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, thus enabling readers to discover 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 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.
An Alternative New Standard...
The UNIverse III is one of the two finest cartridges I have ever heard in overall performance. The III also sets new performance parameters in a number of important sonic categories. These new performance standards were observed when the III was directly compared to both its predecessor, the UNIverse II, and even my most recent top Reference, the UNIverse Premium (see review above). However, it is also important to note that the III was itself outperformed by the Premium (though not the II) in other important sonic categories.
So, after an enjoyable (and unusual) 8 year period (2012-20) of no known sonic compromises with phono cartridges performing at the highest of levels, we are back to normal; They each have sonic compromises, so the final choice will have some unavoidable sonic consequences we must simply accept and live with (or have a self-induced nervous breakdown). Accordingly, the primary purpose of this review is to hopefully assist any interested reader in making the correct and satisfying choice, between these two models, for themselves.
To this end, I have directly compared the two top Reference cartridges, the UNIverse III and the UNIverse Premium, as comprehensively, and as fairly, as I am capable of conducting. I even went one step further than I ever have in the past to make certain the results were not compromised.
The UNIverse III was introduced in 2017, replacing the II (my long time Reference from 2012). The III has a suggested retail price of $ 9,500, which is a $ 1,000 increase over the II's price of $ 8,500. The III also retains the plastic body of both the UNIverse I and II. In a significant contrast, the (now discontinued) UNIverse Premium cartridge has a metal body/frame.
I received the ZYX UNIverse III in January 2020, but I wasn't able to install it in my system until March 8th. The delay was caused by the longer than expected break-in, and the subsequent evaluation, of the UNIverse Premium, which I had received in the fall 2019.
From the day the III was installed on March 8, until it was removed, and replaced, with the Premium (on July 28), it was played a total of 280+ hours, using the greatest possible variety of music, labels, pressings etc that I possess. During this entire 4+ month period, no other changes were made to my system, with the obvious exceptions of the necessary VTA and VTF adjustments to the III for sonic optimization. (Compared to the II, the III has a lower VTA and a higher VTF.)
To make certain the comparisons between the III and the Premium were both fair and comprehensive, I not only duplicated the same reference records for audition (which is obviously required and routine), I further duplicated their exact order of play. I then undertook what I now believe was the ultimate (and maybe even unprecedented) process required for fairness. It was a procedure which I had never used before, even with all of my prior decades of making direct comparisons...
On the final evening of auditioning the III, I noted the exact time I began playing the last three records, to the minute. I later duplicated those specific times when I eventually played the same final three records with the Premium. I followed this new routine to make certain that the time of the evening would have no (or minimal) influence on the outcome. Why did I go to such lengths? I felt this extra step was necessary, at least in my case, because my system consistently sounds increasingly better from between 11 PM to 1 AM.
So, if anyone is interested, here are the last 3 reference records, and their respective start times, that I auditioned, originally on July 28 with the III, and later duplicated on August 2 with the Premium:
Kodaly/Hary Janos/Kertesz/Decca/Speakers Corner Reissue; 11:45 PM
Villancicos/Paniagua/Harmony Mundi/Original Pressing; 12:00 AM
Mobile Fidelity/Pictures Exhibition/Firebird Suite/Muti; 12:30 AM
Final Vertical Tracking Force Setting: 2.25 Grams (Installed on Graham Phantom II Supreme)
Below are the details and final results of all these tests and comparisons, along with my related observations and any other thoughts I felt were relevant.
Let's start with my most important observation: Neither the UNIverse III nor the Premium is clearly superior to the other. Even more frustrating, for a serious audiophile to accept, is that they sound noticeably different from each other, even though neither performs at anything less than "excellent" in any sonic category.
As for the comparative details, they will sound familiar to many experienced audiophiles, since the two cartridges share the same relative advantages, and relative disadvantages, as have countless other components, of all types, when they were compared to each other in the past five decades.
Let's start with the UNIverse III's sonic strengths, which are also important performance "breakthroughs", for phono cartridges, in my experience.
Here they are listed in general order of importance (to me):
1. The III is the most immediate and "alive" sounding cartridge I have ever heard. Using an alternative expression; The III has the greatest amount of "gut presence" I've yet experienced.
2. The III is the fastest, most detailed, most articulate and most precise cartridge I have ever heard, and at all frequencies.
3. It is also the most "intelligible" cartridge I have ever heard, which means that lyrics are easier to discern than at anytime in the past.
To add some additional context to the above, here are some of the exclamatory adjectives, that I used in my contemporaneous auditioning notes, which may prove helpful to some readers: "incredible"; "stupendous"; "stunning"; "breathtaking"; "spectacular" and "unprecedented".
And there's more to report...
The III is also extremely clean, with great separation, and unprecedented delicacy. Certain veils, which I have observed for decades, were now gone. The highs were the most extended, and the purest, I have ever heard, while the bass is the tightest (and as deep as) I have ever heard. At its best, the III could be both natural and spectacular. Also, depending on the record, and the perspective, the III is the most revealing cartridge known to me.
On a practical level, some records sounded like a "super pressing" of themselves or, using a different audiophile standard, the closest to a direct-to-disc version that I have experienced. If I were asked to describe the III's general performance using a loudspeaker analogy, it would be simple; The III sounds like a good electrostatic finding itself in a universe of speakers previously using only dynamic drivers.
However, as an alternative, it may be more revealing for some audiophiles if I were to instead use a power amplifier analogy to describe the III's general performance. In that instance; The III sounds like a "breakthrough" transistor amplifier in a universe of countless transistor and tube amplifiers, of various quality. And if this second analogy appears understandably familiar, it now brings us to the equally important, and required, second part of this section, in which we now shift our focus to the Premium...
The UNIverse Premium has one major, and all-encompassing, sonic advantage over the III, and any other cartridge I've ever heard: The Premium is still, without a doubt, the most natural sounding cartridge in my experience.
The details and examples, of this serious advantage, are critically important:
1. The Premium has more natural body and weight than the III. This is almost always noticeable, on all instruments, though it's particularly observable on (male) voices. In fact, even transient notes have greater substance, body and weight.
2. The Premium sounds larger, more powerful and more forceful than the III. The Premium's bass is no deeper than the III's, but it sounds more prominent, as if the subwoofers have been turned up somewhat in volume.
3. The Premium is more likely to sound overpowering, overwhelming and awe inspiring, when this is possible. It is also both more startling at times, and less predictable. While this is admittedly purely subjective; the Premium induced more involuntary reactions to the music from me, such as "goose bumps" and "mouth dropping".
4. The Premium is not as articulate as the III, but it still reproduced more of the individual textures of each instrument and voice, yet the surface noise appears to be reduced.
5. The Premium has less homogenization and, accordingly, has greater separation of the instruments. This is noticeable at all volume levels, but especially during loud passages.
6. The Premium is superior in reproducing the rear soundstage in its totality. It better captures the entire recording space and all of the natural decays, which "hang in the air" longer than the III.
7. The Premium is more effortless and relaxed than the III, at virtually any volume level. There is less strain and there is, correspondingly, fewer noticeable sonic changes during the continually varying volume levels. Its sonic consistency is closest I've observed to a master tape.
8. The Premium has a lower sound-floor than the III, with a darker background. It thus sounds more complete, capturing more of the unique character of various voices and instruments, including the harmonics and the subtle and expressive dynamic inflections.
9. The Premium is still the best at individualizing all of the instruments and voices, my highest priority. Digital sourced records also sounded more like analogue sourced records with the Premium.
10. The Premium favors, or disfavors, relatively nothing. The entire frequency range, from bottom to top, is outstandingly reproduced, and so are all the volume levels. Accordingly, both the extreme PPP and FFF sound levels are more convincing than with the III.
The Premium is extremely fast, articulate and detailed, as I described in my review of it earlier this year. The Premium can only be described as relatively "slow" when directly compared to the (unprecedented) performance of the III, which is simply in a class of its own, in my experience.
Further Thoughts on "Natural Body"...
I've already clearly stated above that the Premium has more natural body than the III. However, I believe a more detailed explanation is in order. To do so, we must go back to my earlier Premium review (above), in which I describe our observations concerning natural body using numbers.
Here are the numbers, describing observed body, now updated with the results from the UNIverse III:
UNIverse II - "Body" Frequency Range 7/10 + Resonances 2/10 = 9/10*
UNIverse Premium - "Body" Frequency Range 8/10 + Resonances 1/10 = 9/10*
UNIverse III - "Body" Frequency Range 7.6/10 + Resonances .9/10 = 8.5/10*
Explanation - Both the II and Premium cartridges have virtually the exact same (9/10*) total amount ("quantity") of "body". However, the II has a 2/10 amount of resonances while the Premium has only a 1/10 (all the numbers are only crude estimates to clarify a point). The extra (1/10) amount of resonances is the main cause of the II's noticeable "fat", while its absence is the reason why the Premium's "body" sounds more "natural" than the II. So, what about the III?
The III has noticeably less body than the Premium (and the II), but it is not large enough to be described as "dramatic". This is why the III's total body is reduced by .5/10; from 9/10 down to 8.5/10. Further, the III also has a slightly lower amount of "resonances" than the Premium; It goes from 1/10 down to .9/10.
Accordingly, I believe the primary reason why the III has less body than the Premium is because its frequency response is slightly attenuated in the body/bass frequency range (8/10 - 7.6/10 = .4/10). The III's further reduction of added resonances (1/10 - .9/10 = .1/10), even though it's relatively subtle overall (and a sonic positive as well), makes this body/bass attenuation slightly more noticeable (.4/10 + .1/10 = .5/10).
*10/10, or a "perfect body", is not possible.
So, in the end, what am I going to do, personally? Actually, I'm doing nothing for now (Summer/Fall 2020), since I am keeping both cartridges for the indefinite future (see below "Addendum" for the reasons and details). However, I will still (of course) answer the most important, and inevitable, question: Of the two best UNIverse cartridges I've heard, the Premium and the III, which would I prefer to live with, if I could only choose one of them?
The ZYX UNIverse Premium. Here are the reasons for this choice, which are both purely subjective and relatively objective:
Consistent with my observations, the Premium is superior to the III in a larger number of sonic categories, which can be confirmed and verified from the descriptions and comparisons seen above. Just as important, the Premium's sonic advantages are larger in degree, and thus more obvious and noticeable than those of the III.
If I were to use numbers for greater clarification; the III may have a 2 to 3% advantage over the Premium in its strengths, while the Premium may have a 4 to 5% advantage over the III in its strengths. In short, the Premium's sonic advantages are greater in both their number and in their degree. This is the "relatively objective" reason for my personal choice of the Premium. As for the "purely subjective"...
Even if the III had an exactly equal amount, and degree, of sonic advantages, I would still choose the Premium. Why? Because, in the end, though it is a tough and cruel choice, "naturalness" (or "completeness") is more important to me than "immediacy". Veteran readers will be aware that I made this personal choice of priorities clear, when this website originated, over 20 years ago, and I still feel the same today, and not just for the sake of (dogmatic) consistency. For me, the Premium has a "magic" that the III lacks, even when acknowledging all of its unique and unprecedented strengths. However...
I still recognize that other serious audiophiles, if directly comparing these same two cartridges themselves, in their own systems (or even mine), could feel differently than I do, which inevitably brings us to the next section of this review. It's now time to address an important and relevant audio issue which I have neglected in the past...
This is a complex issue, which could easily justify an entire essay, but that is a potential project for the future. At this time, I will first focus on the two cartridges discussed in this review. I will then attempt to provide a brief general overview, and perspective, on this important subject.
Focusing only on the UNIverse Premium and III, when and where is "matching" relevant? In my own case, I believe it has no relevance. Due to the strategic evolution, and the existing level of performance, of my present system, I am not seeking anything "specific". (The only exception, if it can described as that, is the cartridge's output must match the gain requirements of my current system.) However, what about other serious audio systems, in which the audiophile owner has highly personal performance requirements and goals?
This audiophile may be searching for something highly specific in performance, either to have even a greater amount of a desired sonic attribute which is already possessed (which is relatively simple and easy to achieve) or, alternatively, to "offset" something that they consider to be a weakness in their current system (which is much more difficult to achieve).
For some (obvious) examples of the latter (with the highly artificial assumption that the UNIverse III and Premium are the only two possible options), let's imagine an audiophile who feels that their system's major weakness is that it's "leaner" than it should be. In that case, the Premium, with its uncanny reproduction of natural body, would be the obvious choice. Again, alternatively, if another audiophile feels that, although generally satisfying, their system is still (relatively) "slow and heavy", and would like their system to be a little lighter, faster and "quicker on its feet", than the III, with its unprecedented speed, would be the obvious choice.
However, this brings us to the real issue, and the big question: Even if the tactic of using audio "offsets" works well at times, and the final results are considered successful and satisfying, is this still the ideal method to reduce system weaknesses?
Based on my five decades of experiences with direct audio comparisons (at home, at my former audio store, at other audio stores, at customers/friends homes and at audio shows); modifications; phono optimizations and general experimentation, I believe that audio offsets can work, at least in some highly specific circumstances, to reduce noticeable system weaknesses. However, using offsets is not "the ideal method" of improving an audio system. Here are the reasons to support my opinion...
For decades now, I've had the same first priority when it comes to choosing to purchase a component: What is the ultimate performance potential of that component, and how easy/difficult is it to realize? The problem with components which have a serious sonic weakness, and the main reason I avoid them, is that these flawed components are almost accompanied by other serious sonic weaknesses, and usually only one of them can be "corrected", meaning all the other sonic weaknesses are then made permanent. So, hoping two weak links offset each other to create "magic" is an audio "dead end". It doesn't work that way, you just end up with two more weak links. In short, audiophiles dig themselves a proverbial "sonic hole" when using such flawed components.
Does this mean matching components, and particularly using offsets, has no place for a serious audiophile? No, they still have a place, though only as a short-term expedient. In fact, I've not only used them myself, but have done so on many occasions. When and where? In my own system, no. I have no clear memory of using offsets for many decades. However, I have made some "adjustments" when using electronic crossovers, specifically to offset noticeable system/room interaction problems, especially in the bass frequencies. Now, what about the two decades I spent in my audio store?...
A completely different story, especially in the 1980's. Virtually all the audio components available in that decade had easily noticeable problems (even "the best"), though I took great pains to studiously avoid those components with serious and glaring weaknesses, which even non-audiophiles could easily hear. Still, to present each of my chosen components at their best for my customers, I spent countless hours matching them with other components; speakers/amplifiers, tonearms/cartridges, preamps/power amps, cartridges/preamps, cables etc.
I accomplished this by matching audio tendencies that would work well together, such as the examples I provided above with the UNIverse cartridges. For example, certain overly warm speakers usually sounded most natural with a good transistor amplifier, while I noticed that some speakers (and transistor based preamplifiers) sounded their best when matched with a full-bodied tube amplifier. I am also confident that I was not doing anything "nefarious". In fact, on many occasions, I demonstrated to the customer how different a component could perform when improperly, and then properly, matched. The key is matching "tendencies", not glaring weaknesses, which is a fool's errand. However, I did use audio offsets myself on a regular basis, as I admitted above. Why? I had no choice at the time, as some of the store's trade-ins* did have serious problems, so experimentation was my only option, unless the customer was proverbially deaf or didn't care.
*My store had an extremely generous trade-in policy: To assist in extra sales; for my many customers who only purchased "used" and out of sheer audio curiosity on my part.
Virtually all audiophiles use this same matching procedure to some degree, whether they freely admit to it or not. Some audiophiles even swear by it, feeling it is the most important audio skill or goal. However, offsetting serious sonic weaknesses is very different. In effect, you have taken upon yourself to become a secondary "audio designer", by attempting to reduce, or even eliminate, the inherent problems with the components and/or system. Short Term: Fine, it's better than doing nothing. Long Term: Begin a serious search for better component(s), with more subtle weaknesses and greater potential.
Finally, never confuse routine matching, and especially using offsets, with Audio Synergy, which is the highest and ultimate level of component and system interaction. The best, and most common, example of audio synergy is using SET Amplifiers* with SET Friendly Speakers*. Audio Synergy is the (highly satisfying) result when you have realized both the highest possible level of performance from any given component and, ideally, another component at the same time. A system in which all of the individual components are synergized should be the ultimate goal of all audiophiles (even if it is impossible to achieve). It certainly is my "ultimate goal" at this time, and has been as long as I can remember.
*A Non-SET Example? - While attending the 2004 CES show in Las Vegas, one room demonstrated Vandersteen speakers amplified by Audio Research (ARC) electronics. Until then, I had never heard either brand sound so natural and accurate overall, which is the entire point of matching components to the highest level of Audio Synergy. In fact, at the time, I wrote on this website that I wished I had thought of that specific combination myself!
Some background first - In 2001, the final year that I owned/operated my Toronto audio store, I decided to conduct some listening experiments with interconnects. I did this mainly out of curiosity, though I also wanted my customers to experience themselves whether the claim from virtually all the "audio skeptics" ("all cables sounded the same") was true or not. My first experiment, with around two dozens listeners (almost all of them customers), directly addressed this issue.
It was a comparison between the first Coincident (copper) interconnect and the Wireworld "Gold" (silver), both of them 1 meter in length. The results of this experiment, which I posted on this website around 4 years ago, were straightforward: All the listeners could consistently distinguish the two cables from each other, using a "blind test", and all but one of them preferred the Coincident. However, I also conducted a second experiment a few weekends later, which I have never discussed on this website.
This second experiment had far fewer listeners (around 10), and this time the test focused exclusively on cable "break-in"; Did it make a sonic difference or not? I thought so myself, based on previous experiences, but I wasn't certain. Further, I didn't recall then, nor now, whether any one else had ever conducted an experiment which focused on the effects of "break-in" alone. Accordingly, I thought the time had come to do so, and arranged the test as carefully as I could.
This was the protocol: When my next order of Coincident interconnects arrived, I put one pair aside, while a second pair was played continuously, 24 hours a day, with a CD player on "repeat", for over two weeks. This second cable would be directly compared to its "sister cable", which had been put aside, with no hours of play. What would happen? Was there a real difference, and was it important? I was excited myself to learn these answers!
Yes, there was a difference. All of the listeners were able to distinguish the two cables from each other in a "blind test". However, while all of the listeners, including myself, preferred the cables that were broken-in, none of us felt the sonic differences were as noticeable, or as important, as the sonic differences between the Coincident and Wireworld cables in the earlier experiment. So, while cable break-in was confirmed to exist, and also provide a real sonic improvement, it wasn't deemed to be as truly important, at least in this specific circumstance, as the initial cable choice. This bring us to the present, and the UNIverse III in particular, which inspired this issue. Why and how?
While going over my UNIverse III's listening notes, I noticed that I used the exact same term, "incredible immediacy", on both the first and the last night of my auditions. When I first recognized this unexpected coincidence, I was somewhat shook up. What could this mean? I also experienced (and noted in detail above) the III's gradual sonic improvements as it broke-in, so was this "unexpected coincidence" something that could be rationally explained or, alternatively, was it a contradiction and/or just one more "audio mystery"?
Answer: - I believe it can be rationally explained...
In the case of the UNIverse III* specifically, while the III's performance, overall, definitely improved during its lengthy break-in process, its basic "gut character" (or my "first impression"), which I described as "incredibly immediate", did not change. Further, I don't believe it will ever change, no matter how many hours of play it has. In fact, it may even be technically impossible for it to change. So, to answer my original question: "What could this mean?".
I believe it means that your first impression of a component's basic character, even when it's virtually brand new, and with low hours of play, will still be true no matter how many hours it is later played. (This general rule assumes the component is optimumally set-up and also matched properly with other components.) So, while new audio components will almost always improve with play (the "good news"), we must also accept the related reality that their basic character will rarely be "transformed" during this same break-in period (the "bad news").
*I had a very similar experience with the ZYX UNIverse Premium. It also noticeably improved, as I noted in its review, but my first day's listening notes could have also been written on the last day as well. Confirmation!
I believe the UNIverse III will be compatible with, and noticeably improve, the majority of the most serious existing phono-centric systems, regardless of their current performance level, and/or the owners' audio priorities and "taste". In the case of the UNIverse Premium, I believe that the "majority" would be even larger (even to "vast"). In my personal case, both cartridges provided a highly satisfying improvement over the UNIverse II (even as outstanding as it is), though what the Premium offers was larger and more important to me, as I discussed above.
While both cartridges are "References", in the highest sense of that term, both may also outperform the other, depending on the system and listener priorities. However, in the end, I also believe that the Premium is still unique in that it is truly "Universal" (no pun intended), while the III is not Universal and, to be clear and fair, neither is any other cartridge I'm aware of at this time.
The new generation ZYX UNIverse cartridge evaluations are not finished with this review. I have two more important experiments to perform in the future:
1. When the new Lenco/Kuzma turntable/tonearm combination is finally set-up (the pandemic is holding this up for now), I will directly compare the Premium and the III to each other once again, even if it's only for confirmation, though there could always be some surprises. It will be easier to directly compare the two cartridges, since the Kuzma comes with two headshells for fast switching. There will also be an added bonus, in that the entire system will be more revealing (I expect an improved phono source and speakers).
2. The UNIverse Optimum, the current ZYX top-of-the-line, has also been promised to me as a loaner. I have decided to delay receiving and installing it until I have the new Lenco/Kuzma set-up and the first experiment, above, has been completed. I want to hear the Optimum only after I am confident that I have heard the Premium and III at their very best, or there could be some unnecessary confusion as to the results.
Sorasound - ZYX (New Generation) UNIverse Cartridges
My Audio System
Reference Phono Cartridge File
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the July 2019 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 veteran reader sent me this letter with the latest updates to the critically important issue/skill of speaker positioning. Here is his letter with minor editing and related links (my bold):
"I have additional information on the speaker positioning procedure I have championed for the past few years...
...Post #2 in the linked thread below contains a write up of the procedure that is exactly as it was first explained to me back in 2007-2008, when I first heard the results and asked questions about how to do it. The write ups that I sent to you are slightly different, though they do reflect my own trials and errors. After finding the linked post, I re-did the procedure following the steps exactly as written. While I am quite familiar with the general procedure, I did have to listen for slightly different audio cues.
In the end, I had very good success with following the steps exactly as written. I would have to say that it is a better way to do the procedure than my own previous write ups. Everything just seems to be a little bit better. I used only the song on the set up disc that I sent you. I have yet to play a mono recording, which I still tend to think is a good double check on proper balance of the speakers. I think you will find this linked write up to be helpful.
There is also a newish You Tube video that is good to watch. It is a good introduction before attempting to do the procedure the first time."
Speaker Positioning Update Thread
Video Introduction to Speaker Positioning Update
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 sonic disadvantage, noise transference, has now been reduced to insignificance by using modern plinths, bearings and improved motor isolation. In short, idler-drives have overcome 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 and fundamental 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 also 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)
Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning (#6 Refinement)
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the August/September 2019 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 related article to the above, 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 over 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" efficiency 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 October 2019 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 Reference (and also a Mystery) in...
I first heard this unique* cable, from a small company located in Texas, with an associate (he had purchased them based on the advice of a friend), more than two years ago. The results of our original experiment, and our impressions of it, were surprising and unprecedented, for both of us. I have delayed writing my report for various reasons, though mainly due, as usual, to prior commitments, and then eventually the pandemic.
However, I also had another reason for delaying my report. This reason was unusual in my experience, so I was seriously concerned about it at the time. The Reason - Our further experiments, with the same Aural Thrills cable, produced results which were inconsistent with the original test. So I decided to wait until I had the time to verify all the results and make some sense of what we were observing. Here are the details, beginning with a short introduction, and history, of my experiences with signal cables.
*The Aural Thrills cables use a dedicated power supply for filtering and shielding. For details, see "Odds and Ends" and pictures below.
During the 1980s, and somewhat less so in the 1990s, there were relatively large improvements in signal cables, especially interconnects. This makes sense since there was no interest in signal cables prior to the late 1970s, even by the most fanatical audiophiles. However, in the last 25 years or so, the improvements in signal cables, while real, have also been relatively incremental, despite the incredulous claims of the (easily impressed - to be kind) mainstream audio reviewers and the cable "manufacturers", let alone the now obscene prices of some cable lines.
In fact, to be concise, since the year 2000, I've heard numerous incremental cable improvements, but only two cables, both of them interconnects, have made a "dramatic" difference to the performance of my audio system. Listed below are the two cables. It is critically important to note that the first cable's peak performance is frequency limited, while the second cable was able to accomplish this rare performance feat full-range, and also in two (very similar) situations.
1. Coincident Statement Interconnect - Line Stage to Subwoofer Amplifiers Only - The Statement cables initially outperformed all the other interconnect cables I had ever heard, overall, but they were at their unprecedented best when used with the Coincident Dragon (subwoofer) amplifiers. The sound quality in the bass was so improved with the Statement, that it actually forced me to re-evaluate the performance of the Pure Reference subwoofers.
Up until then, it had been literally decades since I had heard such a dramatic improvement with a single cable change, and this observation was verified by my associate, a highly critical and experienced listener, who was also shocked by the degree of the improvement (and that's not hyperbole). In fact, at the time, we both commented that unless the Statement cables were used with the Pure Reference Extremes, it was highly probable that the listener would never experience the actual potential of the speaker in the bass frequencies.
2. Aural Thrills Interconnect - APL NWO-Master Digital Player to "The Truth" T3 Line Stage - This time the improvement was not only "dramatic" (details below), but was even full-range (except the deep bass, since it was the Coincident Statement cables that were replaced). Once again, the same associate, who had previously heard the Statement/subwoofer bass improvement, agreed with my observations.
3. (Repeat of #2) Aural Thrills Interconnect - Budget* Digital Player to "The Truth" T4 Line Stage - In a repeat performance, the improvement using the Aural Thrills cable was dramatic and across the board. This time it was a high quality DIY cable that was replaced by the Aural Thrills.
However, it wasn't long before we experienced an inconsistency in performance with the Aural Thrills, which was also a mystery of sorts: We couldn't fully replicate the dramatic improvements, with the Aural Thrills, anywhere else in my system. And this brings us to the important details...
The results of the cables being replaced from the two digital players (APL and Budget*) were so similar that there is no reason to repeat myself by describing each experiment individually. However, my listening session with the Budget Player is obviously much fresher in my memory. So this what I heard very recently (10 days ago as this is written, based on my contemporaneous listening notes), on my own, with the "Budget"* player:
The Aural Thrills (AT) was cleaner, especially at high volume levels. The inherent metallic character of the budget player was noticeably reduced. The AT also had more natural body, with a darker background and sounded more relaxed. There was a greater separation of instruments and less break-up.
The AT was more immediate and had a lower sound-floor, with a superior harmonic structure and greater amount of "bloom", and a larger sound and greater information in the rear. The AT was also more dynamic and reproduced more space around the instruments, and in general. These improvements were most easily noticed at high and low volume levels, though the AT was superior at all volume levels.
Most important to me, because of all the extra musical and extraneous information revealed by the AT cables, the musicians were more "individualized" and humanized.
In general, the sound was more like analogue, and without any downsides. Importantly, the sonic improvements were cumulative and even synergistic, so that they added up to a more significant sonic advancement than they are described individually. This synergy is somewhat unusual in my experience.
*I will disclose, and discuss, the "budget player" model, on its own, at a later date (see below). I'm not disclosing the specific model now because I believe that the focus, at this time, should only be on the performance of the Aural Thrills cables. I only used the budget player because the APL's transport had a problem, which is obviously costly to repair, and I haven't repaired it as of yet. Further Relevant and Important Note - The initial APL experiment also confirms the fact that the impressive results with the Aural Thrill cables were not unique to a single digital player.
Soon after our considerable excitement with the initial AT cable experiment, my associate ordered a second pair of AT interconnects (shipped directly to me, since my associate did not have a working system at that time). This second pair was 2 meters in length, and would replace the Statement cable (also 2 meters) from "The Truth" line stage to the Coincident Frankenstein SET power amplifiers (which were powering the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Monitors).
My associate and I were understandably quite enthusiastic at the time, as any serious audiophiles would have been. After the AT cables arrived, they were broken-in for a few hundred hours (as I had done earlier with the initial AT cables). I then invited my associate over for the first listening comparison. (I wanted both of us to hear the 2nd pair of cables together, for the first time, to avoid the possibility of my later prejudicing his initial reaction by my behavior, even if done unconsciously.) And these were the results:
The second pair of AT cables were also an improvement over my Reference cables. However, the performance gap was much smaller this time, maybe around 25%* of the initial cable change (from the APL digital player to the line stage). The sonic differences were typical for a cable improvement: A slightly lower sound-floor, with soft sounds more audible (such as breathing and a sense of space), and an even more relaxed, effortless and natural sound. But in no way could these improvements, even when combined, be described as "dramatic". Not even close. From another perspective:
The 1st AT cable change was unmistakable and impossible to ignore*, while the 2nd AT cable change sounded more like a system, first heard with bad AC power early in the evening, and then heard late in the evening, at its very best. We were disappointed, of course, since lightning didn't strike the second time, but still happy to receive some improvement. Later on, this same level/degree of improvement (around 25%) was confirmed on three other separate occasions:
1. A 3rd AT cable (1 meter) from the Jadis Phono Stage to the line stage.
2. A 4th AT cable from the Graham tonearm to the Bent Silver MC SUT, more than a year later.
3. The 2nd AT cable, once again, from the "The Truth" line stage to the Frankenstein power amplifiers (this time, on my own, in November 2020, effectively duplicating the same experiment from two years earlier, see below).
*To be clear - If the results of the 2nd test were as positive as the 1st test, I would have changed my schedule at the time and written this Aural Thrills review almost 2 years ago.
Later on, in the fall of 2019 to be exact, I auditioned the Aural Thrills DIN phono cables. Since phono signal levels are ultra-low, I had high hopes, at the time, that the AT cables could again provide a dramatic improvement over my DIY phono cables. Unfortunately, I observed the same basic results as before; A noticeable improvement, but not "dramatic". Here is how I described the improvements in my 2019 contemporaneous notes: "More precision and definition, faster, cleaner, a little more separation, bass improvement maybe most important because it improves cohesiveness, slightly more sense of space. A nice refinement, but not significant."
After the inconsistent results of the 2nd test, and especially after the re-confirming 3rd test (involving the Jadis phono stage), neither my associate nor I could understand (and rationally explain) why we experienced only one dramatic change. Then the APL digital player broke down, making matters even worse. So, in the end, I decided to hold off writing about the AT cables until I could conduct further testing, and hopefully better understand what was going on*.
Accordingly, I realized that there was one definitive test I knew I must conduct before I would feel confident to post anything about the AT cables. Unfortunately, conducting this specific test, properly and fairly, required a considerable amount of time and effort, since I had to basically "start from scratch". The required testing protocol would involve effectively going back more than two years earlier, in order to exactly replicate the entire history of AT events. Let me explain...
*I was deeply concerned that the initial APL experiment could turn out to be a fluke of some kind, and/or a one-off. Further, we couldn't even verify the initial APL results after its transport broke down.
I realized that there was no way I could write an honest and complete article/review about the Aural Thrill cables without describing the dramatic improvements in the initial (APL) experiment, but these important results could no longer be verified, for the simple reason that the APL was no longer operational. So, what was an appropriate and alternative method to duplicate those same incredible results (assuming that this was even possible in the first place), without using the APL? (Keep in mind, that I had already failed to duplicate the same results with the Jadis phono stage.)
In the end, I had only one real alternative; the (APL replacement) Budget Digital Player, which, as it turned out, was the near perfect choice, because if this budget player could be dramatically improved, I felt confident that any other digital player should also be equally improved.
However, this duplicate experiment wasn't as straightforward as it first appears. After some thought, I realized that to truly replicate the initial APL/"The Truth" experiment, from 2 years earlier, I had to first remove every single Aural Thrill cable in my system, and essentially start from scratch. I would then later test the first AT cable on its own, without any interaction from any other AT cable in the system.
So, I removed all the AT cables from my system this Summer (2020), including, obviously, the cable from the budget digital player to the line stage. I then listened to my system, CD only, daily, for a few months, using alternative signal cables, until I felt confident that I was used to this new system performance level. It was only at that point, in November 2020, that I finally re-installed the AT cable from the Budget Player to "The Truth" line stage, thus allowing the most critical experiment to be conducted.
The results of this important experiment, described above, finally replicated the exciting results of the initial test using the APL, from 2 years earlier. They are obviously the most important observations in this review, though they are also not the complete story, as seen below.
There is also an Aural Thrills Power Cable. It uses an attached battery-powered electronic filter and shield (see picture below). I've had it for a while, but it was only this November (2020) when I conducted a serious test, using a new battery, by comparing the generic power cable, which came with the budget digital player, with the AT power cable. The results, as taken again from my contemperaneous listening notes: "A more vibrant sound, lucid, pure and more, lower sound-floor again. More immediate or "gut presence". Noticeable reduction of "electronic sound or character". Battery status made a difference - must be fully charged!!"
The differences with the AT power cable, while noticeable and highly welcome, were not nearly as large, or important, as the two digital cable replacements. I have another AT power cable which I will use with "The Truth" line stage. This will be a much more difficult test of the AT power cable, because "The Truth" is currently using the Coincident Statement power cable, the finest I've yet heard. I will report back when I have the results of this experiment.
So, where do we stand, as of now, with the Aural Thrills Interconnects. Below is what we have observed so far and, importantly, later confirmed by multiple experiments. The results were also, later on, observed by other (3rd party) serious listeners (all of whom were highly experienced and objective audiophiles):
1. The Aural Thrill cables provided a "dramatic" improvement over all other cables I have ever heard with the signals from two separate digital sources, one of which was an "all-out" player (>$ 25K), and the other a budget player (<$ 500).
2. The Aural Thrill cables were also superior to every other cable I have heard with all other line-level and phono-level sources, except in the bass frequencies. However, the sonic improvements, in these various instances, were "only" around 25% as great as with the two digital sources.
In our observations, to experience and appreciate the full sonic potential of the Aural Thrills cables, they must replace the entire cable system, with the exception of the bass amplifiers. The final results, cumulatively, can be disarming at times, though I must emphasize that the first signal cable had, by far, the most noticeable improvement and effect. The Bottom Line - What do I advise, especially for those readers who want to take the minimum risk?
I no longer "Recommend" purchasing any component or accessory without conditions and/or qualifications, since every listener, and/or audio system, is different and unique, but if the Aural Thrills cables sound interesting, than I would purchase just one pair, for the digital source only. If the AT cables even remotely duplicate the highly satisfying results we received with my own digital sources, then consider them an unusually good audio investment, with little monetary risk (they are not expensive), and with even greater potential audio rewards in the future (as seen above). This advice may sound optimistic, but it is entirely consistent with our own experiences now for the last 2 years, and longer.
The Aural Thrills cables utilize "energized" grounds, filters and shields, which require an independent and dedicated power supply. These power supplies are included when you purchase the cables (one power supply for each cable pair), and utilize a single tube (12AU7). The AT power cords use a (9V) battery instead of a power supply. (See pictures below.)
I also auditioned the AT cables without the power supply. They still sounded outstanding, and even competitive with the finest I've heard, but their unique "magic", which separates the AT cables from all other cables I've yet heard, was gone. The particular tube and power cord, used with the power supply, also make a small difference in sound quality, but I wouldn't invest big money in an attempt to improve them. Experiments are in order however, since most audiophiles have spare tubes and special power cords hanging around, so why not use them?
Finally, in case anyone is interested, we paid the full retail price for all the cables we purchased and received from Aural Thrills. No discounts and no loaners.
As I've described in detail above, there is still a mystery related to the performance inconsistencies of Aural Thrills cables. This mystery specifically involves the relative performance of the APL Digital Player as compared to the Budget Digital Player, when both utilize the AT cables. I believe that this mystery, and maybe other related issues, will be at least partially resolved when I finally have the APL NWO-Master digital player back in my system, in full working condition, for further experimentation.
I still don't have a scheduled date for this event, but it should occur sometime in 2021. I will make a full report of the results at that time, along with the promised report on the Budget Digital Player. Further...
There is also a mystery, of course, of why only digital players have received "dramatic" sonic improvements with the Aural Thrills cables, while my main analogue source (the Jadis JP-80 phono stage) did not receive the same degree of improvement. My associate speculates that the AT cables have the unique ability to remove harmful RFI/EMI signals, which may be inherent in all digital sources, no matter what their design, price and build quality. This (RFI/EMI) theory sounds reasonable to me, though I'm hoping to eventually learn the definitive answer one day.
Aural Thrills Audio (Unique Cables and Electronics)
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 November 2019 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.
Another Signal Cable Advancement...
In early 2020, Coincident came out with their next-generation version of the (Class A) Statement Speaker Cable (2016), using the designation; "Mk. II". There has also been a relatively small price increase for the II.
Example: 6' "Original" Statement Pair = $ 2,000.
6' Statement Mk. II Pair = $ 2,250
According to Coincident, the entire price increase is basically just covering the extra cost of production.
I've had a 4' pair of the Mk. II for months now. I delayed my review until I felt confident that they were fully broken-in. This break-in process is now long completed and, even better, so are all the direct comparisons of the Mk. II with its two main competitors.
Here are the details, starting with the comparison protocols.
I had over 500 hours of break-in time on the Mk. II cables before making the comparisons. In retrospect, the performance of the Mk. II cables "plateaued" closer to around 400 hours, but I needed to be certain before I moved on. There were two additional issues which also had to be dealt with to ensure that the comparisons were fair:
1. I also had to play the Original Statement speaker cables for a number of hours as well, to make certain that they were at their best.
2. Because my system is tri-amped (it uses the self-powered Acapella Ion super-tweeters), I had to remove the super-tweeters and, once again, familiarize myself with my system without them. This process took much more time (two months) than I had originally planned for. (If I didn't remove the super-tweeters, the cable comparisons would have effectively only been in the midrange frequencies, which is obviously unacceptable.)
3. I only used my digital source for the comparisons, due to its critically important ability to repeat the same source, multiple times, without any sonic compromises.
4. Unlike all the other direct signal cable comparisons I've made in the last 20 years, and mainly because of the pandemic, I had no "associates" assisting me during any of the tests.
5. The Original Statement cable was 1 meter in length, while the Mk. II was 4' in length (or 8" longer), a slight disadvantage.
Here are the results of the comparisons...
For the most important and revealing comparisons - These descriptions are basically my contemporaneous listening notes with some required edits for clarity:
Jazz CD - The Mk. II has greater precision and better separation. It is cleaner, tighter, a touch more immediate, also better clarified and more delicate. It is also less homogeneous when the music becomes loud.
Medieval Music CD - The decays and echoes are more noticeable. There is better image focus. In all, the "timing" of the Mk. II is improved, which may be the key to its superior performance. It's also more cohesive and more natural at ultra-low volume levels.
Symphonic Music CD - Biggest difference is there is less deterioration at high volume levels, which was also noticed earlier with the Jazz CD.
Early Music SACD - More immediate and natural. The harmonics are better timed. There is also a little more inner detail.
Overall, and not surprisingly, the Mk. II's sonic improvements were most easily noticed with the better recordings in my collection. Recordings that were multi-dubbed and/or generally obscure, basically sounded very similar, or even the same. The various improvements listed above, while encompassing, were not "dramatic", individually or cumulatively (see below).
However, I also found that I appreciated the Mk. II, to an ever increasing degree, over the long-term. I believe that this positive personal reaction was due to the reduction of listening fatigue, which is almost always a satisfying bonus when artificial (and previously unrecognized) sonic artifacts are suddenly absent. What are the actual practical advantages of a "reduction in listening fatigue"? Simple Answer - Listening for 3 or 4 hours instead of 2 hours, and with greater enjoyment as well. In short, a reduction of "negatives" can be just as important as an addition in "positives".
I also played the Polk cables enough hours to make certain that they were at their best. My Polk cables are 3' in length, which is 12" shorter than the Mk. II cables (an obvious technical advantage for the Polk, which I could not address). I listened to the exact same music as above, and in some cases going back and forth several times with the same CD/SACD cut, to make as certain as possible that my descriptions were consistent with what I was hearing.
The Results - The Polk was still a touch faster and more precise, while the Mk. II had more natural body, harmonics and weight. However, while all these sonic differences were relatively small, the Mk. II's performance advantages were also relatively larger in scale and, subsequently, more easily noticeable.
The Statement Mk. II has further blurred the Polk's unique sonic advantages to the point that they are now subtle on even the most revealing recordings. Further, and importantly, these advantages are less noticeable than the Mk. II's own sonic advantages. In short, there are now less sonic reasons to prefer the Polk cables than ever before, though some Polk fans may still favor it in certain circumstances, and with specific music in mind.
While it may still not be possible for any one speaker cable to outperform every other speaker cable, in all systems and in all circumstances, the Statement Mk. II comes the closest of any cable I've yet heard, or I'm even aware of, to accomplishing that lofty goal. The Mk. II's main strength, and most important quality, is its lack of any obvious sonic weaknesses.
In short - More so than any other cable I've experienced, the Mk. II does not draw attention to itself, no matter what the musical/technical challenges it confronts, thus making it easier for the listener to then fully appreciate and enjoy the music.
In the end, the Mk. II may not be a "dramatic advancement" in speaker cables, at least from my personal experience and perspective. Why my reluctance to bestow this particular laurel? Consistency - From my "personal perspective", "dramatic" is a laudatory term I (purposely) rarely use to describe any "signal" cables. In fact, I've only used it twice, and only for interconnects (one of them was from Coincident), in the last 20 years. As for speaker cables, here are the reasons and specifics that bound me...
While writing this review, I couldn't help contemplate that the Polk cable has now been available for around 40 years and, after all that time, it is still not "embarrassed" by the latest speaker cable designs (though only when the Polk is relatively short and correctly configured!). In fact, as I wrote above, it can even be preferred in certain situations and by particular audiophiles. So, from a decades long perspective, what does this all mean for "The Big (Speaker Cable) Picture"?
I believe it means that there will never be a second "dramatic advancement" in speaker cable design. The first "dramatic advancement" (and still the only one, for me) was, obviously, the Polk.
The Details - 35 years ago, we directly compared the Polk to the then (supposedly) "state of the art" MIT speaker cable. (Ironically, the "we" was myself and Israel Blume, the designer of the Statement Mk. II.) The Results - Which shocked both of us - The Polk dramatically destroyed the MIT, period.
Since then (1985), I've heard a number of (relative) sonic advancements in speaker cables, but none of them were even close to dramatic in degree. Accordingly, I now seriously doubt that any dramatic degree of sonic improvement, in contemporary speaker cables, is even technically possible. If it was possible, I believe it would have happened many years ago. There will be future advancements as well, as in the past, but just not dramatic in nature. So, how does this past history relate to the present sonic achievements of the Statement Mk. II, which I described above...
Ultimately, I strongly believe that any noticeable sonic advancement, especially in a mature technology such as speaker cables, is always a worthy audio development, and also an achievement which deserves recognition. This review is my attempt to detail, clarify and explain the reasons for that deserved recognition.
Coincident Speaker Technology (High-efficiency speakers, tube electronics and cables)
My Audio System
Some Further News of Interest...
1. "Ultimate Lenco" by Jean Nantais - I have now purchased the "Ultimate", but the pandemic has delayed the actual delivery, installation and any serious evaluation to now late Winter 2021. I still hope we can complete everything sometime this Spring. I will also have to install a new tonearm on the Ultimate, since it has an oversized ("transcription") platter. (See below.)
2. Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm - I chose the Kuzma after an extensive amount of research. I required the 14" version because the Ultimate has an oversized ("transcription") platter. (See link below.)
3. Coincident PRE Mk. II Speakers "Doubled-Up" - I purchased a second pair of the PRE Mk. II, which are now stacked on top of my first (2018) pair. This second pair (monitors only) arrived in the fall and were installed on January 3, 2021. (I will have to wait for assistance before I receive the second pair of subwoofers.) My second pair of the "Original" PRE speakers are still for sale at $ 10,975. This is the lowest price I will ever sell them for. (I now plan to use the PRE in my Home Theater System for the indefinite future.)
4. Coincident (Next Generation) Frankenstein SET Power Amplifiers - I may be able to receive a pair this upcoming late Spring. Further, it is no longer possible that I will also audition the Anniversary Turbo mono amplifiers.
5. ZYX UNIverse Optimum Cartridge- This current ZYX top-of-the-line cartridge has been promised to me as a loaner. I have decided to delay receiving and installing it until I have the new Lenco/Kuzma combination set-up and optimized. I want to hear the Optimum only after I am confident that I have heard both the Premium and the III at their very best, or there could be some unnecessary confusion as to the final results.
Latest Posting Schedule and Summary of the Above:
Winter 2021 - Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II Speaker "Doubled-Up" Review
Early Spring 2021 - Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm Review
Late Spring 2021 - ZYX UNIverse Optimum Review
Early Summer 2021 - Coincident Frankenstein Mk. III Review
Early Fall 2021 - Coincident Anniversay Turbo Amplifier Review
Kuzma Audio (4Point 14" Tonearm)
The "Ultimate Lenco" by Jean Nantais
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the December 2019 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.
Rick Becker, of Enjoy the Music, has now posted the latest installment of his (imaginative, thoughtful and thorough) modification of the famous and popular Linn Sondek turntable. Becker's modifications go further, by far, than anything else I've ever encountered. Serious fans and devotees of the Linn really must read this article, even if they would never dream of modifying their own model. In fact, audiophiles who don't even like the Linn, but are still phono-centric, may also find much of interest in Becker's article. The direct link to the article is below:
Link to Rick Becker Article
In 2020, a long-time associate purchased a pair of speakers from this Canadian company. His choice was an earlier version of their current Coherent Model 15, thereby replacing his (modified) Martin-Logan CLS, which had been his main speaker for over 25 years. My associate is very satisfied with his Model 15, so I felt I should share this important news with my readership. The link to Coherent is below:
Coherent Speakers (High-Efficiency Speakers)
A long time reader recently sent me an email describing how impressed he was with the DAC from Abbas. Below is a link to a relevant and short discussion thread dedicated to the Abbas, with some pictures:
Abbas DAC Thread in "What's Best Forum
1. "Ultimate Lenco" by Jean Nantais - The pandemic has severely delayed the actual delivery, installation and any serious evaluation to now late May 2021. I will also have to install a new tonearm on the Ultimate, since it has an oversized ("transcription") platter. (See below.)
2. Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm - I chose the Kuzma after an extensive amount of research. I required the 14" version because the Ultimate has an oversized ("transcription") platter.
3. Coincident PRE Mk. II Speakers "Doubled-Up" - The second pair (monitors only) arrived in the fall and were installed on January 3, 2021. (I will have to wait for assistance before I receive the second pair of subwoofers.) They are now fully broken-in and I have started sketching my review, which should be posted in the March/April 2021 Recent Updates. The doubled-up subwoofers update will come later.
4. ZYX UNIverse Optimum Cartridge- This current ZYX top-of-the-line cartridge has been promised to me as a loaner. I have decided to delay receiving and installing it until I have the new Lenco/Kuzma combination set-up and optimized. I want to hear the Optimum only after I am confident that I have heard both the Premium and the III at their very best, or there could be some unnecessary confusion as to the final results.
Latest Posting Schedule and Summary of the Above:
Winter/Early Spring 2021 - Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II Speaker "Doubled-Up" Review
Spring 2021 - Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm Review
Late Spring/Early Summer 2021 - ZYX UNIverse Optimum Review
Around a decade ago now, I initially posted my original article about the different "Levels of Improvement" commonly experienced by serious audiophiles. While I was generally satisfied with the original article, I recently began to feel it could be further refined and enhanced, mainly by adding another level (going from 6 Levels to 7 Levels).
This extra level allows more nuance in what I have found to be the most critical transition; specifically from "insignificant" to "significant". The two extremes of improvement, subtle and profound, are virtually unchanged, though I've still added a little more descriptive coloring to them as well. To summarize the 7 Levels in the most simplistic terms; Levels 1 and 2: Barely noticeable and always subtle. Levels 3 to 5: Transitioning from Insignificant to Significant. Levels 6 and 7: A Profound Improvement.
It is in Levels 3, 4, and 5 where the most controversies and arguments arise amongst serious audiophiles. This is because they are transitional levels of improvement, and difficult to assess, especially considering the different sonic priorities, tastes, systems, hearing and personal experiences of any individual (let alone group of) audiophile(s).
This important article will be reposted annually...
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 decade, 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 4 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, observed when switching to the superior component (A/B). However, the reverse matching deterioration is not heard consistently when switching back (B/A) to the inferior component. (This Level is most commonly experienced with signal cable comparisons.)
Example- Aural Thrills I.C. with Coincident Power Cable Vs. Aural Thrills I.C. with generic power cable
Typical Verbal Reaction: "I believe the improvement exists, but I wouldn't bet my life on it."
Level 2- The sonic improvement can now be heard when both switching A/B and also again when switching back (B/A), but it is no longer specifically heard after a short period of time; sometimes seconds, but almost always less than one minute. This Level almost always requires an active effort, on the part of the listener, to observe the improvement. It is also highly unlikely an "ordinary listener" can ever hear this level of improvement (let alone Level 1).
Example- "The Truth" T4 Transformer Input Vs. "The Truth" T4 Direct Input)
Typical Verbal Reaction: "It definitely exists, but it is still subtle."
Level 3- The sonic improvement can be consistently heard at length, though an effort may still be required, at times, to listen specifically for it, so it is not always "obvious" or inescapable. Only gifted "ordinary listeners" can observe this level of improvement. This improvement is still not significant; meaning it is possible that an audiophile will 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
Typical Verbal Reaction: "It's mainly a nice improvement, but it's still not significant."
Level 4- The sonic improvement can be heard by any serious audiophile all the time, and without any effort. It is now also easily possible, if not even probable, for "ordinary listeners", meaning those people with no interest in sound quality, to observe this improvement. This level of improvement may or may not be "significant", depending on the priorities and the listening ability of the listener. However, regardless of their personal priorities, almost all audiophiles will now suffer if this level of improvement is removed from their system.
Example- Acapella TW 1S Ion Super Tweeters
Typical Verbal Reactions: Audiophile 1: "What I hear is a significant improvement for me." ///Audiophile 2: "I hear exactly what you hear, but it's not a significant improvement for me."
Level 5- The sonic improvement is now so obvious that it is literally impossible to ignore, even by "ordinary listeners". This improvement is now universally "significant", without qualifications; so all serious audiophiles will suffer from its absence. However, this improvement has still not quite reached the important and rare level of being "dramatic" in nature.
Example- ZYX UNIverse II Vs. "Original" ZYX UNIverse
Typical Verbal Reaction: "It's definitely a significant improvement, though I've heard a few improvements which were even larger."
Level 6- This level of sonic improvement is now much more than simply "significant" and/or "obvious", it is now "dramatic" in scale and effect as well. A serious audiophile lives to experience this level of improvement. Thus, it would be absolutely unthinkable for any serious audiophile to live without this improvement. This level of improvement is not uncommon during the early years of an audiophile's life, but it also become increasingly rare as they gain greater experience with a wider variety of components and systems. (Any audio reviewers, and especially those with considerable experience, who claim they hear "dramatic" improvements, on a routine basis, are not credible.)
Example- Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II Vs. "Original" Pure Reference Extreme
Typical Verbal Reactions: "Wow! Jaw-dropping! I'm blown away! I can't live without it!"
Level 7- The sonic improvement is "transformational"; meaning not only would it be completely impossible to live without it, but the improvement actually alters an audiophile's thinking and perspective on both their particular system and "Audio" in general. This is the rarest level of improvement, only experienced a few times in an audiophile's life. It is the unending desire, and quest, to repeat this intense experience which makes a person an Audiophile. "The stuff that dreams are made of."
Example- Reference Lenco L-75 Turntable/Graham Phantom (Supreme) Tonearm Vs. Forsell Air Reference Turntable/Tonearm
Typical Verbal Reactions: "I'm in shock! After hearing this, I'll never be the same again. I didn't even think this was possible!"
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 (Level 6) 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 Levels (3 to 5) do have smaller iterations (or degrees) within them. 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, 4 and 5 are all 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 model 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 January/February 2020 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 veteran reader sent me some information on some new (to me) isolation devices, which I am always interested in. I felt it should be shared, so below is his letter, with minor editing and my bold and a link as well:
"amcanaudio.com has footers, Lg and small, using a special formulated silicone, enclosed in a hard dense enclosure, which doubles the affect. The technology uses CNF isolation. Well, I took to reading about the technology, and CNF is the final answer to the industrial problem for vibration solutions and seismic damping for buildings.
So in playing around with multi constraint plinths, after about four tries I seemed to get the the right combo that render amazing timber and openness of tone. I was using panzerholtz and four layers of ply/mdf, 3.5 inches of plinth. I always felt my system was truncated in the upper high end. I managed to achieve 90% of what I was looking for... but still I was not satisfied. When I screwed the Amcan footers in, the first thing I noticed was not a quantum leap in Bass, but what seemed to be two octaves of High end.
Well, upon reading more about CNF isolation the surprise result was the dramatic lowering of extreme high end noise. Who knew? Also, I noticed stunning clarity, and tonal harmony. The owner claims they damp to 5 hz and lower. The silicone is quite compressible and with increased load the damping effect will increase in efficiency. They work they are amazing and the are under $100 per footer; High end at reasonable prices. The TT footers come with a leveler. The thread on the leveler is very loosy goosy, (Like the Stillpoints) and they don't cost $800 per. The audio bargoon of the century."
Amcan Audio Footers
1. Coincident PRE Mk. II Speakers "Doubled-Up" - The second pair (monitors only) arrived in the fall 2020 and were installed on January 3, 2021. I originally thought they were fully broken-in during the early Spring (250+ hours), but I was wrong, since they kept on subtlety improving (to 500+ hours). Meanwhile, the matching subwoofers eventually arrived in 2021 and were later installed on May 26th. I have delayed writing the review based on this moving target, though the basic structure and evaluation will not change.
2. "Ultimate Lenco" by Jean Nantais - The pandemic has severely delayed the actual delivery, installation and any serious evaluation to now sometime in late Summer 2021. I will also have to install a new (and longer) tonearm on the Ultimate, since it has an oversized ("transcription") platter. I chose the Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm after an extensive amount of research.
3. ZYX UNIverse Optimum Cartridge- This current ZYX top-of-the-line cartridge has been promised to me as a loaner. I decided to delay receiving and installing the Optimum until I have the new Lenco/Kuzma combination set-up and optimized. I want to hear the Optimum only after I am confident that I have heard both the Premium and the III at their very best, or there could be some unnecessary confusion and/or fallacy when evaluating the final results.
Latest Posting Schedule and Summary of the Above:
Late Summer 2021 - Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II Speaker "Doubled-Up" Review
Fall 2021 - Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm Review
Late Fall/Winter 2021 - ZYX UNIverse Optimum Review and Updates of Premium and III
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 pronounced, evident and important. In fact, I even coined a new expression for the concept of accurately (and completely) 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 honestly 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, enlightened me to 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 many decades now, that the more sensitive and experienced the listener, the more they will 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, like-wise, 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. Unfortunately, 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 single 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 volume 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 have 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 monetary 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 instantaneous and uninhibited dynamic shifts, which can 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 de-emphasis, 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, this may be considered as my personal, four leg "Sonic Stool" - Complete sound, Organized sound, Uncompressed sound and Level sound*.
*However, 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.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the March/AprilMay/June 2020 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 reader sent me a letter with his experiences with the Aural Thrills interconnect cables, which are somewhat rare and unknown to most audiophiles. I feel any relevant information on these unique cables should be shared. Minor editing and my bold:
"I hope you will find the following comments on Aural Thrills Audio cables interesting.
I live in England, and my music system is not particularly high end, consisting of an Esoteric X-05 SACD player, Townshend Allegri pre-amp, Red Dragon Audio Class D power amp, and a Michell Orbe turntable with SME V arm. The speakers are B&W 804S. I first came across your website about 15 years ago when I was looking for a new cartridge, and through you I discovered ZYX, though I cannot afford the more expensive models and am happy with something from the R100 range.
I read about the Aural Thrills Audio powered interconnect that you had found so effective. The valve-powered version that you tried is more expensive than I wish to afford, especially as shipping and taxes to get it here would increase the price by about 40%. Tom advised me that the battery-powered version would be good, and I was also interested in a cable caller Silver Tri-Brade, which Tom said would show great colour and detail.
When they arrived in January I first tried the silver cable from the SACD player to the preamp. It certainly provided detail and instrumental colour, but in some ways it seemed to dissect recordings. There was one piano CD in particular where the treble and the bass were exceptionally clear, but seemed to be entirely separate from each other with no atmosphere to the performance at all. There was also a tendency for notes in the range from roughly the E below middle C to the A above it to mask what was happening in the treble, when they should have been accompanying it. Obviously a period of burning in was required. I installed the battery-powered cable instead and connected the silver one to a 30-year-old Denon DCD1520 where it could be run in without being listened to.
The powered cable also displayed considerable detail without the initial drawbacks shown by the silver one, but the instrumental colour and character was less marked. After the silver cable had been run for about 100 hours (not enough to be fully burnt in, I know) I re-attached it to the SACD player. Things were now very much better. There is far more detail from most recordings than I have ever heard before. It's possible to hear exactly which notes a chord consists of, and to follow harmonies and counterpoint, to an unprecedented extent. The problem of the over-emphasized mid-range has largely (though not entirely) disappeared. There is also greater instrumental individuality and colour. I expect to hear more improvement as the cable is burnt in further.
I moved the battery-powered cable to run from the phono stage to the pre-amp. This improved the detail I could hear from LPs, though not to the same extent as with the silver cable and the CD player. I haven't been able to explore LP reproduction further as we will be moving soon and I have now packed the turntable in readiness for that.
Overall, I think these two interconnects are the best I have ever heard, especially the silver tri-brade, and for the price ($99 for the silver and $129 for the powered one) they are remarkable. Probably Tom's own design of plugs has something to do with it. At some point I should try one of the silver cables between the pre-amp and the power amp, and it will be interesting to see what degree of improvement that brings. The cables that the Aural Thrills replaced were a Snake River Audio Mamushi Signature interconnect between the SACD player and the pre-amp, and an Albedo Solid silver interconnect between the pre-amp and the power amp. Albedo is a Polish manufacturer not currently distributed in the USA." (3/21)
Aural Thrills Audio
A reader sent me some information concerning the DACT CT-100. No editing and my bold:
"One quick and hopefully interesting note. The Wytech Ruby phono module is just a DACT CT-100. The board looks completely stock. The manual is even the same. I believe the DACT is around $ 800 if purchased as a single unit. Maybe Wytech used something very special for their power supply, but readers should be able to come close for a fraction of the price." (4/21)
Personal Notes: I believe Roger Hebert, the designer/owner of Wytech, verified this reader's DACT CT-100 theory when I reviewed the Ruby. However, it is also true that Hebert is a brilliant designer of electronic power supplies, including outstanding build quality, so it will be extremely difficult for a DIY enthusiast to duplicate Hebert's total achievement with the Ruby. Still, the DACT CT-100 project is an interesting option for serious audiophiles on a budget.
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)
Coherent Speakers Model 15 (and other models)
Coincident (Total) Victory II & Pure Reference Extreme (and most of their other models)
Classic Audio Loudspeakers (All 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 & IBX-R4 (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 desirable qualities, still did not work well with low-powered SET amplifiers. I know this with certainty, because I tried them, more than once. The sensitivity was just too low. Merlin, themselves, used the excellent CAT amplifiers, which are pentode based and push-pull, at their audio show demonstrations. Merlin was a company that any serious audiophile should trust to know how to optimize their own speaker designs.
An Update and New Option...
There is a new version of "The Truth" line stage, which has been designated as the "T5" by the manufacturer, The Horn Shoppe. Unlike some earlier versions of "The Truth" (2016-18), Ed Schilling (the owner of The Horn Shoppe) designed the T5 solo, on his own initiative, then built it and eventually informed us of its existance. Further, none of us has actually heard the T5 at this time. So, how does the T5 differ from previous versions of "The Truth"?...
The "T5" is basically a simpler version of the "T4", with an advantage and a (directly related) disadvantage. I will first illustrate their respective signal paths, both of them with gain, by using a step-up transformer (SUT), which will help to clarify the critical differences between them:
T4 Signal Path = RCA Input - Buffer - SUT - Selector Switch - Buffer - Optical Volume Control - Buffer - RCA Output
T5 Signal Path = RCA Input - Selector Switch - Buffer - SUT - Optical Volume Control - Buffer - RCA Output
Attentive readers will have noticed two important changes:
1. The selector switch on the T5 comes before the SUT and
2. There is one less buffer in the signal path (and, consequently, one less formerly required dedicated power supply).
The end results of these two changes: The T5 has a simpler signal path than the T4 (one less buffer), providing it with a theoretical sonic advantage. However, there is a corresponding (and inescapable) disadvantage: The T5 no longer has any "direct inputs", which bypass the SUT, while the T4 has both direct and "gain" inputs. (Their choice and options of outputs are unchanged.)
The choice between the T4 and T5 is pretty straightforward: If you require, or desire, some gain on all of your inputs, with no need of any direct inputs, than the T5 is obviously the best choice. Alternatively, if you want the flexibility of both gain and direct (no gain) inputs, than the T4 is the obvious choice.
With the introduction of the T5, it's now a good time to update the current versions of "The Truth" line stage (as of September 2021).
Overview of all recent (2016 to present) "The Truth" models:
T1/T2 - Both models are now discontinued. The T1 was the original version of "The Truth", now updated to the T3. The T2 was the first model with gain, which later evolved into the T4. Only one T2 was ever built. (Both of these models were reviewed, see below.)
T3 - My personal "Reference", which I presently use in my own system, also reviewed (see below). It has no gain on any input, and with a choice of inputs and outputs.
T4 - This version, owned by an associate, was in my personal system for over a year. Also reviewed, see below. The T4 is the only version with both direct and (a single) gain inputs.
T5 - All inputs have gain. No review as of yet, nor is one planned at this time.
Tx - The simplest version of "The Truth". One input only, so no need of a selector switch. In theory, this model should sound the best of them all (though very subtle), at the obvious expense of flexibility. I have not heard this model.
The Horn Shoppe
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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 March/AprilMay/June 2020 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.
I received this letter from a reader concerning the King Japanese pressings of classical Decca recordings. I felt it was informative and should be shared. Some minor editing and my bold:
"...I have been working with a Japanese classical collector who has helped me out a ton. According to him, there are 4 groups or variants to the London/Decca catalog in Japan.
1. Earliest - Decca UK masters and metal work shipped to Japan and pressed by King records, used Decca cover artwork, but with London Blueback coloring on rear of jackets, similar to the US released London FFSS bluebacks.
2. Early 70s to mid 70s - King Record made metal work and stampers, and pressed by King Records, not 100% though, this era was a mix of both Decca UK masters and King record masters and metalwork.
3. Late 70s (or about the time Polygram bought Decca) - Decca UK metal work and stampers, pressing shifted from King Record to another pressing plant; Polydor KK in Japan.
4. Early 90s to mid 90s, King Record - Japan mastering, metal work and stampers, pressed by King Records - resulting in the King Super analogue titles.
A few titles I have all 3 versions (Decca UK, London UK, King pressing and/or King Japan mastering and pressing, or Polydor KK pressing). On the titles where Decca UK cut the metalwork, they sound very close to UK titles, but are a bit quieter. on the King mastering, some are close and some are cut a bit hotter."
Further - My most recent column was devoted to a late critic of this website, Charles Hansen of Ayre Acoustics, who disclosed his true thoughts and feelings about Stereophile, John Atkinson and the audio press only a month before his death. It should not be missed: CHARLES HANSEN'S FINAL POSTS ON AUDIO ASYLUM.
Coherent Speakers (High-Efficiency Speakers) NEW 01/21
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