Time to SPU

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So, this past week I dipped my ears into the Ortofon SPU experience, buying an SPU #1S from NeedleDoctor.

First adjustment – swap out the smaller weight for the larger one on my EMT 997 arm. 32g is a lot of weight to counterbalance, even when you want 4g of downforce!

I started out listening via my Auditorium 23 Denon 103 SUT while waiting for my A23 std SPU xfrmr to arrive. Initially, with arm height undisturbed from the setting for my Midas’d Denon 103, the cartridge was bottoming out, so I reduced downforce to 3.5g, which bought me a hairline of daylight, but sounded all wrong.

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While I pondered this, the A23 SPU SUT arrived and I swapped it in. Much better tonal balance, but still not right.

After returning to 4g and increasing the arm height incrementally several times, I hit the Aha! and/or Eureka! Moment where tonal balance peaked (near-oxymoron?), and the system slipped the bonds of time and space, which weirded me out for a few seconds.

“But it’s a 17um conical bonded stylus tracking at 4g in a 32 oz contraption! It can’t be as good as a MODERN cartridge!” Cue the Batman slap meme. 1980 called; it wants it’s ‘conventional wisdom’ back.

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Now, I can sell you the arm, the step-up transformer, the JC Verdier La Platine Nouvelle, indeed, the entire rest of that system, (Shindo electronics, Rethm speakers), but (as of this writing), I am not an Ortofon dealer, so when I tell you that, assuming you have right sort of arm, this cartridge is an absolute delight at its price, you can skip the grains of salt.

If you’re within driving (or train-riding) distance of Mystic, CT, come listen for yourself!

Well Tempered Trip

I’m happy to announce that Old Forge Studio is now a Well Tempered Lab dealer.

The Forge will receive a Simplex Mk II turntable and arm in the next few weeks, along with their TLC moving magnet cartridge.

I’m looking forward to pairing it with the Leben HiFi Phono stage and both the Leben CS600 and Sugden A21SE integrated amplifiers.

AXPONA Bound

Tomorrow I head out to the Windy City for audio shenanigans at the 2018 AXPONA. While I certainly hope to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen much of, or at all, since leaving ‘show biz’ in mid-2016, I’ll also be checking out new and newly updated products from lines I presently carry, namely the Innuos ZENith Statement – a two box, top dog music server and the Aqua HiFi La Voce S3 – a discrete R2R upgrade to the LaVoce S2, both being introduced this weekend in Chicago.

Further, I’ll be shopping for analog front end bits: a turntable line for those who feel faint upon hearing the JC Verdiers’ prices and a cartridge line or two to provide broader options for those not yet ready for EMT. I will NOT simply be looking to fill price points; that’s easy. I’m in search of top shelf performance at middle shelf prices – a far more difficult task.

Sounds like hard work, no? Well, that’s why there are bars, great restaurants and perhaps even a cigar. It all evens out in the end.

FUD-Free Digits from Aqua

If you have been charging down the digital trail, whether in computers, phones, cameras or audio gear, you know that substantial FUD factor is perpetually in force. FUD? Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt! “If I buy something now, will it be superseded, outdated, yesterday’s news, by dinner time?” You know the odds are not in your favor.

So what’s a digital audiophile to do? The best answer has usually been, if you need Thing A to do what you want to do NOW, go ahead, make a choice, make a purchase. Otherwise, you’ll never decide, never make a purchase, never get to enjoy it!

Now, at least in DACs, there’s a much more satisfying answer: Aqua Acoustic Quality. Aqua‘s DACs are modular, which allows you to enjoy your cake today, and an enjoy an improved (tastier?) version tomorrow, without that appetite killer ‘sell at a loss and rebuy.’

Case in point: The Aqua Acoustic Quality La Voce DAC. I ordered a La Voce S2 a couple weeks ago. It arrived last Friday. It sounds lovely – not as lovely as the La Scala MkII Optologic, but truly musically satisfying and outstanding in its own price range. One of the noteworthy differences? The La Voce S2 uses a chipset; the La Scala MkII Optologic uses discrete resistor ladders.

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Yesterday I saw something on Instagram that, from anyone else, would inspire FUD. Aqua‘s top dog, Cristian Anelli, posted a picture showing a discrete resistor ladder board with the comment “Introducing the S3.” The next generation – La Voce S3 – is (apparently) imminent, and this one change alone, (there may be others), is quite significant. And here I sit with a brand spankin’, moments-from-being-outmoded S2. Oh dear!

Fret not. Aqua‘s U.S. distributor Mark Sossa, (Well Pleased A/V), assures me that as soon as the S3 is released, I will be able to get mine upgraded, turning my S2 into an S3 like some digital Cinderella, but without the glass slipper and pumpkin coach.

Are you thinking about a new DAC? Give me a call; drop me a line. Somewhere between the La Voce, La Scala and Formula, Aqua has the right choice for your system and budget, with the extraordinary benefit of peace of mind.

What’s Newvelle?

I wanted to say, “Quelle est Newvelle?”, but a quick check with Google Translate informed me that “What’s New” would actually be “quoi de neuf?” in French, so there went the clever title/intro.

Anyway . . . Having stereo gear with astonishing abilities is all very nice and keeps a lot of us busy, either as a business or hobby, but what use is it without wonderful recordings? No use at all, is the inevitable answer.

So, I was thrilled when a vendor, (hint: he’s extremely tall), turned me on to Newvelle Records, founded by Elan Mehler, a New York jazz pianist and composer, and Jean-Christophe Morisseau, a Parisian business executive. Their plan?

“We are building an association of likeminded music lovers, interested in acquiring new music available solely on vinyl. We are offering memberships to receive a new pressing bimonthly of some of the finest artists in the world and we are offering it in a format that is completely exclusive.”

They sell memberships which entitle the subscriber to an LP every other month, which becomes a box set at the end of the year. Their first season, (which I’ve just ordered),  consists of the following albums:

  • Frank Kimbrough Quintet
  • Jack Dejohnette Solo Piano
  • Noah Preminger Quartet, featuring Ben Monder, John Patitucci and Billy Hart
  • Don Friedman Trio, featuring the music of Booker Little with Phil Palombi on bass and Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums
  • Ben Allison Trio, featuring Ted Nash on saxophone and clarinet and Steve Cardenas on guitar
  • Leo Genovese Trio, featuring Esperanza Spaldingon bass and vocals and Jack DeJohnette on drums

 

The second season is complete and, as I write this, still available, and the third season is underway.

If you’re a jazz fan, please support live musicians, both through attending live performances and purchasing their physical media, rather than buying the same ancient and venerable albums in yet another format or tip-toeing through streaming services which hardly keep a musician in stamps, much less meaningful support.

 

Feel the Rethm – Maarga

I’m jumping the gun a bit here. Having spent the last week getting acquainted with the Rethm Bhaava with their new 8” full-range driver, I’m hungry for more. As it happens, the pair of Maarga used in the Soundstage Ultra review had become available, so I pounced.

As it happens, reviewer Tom Mathew used the Shindo Laboratory Monbrison pre-amp and Haut Brion and Cortese power amps in his review. I’m listening to the latest revision to the Monbrison and the latest Cortese F2A with the Bhaava here at the Forge. Need one go that far? No, of course not, but try it if you have a chance. (Pro Tip: You have a chance! Contact me via the form on the contact page and we’ll set up a nice, uninterrupted listening session for you.)

i’m listening to the Bhaava in the Forge’s front listening area, which is much taller (12’+ wood and beams vs. 9’ dropped acoustic tile), and deeper, (30’ vs. 20’) than the back listening area. While they sound wonderful there, the space is a good bit beyond Rethm’s recommended room size for this model. The logical next move? Jump two models up the line to the Maarga, which is more sensitive and has a larger pair of Isobaric woofers driven by more powerful amplifiers.

I can’t wait to hear what the Shindo/Maarga combo is capable of. Stay tuned!

Rethm Bhaava – TNG – Episode Two

In Episode One, I had listened to the previous drivers in the Bhaava for two hours, then removed them and installed the new drivers. In the first two hours, many wonderful things were happening, but there was a nagging dry, papery coloration, only noticeable on female vocals. I let them rest over the weekend, pondering: is it the whizzer? Is it the transition from main cone to whizzer? Is it a reflection of the rear wave off the rear of the top of the labyrinth coming through the paper cone? Will it go away with break-in? I all but dreamed about it over the weekend.

Yesterday, returning to the same system as before, having neither touched nor moved anything, it was gone. Perhaps the drivers just needed a rest after flying halfway ’round the world. Jetlag? Who knows? But it was gone from the first minute.

As the Auqua HiFi La Scala MkII Optologic DAC, (hereafter referred to as the La Scala; I’m tired of typing all that), Shindo Monbrison and Shindo Cortese F2A warmed up, extraordinary things began to happen.

The musicians and instruments appeared across the front of the room, hanging in the air like holograms, but not as some translucent, anemic waifs from beyond, but rather fully kitted out with blood, breath, bones and sinew. Not typical of widebanders/FR. (Looking at you, Lowther, Fostex.)

I tend to sit on the couch, reading, writing, or fending off the dog, and music plays, but I’m not necessarily caught up in it, especially when I’m putting something through initial break-in as I am now. That’s not happening with the Bhaavas. Frank Sinatra, Diana Krall, Melody Gardot, SRV, all DEMAND my full attention. Not only are voices and instruments unique in timbre, dynamics, pitch accuracy, etc, differences in recording and mixing declare themselves with a clarity I don’t think I’ve experienced before, certainly not at this price level. Each album is unique in its approach and execution. Audio Note refers to this as comparison by contrast. Never mind comparing what you hear to some abstract absolute; that’s nonsense. The ability to communicate the differences in all aspects between recordings tells you a very great deal about what kind of a job a component, or system, is doing.

What I’m hearing from the Bhaavas, what I’m hearing from this system, tells me that its doing a truly exceptional job. I think this is what I’ll be using to evaluate the recording sessions with The Royal Boys, a local bluegrass/Americana/roots trio, next week.

In the meantime, I’ll just settle in, give the recordings I have on hand my full attention and ENJOY!

Rethm Bhaava, the Next Generation

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Today is going to be a very exciting day following the arrival yesterday of the new, proprietary 8″ wide band driver developed by Rethm in co-operation with the ex-chief designer of Peerless India — a gentleman by the name of Milind Patel.

The new driver is claimed to sound more open in the mid and treble, with more extended treble response. Apparently, in chasing that goal, Rethm also gained sensitivity, putting it around 97dB/w/m, up from the previous 94.

I think it’s important to note that, unless you attended Capital Audio Fest or the NY Audio Show this past November, you haven’t heard the Bhaava in its current form at a show yet. (At the LA Audio Show and AXPONA 2017 they had the original drivers.) You’ll have another chance to hear the new ones at AXPONA next month, where distributor Mark Sossa will again be demonstrating the new version. Likewise, any review you’ve read to date has been with the earlier, distinctly different wide band driver.

I’ll begin by thoroughly warming up my existing pair of Bhaavas, to establish a ‘before’ picture. The balance of the system consists of: Innuos Zenith MkII (std) server/streamer/player and Aqua La Scala MkII Optologic DAC, linked by a Wireworld Series 7 Platinum USB cable, feeding a Shindo Monbrison (latest) and Shindo Montille CV391 20 watt, push-pull, Class A stereo amp. Interconnects are Auditorium 23, as are the speaker cables.

First, listening to the Bhaava with the original drivers, I’m struck by how easy they are to set up. Positioning first with powered isobaric woofers off to find the greatest sense of openness, clarity and depth, it’s a 12” putt to fine tune the turnover point and level of each bass unit for appropriate weight vs speed and balance with a few different cuts.

is It 2pm yet? I’m eager to hear the new drivers . . .

10 minutes ago I fired up the new drivers. Right out of the gate, the slight cloudiness in the Bhaava’s original drivers’ mids and a noticeable but not objectionable lack of air on guitar strings, cymbals and similar has cleared up like the lunchtime atmosphere North of San Francisco.

Time to let it simmer for an hour or two . . .

 

File-based Epiphany

When was the last time you had an epiphany in your audio life? Something that put a rift in your paradigm shift? A real game changer, like ping pong to rugby? I had one just a couple weeks ago involving the Inuos Zenith MkII server and the Aqua La Scala MkII Optologic DAC.

Let me back up and get a running start at this. From around 1984 until 2002, I tolerated CDs. I didn’t do any serious listening with them EVER. Then, from ’02 until about ’15, I actually enjoyed CDs via Audio Note transports & DACs, but still leaned heavily toward vinyl for serious listening, (with the exception of one show in Milan when I found myself neutral between the two formats. It only took a $250,000 transport/DAC combo to get me to that point!)

Around 2015 I started trying to use computer files at shows so as to not appear outdated as buggy whips, but feeding my MacBook Pro through an SP/Dif->USB converter and on to the Red Book DACs was inconvenient as hell and seriously unsatisfying, uninvolving, all too easy to ignore in favor of either vinyl or CD.

For the last year or two, I’ve tried to get interested in music servers, but reading about server this, end point that, network bridges, power supplies, exotic Ethernet cable, etc, made my eyes glaze over, followed by pitching forward into my laptop. Now, I started with computers in the punch card and acoustic phone coupler modem period, serving as a teaching assistant in a grad level Computers in Communication course at BU, so it’s not like technology overwhelmed me; I just wasn’t interested in running a Higher Ed gauntlet for the privilege of playing music.

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Then, in the last couple of months, several dominoes fell over in rapid succession. First, I bought an Innuos Zen Mini server to use at home. The promised ease of use was really my entire motivation. That part was well satisfied. Import a CD? Load it into the slot. The Mini will convert it to FLAC, scoop up metadata, note titles, etc, organize it into your onboard terabyte library and spit the disc back out when it’s done. Roon is an easily implemented option, (although Innuos’ proprietary library system is very good), TIDAL is at your fingertips, and you select your music via your smart phone or tablet and wifi from anywhere in the house. If it finds something weird about a disc during importation, the Mini puts it in quarantine where you can review and correct it later.

I was taking an absolute minimalist path at home: the Mini fed the internal DAC in my Cambridge Audio integrated, which then propelled signal along 30 year old zip cord under the carpet to a pair of ancient Snell Type K speakers sitting on the floor. Eek! Still, what I heard told me that the Mini was providing clean, clear punchy signal to the DAC/amp combo. The Mini beat out my MacBook Pro on musical points and thrashed it on ease of use. Two thumbs up, but for the Forge, I wanted more.

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So I bought the ZENith Mk 2. Goodbye switching, wall wart power supply; hello linear power supply with ultra low noise regulators, Nichicon MUSE caps and medical mains filter. Dual ethernet ports with isolation transformers. Fast, silent SSD storage. Quad core Intel CPU, 8GB RAM, 4GB in-memory playback. Ultra low noise USB output. Yum. Contemplating all this plus a purpose-designed OS, I begin to see why a tricked out, kludgy laptop might not be the best solution anymore.

While the ZENith sounded wonderful with various DACs feeding the Leben CS-600 integrated amp and DeVore Fidelity O/93 speakers, the penny – no make that a pound coin – really dropped when I received the Aqua La Scala MkII Optologic DAC.

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I bought it for its discrete RDR ladder converter, FPGA decoding, non-oversampling, no digital filter, fully discrete, valve-MOSFET, Class A, no negative feedback analog stage, et cetera. A big plus is its modular construction. The Optologic Conversion System, which first appeared in the flagship Formula DAC, was integrated into La Scala’s most recent upgrade and older units can be upgraded. (Take that, digital obselescence! I hereby resign my component of the month membership.)

But the reason it’s never leaving is the resulting sound and what it does for music. 50 hours in, this combination is hypnotic, immersive, compelling, detailed but not etched or edgy, punchy but liquid, PRATty, then languid by turns, swinging, swaying or marching as required by the music.

These 2 boxes contain a world of clever tech all slavishly devoted to music. Will they replace my analog sources? No. Am I spending a lot more time exploring on TIDAL, browsing and buying on HDTracks and enjoying it all on a deeper level than I ever expected? Yessir!

By the way, you are cordially invited to Old Forge Studio to hear what I’m struggling to describe!

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“Kick back and let your ears roam free!”

Demonstration Scorecard – Part Trois

Currently on Demonstration:

  • Shindo Aurieges pre-amp
  • Shindo Montille CV391 push-pull stereo amplifier
  • Shindo interconnects
  • A23 Hommage 755 loudspeaker
  • A23 Hommage a Ken loudspeaker
  • A23 Hommage Cinema loudspeaker w/ Acoustic Plan solid state or Line Magnetic tungar tubed field coil power supplies
  • A23 Denon and EMT SUTs
  • A23 interconnects and speaker cables
  • Leben Audio CS-600 integrated amp
  • Leben Audio RS-30EQ phono stage
  • Sugden A21 SE integrated amp
  • Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a
  • DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 93
  • DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 96 loudspeaker
  • Acoustic Plan DigiMaster DAC
  • Acoustic Plan PowerMaster upgraded power supply
  • PTP Solid 12 + 9 turntable
  • Thomas Schick 12″ tone arm
  • EMT TSD75 mc cartridge
  • Box Furniture audio racks

 

Imminent Arrivals:

  • JC Verdier Platine Nouvelle turntable
  • EMT 997 tone arm
  • Acoustic Plan Drivemaster CD transport
  • Shindo Monbrison pre-amp (new version)
  • Shindo Cortese F2a single-ended stereo amp (new version)
  • Tonapparate rack