REFERENCE COMPONENTS THE SUPREME RECORDINGS MY AUDIO SYSTEM REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS' MISCELLANEOUS NEW LINKS USED COMPONENTS NOW ON SALE INTERNAL LINKS
THE SUPREME RECORDINGS
MY AUDIO SYSTEM
REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS'
USED COMPONENTS NOW ON SALE
This section contains ALL of the newest material before it is posted to the dedicated files. It will remain here for around 12 months. So readers can now find the latest observations, news, opinions and thoughts in the fastest time.
Caveat 1- Readers should always keep in mind that the material which is most recently posted is also, generally speaking, the least reliable. It is usually, though not always, my (or our) "first impressions". Sometimes it will be an a simple update, which of course is usually more reliable. In any event, I may further edit, quite liberally and without any notice or warning, anything you may read here.
Caveat 2- A good number of the posts below are by Anonymous Readers of this website. They are separated from my own posts (*******), and should >never be considered my own personal evaluation, belief or recommendation. In many cases, I will add a "Personal Reply" to the reader's letter. If so, my contribution will be the only editorial part of that post that I take personal responsibility for.
I have made these letters public because I feel they may be interesting and informative to some readers. I also like an exchange of observations, evaluations and ideas, even when I disagree with some of them. However, readers >must always consider the extent of the previous experiences of the anonymous writer. Serious thought should also be focused on the writer's actual objectivity and their sonic priorities. All of this background and perspective is obviously relevant and critical, and can be extremely difficult to evaluate within a short anecdotal observation. A continual skepticism in our audio world is a perspective that is difficult to argue with.
Promised and Now Posted...
The Acapella TW 1S was added to the Class A Reference Speakers back in January 2004. This action was somewhat unusual since I had not heard the tweeters in my own audio system, or even in a friend's system that I was familiar with. Instead, four straight days of concentrated auditions, at the 2004 CES, compelled me to give them the recognition I felt they deserved. An associate, who was with me for the entire duration of the CES, fully agreed with my sonic assessment. We were both simply far too impressed with the Acapella to do anything else.
At the time, I wrote a short description of the TW 1S which couldn't have been more positive and, even after more than 13 years, I think it still holds up for the most part, though with some reflection, as well as some recent events, I now feel forced to qualify my most extreme statement. Now in 2017, I am actually living with these super tweeters. Further, I have extensively experimented with them, and two other highly critical listeners have also heard the results in my system as well. One of these two extra listeners assisted me in the experiments.
Below are the results of the experiments and our numerous listening sessions. Finally, I felt a general discussion of super tweeters is also appropriate, if not a requirement, at this time.
However, first we must start at the beginning, a few decades ago now, for the necessary perspective.
Back in the early 1980's, at one of the Chicago CES (late spring) shows (long gone and sorely missed), I was able to extensively audition the Hill Plasmatronic speakers. It was a truly unique design, with its plasma driver going down to (a still unprecedented) 1,000 Hz! The sound was unsurprisingly amazing in certain ways, but it also had the easily predictable problem of cohesion (try successfully matching a massless plasma driver to any dynamic driver, at 1,000 Hz no less). Unfortunately, the Hill was also expensive and impractical for even the most serious audiophiles, and only a few were sold (though enthusiasts of this unique design are still around, see Links below.) However, plasma driver fans would have another choice, the Magnat MP-02, which was manufactured in Germany. Even better, I was able to audition the Magnat in my own system, with two audiophile friends (one of them was the owner of the Magnats, the other an employee).
Unlike the full-range Plasmatronics, the Magnat plasma driver was strictly a super tweeter, designed to replace, or add to, an existing tweeter. I can't remember the specific crossover frequency, or whether it was even adjustable, but I do very well remember the sonic results and one other critically important factor. My best recollection of the system we used (around 1989) is this: Versa Dynamics II turntable/tonearm, Jadis JP-80/Jadis JA-80, Wilson WATT II and Entec subwoofers. The Magnat was placed on the top of the WATT II. My listening room was around 24' X 20', with a 9.5' ceiling.
To put it simply, the sound of the system was transformed. It was one of the largest and most significant improvements I had ever heard with just a single component change. The Details?...The soundstage was not only much larger, but better focused, with a separation of instruments I had only experienced before with the Morrison omni-directional speakers. Not surprisingly, the speed and the extension in the highs was in a class of its own. The sound was also incredibly natural, pure and clean. Overall, it was an audio revelation, something audiophiles live for and dream about, but rarely experience in actual life. I would have obviously purchased a pair of the Magnats immediately (for myself and my store), but there was one very serious problem with them...
The Magnat released ozone into the room, and in large quantities (unlike the Acapella or the Hill Plasmatronics tweeters). My listening room was pretty large, but not nearly large enough to absorb the ozone that was released. There wasn't an unpleasant smell, but the air felt so "heavy" that it was now actually difficult to simply breathe. I also started feeling light-headed. So I would spend a few minutes listening, leave the room, and then return around 5 minutes later. This was repeated all evening.
Meanwhile, my two friends, who were apparently completely uneffected by the ozone, stayed in the room during the entire evening, never once complaining about the air in the room, even though they told me it was easy to notice the change. Fortunately, they accommodated my wishes when it came to playing my personal LP References, so I was confident of my evaluation of the Magnats, despite the fact I heard them for a relatively short period of time. (For the record, my two friends completely agreed with my highly positive assessment of the Magnats' performance.)
Accordingly, I permanently ruled out the Magnats after that evening, though the dream of owning a pair of ion super tweeters, without the health drawbacks, would remain with me. In the end, it took more than 25 years to realize this dream. This brings us to the present and my experiments with the Acapella TW 1S Ion Super Tweeters being used with (a double pair of) the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme speakers.
I purchased and received the Acapella tweeters in June 2015. I could only afford them because I received a once-in-a-lifetime "sweetheart deal" from a distributor (who I've known for 40+ years now), basically the OEM price. I could provide a number of common "excuses" for the unusually lengthy delay in auditioning the tweeters, but the main reason was that I strongly felt I required some assistance, not only for positioning and basic set-up, but also to ensure a thorough and competent evaluation, which I could then post with confidence. Unfortunately, one by one, my associates cancelled their plans to visit me for various reasons until, finally, Jean Nantais (of Lenco fame) visited me as planned in April, 2017, and eagerly agreed to help me with the experiments.
The reason why I felt I required assistance with the Acapella TW 1S was simple; The tweeter was much heavier and bulkier than I imagined, even though I had seen pictures of it and had read the relevant specifications (it includes a built-in amplifier and crossover). However, once I actually handled it, I knew immediately it was impossible for it to safely fit on top of the Pure Reference Monitors (my obvious first choice, which proved to be a fantasy). Considering my "options" at length, I realized there weren't any. There was only one real option...
Short of building custom stands for them (which would take up space I didn't have, even ignoring the extra cost), all I could do was place the tweeters on the tops of the Pure Reference Subwoofers!? Yes, the resulting issues and questions with this "solution" are both obvious and inevitable: 1. Will the vibrations from the subwoofers compromise the tweeters? 2. Will the extra height of the subwoofers, and their backward position in relation to the monitors, compromise the cohesiveness of the signal and music? Only actual auditioning would answer these important questions, as you will find out below.
Meanwhile, I had the first basic logistical question to answer: Would I risk placing the tweeters, all by myself, on top of the subwoofers? For me, it required a ladder and extremely steady arms and hands. One serious slip had multiple consequences: A broken tweeter for certain, plus most likely either a broken amplifier (Frankenstein 300B) or a broken speaker (Pure Reference Monitor), since both of them are directly below the subwoofers. In a worse case scenario, maybe all three components broken at the same time. Even a slight slip meant the top of the subwoofer would be seriously scratched. I felt that while such a catastrophe had maybe only a 5% chance at most of actually occurring, that 5% was still too much of a chance for me to take. Thus 22 frustrating months went by.
Jean Nantais (JN) and I spent 4 days and (late) nights experimenting with these tweeters. We positioned, removed and re-positioned the tweeters multiple times, taking turns lifting them into position. I did all the crossover work, including the important calculations, along with the capacitor choices and soldering (see picture below). Jean, in turn, helped me to acoustically isolate the tweeters from the subwoofers, properly angle them for optimum cohesion and also make certain that they would never slide off the subs.
Further, some basic information: The tweeters have an RCA input, since they have their own dedicated tube amplifier. The volume control is external (in the rear), but the crossover is inside the unit, requiring a side panel to be removed. Changing the crossover frequency requires inserting specific capacitors into tiny slots (see picture below). The Acapella crossover is 12 dB/octave (second order). The stock crossover frequency is 8500 Hz. The tweeters turn on automatically, in stages, when they sense a moderate level signal (like many contemporary subwoofers), and they also shut off automatically when they sense no signal for around 15 minutes.
Finally, the actual results...
Nantais and I didn't get to the Acapella super tweeters for a few days. His last visit was three years ago (2014), so we decided to first re-optimize the (Reference Lenco) turntable and the phono system. By the time we finished the phono optimization, we had improved sonics along with the added bonus that JN had re-familiarized himself with my system and could now easily notice slight differences.
As it turned out, our first experiment, conducted initially in the afternoon and then later in the evening, actually consisted of two separate and independent "stages". The most important experiences and insights, specifically about the Acapella (positive and negative), as well as about super tweeters in general, were acquired during these two first stages. The two remaining experiments, discussed below, were also illuminating, but they are more accurately described as refinements in comparison to the "big picture" results of the first experiment.
First Stage- After the tweeters "snapped on" and the system warmed up, the first stage commenced with JN and I listening intensively. Frankly, neither of us was impressed, initially or even after an extended period of time. In fact, we both soon began to wonder, eventually out loud to each other, whether the system had actually gone backwards with the addition of the super tweeters. Yes, we could easily hear the extra high frequency extension and speed, but everything else was somewhat "confused" and imprecise. Overall, this was a major disappointment. So we obviously asked ourselves, what could be the cause of the problems?
It could not be subwoofer related, because they weren't even turned on at this point (it was still in the afternoon and I rarely turn them on during the day). Further, the music we played wasn't even that challenging. Fortunately, I had anticipated exactly this kind of result and had planned for it. I asked Nantais to leave the room, to reduce any bias on his part, and made a single change to the system: I now rolled-off the monitors above 8500 Hz, the exact same crossover frequency as the Acapellas, using a capacitor network going from hot to negative (see picture).
The Details- Before JN's visit, I had opened up the Acapella cabinet to learn the stock crossover frequency. I then researched the monitor's impedance (two of them in parallel), used the standard crossover frequency formula, and built a high quality (all film and foil) capacitor network to roll-off the monitor at the same frequency as the Acapella. I used wires with alligator clips, allowing me to use the caps, or remove them, in seconds. (I asked JN to come back after an appropriate period of time, which wouldn't tip him off, and we began the "second stage" of our listening session.)
Second Stage- We both noticed a dramatic improvement almost immediately. While the sound still had the extension and speed we heard before, it was now also highly precise and intelligible, instead of being diffuse and congested. The sound was also cleaner, with greater instrumental separation, as well as improved focus. The soundstage was better defined, with a much clearer sense of the recording space, and the decays lasted longer and in a realistic manner. It was like hearing one natural voice again, instead of two artificial voices arguing and interfering with each other.
So we had found "the critical key" for a successful implementation of the super tweeters, and through direct experience; The monitors had to be rolled-off as well, at the same frequency, or they would noticeably interfere with the super tweeters in a disastrous fashion. In short, the high-pass super tweeter crossover frequency had to match the crossover frequency of the low-pass (monitor's) tweeter. If this was not done, there would be "sonic chaos" in the entire frequency range in which the two tweeters simultaneously played. In this case, between 8.5K and 20K+ Hz.
We next experimented with the volume of the super tweeters, matching them with the monitors' tweeters and, after being satisfied with the results, we shut the system down for the afternoon. Later that same evening, we turned the system back on, this time including the subwoofers. We first went through the afternoon play list, but eventually played some highly demanding music as well. We listened closely for any sonic problems that we may have missed in the afternoon session, expected and unexpected, especially now that the subwoofers were engaged and the potential problems they brought along.
Here is what we also discovered through these initial day and evening experiments:
1. The subwoofer vibrations did not cause any noticeable problems, and we listened specifically for them. This was verified many times by playing the same recordings with the subs off and on, and was verified again when my second friend visited me a few weeks later. This result was not surprising when you think about it. The Coincident subwoofer has outstanding cabinet structural integrity (175 lbs each). Better, its top plate is extremely thick, and the tweeter is located at its deadest part, the front joint. The Acapella is even further acoustically isolated with damping material.
2. There was also no noticeable problems caused by the location of the super tweeters, with its extra height and distance from the monitor's tweeters. The focus and separation were outstanding, even better than before. There was absolutely no "fun house mirror" effect, that can be noticed with out-of-phase reproduction. However, it did take careful positioning and the angling down of the super tweeters to achieve the optimum level of performance. We first used paperback books, though we eventually used Nantais' much more elegant and functional "little isolation platform".
3. JN and I also listened to the monitors rolled-off above 8.5k, and with the super tweeters turned off as well. The end result was now a "mellow and sweet" speaker, but surprisingly satisfying, mainly because most of the high frequencies were still present. I can understand why someone would prefer this type of sound, especially with poor recordings (digital and analogue), even though it is not true "hi-fi". Actually, I once had plenty of customers who preferred speakers with a "forgiving" sound. JN had the last word, he said "it sounds just like a vintage speaker".
4. We even listened to the Acapella super tweeters on their own (to break them in without having to turn on the entire system). We were surprised yet again. This time we couldn't get over how much of a positive effect the super tweeters were making considering how little actual sound we observed coming directly from them on their own. In fact, at certain times it almost sounded like virtually nothing was turned on and playing.
5. Finally, we also heard another benefit from rolling-off the monitors' tweeters: The listening "sweet spot" had expanded from just one seat in the middle, to all three seats. While this obviously wasn't important to me when listening by myself, which is 90+% of the time, it is important when I have guests. Since I had lost the two side seats when going to double monitors per side (which meant two tweeters per side), I can only surmise that the roll-off decreased the interference caused by the two Coincident tweeters operating simultaneously in the highest frequencies.
Our first night's listening sessions lasted until very late in the evening. I was exhausted, but still excited, especially considering how we had overcame the disappointing initial results. I also had another reason for my excitement. I was acutely aware that the crossover capacitors in the Acapella were basically "junk" (and that is being kind), which meant that there was plenty of room for improvement (the double-edge sword), so I was really looking forward to our next day's experiments.
The next morning I did an inventory of my small value (.02 uf or smaller) capacitors, new or used. All of them were either Teflon or polystyrene (2nd best to Teflon in my experience). Most of them were in the picofarad range. I soon discovered that I was not able to exactly match the 8.5K crossover frequency of the internal stock capacitors, but I came pretty close, 8K. I didn't believe such a small (Hz) difference, by itself, would be noticeable. I also discovered that the capacitor insertion openings were too small for the V-Cap Teflons, so I used the REL cap Teflon caps instead. I also, of course, lowered the roll-off crossover frequency of the monitors to 8K as well, so there would be no overlap in the system frequency range.
The system was powered up and we listened once more to the same (now by default) reference recordings from the previous day. Once again, we almost immediately heard an easily noticeable improvement. However, we also agreed that it was definitely smaller, in both scale and importance, compared to the critical improvement we experienced the previous day. The sound was even purer than before and there was also a greater sense of the original recording space, which is an important element if the goal is to "take down your guard" and help you believe what you are hearing is "alive" and "real".
I was quite happy with our efforts at this point. I also wondered whether anyone else had ever changed the Acapella's internal crossover caps to the best available, or was I the first? There is no record of this capacitor upgrade happening that I can find and, to put it simply, if you don't use the best capacitors, then you will never hear the full capabilities of the Acapella ion tweeters. Meanwhile, we now had to make another decision, this time concerning the crossover frequency.
The only option I ever considered was attempting to lower it, but how low? I knew we should try 5K eventually, which is the lowest frequency limit of the Acapella (without any sonic compromises). My first inclination was to change the frequency in two separate stages: first from the current 8K to 6.5K, and then go from 6.5K down to 5K. However, after discussing this scenario with Jean, and contemplating all the extra work that was required to build four crossover networks and installing/uninstalling them, plus the added changes necessary to roll-off the monitors also at different frequencies as well, we decided to go to 5K immediately, and skip the 6.5K interim step (which became "Plan B").
It was a long and tedious job to change the crossovers of both the Acapella tweeters, plus the Coincident monitors (see picture). We had no idea what to expect, since it could be incredible, or a disaster in a worst case scenario (a cohesive, a spectral and/or a phase total mismatch). As it turned out, it was a complete success. There was another improvement, definitely larger than the second experiment, though still not quite as important as the first (Second Stage). Overall, this was a very satisfying change. In fact, when I considered the overall cumulative improvement in performance, starting from no Acapella tweeters, I had reached the (crossing the Rubicon) point where I could now genuinely state, with conviction, that "I couldn't live without them". This was no longer simply a nice refinement, what we were listening to now was effectively a new speaker, which was also literally true. The details...
The mid and extreme highs were still the same, meaning the added extension and purity didn't change. However, the lower highs and upper midrange did change, and all for the better, which had a large impact in many areas. There was first a greater overall feeling of immediacy and presence. Most instruments were now faster, cleaner and more precise. This was especially noticeable with the percussion family, but it was also true with any instrument operating in the higher frequency ranges. These improvements included all voices, and especially sopranos. The sense of space and natural decays were also once more enhanced. Further, the musicians playing at the back of the soundstage were now better clarified.
Overall, this improvement was major in scale. It was only less important than the "Experiment One-Second Stage" because that one change critically removed the monitor's tweeters' interference, thus enabling all the benefits of the ion super tweeter to be heard in the first place.
While both Jean and I were excited with the results of the new Teflon 5K crossover point, we decided that after all these different changes, we should go back to the very beginning, and once again audition my audio system without the Acapella tweeters playing. We did this for two reasons; first to allow us to hear, and appreciate, the entire extent of the sonic improvements and, as a bonus, it would also make it easier for us to make any adjustment, if required, to the volume level of the super tweeters in relation to the monitors.
This was a difficult task, and required a second person for verification (another reason why the audition delay was necessary). Changing the volume level of these super tweeters is similar to a VTA change (or even using "tone controls" in many decades past). We ended up using only a few discs, all of them CDs. CD was our best option in this instance because we needed a source that could be played multiple times quickly and without any sonic change (potentially caused by vinyl deformation and/or volume). We ended up choosing high quality recordings using jazz horns and woodwinds, plus piano and some ancient music as well. In the end, the jazz instruments were the most revealing and important, and in particular one CD: Blue Sun - Mark Isham - Columbia CK 67227.
Our Methodology- As discussed above, to first establish a reference we could trust, we went back to the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme playing strictly on its own. To our surprise, it sounded much better than we expected, which could only mean that the Coincident tweeters are truly superb. (They are still the finest dynamic dome tweeters I've ever heard overall.) We played the reference CDs until we were ultra-familiar with them, and then we went back to the Acapella ion super tweeters and played the same CDs all over again.
The ultimate goal was for the sound to be both as accurate and realistic as possible (yes, they are closely related). We quickly discovered that with improper settings the system could sound either "forgiving" or "aggressive". (Both are equally wrong, but the former is popular and desirable to many pseudo-audiophiles, while the latter is almost universally avoided.) In general, the "most accurate and realistic sound" offers; the greatest diversity, the least predictability and the smallest noticeable (and least describable) character. From a purely practical perspective, the end result should sound as if the original tweeters have simply been improved, and with no sense that there are two different tweeters with two different characters. The good news- after a couple of intense hours of back-and-forth, with increasingly smaller incremental volume changes, we achieved all of our goals.
A few days after Jean Nantais left, another audiophile friend visited me for a couple of days (he would also visit me a second time around a month later, which was also important and described below). I'm glad he did, because his opinion of the ion super tweeters was more critical than either Jean's or mine. It's not that he heard something that we did not, but rather the weight he placed on what he heard. This requires a detailed explanation:
Unlike Jean and I, my friend had mixed feelings when first auditioning my system with the new tweeters. He observed and enjoyed all the sonic benefits of the tweeters operating at 5K as described above, as we had. He was also quite surprised, as again we were earlier, that the unusual positioning of the super tweeters didn't cause any noticeable problems, even when he was directly listening for them (in fact, he had even warned me earlier about them). However, he still felt that a different sonic downside came along with all the benefits.
My friend argued that the ion tweeters had enhanced the perceived speed of the system in the midrange. This enhancement, in turn, increased the already existing speed differential between the midrange and the bass, which is, of course, inevitable when using different bass and midrange drivers. In other words, the inherent midrange/bass driver dichotomy had crossed his personal threshold, meaning it was now an active problem that he could no longer ignore. He described it as "disjointed".
His specific example was the contrasting left and right hands performing on a solo piano. He felt that while the two hands will always sound somewhat different, as they had in the past, this difference was now more noticeable with the new tweeters. Worse, it had reached that critical point where it now bothered him. My friend also emphasized that this particular problem was only audible with "simple music", where a single instrument was individually exposed. By contrast, he felt it was completely inaudible if the music was "complex", with continually changing volume levels, frequencies and instruments. I generally agreed with him concerning the simple/complex music issue, but I had a different subjective response to the midrange/bass issue on simple music. I felt the change was relatively subtle, and ultimately a trifle compared to all the benefits of using the Acapella super tweeter.
My Friend's Second Visit- This was a month or so later, and my audio system had changed again during this short period (details forthcoming), and this particular change had improved the bass reproduction. In fact, the improvement was significant enough, in my friend's estimation, to change his perspective. In short, he now felt that the midrange/bass problem, while still noticeable, was once again small enough to be easily ignored, and so he left a happy man.
The Acapella Ion Super Tweeters have proven to be as outstanding and unprecedented in a real system as they were at the 2004 CES, where and when I first heard them. So, I reiterate; The Acapella is the finest tweeter I have ever heard. However, in my original article I also wrote that "This may be the most perfect component ever manufactured in audio history". This statement now has to be qualified, as "The Truth" line stage has replaced the Acapella for that highest distinction, at least in my opinion.
Consolation Prize - The Acapella is still the most perfect transducer I've ever heard. As far as I'm concerned, from my perspective, I now have a new, and significantly superior, speaker system. You can't ask for more than that.
The Acapella also epitomizes the inevitable and critical distinction between a "Reference" and a "Recommendation". While it's my ultimate speaker reference, I would still only advise a small amount of audiophiles to ever consider purchasing them. Why? Their price is the obvious issue. At $ 18,000/pair, the Acapella is simply not cost effective in 99% of audio systems, despite its strengths. Also, and almost as important, the Acapella tweeters require skill and patience to be heard at their very best, as I described in detail above. In short, it's a serious project to optimize them, especially if the owner wants to closely replicate what I have now accomplished in my own system.
However, the Acapella, unquestionably, still has a legitimate place in the audio marketplace, mainly because of its unique sonic capabilities. As for its price, this is, in the final analysis, relative, because we should not forget that there are now even cables which cost much more than the Acapella, and they all have far less positive impact on the final sound.
Further, to hopefully assist potential purchasers, I've listed below some experienced-based reasons (or arguments) to seriously consider purchasing the Acapella tweeters, assuming they are affordable in the first place, and that they can also be successfully utilized in an existing audio system. These "reasons" are in addition to the pleasure gained from simply hearing its unprecedented performance:
1. The knowledge that it is not only the best of its type, but also that it can't be improved upon, so it is effectively a final purchase. This is not just pride and "ego". It is also a practical purchase and even anxiety reducing in the long run (which many audiophiles can appreciate).
2. Once it is properly optimized in a system, you gain the practical knowledge, and confidence, of knowing that if there is now an audible sonic problem in the highest frequencies, it's not the tweeter's fault, thus saving time, and reducing anxiety, looking for the actual source.
3. The Acapella will reveal and expose the strengths and weaknesses of any audio system, and any component or musical software that is utilized within that system, existing and in the future. In short, it's also a "tool" for experimenters, both pros and amateurs.
Finally, and at the risk of repeating myself, I believe the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters should be heard by all serious audiophiles (which, because of Acapella's extensive speaker line, will be a lot easier than ever hearing the Magnat). This is because it is vitally important, if your personal audio growth is a priority, to always know what the best components actually sound like in real life, and this concept is especially applicable to the Acapella TW 1S.
Long before I had any experiences with massless super tweeters, I owned the RTR Electrostatic tweeters for years (both the ESR-6 & ESR-15), plus a few ribbons as well. All my experiences with these tweeters were positive overall, even though I realize now that none of them were fully optimized to my much more critical standards of today.
Accordingly, the purpose of this article was not just to report on the Acapella, but rather to hopefully encourage the readers of this website to at least once audition a good quality super tweeter in their own system. It doesn't have to be "the Acapella or nothing". I realize the cost of the Acapella is prohibitive, even if you get a deal like I did, or find one used at a big discount, but that's still no excuse to completely avoid super tweeters.
Some full-range speakers already include super tweeters, arbitrarily defined by me as going to 40K minimum flat, but that is rare, so almost all speakers are candidates. (Speakers with extended, but poor and distorted, highs are also candidates.) The fact that even the superb Coincident Pure Reference Extreme was able to be improved is dead proof that virtually any speaker can be improved. (However, being stacked, the Pure Reference Extreme's highest frequencies were being rolled-off in my system, because I positioned them for optimum image size, coherence and focus at the expense of high frequency extension.)
There are other high quality super tweeters available on the market, new and used, and I believe that even if they are not quite as good as the Acapella, they should still provide an important improvement. Before the Acapella arrived, I was seriously looking at several other models myself, for years now actually (such as the Townshend Maximum, even though I realized that its low sensitivity would most likely be an unsolvable problem). They can be an incredibly cost effective investment, with far greater long-term sonic benefits than another over-priced cable or even an amplifier change.
All the non-massless super tweeters I've seen, or read about, have two important advantages over the Acapella; they are affordable for most audiophiles, plus they are a lot smaller and less bulky, making them much easier to position and optimize. However, they don't have built in amplifiers, as does the Acapella, which is one of the reasons why they are less expensive, and also why they may be less flexible when matching sensitivities, which is critical.
Finally, I'm concerned with the reviews of various super tweeters I've read on-line. None of the reviewers went to the lengths I did to remove and optimize the overlap of the super tweeter with the original tweeter. Sometimes it isn't necessary, though only if and when the crossover point is extremely high (and the original tweeter attenuated in the highs) but, in most instances, it is a critical requirement.
A super tweeter is a component that must always be taken seriously, even if it appears physically small and inconsequential, because the set-up is critical (see above). It should never be simply thrown into a system while hoping for the best. Think of it almost like a phono cartridge, with all the care and precision that component requires to sound its best. If that is your perspective, and you have patience (plus a few good friends), the implementation should be successful.
Below are links to information concerning the Acapella, Townshend and any other super tweeter that appears to have serious potential. There will also be links to reviews and threads that I feel may also prove helpful.
My Audio System
Further information on the Acapella
Townshend Maximum Super Tweeter
Review of Townshend Maximum
Audio Smile Super Tweeter
Engima Acoustics Sopranino Electrostatic Super Tweeter
Grant Fidelity Super Tweeter
Hill Plasmatronics Dedicated Website
Audiogon Townshend Super Tweeter Threads
Murata ES103a - No direct link available. Google name for information.
Note- The foam is being used to dampen the capacitors' micro-movements, which could cause an audible distortion.
The "Extreme" version of the original (single enclosure) Coincident Pure Reference (now discontinued) came out in 2009. Eight years later, there is now a new version of the two-box Extreme, which I have designed the "II". According to a phone conversation I had with Israel Blume, owner and designer of Coincident, and later confirmed by a visit to the Coincident website, there are several changes to the original Extreme (which he feels are of "significant proportions").
1. The new Statement cabling will be used internally.
2. The Accuton ceramic midrange and tweeter are the latest improved versions.
3. The crossover components are also improved along with some slight adjustments for further improvements.
The subwoofer also has a new inductor and the new internal Statement cabling. The selling price of the new model II is $ 29,500 for a pair, which is $ 2,500 more than the final $ 27,000 price of the original Extreme. Blume claims that his costs for all the various II updates are "substantial".
The price for converting the original model to a Model II is $ 8,000. Blume explained to me that his cost for this modification is prohibitive, since the old drivers can not be re-used, and the labor to remove everything (both drivers, crossover and the wire) and then re-build the speaker is extensive. There are also shipping charges both ways (and possible documentation hassles for owners not located in Canada). However, the cost to modify the monitors alone is $ 6,000. Even better, Blume also informed me that this partial conversion would still provide 80% of the overall improvement. This partial conversion may be the best approach for many owners, since there would also be a substantial savings in shipping costs as well.
What will I do...?
My two pairs of Coincident Pure Reference Extreme speakers are now "For Sale".
They will be replaced with the new MK. II discussed above. Note- One pair of my Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers has already been sold. There is now only one pair left for sale. Here is the detailed listing:
If anyone is seriously interested in purchasing my remaining personal pair of the Coincident Extremes, contact me as soon as possible, because I always honor the earliest communication first. I promise that the speakers are in excellent working condition and will be solidly discounted.
Coincident Speaker Update Announcement & Further Information
My Comprehensive Review of the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers
It's 50 Years Ago Now...
This month, September 2017, is an important anniversary for me. If it is possible to be precise in such matters, then it was this month, 50 years ago, that I became an "audiophile".
In September 1967, I matriculated to the State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA) as a Junior (I had graduated from Rockland Community College the previous spring). As it happened, in only that first month, I would meet three people who would change the entire perspective and course of my life. Two of them were fellow students who lived in my dormitory. The third person was the head Librarian for the Humanities (which included the entire 2nd floor of their huge library at the time).
The first person was Larry, who after a discussion about finding a better "Victrola", gave me an Allied Electronics Catalog as a gift. I was overwhelmed by all the different audio components and brands I was unfamiliar with, plus all the choices available. An entire new world had opened up to me. The second person was Ken, who had no interest in audio, but had considerable experience with Classical music, which I knew virtually nothing about at the time. He enthusiastically introduced to me all the great composers and a beginner's list of compositions for me to listen to.
I then went to the Music Listening Room on the library's Humanities floor, only to discover that it was closed. When I complained, the elderly librarian, Dr. Streuer, apologized. She informed me that she was searching for someone to look after the room, since headphones were required for listening and they had to be signed out. So, I had the music room job that very afternoon and for the next two years as well. I took complete advantage of my new position, even having private listening sessions with the rarely used speakers (Acoustic Research AR-2ax) and borrowing records, which wasn't allowed for ordinary students.
I could never have imagined, back then, the long and complex journey inspired by this early beginning. I would end up buying and selling numerous components, almost all used, always trying to discover a higher level of performance. I eventually owned and operated an audio store for more than 20 years, which provided countless experiences with components, systems, rooms, audio shows and the opinions and reactions of fellow audiophiles. Now, long retired from the audio business, I operate my own website, where I can communicate with fellow audiophiles from all around the world.
Living in Florida, I no longer have the incredibly wide access to components and able assistants that I once had when I owned my audio store in Toronto, and I'm no longer young as well. However, I, and my associates, have a considerable amount of experience in discovering those "special" components which stand out from the rest, in either price/performance, design and/or implementation. This website has offered a unique combination of a system oriented and proven methodology of testing; a strategic and consistent perspective, philosophy and approach; experienced listening skills; and no inhibiting conflicts, of any type, to compromise the reporting, which is of especially critical importance these days. Taken together, these cumulative advantages will continue to make this website relevant to serious audiophiles, even though the new output will inevitably diminish.
Some concerned readers, and even an audio discussion group reader in a dedicated thread, have enquired about my declining posts and seeming absence this past summer of 2017. Their observations had merit. I was almost completely absent from this website for around two months this summer. This absence was due first to a serious family emergency, which required me to travel, and then immediately later by Hurricane Irma (just when I was attempting to return), which battered my neighborhood, but thankfully didn't cause any serious damage. The worst is now over.
It took a while, but I am now back to my normal schedule. I have already edited and posted my review of the Acapella TW 1S Ion Super Tweeter (see above), and my other various projects (see below), which I promised to complete earlier this year, are all continually progressing as well.
Finally, I sincerely appreciate all the concern and thoughts for me during that difficult time.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the September 2016 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
From my long-term observations, the primary distinction between myself and all other audio journalists, writers and reviewers, past or present, is the strong and unprecedented emphasis I have placed on the reproduction of (very) soft and subtle sounds. There are many other differences between myself and the others, which is normal and to be expected, but none of them are as evident and important. In fact, I even coined a new expression for the concept of accurately reproducing "soft sounds", after I realized that the default generic term, popular with most audiophiles, was both ill-defined and misleading: Here's the relevant article and direct link: THE "SOUND-FLOOR"-THE ULTIMATE KEY
Music requires soft sounds to be complete and, just as important, an audio system, if it is to be honesty judged as "outstanding", must have the ability to play at (very) soft volume levels without "dying" and still sound real and alive. My 50 years of experience with tube electronics, along with the countless positive results I've had modifying these same electronics, taught me the critical importance of this highly neglected sonic virtue. However, the various experiences I had with literally thousands of fellow audiophiles are the real foundation for my conviction concerning this issue. It has been my consistent observation, for decades, that the more sensitive and experienced the listener, the more they appreciate hearing all the subtleties of soft sounds. This is the indisputable confirmation that provides the confidence for my conviction.
I also highly value (or highly prioritize) the organization of sounds because, at its most fundamental definition, music is simply organized sound. I share this value of organization with (too) few contemporary audio journalists. Both are equally necessary, because soft sound information is mainly useless unless it is properly organized and there isn't as much value to proper organization when much of the information that is supposed to be organized is missing. Three components, the Morrison speaker, the Golden Tube SET amplifier, and the Reference Lenco, specifically and jointly, taught me the importance of this value.
However, I also realize that most audio writers, and audio enthusiasts in general, have very different sonic priorities than mine. The most common sonic priorities, by far, are "the basics" as I define them; the ability of an audio system to play loud, deep and high.
In actuality, when you think about it, it's relatively easy to create an audio system that has the ability to play loud, sound "big" and also go both deep and high. You simply have to use a large assortment of speaker drivers, utilize both large speaker cabinets and woofers, and have a large amplifier output stage, either transistor or tube. It's much more difficult, and expensive, to accomplish the next logical step: Have that same type of audio system also play consistently clean and smooth. Those important upgrades require improved drivers and passive crossover parts, deader cabinets and better power supplies. In recent times, two of the most well-known audio reviewers, (the now late) Harry Pearson and Michael Fremer, had/have a strong preference for systems with those strengths (which also cost a fortune), but I don't share their highest sonic priorities.
In contrast, it's my long-time experience that the most difficult audio accomplishment is for an audio system to accurately play both softly and organized simultaneously, which takes real thought, numerous experiments, research, along with really high quality (and expensive) parts. This is why the vast majority of audio designers simply ignore and/or avoid the attempt to reach, let alone to master, this particular goal. Why is this goal so difficult to achieve? Simple: There is no room for any error; one mistake, anywhere in the long audio chain, means failure.
Example 1: It's wonderful to have deep bass and extended highs in an audio system, as I have and enjoy them myself, but not only are these frequency extremes virtually useless unless they are time coordinated to everything else, specifically the midrange, they actually become an audible distraction if they are out of place and bring attention to themselves as "alien" to the remaining complete sound.
Example 2: Most audio systems, regardless of cost, have to play louder than life to capture the details and excitement in the original recording, and they subsequently "die" when the music volume is soft. This is because they are missing sonic information due the complexity and problems with the signal path, in the speakers and in the electronics, and this missing information is never completely recaptured when playing loud, though it may be less obscured. Meanwhile, a superior system can play at realistic levels and still not sound dead when the music inevitably becomes soft in volume.
In my experience, the most evolved audio systems in theory, which are also the rarest in actuality, can play at an even lower volume than the musicians normally play in real life and still sound alive. This is the goal I achieved over several decades and which other serious audiophiles can also replicate, though everything in the system has to be just right, with not even one weak link, for this reality to occur.
My article, "Building a Great Audio System", is the best advice I can provide at this time to reach this goal in any system, and it does NOT require huge expenditures. Instead, if the various structures are followed, the sonic results will also inevitably follow, in general, even if they don't quite equal what the (theoretical) very best can do at any one time.
Almost as important as the above, a truly outstanding audio system requires the ability to reproduce immediate and uninhibited dynamic shifts, to induce involuntary "goose bumps" and the complete attention and involvement of the listener. Finally, this same outstanding system requires a consistent neutrality. Thus there is no unnatural emphasis, or demphasis, of a specific frequency and/or a frequency range ("consistent" because it doesn't alter with either the frequency and/or volume levels). These final priorities of "uncompressed sound" and "level sound" basically completes the fundamental sonic picture.
So for now, it may be considered as my personal "Sonic Stool" - Complete sound, Organized sound, Uncompressed sound and Level Sound*.
*Though I strongly believe that "Audio" is far too complex a subject for any simple equation, no matter how thoughtful, precise and true, to ever fully encompass and define it.
An Economical and (yet still) Indispensible Accessory...
A sound pressure meter (SPM) is an extremely important audiophile accessory and/or tool, which I believe every serious audiophile should own. I now wish that I had purchased a SPM decades ago, especially when I operated my retail store from 1981-2001 (I did borrow more than one SPM from a customer). A SPM provides instant knowledge and information, as well as an ability to communicate, objectively, with other audiophiles, including all those on the Internet whom you will never meet in person.
A SPM can clarify what would otherwise be pure speculation, while providing real and fundamental information when making various comparisons; between components, systems, friends and audio store systems and even the systems of internet friends, manufacturers/retailers and journalists. It's a specific measurement, that is easy to understand and which other audiophiles can utilize and appreciate.
In the past, SPMs were more expensive and not as accurate, which is why I previously avoided them (though I now realize, and admit, that this was a really poor excuse to not own of them at the time). The old reality has changed in our contemporary digital world. My basic BAFX model only costs $ 20 (or even less), while the BAFX top of the line (with more features), which I also have at present, is only $ 55, so there is no longer any excuse for not owning one of them (see BAFX links and picture below).
After playing around with it, the first serious use I made of my SPM was to learn both my normal SPL listening range and, directly related, the actual wattage being utilized by my main power amplifiers (Coincident Frankenstein). During normal play, when I wasn't trying to "blow myself, or someone else, away", the volume range was almost always (98%) between 55 to 85 dB (at my ears), and the 2% outliers were usually, though not always, below 55 dB. These numbers surprised me, since I thought they would be higher. Next came the Frankenstein power output calculations, but first I had to calculate the system's sensitivity, and then make precise measurements which took into account the distance from the speakers to my actual listening position (my ears). This process was easier than I expected.
My System's Sensitivity- Starting from scratch, one channel of my speakers, the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme, is specified by the manufacturer as being 94 dB 1 watt/1 meter, which is above average. I then verified this specification with the speaker driver manufacturer, Accuton (and an authorized Accuton distributor for good measure), both of whom even utilized graphs as their ultimate proof. From there, the final calculations were straightforward:
1. Pure Reference Extreme (PRE), One Channel = 94 dB 1 watt/1 meter (Verified);
2. Stereo (Two Channels) PRE = 97 dB;
3. PRE Stereo Doubled Stacked = 100 dB;
4. Finally, the signal measured at 1 meter, by the SPM, is reduced by (almost exactly) 6 dB at my ears/listening position;
5. Ergo, this means that at my listening position, a measurement of 94 dB (100 - 6) = 1 watt of average power is being used by each Frankenstein amplifier.
Interpretation: At my normal listening range of 55 to 85 dB, I am using approximately 1/10,000 to 1/10 of 1 watt, 98% of the time. Consider then the complete lack of relevancy for all those touted measurements of 10 to 100 (or higher) watts for myself, or anyone else with a system even remotely close to mine in sensitivity. (And, it must not be forgotten, I also have a relatively large room.)
The Doors - "When the Music's Over" - Digital Remastered 2 LP Album - 88.8 dB peak
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue - "Freddie Freeloader" - Classic Records Reissue LP - 89.5 dB peak
Mussorgsky/Ravel - Pictures at an Exhibition - "Great Gate of Kiev" - Mobile Fidelity LP - 88.3 dB peak
Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring - "Adoration of the Earth" - Mobile Fidelity LP - 94.4 dB peak (the highest SPL I've measured so far)
It is now a priority to add peak SPL measurements to any article when I feel this information would be helpful. However, to make these measurements truly relevant, we will eventually require a "base line" (or a universally accepted steady signal) to use as an ultimate "Reference Point" (RP), for both records and digital sources. This is an absolute requirement if the goal is to have the most relevant measurements and communication. This RP concept must be thoroughly understood, so I will describe it in greater detail...
Readers must know the exact starting RP (for instance 70 dB) before they can fully utilize and appreciate the peak value measurement (xx dB) of any particular LP/CD. Using this RP method, a reader has the ability to duplicate the exact starting volume level by using the related RP. This then allows him to directly compare his peak dB measurements with those of a specific LP (or CD) measured elsewhere. Accordingly, I plan to find these "SPL Reference Points" (hopefully a variety of test records and CDs) in the next year. The ultimate goal is to make some RPs as "Universal" as possible.
Specific RP Example: I provide an RP of 70 dB with a specific cut on a particular test record. I then listen to "Kind of Blue" at this same RP 70 volume level and subsequently post the peak SPL results. The reader can then match this exact RP of 70 dB with the same exact test record, with their own system, using their volume control. The reader can now play "Kind of Blue" at the exact same volume level (RP 70) as I did when I made the posted measurements. This makes the peak dB levels that I measured comparable and relevant to the measurements he later makes with his own system. Further, any other sonic description of the LP I make will also have greater relevancy, since any volume level discrepancy between us has been eliminated.
Important SPM "Bonus" Function- An SPM can also be used when making a frequency sweep of an audio system. This is done to discover the actual frequency response of that particular system in that particular room. A high quality reference test CD or LP is required first of course, but the SPM will then provide objective data while the frequencies, and related volumes, are changing. This is in sharp contrast to just an educated guess or "gut feeling" as to the true magnitude of those volume changes. For many audiophiles, this knowledge will be as, or even more, important as knowing the sound pressure levels during playback.
SPL measurements will now become routine on this website. It would be a highly welcome development if other audiophiles, especially audio reviewers and journalists, would also disclose their listening volume levels, with specifics as well. I especially hope that the audiophile community can eventually find and agree on some Universal "Reference Points" (CD and LP). As explained above, using a Universal RP is the one certain method to insure that any disclosed SPL data can be effectively "translated", and thus become understandable and relevant to all serious audiophiles, anywhere in the world.
BAFX basic model $ 18.00
BAFX deluxe model bafx3608 $ 55.00
Right: BAFX Deluxe Model 3608, with Case and Accessories
This is my best attempt at describing the different levels of improvement an audiophile may hear and observe during a comparison (assuming they actually exist in the first place). I also provide some examples that we (myself and one, or more, of my associates along with me) have experienced in the last few years, which will change over time to keep them recent and relevant.
The actual observations will constitute an objective reality to the listener. However, the listener's reaction to those same observations will, of course, always be personal and subjective, and may differ greatly from my descriptions, and from other audiophiles. In fact, in my experience...
For the most fanatical and enthusiastic audiophiles, a Level 3 observation may still trigger a Level 5 reaction. In stark contrast, some "objectivist" listeners will only acknowledge Level 1 to 3 improvements (at most!) to any component they hear, with the one exception of speakers, and react accordingly.
Important Note - It has been my long-term observation that it's easier to hear an improvement in sonics than to hear a deterioration. This is true, in my experience, for both veteran and novice audiophiles. This general rule is the reason why cartridge and tube deterioration, and many other sonic problems (some temporary), are not quickly recognized. This improvement/deterioration rule is also the foundation of a "Level 1 Improvement" (see below), and why many audiophiles feel uncomfortable with blind tests: Confirmation of what you just heard isn't as obvious or easy as you expected.
Now, from the most subtle to the most profound...
Level 1- The sonic improvement can be subtly, though still consistently, heard when switching to the superior component (A/B). However, the reverse matching deterioration is not heard when switching back (B/A) to the inferior component.
Example- Ars Acoustica Prototype I.C. Cable Vs. Coincident Extreme I.C. Cable (between the Jadis phono stage and the line stage)
Level 2- The sonic improvement can be heard when both switching components and then when switching back, but it is no longer specifically (or easily) heard after a short period of time; sometimes seconds, but almost always less than one minute.
Example- Coincident Extreme Shotgun I.C. Vs. Ars Acoustica Prototype I.C. (between the Jadis phono stage and the line stage)
Level 3- The sonic improvement can be heard at length, but an effort may be required to listen specifically for it, so it may not be "obvious" or inescapable. This improvement may or may not be significant; meaning there's a chance that an audiophile may be able to remove this improvement from their system and still not suffer from its absence.
Example- "The Truth" T3 Line Stage Vs. "The Truth" T1 Line Stage
Level 4- The sonic improvement can be heard all the time, and without any effort, by an audiophile. However, it's still actually possible for it to be not heard by ordinary listeners, meaning those people with no interest in sound quality. This improvement is still "significant"; so a serious audiophile will almost always suffer from its absence.
Example- Acapella TW 1S Ion Super Tweeters
Level 5- The sonic improvement can be heard at all times by anyone with healthy hearing, including listeners with no interest in sound quality. The improvement is now always "significant"; meaning an audiophile can no longer enjoy their system without this specific improvement.
Example- ZYX UNIverse II Vs. "Original" ZYX UNIverse
Level 6- The sonic improvement is "transformational"; meaning not only would it be completely unthinkable to live without it, but the improvement actually alters an audiophile's thinking and perspective on both their particular system and "Audio" in general.
Example- Reference Lenco L-75 Turntable/Graham Phantom (Supreme) Tonearm Vs. Forsell Air Reference Turntable/Tonearm
These different levels do not correlate exactly with numbers or percentages. Personal preferences and a listener's subjective reaction always trump the listener's analytical judgment of a component's performance and whatever improvement(s) is/are noticeable.
As an example, let's say one component ("A") is noticeably superior to the Reference ("R") in 10 different areas, but only by approximately 1% in each case. In contrast, let's say a third component ("B") sounds the same as "R" in almost every way, but is better in one area by 5%. It is very possible that component "B" will still receive a higher level than "A" to the audiophile, especially if the improved area is more highly valued. In fact, it is not uncommon for some audiophiles to give up 1% of the performance across the board just to get that extra 10% improvement in the one area that really moves them and gets them "involved" with the music.
To make this more personal, I believe if I were to quantify the actual examples that were given above, the Lenco/Graham wouldn't receive the largest number, but I still feel it was transformative because it improved areas that broke new ground (for me), and which couldn't be replicated by any other component category (like going from a transistor amp to a good SET amp on the right speaker).
Also, while the first two Levels leave basically no room for "nuance", since they are so subtle and tightly defined to begin with, the medium and higher Levels (3 to 6) do have smaller iterations (or degrees) within them, such as 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2 etc. In fact, even a "difference in kind" still has some "variety" or a range, since their degree and impact are not all exactly the same, even if the practical end results are the same. Levels 3 and 4 are both very similar to each other, and the most common to experience when making actual comparisons. Further, a "strong 3" and a "weak 4" are basically the same in practice and interchangeable in effect.
Finally, below is how I used numbers to illustrate why I was so enthusiastic about the Graham Phantom Supreme compared to the earlier II it replaced, when the differences I described didn't appear to be that significant...
Let's assume the II is 95% "perfect", while the Supreme is 97% "perfect". Most audiophiles would agree that the difference between the numbers 95 and 97 is marginal. However, the difference between 5% (100-95) and 3% (100-97), which is a 40% reduction in imperfection, can be profound to an audiophile (or any "perfectionist" for that matter). Sometimes a change in perspective clarifies an otherwise confusing subject.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the October 2016 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
An Important Update...
This article has been moved to a new location: February 2018 Recent File
This important article will be reposted & updated annually...
This article is a summary of the cumulative observations and recommendations included within this website as concisely as possible. Below is the best advice I can provide as this is written and it will be updated if and when necessary. This summary will be relevant if the ultimate goal of the reader is to maximize the natural, accurate and complete musical communication that is possible with modern audio components. It is designed to work with the largest variety of musical software available to us today, and particularly if it is acoustical in nature.
I obviously realize that there are other serious alternatives, and with easily noticeable advantages to my approach. However, in my experience, they all have a larger number of serious compromises with a greater variety of music. Further, none of the recommendations I make below have to cost a huge amount of money, and all the steps can be made over a period of time.
1. The Analogue source should be an Idler-Drive turntable (or a Reel-To-Reel Tape Deck)
Explanation- Idler-drives have a fundamental sonic advantage over belt-drive turntables; speed stability, which is grossly under appreciated by most audiophiles. Idlers' inherent disadvantage, noise transference, has now been reduced to insignificance by using modern plinths, bearings and improved motor isolation. In short, idler-drives overcame their original problem economically, while belt-drives have not and (apparently) can not. (Direct-drives are still an unanswered question.) Reel-to-reel tapes have even more sonic potential, but they're a serious hassle to use for most audiophiles and good software is also extremely limited.
2. A Moving-Coil (or Strain-gauge or Optical?) cartridge
Explanation- Moving-coils have several technical advantages due to their low-mass and low inductance combined with higher overall energy output, making them worth the extra expense under most circumstances. Strain-gauge and/or Optical cartridges may have even greater technical advantages, but I haven't heard a modern version of one of them in a controlled environment.
3. The Digital source should use the highest quality (OEM) Esoteric Transport that is affordable
Explanation- Every outstanding digital player we have heard has used an Esoteric transport. Until computer audio is finally mature, an actual digital disc player is still the best and safest approach, which means an Esoteric transport should be part of the equation. There are usually many used Esoteric players for sale at large discounts. They are also incredibly well built and reliable, which is another important factor. Esoteric (OEM) transports are also used in non-Esoteric players as well. The DAC, after it inevitably becomes obsolete, can always be updated.
4. The Electronics should be Separates, and using Tubes, with the one possible exception of the bass amplifiers
Explanation- Tube electronics still have noticeable and important sonic advantages over even the finest transistor models. Separate components offer both the greatest potential performance and flexibility, including mono amplifiers.
5. The Speakers must be HIGH-EFFICIENCY AND BOTH Bi-ampable AND SET-Friendly
Explanation- All the finest systems I've ever heard were bi-amplified (with subwoofers). This is not a coincidence. When the amplifier driving the midrange and tweeters is not effected by the (sub)woofers (which would have their own dedicated amps), there are important (if not fundamental) sonic advantages that any audiophile can hear. Even if the bi-ampable speaker can not be bi-amped when first purchased (for whatever reason), that option is still available in the future.
SET amplifiers have important sonic advantages in the midrange and highs over any other amplifier design in my experience, especially with acoustical music. They have the lowest sound-floor and are the best "organized" (and music is simply "organized sound"). Even if a SET amplifier is not used at first, the SET-friendly speaker will provide that option in the future.
1. The SET amplifier, in a bi-amplified system, must use NO FeedBack, allowing it to become "Dedicated" with a simple capacitor modification
Explanation- Some audiophiles may consider this as more of a refinement, but I don't feel that way. The cumulative sonic improvements, discussed in the article linked to below, are easily observed and much too important to ignore.
2. Audiophiles should experiment with a Passive transformer, or a LDR, line stage/volume pot BEFORE utilizing a serious active line stage
Explanation- Most systems require an active line stage for optimum performance, but a passive line stage, or volume pot, can be used if the source has the required energy to directly drive the amplifier(s). If successful, there will be both improved performance and money saved, so an experiment is always in order. See the Link below.
3. Audiophiles should experiment with high-quality Super Tweeters
Explanation- Most systems require a good super tweeter for optimum performance. Proper set-up and implementation are critical for success, so time, effort and patience are required. See the Link below
4. Dedicated Digital Systems should always have the signal remain in the "Digital Domain" for as long as possible
Explanation- Digital's most noticeable sonic weaknesses occur during the unavoidable conversions: A/D + D/A. Thus the most rational strategy is to reduce these conversions to the bare minimum; only one A/D and one D/A if possible, by remaining strictly in the digital domain from the first conversion (software) until the second and final conversion. This strategy also minimizes the length of the analogue chain as well, which is another sonic benefit.
Individually, most of these refinements will be subtle in effect, but collectively they will almost always be significant in their effect. They are usually the difference between the "Excellent" and the truly "Great" Systems.
1. All Signal and Power Cables- As short as possible
2. Capacitors - Teflon in the direct signal path and all film (metallized) in the high voltage power supply
3. Exact speaker set-up and Room treatments
4. Acoustical Isolation of both the Sources and the Electronics
5. AC filtering and even AC regeneration if necessary
6. All records should be cleaned first with an Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning Machine
These are the articles and essays which describe and explain, sometime in great detail, the respective experiences and reasons why I specifically chose each of the "Structures" and "Bonus Suggestions" mentioned above:
"Reference" Lenco L 75 Idler-Drive Turntable (#1 "Structure")
DIGITAL SOURCES (#3 Structure)
Coincident Frankenstein 300B SET Amplifier (#4 & #5 Structures)
Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers (#5 SET-Friendly & Bi-Amping Structures)
Dedicated SET Amplifier Capacitor Modification (#1 Bonus Suggestions)
LINE STAGES (Active or Passive? #2 Bonus Suggestions)
Acapella Ion TW 1S Super Tweeter (#3 Bonus Suggestions)
A related article that will also be reposted & updated annually...
I decided to both expand upon, and yet still simplify, my earlier article, seen above, titled: Building a Great Audio System. This time I will argue that there is a single most important choice an audiophile can make when creating a great audio system or, at the least, creating the finest audio system for the least amount of money invested. That critical choice is unambiguously simple:
There are several practical reasons why this is the best choice a serious audiophile can ever make, as well as actual science to support it. First we'll focus on the practical reasons, which almost all involve maximizing the flexibility and the unlimited options resulting from this initial choice:
1. This choice provides the flexibility to choose any amplifier you prefer and can afford; low power/high power, tube/transistor, feedback/non-feedback, SET/non-SET or Class A or A/B or D. All these amplifier types are compatible with this choice of speaker. The amplifier choice thus becomes strictly one of audio quality, not quantity, which eliminates the frustrating compromises that other audiophiles must accept and live with.
2. With a high-efficiency speaker, other formerly impractical options now become possible. The system may no longer require the extra gain of an active line stage, which means a passive line stage, or a hybrid model like "The Truth", is now an option. Low output (analogue or digital) sources, which may sound "dead" with normal/average efficiency speakers, are now also options.
3. Bi-amping the speaker is also an option; now, later or never, with the added benefit that the speaker can utilize any combination of amplifiers, based on your own musical preferences and budget. Remember- Bi-amping is a "Structure of a Great Audio System".
4. Lower power, everything else being equal, also means lower cost, so there is even a monetary advantage to this important choice. (Passive line stages are also less expensive than equivalent active line stages, obviously.)
I have now lived with high-efficiency speakers for 25 years and I have never looked back. It is the most positively consequential choice I have ever made in my audio life. Countless other audiophiles have done the same, both before and after me, and it is unusual to learn of anyone who later reversed themselves. There are good reasons why these audiophiles remain "faithful": The advantages when using high-efficiency speakers are far too important in sonics, component flexibility and savings, to ever give up. Then there's the Science. It's all about Energy...
I am NOT a "scientist", though I do have a basic understanding of the science underlaying audio. Many other audiophiles can make the same claim as I, while others know far more about (audio) science than I ever will, but what I am about to theorize is something anyone can understand. My theory is based on an indisputable reality. Further, I believe it is rational, logical and thus irrefutable. Once again, it is founded on a simple truth and fact: High-Efficiency speakers require less energy to perform at the same level as "normal" speakers. Further, serious Audio is just about recreating, as closely as possible, the original energy, of the original performance, in your listening room.
High-Efficiency (HF) is the most important and critical advantage in audio. Why? HF speakers require less energy from outside sources to achieve the same level of performance. The energy from those "outside sources" is always imperfect and compromised. Accordingly, the less energy from "outside sources" included in the total energy created by the system, the less compromised the sound will be. And, to be clear, "outside sources" specifically mean electronic phono stages, DACs, active line stages and power amplifiers.
All of these electronic components are imperfect and "enemies" of music, though all of them are also unfortunately necessary for the reproduction of music using modern technology. In short, the less energy (or "influence") required from "outside sources" (electronic components), the higher the quality of total energy created by the system, everything else being equal. It's the classic "quantity versus quality" compromise and quandary.
To make my point as clear as I can, I need to use a highly unlikely scenario: Imagine a speaker with an unbelievable high-efficiency specification; let's say 130 dB/1 watt and, further, an ultra-low current requirement (while ignoring noise and other issues). Such a theoretical speaker could be driven by the preamplifier alone (or even the source*)! This scenario would actually eliminate power amplification all together. This is just a fantasy for now, but I'm arguing that even minor steps taken in this direction will have positive results.
*The ultimate scenario would be the phono cartridge directly driving the speakers, with the no electronics in between them. Only an attenuator would separate the two components. Anything else is a (necessary for now) compromise.
The less energy an audio system uses from "outside sources", the better chance that system has to be natural and faithful to the original musical source. So, the goal for serious audiophiles is simple: Reduce the energy required from your compromised outside power sources (AC), to the greatest degree possible. High-Efficiency speakers, more so than any other audio choice, achieve that goal.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the November 2016 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
Out of the Box Upgrade...
This past summer, a reader informed me of his project to improve the Avantgarde Duo Omega horn speaker system, which has always had (easily noticeable) bass frequency problems when using the standard woofers. The reader's project is obviously an extreme solution, but it appears to have been successfully accomplished and I felt the information he has generously provided me should be shared. The details below encompass his entire system, because the reader also shares my "system approach" to audio. Here are the most informative parts of the various letters he has sent me over the past 5 months, plus a picture and a diagram as well. There's only minor editing and my bold:
Reader Letter One:
As you found, the original Duo woofer is incapable of keeping up with the horns. It can produce a lot of bass, just not good bass, I tried 2 and even 3 sets of them at the same time, and even though it was better it was not even close to good enough. I am speaking about the original design, as I have not heard the current one. I found the upgrade to the Omega drivers was a significant and worthwhile investment.
I consulted with Jeffrey Jackson at Experience Music http://www.jeffreywjackson.com (see Link below). He recommended a bass horn as the only logical option to use with other horns. I considered the Avantgarde bass horns, but dismissed them for 2 reasons. First of all, a speaker with two 12” drivers and a 1,000W amplifier, that is only 4 1/2 feet long, does not fit my definition of a horn. It is a subwoofer with a flared mouth. Secondly, it is ridiculously expensive for what it is. Jeffery suggested a 16 foot horn that could be driven to satisfactory levels and beyond with a 2-3 watt amplifier. It will get down to 30 Hz with no problem, given proper amplification. Since I wanted to keep the horns aligned vertically, that necessitated building a custom stand to hold the red horns.
Jeffrey calculated the expansion and provided a suggested build plan. The driver is a 12” B&C woofer, which launches into a 4” X 6” opening forming a compression driver. It then expands exponentially to a 36” X 58” mouth. The straight sides except the mouth are 3/4” birch plywood. The sides and bottom of the mouth are double layers so 1 1/2”. The curved portions are 2 layers of 3/8” bendable plywood, which when glued together becomes rigid. The top of the mouth is a gentler bend so I used 3 layers of 1/4” plywood glued together. It was built in sections then glued together with biscuits and the help of a brad nailer. I included pictures of some of the sections so you can see how it went together. The Avantgarde woofer on the top of the bass horn is just sitting there to add 100 lbs of mass to it.
I first built the mouth. Once it was completed we decided to move. Since it was too wide to get through the door I cut it in 2 horizontally and reassemble in the new house. You can see it in 2 pieces in one picture. I first tried a single SET amp with a first order choke filter for the bass. The mid horn rolls off naturally and the tweeter has it’s own crossover. This was very good, but with a 3 way system it was too tempting not to try to tri-amp it, so I built a 6 channel SET amp, which was also constructed under the guidance of Jeffrey. Details on the amp later.
The problem with a 16 foot horn is that the bass is 15 mSec behind the mid and tweeter. That can be solved by physically aligning them. However, the mid/tweet would have to sit 16 feet behind the mouth putting the mouth about 18 feet into the room instead of 6 feet when it is up against the back wall. I have a 30 foot room so I could have done it, but it just took up too much space as it is a multifunction room. The solution is to time delay the mid/tweet so they launch at the same time as the sound is coming out of the mouth. So how do you get a 15 mSec delay? Pure Vinyl software (PV): (http://www.channld.com/purevinyl/)
Using PV opens up a lot of possibilities. Not only did I get time delay, it also has a many other features. For my front end I currently have a Wilson Benesch Act 2 turntable, Act 2 arm, and Analog cartridge, pre-amplified with a Lino from the same folks who produce PV. That is digitized by an Apogee Symphony under the control of PV, RIAA applied by PV, crossed over 3 ways digitally with PV, volume controlled digitally by PV, sent back to the Apogee for D to A, then to the power amp. Digital files are on a hard drive connected to the Mac Mini which is running PV. It works with iTunes as the file manager and PV does all of the processing such as upsampling if you choose to use it. It will go up to 192K as will the Apogee. My hard core analog friends told me it could not possibly sound very good with all of that processing along with digitizing the vinyl. One told me I would be listening to high frequency square waves. They were wrong.
One of the advantages of this set up is the precise control of crossover points. It allows you to digitally set them, choose slopes for each driver, trim the volumes individually if needed, and set the time delay. PV also works with plug ins if you choose to apply EQ or other processing. Another huge advantage is the ability to hook the output of the power amp directly to each driver with no passive crossovers, which eliminates the associated phase shifts and frequency anomalies.
Using PV to set the delay is very easy. First calculate the approximate amount of delay which is 16 feet divided by the speed of sound. Set the delay initially to that point. Play a tone at the crossover frequency and use PV to invert the mid. Then using a microphone and a pro audio interface to display the spectrum you will see a spike at that frequency. Slowly adjust the delay back and forth until you get a null. You can also adjust the gain of one or the other until you get the deepest null which will be where the outputs of the 2 are equal as they should be at that frequency. Put it back to non-inverted and you are done.
So now onto the amps. I have several. One is the aforementioned 6 channel SET. The bass channel is a 5995 direct coupled to a 2A3 in a stacked configuration. The mid and tweeter channels are the same except they use a 46 on the output. That means from the output of the DAC to the driver there are only 2 stages of SET amplification. The power supply is choke input. I am now experimenting with a Naim 6-50 which is a 6 channel 30 WPC amp built in 2001. The bass is undoubtedly superior. It appears the 2A3 isn’t capable of controlling it the way SS can. The mid/tweet is what I would call a little more hifi. However, it is very good and having never heard the SET would be very happy with it. I may end sticking with all SS, but now trying out a Naim Nap 250DR for bass and tubes elsewhere. It is a bear to get it grounded where it won’t hum and buzz, but finally got it. I’m going to try tri-amp with 2 more Naim 250DR, but this may be it.
Reader Letter Two:
I believe I have settled into a final as final can be configuration. Of course things may change down the line. By that I mean I can sit down and listen to music. I am not sitting down to think about what could be better or different. I feel I am at a 95% plus level and further changes may result in slight improvements, but more likely tradeoffs from one area of excellence to another. I am in a good place.
The last piece of the puzzle was volume control, as I have too much gain from source through amps to my 110 dB speakers.. probably about 20-30 dB too much. I worked with Placette on a 6 channel RVC, which they built for me. I had a buzz/hum issue with it initially, but I sent it back and they added some switches to lift grounds. It is silent to the point you have to put your ear to the speaker to hear a tiny amount of hiss.
The Naim Nap 250DR amps are a revelation in the SS world. Like you I was firmly in the tube SET camp, but these things are amazing. At 80 WPC they are overkill for my horns, but I believe the headroom does really affect the overall sound versus a 2-3 watt SET… effortless. I encourage you to audition them. I initially had 3 Naim in a tri-amp configuration. I then went with biamp using the crossover in the Avantgarde tweeter (the mid runs full range rolling off naturally on both ends). I don’t think there is any difference other than selling the extra amp for $ 4K.
Wilson Benesch Act 2 table and arm with carbon fiber analog cartridge with Pure Music Seta Lino phono preamp
Apple Mac Mini running Pure Vinyl software all Digital files on external drive
Apogee Symphony MKII , ADC for Vinyl under control of Pure Music with RIAA, crossover, time delay, in the digital domain
biamp DAC output of Apogee crossed over at 180 Hz through the Placette volume control to a pair of Naim Nap 250DR running speakers
Reader Letter Three:
The Lino can be configured with or without RIAA, mine is without, just a cartridge preamp, a head amp. Typically in a setup like this you use the microphone input of the interface for the MC cartridge, but the Apogee mic input is a separate card, which I do not have, so I am using the Lino instead. The advantage is that a mic input does not usually provide the proper load for the cartridge, the Lino does as well as being a very high quality head amp. The Apogee takes that signal and digitizes it, then Pure Vinyl in the Mac Mini does ……..
...wide variety of curves selectable such as for 78s if you play them
...low pass rumble filter cutoff selectable
plays digital files using iTunes to manage the library
...currently 2 way at 180 Hz, 24 dB slope
...time delay for mid/tweet for time alignment
...configurable up to 4 way, 6 to 48 dB slope
Digital volume control set to 0dB since using passive
Many more options
...accepts plug ins for EQ or any other processing you want
...configurable upsample up to 192K
...you will need to go online to their website to see what all it can do
and sends it back to the Apogee for D to A.
Final Reader Side Note:
The remote volume control is a non-negotiable option so the Placette presented a very enticing solution. I find most recordings have a very narrow volume range where they are optimal and getting up and down to re-adjust is not going to happen here. I think this is one area that many audiophiles don’t understand, that the recording was mixed at a specific volume level which greatly affects the tonal balance due to the equal loudness contours of the human ear. If you find that sweet spot it is optimal.
This reader has used a number of the "Structures" that I recommend in my article: "Building a Great Audio System" (see above), but not all of them. The reader diverges from my structures mainly by entering the digital domain, but he "goes all the way" by staying there, thus taking advantage of digital's strengths and minimizing the weaknesses, which are usually the conversions; analogue to digital and back to analogue. This is the reason why I admire and appreciate his approach, and I made the decision to feature it on this website. In short, to pay my highest compliment to the reader: I would love to hear his system!
Finally, this reader has generously offered to assist any audiophile who would like to implement and integrate his hardware and software choices. If interested, simply contact me and I will then forward the letter to the helpful reader. For those readers interested in duplicating the actual custom speaker cabinets and/or the amplification, see the direct link below for professional guidance.
Experience Music - Jeffrey Jackson Audio Designs
The Wyetech Ruby is the finest solid-state phono stage I have ever heard and it is also the most versatile, in gain, loading and filter settings. Three of my associates, all of them with decades of experience, have also heard the Ruby in my system, and at completely different times (which insured independence). These three associates agree with my overall assessment of the Ruby, even to the point of using very similar descriptive language of its strengths and weaknesses. The Ruby was completely broken-in before the auditions. I experimented extensively with different gain settings, and load settings, and this effort produced a noticeable sonic improvement, while also providing me the confidence that the Ruby was optimized (see below).
The Ruby's sonic performance is easy to describe: It is very fast, detailed, clean, quiet and neutral. It also has a large sound stage and good separation and focus, due, I assume, to its exceptional dual-mono power supply. The Ruby is the closest I've yet heard, in overall sonic performance, to the best tube models.
However, I must also note that the Ruby still does not have all the most desirable qualities that the best tube phono stages provide. Examples: The sound-floor is not quite as low as the finest tube units, which noticeably compromises decays, fluidity, harmonic bloom, micro dynamics and macro dynamics, so the Ruby sounds generally more "mechanical" by direct comparison. Also negatively effected are the reproduction of natural body and space.
The Ruby is still quite good in all these areas, but it was not equal to my top Class A Reference, the highly-modified Jadis JP-80/Bent Silver combination, when I made our direct A/B comparisons. I realize that these comparisons with the Jadis/Bent could be accurately described as "unfair" to the Ruby, especially considering the cost, let alone the extreme rarity, of the Jadis/Bent Silver, but this combination was all I had during the lengthy reporting period. Further, Roger Hebert, designer/owner of Wyetech, was OK with this choice of rivals.
The Ruby is also the most flexible phono stage I've yet experienced; in gain, loading and filtering, and it is user friendly in all those areas. The Ruby is very well built and all the required tools are provided, as well as an excellent operating manual with documentation (see pictures below).
It is also important to note that when I experimented with different gain settings, I surprisingly discovered that the Ruby sounded better with the (ZYX UNIverse II) cartridge going "direct" into it, with either 66 or 68 dB of gain, than by utilizing the Bent Audio Silver SUT and lowering the Ruby's gain to only 40 dB. This amazing result, which is unprecedented in my experience, means that even the finest MC SUT (or "head-amp") is redundant when using the Ruby.
The Wyetech Ruby is the best option I am currently aware of for those serious audiophiles who want the maximum amount of sonic benefits of using tubes, but without using tubes, and with no related compromise of the sonic benefits of using transistors. Further, the Ruby also has the added bonus that no step-up device will ever be required, regardless of the cartridge used. The Ruby retails for $ 5,900, which is obviously not "cheap". I believe the unique range and scope of the Ruby's sonic performance, plus its outstanding cartridge/system versatility, easily justify its price.
Further, while I placed the Ruby in Reference Phono Stages Class B (Upper), I also believe it is very possible that some audiophiles, in particular those that appreciate and value what tubes can do, will still prefer some tube models in the lower reference categories, which is why I emphasized "overall" when describing its general performance.
The Ruby is not "The Best" in my opinion, but it is "the best of its type" I've yet heard, for now.
REFERENCE PHONO STAGES
"Class A" Phono Stages Review/Essay
My Audio System
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the December 2016 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
Important Note- Due to a number of unforeseen setbacks and delays that were suffered in the last two years, I have been unable to complete the cable survey that I began in January 2016. I have decided it is best to repost the beginning of the unfinished survey, and then finish it in stages, as time and circumstances permit. This will allow interested readers to find the remainder of the cable survey in one convenient location, which will also include direct links to the earlier material.
As any serious reader of this website knows, I am not a "cable guy". I'm not curious and I can't get enthusastic about cables, of any type, and will even avoid changing them as a rule. This is why I removed most of the content on cables on this website many years ago and rarely write about them. This wasn't always the case. When I had my audio store in the 1980's, I was completely up to date on cables, experimenting with every version I could get my hands on.
Back then, the entire concept of cables having an effect on the performance of an audio system was still new, so almost all serious audiophiles were interested in learning and experimenting to find the right combination to maximize the performance of their system. Then, the inevitable happened. One cable company (I believe MIT) decided to come out with a cable that was outrageously priced (for back then), especially considering how it was manufactured. When no one called them out on the cost, which back then meant only TAS and Stereophile, the cable game changed permanently (and eventually negatively effected the pricing structure of real components as well).
From that initial "seed", we now have cables that cost more than high quality cars, with "reviewers" even describing them as "good value". I was disgusted by the entire trend of mutual greed (high cable prices/high cost ads), and advised my customers to avoid and ignore the hype from the ads and the "reviews". I had a really good reason for this disgust, my own experiences, shared by many others. Example- Here is the first experience I had which "removed the scales" from my eyes. Ironically, the other audiophile present at the time is directly involved in the experiments now taking place in 2016:
Around 30 years ago, I was a dealer for MIT (which is still in business). I sold so much of their cable that I used to purchase some of it in spools and then terminate it myself, which saved my customers money. Then they came out with the MH-750 speaker cable, of unprecedented size and cost, with the claim that it was far superior to anything else ever made. It received rave reviews*. I, of course, ordered it for the store. I was quite pleased with its performance, which proved to be superior to anything I had in the store at the time.
*HP/TAS- "a considerable step closer to the real thing." Issue #34, Page 76
Stereophile - "the best of the best." Issue #78, Page 110
When I told my closest audiophile friend, Israel Blume, that I had the MH-750 in the store, he begged me to bring them to his place so he could hear them himself, in his own system. So the following Sunday I found myself at his home for a direct comparison with his own speaker cable, which just happened to be Polk, a mainly forgotten cable that had been considered dangerous to use with many transistor amplifiers and had been eventually discontinued.
I was so confident of the superiority of the MIT, that I almost felt sad for the poor old Polk, thinking how bad it would sound in comparison to this latest design. While Blume had configured the Polks so that there were now 4 Polk cables in parallel, I believed that this change wouldn't make that much of a difference. Blume's system back then consisted of the Quad ESL-63 speakers and the Ray Lumley M-100 amplifiers. He played a variety of music, but mainly some excellent selections from Harmonia Mundi, which were very revealing of cable performance. So, what happened? In short, the Polks won, and by a huge margin. We were both shocked. (Further, our "faith" in the magazines' judgment was irreversibly compromised as well. Many more negative experiences like this would later finish this "divorce" process.)
Compared to the multiple Polks, the MIT sound muffled, veiled, slow and dead. Anyone could have noticed what we observed, not just audiophiles. The MIT actually sounded horrible, and almost defective, in comparison. We went back and forth that afternoon, even playing both cables at the same time to try to understand what we were hearing. In the end, the MIT had just one minor advantage, the bass was a little more prominent and impactful (because of its lower impedance/larger gauge).
Blume later reduced that one last advantage by cutting his existing cables in half, thereby reducing the length in half, and then re-soldering them so they were now 8 cables per channel. (More than 8 cables had no further benefit in our experience.) This was a highly tedious and unpleasant job (the fumes are toxic). I soon followed his lead in my own system. With the Polk I already had laying around unused in my closet and a customer purchase, I built a 6' pair with 8 cables in parallel, and have used Polk speaker cables in my own personal system ever since then. (I now have a 3' pair with 6 cables in parallel, which has even less resistance than the initial 6' pair, which I later sold.) Around 15 years later, I had another enlightening experience with cables, this time in my store and with many more people involved:
In early 2001, my audio store's last year of operation, I received the latest version of the Coincident CST Interconnect cable. Israel Blume, the designer, was very happy with the results and he asked me to compare it to any cable I had in the store, at any price, so I did. I just happened to have the top-of-the-line Wireworld Gold Eclipse III (silver) interconnects, the best I had ever heard for line-level signals, and very expensive for that time.
I first broke-in the Coincident CST cables by using a CD player on "Repeat" (I still use this method today), and then conducted extensive, direct, A/B comparisons in my store over an entire weekend. Any person who entered the store was allowed in the room to make the comparison, with the only two conditions being they had to hear both cables for an entire cut of the same music and also promise to be honest and forthcoming in their observations and opinion (no "holding back"). For the sake of consistency and continuity, I decided to use one musical cut almost exclusively during the A/B comparisons: "Spanish Harlem"/Rebecca Pidgeon/Chesky Ultimate Demonstration Disc. (I was so sick of that one cut after that weekend, that I haven't played it even once in the last 15 years!)
I am no longer able to remember the power amplifier and speakers I used in the comparisons, but I do remember using the Ah Tjoeb 99, which was the best CD player I knew for the money back then. For the line stage, I chose the Passive/Active Pass Labs Aleph L, which proved critical in my efforts to make the tests as relevant and objective as possible. This quest for objectivity required a strict protocol, to make the tests as "blind" as possible. This is how the test was set-up:
The Ah Tjoeb had only one pair of stereo outputs (which is normal), so I connected a pair of high quality, gold-plated, Y-Jacks (Vampire Wire) to the outputs to convert them to dual (two) outputs. The Aleph L line stage had 4 inputs, so I connected one pair of cables from the Ah Tjoeb to Input 1 on the Aleph and the second pair to Input 3. The in-between Input 2 on the Aleph, still unused, became the de facto "Mute" position. Thus the test was completely fair to both cables since everything remained exactly the same for them when switching back and forth, including, critically, the volume. I did most of the A/B switching myself, but a few customers I trusted did some of the switches themselves, since it was ultra-easy to conduct, plus I had other customers to look after while the store was open. I even exchanged the cables' inputs a few times during the quiet periods on both days in an effort to further reduce any possible remaining prejudice and/or expectations, even on an unconscious level. The ultimate results of these A/B comparisons were truly edifying to say the least:
Approximately 25 people took the test and the results were 24 to 1 in favor of the Coincident CST. These results surprised me. Not only didn't I believe such a consensus was possible when it came to anything involved with audio, the results also directly contradicted a "Rule" continually spouted by (so-called and self-described) "Audio Objectivists" for many years. Let me explain: "Audio Objectivists" have long claimed that in a direct A/B test, any component which is playing (even .1 dB) louder will almost always be considered "superior". In this case, the Gold Eclipse III had a noticeably more upfront sound (silver vs. copper), which every single listener immediately observed, and this was also the main reason why every single listener was also able to easily distinguish the two cables from each other, despite the fact that they were both the exact same length, 1 meter, and the volume control was never touched (and was always in its "passive" range) after a test began.
The fact that all the listeners, with one exception (the final listener no less), still preferred the more laid back CST, which also wasn't quite as immediate, proved to be another surprise to me. The Coincident did have more body, warmth and was also better at separating the musicians in the ensemble. The CST proved to be more natural overall, and that ended up trumping the more exciting Wireworld. I frankly didn't expect those results, instead thinking that the two cables would have a similar number of adherents in the end. The really big deal, of course, was that the Coincident CST sold for $ 300, while the Gold Eclipse sold for the $ 1,200. I was further amazed that most of the customers weren't that surprised when they discovered the cable they preferred was only 25% of the price of its competitor. Maybe today's (justifiable) audio cynicism goes back further than we think.
Finally, I have to admit that I had a lot more fun than I expected while I conducted these tests, which would have been extremely tedious otherwise. What happened was this: As I mentioned above, I soon realized that every listener was easily able to distinguish the two cables from each other, no matter what I did or played, so the only real test left for them was deciding which cable they felt was better. Meanwhile, I took this rare opportunity to continually mention that some "serious" journalists, to be specific (so-called) "Audio Objectivists" Peter Aczel and Arny Kruger, now claimed that (paraphrasing them) "all cables sounded exactly the same", and were thus indistinguishable from each other, if heard in a strictly controlled A/B test, as I was then conducting (and they claimed the same was also true with all line stages, amplifiers, CD players etc).
The listeners were incredulous that any so-called "audio expert" could actually believe, and then state, such an absurdity, in public, since it was so obviously false and easily contradicted. The listeners, and I, couldn't resist joking about this "theory", at the direct expense of Aczel and Kruger, during both afternoons. Unfortunately, what I really wished for the most, an actual "audio objectivist" present and involved with these tests, never occurred during this weekend. I still wonder how this person* would have reacted to the irrefutable cognitive dissonance he was experiencing.
*There were a few sceptical listeners, so I simply had them make the switches themselves, or have their friends do it for them instead of me, just to prove that everything was above board.
There have been 4 generations of Coincident cables. Below are the dates when they were introduced, plus their respective retail prices. My notes and relevant commentary are below each generation.
C (Continuous) S (Signal) T (Transfer) Cables - Introduced 1998
CST - Interconnects - $ 300 1M Pair
CST1 - Speaker- $ 495 - 6 ft Pair
CST Power Cord- $ 295 - 6 ft.
Personal Notes on CST- This was Coincident's first generation of cables. They were the only models that I ever sold in my audio store. The CST interconnect was also involved in the shootout described above. I have used the CST power cords in my personal system from 2001 until the present, which is quite a run. However, I still preferred the Polk speaker cables to the CST and I also preferred a prototype interconnect from Ars Acoustica (which was never available to the public) to the CST equivalent.
Extreme Cables- Introduced 2005
Interconnects -RCA - $ 450 1M Pair
Speaker Cable - $ 1,395 6 ft Pair
Power Cord- $ 495 - 6 ft.
Personal Notes on Extreme- I have had extensive experience with this second generation of Coincident cables. I currently use Extreme interconnects between the line stage and subwoofer amplifiers, plus the Extreme speaker cables are used for the subwoofers. I also currently use one Extreme power cord. However, I still prefer the Polk cables to the Extreme on the Pure Reference monitors. The Extreme interconnects sound almost exactly the same as the Ars Acoustica prototype, but the Extreme has better bass. I never compared the CST and Extreme power cords.
Extreme Shotgun - Introduced 2010
Interconnects - $ 900 - 1M Pair
Speaker Cables- $ 2,795 6 ft Pair
Personal Notes on Shotgun- I have very limited experience with this generation, though the little I had was quite positive. The Shotguns are essentially a "doubled up" version of the Extreme, and they are, accordingly, also twice the price. I have only heard the Shotgun interconnects and they are the finest I've ever heard for line-level signals, bettering both the Extreme and the Ars Acoustica. I'm currently using the Shotgun cables between the Jadis phono stage and the Coincident line stage. I have not heard the Shotgun speaker cables.
Statement Cables- Introduced 2015
Interconnects - RCA- $ 595 1M Pair
Speaker Cable - $ 1,995 - 6 ft Pair
Power Cord- $ 595 - 6 ft
Phono - DIN-RCA- $ 795 - 1M Pair
Personal Notes on Statement- These are the cables presently being evaluated. I have every version that is available except the "Balanced" (XLR). The Statements are actually selling for substantially less money than their previous generation Shotgun equivalents, despite 5 years of added inflation. Israel Blume informed me that the basic designs of the Statement cables were accomplished a number of years ago, but only recent technological advances in cable manufacturing have allowed them to be built to his complete satisfaction.
The comparisons of power cables have been completed and are now posted. They can be read in a dedicated file: Reference Power Cables
I've been very fortunate when it comes to speaker cables. More than 30 years ago, I discovered the unique sonic attributes of the Polk speaker cables (see "Shocking" anecdote above). Since then, I've auditioned numerous speaker cables, but not one of them has matched the Polks when using the most revealing amplifiers (SET designs) and speakers. Interestingly, for half this period I also owned an audio store, so what did I tell my customers? If they asked, I always admitted using the Polk in my personal system rather than a speaker cable I was selling in the store at the time. However, only a handful of my customers ever followed me during all those years. The vast majority of them had heard that the Polk was dangerous to use with transistor amplifiers, and also difficult to construct properly (cutting and soldering 4 or more cables in parallel). So they felt it just wasn't worth it.
The Polk cable also has one serious performance qualifier: It does not have truly impactive bass (though the quality of the bass is superb), so I've always used other speaker cables on the various subwoofers I've had over this same period of time. In the last decade or so, I've used the Coincident Extreme cables for the subwoofers, as I found them to have both outstanding detail and impact, an ideal combination. This brings us to the present.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the January 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
An Important Update...
There are now four different "Truth" line stages. Three of the four models have already been auditioned in my system and there's also one final version which is scheduled to be built in 2018. This current set of four versions of "The Truth" does NOT contain any of the versions of "The Truth" prior to the earliest model that I first heard in 2015, and eventually reported on in March 2016. (I believe it is also important to note that, according to the designer and builder of "The Truth" line stage, Ed Schilling; "the actual circuit itself is unchanged from the first one built in 2010".)
This report will not directly compare "The Truth" to any other line stage, passive or active, since I already went through that important exercise in The Original Truth Review (which I strongly advise reading first to understand the perspective and details of this report). The purpose of this report is straightfoward, I am simply comparing the various versions of "The Truth" I've heard to each other, which will provide potential purchasers, and current owners, a greater information base as to how to proceed in the future. Starting from scratch, below is a basic description of the four versions of "The Truth" that I've either already auditioned, or will soon audition.
T1. The original version of "The Truth", now designated here as the T1, which I received in 2015 and reported on in March 2016 Link to 2016 Review. This model of "The Truth" was originally purchased by my associate (at the full retail price). My friend eventually sold this model to me when he later decided that he wanted a new version of "The Truth" with gain (which I felt I didn't need). This inevitably leads us to the next version...
T2. This model arrived in May 2017 and is designated here as the T2. The T2 had a number of important differences between it and the original T1: Two power supplies; Two separate cases (including a dedicated power supply); two high-quality and expensive transformers, one per channel, for gain; high quality internal wiring; improved light diodes and NO remote volume control capability. (This existing T2 will eventually be converted into the T4, see below.)
T3. This model arrived in October 2017 and is designated here as the T3. The T3 model replaced the T1 and is now my current personal version of "The Truth". The T3 is different than either the T1 or the T2. The T3 still has a remote volume control; an additional (second) power supply; high quality copper and silver internal wiring; the improved light diodes and a (single) newer case.
T4. This final version of "The Truth", designated here as the T4, has yet to be built as this is written. The T4 will be an updated version of the existing T2, with a different step-up transformer, which provides the gain, and maybe some other changes as well in the internal wiring and the power supply. We hope to have the T4 available for audition and evaluation sometime in Fall/Winter 2018.
In January 2016, an associate (and very close friend) visited me for a few days in my Florida home. He was very interested in hearing "The Truth" (T1) line stage, which he had purchased in 2015 and had subsequently shipped directly to me first for evaluation. (My friend, a Canadian, did not have a system at the time which he felt was adequate to properly evaluate the T1.)
My associate, who was extremely familiar with my system, could not have been more impressed with the T1, and he is probably the most critical listener I know (which is saying something). He felt the performance gap between the T1 and every other line stage he had ever heard was "huge", and that group included not only the Coincident Statement and the EMIA, both of which he had heard in my system, but also the ultra-expensive models from Conrad Johnson, Audio Research and many others. However, my friend had one serious problem with the T1, and it was not either its "garage cosmetics" or its "useless remote control". The problem that bothered him was strictly related to ultimate volume levels and gain.
My friend felt the volume level was more than satisfactory for the digital sources, but he had a problem with my analogue source because a few records (maybe 1 to 2%) weren't able to reach a fully satisfying volume level, so my friend and I had a serious discussion about a possible solution. It was not possible to increase the gain of either the MC SUT or the phono stage (or the amplifiers for that matter), so that left only the T1 remaining to modify. But how?!
The T1 circuit does not allow any gain, so the only serious (and least compromised) solution was to add a step-up transformer somewhere in the circuit of the T1. It is an understatement to say that I was simply sceptical of this "solution". I felt the unprecedented performance of the T1 was well worth the minor downside of a few records unable to reach their optimum volume level. However, my friend felt we could "have it all"; sufficient gain and with no sonic compromises, because, in his opinion, the expensive transformers he was considering were "almost perfect". I had to hold back laughing at the time, and I confidently predicted that the ultimate sonic performance of this new version of "The Truth" would be much closer to the Coincident Statement and the EMIA (which both use outstanding transformers themselves) than the original T1.
Still, to be both practical and positive, I eventually came up with a design for the new model that satisfied both of us. This design was entirely based on utilizing the existing basic block circuit of the T1.
The T1 (and T3) basic circuit is: RCA Inputs - Selector Switch (4 Inputs) - Input Buffer - Light Diodes (Volume Attenuation) - Output Buffer - RCA Outputs.
My T2 circuit design was simple and obvious: On the RCA Input 1 only*, we would add a dedicated buffer and then the SUT, with the output of the SUT then going directly to the selector switch (with the remainder of the original T1 circuit unchanged). With this circuit, we could hear the transformer without any compromise, since its dedicated input buffer would ensure that the signal reaching it was not compromised. Meanwhile, the other three inputs would be completely uneffected by the additional dedicated buffer and the SUT. This means that these three inputs could then be directly compared to Input 1 to observe any sonic differences, if they existed. In effect, 3 of the 4 inputs (#2, 3, and 4) were still equivalent to the T1, while input #1 was, in effect, the new T2. However, my friend and I wanted to go even further...
We then agreed that if we were going to invest and risk the time and money to create a new version of "The Truth", the extra gain was not enough of a change on its own. In short, we wanted "to go all the way". So we decided to also have two power supplies; one PS for the new SUT input buffer and one PS for the two original buffers. We even wanted a separate dedicated case for the two power supplies. Finally, we decided we must have improved signal wiring as well (VH Audio OCC Copper), for the inputs and outputs. After that, we couldn't think of anything else to change, so we ordered the parts and waited for Ed Schilling to build the T2 without any time constraints or any other compromises. In the end, the new T2 arrived at my home in May 2017.
*If we had instead placed the SUT after the Input Buffer, as my friend originally planned, then all four inputs would have gone through the SUT, which would then prevent us from hearing both the specific sonic impact of the SUT on its own, plus any sonic differences caused by the other changes we made.
The T2 was already well broken-in by Ed Schilling before it arrived, though I still broke it in further by using a highly challenging CD on "Repeat". I needed to be completely confident that neither Input #1 nor Input # 2 would have any unfair advantage. As it turned out, the OCC copper wire required 200 hours of break-in for it to sound its best. I then auditioned the T2 in my system for around a week, on my own, before my associate arrived. I made my usual detailed notes, though I did not communicate anything of substance to my associate in an effort to reduce any possibility of confirmation bias on his part. Meanwhile, there was another important change between the T1 and the T2, though it was totally unrelated to the sonics...
Ed Schilling had earlier mentioned to me that the photo cells (the internal devices utilized to change the volume level) had been updated in the T2. Schilling had further cautioned me that this change would have no effect on the sonics. However, I still noticed that the "action" of the volume control of the T2 was much different than the (heavily criticized) T1. How? To be clear, unlike the T1, the T2 did not have virtually the entire usable volume range confined to two hours (or less). With the new photo cells installed in the T2, it was now more like 4 to 5 hours of play. In fact, I now theorized that the (optional) remote control, previously useless, could finally be used successfully, but fate interceded; The T2 did not have a remote control, so I would have to patiently wait for the T3 for verification.
As for the all important sonics, there was cause for both celebration and frustration...
I played Input #1 first of course. I had to know immediately if, and how, the SUT had any effect on the sonics. Unfortunately, it did have an effect, and it was, not surprisingly, virtually all for the worse. The SUT did provide more than 10 dB of gain, which could be of critical importance for some systems, but the sound was veiled, and to such a degree that any audiophile should easily notice it. The same #1 SUT input also lost some musical information as well as compromising the T1's exciting sense of "nakedness" and "directness", which made it so special and unique. I was disappointed with these results, but not surprised. After listening to a some other very familiar cuts for confirmation, I moved on to Input #2, which bypassed the SUT, but still had the new copper OCC internal wire. What a contrast...
I of course played the same music with Input #2 as I had with Input #1. The Results - Not only did Input #2 prove to be sonically superior to Input #1, which was predictable, it was also an improvement over the T1 as well. In short, the T2 was now a sonic advancement of the T1, even though its gain stage, which could be bypassed, was a step-back, at least for now. The T2 (Inputs #2, 3 & 4) had slightly more harmonic content, body and low-level information when compared to the T1. This meant that the T2's sound-floor was a little lower. In most other sonic areas, the T1 and T2 sounded the same: Immediacy, dynamics, sound stage size and focus, frequency range, purity, neutrality etc. However, the T2 had one final sonic surprise in store for us.
The bass on the T2 was noticeably tighter, more controlled, detailed and cleaner than the T1 (which already had the finest bass reproduction I had ever heard), though it was not deeper. In fact, the overall improvement in the bass was large enough for my associate to finally find acceptable the unavoidable (and now reduced) sonic gap between the Acapella Ion Tweeters and the reference system's subwoofers. For him this was critical, because he strongly believed that the Ion tweeters exposed, and even brought undesirable attention to, the inevitable compromises in the bass frequencies, which were previously masked (see the review of the Acapella Ion Tweeters above for the details). The T2's stellar bass reproduction was actually able to change his perspective.
In the end, my associate was more impressed with the T2 than I was, though, to be frank, he was also more disappointed with the sonics of the Input #1 gain stage than I was, especially since it was his idea in the first place. However, my friend is absolutely not giving up on Input #1, since he is well aware that there is more than just one high quality SUT in the audio universe, but this important issue of gain now goes into hibernation until we reach the final stage of our experiments, the T4, which doesn't even exist yet. In fact, we still have to properly investigate the T3.
After confirmation that the T2, at its best, sonically outperformed the T1 (which was my Personal Reference), it was obvious that the T1 would now have to be upgraded, thus becoming the new T3. But how, since there were several options to consider? My first choice was easy; I would pass on using a SUT for gain, especially after hearing the disappointing results with the T2. The remaining choices required more thought...
I knew I had to use the superior internal OCC wire based on the positive results of the T2, but there was a choice there as well: Silver or Copper. The T2 used only the copper wire, so if I chose the copper as well, I knew for certain that the T3 would have the same degree of improvement, but what about the silver? The silver cost much more than the copper, but it could be even better, so I decided to have BOTH. I would use the expensive silver on 1 input only and 1 output only, and use the copper on the remaining 3 inputs and 1 output. I would then compare them directly to each other. Whichever wire was superior, I could eventually use on all 4 inputs and the two outputs. Next came the important issue of the power supplies.
I really wanted one dedicated power supply for each channel, in effect dual mono, but I was informed by Schilling that this option was not technically possible, so I chose the next best thing. There would be two independent power supplies; one for the input buffers and one for the output buffers. With this simple technique, nothing happening with the input buffers would adversely effect the output buffers and vice-versa of course.
Then there was the unexpected issue of the remote volume control. Prior to the existence of the T2, I never used the remote control with the T1 because it was impractical, and I didn't want to waste my money by repeating this same mistake in the T3. However, the T2's volume control range was radically different (larger) than the T1 (because of its new photo cells, also to be used in the T3), which completely changed my perspective, so I decided to retain the remote control in the T3.
I was then concerned that with the extra (second) power supply, and the unexpected retention of the internal remote control engine, the T3 would still require a second case (as did the T2), which was something I did not want. However, I was pleasantly surprised when Schilling informed me that with the absence of the two SUT for gain, the T3 now had enough room to fit everything in only one case, which made it more compact, practical and economical.
Finally, the actual signal circuit of the T3 would remain exactly the same as in the original T1, since there was now no SUT to deal with (see above for the details).
So I shipped my T1 back to Ed Schilling and I also sent him the OCC Copper and Silver wire, which I purchased directly from VH Audio (see link below). In the end, Schilling decided to start from scratch and build me an entirely new unit, instead of first removing, and then replacing, almost all the parts already in the original T1 case, which he felt was a waste of his time. I agreed with his decision and told him to take his time building this new model, since the T3 would be eventually compared to the T2, with multiple ramifications based on the ultimate results of those experiments.
As it turned out, due to a number of unforseen circumstances which caused delays, I would receive the T3 in October 2017.
After receiving the T3, I broke it in a further two weeks before it was installed in my system. To my surprise, and serious disappointment, the T3 (unlike the T1 and T2) had internal problems which made it impossible to evaluate: the input wiring was incorrect; the volume level was down significantly; and the L/R balance was also way off. I called Ed Schilling, who was shocked and highly apologetic. He lamented that the mis-wiring had never happened before and, even worse, when it did finally happen, a reviewer, of all people, ended up being the ultimate "victim" of his mistake. Schilling immediately sent me some new parts and then talked me through the easy-to-perform changes. The Result- The T3 was working at 100% within a week.
A. T2 Copper Vs. T3 Copper- I decided to first compare the T2 and T3 using only copper inputs and outputs. This reduced the number of variables between them to only their respective power supplies. So, which power supply, if either of them, was superior? The T3 was slightly better than the T2 with copper only. The T3 was a little more effortless and cleaner (Level 2 or very low Level 3). The T3 had a tiny advantage in inner detail, was a touch more complete and slightly more intelligible. It was also a little more dynamically convincing (though only because of its lower distortion) and less homogenized, especially with complex material. The bass and highs were the same. The sonic improvements were most easily heard with challenging recordings, and admittedly subtle enough that I couldn't even hear them with some recordings.
Overall, the additional power supply is a small refinement and certainly not a "big deal" or "dramatic", though I still think it is worth its relatively small investment. The closest analogies I can come up with is that the upgrade to the (two power supply) T3 is similar to the difference between listening at 9 PM and Midnight, or an average cable improvement. (To be clear, the sonic improvement when going to the T2's OCC copper, described above, was much larger.)
B. T3 Copper Vs. T3 Silver I used only my digital player (APL NWO-Master) for our experiments, because this source alone allowed us to make numerous* A/B comparisons while completely avoiding any problems with play/usage variance and, much more importantly, volume level matching. As it happened, this protocol was required to observe and make some sense of the mixed results. However, I will do my best to describe them and provide the best advice I can at this time.
The silver wire was faster, more immediate and even had better bass detail and control (which surprised us) than the copper. However, the copper was noticeably more natural than the silver, and this was consistently observed with all genres of music, simple or complex, and challenging or not. The silver wire's problems were in the high frequencies, which were noticeably emphasized. This same emphasis also compromised its cohesiveness, since the highs didn't match the rest of the frequency spectrum. At certain times, the silver wire also sounded like it triggered a subtle form of distortion in the high frequencies, with the result that the sound was not quite as "relaxed" and "effortless" as it was with the copper. An associate even found the silver wire "annoying" with some music.
To be thorough, we experimented with all four possible combinations of the T3:
1. Silver input/Silver output;
2. Copper input/Copper output;
3. Silver input/Copper output;
4. Copper input/Silver output.
We ended up with a "hybrid" solution to match my system's particular requirements: Copper inputs, with the Copper output for the monitors only, and the Silver output for the subwoofers only. This solution utilized the silver's performance advantage in the bass frequencies, while simultaneously avoiding any of its potential problems in the treble range.
*Played most frequently: Oregon-Beyond Words-Chesky CD JD130; Dead Can Dance-Toward the Within-MFSL SACD
While we were confident of our observations, I was still concerned that we could be allowing our subjective "tastes" dictate our evaluation, even unconsciously. We thus needed an absolute and unimpeachable "Reference" to make certain that our sonic issues with the silver wire were actually real, and not instead a simple preference and/or the end result of us hearing the (now exposed) problems with the source and/or the musical software. There was only one possible method to achieve this desired degree of "certainty"; we would connect the digital source, the APL NWO-Master, directly to the power amplifiers, thus bypassing the T3 entirely. Our evaluation would then be very simple: The wiring which sounded the closest to the direct connection would be "correct" (or accurate). As it turned out, our direct-connection experiment was well worth the effort, and even provided a big surprise as a bonus.
The "Direct Connection" Results - The Copper/Copper wiring combination was noticeably closest to the sound (or tonal balance) of the APL, going direct, than any other combination. This result was easy to observe and it ended any lingering doubts we had about the two wires' respective levels of accuracy. There was a big surprise as well, especially for me; The APL, when going direct to the amplifiers, sounded worse then when it went through the T3! The APL-Direct was relatively veiled and it also subtracted detail. Even the dynamic range was slightly compromised. In fact, the APL-Direct was not superior in even one single sonic parameter, including "nakedness". This result was an absolutely unprecedented experience in my audio life, and obviously the "Surprise of the Evening" for me.
This disappointing result conclusively demonstrates that even sources with relatively strong outputs, such as the APL, can still be optimized (though not "improved") when using "The Truth" line stage, and this was true even despite the fact that my amplifiers also have high input impedances, and are thus easy to drive.
The Remote Volume Control - I have more good news. The remote control is now useful, finally! I don't understand the technical reasons, but the remote control now changes the volume level, up or down, by only 1 or 2 decibels with each click, which makes it practical to use. So I now use the remote regularly, and recommend it highly. This is one of those rare instances, in audio, where something goes from being totally useless to highly practical in just a single step.
After living with the T3 for around 5 months, and playing it extensively in two different Reference Systems (the reference speakers, and the signal cables, were changed between October 2017 and March 2018), I advise a prospective purchaser, or those current (T1) owners who would like to upgrade, to simply duplicate my personal T3.
So, here are the relevant and specific details of the T3:
1. Two power supplies, one supply for each buffer stage.
2. OCC Copper on all* inputs. (Optional: OCC Silver* on one input.)
3. OCC Copper on one output; OCC Silver on one (remaining) output.
4. New Photo Cells, providing greater volume control range.
5. Remote volume control, only if deemed desirable.
*Explanation - The OCC copper is the most accurate and safest choice, but the OCC silver wire was more impressive with my "October 2017 System" as compared to what we later observed, and described above, with my "March 2018 System". Ultimately, the OCC silver's performance is frustratingly inconsistent and unpredictable. Accordingly, there may still be a chance that the silver will sound superior, or at least preferable, to the copper with a compatible source and/or system, and this is why I am still retaining the OCC silver wire on one of my T3's inputs.
While the T2 had mixed results, it did reveal the future direction of "The Truth" line stage. The resulting T3 was an unqualified success, plus we still have the (further updated) T4 to look forward to in the near future. From the broadest perspective, the major and fundamental step forward in overall line stage performance will always be the T1. These two upgraded models are, and can only be, refinements of the T1's great original achievement. However, I believe these refinements are still important and should be celebrated, and not ignored, by serious audiophiles.
Finally, the surprisingly disappointing results of going direct with the APL NWO-Master digital player compel me to re-emphasize a truly unique capability of "The Truth", which is far too easy to overlook: "The Truth" is always performing at "its very best"; regardless of the input source and/or regardless of the amplifiers and cables it is driving. In short, "The Truth", any model, is never sonically compromised by the components it is used with, no matter how difficult they are to optimize.
I contacted Ed Schilling for the latest retail prices for "The Truth" line stage. Below are the prices as of March 2018:
The Basic Model, which includes dual power supplies, 3 inputs, the new photo cells and stock wire: $ 1,050
All OCC Copper wire: Plus $ 60
1 OCC Silver + 2 OCC Copper wire: Plus $ 150
All OCC Silver wire: Plus $ 210
Remote Volume Control: Plus $ 300
Reminders: Ed Schilling is flexible and always prepared to customize "The Truth" to the purchaser's personal requirements.
DIY enthusiasts can purchase the OCC wire themselves from VH Audio, direct link below. Rewiring "The Truth" is not difficult for those audiophiles with basic soldering experience.
The T4, which will be an upgrade of the existing T2, has not yet been built. We are currently working out the specific upgrades we would like to be implemented, with the most important, by far, being the new (replacement) SUT, which is required for gain. I will provide updates as to the status of the T4 when I can. I am now hoping to audition the T4 sometime in late November or December 2018, but optimizing the T4's performance will take precedence over any other consideration.
The Horn Shoppe (Home of "The Truth" Line Stage, plus high-efficiency speakers)
Ed Schilling's email address: email@example.com
VH Audio (OCC Copper and Silver Wire, plus V-Cap Teflon Capacitors)
REFERENCE LINE STAGES
My Audio System
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the February 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
A New Standard...
Important Note - I had originally planned to first experiment, and conduct direct comparisons, with the Statement Speaker cables. However, as this is written in early 2018, the Statement speaker cables have not sonically stabilized. In fact, they are still improving, despite their now 200+ hours of break-in. It is obviously useless and a waste of time to focus on these cables until their optimum performance is known with certainty and fully experienced. Meanwhile, the Statement Interconnect cables, with line-level sources only at this point, have been optimized using various musical and non-musical signals (in my system, but mainly using a CD player on Repeat). Below is our report on these cables.
In January 2018, an associate and I conducted extensive testing, and direct comparisons, of the Statement Interconnect cables in my home. We used the Jadis JP-80 Phono Stage (heavily modified), which has two outputs, going into the "One Tube Wonder" ("OTW") line stage (see below). I used the OTW, instead of "The Truth" line stage, because it has an input toggle switch, which is critically important for performing immediate A/B comparisons between the two inputs ("The Truth" line stage has a selector switch).
Accordingly, we were able to simultaneously connect two competing cables from the Jadis to the OTW, and directly A/B compare them to each other without any other changes to the system (component shutdowns, replacing cables etc.), including, importantly, any changes to the volume level. All of the cables were 1 meter RCA/RCA.
Here are the results:
1. Statement Vs. Purist Audio Colossus Rev. A - My former audio store in Toronto was a Purist dealer many years ago, and for a time the Colossus was also my personal reference interconnect cable, which meant it was the best I had ever heard. During that period, the Colossus had one important sonic advantage over all the cables I heard from its generation; its sound-floor* was noticeably lower, which allowed more low-level information to pass through it.
(*I didn't fully understand and appreciate, or even use, the term "sound-floor" at that time, which I coined many years later.)
This particular Colossus pair we auditioned originally came from my store and has been owned and used by my associate for something like 20 years. Both of us were highly curious as to how this former "champion" would compare to high-quality contemporary cables.
The Purist was still excellent, but it was not the equal of, let alone superior to, the new Statement cable, or even the older generation Coincident Shotgun for that matter. The Purist was still competitive in purity and its low sound-floor was still evident, but it didn't have the immediacy, extended frequency range, details and speed of the Coincident cables. So while it was still enjoyable and unoffensive to listen to, it made its presence known in comparison to the Coincident cables, which relatively "disappeared".
2. Statement Vs. Polk Speaker Cable - Almost 20 years ago now, I (and two other associates, on their own) attempted to convert the Polk Speaker Cable into an Interconnect Cable. This may sound "insane" to some audiophiles, but it was a sensible (if not a mandatory) project for us at the time. Why? The Polk speaker cable was so far superior to any other cable we compared it to at that time (and for many years later), we began to think that maybe the basic Polk design was inherently superior in ALL signal cable applications. So, what happened?
The results were the same for all three of us; mainly frustration. In the end, the Polk interconnects were sonically outstanding, just like the speaker cables; extremely fast, highly detailed, extended and clean. However, they all had serious RFI problems which made them impossible to live with (we all lived in the Greater Toronto Area at the time). So, we simply gave up on the project, and when I used one of the remaining Polk interconnects in my (then new) Florida home, hoping for a reprieve, I still had a problem with noise, so I gave up on them for good. This brings us to 2018.
An old audio friend (and former customer) contacted me in late 2017 with some unexpected, though potentially exciting, news. My friend loves the Polk Speaker cables (even becoming an expert in assembling them) and, like my associates and I years ago, eventually made a serious attempt at converting them to interconnects. However, to my great surprise, he also informed me that this time he had succeeded in eliminating the noise (with extensive shielding). According to my friend, the Polk was dead quiet and, even better, it had outperformed every interconnect he had compared it to, and that included an older Coincident design (the "Extreme"). While the Polk I.C. is labor intensive to build, my friend still offered to loan me a pair to find out if it would work in another environment, and a completely different system. I, of course, immediately accepted. When the cables arrived, I was really impressed with their build quality, and they had excellent RCA males. I overcame my predictable and powerful audiophile urge to immediately use them, and instead first broke them in for a few hundred hours and then played them (I wanted absolutely no excuses if they failed).
Unfortunately, I again had highly disappointing results with the Polks, but not for the reason you would assume. My friend's RFI shielding turned out to be a big success; no noise period, but the highs were severely rolled off. The sound of these Polk interconnects was exactly the opposite of what you normally experience when hearing the Polk Speaker Cables; it was highly veiled, almost like the tweeters were turned off, if not even worse. At first I could not understand why and then it hit me; the Polk I.C. was connected from the Jadis JP-80 phono stage into "The Truth" line stage, with its almost infinitely high input impedance. I theorized that the Polk's high capacitance caused an extreme high-frequency roll-off when it was connected to any input of "The Truth", though I realized there could be other factors I was overlooking.
So I placed the Polk cables aside for a while, while attempting to find another method to test them. Then another audiophile friend arrived for his annual visit in January 2018. He had brought along the Purist Colossus cables and, much more importantly, the OTW (which had just been upgraded by Tom Tutay), so now I had another opportunity to test the Polk interconnects with a different line stage, and with a second listener as well.
Sadly, once again, we had disappointing results with the Polks; they were veiled and dead sounding, though they definitely sounded better with the OTW than they did with "The Truth". It didn't take us long to hear their sonic problems. However, the story still isn't over with the Polk interconnects. In May 2018, I received yet another letter (see below) concerning the Polk cables converted into interconnects and, again, the reader has had a great success with them. This is the same reader, Muhsin Ahamed, that generously provided his experiences (and advice) with terminating Polk Speaker cable last year (which is now located in the "Readers Letters" of the Reference Speaker Cables*).
3. Statement Vs. Coincident Shotgun - This was, by far, the most important and closest comparison we made, with multiple A/B experiments. The "Shotgun" was the earlier model that had been replaced by the Statement (as Coincident's top-of-the-line). The Shotgun had, in turn, proved superior to every other cable I had compared it to, from any source, making it the "lineal champion" of Interconnects in my personal experience. It was superior to the Coincident Extreme and my DIY Reference on direct comparisons and, indirectly and by inference, hundreds of other cables I've heard over the last 40 years (or whenever "audiophile cables" had originated).
While the two other direct comparisons were proverbial "knockouts" in favor of the Statement cables, this comparison was different. I heard the sonic differences first, which was unusual for us. I assume this was because I was already familiar with the Statement cables and knew what to listen for, even though I had never actually made a prior direct A/B comparison of them with the Shotgun cables (I wanted a second listener and an easier method of making the A/B switch, both of which my friend provided).
The Statement had sonic advantages across the board; in immediacy, transparency, detail, sound-floor etc., which all became more obvious and noticeable the longer we listened to them. My friend commented to me that he was surprised at how he was able to easily distinguish the two Coincident cables after around 30 minutes of listening, when it had been relatively difficult for him during the first few minutes (when I had noticed the advantages, which was the reverse order of our normal shared experiments).
Thus, the Coincident Statement, having now proved to be superior to every other interconnect cable I've heard to this point, is my new Reference Interconnect Line-Level Cable (phono cables will be tested in the future). However, there's one bit of unfinished business when it comes to the Statement cables.
Important Bonus Experiment...
4. Statement Vs. Coincident Extreme - In Spring 2017, another audiophile friend was visiting me and we had a chance to A/B the older Coincident Extreme interconnects to the then new (though still broken-in) Statement cables. However, this time the (2 meter) cables were connected between "The Truth" line stage and the Coincident Dragon amplifiers, which, in turn, were connected to the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Subwoofers (doubled up). So, in effect, this test was for bass frequencies exclusively. Now this focus on bass frequencies may not be important for some audiophiles, but it is for me (in fact it is critical). The results of this particular test, especially at this present date, would normally be considered redundant to post, since the Extreme is now an older generation cable. However, the results were so extraordinary that I felt compelled to relay them. What happened?
My friend and I were both stunned at both the scope and degree of the improvement in bass reproduction with the Statement cables; more details, control, solidity, purity, impact etc. We both felt, and this is not an exaggeration, that it was actually similar to a component change. In fact, the Statement may have provided the largest single improvement, or at least the most easily noticed improvement, we had ever experienced by changing cables alone. And, it is important to note, the Extreme cables themselves had already proved superior, in the bass frequencies, to every other cable I had ever heard prior to the Statement. In effect, the new "champion" had KO'd the old and long-reigning champion in only 1 round.
While I was thrilled at the sonic improvements provided by the Statement cables, I was also disheartened by the realization that the Coincident subwoofers -and, by inference, all other subwoofers for that matter- were sonically compromised if their line-level signal cable wasn't equal to the performance of the Statement in the bass frequencies. Finally, while the Statement also had superior bass when we compared it, a year later, to the Shotgun above, that particular improvement was considerably smaller and less noteworthy.
Coincident Speaker Technology (High-efficiency speakers, tube electronics and cables)
My Audio System
*Muhsin Ahamed's Polk Cable Termination Article
Muhsin Ahamed Polk Interconnect Letter - "As I have a few rolls of Cobra, I have been happily experimenting. I have made Cobra interconnect with KLE Copper Harmony plugs that are really good. Very low sound floor according to your definition.
My friend who has a uber highend system says these cables are 'really quiet and have great clarity'."
An Interesting Alternative..
As I discussed above (in my Coincident Statement cable review), my associate and I listened to this component for an entire evening (around 6 hours). Our evaluation of its sonic performance is straightforward: The Tom Tutay "One Tube Wonder" (OTW) line stage was outstanding. The OTW has no gain, like "The Truth", and is, again, a buffer of the highest quality. I would like to make the OTW a "Reference", but I can't since there was only one (lengthy) listening session, and I also didn't have the time to make any definitive A/B comparisons. We did play a wide variety of music that evening; Diane Patton, Scheherazade (Mehta), Lucia Hwong and two Harmonia Mundi records.
Still, the OTW is the best alternative I know of, at this time, for those audiophiles who are seeking a performance level similar to "The Truth", but with a greater "tube signature", no requirement of gain and the ability to drive two amplifiers per channel (for bi-amping). My contemporaneous notes and memory are both limited at this time, so I can't provide my usual wide-range of performance details, but what impressed me the most about the OTW was its simply incredible naturalness and also its superb recreation of space. So, to be clear; If "The Truth" did not exist, there's a good chance that the "One Tube Wonder" would now be in my system as its substitute.
Relevant and Practical Details - There is a two to three month time frame from the initial order to delivery. Tom Tutay builds everything to order, so most custom preferences should be able to be satisfied. The current cost is: $ 1,500.
Tom Tutay Contact Information:
Telephone Number: 850-244-3041
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the March/April 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
Until I find a list which is more definitive, and objective, here are some speakers that I, and mainly the Readers of this websire, have found to work very well with low-powered Single Ended Triode (SET) amplifiers;
AcuHorn rosso superiore175
Affirm (formerly Maxxhorn) Lumination & Immersion
Apogee Acoustics Definitive Ribbon Speaker (very expensive)
Aspara Acoustics HL1 Horn Speaker
Audio Note ANE SEC Signature
Avantgarde Duo and Trio (All Versions)
BD-Design Oris and Orphean Models
Bottlehead Straight 8s (Discontinued)
Brentworth Sound Lab
Cain & Cain BEN ES (and other models)
Cardersound Madison (Single-Drive Back Loaded Horns)
Coincident (Total) Victory II & Pure Reference Extreme (and most of their other models)
Decware (Various Models)
(DIY Hi-Fi Supply) Crescendo Ribbon Horn Speaker System
Fab Audio Model 1 (Toronto, Canada)
FAL Supreme-C90 EXW or EXII
Goodmans of England 5 or 612s
Hawthorne Solo and Duet
Horn Shoppe (Two Models)
Horning Hybrids (Various models)
Klipschorn and La Scala (All Versions)
Living Voice OBX-R2 (UK)
Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo
Omega Speaker Systems
Pi Speakers (Various Models)
ProAc Response Two*
Reference 3A MM de Capo i
RL Acoustique Lamhorn 1.8 (Montreal, Canada)
Sonist Concerto 2
Sunlight Engineering 308
Supravox Open Baffle
Teresonic (Various Models)
Tonian Acoustics (Various Models)
WLM (Various Models)
*Recommended by a reader and Gordon Rankin (Wavelength Audio), a veteran expert SET designer, despite its 86 dB sensitivity.
I would appreciate finding out about any other models, that readers have actually heard for themselves, to add to this list. This list is not a temporary project. It will be kept permanently in the Speaker Files. Further, don't expect to see the speaker models posted here a day or so after your e-mail is sent to me. Please remember that I'm usually behind in ALL my correspondence, including even the brief and helpful information letters. I will keep my own "SET friendly list" because at least one list should have no commercial foundation, temptations or considerations**.
Important- I would like to know if any of the above models can be bi-amped. This is critical, because I am convinced, based on decades of experience, that speakers with the capability of being bi-amped have far superior potential, assuming everything else is equal.
**For example, another website placed the Merlin speakers on their list, which, despite all their enviable qualities, will still not work well with low-powered SET amplifiers. I know, because I tried them. The sensitivity was just too low. Merlin, themselves, has used the excellent CAT amplifiers, which are pentode based and push-pull, at their audio show demonstrations. I would trust Merlin to know how to optimize their own speaker designs.
1. Awful Weather - Since early April, which was when we made "The Truth" T2 and T3 comparisons (see above), the atrocious weather, which has arrived much earlier than normal, has made listening sessions, serious or even just for fun, almost impossible (and even dangerous) to conduct. It has been storms and power outages almost every day. Accordingly, I haven't been able to even further break-in either the new Statement speaker cables or my new speakers (see below), let alone conduct my normal range of experiments.
2. "The Truth" T4 - This component is now in the process of being built in July. I delayed the construction/modification of this model myself, since there is now no rush because of the lack of listening opportunities due to the typical poor weather of the season. Also, my friend, who actually owns the T4, has had some further thoughts and ideas that may be implemented in this final version of "The Truth".
3. Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) Mk. II - I sold one pair of my original PRE (double pair) and used those funds, plus a healthy premium, to purchase a demonstrator pair of the most recent version, the Mk. II. While the PRE II pair arrived in February, I am still not in a position to post even a "Preliminary Report". Why not?
1. The weather, and other commitments at the time as well, severely reduced the PRE II's break-in hours. Even though the speakers were not brand new when I received them, I was informed by the manufacturer that they still required considerably more hours for full break-in and optimization, and this caveat has since been confirmed by my own experiences.
2. The PRE II, both the subs and monitors, had been compromised in route by the shipper (UPS). I was able to make a successful minor repair of the subwoofers (and maybe even slightly improve them in the process) with the assistance of a neighbor. However, I felt the PRE II monitors should be shipped back to the manufacturer, since the work required greater skill and I also wanted to be absolutely certain that they would be performing at their highest level. As this note is posted, I am still waiting for them to be returned to me so I can continue the break-in and evaluation process. Until then...
I don't like "audio teasers" (the late Harry Pearson was a master of them), so while I can't provide any serious report on the PRE II with confidence at this time, I can still state that the PRE II speakers, both the subwoofers and the monitors, are definitely an improvement over the original PRE. The full scope and degree of the sonic improvements are unknown to me at this time. They will only be revealed when the speakers are fully broken-in, optimized and auditioned with the both the most subtle and the most challenging of recordings. I assume that all of this will occur sometime this Fall.
Also, please don't forget that I must also eventually audition the PRE II speakers both doubled-up and with the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters as well. In conclusion, this entire PRE II speaker replacement process is a serious project which will take many months to complete to my normal standards.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the May/June 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
1. Awful Weather - The atrocious weather, which arrived much earlier than normal this year, also stayed around much longer. However, while the unusually intense heat has remained, the more dangerous storms have now quieted down. Accordingly, I have now finally been able to at least partially break-in the new PRE II speakers (see below), plus almost fully break-in the Statement speaker cables.
2. "The Truth" T4 - This component has now been built and is currently (October 2018) being broken-in by the manufacturer, Ed Schilling, who informed me that he is very impressed with it so far. The details are to come, but I can inform you now that Schilling was able to build the T4 using only ONE case (including all the transformers, remote volume controls and power supplies), and without any compromises of any type (though the single T4 case is deeper than the now standard "Truth" that I own, the T3).
3. Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) Mk. II - Even though the PRE II speakers were not brand new when I first received them in February (I purchased demonstrators), I was informed by the manufacturer that they still required considerably more hours for full break-in and optimization, and this caveat has since been confirmed by my own experiences with them.
Further, the PRE II, both the subwoofers and monitors, were compromised in route by the shipper (UPS). I was able to repair (and even improve) the subwoofers on my own, but the PRE II monitors had to be shipped back to the manufacturer, since the work required greater skill and I also wanted to be absolutely certain that they would be performing at their highest potential level. The monitors have now been back for a few months and I have been able to finally play them on a regular basis. At this is written, October 2018, I now have over 200 hours of play on the monitors (though far less playing hours on the subwoofers). So, where do we stand...?
I still can't provide a comprehensive report on the PRE II with confidence at this time. I won't even begin the process until I have another 100 hours of play on them. I also require the added input of at least one other experienced and objective listener, whom hears them at their best. However, I can now go further than I did three months ago in my June Update (above): The PRE II speakers, both the subwoofers and the monitors, are a serious improvement over the original PRE. In fact, the Mk. II Upgrade (from the manufacturer) may be the best upgrade choice for most owners of the original PRE. (I will go into further detail about possible PRE "Upgrades" in my report, since I have given this serious issue a lot of thought.)
As I wrote above, the full scope and degree of the sonic improvements will only be revealed when the speakers are fully broken-in, optimized and auditioned with the both the most subtle and the most challenging of recordings. I assume that all of this will occur sometime this Fall. Finally, I must eventually audition the PRE II speakers "doubled-up" (stacked pairs), and also with the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters as well. In conclusion, this entire PRE II speaker replacement process is a serious project which will take many months to complete to my normal standards.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the July/August/September 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
These are the most recent LPs to join The Supreme Recordings. They are too new to place in one of the two upper categories, and there usually aren't any detailed descriptions ready either at this time.
COPLAND/BARBER-VARIOUS WORKS-CLARK-ANDANTE DIGITAL AD 72406*
*Big focused sound, natural, wide frequency range and good impact. One of the best digital recordings I've ever heard.
MICHAEL HEDGES-BREAKFAST IN THE FIELD-WINDHAM HILL RECORDS WH-1017**
**"In-your-face" immediate and very dynamic and detailed. The recording space and decays are not as well captured, and the guitar tone is somewhat unnatural.
The sonics are variable, although they are usually excellent at low to medium volume levels. Unfortunately, the sound gets hard and homogenizes somewhat at higher volumes. The sound is large, focused, full-bodied, but violins are steely, especially when loud. The bass is also excellent; detailed and with impact. Surfaces, after ultrasonic cleaning, are better than average, and even as good as the better RCA records of the time (RCA was responsible for the actual pressings). At it's best, this album could make the higher classes, but there are too many noticeable problems to place it there.
There is a good choice of music, though Beethoven was not a "Romantic". Good performances as well, in general. This album should cost could around $ 20. Make certain "Stereo" is on the record labels. Most original purchasers were not classical music enthusiasts, but part of a club, so it could even be unplayed. I have a sense that reissues of these recordings could be exceptional, but that won't happen because of a lack of demand. Finally, many currently available CD collections, which are both inexpensive and comprehensive, make these albums redundant for most buyers.
MILES DAVIS-WE WANT MILES-COLUMBIA C2 38005 (2 LPS)*
*Live recording in 3 venues, so sound is variable. Has large image, but homogenizes at higher volume. Impressive immediacy and outstanding dynamic intensity. Excellent drums. Sound-floor and purity are average.
This album is both a direct-to-disc and a 45 RPM, which means it has a greater sonic potential than any other LP format, now or ever before. It is also all-analogue as well and mastered by Bernie Grundman, so the expectations for this record could not be higher, which is why I decided to give this album extra prominence.
The sonics are indeed outstanding overall, with exceptional immediacy, especially of the female voice, and it also has excellent detail and purity. Unfortunately, there are also noticeable sonic problems which keep it from the higher categories. The sound floor is low, but not ultra-low. There is also a lack of natural body, solidity and harmonic bloom, and while the dynamic shifts are good, there is still noticeable compression when compared to the finest records. Direct example...
Just before I played this album, I played the Eiji Kitamura "Swing Sessions", a legendary Japanese RCA Direct-to-Disc from 1978 (KITAMURA-SWING SESSIONS-RCA RDCE-10), which is in "The Divinity" of The Supreme Recordings (the highest category). With the exception of pure immediacy, the RCA/Kitamura "wiped the floor" with the Bisson Trio LP. The dynamic qualities and pure naturalness of the Kitamura were simply in another league.
So while this album obviously has excellent sonics, it is ultimately a "disappointment" considering what it could have been. And that was the exact word used by an associate, who purchased the album (at an exorbitant price) and eventually heard it (and the Kitamura) with me during his annual visit. On a positive note...
I've read some reviews of this album which criticized the pressing as "very noisy", but that was not a problem we experienced. The pressing was excellent and never an issue for either of us (though we did not play all four sides).
Bottom Line & My Advice - I would not pay serious money for this album if the primary goal is to experience the highest level of sonics from a phono source. There are simply too many other records that are superior to it in overall sonic results, despite their far less imposing pedigree and ambitions.
Also joining "The Basic List" this month:
DIANA PANTON TRIO + 1-PINK-EW-112688*
*A digital recording, but it still has natural and outstanding sonics. It is excellent in every area.
As far as I know, this Mercury recording of "Americana", from their "Living Presence Golden Age" (SR90018), never actually made (the late) Harry Pearson's "Super Disk List", but it was still promoted in The Absolute Sound (TAS), by Sid Marks, as a superior recording. I no longer have any clear memory of hearing the original Mercury pressing of this recording, but I have heard the Golden Import reissue (SRI 75050), which is pretty good. However, the "Sketches" are not nearly as good as Walter Piston's "The Incredible Flutist", which is on the same LP. In contrast, this new Speakers Corner reissue is dedicated exclusively to the "Symphonic Sketches", as was the original Mercury pressing from 60 years ago now, which means it enjoys a serious technical advantage. Curious, we compared the two reissues with each other. The results...
The Speakers Corner reissue was more natural that the Golden Import, which was somewhat dry sounding and, to pile on, the high frequencies were also noticeably exaggerated. We couldn't find one sonic advantage for the Golden Imports LP. Still, despite having a number of desirable sonic attributes common to most good Mercury recordings, this recent reissue is not one of their best efforts. The Chadwick is not quite as immediate, detailed and clean as the finest Mercury recordings. It also sounds rolled-off in the high frequencies, plus the sound floor is too high to hear the subtleties which distinguish the finest recordings. These sonic problems keep this reissue from joining "The Basic List". As for the Chadwick composition, it is definitely "Modern", but still quite accessible and not "avant-garde" in any manner.
This Mercury recording basically matches the above description of its Chadwick sister record, with the only serious difference between them is that this LP (as well as the original SR90103) has two compositions instead of just one. The Golden Imports reissued the McPhee composition (SRI 75116) and the Sessions (SRI 75049) composition on two different records. Since I have both of the Golden Imports reissues, we, of course, had to directly compare the three records.
The McPhee reissues sounded very similar, though the Speakers Corner was (again) more natural sounding (with more body), but this time the Golden Import did have its own sonic advantage; the Speakers Corner sounded relatively congested (homogenized) when the orchestra played loud. So, in the end, it was a mixed bag between them. However, this Speakers Corner reissue also includes the rare Sessions "The Black Maskers" recording. This time the Speakers Corner reissue has all the desirable qualities of the earlier Golden Mercury reissue (which is already in "The Basic List"), but with, again, greater natural body and it was even less homogenized as well, making it a total success.
As for the music, which is modern but still accessible, I enjoyed both compositions and especially the "Tabuh-Tabuhan", which I feel is somewhat different than the other Mercury recordings of modern music, probably due to its exotic and ethnic source and inspiration (Bali). So, I highly recommend this reissue for those adventurous readers who are searching for interesting 20th Century Music from composers who are not well-known, and who also require outstanding sonics as well.
*A direct-to-disc from 1982, which I never heard (in my own system) until 2018. It is outstanding in every sonic area, and especially so in its dynamic impact (the percussion in particular). This LP should end up in the higher categories, though not at the very top. The music is light jazz, with only the very beginning of the first cut (on side one) sounding anything even remotely related to "the Andes".
Twenty years ago, I was ridiculed by some "audiophile LP collectors" for claiming, based on my numerous experiences, that there was no inherent difference between Decca and London pressings (outside of the normal and inevitable variances in any pressing runs). It took a while, but eventually a growing number of other audiophiles confirmed my observations, and further definitive evidence, directly from the manufacturer, closed the issue permanently (outside of "dead-enders"). Below is further evidence on this (formerly controversial) issue (my bold).
"I was taking an electrical engineering degree at Imperial College in London during the early 1970's and I had the opportunity to work for Decca at their New Malden plant during one summer vacation, basically acting as a gopher in the pressing plant.
I can state categorically that the same stampers were used for both the Decca and London pressings at that time and the requests for metalwork often included both the US and UK labels in the one invoice- which explains why both issues often have the same stamper codes in the inner section.
I know of at least one copy of such an invoice which definitively proves that there is no difference."
"I was rereading your... (Decca/London Classical) LP evaluation on your site, and noticed one thing from the “middle British” section that I would like to amend.
The vinyl also looks inferior on these earlier pressings, it's not quite as black, as though the vinyl wasn't as pure. In any event, the later pressings, both the British and Dutch, are generally much quieter and allow more low-level musical information to be heard.
The 'not being quite as black' probably has nothing to do with the quality of the vinyl, and probably has everything to do with with the pigment. The 'blacker" records may have more carbon black pigment in them, or they may be using a higher quality of black pigment that is more 'blue shade' instead of 'yellow shade'. Blue shade blacks are more expensive pigments (finer ground and more intense) that are used in automotive applications, whereas the yellow shades are used in cheaper industrial coatings.
Now, there may be a real reason that the 'blacker' ones may sound better. Carbon black is very acidic, and it can act as a catalyst for the vinyl resins, promoting a tougher surface (tougher being as how a material scientist would look at it). I have noticed that the artistic albums, especially the clear ones w/o any carbon black in them, do not sound quite as good. Off the top of my head, one album is a newer Chicago pressing comparing it to a track from a black vinyl, older pressing, comes to mind.
I love your album evaluations maybe even more than your equipment comments. Even 20 years ago, I never really understood what the big deal sonically of the early Decca/London recordings. I had recordings from the mid ’70’s from them that were sonically superior, in my mind. Yet popular belief was that the earlier ones were better."
"I did a few searches on the net, and this was very interesting.
I liked this one because it was a combination of peoples’ experience and some expert comments. The evidence in these posts actually support my hypothesis that cure is extremely important in record quality, and carbon black assists cure in the formation of a record.
I looked at some comments on some small manufacturers that stated it was only the vinyl formulation that mattered. Looking at the small amount of data they released, I feel that they came to the wrong conclusions. Being a former coatings chemist, I realize that most formulators tend to ignore the influence of pigments on their final formulations. It is much, much easier to assume that the pigments have no effect on the final formulation. I have found that not to be the case, especially with red and black formulations."
In 2018, I will finally finish an unprecedented cable survey that began in 2016, plus the updates on "The Truth" line stage. The Coincident Pure Reference Extreme has also been recently updated, so there will be a multi-part report on the new model (the MK. II). The first installment will be posted sometime in the Fall.
The Last Chapter...
Charles Hansen, of Ayre Acoustics, died on November 28, 2017. I barely remember Hansen when he was with Avalon Speakers decades ago. I was not one of their dealers and we never formally met. In more recent times, specifically since 2007, Hansen has had a strong animus towards this website, and myself personally, due to a comparison review that I edited and posted (though I did NOT participate or otherwise contribute to), in which an Ayre digital component had performed poorly.
Hansen never forgave me for posting that article and has attacked me continuously, in personal terms, since then. I replied directly to Hansen's first attack in 2007, but I have simply ignored every one of his many other personal attacks over the last 10 years. I, and many other audiophiles, found those posts repulsive, malignant and ignorant, and I did not want to dignify any of them by a response.
However, this status changed in the fall of 2017. On September 18 to be exact, Hansen attacked me personally once again, but this time I responded to him for the first time in 10 years, and with no restraints. I have no regrets concerning my final correspondence with Charles Hansen, despite its ugliness. I would have done exactly the same even if I had known that Hansen's death was imminent. Why? Because I feel that any public letter, which maliciously and unfairly abuses someone, and even further claims that some deliberately misleading anecdotes are actual historical facts, should be challenged, and not be simply excused or ignored. In the final analysis, a person's imminent death doesn't grant that person some once-in-a-lifetime license to write whatever they please, and without any risk of consequences.
However, this short article is not concerned with the brief and sad history of Charles Hansen and myself. It is instead concerned with a larger and much more important perspective...
Charles Hansen's final posts, written during the last month of his life, were different, in kind, than any of his previous posts. In fact, looking back now, it would not come as a surprise to discover that Hansen was aware of his imminent death, because these final posts were amazingly direct, frank and naked. They were completely fearless, disclosing thoughts and opinions, previously private, which could even make potential enemies out of former audio friends. So this profound change in Charles Hansen's level of restraint and inhibition is the actual reason I posted this article and the related links below.
Here are some of the examples of Charles Hansen's final thoughts on various audio topics, unedited, in italics, with my bold. They were written in direct response to an earlier post from John Atkinson, the editor of Stereophile:
1. Stereophile and Mark Levinson Components:
When you (John Atkinson) only give Levinson gear to Larry Greenhill for review because you know in advance that he will do nothing but heap praise upon it, does that help or hurt the high end?
Levinson came out with the $4000 No.38 preamp, which used the same cheap op-amps as the $700 Adcom of the day...(and) with a really stupid (and really cheap) volume control...that sounded terrible...Robert Harley gave it a decidedly mediocre review in August 1994...an embarrassed Levinson had to redesign it as the "S" version...in July 1995, you gave it a rave review. Your rave is still up on the Stereophile website, but Harley's dismissal of the original version is MIA...Is that deliberate or accidental?...And did your rush to do damage control on behalf of Levinson help or hurt the high-end industry?
All of the 30 seres (sic) products were a large step backwards - except for the digital products, which had never existed in the 20 series. But not according Larry Greenhill who was duly assigned to review the later Levinson products and never met one he didn't fall in love with. Did Stereophile help or hurt the high-end industry with this type of coverage of the Levinson 30 (and later) series?
2. John Atkinson's UK Bias:
I can't imagine that most of your readers haven't noticed your bias for UK (or UK-designed) products.
3. "MF's" (Michael Fremer's) Bias for:
a) The more expensive the product, the better it must be.
b) Wilson loudspeakers are the best on the planet, presumably because they play really loud, have super spectacular bass thump created by the +10dB bump they all exhibit at 70Hz, and are ungodly expensive (see (a) above).
c) Turntables that follow the exact design principles of his current favorite super-expensive turntable that nobody else has ever heard, as they are so expensive that they aren't even in dealer's showrooms.
d) Hyper-detailed phono cartridges that are spectacular for one song, fatiguing to listen to in the long term.
e) Anything that he currently "owns". It's especially obvious when he concedes that something sounds pretty much as good as what he owns, but since the retail price is much higher for what he owns (or has on long-term loan), he's going to stick with it. (Any normal person would sell the expensive product, buy the cheaper product and buy music with the savings. But MF must either enjoy the prestige of the "Rolex factor" or be bound by accommodation purchase agreements, or afraid to piss off the guys who gave him the long-term loans.
Is that good or bad for the high-end industry?
4. Herb Reichert:
I can say that Herb listens to a HIGHLY colored system that is likely to only sound good with other components that are also HIGHLY colored in complementary ways. After reading that review I couldn't help feeling that it said more about Herb and his idiosyncrasies than it did about the amplifier. (LTA ZOTL40 power amp)
5. United States Audio Press:
...(what) the whole world is demanding today, more than anything else is for people to stand up and tell the truth. Unfortunately for high-end audio, it seems to me that less and less of that comes from the US print press...
All of these above direct quotes of Charles Hansen are included in the Link #1, which I recommend reading in full. Link # 2 was an earlier post by Hansen and not as comprehensive, but it still proves that his later post wasn't a "one-off". In fact, in this earlier post he characterized current Stereophile content as "trite pablum".
Link #3 was my last reply to Charles Hansen (and John Atkinson), after they both personally attacked me even though the original poster's topic was simply an innocent enquiry about my absence this last summer. Hansen's gratuitous personal attack is a sobering reminder that it's possible for even the most rational person to become unhinged when consumed with blind hatred.
I will retain this article and Hansen's two complete posts as well. Charles Hansen's final thoughts, posted in public, are informative and important statements concerning contemporary audio journalism, and they will not pass away with him.
There is a recent thread in Critic's Corner which discusses the above article. Below is a partial sample of a post by one member (in italics), which I felt should not be ignored:
Posted by jamesgarvin (A) on February 7, 2018 at 11:12:37
In Reply to: Not sure what you mean. posted by Rick W on February 6, 2018 at 09:23:48:
"...(Arthur) Salvatore...cites (Charles) Hansen's criticism of Stereophile, without mentioning that Hansen essentially did the same thing Salvatore accuses (Wes) Philips (sic) of doing - which is formulating an opinion and then keeping quiet while the shortcoming exists. I just find it ironic that Salvatore uses a source (Hansen) to support his argument when Hansen basically did the same thing as the target (Stereophile and Philips) of Salvatore's arrows.
The irony is with respect to Salvatore is that he claims folks like (Wes) Philips (sic) kept quite (sic) regarding their issues with a product due to commerce, but then cites as support for criticizing Stereophile a manufacturer who did the very same thing. I hope Salvatore is not the only person who fails to see the irony."
My Response to James Garvin's Post:
James Garvin is a long time and dedicated defender of John Atkinson and Stereophile on Audio Asylum. In this post, Garvin actually equates the actions of Wes Phillips and Charles Hansen, both of whom are now dead. This latest "argument" (actually a distraction) completely ignores the historical facts, as usual for Stereophile defenders, which I will now do my best to rectify.
Wes Phillips was employed by Stereophile as an audio journalist, and he was supposed to work exclusively on behalf of his readers. That was his responsibility. Phillip's deliberate deception, and lack of disclosure, within his WATT/Puppy 5 "review", was a blatant betrayal of those same readers. In stark contrast...
Charles Hansen was an audio engineer/designer employed by Ayre Acoustics, which is an audio component manufacturer. Hansen had no public duty or responsibility to disclose his true critical thoughts about Stereophile, its reviewers, reviews and audio journalism in general. To do so could have created mutual animosity and compromised Ayre's sales and even its viability.
There can be no "irony", because "keeping quiet" for Wes Phillips was a serious betrayal to those who depended on him, which is the worst thing you can do in professional life, while "keeping quiet" for Charles Hansen was necessary for sheer economic survival. In fact, one could confidently argue that Wes Phillips would have "kept quiet" about the WP5's faults until he retired or died. He was only forced by new circumstances to disclose these faults and "come clean". Why? Phillips had to criticize the WP5 (in public) or else he couldn't explain why/how the WP5's replacement model, the WP8, was an improvement worthy of purchase. Meanwhile, Charles Hansen had no compelling reason, other than satisfying his conscience, to open up at the end of his life.
To equate these two men's respective actions, in any manner, is an insult to both Charles Hansen and the concept, and the critical importance, of journalistic responsibility, which Wes Phillips disgraced in his WATT/Puppy 5 "review" and John Atkinson (as Editor) enabled and fully countenanced. The bottom line is simple: Charles Hansen, in what turned out to be his proverbial "deathbed confession", finally disclosed his highly critical thoughts about Stereophile, its reviewers and audio journalism in general. Any other irrelevant "side issue", designed only to qualify this important fact, is a distraction, period.
Finally, to answer the related question: Is it "ironic" that Charles Hansen, of all people, ended up confirming my negative opinion of Stereophile? Yes, I believe it is, but any irony has nothing to do with Wes Phillips, whose treacherous actions have earned him a well deserved membership in "The Audio Journalists Hall of Shame".
James Garvin's Complete Post
Wes Phillips WATT/PUPPY 5 Review - Stereophile November 1995
Wes Phillips WATT/PUPPY 8 Review - Stereophile June 2007
My Original Criticism of Wes Phillips WP5 Review
My Criticism of Wes Phillips Late WP5 Disclosures (In WP8 Review)
Etalon Sound (Various electronics, speakers and cables from Germany.) NEW 09/17
Conrad-Johnson Owners (Conrad-Johnson news and information.) NEW 09/17
The Audio Beatnik (Audio website of Jack Roberts, a reviewer I respect.) NEW 09/17
DS Audio (Optical Cartridges of modern design, which have unique qualities.) NEW 09/17
Cymbiosis Linn LP-12 Guides (Linn Sondek LP-12 Set-Up Guides) NEW 02/18
Denon Aluminum Body (Aluminum Body Cap for Denon DL-103/R) NEW 03/18
Thus's Audiophile Magazine ("Reviews of Classical Music Records") NEW 07/18
Audio Reputation (For audio beginners and those who are headphone oriented.) NEW 08/18
Contrast Audio (Ukranian Manufacturer of Interesting Speakers) NEW 08/18
Copper Magazine (A very interesting audio magazine from PS Audio.) NEW 09/18
The Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) has been my personal reference speaker since 2009. They are in excellent condition and have never been abused in any manner. I am selling them for only one reason: To replace them with the newest model, the PRE MK. II (see Recent Updates July/August 2017, and the related link below for more information on the MK. II). I originally had two pairs of the PRE, stacked, but one pair has already been sold.
The PRE is rarely for sale on the used market. In fact, I haven't seen a used PRE for sale in literally years. This is not surprising, because of the PRE's outstanding overall performance, value, practicality and sensitivity (see the link below for my PRE review). In the rare event a PRE is being sold used, it's almost always because of some peripheral, life-changing or domestic issue and not because of any audiophile dissatisfaction with its performance.
However, there is one issue with this PRE. The cosmetics, specifically the front veneer panel joints on the two subwoofers, are second-rate (see pictures). This cosmetic problem has no effect on the sonic performance of the PRE, obviously, but it will still require some rudimentary woodworking (sanding, staining and re-oiling) to bring them back up to par. Accordingly, I will offer a generous allowance on the selling price.
According to the manufacturer, the price for the used Pure Reference Extreme pair, if it was in excellent cosmetic condition, would be $ 14,750. However, due to the cosmetic flaws, I am reducing the price to $ 12,650, a savings of over $ 2,000, which can then be used for a local woodworker. For those who are handy, it's a $ 2,000+ savings for a simple DIY woodworking job. Some audiophiles, like myself, may not even be bothered by the cosmetics.
Further Thought - Some audiophiles will understandably prefer to purchase the Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II, but don't have all the required funds, $ 30,000, so here is a practical idea. The Mk. II could be purchased in two steps:
1. The PRE Mk. I above, for $ 12,650, and later...
2. The Mk. II factory upgrade, which costs around $ 8,000, making the...
Total Cost = <$ 21,000.
Not only does this method avoid one large expenditure, it even provides the additional bonus of a $ 9,000+ (30%!) discount from the Mk. II's original selling price.
Caveat - The PRE speaker system, which is two subwoofers and two monitors, does NOT include either the stands for the monitors or the spikes for the subwoofers.
Shipping (390 lbs) of the PRE is extra. The PRE is located in Florida (34986). Local pickup can also be arranged.
My Comprehensive Review of the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers
Coincident Speaker PRE MK. II Update Announcement & Further Information
The Supreme Recordings
My Audio System
My Audio Philosophy
Purchasing Used Classical Records
Reviewing the Reviewers
Used Components for Sale
Tubes for Sale
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