Sunday, 18 September 2011

Steve M 's Audio System

Introduction
 
The following pictures and words chronicles my audio journey over the last fifteen years or so. I have been 'into audio' since I was a 16 year old teenager growing up in the Golden Era of Hi-Fi in the 1970's. Captured firstly I guess by the music from great bands like Dire Straits, Bob Marley, Blondie, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. And secondly, I was fascinated by all the beautiful audio equipment in those early days, all the shiney knobs and the sheer sense of quality exuded  by products from the likes of Luxman and Accuphase. 

I have been striving ever since to achieve the best sound for the buck! Hence, all the DIYing, swapping and trying out the different gear depicted in this blog. They say 'variety is the spice of life' and while I have moved on much of this equipment, I still keep a very nice collection of things that come out of the attic to try out from time to time, when a different mood strikes me. 

I hope you enjoy reading my blog and who knows, it may be informative and allow you to short-cut your own path to audio nirvana ...

Best Regards,

Steve M.




                               Supratek Grange Single Ended Triode Tube Preamp ($9,000)

An 'end of the road' product if ever there was one. Once you hear the Grange your search for a preamp will be over. This Grange was Supratek designer Mick Maloney's personal unit for about two years before I was lucky enough to obtain it - it is one of his best creations with all the bells and whistles! My Grange is finished in rich jarrah timbers and 18 carat gold plated, a thing of beauty. It is awesome to behold, both visually and sonically. Pristine clarity aligned with power-grace-and-vitality. The Grange uses directly heated triodes (DHTs), a pair of TJ-300B meshplates driven by a pair of 6SN7. The Suprateks are possibly the only preamplifier on the market employing the expensive 300B tube. It is a single ended zero feedback design, with the option of adding varying amounts of negative feedback at the flick of a switch or no feedback at all. Another switch allows you to tube roll between 300B; PX4 or 45 output tubes ...an unusual, very exotic and highly evolved circuit to say the least.



Supratek Merlot Monoblocs ($9,000USD)
Superb single ended triode (S.E.T) monobloc power amps. The Merlots use the Russian 6C33-CB output tube, the same tube used in the Lamm ML2, B.A.T and VAC amps to produce a very detailed sound, with all that wonderful valviness and valve harmonics that we like. Tonally perfect in character with excellent grip and control in the bass on the right speakers. Later versions with Plitron transformer are even better I'm told. These particular Merlots are unusual in that Mick Maloney has upgraded them to include some of the zero impedence, high Damping Factor technology recently introduced in the Supratek Malbec & Mondeuse amplifiers. Super sweet sounding S.E.T topology aligned with solid-state control and grip that good damping factor gives - cutting edge design for a valve amp. The result is simply superb sonics!




Sony SCD-777ES CD Player
From the inventors of Super Audio CD, the superbly built top loading SCD-777ES weighs 60lbs/27kg and sounds pretty good to my ears. Sounds fabulous with well recorded SACDs and CDs. Makes a superb transport too when paired with my Philips TDA1541 valve output stage DAC. I have a black SCD-777ES, I put this web photo in as the silver one photographs better.




Sony CDP-XA7es ($3000.00)
I had this player before the the above Sony player. Fixed laser pro transport and copper chassis. Nice sound as an integrated player, but even better with a good off-board DAC like the Bel Canto DAC-2.




Bel Canto Design DAC-2 ($1295.00)
I like the Bel Canto DAC1 & DAC2's - both have a nice lively vivid sound with excellent separation and beautiful highs. The DAC-2 is widely considered to be the BEST within its price category, and rightly so, IMO.







Denon DP-59L Turntable
Magnificent rosewood decked direct drive turntable. Exclusive magnetic pulse detection servo on platter. Accurate CD like presentation, user friendly and beautiful to look at. This deck replaced a Roksan Xerxes in my system, the superb sound and Japanese build quality was hard to ignore!
 Denon Servo Tracer Arm
Advanced arm with electronic servo tracer technology to remove tracking errors and arm resonances.
Koetsu Rosewood
Lovely sounding cartridge and music will never sound as clear, open and lively - a cartridge you never tire of listening to. My Rosewood is one of the earlier models, probably wound by the late and legendary Yosiagi Sugano San founder of Koetsu, so this cartridge is collectable and is extra special to me. In my opinion, CD replay still has a way to go especially when you hear vinyl through a Koetsu and Supratek phono preamplfiers.






Bel Canto Design EVO 200.2 ($5,000AUD)
Nice sounding digital amps, with a neutrality and almost SET-like qualities. Not much digital glare with these babies, only criticism would be its got a slightly laid back midrange (previously owned).

Custom ICE Amps Digital Modules by B&O Denmark
These 500w/ch B&O ICE module based monobloc amps are excellent. Great clarity, power delivery, low distortion and efficient (small boxes and no heat). I use them with difficult loudspeakers like ribbon panels and ESLs. I also have the 100w/ch ICE-250A version of these digital amps.







Jamo D-830/Concert 8 Speaker ($3,800AUD)
Also known as the Jamo Concert 8 in Europe, where it is well reviewed and well liked. A fantastic largish standmount design using high quality Seas Excel magnesium drivers employing silver voice coils. The cabinets are 1" thick Cherry wood and the front baffle is made of a Jamo patented silica compound to kill panel resonances. Very detailed and accurate sound with solid bass. (recently owned).









Proac Response 1sc Speakers ($4,000AUD)
The Proac 1SC is a very musical little speaker that punches way above its weight for its size and the medium quality drivers used. A classic example of good speaker design. The 1SC is possibly one of the best small monitors, but it is not as capable overall as the Jamo Concert 8 (recently owned). 



 Proac Response 2.5 Clone
Although the big stacked Yamaha NS1200 looks impressive, my pride and joy is the smaller Proac 2.5 clone alongside. I spared no expensive to construct this DIY version of the classic Proac Response 2.5 loudspeaker. Genuine Scanspeak drivers; ME Engineering air core inductors; Solen and Aeon Tinfoil capacitors; Axon wiring all housed in a beautiful jarrah/rosewood and piano gloss black cabinet with ten coats of clear lacquer. The cloned speaker sounded excellent too, just like the real Proac Response 2.5 which I've heard on many occasions. The Proac 2.5 clone was built in accordance with the project shown here: http://www.geocities.com/diyproac25/



Quad ESL-57 spkrs; Lewis Moratori Pantera Spkrs; Luxman PD-444 Turntable; Sansui CD X-711; Mick Maloney Supratek prototype preamp; and N.E.W DCA-33 Battery Powered Class A amplifier
A shot (blast) from the past circa 1998, I guess I always had good taste as this was an excellent sounding system. The Quad ESLs started my love affair with stats combined with one of Mick Maloney's very transparent early preamps. The Moratori Panteras sounding great at high volume levels, but were a bit of a blunt sword alongside the delicacy of the Quads. This whole lot driven by a pair of very expensive push-pull Jadis JA30 EL34 monobloc valve amps.




Jadis JA30 valve monobloc amplifier ($13,000AUD)
A pair of EL34 valves per channel running in a Class A push-pull circuit, sounds modern with excellent drive and musicality. One of my favorite amps of all time. Only sold it because someone made me an offer I couldn't refuse!











Quad ESL-57 spkrs; Marantz CD-94 II + DA94; Yamaha NS1000M spkrs; Lux PD444 tt + Koetsu Rosewood+SME 3012 tonearm; Lux T300V FM tuner; Quad II valve amps.










Quad ESL-57 electrostatic spkrs; Focal Transmission line subwoofer; V.A.L MP211 SET monobloc valve amp.

The Quad ESL-57 is a very very special loudspeaker. Unsurpassed in the areas of midrange and a natural portrayal of tone, fine detail and expression, even to this day. They were my introduction to electrostatic loudspeakers and I once had three pairs of them, all at once. I tried stacking  two pairs, but didn't quite like it. Sure you got a bit more of everything and they had more overall ability because of the increased panel area, but to me they lost a bit of coherence and intimacy that a single pair has. However, I've heard that stacked pairs need to be closely matched, meaning that all eight bass panels; four treble panels; the four rectifier blocks; crossovers and transformers have to be operating within close tolerances to maintain a similarity of performance - mine probably were not? I ran my ESL-57 with the transmission line sub woofer and a Raven R-1 ribbon tweeter up top as a super tweeter, the tweeter rolled in with a 1uF foil capacitor driven by a separate small volume controlled digital amplifier. The sound was quite superb! and up their with the best of 'em.








Spendor BC-1 Loudspeaker
I really like the sound of these speakers and rate them very highly, excellent tone and good texture in the bass.

Edgar Horn Custom Speaker
Very efficient 102dB/w/m speaker that does most things better than any other speaker I've heard (ie, the portrayal of dynamics, life and drama). My customed Edgar Horn uses a Raven R-1 or R-2 ribbon tweeter; Audax bullet tweeter (or a Beyma CP21F slot tweeter); Dynaudio D54 mid; RCF 15" midbass driver and 11" Eton kevlar honeycomb 11-581 low bass, actively driven. This speaker is a work in motion and the best results so far are with a DBX Driverack active crossover, quad-amped with 4 x 100w digital amps plus a 150w plate amp. I got interested in horns after returning from a live concert and thinking that my cone/box speakers and ESLs, while very good, sounded like a small scale version of the live event. The Edgar sounds powerful and dynamic, it does classical very well (especially soaring violins) and Muddy Waters - Folk Singer sounds like he's in the room with you!

                                           Edgar Horn Mk II Loudspeaker
This Edgar Horn speaker system works very well too. A more compact version using an 80L Bass reflex box which models on WIN-ISD as being capable of going down to about 27 Hz +/- 3dB using the Eton 11-581 bass driver. Most of the good sound of the bigger 190L system shown above is retained, but Mk II is half the size.



ER Audio ESL-3 Electrostatic Speaker ($2,200 Kit)
My favourite speaker of all time. Wonderful ultimate fidelity electrostatic design by Rob Mackinlay of www.eraudio.com.au . The ESL-3 is ultra detailed, you can hear a mouse fart with this speaker - it will hold nothing back. This superfast estat uses 3.6 micron thin-membraned mylar, it has the best transient response and detail retrieval of any speaker on the planet. It is ultimately finessed, revealing little clues hidden in recordings better than anything including speakers using Accuton ceramic or beryllium drivers. The ESL-3 like most electrostats needs the help of a high quality subwoofer, more so in my large room of 6mx8m. I prefer a Transmission Line sub as they seem to to breathe and couple with the air in the room - in a similar manner to planar speakers. Therefore, TL subs blend much better with panel speakers IMO. I also like the lower octave boost that a TL design gives.  

*(Update Sept 2011): I am now using these with a single centrally placed sealed isobaric DIY sub woofer using a pair of expensive Eton 11-581 10" hexacomb bass drivers, in a push-pull arrangement. Yielding a tight and impactful bass, plus the advantage of a smaller box for room friendliness.


VAF Loudspeakers I-93 ($9,800AUD)
I recently owned this flagship ten driver speaker made by Philip Vafiadis in South Australia. This huge 90kg speaker uses Seas Excel magnesium drivers for an incisive detailed sound with a nicely textured authoritative low end. Definitely no subs required here! Pictured is the Palisander Piano Gloss finish.








                                 Luxman T-300V or T-4 or Marantz Analogue FM Models
I like my vintage analogue FM tuners, lots of free-to-air music and a soft comfortable un-digital sound...

                                                           Marantz ST600 Tuner
These old Marantz tuners are very nice to look at and some such as the valve Marantz Model 10B are considered to be the best there is! The ST600 is a mid-priced tuner, with the essential Gyroscope tuning dial and 'magic eye' blue oscilloscope ...very pretty indeed! 


Van den Hul;XLO Reference;Mandrake; VdH The First; Luminous Synchestra; Nordost Valkyra & Blue heaven; Oyaide
  I use a mix of cables depending on what the system is doing, and how I want to 'fine tune' it. I like the VdH carbon cables (neutral yet detailed) and the Luminous Audio Technology Synchestra II speaker cable and Synchestra Signature interconnects (single crystal copper) are excellent, a mix of silver and copper to give a detailed yet full-bodied neutral sound. I like the sound of Nordost Valkyra and Blue Heaven cables too, they have a clear and transparent sound which is great on my electrostatic speakers. I also make my own thin (0.25mm) pure silver interconnects and speaker cables which I think are rather quite nice...


Yamamura; Eichmann Cables; Xindak & Silver Raincoat Power Cables and A.S.L UK 3kVa Balanced Line Transformer Power Supply
Being a mature audiophile and someone involved with DIYing, I was a sceptic when it came to power cables (thinking it was all snake-oil). But, boy was I ever wrong on that one!! A friend of mine left his little bag of tricks for me to try out, he said you will be pleasantly surprised, Steve. It consisted of Yamamura mains cables; Eichmann Express power conditioning cable pod & universal power strip and some DIY Axon-8 power cables. Plugged all the new cables into my system - and wow the effect was immediate and noticeable! Treble extension & purity of tone went to another level; backing vocals stood out from the mix; better ebb and flow to the music; and better coherence, scale and dynamic shadings. The Eichmann pod feeds the power strip to the whole system, the Yamamura is on the Supratek Grange and the other is on the DAC-2. If you have a very highly tuned system, it is my belief that power cables are the icing on the cake. The ASL Ltd 3kVa balanced line transformer was a revelation! Its a big heavy ugly grey thing and much as I try to hate it, its effect on my system is profound, it just opens up the sound stage as wide as the Grand Canyon ...you could say that I have now 'seen the light' as far as power treatments go.

The little shiney metallic objects are Solid Tech "Feet of Silence' from Switzerland. Place these under your cdp, amp or preamp and the effect is a lift in coherence and refinement - makes everything sound 'classy' and they look whizz-bang too!


                   Luxman; D.A.C.T;Hafler;Sonic Impact ; Stax Lambda; Various Models
Just a pic of more stuff I use, namely, a lovely sounding tweaked Luxman 507x integrated amp; Stax Lambda electrostatic headphones; Hafler TRM-6 Studio Monitors with on board 200w TransNova amps; 6 x Sonic Impact digital amps using Tripath chips; and I also have an older Sugden A21 Class 'A' amp. The Hafler pro speaker was a good find, time aligned drivers in a solid box, it can play to 120dB levels with no strain and reminds me (in terms of impact) of a Bose 901 Series VI, that I also had.


  

D.A.C.T CT2 Stepped Attenuator
This is a stepped attenuator passive preamp that I built using an expensive DanishAudioConnecT (DACT) potentiometer. Nice neutral sound and the best of the passives I've had including a Mod Squad Deluxe pre with Penny & Giles pot and another Audio Synergy passive with an Elma stepped pot as found in the Audio Synthesis Passion. Passives can be very good, however my apologies to the passive camp for saying this, but IMO they sound as dead-as-a-doornail when compared directly to the Supratek Grange valve preamp!






Fostex+Raven R-2 Custom Made Speaker
This is a little Fostex 103E speaker with a Raven R-2 ribbon that I made for an AV system, backed up by a 10" subwoofer. The Raven is ten times the cost of the Fostex and is an overkill - but what the heck, I had it lying around so put it to good use!









Double Fostex 206FE+Eton Prototype Speaker
This prototype speaker has great potential. Utilising two Fostex 206FE point source drivers made from banana pulp fibre (I kid you not), the bass unit is an expensive 11" Eton driver found in the likes of the Avalon Eidolon. I like the Fostex's they sound immediate and communicative and image very well. Two Fostexes are used to give a bigger soundstage(the top one in an open baffle arrangement). Hey, throw in a Raven supertweeter and you may have a world-beater on your hands!


  

Reference 3A MM De Capo Monitor Speaker
The De Capos are a largish standmount that seems to sound 'just right' with a lovely seamless coherence and big bass for their size. An almost crossoverless design with just a single capacitor on the tweeter and a DIRECTLY driven custom made mid/bass unit. (recently owned) Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference turntable in middle.


Naim - Linn Audio System
Nice sounding Naim & Linn system made in England. Comprises of Linn Keilidh speakers driven by Naim CD3, NAP250 x 75w amplifier; Naim NAC92 preamp and Snaps power supply.



                                                  ESS AMT-1a Heil Ribbon Speaker
I recently owned a pair of these speakers from the 1970's. They were way ahead of their time and still competes today with modern speakers. It does a lot of things right with good speed and dynamic bass (12" with passive radiator at rear). The Heil Air Motion Transformer ribbon tweeter is a beauty! The speaker is very lively, powerful and dynamic (maybe a touch dry thru' the midrange). The Heil tweeter is stronger and fills the room up better than an R-1 or R-2, while maybe not quite as refined sounding as the Ravens. ( the picture is not of the speakers I owned, mine were in better condition).




Open Baffle Experimental Speaker
This is an open baffle speaker I made using Yamaha/Fostex & Raven ribbon drivers. It was an experiment to see if an OB speaker was for me? Not a bad first attempt and nice sound overall, bass was actively driven and was powerful and fast, but did not extend as low as my Bass Reflex or TL designs.






Open Baffle Speaker Rear End Shot
Rear of speaker showing drivers etc...





 
  


Passive Crossover Design!
Welcome to the wonderful world of passive crossover design! First Order Linkwitz Riley or Fourth Order Butterworth filters?? The holy grail for any speaker designer is to 'crack' that perfect crossover - easier said than done. Having recently used a borrowed DBX Driverack PA active crossover, I gotta get me one. Its a marvellous little box of tricks that allows you to change crossover points at press of a few buttons.






                                        Mythical Beasts! Goodmans Axiom 80 Speaker ($3,000 s/h)
I recently owned a pair of these vintage fullrange speakers and for once its something that lives up to the myth - they sound simply superb! The clarity and projection of voices on this speaker is shockingly good, as good as any new and modern speaker. Piano tone and overall decay is excellent, there seems to be no dirty overhang to musical notes. The secret is in the AlNiCo magnets(alluminium-nickel-cobalt) and especially - the design of the cone suspension. There's no rubber roll surround and no spider, instead just some little triaxially spaced suspension arms. The result is a very 'softly' sprung cone, leading to excellent transient response and a fleetness-of-foot with holographic imaging that competes with electrostatics. When you hear this 50 year old design, it makes you think that loudspeaker technology has not gone very far. In ultimate terms they're probably slightly coloured (but less so than Lowther & Fostex). To my ears at least, the Axiom 80 is second-to-none and is the quickest most dynamic cone/dome speaker I've ever heard.



Goodmans Axiom 80
Pic of rear Alnico magnet assembly... (these are someone else's pictures, not mine).














 Goodmans Axiom 80
Shot of cone suspension - there's no rubber roll surround and no spider, just some trailing arms. The secret of this speaker's speed ...







                                Sony Sony STR-DA777es 5.1 HT Receiver ($1,990AUD)
Great sounding 5.1 Channel Home Theatre Receiver/Amplifier. Output is 120w/ch R.M.S into five channels with full bandwidth of 20-20,000 Hz @ 8 ohms. Classy looking AV unit that is beautifully constructed with excellent clarity for music listening as an added bonus.



Pass Labs Aleph 3 Power Amp $5,200AUD
This little 'porcupine' looking thing disguises unique Single Ended Class 'A' circuitry with the simplicity of only two gain stages, designed by the legendary Nelson Pass. It just sounds 'right' in an understated sort of way - purity and naturalness in spades with good separation and depth perspectives. Having now tried quite a few solid state amps including four types of digital amplifiers, I think this is still my favourite transistor amp. Only caveat is, you have to be happy with only 30watts of power. Of course, being a Class 'A' design with a sturdy toroidal transformer power supply, output seems more than adequate into most cone/box speakers.



W.A.R Audio Reference Two Speaker - system cost ($20,000+)
In many ways this is the best stereo system that I've had the pleasure of owning. The front end consists of a pure D.C battery powered Pioneer PD-504 CD Player with G&D Transforms clock and specialised Yamamura capacitors and cabling with all modifications carried out by Pat O'Brien of W.A.R Audio here in Perth Western Australia. Preamplification is the very clear sounding valve Supratek Cortese and the power amps are the mighty Spark 800 valve monoblocs delivering 160w/ch in push-pull mode. The big 90kg Reference Two loudspeakers are also by W.A.R Audio. This flagship design uses ten drivers in a D'Appolito array employing some of the best drivers available, namely, Accuton ceramic midrange/Raven R-1 ribbon tweeter and fast Cabasse 21NDC honeycomb cellular foam bass units. The cabinet design employs heavily braced inch thick laminates of ply, MDF & Jarrah timbers lined with expensive Blackhole 5 sound deadening material, suffice to say it is rock-solid with very little box coloration. Ultra low bass is provided by two custom Transmission Line subwoofers using a 150w plate amp, actively driving a pair of Focal 8K5412 kevlar drivers. The sound of the whole system when carefully set up, is very fast, accurate and detailed - an accurate wide band width sound from top to bottom. Alas, the whole system has gone to a good home and now resides with a very nice fellow John, a guitar playing friend who enjoys the system immensely and gives me access to it anytime I want ...






W.A.R Audio Reference Two Loudspeaker

Another pic of this system...











W.A.R Audio Reference One Speaker
Smaller threeway version of the big Reference Two loudspeaker from W.A.R Audio based in Perth - Western Australia. Again, world class drivers from Accuton/Raven/Cabasse employed to give the same beautiful sound, albeit on a smaller scale than the Reference Two. I'm only guessing, but I would think that these W.A.R Audio speakers probably sound similar to the expensive Avalon Eidolons from the USA ...





Yamaha NS1000M Monitor Loudspeaker

                                                         Yamaha NS1000 Rosewood
The Yamaha NS1000 is a beautifully crafted loudspeaker - an all out best effort by a big multi-national Japanese company. Highly engineered and carefully designed 40kg sealed boxes with state-of-the-art beryllium domes for the critical midrange and treble frequencies. Their reputation for sounding a bit harsh is undeserved - they are accurate and just tell it like it is. If you have mediocre Class AB solid state amplifiers; rough sounding cables or an edgy front end, then the Yamahas will show it up warts-and-all! Conversely, hook them up to a good CD Transport & DAC, a nice Analogue rig, a pure Class A amplifier or preferably a powerful push-pull valve amplifier of about 50watts and the sound is glorius! Richly detailed, good transients, very transparent, tight and accurate ...almost electrostatic like, but with real punch. They sound even better used with a quality sub-woofer, which sweetens up their somewhat dry character, making them sound bigger and even more musical. Imaging could be tighter, but there is no modern loudspeaker equivalent around $5000+ that keeps up with a pair of NS1000's for sheer dynamics, drive and detail retrieval.

*(See my review below of the even better Yamaha NS1000-X speaker).




                                          Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference Turntable
An iconic piece of audio history. Produced in England circa 1972 and featured in the Stanley Kubrick movie "A Clockwork Orange". The Transcriptor was ahead of its time and was the inspiration for all of the super decks that followed. Beautifully hand built from solid chunks of alluminium and conceived by a NASA aerospace Engineer- a cult item for sure, belt driven with an isolated suspended motor; the spindle for the heavy platter sits in a bath of hydraulic fluid; the Transcriptor Tonearm is a uni-pivot design with hydraulic fluid in the arm tower to kill resonances - quite innovative and a technological tour-de-force in its time. The Transcriptor still sounds very good by today's standards (nicer than CD), with a Shure V-15 Type III moving magnet cartridge from that era, mounted.



Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference
Another pic of the Transcriptor turntable ...















DBX Driverack PA - Active Crossover
What an amazing little device... Lets you do active crossovers and room correction via its on-board DSP algorithms and parametric equalizer. If you are a DIY speaker builder - life will never be the same. You can shift the crossover points for a two or threeway speaker anyway you desire, ie, put the frequency range of any bass/midrange/tweeter driver wherever you want it and chose various settings from 6-12-18-24dB Butterworth or Linkwitz Riley filters at the push of a button, all very handy and beats building complicated passive x-o's if you are an avid DIY constructor. The beauty of the DBX is that each x-o can be stored individually (up to 50 programs) for instant comparison. Added to this, is an Auto Eq room correction function via an in-built pink noise generator and add-on RTA sampling mic. The DBX is also quite transparent, intruding little on the original input signal thus providing an active crossover that is very close to, if not quite as good, as the aircore inductor/tinfoil capacitored passive x-o's components that I normally use.

DBX Driverack PA Speaker Projects
Just a pic of two nice DIY speakers that were built using the DBX crossover. The Accuton/Raven/Focal 11" kevlar combination sounded very nice, essentially sweet, accurate and very detailed. While the Edgar Horn system plus Driverack sounded very dynamic, transparent, with an overall coherence close to 'ideal'. All good fun, and I love DIY speakers simply because you can tailor the sound to your own taste and compensate for room anomalies on the fly ...












Collection of Tweeters
One can never have too many tweeters when DIYing your own speakers...
From Left to Right
Yamaha 4281B; Accuton C23-6; Audax PR120; Raven R1; Beyma CP21F Slot & Raven R-2




                                             Velodyne DD-18 Digital Drive Subwoofer
Well, this is the subwoofer that is supposed to be the contender for the World's Best according to the Stereophile review. It probably isn't *the* best, but it's certainly very good (to my ears at least) and the best sub that I've had the pleasure of owning. The DD-18 employs an 18" driver in a sealed box; the woofer is servo controlled and driven by a 1250 watt Class D digital amplifier; with an on-board DSP engine and mic for Eq and Room Correction. Its a BIG bugger at half a cubic meter in size and weighs a hefty 56kg (123lb)! The DD-18 provides fast accurate bass down to 10Hz and has virtually limitless SPLs and cone travel. Retail price is a cool $6,750AUD.

                                                     Coral Beta 10 Fullrange Driver
I am always on the look out for a cost effective-efficient speaker that can do justice to the beautiful sounding Supratek Merlot SET valve amps. So I recently took delivery of some Coral Beta 10 point source drivers.

These are in mint condition (9 1/2 out of ten) and nothing quite prepares you for the superb Japanese build quality, made in the good old days when they did things properly! The speaker cones are a lovely lime green paper pulp; the roll surround is a transparent reverse white cloth; the basket a thick cast affair with the main beams hollowed out for air flow; and the ceramic magnet is something to behold - the finest polished stainless steel chrome look I've ever seen.

How do they sound? Well, James Melluish on the Single Driver Website reckons they 'rock the socks off Lowther and Fostex' , and Thorsten Loesch says the Coral Beta 10 can be a good alternative to the famous Goodmans Axiom 80 ...thats some praise! Like the Axiom 80 the Corals are considered to have less peaks than either Lowther or Fostex. What do I reckon of the sound? They're certainly VERY GOOD, with lovely crisp highs and a decent bottom end. The frequency response is 32Hz - 20kHz and Coral recommends a 175L multi-ported box, I've got them singing in my Onken bass boxes which are 190L. I think they come close to the Axiom 80, the Corals are not quite as 'free' sounding but perhaps a little sweeter and more extended in the treble. The Coral is better than the three Lowthers I've heard at people's places and better than the two types of Fostex I've got - the Coral is just smoother, highs are very extended and bass is quite strong in the 190L box.

Another mint find from the Golden Era of Hi-Fi ...

  



Coral Beta 10
Another shot of the Coral Beta 10 with 'juice squeezer' phase plug - very pretty indeed ...












Coral Beta 10
Magnet assembly of Coral Beta 10 ...








Coral/Focal Open Baffle Speaker Prototype
This is my second recent attempt at Open Baffle speakers. A combination of the famous Coral Beta-10 point source driver and Focal 8K5412 & 11K7511 kevlar woofers (giving the surface area of a 15" driver). The Coral is 97dB efficient and is driven by the superb Supratek Merlot S.E.T valve monoblocs and the Focal bass units actively driven by a 150w plate amp.

The sound is surprisingly good, the mids and top end are very coherent (no room for x-o errors due to the directly driven Corals) and the bass is very competent, quick and fast, but perhaps lacking about 10-20% kick that a well designed reflex or sealed box has. A better attempt at OB bass would involve wider baffles, larger drivers with a higher Qts and longer cone travel.





Coral/Focal Open Baffle Speaker
Another shot of the rear end of this speaker...

The foam blocks behind the Coral unit provide a bit of absorption of the rear wave and also stops some front-rear wave cancellation. Installation of the foam was audible, the Corals sounded warmer and there was better coherence in the mid-treble. Similarly, the mdf side wings on the Focal units made the bass output more solid.







Madisound/Seas Odin Kit Speaker
A friend made these nice pair of Odin kit speakers from Madisound USA. They employ Seas Excel magnesium drivers, good crossover components and design input from the famous Joseph D'appolito. We were expecting a sound similar to the excellent Jamo Concert 8's which use similar parts, but quite frankly the Odin is not my cup of tea. They sound quite good when played loud (nice and smooth and punchy) and some may appreciate its sense of overall neutrality and I know hi-fi is a subjective thing, but to my ears the Odin is too boxy and bland sounding, lacking bite and incisiveness in the upper mids and treble. The owner of these speakers Niall, is now proceeding to construct some 'Small Thor' TL boxes for them as suggested by people on the DIY Audio site, hoping that the new boxes will give extended bass and free up the sound?


                      Collection of Speakers ESL-3+NS1200+W.A.R Ref2+Proac 2.5
Talk about a dog chasing its tail! To think there was a time when I had all these speakers at the same time, all very hi-end and engaging in their own particular way.

After these four speakers, I went onto other quality loudspeakers including the big VAF I-93; Proac 1SC; Jamo Concert 8; Edgar Horns; Lowther/Fostex/Coral/Axiom 80 etc. etc.

However, the one speaker that stood out as 'the' favourite was the ER Audio ESL-3 with the Eton sub. With ultra fast thin membrane - it just did everything better... the highest resolution of all of these speakers (you could literally hear a pin drop), tonally correct, freedom from boxiness, best separation and imaging and an encompassing sound stage.

Accuton/Raven/Eton Speaker Project
This is my current DIY speaker project that I am having fun with. A hi-end threeway system actively driven by a DBX Driverack crossover and comprising of some of the world's best drivers. Namely a Raven R-2 ribbon tweeter for the treble; a fast Accuton C79-6 ceramic midrange; and an expensive Eton 11-581 nomex/kevlar bass driver with a low F3 point of 21 Hz (as used in the Avalon Eidolon speaker). Although in a prototype form, it is already sounding very nice. Fast and detailed like an electrostat but forceful and dynamically capable like only box speakers can do (on some of the most demanding music). I'm thinking of upgrading the midrange to the bigger Accuton C90-T6 for an even bigger sonic picture to fill my rather large listening room. In doing all of this, I have found the DBX Driverack electronic crossover to be a revelation! Essentially excellent sounding and transparent to the signal (when all the parameters are set right), its flexibility that enables you to find any crossover point instantly is a real benefit to any aspiring speaker builder. The DBX's on-board parametric equalizer and room correction are fun to play with too, bringing adjustability and a change to the sound that in the past could only be wrought by complete changes of system hardware.

Apogee Stage Fullrange Ribbon ($8,000 RRP)
Recently acquired Apogee Stage loudspeakers. Wonderful fullrange ribbon sound, great soundstaging and coherence from this classic planar loudspeaker. While not quite as finessed and fleshed out as my thin membraned electrostats at low level detail, the Stages have other strengths that exceeds the stats in my opinion. Namely, a palpable solid midrange at med-high levels; excellent timbral qualities on jazz (cymbals and high hats have great attack and speed!) and an ability to play at loud dynamic levels that would bring any stat to its knees. A word of caution though, I've never encountered a speaker so dependent on amplifier quality. Throw the BEST amplifier your money can buy at the Apogees - and your efforts will be rewarded. That is, an amp that delivers lots of watts and high current. In my short time with the Stages, tube amplifiers seem to sound the best. Followed by competent Class A or AB1 solid state amps and digital amps like the Nuforce. Its a difficult choice between tubes and solid state on Apogees. Solid state gives a very tidy image with authority and grip across the whole spectrum, while tubes sound sweeter and more musical (the old connundrum of Tubes vs. Solid State). However, something expensive and powerful like the Supratek Mondeuse 100w/ch tube amp seems to do it all, albeit at a cost of $6,500USD.


Yamaha NS1000 Rosewood and W.A.R Audio Reference One Speakers


ER Audio ESL-3 Electrostatic + Apogee Stage ribbon planar speakers

Accuphase C-200 Preamp & P300 Power Amplifier 
...classy and very nice sounding gear from the 1980's

Tannoy Heritage Series Glenair 10 Loudspeaker ($9,000AUD)
...on loan from someone, produces a nicely balanced sound that is difficult to fault, perhaps not absolutely cutting edge in terms of the leading transients that stats and ribbons produce.
Tannoy Glenair 10 dual concentric driver, looks like a single driver but it is actually a two-way speaker with an outer bass cone and a tulip guide centrally mounted tweeter. The speaker is designed to produce a 'pebble thrown into a pond' perfect wave front in the way the sound emanates from it, leading to better imaging and naturalness.

  

                                              Life is a Circle - Loudspeaker Quest

Well folks, the saying is that sometimes 'Life Goes Full Circle' ...

This is certainly the case for me with my loudspeaker odyssey that has been going on for about five plus years now. I am currently back listening to the ER Audio ESL-3 ultra-thin membraned electrostatic loudspeaker.

As you can see from the above pictures and posts, I have just about tried every type of speaker technology out there including Accuton & Ravens; Yamaha beryllium drivers; Fostex/Coral Betas/Axiom 80; Apogee & Quads; Edgar Horns; Proacs; Scanspeak; Seas Excel magnesiums and also heard PHL, Altecs; Linn Isobarics; Tannoys, Spendor, Sonus Faber, B&W Nautilus etc.etc. And, while I admit I haven't heard everything, nor spent megabucks on the 'best' loudspeakers, I am reasonably confident that I have heard enough to declare that the ESL-3 electrostat is the best speaker to be had on the planet (for reasonable money).

Why have I come to this conclusion? Well, after actively listening, buying and building lots and lots of speakers for several years with what can only be described as a very wide range of technologies available, it is my considered opinion that the ESL-3 is the Best-of-the-Best for *my particular set of criteria*. This criteria rests mainly on ultimate detail retrieval; purity of tone; finesse/refinement and the ability to replicate exactly sounds in nature, above other things such as loudness capability and impact.

The ESL-3 meets these personal criteria with ease. All the other speaker technologies I have tried appear to be 'try-hards' (as my kids would say) and just don't quite do it for me. The best of the alternatives almost get there and they are very good in their own particular way, but in direct comparison with the ESL-3 they fall short. The main difference is that there is a whole layer of information missing with other speakers. So you might say, what is it that's missing in other speakers? It seems to me that other speakers are not able to 'complete' the musical picture. They try and express musical notes to a certain degree, along a certain timeline, but they do not go far enough to compete with the ESL-3's rendition of musical notes and the decay of these notes. These other speakers essentially cut the music short!

Imaging on the ESL-3 is rock tight, separation is fantastic, every little detail is heard, soundstage is huge, room ambience and the venue comes alive. The music and the entire performance is interpreted better, its just makes more sense . I believe this effect is also heard when you improve other parts of your system like good preamps, DACs, cartridges, cables & supports.

It all comes down to speed in my opinion, the ESL-3 is simply faster. To use a car analogy the ESL-3 does 0-100kmh (0-60mph) in 2 seconds flat and, while the other speakers are quite capable, they are only doing about 6-10 seconds. Like a true thoroughbred the ESL-3 stops-and-starts quickly. It has that essential *jump factor* ...giving you incredible realism and a suspension of disbelief.

Please note, to make my speaker system truly fullrange and to cover any perceived deficiencies normally associated with stats, I am now running the ESL-3 'active' with a brace of digital & analogue amplifiers; a DBX Driverack crossover and separate dedicated 60kg Transmission Line woofer boxes using the 11" Eton 11-581 hexacone/kevlar bass driver (as found in the Avalon Eidolon speaker).

In concluding, I realise these are quite strong statements I am making and while life has gone full circle for me, I am also a believer in 'progress through change', so we'll have to see what the future brings? But right now, the ESL-3 is certainly a very convincing loudspeaker...

(October 2007)

Micrex P-1 Valve-Mosfet Hybrid ($3,499AUD)
This unusual hybrid mosfet-valve triode amplifier is a creation by Mick Maloney of Supratek fame. The Micrex brand is now owned by Sonique Audio of South Australia, who continues to make and sell the amplifiers online and through their dealers.

These amps were released to rave reviews around 1994, and targeted the Australasian market. They captured everyone's imagination at the time with their beautiful styling and good sound.

The Micrex P-1 is a hybrid design delivering 75w/ch from two pairs of nice sounding Hitachi mosfets driven by EL34 valves in triode mode. The amp is robustly constructed and is designed to be stable into most speaker loads, circuitry is simple and made to last a lifetime. The Micrex sounds surprisingly nice, an excellent marriage of tube and solid state virtues. While not totally tubey sounding, it does hint at valve sweetness and harmonics with the added advantage of excellent s.s drive and composure. The Micrex has plenty of clarity, good separation and images well. It has no trouble driving Apogee Stages or my ESL-3 electrostatic speakers (although, the heat sinks do get quite warm on these difficult speakers).


Metaxas Audio Systems Solitaire Mk II ($7,500AUD)
The first thing that you notice about this amplifier is its beautiful styling. Reminiscent of a valve amplifier and with real presence and panache. Polished stainless steel chassis with half inch thick faceplate, Coke can sized 264,000uF gold Roderstein capacitors and funky black anodised heatsinks - the photos don't do it justice as it is very imposing in the flesh. Sonically it is equally impressive, unusually fast and explosive sounding. Drum strikes and trumpets have startling dynamics that reach out and hit you in the middle of the forehead, often taking you by surprise. Its does that 'suspension of disbelief' thing.

The Solitaire is a dual mono design with a single double wound 1kVa transformer. The circuitry is dual mono all the way and boasts ultra short signal paths for signal integrity. It weighs 29.5kg and is specified to deliver 130w/ch into 8 ohms and essentially doubles its wattage into 4 ohms with 250w/ch. You get the feeling the amp has prodigious power reserves. Bass is tight and deep, mids are firm and authoritative, treble is smooth and refined, albeit more transistor than valve in character.

This one's a keeper for me on style aesthetics alone.








Metaxas Audio Systems Solitaire Mk II
Pic of the innards of the Solitaire amplifier ...truly a work of art.












Gainclone Chip Amplifier
This is my first attempt at building a power amplifier and it worked out great! After reading all the wonderful reviews of the 47 Labs, Japan chip based amps and seeing the successful attempts at do-it-yourself versions on the DIY Audio.com website, I decided to have a go at building one myself. The intent is that I will eventually build four chip amps to power my actively driven fourway Edgar Horn loudspeakers.

The Gainclone kit amp costs only about $250 AUD to build (the commercial versions are up to $3,000). It uses the National Semiconductors LM3876T chip which is the same as the LM3875 used in the 47 Labs amp, but with a muting option. The LM3875 is supposedley the sweetest sounding chip amp and is capable of putting out 55w/ch, but only into a friendly 8 ohm load.

As to the sound quality, it is very good. I would say one of the better solid state amplifiers I've heard, at least as good as the Passlabs Aleph 3 in key areas, with good clarity and a neutral presentation. Perhaps more solid sounding than the digital amps through the midrange and imaging is more 3D.

I will continue to tweak and perfect this amp and will report further in due course.

(A word of warning to people contemplating building this amp, its not for the faint-hearted. The power supply section is quite tricky and *dangerous* for first timers, so make sure you know exactly what you are doing).


Gainclone Chip Amplifier X 2
Picture of the Gainclone chip amp showing two stereo amplifiers built into one chassis for biamping speakers. The chip amps have been recently upgraded too with the inclusion of copper/silver/teflon wiring; Alps Blue velvet potentiometers and some nice Sanyo Oscon and Panasonic FC capacitors (which made a surprising difference! treble got crisper and imaging got more separated).





Audio Sector Patek style Chipamp
This is an Peter Daniels Audio Sector DIY chip amp using the LM3875 chip. This chip is supposed to be the best sounding and is used in the $3K 47 Labs Japan Gaincard amplifiers.


Power supply on Left and amplifier circuit on Right, uses an expensive Noble potentiometer.









Lowther DX-3 MLTL - BSC
I guess I just can't stay away from point source drivers - there's an inherent magical quality about them that's addictive. I've got the Lowther DX-3 in Martin King's MLTL (mass loaded transmission line) box with his published BSC (baffle step compensation) circuit in place. These main speakers simulate quite strongly down to 50Hz @ -3dB on WIN-ISD and I have backed them up with a pair of my own Transmission Line subwoofers using the famous Eton 11-581 hexacomb 11" bass driver (which has a claimed Fs of 21 Hz no less!).

This system sounds very very nice, of reference quality really, a truly fullrange sound from top to bottom with all the gaps nicely closed. Martin King has done an excellent job of voicing both the MLTL box and BSC, but I have to say that it seems no matter what you do to a Lowther driver there's still not much bass happening ...of course the Eton TL bass boxes fix this situation up.

The Lowther DX-3 are a conundrum, they're hellishly expensive ($1,795USD/pr), they have small but powerful magnets, they look roughly made as seen by the whizzer cone which looks to be hand-cut (all up and down in shape) ...but there's no denying the good sound which is lively, wonderfully transparent and very detailed almost like an electrostatic speaker.

I've left room above the DX-3 in the MLTL box for the inclusion of a Raven R-1 super tweeter later and, I'll be playing around with the whole lot through my DBX Driverack active crossover ...that should prove to be interesting.

Lowther Baffle Step Compensation
Just a shot of the BSC (baffle step compensation) circuit. The filter allows for the difference in bass output and the peaky upper mid-treble response of the Lowther to be better matched, taking out the peaks and giving an overall more neutral response. There is a variable resistor/pot in place which allows fine tuning of the treble. Martin King has done a good job with this filter, it makes the DX-3 smoother and more listenable on a wide range of music without sacrificing the feathery detail and point source imaging qualities of the speaker. On some natural sounding acoustic music and jazz tracks with shimmering cymbals etc. its still best to hear the DX-3 au natural without the BSC.





'The Giraffe' Lowther + Eton Bass Loudspeaker
I tried this two way system just for fun, I put the Lowther MLTL box on top of the Eton 11-581 bass reflex box. It sounded pretty good, if somewhat silly looking like a giraffe with two eyes on top!











PHL+Raven R-2+Eton Threeway Loudspeaker
Another prototype threeway loudspeaker I've recently built, this time using the PHL 1160 pure midrange driver. Best words to describe the PHL sound is that 'it does a disappearing act' (blends beautifully) and it sounds 'powerful, flat and accurate'. It could do with a bit more romance & bloom for my liking, but you can tell straight away it is one of the better performing midranges out there.









ATC Midrange+Raven R2+ Onken Box Loudspeaker
Just trying out the very famous ATC SM75-150 dome midrange in a fourway active speaker set-up. The French Onken bass box is about 180L and contains both an 15" RCF LP801 midbass and an Eton 11-581 low bass unit at rear. Crossover courtesey of a DBX Driverack with crossover points at under 40Hz for the Eton; 40 to 350Hz for the RCF; 375Hz to 3.5kHz for the ATC and 4kHz upwards for the R2, all equalized for good effect through the DBX . I think the ATC midrange is excellent and its reputation is well deserved, the big 75mm dome with horn loaded waveguide has good dispersion (sounds powerful and sweet) and is tonally 'right' to my ears, better than the PHL 1160 I've got IMHO.







ATC+Raven+HiVi D8.8+ Loudspeaker
This combination using the ATC SM75-150 dome midrange sounds really nice. Actively set up using the DBX Driverack PA as crossover, bass courtesey of a 9" HiVi D8.8+ driver in a 45 litre TL box, the ATC mid and Raven ribbon treble unit goes really well together sounding seamless and sweet!












Active Speaker System Components
A picture of what it takes to run an active loudspeaker system namely, DBX Driverack PA active crossover at centre; 4-5 amplifiers comprising valves, dual stereo chipamp; Panasonic XR-57 or XR-700 six channel digital amps and various sources.


Toshiba SS-30 Loudspeakers
Are Audiophiles like Fishermen (generally a bit secretive)??

This is my good deed for the day, I will let you in on a little secret, if you can lay your hands on a pair of Toshiba SS-30 Monitor loudspeakers, do so! I don't usually like giving away hi-fi secrets and like a Fisherman protecting his favourite fishing spot, I do this reluctantly.

But, this circa 1965 loudspeaker is absolutely fantastic - as good as anything modern. As you can see from my previous posts, I've tried just about every type of loudspeaker technology out there including Accutons & Ravens and this old Toshiba is the bees-knees! the best of them all in a lot of ways.

Someone at Toshiba Corp must've have given this project to a serious DIY speaker builder. The SS-30 is a threeway design that incorporates all Alnico drivers bass-mid-treble in a sealed box with 9" passive radiator , simple First Order crossover (capacitor only) on the mid-treble and Tri-wireable (in 1965) waaay ahead of its time!

How does it sound? In a few words seriously FAST, NEUTRAL and SEAMLESS. Clarity is first rate and it does Jazz, vocals and classical very well. Piano tone and the sense of spaciousness and separation is as good as most things I've heard.

Any caveats? Well, I suppose if you were really picky the bass is kind of the 50 Hz variety and could do with some help. My TL subwoofer boxes sound great with them.

These speakers are pretty RARE in Australia, with probably only a half dozen special export examples. I've got my pair of Toshibas and there's not much chance of another pair showing up in Australia, so I don't mind sharing this info.

I hope my good friend and fellow music lover Jon Thompson who put me onto these fabulous Toshiba speakers also doesn't mind me sharing this little secret...






Toshiba SS-30 Loudspeaker
Front shot of the Toshibas with funky grills on ...









  


Toshiba SS-30 Loudspeaker
Rear shot of the Toshiba SS-30 showing tri-wirable connnections. Ahead of its time and not bad for circa 1965.




Toshiba SS-30 Loudspeaker
Just a close-up shot of the Toshiba SS-30 showing the 9" Alnico bass and alnico midrange and horn loaded compression tweeters.
                                    Cayin-Spark 800 Monobloc Amplifier ($7,000)
I bought these 829B tubed, 2 x 30kg, 160w/ch Chinese Spark-Cayin Model 800 valve monobloc amplifiers to run my beloved ESL-3 loudspeakers. Apparently the Model 800 is based on an old McIntosh circuit. Alas, the amps were not up to the task of driving the low impedence load of the stats and have since been sold. On normal speakers the Model 800 amps sounded good, a neutral presentation with plenty of drive. The amp in the middle of the pic is the Model 530, which is a stereo 50w/ch integrated amp using KT88 or 6550 tubes. The smaller 530 model sounded a bit nicer IMO (sweeter and more valvey).

Krell KSA-100 Power Amp
This was one of the older Krell KSA-100 models, and for a solid state amp I quite liked the sound of it. Plenty of detail and very musical if not quite as authoritative in the bass as I expected the Krell legend to be. Overall, I thought it sounded as good as the Naim NAP-250 power amp I had at the time. Inside the amp, it is surprisingly simply built with massive transformer, a couple of boards supplying the power mosfets and huge Coke can size electrolytic reservoir capacitors (which I bypassed with some nice Aeon tinfoil caps). Krell since sold. 

                                                         Lowther PM2A TICONAL ($2,500 s/h)
TICONAL stands for Titanium-Cobalt-Nickel-Aluminium and is the metal composition of the rare earth magnet that drives the Lowther PM2A-T loudspeakers that I recently acquired. These are considered a step above the revered Alnico magnet Lowthers.

Truly a collectors item and according to Lowther America only 12 pairs of PM2A-T's were ever made. This particular pair came from none other than the famous Stereophile audio reviewer Art Dudley in the USA.

I'm on a Lowther 'bent' at the moment, love 'em or loath 'em Lowthers have special qualities (speed and transient response and a boxless transparent sound) that almost all normal hi-fi cone/dome loudspeakers fail to achieve. The Lowthers do this by having the strongest magnets driving extremely light paper cones within a VERY small magnet gap of 1mm in the voice coil - resulting in great speed and efficiency (up to 99dB). A recipe not changed in 70 years of loudspeaker manufacturing by Lowther.

The ticonals are my third set of Lowthers and IMO, the best. They sound similar to the other Lowthers that I have had or heard, but more importantly they are smooth and not so peaky in the upper mids.





Standmount Edgar Horn
Another recent speaker concoction of mine. Using the Edgar Horn midrange and horn tweeter backed up by my HiVi D8.8+ transmission line bass modules. Sounds very nice overall with the same magical midrange, while not quite as good as the big Onken bass boxes, the relative compactness of the system is appreciated in a domestic situation. When you have a DBX Driverack crossover, the possibilities for speakers are endless ...







Supratek Cabernet & Cortese Preamps
Suprateks galore! I've owned a few Supratek preamps in my time including the Syrah-Cortese-Cabernet-Grange, and have seen the gestation of the company in 1994 from a DIY style enthusiast operation to the well respected ultra hi-end audiophile product that it is today. Sadly, Supratek has gone into hibernation and is no longer available. Designer and founder Mick Maloney has decided to give it a rest for the moment to pursue a wine making venture, so its no coincidence that all his audio pieces are named after wine varieties!?!. But, I have a feeling "he'll be back" (like Arnie on Terminator) as Mick's passion for audio still runs deep. The picture is a shot of some early model Supratek Cortese & Cabernet preamps with separate power supplies, that I used to own. The Cortese uses 6SN7 tubes and the Cabernet uses an exotic light bulb shaped TJ-101D output tube. The Cabernet has a unique and beguiling sound. If you like transparency, utter detail and a hear-through character (with no overhang) this is the tube preamp for you. Its my personal opinion that some of the early Supratek products sounded sublime and possessed a certain magic, very sweet and valvey while maintaining absolute clarity, maybe not quite as accurate and neutral as the later products - but above all a clear sweet valvey sound, the way I like it. (August 2008)


  

Suprateks Galore!
Just more pics of the Cortese & Cabernet preamps...













Suprateks Galore!
More Supratek pics ...Grange preamp and Merlot monobloc amplifiers.










Supratek Merlot
Merlots monobloc amps ...top view.








Supratek Grange  Preamp
Grange preamp pic ...close-up of 24 carat gold finish over a solid copper chassis.
 Supratek Grange Preamp using TJ-101D Meshplate Output Tube
...studio photo.


W.A.R Audio Reference One ($8,500AUD)
I recently bought a second pair of these very coherent and nice sounding speakers (I last had a Mk I version of these about 5 years ago). I guess the idea of having a well sorted threeway as a 'reference point' in my system was just too tempting, so I bought another pair. When you play around with DIY like I do, its always good to have something which brings you back to reality.

This second pair of Reference One's is definitely better than the first pair I had, even more coherent sounding through the midrange-treble and with much better bass extension/quantity - I guess mainly wrought through a change in the crossover over the years.

The high quality Raven- Accuton-Cabasse driver combination blends seamlessly to deliver a wonderfully musical, smooth detailed presentation. I have not heard a better loudspeaker on Jazz! Pat O'Brien of W.A.R Audio has spent more than a decade refining and tuning this loudspeaker. The meticulous attention paid to crossover design and cabinet construction has resulted in a loudspeaker with low distortion and monitor like detail retrieval, but with a warmth, musicality and naturalness well suited to a domestic environment.

I have not heard (or could afford @ $38K) the Avalon Eidolon's, but the reviews I've read of it indicates that the W.A.R Audio Reference One would probably sound similar. (March 2009)




Speakers Current Collection
Just a shot of the current crop of speakers I'm listening to - Jamo Concert 8; Yamaha NS1000 & W.A.R Audio Reference One ...all speedy little devils! with high transient response. (June 2009)









Usher 718Be Loudspeaker ($3000AUD)
I had the Usher 718Be's for a few weeks and they are a VERY nice sounding speaker! Beautifully constructed - a real looker, even my wife and daughter commented on the fit-n-finish and the lovely sound emanating from them. The beryllium tweeter sounds smooth and sweet, midrange is just right and bass is very good considering this is a standmount speaker.

In my opinion, the speakers from Usher look and sound as good as the Sonus Fabers from Italy.


Mingda MC34-AB Valve Integrated ($1,850AUD)
Having heard this nice sounding amplifier at a friends place on a few occasions, I just had to have one.

The Mingda MC34-AB is a powerful valve amplifier weighing 35kg with 8 x EL34 tubes that put out 75w/ch in ultralinear or 40w/ch in triode mode. It is a very flexible amplifier with remote control; a built in valve preamp and switching for power amp/integrated functions. Build quality is excellent, paintwork is a lovely metallic fleck finish and flawless to look at. Internally its all hard-wired with big output transformers, adjustable bias, high quality capacitors, gold binding posts etc.

I would describe the sound as powerful, clean and sweet. Soundstaging and separation is very good, to be quite honest not that far off my $9K USD Supratek Merlot SET monoblocs.

The amp has excellent drive and composure and should sound good with almost any loudspeaker. In fact, my friend who has one prefers the Mingda over a 150w/ch Accuphase amp even when driving the excellent, but notoriously power hungry Gale 401 loudspeakers.






Lowther DX-3 + Mingda MC34-AB Valve Amplifier
Just another shot of the system with Mingda valve amp, The Lowther DX-3 is in a 25L Bass Reflex box that is good to about 85Hz so is helped by an Eton isobaric sub.







Spendor LS3/5A Loudspeaker
Just when you think you've heard most things and think you've got things kinda worked out, along comes an urban legend that still sets the benchmark! (or close to it)...

To cut a long story short I recently bought a pair of Spendor LS3/5A on Ebay, eager to try them out as I have read a lot about them over the years. Well let me tell you - the LS3/5A is more legend than myth, it sounds wonderful!

Having had or heard some very good mini monitors including the Proac 1SC; Jamo Concert 8; Sonus Faber Gueneri & Extrema; original Linn Kans and recently two pairs of Lenehan ML-1's I have to say that the ol' LS3/5A keeps up with all of them. This is also in reference to Quad ESL-57; Lowther & ATC SM-150 dome mid, Accuton ceramic and other exotica I've had. Frankly, I'm a bit baffled as to how these old fashioned KEF drivers keep up with these other more so-called modern advanced technologies??

Which 6SN7 Tube is the BEST? Russian 6H8C
There's a lot of talk on the audio forums about which 6SN7 preamp tubes sound the best. After having tried many 6SN7 tube varieties in my Supratek Grange preamplifier, including EH 6SN7 Stnd & Gold pin (not much difference between the two BTW); Brimar brown base; Toshiba; AWA; Chinese 6N8P; Kenrad black bottle; Philips; Raytheon; Sylvania VT231 and the genuine nickel base Russian 6H8C (marked 1578) ...I can confidently declare that the Russian 6H8C is the BEST one! The sound of the 6H8C is crystal clear and lucid, open and engaging and most importantly the soundstage becomes huge. Its not that the others are bad (particularly the Sylvania and Kenrad), just that the 6H8C does it well in all areas.

The bad news is that the Russian 6H8C (marked as 1578 with the nickel base and 5 holes in the plates) is no longer available, mine were kindly given to me by a fellow audio enthusiast. They were made to a very high standard and were used in nuclear facilities and for military purposes.

Linn Sondek LP12; Ekos & ruby Troika
Well I took the plunge recently and invested in a nice Linn Sondek and I'm not disappointed, it sounds lovely.

This LP12 is Serial No. 74,953 and has the Valhalla power supply; a very nice Ekos super arm and a zero hours Linn Troika MC cartridge retipped in October 2009 by Garrott Bros of Australia.

Everything they say about the LP12 seems to be true. It sounds very musical, times well and has an uncanny knack to 'follow a tune' ...you just kind of sit there and listen to the music not the system, which is what it should be all about!





Linn Troika with Garrott Bros Ruby Cantilever
Very nice sounding cartridge ...has a new solid Ruby cantilever and a Microscanner II diamond stylus.






  


Linn Ekos Tonearm
This is the Linn Ekos, an improvement on the original super arm of the 1970's, the Linn Ittok. A new Ekos SE is now a staggering ₤3,450 or $7K AUD ...a bit overpriced for what it is, but then again it does sound very competent. We all know Linn's Ivor Tiefenbrun is a master of spin ;-))




Mose + Hercules II Lingo Type Power Supply
I recently bought and installed the Mose + Hercules II Lingo type power supply from Edmond123 on Vinyl Engine. It replaces the internal Valhalla power supply in my LP12, being both an upgrade to the original Valhalla plus giving you 33 & 45 rpm speed change at the touch of a button. The Mose+Hercules works a treat! It does exactly what its claimed to do, is nicely built and sounds good. The best thing is, it costs only $371 AUD landed, whereas the Linn Lingo is about $2,500.
                                              Mose + Hercules II Power Supply
                  Internal shot of the Mose+Hercules II ...very nicely made circuit board and parts.

Meridian 602 Transport 606 DAC
This is an oldy but a goody. I've had quite a few cdps and dacs through my house and I rate this one very highly. Lots of low level details, tiny little pin-drop sounds are heard on this player that others miss, also a sense of refinement and poise. You need to match it carefully with cables otherwise it can lack a bit of body, I use Van den Hul 'The First' carbon interconnects which are a good match. The Meridian 602/606 combination used to retail for about $10K AUD here in Australia in the 1990s.






SAEC Japan WE-317 Knife Edge Tonearm
Beautifully constructed tonearm from Japan circa 1980, apparently has very high tolerance double knife edge bearings.









SME Series V tonearm  $7,000AUD
The Best of British engineering, lovely tonearm with fantastic build, it even has a very neat in-built silicon filled trough to iron out arm resonances.











Mistral SAG-350
Chinese made threeway loudspeaker emulating the look of the B&W 802 Nautilus. Beautiful cabinets and sounds very competent all round, stays composed at high volume levels, if a little lacking in presence and soul.






                                            Aurum Cantus Ribbon Speaker Array
Another one of my grand constructs. A DIY effort to emulate the $15K Aurum Cantus Grand Supreme loudspeaker which I've heard at a friend's place and was impressed with. This speaker project uses 10 drivers from Aurum Cantus's premium speaker range namely, a very large G1 ribbon tweeter (like a Raven R3); two scattered carbon 5" midranges in d'appolito array; and two 10" bass divers in a bass reflex box.

I have had good success actively crossing this speaker with my DBX Driverack crossover unit. The lower bass driver handles the bass frequencies below 100Hz and the upper bass driver does the midbass up to 500Hz. The mids cross to the large ribbon tweeter at about 2.5kHz.

The sound is very impressive, large scale and room filling, loves to be driven hard where it stays composed, and still has enough finesse to keep my ESL trained ears happy.




Aurum Cantus Ribbon Speaker Array
Another pic of the above DIY project.










 






Aurum Cantus Grand Supreme Loudspeaker ($15,000AUD)
This is the $15K commercial loudspeaker that my DIY version is trying to emulate. I think that this speaker has the BEST bass I have ever heard. I listened to Patricia Barber 'Verse' CD at a friend's place on this spkr, Track 7 Regular Pleasures (a killer bass torture test) - it was the tightest, heaviest, punchiest bass I have ever heard from a domestic speaker!






                                                     Accuphase E-303x ($2600.00)
I've had a couple of these integrated amps through my house, Beautifully engineered solid state amps from the Japanese Master of style and perfect build quality! This 24kg amplifier uses a triple mos-fet output stage to yield 150w/ch into 8 ohms, it will virtually drive any speaker load to any level and never sounds stressed. I would describe the sound as smooth and mellifluous with a refined treble and gripping bass, the midrange is a little laid back, but hey you can't have everything.


                                                         Krell KSA-50 (at bottom)
I bought this 50w/ch Class A amplifier (Krell at bottom) to drive my electrostatic speakers, and they certainly do the job very well. This particular model is supposedly the sweetest sounding of the Krells and I'd have to agree. A smooth composed sounding amp with good treble, mid and bass no dips no rises - just right.


 




Accuphase P-260 Power Amp
Switchable between 30w/ch pure Class 'A' or 130w/ch AB. Sounded smooth and nice, but I preferred the older P-300 all round or the E-303x for its silky treble.









                                           Gale GS-401 Chrome Ended Loudspeakers
Well I jumped on the bandwagon to see what all the raves about this Classic speaker were about, and I wasn't to be disappointed! A beautifully balanced sounding speaker from top-to-bottom and hard to fault. You need a good strong amp and for my tastes one with a bit of attack and speed to bring this speaker to life. The Krell and Accuphase sound good and do the job well and the First Watt F5 Class A clone amp @ 25w/ch does a surprisingly nice job driving them, but personally I'm enjoying them most on some ICE-250A digital monobloc amps. Plenty of speed and punch and you can put the volume dial anywhere, the Gales love to be driven hard and the louder you go the better they get!

The Gales are a compact threeway design and under that grill cloth you have got a nice Celestion HF2000 tweeter; 4" Peerless midrange and 2 x8" bass drivers all in a tightly sealed box.

A Classic 1970s design by Ira Gale an art collector and audiophile, its well engineered, sounds superb and looks way too cool with a retro Art Deco look about them. People seeing them for the first time can't believe its a 30 year old design.
First Watt F5 Clone Class 'A' Amplifier
The First Watt amplifiers by the esteemed Nelson Pass sound really good - there's an inherent rightness about them and its all about 'correct tone'. He designed these amps with extremely low distortion into the first few watts, achieved through good circuit design and simplicity of parts. I first heard the smaller 10w/ch F3 amp into my Lowther DX-3 speakers and could immediately hear the tactile nature of the amp, so when an opportunity came up to buy the more powerful 25w/ch F5, I went for it. This clone version was built by an electronic engineer type and has all the bells-n-whistles, that is, non-invasive soft start circuitry and DC protection; rare Toshiba JFets; over specified heat sinks to keep it cool and double the size required 620VA toroidal transformer.

The F5 is a Class 'A' high bandwidth design that is good from DC-200kHz+, I think it does something very special in terms of treble response, you can hear more air and ambience around stringed instruments and really hear the venue of the recording studio on this amp. Through the Lowthers though, I might slightly prefer the warmth and correctness of tone in the smaller F3 amp. That's just my opinion though, as Srajan Ebaen at 6Moons.com thinks the F5 is one of the best amplifiers he's ever heard. (2010)

Esoteric P-700 CD Transport
Wanting to try something different from my Sony XA-7ES cdp, I bought an Esoteric P-700 transport to match a couple of outboard dacs that I have in my collection. I chose this one because it has the nice VRDS clamping mechanism found in the $5K Esoteric P-30. Still not quite the top of the range Neo drive from the latest Esoteric machines, but still a good one. I like the sound of it, have not really compared it too critically, but seems to be doing the job well enough.






Esoteric P-700 CD Transport
Front pic showing VRDS logo.








Scott Thomson TDA-1541 Tube DA Converter
This is my favourite dac at the moment. It uses the venerable Philips TDA-1541 DAC chip in Non-Over-Sampling mode with a valve output stage. This particular one was designed and built by Scott Thomson in Australia under the brand Audiocentric. From what I have read on the net the design has been around for almost 20 years and were originally done by TDA1541 guru Pedja Rogic. And in recent times a tweaked version has seen the light of day as the controversially named 'Killerdac'.

I like the basic sonic signature of these 1541 dacs. There's a certain calmness about them, hardly any digital glare and the tonal qualities are spot on. Treble is perhaps slightly rolled off, but not too noticeable as the overall benefits far outweigh any shortcomings from what I can hear.





Scott Thomson TDA-1541 Tube DA Converter
More DAC pics












Scott Thomson TDA-1541 Tube DA Converter
More DAC pics ...showing the famous Philips TDA-1541 DAC chip. I also have a Double Crown 1541 chip to try out later.









Scott Thomson TDA-1541 Tube DA Converter
Plenty of fun to be had tweaking this DAC to take it to killer status ...






                                           Bakoon Satri SCA-7511 Mk II Amplifier ($4,500AUD)
Absolutely beautiful sounding little amplifier from Japan. Incorporates unique circuitry only known to them? Possibly the best solid state amplifier I have ever heard, that is, if your loudspeaker is of the highest calibre and efficient enough.

I did an extended review of it here: http://www.stereo.net.au/forums/showthread.php/27326-The-Bakoon-Has-Landed!-~-A-Review-of-Some-Highly-Finessed-Low-Powered-Amplifiers?highlight=bakoon

This very nice amplifier is sold by WAR Audio in Perth Western Australia.




Bakoon Satri SCA-7511 Mk II Amplifier
Bakoon+Lowther+Raven R-2+Eton 11-581 isobaric speaker system ...high efficiency system and a match made in heaven.






                                            Yamaha NS1000x Loudspeakers (Review)
I've got a pair of these loudspeakers coming soon. The 'X' version is a more recent model that sits between the normal NS1000 & NS2000. At 42kg it weighs 10kg more than a standard NS1000; a new 12" carbon bass driver with a different crossover and is supposed to have an F3 point 10dB higher in the bass; the beryllium drivers are centrally aligned and the boxes have chamfered edges to aid with diffraction effects for better imaging. (October 2010)

UPDATE (24 November 2010):
Well, I have the NS1000x now playing in house and they sound great! I wasn't expecting it to be a big improvement over the standard NS1000, but they definitely are. Bass response is up about 40-50% on the 1000x model, everything shimmers, treble unit sounds more refined and extended and imaging is much, much better ( a major failing of the stnd NS1000 which presents a wall of music and lacking separation and depth).

The NS1000x's are even more detailed and revealing than the stnd NS1000. Its a two edged sword though, as I am finding that half of my music collection is now NOT tolerable. Put a fantastic recording on the NS1000x however, and the music takes off, imaging precision is now very good (not as good as an ESL or Lowther) and images appear beyond the side boundaries of the speaker. The 1000x speakers on well recorded material sounds musical, accurate, luscious and tonally right all at the same time. On average recordings it is NOT an entirely an enjoyable experience, the music sounds shut in, boxy or hard edged. The 1000x also picks differences in amplifiers, cables and other ancillaries easily - it really is an analytical tool. I guess its just telling it like it is, so can't really be faulted sonically. A bit more bass depth wouldn't go astray as it would add more musicality.

So where have the sonic differences come from? I suppose from all the things mentioned above ...apparently the NS1000x has a different crossover; the drivers are centrally aligned; a new pure carbon bass driver; box is 10kg heavier; the front baffle is wider and has chamferred edges to aid with diffraction effects. I get the impression that the stiff and pistonic carbon bass driver is melding beautifully with the similarly rigid and light beryllium drivers, I can detect a level of coherence with carbon that is better than the original paper cone bass driver. The NS1000x cost 50% more than a stnd NS1000 that it sold alongside, so I suppose there is even a greater technical effort with it from the Yamaha engineers.

Have had several pairs of the Yamahas in the past, namely, the NS1000M monitor; the domestic NS1000 and NS1200 ...IMHO, the NS1000x is the best of them all, no doubts about it.           (June 2011)






Yamaha NS1000-X Loudspeakers
More pics ...12" pure carbon bass driver.










Yamaha NS1000-X Loudspeakers
More pics ... speedy beryllium mid and treble.









Yamaha NS1000-X Loudspeakers
More pics ...nifty 'self healing' crossover. The capacitors are NOT electrolytics, they are very nice polypropylene types.















Yamaha NS1000-X Loudspeakers
More pics ... cut-away showing superb sealed box construction, the cabinet thickness is 60mm in places. The speaker weighs 42kg each.











                                                             System Pic in 2011
                 Just a pic of my current system, it will probably change by tomorrow  ;-))


                                        Gamut Phi-7 Loudspeakers Monitor ($10,000AUD)
Gamut Phi-7 loudspeaker on loan from a friend. Nice sounding speaker of slimline proportions - with excellent WAF (wife acceptance factor).


                                             Spendor LS3/5A Loudspeaker Monitor
The fabulous little Spendor LS3/5A re-veneered by fine furniture craftsman and good friend Jon 'Thomo' Thompson of JT Designs. The nice timber is a cross-cut curly Sheoak a naturally occurring Western Australian native timber.




                    Mingda MC300-845 AB Monobloc Valve Amplifiers Tube amp ($5,000AUD)
These are probably the best sounding amplifiers I have heard. I was a little concerned about the cost ($5,800AUD landed in Oz) and the lack of pedigree being of Chinese manufacture, but rest assured these are VERY REFINED and powerful sounding valve amps. The amp produces 90w/ch of pure Class A grunt from a parrallel pair of massive 845 tubes driven by a pair of TJ meshplate 300B and 6SN7 tubes. The sound of them is clear and natural, holographic with one of the most hear through midranges I have ever heard. The amps are well built at 38kg each, its mainly hardwired underneath and seem to run faultlessly day-in-day-out. There seems to be no loudspeaker they can't run. Sounds superb on my difficult to drive Spendor BC-3 and electrostatic speakers which swing from 2-60 ohm impedence.



Spendor BC-3 Fourway Monitor Speaker
I bought these speakers on the basis that I liked the sound of the smaller Spendor BC-1s that I have owned. I was initially slightly disappointed with the BC-3 finding them a little big and bloated sounding, not quite tactile and light on their feet like the BC-1. Then I started playing around with speaker stands, room positioning and lastly trying bigger more powerful amps and things improved immensely. The last piece of the puzzle was actually the BIG Mingda MC845-300 AB push-pull valve amps ...these really brought the speakers to life. The Spendor BC-3 are very musical sounding with a big projected midrange and deep impactful bass that only a 12" driver and a big box can do. The mid-upper-mid is pretty special IMO, a nice combination of a large 6" mid driver and the combination of two tweeters (Celestion HF1300+2000). I also like to place my Raven R-2 super tweeter on top for special effect. The new version of this speaker is the Spendor S-100 which retails for $10K.

                                                  Klipsch Belle Horn Loudspeaker ($13,000AUD)
I swapped these Klipsch Belles with someone, keen to get them based on a teenage memory of hearing horn speakers for the first time in about 1983, at the Perth Hi-Fi Show here in Western Australia. It was actually the near identical La Scalas that I heard at the time, they left a lasting impression of delivering sheer dynamics and loudness capability beyond the norm. Wind it forward 30 years and the dynamics and loudness are still there, but the Klipsch's are not quite as finessed as I expected. Afterall, I have been exposed to some quite high quality loudspeakers systems, by now. The Belles do some things that normal speakers cannot quite do, that ability to flood the room with music and a certain jump factor that brings the performers alive in the room. In the end, I found the bass coming out of the back loaded horn to be its weakest aspect, to put it bluntly it just plain annoyed me. The bass to me didn't go low enough, was a bit one noted and colored everything, not all of the time, but enough for me to eventually move them on. A competent subwoofer helped them to go lower, but the annoying bass note was ever present. It might have just been a room interaction thing though? but I doubt it.




                                                  System Update August 2011
This is what I am listening to at the moment. Supratek Grange preamp, Mingda MC845-300AB amp driving my favorite ER Audio ESL-3 loudspeakers which are supported by my Eton 10" sealed isobaric subwoofers. It is a thoroughly clean and modern sound that is fullrange from top-to-bottom, musical, detailed and lively as hell too! Like it should be. The ESLs are playing very loud after a make over with their creator Rob MacKinley at ER Audio. The system will play all types of music without too much strain which is always a good sign for an electrostatic.


 Technics SP10 + SME V Tonearm + Benz Glider + Project Perspective Turntable
These are the two turntables that I am using at the moment. The direct drive Technics SP10 is just a classy turntable, easy to use and rotates records at perfect speed and pitch. Match with the equally well built SME V arm ($7K RRP) and Benz Micro Glider HZ cartridge ($1,200), the combination gets on with the job of producing beautiful analogue sound - that any CD transport/DAC in my collection struggles to keep up with. I have an SAEC WE-317 double knife edge tonearm with either a Denon 103S or Stanton 881S cartridge running simultaneously with this deck too. Lots of different flavours and lots of fun! The Project Perspective ($2,400AUD RRP) is an under rated turntable IMO, and sounds excellent to my ears. It is a softly sprung three point suspension turntable that has a Corian sub-chassis over a perpex plinth. It sounds very musical and flowing, seems to keep pitch stability well, sound is similar to but maybe not quite as good as a well set up Linn Sondek. The Project actually saw off a Linn Sondek in my system! It was not that the Project was better, just that it was not a whole lot less, if you get what I mean? 

Technics SP10 Mk II + SME V arm + Benz Glider MC cartridge + SAEC arm + Denon103S

        
A Couple of Nice Speakers ~ Lenehan ML1 and Mark & Daniel Maximus Monitor $4K/pr each
A couple of very nice sounding standmounts that I had in house recently. Both sound extremely capable and are state-of-the-art designs for their price point. The ML1s are a true audiophile product built with a lot attention to detail, with nice tight boxes, big crossover and tuned to the max for good sound. The Mark & Daniel have heavy Corian boxes, two Heil Air Motion Transformer ribbon tweeters (placed in a slight curve) per box and a special long stroke woofer to produce a very low bass note for the size of the box. Some say the M&D have too much bass, but in my large 6.5m x 8m room, the bass sounded just right for a small speaker. I liked the M&D just as much as the ML1, the former being a little more refined and detailed because of its ribbon tweeter, while the ML1 has an edge maybe through the mid range because the M&D is a little laid back in this area.

                               Lenehan ML1 (inner) and Mark & Daniel Maximus Loudspeakers



Quad ESL- 63  vs. ESL- 57 vs ER Audio ESL- 3   ...Electrostatic Loudspeakers
 I recently purchased a pair of Quad ESL-63 Pro electrostatic loudspeakers. These speakers were designed by the legendary Peter Walker of Quad in 1963 (hence the 63 moniker). They were released for sale around the mid 1980's and were very popular in the USA where many pairs were sold. My 63s are in excellent original condition ...transported out to the 'Colony' (Perth Western Australia) early 1990's, by a couple of of nice English gentlemen now residing here.


                                                                                                                                       (Quad ESL-63 Pro)

Being a fan of the earlier model ESL-57 (of which I've had three pairs), I always wanted to compare the sound of the two and see whether there has been any improvements to the original recipe. The two loudspeakers are quite different in construction, the original ESL57 has two 6" wide bass panels arranged vertically flanking a central treble strip, while the ESL63 consists of four panels arranged horizontally, but most importantly Quad introduced a series of concentric electrical delay lines emanating from the centre of the panel. The idea was to replicate a perfect waveform, like a 'pebble thrown into a pond'.

By the way, the newer Quad 2805 & 2905 models are constructed exactly like the ESL-63, same panels with concentric delay lines, a stiffer frame construction and modified electronics. The 2805 uses four panels while the big 2905 uses six electrostatic panels for more bass and room filling effect. I imagine that the 2805 would sound very similar to the 63?


OK, what about the sound of the ESL-63? Overall it is excellent, big soundstage, an open and hear-though voicing with all forms of music and good bass for an ESL. In a word, a very balanced sounding speaker that you could listen to and be enthralled by all day long. It made a pair of older Lenehan ML-2 speakers and Mark & Daniel spkrs I had in house sound decidedly boxy and congested. Not to say that the ML2 is bad, as it had that typical sorted Lenehan cohesion. Just that along side the Quads they didn't quite fill up the room, and the music presentation was contrived as if the sound came from  boxes within a given space in the room ...not surrounding you with lovely music and immersive like the Quads.


Now what about the comparison between the two Quad 57 & 63? Well straight up, I prefer the sound of the old ESL-57! The magic midrange that the 57 is reknowned for is not imaginary - and it seems to be missing from the 63. The 57 midrange and its overall sweetness and musicality is what drew me towards electrostatics in the first place, back in 1994 when I first heard them. For me, it was a transcending moment as I basically formed the opinion that ESLs have little or no distortion (as far as most speakers go that is). Sure they have their faults, mainly to do with not being able to play loud enough on some types of music, but electrostatics have the best low-level dynamics and reproduce sounds in nature and the human voice the best, in my experience.

                                                                                                                                                                                            (Quad ESL-57)

'Naked' Quad ESL-63 with Raven R-2 ribbon tweeter. They do sound better this way without the black sock which tends to attenuate treble intensity ...


                                                                                            (Naked Quad ESL-63 + Raven R2 ribbon tweeter)

While the midrange of the 63 is not quite on par with the ESL-57, the 63 does have some advantages. It is modern looking, is a neat package, will play louder and has competent bass. The 57 bass can be a bit one-noted at times, while the 63 bass goes lower and has more texture. Musically, the two are quite similar and I am very happy with the sound of the ESL-63.


I am currently using the ESL-63 with an Accuton C23-6 ceramic tweeter rolled in with a 1uF tinfoil capacitor, which gives it a nice upper lift and air similar to my reference ER Audio ESL-3. Low bass and impact is aided by a sealed isobaric 11" Eton 11-581 woofer module.

Amplification used to drive the Quads was either an original Krell KSA-50 (very sweet solid state amplifier) or the flagship 90w/ch Mingda MC300-845 push-pull monoblocs ($6K), which are definitely my preferred amps at the moment.  

                                                                                                                       (Mingda MC300-845 amplifier)

Lastly and somewhat controversially, both the Quad ESL-57 & 63 are exceeded by the Oz made ER Audio ESL-3 loudspeaker, which I feel is faster, image tighter and are much better at the micro details and transient edges of the music (which you can read all about in the blogs above about the ESL-3). 

                                                                                                                             
Steve.
(10 June, 2012) 



Nakamichi Dragon ESL (Whise HA1500) Loudspeaker


(Posted on Stereonet Australia Forum:   22 August 2012 )

I recently purchased a pair of these magnificent hybrid electrostats from Charlie Van Dongen at Reality Technologies in Melbourne.

Firstly, there is a bit of a sad story with the Nakamichi Dragons (also known as the Whise HA1500). They were produced by Charlie and an Australian design team in collaboration with Nakamichi Japan and Rob Mackinlay of ER Audio, around 2008. About 200 pairs of the Naks were produced in a Chinese factory employing up to 70 people. And, this is the bad part ...2008 was the year of financial turmoil in the World, the year of the GFC and bank failures - as a result, Nakamichi pulled support from the project, the factory was closed down and it all went belly up. Its a VERY sad tale as the speaker itself is an absolutely world class product and deserves fame and fortune. The Naks were meant to compete in the price range of $12,000 - $18,000 loudspeakers.


As to the design features, firstly, it is an ACTIVE loudspeaker with 400w/ch of Class AB amplifiers on board. This means that all you need is a source with volume control to use it, namely direct from a CD player, iPod or computer audio (so long as you can attenuate volume at source). The electrostatic panel is a Rob Mackinlay design with ultra thin super-fast membranes capable of doing 20kHz of feathery detailed treble (very few stats can do 20kHz). The panel is driven by a 100w/ch on board amplifier with a crossover point at 250Hz , meaning that the panel is relieved of bass duties, this is critical in allowing the panel to play at high volume levels up to 110dB. The bass section is also driven by a 100w/ch amp and is a sealed isobaric box using 2 x 8" woofers in a bandpass design that is limited at 350Hz, meaning that no voices come out of the woofer, bass is specified to perform down to 26 Hz @ +/- 6dB ...a pretty impressive figure for such a small box.


Now as to the sound of the speaker ...in a nutshell it sounds fabulous. It is definitely in the $10-15K (or more) class of commercial loudspeakers that I have heard or owned over the 30+years in this hobby. The Naks sound refined and balanced with all the detail at the transient edges as you would expect from an electrostatic, they have a huge soundstage and are capable of playing VERY loud without stress or compression. One word of warning they need to be fed with the best music material, source and recordings ...good recordings are excellent, less good just comes across that way ...well, less good. Try and have them out about 5' in the room for good imaging. From what I am hearing thru' the Nak Dragons, vinyl source sounds the best ...its not that they are only good with vinyl - as badly recorded vinyl will still sound bad. You just need to throw the best recordings at the Nak spkr anything less will sound less good, this is their achilles heel, but they are not to be blamed as they are just telling it like it is. On some stuff they sound just OK, on good recordings quite exceptional, you need to be patient with them as they just tell it like it is and - not very forgiving of average recordings. I imagine in a dealer's showroom they could be a bit of a hit-n-miss affair and misconstrued as somewhat bright sounding, but get them into the right acoustic space with superb source and and recordings and they will sound like world beaters.


Any caveats with the speaker? While the speaker is beautifully constructed, there is not an external nut-n-bolt to be seen - it is locked up tighter than an Egyptian tomb! I am concerned as to how you would service the speaker should an amplifier or a woofer goes wrong, you can't seem to get into them too easily? I suppose you could always hire Indiana Jones (or Charlie) to break in ;-))


One final word on the bass integration between the boxed isobaric woofer and the electrostatic panel, IMHO, the integration is nigh on perfect and the quantity of bass punches waay above its weight and size! Well done Charlie and Whise on the bass, in fact, well done on the whole project of putting this excellent Australian loudspeaker out there on the World stage!


In the end the Nakamichi Dragon/Whise HA1500 loudspeaker is a very competent, loud playing, excellent sounding, compact and sexy speaker package ...you can't really ask for much more can you? 

 
Steve. 

 
PS: No affiliation with Whise/Reality Tech, other than I am a happy customer ...






















Accuphase DP-77 SACD/CD Player 

After playing around with various expensive Sony CD Players and outboard DACs and Transports including a very nice valve output-valve rectified version of the venerable Philips TDA1541-S2 dac (see the Audiocentric Scott Thompson dac shown below, which is the mother of the infamous Killerdac), I took the plunge and invested in the Accuphase DP-77. This player a few years ago had a RRP of $13K at Simply Hi-Fi here in Perth Australia.

The Accuphase was not a random choice on my part, I had heard it several times at a friend's place and it always impressed me with its refinement and top-to-bottom coherence. There was also the attraction of getting a top class hi-rez 24bit/192kHz SACD player. After extensively playing around with and modding the TDA1541 dac and a matching Marantz transport - which had a super-duper aftermarket Zen clock and with I2S implemented between dac and transport, I was a little concerned that the Accuphase would not keep up with it. However, in a nutshell, I found the sound of the Accuphase to be just as nice as the TDA1541, both have merits in certain areas.

In comparing the the two players over several weeks, I got to know their differences pretty well. The Accuphase just sounds classy every time you put it on with a refined presentation and a lovely bloom to the music, bass goes very deep and tight and treble feathery and extended. The TDA1541 is a true midrange-meister, beautifully voiced in this area and expressive, with perhaps a tad softer bass and rolled off top end which IMO doesn't really hurt the music and actually aids in its expressive qualities.



  



Audiocentric Philips TDA1541-S2 dacs
...innards of the Accuphase DP-77 SACD/CD player
The Accuphase player is the main one that I use now. I just find it beautiful to operate and look at, its sound quality is right up there with the best and it has the unique flexibility of being able to use it as a separate dac or transport. This latter attribute is important to me as I listen to a Squeezebox Touch about 50% of the time and use the on-board dacs of the Accuphase as a one box solution for all my digital needs. The Squeezebox is a wonderful device and I enjoy the plethora of music on offer via Internet Radio or streamed sources from my PC or from a 1TB external hard drive with 10,000 songs stored on it.

(December 2012)


Lyra Argo-i Moving Coil Cartridge (RRP $1,800AUD)






I love the sound of this Lyra cartridge. Since the natural death of my 25+ year old Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge shown in the preceding pics, I have been searching for an exciting sounding cartridge with similar qualities to the Rosewood. The Lyra Argo-i does it for me and then some!

When the old Rosewood Signature died I purchased a newish Koetsu Rosewood Standard and then a Benz Glider High Output MC with ruby cantilever and special diamond. Both are very good cartrdiges, the new Rosewood was lovely and smooth but did not have the openess and attack at the transient edges like the old one built by the deceased Japanese master Sugano San. The Benz with ruby cantilever sounded great, I got the attack back, but it was still not quite as soulful and lacks the ultimate refinement of the Argo-i.

Anyway, after many years of turntabling I would highly recommend the Lyra line of phono cartridges. They have a CD-like precision and accuracy, plenty of bite, sound as wide open as the Milky Way galaxy and with a twinkly extended treble and firm tight bass. What more could you ask for ...my cartridge search is now over until this one carks it in 10 years time or so (fingers crossed).


Technics SP10 Mk II Turntable with SAEC WE-317 double knife-edge Tonearm & TransRotor headshell
600gm Turntable Weight courtesy of Epos/Alex from Stereonet Australia


Oh, and controversially ...good vinyl still kills anything digital that I have tried, if you appreciate certain low level details and nuances and know what to listen for. Well, maybe 'kill' is too strong a word as they can be quite close on good recordings and I still mainly listen to digital for its convenience and variety of music.

Cheers,


Steve. 
December 2012



Article below was posted on Stereonet Australia Forum (March 2013) :

I've been a firm believer that realistic music reproduction in the home centers around a good midrange. If your loudspeaker is able to do the human voice very well, then the rest of it will fall into place in my experience. If the human voice is muddled (even to the smallest degree) then everything will tend to sound not quite coherent ( there will be too much bass, too much treble and even too much midrange ...or not enough of them) .

Of course looking at it holistically the idea of the midrange as the arbiter is a simplistic notion, as accurate bass and treble from a loudspeaker is equally important. As is, the need for the whole frequency spectrum top-to-bottom to gel together synergystically. For a speaker to do the human voice well you need a rare combination of driver quality, driver loading (box construction vs. no box) and most importantly - a perfectly sorted crossover.

Some might think in reading my Blog and contributions to SNA that I favour electrostatic speakers over all others, well I don't. My mind and ears are as wide open as the Milky Way, good music is good music no matter how you cut it, I can hear the potential in all types of loudspeakers to excel and be as good as each other. To this end, I have been listening to various speaker combinations from my vast arsenal of audio stuff and, would like to share the following experiences.

Firstly, the lovely wife was out of town one weekend, so up the attic I went and my listening area went from
                                                            this neat set-up ...
DSC_6107Large.jpg



                                                                        to this mess ...
DSC_6602Medium_zps1434861b.jpg



Cable hygiene is never good with an ACTIVE system, my Edgar Horn and other DBX constructs are a four/five-way loudspeaker so runs five sets of interconnects/speaker cables/power cords!




                                            to finally this !! which is looking like a Hi-Fi shop ...sorry.


Funny enough when the wife returned from visiting her mum, it wasn't a matter of me explaining  "...Honey I shrank the kids! Rather, honey I'm experimenting with speakers again and I think that they are multiplying! "


Jokes aside its a serious business this hi-fi pursuit and the next pic kind of explains the various drivers, approaches and midranges I have been trying out. The Quad ESL-63 is there as a reference point for excellent midrange (and the Nakamichi Dragon ESL which is out of the picture) , something by which to judge the other speakers (and to keep them honest).




The heart of this active speaker system/(s) is the digital crossover, the $1K DBX Driverack PA and the 'cheap' stack of solid state amplifiers under it. Without this DBX stack nothing works or can ever hope to sound as good IME, especially if done passively. The flexibility for Eq'ing the system and room and other x-o trickery provided by the DBX is midblowing, something you can't compensate for unless you are a crossover genius like the late Colin Whatmough, Pat O'Brien, Mike Lenehan or Philip Vafiadis. No chance for a DIY person like me, I'll admit. Speaker builder gurus out there might laugh at what I'm doing with the humble DBX and cheap amplifiers and would think that you can go a lot better with MiniDSP or DEQX or whatever? My experience is that get the DBX-DRPA dialled in correctly, it takes a lot of trial and error and GOOD EARS and, it virtually disappears from the soundfield and cannot be heard ...it is that good, IMHO. Your experience may be different, but one listen to my latest Edgar Horn iteration tells you it is a basically seamless loudspeaker across all five drivers per channel.

So what is my judgment of the quality of these various midrange drivers? Succinctly put, all are very good sounding (none are very cheap so performance is high) and when implemented correctly via the crossover adjustments, they all sound quite close. Surprisingly, if the crossover is carefully matched each do not really have a 'flavour'. I think this statement  would surprise the various audio camps, but so be it. If a ranking of the drivers is required, I like them all and do not find any of them flawed, then the following is my opinion:

1. Quad ESL63&57 and Nakamichi Dragon ESL ~ these are truly the pinnacle of a naturally presented midrange, especially with the human voice. I have always said elsewhere that imo the ESL-57 is probably the best midrange. The Nak sounds less warm and is analytical to a fault. The ESL sound is not for everyone though, they can lack a bit of motive force and impact when trying to get to loud band style levels. I have measured the Nakamichi at 104dB, however! ...on my trusty Decibel Meter with the Samsung Galaxy phone app

2. Tractrix Edgar Horn with Dynaudio D-54 dome ~ this is an amazing midrange horn. I have got it sounding so good that it has got me questioning the ESLs and other panels that I have heard and have favoured. The Edgar Horn has a powerful midrange that cuts through the air molecules in the room, the sound floats through the house and even when heard in a another room the music sounds more realistic than my other speakers. When you hear a properly sorted horn there is hardly any distortion, almost zero honk, none of the usual PA sound effects ...it just sounds like how live music should.

3. Lowther DX-3 Point Source driver ...all point source drivers sound well, pin-point and sharp as a tack. Makes other speakers sound slow and vague. These work really well with a Baffle Step Compensation Circuit or the DBX x-o to tame the rising upper-mids and lower-treble. Midrange quality is superb with an openess that rivals stats.

4. Accuton Ceramic drivers ...these drivers are sometimes judged to be too clinical and cuppy (which they can be with the wrong crossover). However, get the crossover right and they disappear, a kind of a pure silent midrange that is not really there. Hard to explain, except you appreciate its superb German engineering and sense of supreme quality which results in a disappearing act. I'm not sure the Accutons like being played loud though, both the Edgar Horn and ATC mid units to my ears stay more composed at high volume levels.

5. ATC SM75-150 three inch dome ...this is one of the World's Great midrange drivers. They cost about $1,500 a pair when I bought mine (USD was low then). It rewards with refined, powerful and musical tone. The ATC is slightly horn loaded with a plastic shallow horn flare around the 3" doped bextrene(?) dome, which is probably why it sounds powerful, that and the huge magnet it has. Truth be told, its a bit of a toss-up between the ATC and the Accuton mids?

6. Eton 7" 302-C2-32 Hex midbass driver ...this is not a pure midrange but on spec has very good midrange qualities up to 3kHz. I bought it because the reputation is good and I quite like largish midrange units (better dynamics and room filling abilities). This honeycomb cellular foam and kevlar coated driver is stiff and pistonic, sounds fast and clean ...I like it.


Anyway to wrap up, I have the Edgar Horn as shown below playing at home at the moment. I am VERY happy with it and feel that after many years of playing around with it, I have finally hit the mark with the crossover. It is sounding superbly seamless and dynamic. However, that's not necessarily for me to judge, so I welcome those interested to email me and come and have a listen. A few Stereonet Australia people have, and were impressed (I think?).





Direct Drive ~ ESL ...the next frontier with Electrostatic Loudspeakers:
My audio journey continues with further exploits on the DIY speaker front, see here ...
http://www.stereo.net.au/forums/index.php?/topic/61877-best-speaker-in-the-world-just-got-better/









Regards,


Steve M.
(February 2014)