole system has improved – throughout the whole spectrum, excepting deep bass and treble (the Altec tweeter was already 'x-overless' with only a capacitor limiting lower frequencies). What most manufacturers, and many in the press, will not tell you is that despite some benifits, ALL passive crossover networks diminish detail, dull transients, obscure clarity, add distortion, and strangle dynamics to varying degrees. I may elaborate in another article, but suffice it to say that all the claims made for crossover-less designs are now proven to be true – for me, at least.

This simple operation has taken the system's performance to another level. The gains in transient-response, dynamics, and overall clarity and detail, are truly exceptional. Any minor coloration induced by this mode of operation is completely masked by the rest of the full-range system which continues to operate thru its conventional crossover networks – it’s like having the best of both worlds as the x-overs on the KLH’s do contribute to shaping the exquisitely natural sound of these drivers. Nevertheless, one never knows how much music is lost in conventional designs until one decides to go CROSSOVER-LESS, in some sense.

The complete speaker-system is very good in all areas. However its rare abilities in the areas of lower midrange body/articulation, transient-response, and its equally rare 94db/1w/1m-efficiency afforded superior dynamic-capability, imbue it with a level of REALISM in reproduction that cannot be approached by many of the very highly esteemed high-end speaker systems extant, so far as I'm aware (including some that are superior in detail-resolution - at the highest frequencies - at this time). And it proves the veracity of the arguments previously espoused here regarding the most important factors for realistic reproduction, in my opinion (re; my article, ‘From Hi-Fi to High-End…’ - again).

For a more easily referenced concept of it's sound; consider the full-tone and dynamism of a large Tannoy-system combined with the clarity, accuracy and detail (even more enhanced - crossover-less) of the Yamaha NS10 near-field studio monitor (with a better tweeter) - arguably, the best of both worlds.

[Note that a spectrum-analyzer/generator is an indispensable tool in tuning such a system. However, regular, and on-going, opportunities to compare the system, in real-time, to the sound of a large acoustic band/orchestra playing next-door to my back-yard, over the years, has been the most important tool in facilitating the tuning process, and ensuring this system's very close resemblance to the actual sound of live acoustic instruments, and voices. The natural, and realistic tonal-balance of cheap, second-hand KLH drivers (no longer manufactured, as far as I'm aware) made the process even easier. Contrary to what some may believe, realistic sound does not necessarily require the use of expensive and exotic drivers and parts - as state of the art Dunlavys and countless other speakers have repeatedly proven, over the years - ceramic mid/woofers and diamond-encrusted tweeters, notwithstanding].

This system can be played full-range, but that alone won’t do. So what about serious bass?

SUB-WOOFERS: A remnant of my days as a 'semi-pro' mobile commercial sound-system's owner/operator is a pair of 5’ enclosures with a Goodmans 18” woofer each. These have served as sub-woofers for years. However I’ve come to believe that using one speaker per channel for the full bass range is too much of a compromise. A speaker optimized to play at the very lowest frequencies cannot properly operate at the mid-bass frequencies, and vice-verse. It’s a fact of life, though many will claim to have overcome it, but all manufacturers should know this.

The original Wilson Wamm super-speaker utilized a bass system with 2 small 9”x11” speakers operating from 430hz to 40hz, and from 40hz to 17hz an 18” woofer took charge. This arrangement facilitates the low-bass extension of the 18” driver, and the mid-bass definition of the smaller drivers which the 18” could never provide to the same degree. A similar arrangement is employed by Goldmund in their $300k model, and also by Nestorovic.

My own experiments have revealed my 18”s to be competent at the lowest frequencies (I’m sure there are others, but no other woofer I’ve found provides deep-bass, and even lower-mid bass, with the earth-shattering realism that 18’s can, and the Goodmans’ are outstanding in this regard, also, they're better/rounder than most 18"s, in my experience, at deep-bass) so I use them from 40hz to 20hz. And since I also cross-over at 100hz, I utilize a pair of high-compliance 8”s from there to 40hz. But though the 8’s were a good choice to provide the required weight in that region, I still wasn’t getting the definition I wanted. So then I tried a pair of (low-compliance) Yamaha 7” NS10's, yes, in parallel with each pair of 8”, and yes, another of my dreams came true. This combination is AWESOME – articulation, definition, weight, extension, correct tonality, you name it, this combo has it. It’s what I call, the ‘Double-Bass’ system (for more on this, refer to my article, ‘The Bass Reality’). And there is another outstanding quality thanks, in part, to the little Yamahas.

A critic of the NS10 once complained that the bass was ‘card-boardy’. He’s so right. I remember once watching a feature on The Funk Brothers, studio-band of Motown in it’s hey-day. The drummer claimed that the best sound he ever got from a ‘kick-drum’ was when he substituted a beer-carton for the purpose. I’ve checked, that’s what some kick-drums really sound like – a card-board box – a sound the Yamaha more accurately depicts than any other speaker I’ve heard (the Goodmans 18”ers share this trait to a slightly lesser degree, but are certainly not as adept at resolving minute mid-bass detail, or the leading-edges of bass transients, however, nothing I've heard is as awesome at lower-mid-bass and deep-bass). The critic was upset because the NS10 didn’t sound like other hifi speakers he’d heard, in that region. What he didn’t realize is that the Yamaha was right, and the others wrong.

CHANGES ? Aspects of the speaker-systems may be altered before settling on the final configuration. Believe it or not, each mid/woofing Yamaha now temporarily occupies space in each sub-woofer cabinet – to the side and to the rear of each full-range tower. But that is for experimental purposes only. Soon they’ll take their rightful places in each tower. I seriously doubt I'll find a substitute for the NS 10 which excels at both midrange and mid-bass, so things will remain status-quo on that issue. As it is, one NS10 operates purely as a woofer, and the other operates as a mid/woofer in each channel. The outstandingly accurate mid-bass from these does complement, and at the same time qualitatively override, the decidedly ordinary, slightly woolly mid-bass of the KLH's.  (KLH's have the sort of mid-bass most hifi speakers have - soft, round, and very pleasant or pretty, like that of a highly-rated Spendor BC1 system, the best domestic speaker I'd previously owned - totally inaccurate). Perhaps the most significant change, for now, will be the scrapping of those redundant 8"ers, at mid-bass. (Remember those? They now 'assist' the 18's at low-bass, and do seem to render a slight improvement in finesse. Though the system is basically set, sporadic experimentation does continue, from time to time, with a view to even better performance, where posible). Nevertheles, experiments have confirmed that the two 18"ers are perfectly able to take-over from the mid-bass supplied by those four KLH 12's, and four 7" NS10's.

It’s amazing that such a small speaker could have such powerful effects on a fairly large system, but it does. It’s like an ounce of rum in a pint of Coke, its effect belies its size. But they couldn’t perform at this level by themselves, and those KLHs are superlative within the context of their own sphere of excellence. Yes, 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.


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.

Apart from its bass, the Sherwood is firmly ensconced in the realms of mediocrity. And it shouldn’t be overly proud of its achievements since many of its mediocre brethren have similarly passable to good bass. In fact, its overall performance epitomizes that of the majority, including many well reputed high-end amps out there, so I’ll describe it.

Though its treble is nothing to write home about, I’ll concentrate on the mid-range since that is where most of my major problems lie with the majority of amps I’ve encountered. Alleged 20-20 frequency-response notwithstanding, the Sherwood and most others chop off lower-mid-range sounds (from around 500 to somewhere about 200hz, in my estimation). The sound is therefore thin, lower mid-range body is absent, so the picture presented is incomplete. (The similarities with many high-end amps stop here). And if that were not enough, what’s left of the butchered mid-range is un-natural, hard, edgy, electronic-sounding, metallic and totally false. I’ll stop there.

The Crown (from above deep-bass up) could be called the best of a bad lot. It boggles the mind, though, as to how Stereophile mag could have been using its bigger brother, the Macro-Reference, as a reference for some of their reviews, but there you have it. (They definitely share a similar sound, as does a Macro-Tech 1200 I once owned. In fact the Micro-Tech, Macro-Tech, and Macro-Reference all share similar sonic characteristics, and possibly a similar circuit). The Crown displays the same lower mid-range deficiencies of most amps, and, for me, that alone disqualifies it from full-range use in any high-end system that I would want to own. The rest of the mid-range, though, is outstanding; smooth, crisp, clear, accurate, even if slightly electronic (‘transistory’) sounding. This amp is also slightly more dynamic than my favorite. The treble is also smooth, crisp, clear, and somewhat prominent. However, another intolerably un-natural trait is this amps exaggeration of sibilants (that ‘sssss’ sound in ssspeech and sssong). Bass is powerful, tight, and totally awesome. It’s also totally un-natural, in my opinion – especially deep-bass (ie overly tight and hard sounding, devoid of detail, and seemingly prematurely curtailed). Nevertheless, this amp can be absolutely impressive in a less competent system – hell, I once bought two, in quick succession, when I didn’t know better.

The Sherwood, on the other hand, conveys bass that is much more natural; deeper, smoother, rounder and much more textural – affording greater insight into the components of the sound, even in the mid-bass region. So, for this reason, and the fact that the Crown’s fan is annoying, I now mostly use one side of the Sherwood for mid-bass, and the other side for the low-end. Stereo bass will be restored when I replace that Crown of thorns with another UREI, hopefully extending some of its lower-mid articulation to the mid-bass region.

Ah, yes, the UREI – the love of my life so far as amps are concerned. What can I say about the UREI? I’m sure there must be better amps out there – Audio Research Reference Series, Lamm, Coincident, McCormack, Clayton – but I haven’t found one yet to tear me away from this little unheralded over-achiever. One of my favorites, the Atma-Sphere, has subsequently been reported to have a sonic short-coming I’m not prepared to endure (re; 10Audio web-zine), and this is in an area where the UREI is strongest. Other candidates may also have limitations I’m not prepared to tolerate, so for now I’m sticking with my champion. I’ve passed up chances to replace it with Aragon, Bryston, McIntosh and an Audio-Research (early VT100) with no regrets since none of these were really significantly superior, overall, to the UREI with its low-feedback circuitry (the secret to its quality, I believe). Apart from amps equivalent to those in my first list, I believe the only significant increase in quality, at reasonable cost, could come from an OTL or S.E.T. amp design, or a vintage giant killer such as a modified Ampex or Stromberg-Carlson. I’ll keep them all in mind, but for now I’m content.

One could say the UREI is remarkably unremarkable - a supreme complement for any amplifier – no aspect of its sound jumps out to say, ‘Hey, look at me’, and nothing is missing. The sound is neutral and absolutely NATURAL. They say it’s solid-state (transistorized) but I'd swear there must be a tube or two in there somewhere as it's capable of sounding more tube-like than some tube-amps I’ve known. But the UREI’s greatest achievement is in the area where most other amps fall flat on their back-sides – in the lower mid-range. It facilitates the reproduction of all the detail in this area that those others don’t even acknowledge – the low-level sounds, the fade of notes, the weight and resonance of instruments – it allows a system to supply that elusive LOWER MID-RANGE BODY in spades. That, along with its other attributes, puts it in a class above the rest, as far as I’m concerned. Three cheers for the champ: Hip, hip - UREI, etc., etc.

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.

There is a school of thought which asserts; it is best to eschew the use of a pre-amp and connect ones line-level source-component directly into ones power-amp – a school of thought to which I once subscribed. For years, I used no pre-amp. My CD player was directly connected to my power-amps, and yes, it sounded significantly better than having a pre-amp in the chain. But then the LS3 arrived for a demo, and I was literally BLOWN-AWAY. An audiophile friend in attendance was also blown away by its performance. Its night and day effect on the system was virtually indescribable, so I’ll leave it at that, for the most part. Suffice it to say, it made me appreciate the quality of both the UREI power-amp and my KLH/NS10-derived speaker-system.

Compared to other pre-amps, including an outstanding Quad 33, the sound of this Audio-Research was/is natural, open, airy, notes are clearly defined, instruments/voices are sharply delineated on a wide sound-stage, voices and instruments seem bigger, more life-sized as the lower-mid-range void is filled-in, never before revealed low-level details are now  apparent, appropriate notes blossom, bloom, and glow, then linger and fade in a way they never ever did before - in a way eerily reminiscent of the live experience. This thing is awesome, and fully deserves its place on Hi Fi Critic magazines best pre-amp list, and Stereophile’s class ‘A’ components.

LS3 versus PRE-AMP-LESS OPERATION: As previously hinted at, the belief in certain circles is that operating without a pre-amp is the ultimate mode of operation for a system - nothing can be better. And since I’m a former ‘believer’, it would be remiss of me not to specifically state the difference between operating this system without a pre-amp, and operating with the LS3. In a nutshell - LOWER-MIDRANGE BODY, and a near indescribable, but life-like "GLOWING"-MUSICALLITY. Those are the differences.

This pre-amp is perhaps the most critical component in the system - take it out, and the system goes flat, the lower-midrange goes missing, it resorts to merely very good, perhaps even extremely good hifi, but hifi nonetheless. The LS3 is the elixir that breathes life and uncanny realism into the system. A recent storm had caused me to disconnect the system for several days. Impatiently, I'd eventually reconnected without the pre-amp, that's what reminded me of what the LS3 did for the system. Without this pre-amp the system, to me, sounds dry and analytical, the type of sound many seem to love, but with which I’m dissatisfied as it lacks the afore-mentioned components necessary for natural realism, it reminded me of how the system sounded before the LS3's arrival. Reconnecting this pre-amp returned the blossom, bloom, glow, linger & fade of appropriate notes, and also returned the all-important lower-midrange body. It allows all the other components to exhibit their prowess in these areas. Without the LS3, for instance, the UREI and the KLH's sound ordinary and flat, just like most other 'very good' amps and speaker-systems I've heard, they're unable to display their extra-ordinary skills at operating in the areas most other components and systems can't even visit - the lower-midrange.

The lower-midrange prowess, and that vibrant bloom, linger & fade of notes, in addition to its uncommon dynamism, these are some of the factors which distinguish this audio-system, set it apart from the merely very good, and facilitate its approach to the realms of sonic realism. And the Audio-Research LS3 plays the starring role in this scenario. In one sense - just this one sense - it's even more influencial in a system than a turntable, I would argue. That's because the turntable's contribution is confined only to that source, but the pre-amp brings its benifits to every source - even CD's sound more realistic thru the LS3. It is THE KEY component without any hint, or shadow, of doubt!

Since my youth, I had lusted after the Audio Research SP8, the many rave reviews on this pre-amp waxed lyrical about its vast superiority over virtually every other pre-amp known to man, at the time, and about its transforming effect on every system it graced. But now to own the LS3 which, some say, is even better, is an honor for which I am truly grateful  –  excuse me while I wipe a tear.

The Audio Research LS3, that’s the one for me. [An expansion of this 'review' is elswhere on this site].  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. 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.

A used Linn can be had for a reasonable cost and, good as it is, after-market and DIY mods can bring it to a level above even a brand new, factory modified version, some say. That new Linn, with its latest factory-mods/accessories, would cost somewhere approaching 20 grand. Of  two I’d rate above it, the Walker Proscenium Black costs twice as much at 40 – with accessories, and the Continuum Caliburn costs 90 grand. Maybe there are a few more I could live with if I had that kind of money.

But of the several many Linn-bashers to would want place above it, I’d say; ‘Hog-wash’. Many of those are non-suspended, several use acrylic platters – two factors which contribute to a dry, sterile sound despite their claims of increased detail. Compared to the tube-like organic sound of the Linn there is no contest as far as I’m concerned. Two other contenders for the top spot in turn-tables today are, the SME 30/2, and the 79 grand Rockport Sirrius III. From what I’ve gleaned of their dry and analytical sound, I’d take them if they were given to me for free, but I’d likely keep the Linn and sell those others if I had to make a choice. The Linn Sondek LP12 is that good, in my esteem (that plus the fact that I have been lucky enough to own another source-component with which none of those ridiculously expensive tt’s can compete – not even the Continuum or the great Walker ‘Black’ – but we’ll get to that).

The Linn is the turn-table that, 30-odd years ago, made people realize the importance of  a quality turn-table in a top-notch system. It rendered CD’s almost irrelevant, by comparison (that is; eventually - when good-sense finally prevailed, after the hype around CD's introduction). And it caused other manufacturers to be scrambling to come up with designs to match or beat it, to this day – most have failed to surpass it. Linn (UK) and Audio Research (US) are two of the companies that started this whole world-wide 'High-End' craze thru the quality of their products, and remain icons at the cutting-edge of the industry to the present time.

The Linn Sondek is another of the two components that made the biggest (night and day) difference in my current system to date. To say it blew away my CD player would be an understatement but, for the record, it did. The sound was/is bigger, instruments and singers seem more life-sized, singers sound more organic (human), more natural, more real, and so do the sound of instruments. The sound-stage seems wider, there’s more space between the performers, images are near holographic. The elusive lower mid-range body of notes is there in abundance, tiny details are revealed, dynamics are awesome, bass is thunderous, and treble is sweet.

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.

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.


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.

The bass of the Grado Sonata is also good; accurate, tuneful, articulate, and thunderous when the music dictates. The treble, though smooth and sweet, is just slightly subdued. That’s an observation, not a criticism as, I believe, it compensates for 90% of  popular recordings which are overly bright, complements excellent recordings, and restores the natural balance of music by facilitating the showcasing of that gloriously mellifluous midrange, similar to what one would experience at a live acoustic performance, for instance – heavens forbid.

My only minor issue(s) with this excellent cartridge is (record-surface) noise, perhaps due to the shape of the stylus on this model. Also, perhaps for the same reason, its tracking of difficult passages on the record could be improved, and so too its tracking of some records’ inner grooves. A pity. Therefore, my next cartridge purchase may be with a view to solving these issues, at a reasonable cost, ofcourse.

With a better stylus, improved engine components, all the strengths of the Sonata, and none of the minor weaknesses, I’m sure the top-of-the-line Grado Statement must be absolutely, fantabulously awesome. Since the Sonata is so very, very close then the Statement must be, without doubt, the world's best. Sadly, on my budget I’m unable to justify such a purchase, but I’d really love to try one if only to confirm my instincts, and see which new words I could invent to describe the experience in my report to y’all.

Perhaps the discontinued Grado Amber Tribute might be a good choice. But whatever it is, it absolutely must have the magical, natural, and lifelike mid-range of the Sonata. If not, then I’ll stick with the Sonata and ensure all my records are pristine, after all, it is worth the effort and sacrifice. Another option would be to have the Sonata re-tipped with a micro-line stylus, that would likely solve all my problems – perhaps that’s the way to go – we’ll see.

Fact is, in addition to 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?


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!


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.

However, for those who may have doubts, kindly refer to The Tape Project, a web-site advocating the use of similar machines to the above, and providing master-tape duplicates for use on such machines. Some time ago, a founder of this project (Mike Lavinge) hosted a demonstration at his home featuring a comparison between SACD, turn-tables, and R to R (reel to reel) machines similar to the above.

The digital source was a Playback Designs MPS-5, R to R tape-machine was a Studer A-820, and turn-table was a $79,000 Rockport Sirius III (a Garrard 301 and Technics SP10 where also on hand). A member in attendance reported on the proceedings, “We got into playing ‘Jazz at the Pawn-Shop’ on vinyl….One person asked to hear this on SACD, which Mike had ofcourse…..lasted all of 20 seconds.”

So that’s strike one – saCD no competition for LP.

The member continued, “Now for the highlight of the evening…One of the other members brought a R to R tape of ‘Jazz at the Pawn-Shop’. We the played the first pressing on the Rockport again and then switched to the tape copy on Mike’s Studer A-820 R to R. Holy sh!!. Nothing but oohh’s and aahhh’s! It became so obvious that the tape just had it all over the vinyl. It makes me wonder, why did reel to reel disappear as a source – convenience? We did this comparison with a number of different artistes for many hours. The R to R won every time except for one cut, cannot remember which one it was. The evening played on with music and laughter that was brought on by the clear superiority that the tape demos had.”

Strike two – LP no competition for R to R (2 track, 15 ips). End of story.

But I just had to include the member’s amazed comment about the performance of the 50 year-old rebuilt Garrard being so close to the 79 grand Rockport, “The Garrard 301 that Steve builds is shockingly good, remember the other table is the Rockport that we were doing the comparisons.” Strenghtens my point exactly, there’s no big gap between the performance of a very good tt (of whatever vintage) and those ridiculously expensive tts. For a major increase in performance, look to 2 track 15 ips reel to reel tape. It’s as simple as that. Independent comments about the superiority of R to R can also be found a the Tape Projects web-site regarding the raves they received for their demo at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show from reviewers of ‘The Absolute Sound’, ‘Stereophile’, AVGuide.com, etc.

For source material for such a machine you can buy tapes from the Tape Project and other vendors (try eBay).Or you can lug your machine to any concert, recital, rehearsal, or jam-session you might want to record, with permission ofcourse. The result will be better than anything possible from any other source. REAL to REEL is the real deal. But remember, the machine must be 2 track, capable of 15 ips speed. The more popular 4track 7.5 ips machines will not render the same level of quality, and are not compatible with 2track master-tape duplicates copied at 15 inches per second. Some machines are also capable at 30ips, but tapes recorded at that speed are even rarer, unless you’re connected with a studio.

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.


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 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, 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.



Copyright 2010                                                .