Old Forge Distributes Wand

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I am very pleased to announce that, effective immediately, Old Forge Studio will import and distribute DesignBuildListen’s (DBL) Wand products.

Wand 10.3in Side-Small

At present, DBL’s Wand product lineup is comprised of six tonearms: two performance levels, (Plus and Master) in three lengths at each level. The 9.5” arms are drop-in replacements for Rega geometry arms. The 10.3” arms are both the longest length the Linn LP12 will accommodate and is also compatible with Technics’ turntables. The 12” arms may be used wherever 12” transcrition arms are currently being used.

Accessories, mounting plates and the like are available to support use not only on the LP12 and Technics (1200 and 1500 series) tables, but also SME slot mount, Thorens and Lenco turntables as well.

in early August I will receive a final prototype of the Wand 14-4 Turntable, which, according to Founder/Manager Simon Brown, will be released this Fall.

i will be attending the California Audio Show July 27-29 to discuss DBL and Wand products with any retailers interested in carrying Wand products as well as any interested journalists.

If you’re an interested retailer but won’t be in Oakland, please send me an inquiry via the Contact page.

Heading to CAS in Oakland

i’m heading to Oakland for the 8th California Audio Show in two weeks. I won’t be exhibiting this time around, but I’ll be meeting up with old friends, doing a little shopping, some eating, a bit of drinking and, oh yeah, announcing the addition of an import/distribution wing to Old Forge Studio.

Since the manufacturer involved will not be making the announcement until I’ve received and approved my first shipment, and said shipment is wandering the Earth, I’m not quite ready to drop the other shoe. I hope to do so early next week.

A Winning Formula

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Aqua Acoustic Quality Formula DAC. (Image courtesy of Aqua.)

I received the Aqua HiFi Formula xHD DAC about a week ago and immediately set about breaking it in, using the Innuos ZENith music server and the also just-arrived Sugden LA4 line stage pre-amp, which includes a balanced pair of inputs. I meant to run it 24/7 in order to reach the suggested 400 hour break-in time as soon as possible. As luck would have it, I assembled a play list of ‘only’ 16 hours and haven’t been at the Forge every day this past week, so I suspect I’ve only reached about 100 hours.

I was going to wait longer, but at a ‘mere’ 100 hours, the Formula is already astonishing. It really plumbs the depths of subtle detail, both timbral dynamic, teasing the tiniest shifts and inflections. Bass is fantastic: extended, forceful and tight as a drum. Instruments and voices have real body and clear placement in space, as opposed to the oft-encountered vague ethereal phantasm hanging about out there ‘somewhere.’

Despite the fact that the boffins at Aqua have brought an awful lot of tech to bear in achieving this level of performance, this still feels like some kinda magic . . .

All listening so far is happening with a generic XLR cable from Formula to Sugden LA4., continuing on to the Shindo Monbrison and, for this week, the DeVore Orangutan 96.  I’ll get around to both a better interconnect, explore a single-ended RCA connection to both the LA4 and Shindo Monbrison, switching in the Auditorium 23 Hommage a Ken and Rethm Maarga speakers, but I’m in no hurry. I’m enjoying the ride!

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.

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 . . .