REFERENCE COMPONENTS THE SUPREME RECORDINGS MY AUDIO SYSTEM REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS' MISCELLANEOUS NEW LINKS USED COMPONENTS NOW ON SALE INTERNAL LINKS
THE SUPREME RECORDINGS
MY AUDIO SYSTEM
REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS'
USED COMPONENTS NOW ON SALE
This section contains ALL of the newest material before it is posted to the dedicated files. It will remain here for around 12 months. So readers can now find the latest observations, news, opinions and thoughts in the fastest time.
Caveat 1- Readers should always keep in mind that the material which is most recently posted is also, generally speaking, the least reliable. It is usually, though not always, my (or our) "first impressions". Sometimes it will be an a simple update, which of course is usually more reliable. In any event, I may further edit, quite liberally and without any notice or warning, anything you may read here.
Caveat 2- A good number of the posts below are by Anonymous Readers of this website. They are separated from my own posts (*******), and should never be considered my own personal evaluation, belief or recommendation. In many cases, I will add a "Personal Reply" to the reader's letter. If so, my contribution will be the only editorial part of that post that I take personal responsibility for.
I have made these letters public because I feel they may be interesting and informative to some readers. I also like an exchange of observations, evaluations and ideas, even when I disagree with some of them. However, readers >must always consider the extent of the previous experiences of the anonymous writer. Serious thought should also be focused on the writer's actual objectivity and their sonic priorities. All of this background and perspective is obviously relevant and critical, and can be extremely difficult to evaluate within a short anecdotal observation. A continual skepticism in our audio world is a perspective that is difficult to argue with.
1. Awful Weather - The atrocious weather, which arrived much earlier than normal this year, also stayed around much longer. However, while the unusually intense heat has remained, the more dangerous storms have now quieted down. Accordingly, I have now finally been able to at least partially break-in the new PRE II speakers (see below), plus almost fully break-in the Statement speaker cables.
2. "The Truth" T4 - This component has now been built and is currently (October 2018) being broken-in by the manufacturer, Ed Schilling, who informed me that he is very impressed with it so far. The details are to come, but I can inform you now that Schilling was able to build the T4 using only ONE case (including all the transformers, remote volume controls and power supplies), and without any compromises of any type (though the single T4 case is deeper than the now standard "Truth" that I own, the T3).
3. Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) Mk. II - Even though the PRE II speakers were not brand new when I first received them in February (I purchased demonstrators), I was informed by the manufacturer that they still required considerably more hours for full break-in and optimization, and this caveat has since been confirmed by my own experiences with them.
Further, the PRE II, both the subwoofers and monitors, were compromised in route by the shipper (UPS). I was able to repair (and even improve) the subwoofers on my own, but the PRE II monitors had to be shipped back to the manufacturer, since the work required greater skill and I also wanted to be absolutely certain that they would be performing at their highest potential level. The monitors have now been back for a few months and I have been able to finally play them on a regular basis. At this is written, October 2018, I now have over 200 hours of play on the monitors (though far less playing hours on the subwoofers). So, where do we stand...?
I still can't provide a comprehensive report on the PRE II with confidence at this time. I won't even begin the process until I have another 100 hours of play on them. I also require the added input of at least one other experienced and objective listener, whom hears them at their best. However, I can now go further than I did three months ago: The PRE II speakers, both the subwoofers and the monitors, are a serious improvement over the original PRE. In fact, the Mk. II Upgrade (from the manufacturer) may be the best upgrade choice for most owners of the original PRE. (I will go into further detail about possible PRE "Upgrades" in my report, since I have given this serious issue a lot of thought.)
As I wrote above, the full scope and degree of the sonic improvements will only be revealed when the speakers are fully broken-in, optimized and auditioned with the both the most subtle and the most challenging of recordings. I assume that all of this will occur sometime this Fall. Finally, I must eventually audition the PRE II speakers "doubled-up" (stacked pairs), and also with the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters as well. In conclusion, this entire PRE II speaker replacement process is a serious project which will take many months to complete to my normal standards.
This is my best attempt at describing the different levels of improvement an audiophile may hear and observe during a comparison (assuming they actually exist in the first place). I also provide some examples that we (myself and one, or more, of my associates along with me) have experienced in the last few years, which will change over time to keep them recent and relevant.
The actual observations will constitute an objective reality to the listener. However, the listener's reaction to those same observations will, of course, always be personal and subjective, and may differ greatly from my descriptions, and from other audiophiles. In fact, in my experience...
For the most fanatical and enthusiastic audiophiles, a Level 3 observation may still trigger a Level 5 reaction. In stark contrast, some "objectivist" listeners will only acknowledge Level 1 to 3 improvements (at most!) to any component they hear, with the one exception of speakers, and react accordingly.
Important Note - It has been my long-term observation that it's easier to hear an improvement in sonics than to hear a deterioration. This is true, in my experience, for both veteran and novice audiophiles. This general rule is the reason why cartridge and tube deterioration, and many other sonic problems (some temporary), are not quickly recognized. This improvement/deterioration rule is also the foundation of a "Level 1 Improvement" (see below), and why many audiophiles feel uncomfortable with blind tests: Confirmation of what you just heard isn't as obvious or easy as you expected.
Now, from the most subtle to the most profound...
Level 1- The sonic improvement can be subtly, though still consistently, heard when switching to the superior component (A/B). However, the reverse matching deterioration is not heard when switching back (B/A) to the inferior component.
Example- Ars Acoustica Prototype I.C. Cable Vs. Coincident Extreme I.C. Cable (between the Jadis phono stage and the line stage)
Level 2- The sonic improvement can be heard when both switching components and then when switching back, but it is no longer specifically (or easily) heard after a short period of time; sometimes seconds, but almost always less than one minute.
Example- Coincident Extreme Shotgun I.C. Vs. Ars Acoustica Prototype I.C. (between the Jadis phono stage and the line stage)
Level 3- The sonic improvement can be heard at length, but an effort may be required to listen specifically for it, so it may not be "obvious" or inescapable. This improvement may or may not be significant; meaning there's a chance that an audiophile may be able to remove this improvement from their system and still not suffer from its absence.
Example- "The Truth" T3 Line Stage Vs. "The Truth" T1 Line Stage
Level 4- The sonic improvement can be heard all the time, and without any effort, by an audiophile. However, it's still actually possible for it to be not heard by ordinary listeners, meaning those people with no interest in sound quality. This improvement is still "significant"; so a serious audiophile will almost always suffer from its absence.
Example- Acapella TW 1S Ion Super Tweeters
Level 5- The sonic improvement can be heard at all times by anyone with healthy hearing, including listeners with no interest in sound quality. The improvement is now always "significant"; meaning an audiophile can no longer enjoy their system without this specific improvement.
Example- ZYX UNIverse II Vs. "Original" ZYX UNIverse
Level 6- The sonic improvement is "transformational"; meaning not only would it be completely unthinkable to live without it, but the improvement actually alters an audiophile's thinking and perspective on both their particular system and "Audio" in general.
Example- Reference Lenco L-75 Turntable/Graham Phantom (Supreme) Tonearm Vs. Forsell Air Reference Turntable/Tonearm
These different levels do not correlate exactly with numbers or percentages. Personal preferences and a listener's subjective reaction always trump the listener's analytical judgment of a component's performance and whatever improvement(s) is/are noticeable.
As an example, let's say one component ("A") is noticeably superior to the Reference ("R") in 10 different areas, but only by approximately 1% in each case. In contrast, let's say a third component ("B") sounds the same as "R" in almost every way, but is better in one area by 5%. It is very possible that component "B" will still receive a higher level than "A" to the audiophile, especially if the improved area is more highly valued. In fact, it is not uncommon for some audiophiles to give up 1% of the performance across the board just to get that extra 10% improvement in the one area that really moves them and gets them "involved" with the music.
To make this more personal, I believe if I were to quantify the actual examples that were given above, the Lenco/Graham wouldn't receive the largest number, but I still feel it was transformative because it improved areas that broke new ground (for me), and which couldn't be replicated by any other component category (like going from a transistor amp to a good SET amp on the right speaker).
Also, while the first two Levels leave basically no room for "nuance", since they are so subtle and tightly defined to begin with, the medium and higher Levels (3 to 6) do have smaller iterations (or degrees) within them, such as 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2 etc. In fact, even a "difference in kind" still has some "variety" or a range, since their degree and impact are not all exactly the same, even if the practical end results are the same. Levels 3 and 4 are both very similar to each other, and the most common to experience when making actual comparisons. Further, a "strong 3" and a "weak 4" are basically the same in practice and interchangeable in effect.
Finally, below is how I used numbers to illustrate why I was so enthusiastic about the Graham Phantom Supreme compared to the earlier II it replaced, when the differences I described didn't appear to be that significant...
Let's assume the II is 95% "perfect", while the Supreme is 97% "perfect". Most audiophiles would agree that the difference between the numbers 95 and 97 is marginal. However, the difference between 5% (100-95) and 3% (100-97), which is a 40% reduction in imperfection, can be profound to an audiophile (or any "perfectionist" for that matter). Sometimes a change in perspective clarifies an otherwise confusing subject.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the July/August/September 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
1. Awful Weather - The atrocious summer weather, the worst I ever experienced in Florida, is now history. Accordingly, I have been able to substantially break-in the new PRE II speakers (see below), plus fully break-in the Statement speaker cables.
2. "The Truth" T4 - The T4 is currently (November 2018) being broken-in by the manufacturer, Ed Schilling (some details above). I will receive the T4 sometime in early December. My associate, who actually owns the T4, will also arrive in Florida sometime in December. We will thoroughly audition and test the T4 at that time. The report on the T4 should come out in late December or early January 2019.
3. Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) Mk. II - I now have more than 300 hours of play time on the PRE II monitors. I will shortly begin my most challenging auditioning and testing, and will report the results, observations and related thoughts and advice, in late December and/or January 2019. I will also have three other experienced and objective listeners available to assist me.
This important article will be reposted & updated annually...
This article is a summary of the cumulative observations and recommendations included within this website as concisely as possible. Below is the best advice I can provide as this is written and it will be updated if and when necessary. This summary will be relevant if the ultimate goal of the reader is to maximize the natural, accurate and complete musical communication that is possible with modern audio components. It is designed to work with the largest variety of musical software available to us today, and particularly if it is acoustical in nature.
I obviously realize that there are other serious alternatives, and with easily noticeable advantages to my approach. However, in my experience, they all have a larger number of serious compromises with a greater variety of music. Further, none of the recommendations I make below have to cost a huge amount of money, and all the steps can be made over a period of time.
1. The Analogue source should be an Idler-Drive turntable (or a Reel-To-Reel Tape Deck)
Explanation- Idler-drives have a fundamental sonic advantage over belt-drive turntables; speed stability, which is grossly under appreciated by most audiophiles. Idlers' inherent disadvantage, noise transference, has now been reduced to insignificance by using modern plinths, bearings and improved motor isolation. In short, idler-drives overcame their original problem economically, while belt-drives have not and (apparently) can not. (Direct-drives are still an unanswered question.) Reel-to-reel tapes have even more sonic potential, but they're a serious hassle to use for most audiophiles and good software is also extremely limited.
2. A Moving-Coil (or Strain-gauge or Optical?) cartridge
Explanation- Moving-coils have several technical advantages due to their low-mass and low inductance combined with higher overall energy output, making them worth the extra expense under most circumstances. Strain-gauge and/or Optical cartridges may have even greater technical advantages, but I haven't heard a modern version of one of them in a controlled environment.
3. The Digital source should use the highest quality (OEM) Esoteric Transport that is affordable
Explanation- Every outstanding digital player we have heard has used an Esoteric transport. Until computer audio is finally mature, an actual digital disc player is still the best and safest approach, which means an Esoteric transport should be part of the equation. There are usually many used Esoteric players for sale at large discounts. They are also incredibly well built and reliable, which is another important factor. Esoteric (OEM) transports are also used in non-Esoteric players as well. The DAC, after it inevitably becomes obsolete, can always be updated.
4. The Electronics should be Separates, and using Tubes, with the one possible exception of the bass amplifiers
Explanation- Tube electronics still have noticeable and important sonic advantages over even the finest transistor models. Separate components offer both the greatest potential performance and flexibility, including mono amplifiers.
5. The Speakers must be HIGH-EFFICIENCY AND BOTH Bi-ampable AND SET-Friendly
Explanation- All the finest systems I've ever heard were bi-amplified (with subwoofers). This is not a coincidence. When the amplifier driving the midrange and tweeters is not effected by the (sub)woofers (which would have their own dedicated amps), there are important (if not fundamental) sonic advantages that any audiophile can hear. Even if the bi-ampable speaker can not be bi-amped when first purchased (for whatever reason), that option is still available in the future.
SET amplifiers have important sonic advantages in the midrange and highs over any other amplifier design in my experience, especially with acoustical music. They have the lowest sound-floor and are the best "organized" (and music is simply "organized sound"). Even if a SET amplifier is not used at first, the SET-friendly speaker will provide that option in the future.
1. The SET amplifier, in a bi-amplified system, must use NO FeedBack, allowing it to become "Dedicated" with a simple capacitor modification
Explanation- Some audiophiles may consider this as more of a refinement, but I don't feel that way. The cumulative sonic improvements, discussed in the article linked to below, are easily observed and much too important to ignore.
2. Audiophiles should experiment with a Passive transformer, or a LDR, line stage/volume pot BEFORE utilizing a serious active line stage
Explanation- Most systems require an active line stage for optimum performance, but a passive line stage, or volume pot, can be used if the source has the required energy to directly drive the amplifier(s). If successful, there will be both improved performance and money saved, so an experiment is always in order. See the Link below.
3. Audiophiles should experiment with high-quality Super Tweeters
Explanation- Most systems require a good super tweeter for optimum performance. Proper set-up and implementation are critical for success, so time, effort and patience are required. See the Link below
4. Dedicated Digital Systems should always have the signal remain in the "Digital Domain" for as long as possible
Explanation- Digital's most noticeable sonic weaknesses occur during the unavoidable conversions: A/D + D/A. Thus the most rational strategy is to reduce these conversions to the bare minimum; only one A/D and one D/A if possible, by remaining strictly in the digital domain from the first conversion (software) until the second and final conversion. This strategy also minimizes the length of the analogue chain as well, which is another sonic benefit.
Individually, most of these refinements will be subtle in effect, but collectively they will almost always be significant in their effect. They are usually the difference between the "Excellent" and the truly "Great" Systems.
1. All Signal and Power Cables- As short as possible
2. Capacitors - Teflon in the direct signal path and all film (metallized) in the high voltage power supply
3. Exact speaker set-up and Room treatments
4. Acoustical Isolation of both the Sources and the Electronics
5. AC filtering and even AC regeneration if necessary
6. All records should be cleaned first with an Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning Machine
These are the articles and essays which describe and explain, sometime in great detail, the respective experiences and reasons why I specifically chose each of the "Structures" and "Bonus Suggestions" mentioned above:
"Reference" Lenco L 75 Idler-Drive Turntable (#1 "Structure")
DIGITAL SOURCES (#3 Structure)
Coincident Frankenstein 300B SET Amplifier (#4 & #5 Structures)
Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers (#5 SET-Friendly & Bi-Amping Structures)
Dedicated SET Amplifier Capacitor Modification (#1 Bonus Suggestions)
LINE STAGES (Active or Passive? #2 Bonus Suggestions)
Acapella Ion TW 1S Super Tweeter (#3 Bonus Suggestions)
A related article that will also be reposted & updated annually...
I decided to both expand upon, and yet still simplify, my earlier article, seen above, titled: Building a Great Audio System. This time I will argue that there is a single most important choice an audiophile can make when creating a great audio system or, at the least, creating the finest audio system for the least amount of money invested. That critical choice is unambiguously simple:
There are several practical reasons why this is the best choice a serious audiophile can ever make, as well as actual science to support it. First we'll focus on the practical reasons, which almost all involve maximizing the flexibility and the unlimited options resulting from this initial choice:
1. This choice provides the flexibility to choose any amplifier you prefer and can afford; low power/high power, tube/transistor, feedback/non-feedback, SET/non-SET or Class A or A/B or D. All these amplifier types are compatible with this choice of speaker. The amplifier choice thus becomes strictly one of audio quality, not quantity, which eliminates the frustrating compromises that other audiophiles must accept and live with.
2. With a high-efficiency speaker, other formerly impractical options now become possible. The system may no longer require the extra gain of an active line stage, which means a passive line stage, or a hybrid model like "The Truth", is now an option. Low output (analogue or digital) sources, which may sound "dead" with normal/average efficiency speakers, are now also options.
3. Bi-amping the speaker is also an option; now, later or never, with the added benefit that the speaker can utilize any combination of amplifiers, based on your own musical preferences and budget. Remember- Bi-amping is a "Structure of a Great Audio System".
4. Lower power, everything else being equal, also means lower cost, so there is even a monetary advantage to this important choice. (Passive line stages are also less expensive than equivalent active line stages, obviously.)
I have now lived with high-efficiency speakers for 25 years and I have never looked back. It is the most positively consequential choice I have ever made in my audio life. Countless other audiophiles have done the same, both before and after me, and it is unusual to learn of anyone who later reversed themselves. There are good reasons why these audiophiles remain "faithful": The advantages when using high-efficiency speakers are far too important in sonics, component flexibility and savings, to ever give up. Then there's the Science. It's all about Energy...
I am NOT a "scientist", though I do have a basic understanding of the science underlaying audio. Many other audiophiles can make the same claim as I, while others know far more about (audio) science than I ever will, but what I am about to theorize is something anyone can understand. My theory is based on an indisputable reality. Further, I believe it is rational, logical and thus irrefutable. Once again, it is founded on a simple truth and fact: High-Efficiency speakers require less energy to perform at the same level as "normal" speakers. Further, serious Audio is just about recreating, as closely as possible, the original energy, of the original performance, in your listening room.
High-Efficiency (HF) is the most important and critical advantage in audio. Why? HF speakers require less energy from outside sources to achieve the same level of performance. The energy from those "outside sources" is always imperfect and compromised. Accordingly, the less energy from "outside sources" included in the total energy created by the system, the less compromised the sound will be. And, to be clear, "outside sources" specifically mean electronic phono stages, DACs, active line stages and power amplifiers.
All of these electronic components are imperfect and "enemies" of music, though all of them are also unfortunately necessary for the reproduction of music using modern technology. In short, the less energy (or "influence") required from "outside sources" (electronic components), the higher the quality of total energy created by the system, everything else being equal. It's the classic "quantity versus quality" compromise and quandary.
To make my point as clear as I can, I need to use a highly unlikely scenario: Imagine a speaker with an unbelievable high-efficiency specification; let's say 130 dB/1 watt and, further, an ultra-low current requirement (while ignoring noise and other issues). Such a theoretical speaker could be driven by the preamplifier alone (or even the source*)! This scenario would actually eliminate power amplification all together. This is just a fantasy for now, but I'm arguing that even minor steps taken in this direction will have positive results.
*The ultimate scenario would be the phono cartridge directly driving the speakers, with the no electronics in between them. Only an attenuator would separate the two components. Anything else is a (necessary for now) compromise.
The less energy an audio system uses from "outside sources", the better chance that system has to be natural and faithful to the original musical source. So, the goal for serious audiophiles is simple: Reduce the energy required from your compromised outside power sources (AC), to the greatest degree possible. High-Efficiency speakers, more so than any other audio choice, achieve that goal.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the October/November 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
1. "The Truth" T4 - The T4 is now currently (January 2019) in my possession and has been fully broken-in. My associate, who actually owns the T4, has also now arrived in Florida, and we will thoroughly audition and test the T4 in late January. The report on the T4 will be posted in March 2019. I would like to post the T4 report earlier, and while this may still happen, the review of the component below (PRE MK. II) has precedence (and will be extremely time-consuming as well).
2. Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) Mk. II - The PRE II monitors were finally broken-in with over 370+ hours of play time. I have also now conducted all of my most challenging auditioning and testing on them. I am currently in the process of writing my report, with all the various results, observations and related thoughts and advice. This report will be posted in sections, beginning in early February 2019.
2. Coincident Statement Speaker Cable - The Statement speaker cables now have over 500 hours of play time. We will shortly make a direct comparison of the Statement with the Polk speaker cable and report back sometime in February 2019, along with a final summary of our Cable Survey, which began back in 2016.
The Weakest Link...
A few months ago, while casually listening to my system, going from CD to LP and back again, I slowly began to get the feeling that the records no longer had the sonic advantages I was accustomed to, despite the fact that no change had been recently made to either source. Was this my imagination or was it something else, rooted in reality? (I must first stress that I was not listening critically at that time, and definitely not directly comparing digital to analogue.) After some thought, I decided to conduct a minor experiment of sorts...
With the system shut down, I first removed the four cartridge pin connections and then immediately replaced them (without even cleaning the pins). I then turned the system back on and listened again to the same records I had most recently played. The Results - There was definitely a difference, and all for the better. The sound was a little cleaner, more immediate and with greater dynamic force. It wasn't a "big deal", but the improvement was still noticeable enough to replicate the sonic differences I had remembered and grown used to in the recent past.
After thinking about it a while, I realized that I hadn't touched (or "broken") the cartridge pin connections in something like 5 years. That's a long time, but not to be too hard on myself (or anyone else), it's very easy to overlook even the most critical connections when you are almost obsessively focused on other parts of your audio system, let alone the music itself.
So, if any reader is going through the same feeling I had; that their phono source is "falling behind" or sounding "stale", I would suggest looking at the cartridge pins connections, though always make certain that the system, or at least the amplifier, is shut down while doing so.
Virtually all audio connections can oxidize over time, which will obviously compromise them, so they must be "broken" first, and then re-attached, on a regular basis. Cleaning the connection is also sometimes necessary. The cartridge pins are usually the most difficult connection to maintain, and also the most vulnerable to damage (loosening) because of their tiny size, tight fit and delicacy, but they still require attention, as per my personal anecdote above. Just be ultra-careful, like a brain surgeon.
Finally, breaking and making a connection creates an unusually large electrical impulse, which is potentially catastrophic to the speakers, so the amplifiers should always be shut off (and discharged) during the entire process.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the December 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
An Important Development...
The (2017) Mk. II update of the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) speakers is a serious and important improvement over the original model (which I've owned for almost a decade). In fact, the overall extent, scale and scope of the sonic improvements, provided by the Mk. II, are unusually large, and hence requires more than just a simple and cursory description.
Accordingly, the review/essay of the PRE MK. II below is my best attempt to provide a thorough, useful and relevant perspective of these new models for both an original PRE owner, and for all current loudspeaker enthusiasts as well.
The "original" Pure Reference (a single enclosure, now long discontinued) joined my system in late 2007. The "Extreme" (two enclosure) version of the Pure Reference, which I had incessantly lobbied for, replaced the original model in late 2009.
Later on, in Spring 2010, I "doubled up" the Extremes, by stacking a second pair of the PRE on top of the first pair. Finally, in Spring 2017, I added a pair of Acapella ION Super Tweeters. Each of these three changes, all of which provided serious sonic benefits, are well documented, described and discussed in my PRE essay linked below.
All during the 8 years of the PRE's existance (2009-17), a number of minor changes were made to the speakers. However, none of these changes were truly significant enough, even cumulatively, to actually cause a change to the model designation. Finally though, in Fall 2017, it happened. Coincident made an announcement that a new version of the (two-enclosure) Extreme was now available. It was designated by the manufacturer as the PRE "MK. II". For all the important details of my history with the PRE...
Here is a direct link to My Comprehensive Essay/Review of the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers. I highly advise reading at least part of this earlier essay to fully understand and appreciate this current review, which is (or will be), in reality, just an (important) "Addendum" to the original essay/review. (Example; The original PRE review discusses my entire personal loudspeaker history, going back to 1972, amongst many other subjects and issues addressed about speakers etc.)
According to a phone conversation I had with Israel Blume, owner and designer of Coincident, and later confirmed on the Coincident website, there are several changes to the original PRE (which he feels are of "significant proportions").
1. The new Coincident Statement cabling will be used internally.
2. The Accuton ceramic midrange and tweeter are the latest improved versions.
3. The crossover components are also improved, along with some slight adjustments for further improvements.
The subwoofer also has a new inductor and the new internal Statement cabling. The selling price of the new Mk. II is $ 29,995 for a pair, which is $ 3,000 more than the final $ 27,000 price of the original Extreme. Blume claims that his costs for all of the various Mk. II updates are "substantial".
It must also be disclosed that the PRE II, both the subwoofers and the monitors, were compromised in route by the shipper (UPS). I was able to repair (and even improve) the subwoofers on my own (with the assistance of a neighbor), but the PRE II monitors had to be shipped back to the manufacturer, since the work required greater skill and I also wanted to be absolutely certain that they would be performing at their highest potential level. Thankfully, the monitors arrived back quickly, and even improved as well, so it's another satisfying "lemons into lemonade" audio experience.
I received the PRE II in February 2018. During the first listening period, between February and March 2018, I was only able to play the PRE II for less than 100 hours before I sent them back to the manufacturer. However, even then, we were still very impressed with them. When they returned, a long stretch of bad weather severely reduced my playing time, so it ended up taking more than 6 months for the PRE II to fully break-in.
I performed my most challenging listening tests and experiments when they reached 370+ hours. That number is the total hours of play from the time they were built. It even includes the hours they were initially used as demos by the manufacturer. While they were breaking-in, I could hear the PRE II improve over time, though most (and all) of the (significant) improvements were experienced in the first 200 hours. I felt the PRE II generally "plateaued" in performance once they were over 300 hours, and any changes I have observed after that were definitely subtle.
My very first sonic impression of the PRE II, of any type, was that it was "more immediate". Further, in an interesting confirmation, an "associate" visited me around two weeks later, and that was also his first impression, at least verbally. As per my usual auditioning protocol, his statement was purely spontaneous, and conveyed without any prior request or description from me.
However, this was just the beginning, because the PRE II has many other important sonic improvements when compared to the original PRE...
Transparency, Precision, Speed and Detail - The PRE II has greater transparency, enabling much more musical information to be heard, and discerned, in the back of the recording space (which now sounds, by comparison, "illuminated"). It is also faster, more precise and more detailed than the original PRE, and the improvements in these general areas were actually large enough, in at least in one instance, to be observed in another room.
Homogeneity and Separation - The PRE II is less homogeneous than the original PRE, which was aleady excellent in this regard. Using different, though directly related, audiophile terms; the PRE II is superior in separating the instruments and vocalists, both in the front and the back of the soundstage/recording venue.
Sound-Floor - The PRE II also has a lower sound-floor than the outstanding PRE, so more of the numerous subtle sounds of the recording, which expose and reproduce the "individuality" of the musicians, instruments and recording space, are now audible. This is so important because, with a higher sound-floor, this information would be otherwise forever lost. To be clear, the PRE II has the lowest sound-floor I've ever experienced (with the original PRE now in second place).
Dynamic Acceleration and Shifts - In a related area to the above, the PRE II is also a little more "dynamic", with more convincing "shifts" and an even less "mechanical" sound than before. It is important to note that this was another attribute in which the original PRE was already exceptional to begin with.
Bass and Cohesion - Maybe the single most important sonic improvement was in bass/midrange cohesion, which I (and especially my associates) have long felt was the original PRE's most easily noticeable "weakness". This particular improvement requires a detailed explanation...
The bass of the PRE II is significantly more detailed, tight and controlled than the original model. The new subwoofer is also a better sonic match with the PRE II's new midrange driver. This occurs despite the fact that the new midrange driver is itself now faster than before. This could only mean that the subwoofer improvement is even larger, or at least more noticeable, than the corresponding improvement in the midrange, because the critical sonic/performance gap between them has been greatly diminished.
In fact, the bass/midrange transition (and/or "cohesion") of the PRE II is at least as good, and maybe even superior, to any other speaker I've ever heard using dynamic drivers. Further, though not nearly as easily noticeable, the PRE II's midrange/tweeter cohesion is also improved, which is a surprising sonic bonus, since the original PRE was already the best I had ever heard in that regard.
To summarize and clarify this critically important subject: The PRE II is, by far, and without a doubt, the most cohesive multi-driver dynamic speaker I've ever heard or, in other words, the PRE II is the multi-driver system which comes the closest to sounding like a single-driver system.
Finally, I recently went back to my original review of the PRE, and I would say that while it still holds up very well, despite all the system changes and experiences since then, the one prior evaluation I now regret is that I over emphasized the strength and accuracy of the subwoofer/midrange transition. The PRE's bass/midrange transition was, and is still, excellent, but it was not as good as I described back then.
Soundstage and Focus - The PRE II's soundstage is slightly larger than the original PRE, though it's not as large, nor does it have the "scale", as the original PRE when it was "Doubled-Up". (I would estimate that the PRE II has around 20% of the PRE's "Doubled-Up" soundstage enhancement.) Much more important; the PRE II has substantially improved focus, and its "sense of space" is also noticeably improved. The end result = The various musical recordings reproduced with the PRE II are more intelligible and organized.
Purity and Cleanness - The PRE was already noted for its purity, but the PRE II is slightly improved even in this regard. I can now only compare the PRE II's cleanness to electrostatic speakers, and even then only at their finest.
Naturalness - The overall tonal balance of the two models is nearly identical but, even so, the PRE II still sounds more natural. I believe this is because of the combination, and the accumulation, of its greater purity, a lower sound-floor and even fewer micro-deviations in its frequency response.
The most obvious similarity between the two models is their appearance; they are virtually identical, though I will attempt to find a subtle difference which would make it easy (if not definitive) to distinguish them from each other. Also, as I mentioned above, the "overall tonal balance" is basically identical and, if there is a difference, too subtle for me to describe, at least for now.
The frequency range of the two speakers is also very similar, though I feel that the PRE II is slightly more extended, and open, in the extreme highs. Also critically important from a practical viewpoint; the PRE II is just as sensitive and easy to drive as the original PRE, which means that no technical compromise has been made to achieve the superior sonic results.
Finally, to be clear as possible, the PRE II does not have even one disadvantage, even insignificant, when it's compared to the original PRE; in sonics, aesthetics or drive capability. (Though, of course, the selling price has risen.)
I listen to the PRE/PRE II using the monitors "solo" (with the subs off) most of the time, and it's possible that other PRE owners share this proclivity to some degree, so it may be important for those listeners to learn that the PRE II monitors go a little lower in the bass. Accordingly, the PRE II monitors now sound more "full-range" on their own, though this is, obviously, a relatively minor advantage when compared to all of their other sonic improvements.
Further, it required around 300 hours of play before the PRE II monitors broke-in sufficiently to observe the improved bass extension. In fact, they actually sounded leaner in the first 100 hours or so of play.
In my initial review of a decade ago (links above and below), I compared the original PRE to the best speakers I had heard in the (generally accepted) most important sonic categories. Those performance evaluations will now be updated for obvious reasons, but my previous sonic "References" will not be changed, due to the fact that I haven't had the opportunity to hear, with my own ears, any improved standards during this period.
I have already sufficiently discussed several sonic categories above, so I will try to avoid repeating myself, but others require greater detail and perspective:
Immediacy and Purity - The PRE II is superior to any dynamic system I've heard in both of these categories, and it's extremely close to the finest electrostatics ever made (Martin-Logan, Audiostatics, Stax etc).
Soundstage and Focus - The PRE II is now "competitive" with, and only slightly bettered by, the finest omni-directional speakers in focus, such as the Morrison and MBL. In other words, the PRE II no longer has a noticeable disadvantage in this category, as did the original PRE. Further, its soundstage is as good as the finest I've heard. Bottom Line - With the exception of slightly inferior focus compared to the finest omnis, the PRE II is at least equal, and almost always superior, to any speaker I've heard.
High-Frequency Reproduction - The PRE II is improved in this area; in purity, speed and extension, but it's obviously not in the league of the best tweeter ever available; the Acapella Ion Super Tweeter. The PRE II has the finest dome tweeter I've yet heard, but I don't believe it is the very best available of its type either. However, none of the superior dome tweeters I'm aware of possess the core strength of the PRE II's tweeter, which is its unprecedented ability to provide a near perfect cohesive match with its corresponding midrange driver. This capability is much more important, in its effect on overall sonic performance, than just simply improved speed and extension.
Bass Reproduction - As I explained above, I overestimated the quality of the bass of the original PRE in my initial review. However, my evaluation error was relatively small, so it took a number of changes (improvements) in my system, over a 10 year period, to finally expose it. So, how does the PRE II's (improved) bass reproduction compare to the best I've heard, with my perspective of today? Actually, it ends up being in almost the exact same position as was the original PRE: The best, overall, I've heard. Why?
Further Explanation: The Original Apogee Speaker, now almost 40 years old, is still my ultimate bass frequency "Reference", since it is unsurpassed in all these important areas: Impact, definition, immediacy, control and linearity. The Apogee's only weakness is that it doesn't extend down to a useful 20 Hz. If it did, it would be "the best" period, even after all these decades, and without any qualification (except it is extremely difficult to drive). Of all the speakers I've yet heard, the PRE II comes the closest to the Apogee in its strengths, while simultaneously still extending down to a solid 20 Hz.
Tonal Consistency, Naturalness, Inner Detail, Transparency - The PRE was already equal to anything I've heard in all these areas, and the PRE II has even improved on those high standards.
Dynamic Response or Scale (Soft and Loud) - The best horns (Avantgarde Duo/Trio) still have an advantage in dynamic acceleration in the midrange and highs. However, the PRE II is dynamically consistent in the full-frequency spectrum, unlike horns, which almost always have dynamic response problems at lower frequencies. The PRE II is the most "dynamic" speaker I've heard full-range. I further believe that only the top Avantgarde models, and even then only with their "Basshorns", will outperform them in this category.
Sound-floor, "Completeness" and Low-level Information - The PRE II is the finest speaker I've heard in these related categories, period. (The original PRE was the best.)
"Individuation" - Is the vitally important (and rarest to achieve) ability to individualize each and every musical instrument, voice, recording space, LP/CD, and even each separate cut of a LP/CD. It is actually the end result of the cumulative ability to excel in each of the other categories already discussed above. The PRE was already the finest I've heard in this category and the PRE II is even better.
For some readers, it may be possible that a "numbers only" experiment will further clarify my sonic assessment of the PRE II. Why? Numbers are the most precise descriptive method possible if the goal is to objectively evaluate the performance of the PRE II in relation to all the other speaker I've heard. However, there must be a prior understanding that the numbers will also be completely consistent with my subjective (word) descriptions and evaluations, previously posted above.
First, the (completely arbitrary) parameters: Imagine 10 individual "Performance Categories" and a scale of "1 to 100" in each Performance Category, with "1" being "Atrocious" (or the worst performer imaginable) and "100" being "The Best Possible Performance" (at our current level of technology). This would mean that the highest total score possible (in theory, but not in reality) would be "1,000" (10 X 100).
Some Examples: Using this system, while also being consistent with my previous posts, the Morrison speakers would score the highest possible "100" in an "Imaging and Focus" category, and the original Apogee would also score a 100 in a "Mid-Bass Impact" category. So, using these categories and scales, where does the PRE II stand in comparison with all the speakers I've heard?
I have no idea what the PRE II's actual exact final score would be out of a possible 1,000, and I don't want to even take a guess at it. However, the combination of my experience with the PRE II, along with intellectual consistency, inevitably leads me to two strong convictions:
1. The PRE II will have the highest total score of any speaker I've ever heard (it will be the closest to 1,000), and from a more subtle (and contrarian) perspective, though maybe even more important to some ultra-critical listeners...
2. The PRE II's lowest individual score, of the 10 categories, will be higher than any other speaker's corresponding lowest score.
This is an important achievement, and much more than just a back-handed compliment. It means that the PRE II's most noticeable "Weakest-Sonic-Link" (whatever it is) will be less "noticeable" than any other speaker's "Weakest-Sonic-Link". In actual practice then, the PRE II is the speaker that is the least likely I know of to be "annoying" to an ultra-critical listener.
There are three (major) upgrade options for the current owners of the original PRE. I have been fortunate to have experienced all three options in my own system over the last decade.
Here they are in the exact chronological order they were implemented by me:
Option 1. "Doubling-Up" the PRE by purchasing a second pair and then placing that pair on top of the original pair (both monitors and subwoofers).
Option 2. Adding the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters to the PRE (while rolling off the PRE's own tweeters at the same crossover frequency).
Option 3. Upgrading the PRE to the PRE II by sending them back to the manufacturer.
I have had extensive experience with all 3 options. Further, I can confidently state that each of the 3 options has large and, importantly, unique sonic attributes and advantages, which are not matched, or addressed, by the others. Accordingly, there can never be one "right choice" for everyone.
To simplify the three Options' respective sonic advantages, and the resulting audiophile dilemma:
Option #1 has an unmatched and thrilling sense of scale, size and weight, plus a deeply satisfying quality of "effortlessness", and even (3 db) greater sensitivity.
Option #2 is unmatched in openness and high-frequency purity, speed and extension.
Option #3 has the most midrange immediacy, best focus, superior reproduction of the bass frequencies and the most cohesive bass/midrange and midrange/tweeter transitions.
In short, no one option of the three will sound superior, overall, to other two options with all the vastly different types and genres of musical recordings, let alone their varying quality. This means that each of these three options, along with their sonic benefits, will also have inherent sonic compromises, which all serious audiophiles loathe.
So, if this will help, I will now answer "the big question": What would I do myself, if I was (theoretically) forced* to make only a single choice of the three available options?
After considerable thought, and even discussion, I would choose Option #3; upgrading to the PRE II. Why? In the end, it was actually simple for me: For most of the wide variety of music I play, and for the vast majority of time within these recordings, the PRE II will outperform the other two options. In fact, I actually slighlty prefer, overall, the PRE II (Option #3) to Option #1 and Option #2 combined.
What about Option #2? Not a chance. At best, the sonic advantages of the Ion Super Tweeters (with the PRE) would only be showcased and thus preferable, overall, to the PRE II, with some relatively rare recordings.
What about Option #1? This will be the really excruciatingly tough choice for many audiophiles. There is no doubt in my mind that on many recordings (Mahler, large symphonic works, rock concerts, some electronic music etc), the PRE "Doubles" will be more thrilling and satisfying overall than the (single pair) PRE II. Further, the "Doubles" have the extremely rare ability to "overwhelm" you, and this can be an exhilarating experience for many audiophiles. In fact, once experienced, being overwhelmed can be almost (literally) addicting.
However, for me (and I suspect a majority of serious music listeners), only a small minority of my large collection of recordings can take specific advantage of "The Doubles" sonic strengths in size, weight and scale. And further, I believe even those special recordings will still sound superior with the PRE II most of the time. It will usually only be in those "big moments" of the recording when "The Doubles" will really shine.
Still, I realize that Option #1 ("Doubling-Up") will be the best choice for those audiophiles who place the highest sonic priority on size, weight and scale, and/or whose dominant musical tastes (and corresponding music collections) favor the recordings that can take advantage of the unique strengths of "The Doubles". For these audiophiles, "The Doubles" will be their no-brainer first choice and their only logical and satisfying option.
*I, very fortunately, do not have to make this awful (and even cruel) choice. I already own the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters and I also plan to eventually purchase a second pair of the PRE II, allowing me to then double them up. (Yes, it is actually "cruel" after you have heard all three options in your own system!)
The Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II is an significant improvement over the original PRE model. This review explains the critically important "why" and "how" details of the PRE II sonic improvements. Further...
The PRE II is the least compromised commercial speaker system I have yet experienced, of any type and at any price. To be clear, with the majority of my recordings (both analogue and digital), and during the majority of the time, I prefer the PRE II to my previous "Ultimate Reference": The "Double PRE", even with the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters. Also important, the PRE II is just as easy to drive (SET friendly) as the original PRE.
Finally, I always make an effort to avoid repeating myself, but I am not able to improve on the conclusion of my original PRE review (links above and below), so here it is, with some minor updates and edits:
"...I feel it is possible, and necessary, to condense the entirety of this review into two simple sentences, which are both personal observations and opinions:
1. The Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II does more things 'right' than any other speaker I've heard (it's the most 'complete' or 'natural').
2. The Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II also does less things 'wrong' than any other speaker I've heard (it's the most 'accurate')."
As outstanding performers as they are "stock", and as dominating as I feel they are at their current price range, it is still important to note that the PRE II is also not a "dead-end" purchase. This is a significant factor for those serious (and even obsessed) audiophiles, like myself, who are always looking for further improvements, or the "next step", in the near and/or far future, no matter how currently satisfied they are with their system. The details...
The PRE II can still be noticeably improved with the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters. I already know this for a fact, from my direct experience (see below), and I've further had four veteran listeners observe these specific super tweeter improvements for confirmation. It's true that these particular ion super tweeters will be expensive, and they will also be a hassle to optimize, but when any system, such as the PRE II, is already at the highest level of audio reproduction, further serious improvements are rarely easy and economical.
Then there's another improvement, which I have not heard yet. This improvement will most likely be even more easily noticeable than the super tweeters, and even more important in the reproduction of music. Unfortunately, it will also be much more expensive to implement. Of course, I'm referring to a second pair of the PRE II, which will be stacked on top of the first pair (as I did with the original PRE).
A "Double PRE II Super-System", as I have just described, already exists. It is currently being enjoyed by Israel Blume, the owner of Coincident, and also the fortunate guests (and customers) who have the opportunity to visit him. To relay our relevant conversations: Blume is convinced that "doubling" the PRE II makes an even larger and consequential sonic difference/improvement than doubling the original PRE and, of course, he has heard both respective "doublings" extensively, since he has actually lived with them. Accordingly, then...
My Obvious PRE II Future - I will eventually join Blume's (presently) exclusive "PRE II Doubles Club", though I don't know when this will occur. I do promise that when (not if) this happens, I will report back with all the pertinent details.
I installed the Acapella super tweeters two times; first at around 100 hours of play and later at around 400 hours of play, when I felt the PRE II was basically fully broken-in. I used the same 5K crossover point as before, and once again positioned the super tweeters on the top of the subwoofers, with similar isolation platforms.
In both instances, the sonic improvements were heard immediately, and the ion tweeters were an even better cohesive match than before. However, the degree of improvement was not quite as large, or as easily noticeable, as it was with the original PRE. I assume this is because the new PRE II tweeter has superior high-frequency performance, which thus slightly reduces the previous sonic performance gap between them. This then inevitably brings us to...
"The Big Question": Are the Acapella Ion Super Tweeters still worth it with the PRE II? Yes!
I used numerous records and CDs, over many months, to make my sonic evaluation of the PRE II. I also kept some detailed notes on a few of my most critically important reference LPs, which were evaluated only after the PRE II was completely broken-in. I always keep my listening notes completely private, since they are my initial, unfiltered and spontaneous "gut feelings and thoughts".
However, I have decided to experiment in this review and share my private notes with the public for the first time. Why? I believe it's possible that some readers may gain further insight into my evaluation and thinking process, as well as enhance their interpretation of this PRE II review.
The notes were all written down during the actual auditions, and without any edits. I realize that these notes may be confusing and/or difficult to understand for some readers, since they are without any context and/or perspective, with atrocious grammar, and also written in figurative "shorthand", but they should all be consistent with the edited descriptions of the PRE II posted above. So, the readers of this section can now decide whether an act of self-indulgence, and being actually helpful, are mutually exclusive, or not...
Medieval Xmas Music/Nonesuch - echoes and decays are incredible! - separation of chorus!
Sing We Noel/Nonesuch - 1st Cut- "Continuousness" analogue strength
Lucia Hwong/House Sleeping Beauties/Private - "sense of space", In general - like (ZYX) UNI 1 Vs. UNI II - Greater Precision and focus and Immediacy - Less diffuse than "doubles"
Arabo-Andalusia/Harmonia Mundi - always an improvement, sometimes top to bottom, sometimes just focus - bass! - Lower, softer listening levels never so realistic and satisfying
Thibaut/Harmonia Mundi - difference between lps/cuts easier than ever to hear
China/Vangelis/Polydor - focus during movement - 1st cut!
Pfitzner/Songs with Orchestra/EMI Germany - still missing size and scale and weight compared to "doubles"
Other Random Listening Notes - Without Specific LPs - Most cohesive 3-way I've heard - bass decays ultra-defined, with impact and power - "illumination", like a light turned on in the back - both "big picture" and tiny details are "there" and obvious - the more "legato", the greater the sonic differences between analogue and digital - never felt more "transported to LIVE" - Analogue vs Digital: analogue still has advantage in "continuous presence", PRE II makes this more obvious.
Bonus! - Direct Quotes from my (most Ultra-Critical) "Associate" - "amazing change"; "a major achievement"; "Better in every way"; "Faster and more open"; "largest improvement in midrange, plus bass transition"; "tweeter improvement is much smaller, and not as important".
These are the current prices, direct from the manufacturer, in United States Dollars, as of April 2019.
Price Brand New- Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II - $ 29,999 - includes freight.
Pure Reference Extreme - Mint Condition - $ 16,500 - plus all freight.
PRE to PRE MK. II- $ 11,999 /pr - plus all freight.
Monitors Only - $ 7,500 /pr - plus freight.
Subwoofers Only - $ 6,000 /pr - plus freight.
Coincident Speaker Website with Further Information
My Comprehensive Review of the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers
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 January 2018 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
An Important Update...
I recently received this letter from Doge Audio, which concerns the latest news on their well-known and outstanding preamplifier, the Doge 8. There's some minor editing and my bold:
"Below are some updates for the Doge 8 that you might like to include on your website, the main one being:
The new link (the old one is defunct) for the Doge 8 is: Doge 8 Preamplifier
The 2019 version has the following improvements which address some of your criticisms:
-UK Clarity Cap ESA model coupling capacitors.
-Adjustable sensitivity, impedance and capacitance for the phono stage.
-A fixed level output in addition to the two variable level outputs.
-A factory fitted tube upgrade option to Psvane TII tubes at a competitive cost.
On a personal note, I use the latest version of the Genalex Golden Lion 12AX7 in the phono stage of my Doge 8 to very good effect and at an affordable price. Its performance certainly surpasses the performance of my erstwhile BAT VK-P5 phono stage in every respect, but especially in that of reducing the noise floor.
Also, I have recent reports that the latest Electro-Harmonix Gold 12AU7 EH (available in limited quantities) approaches the sound of some NOS tubes at a fraction of their price. Maybe one to mention to your associates to look out for?"
I devised "The Bolero Test", in the early 1990s, as a safe and definitive method to discover, in your own system, if the volume of the source(s) is able on its own, without any gain from a line stage, to reach a satisfying level. The test's main advantage is that it can be conducted without (and BEFORE) making a purchase, or any change in the system. The Bolero test requires only tape outputs on a preamplifier (or a mute on a phono stage) and a minimum of audio experience. The reader below has some further information, which was new to me. There's minor editing, and my bold...
"I read the Bolero test and would like to suggest an alternative. There are many basic passives out now that are less than $50 and you can DIY a basic unit for about $20. My first passive cost me $2 for a basic Alps pot. I got 4 RCAs from my junk box. Here is the $49 Schiit Sys, which is a usable introduction to the passive sound.
Replace the current volume control or preamp with the basic passive. One at a time connect your sources and see whether you can reach your preferred volume or not with each device. Once you have that knowledge, you can decide if any of your sources need to be replaced and evaluate your cost of going passive. This way nobody will be taking a chance on missing a step in your Bolero procedure.
My two main sources have 15 ohm (phono) and 200 ohm (DAC) outputs going into 100K Consonance Cyber 211 monoblocks, so I am definitely in the passive camp."
Personal Reply - The reader's suggestions are alternatives only. Why? They do not replace "The Bolero Test", because they require some (minor) expenditure, extra cables and, in once instance, DIY skills. However, his alternatives are still of value since, as he points out, they are now economical and also much more easily available than they were 25+ years ago.
REFERENCE LINE STAGES (includes "The Bolero Test")
Decades ago, I was a Counterpoint dealer. I felt at the time, and still do, that they were a highly innovative and value-priced company. I was very sad when they closed down, and I've been on a "mission" since then to ensure that they will never be forgotten. Recently, a long-time reader sent me an email with information that may prove useful for the owners of some of their excellent amplifier models. Here it is, with some minor editing and my bold:
"...My current system consists of a Rega Planar 3 into an Aragon 47k; A Theta Data into an Aragon D2A; those feed the Perreaux SM6 preamp which feeds the pair of Counterpoint SA-220s (as detailed later). Speakers are Thiel CS 2.2s.
Back in the late 80's/early 90's, I bought (new) one of the Counterpoint SA-220 amps. It was from a retailer in CT (I can't remember their name) in a converted old house. So they had several listening rooms, set up in a real house. That was a cool concept that worked well.
Anyway, I went there to audition a pair of B&K monoblocks, which they had modified. At the time, that was the 'hot set-up' as reviewed by Stereophile, whom I was subscribing to at the time. They had them warmed up and ready to go for me, in a small room. It was wide, but the system was across from a couch on the long wall, so distance to speakers was small-ish. (I recall it twice as long as wide)
I brought my (still) reference CD of Robbie Robertson's first record (1987) and listened. It sounded good- certainly better than the Hafler amp I was using at the time. But there was a big, black amp on the rack, sitting cold and idle. So I asked about it. 'That's a Counterpoint. Very nice amps but they require us to sell so many units per month to retain dealer status, an we don't operate like that.' Long story short; I auditioned it, ice cold (only allowing the requisite warm-up mute period) and W O W was I blown away. Yes, it was a bit more (they did discount is slightly to move it), but it was another plane of existence. Same system and room otherwise- just the amp changed, Night and day.
Fast forward a few years and after a move, it wasn't working. So it went back to Mike Elliot for repair. It was an inexpensive repair (broken wire connection) and came back STILL not working- same connection from the transformer was a hair short, and would break during transport vibrations. I fixed it myself with his guidance, and it has been fine (including a couple moves) since. I added some silicone o-rings on the tubes because I got them free from work, and I had the top open anyway. Did it do anything? Who knows...
As you probably know, these can be bridged to monoblocks as well. Something ridiculous like 600W into 8 ohms or something. Borderline welding power supply. Anyway, I happened across a slightly newer (than mine) second SA-220 and contacted Michael to see about possibly upgrading them both or other options which might be available to me. He let me in on a secret- I don't know if this applies to all power amplifiers, or just his design*...
I am using a Perreaux SM6 preamp (which I thought I learned about from your site years ago, but I don't see it there now**) and all the inputs are single-ended; however, it has a set of balanced outputs. From these, I had some Mogami cables made which terminate with un-grounded (shield is floated at the amplifier end) RCA connectors. Per Michael's direction, I connect the "+" to the R+ input and the "-" to the L+ input. Speakers are connected to the "red" output posts respecting similar polarity as input.
This essentially creates a 440w monoblock, rather than bridging, which as I understand bridged amps, also doubles the noise and distortion of the amp. Using this method, the noise and distortion stays where it was/is and the available output power is increased.
A little background: I'm a drummer. Have been since age six in all sorts of bands marching, concert, jazz, progressive rock etc. I have a very good understanding of how a bass drum SHOULD sound. They have a whole lot more 'life' to them than one would be led to believe. Subtle harmonics across the sonic spectrum. Point: This is the first time I have heard bass drum reproduced convincingly. I think, if one has this amp, and can find another (in good shape) wiring them this way is well worth the price of admission."
*Caution - Make certain that the circuit of any Counterpoint amplifier is similar to the SA-220 before attempting the reader's wiring experiment.
**I was also a Perreaux dealer in the 1980s. I was impressed with how natural they sounded, especially compared to other transistor designs of their day. Even today, their power amplifiers and preamplifiers (as phono stages) are still listed as "References".
The speaker cable comparisons of the Coincident Statement with my long-time reference, the Polk, have finally been completed. There were three veteran listeners involved with the A/B tests (including myself), and the Statement cables had over 600 hours of play time on them, though I heard no further sonic improvements, even subtle, after around 500 hours or so. So, what were the results?
There was no definitive "winner". Both speaker cables were outstanding overall, and both had advantages/disadvantages when compared to the other. What a serious listener would prefer will depend on a number of factors, so the choice between them is complex. Here are the details that the three of us agree on:
The Statement cables are a little more "natural", harmonically rich and full-bodied (more "complete"), while the Polk is, to a slightly greater degree, faster, more precise and with greater detail (more "accurate"). However, it must be stressed that both cables are still excellent even in those areas where they are at a disadvantage, so there is no obvious sonic "weak-link" for either cable. This means a final preference will come down to several critical factors, with at least one (though probably two or more) of the factors relevant, depending on the listener and the system:
1. System Interaction - The requirements of the existing system, either to enhance, or hide, a sonic paramater(s), may be the deciding factor.
2. Musical Preferences - Some forms of music may be subjectively enhanced by one cable to a greater degree than the other.
3. Personal Sonic Preferences (or Priorities) - Which is obviously always critically important, and even...
4. Specific Recordings (and even cuts) - Even after a final choice is made, it's still possible, if not probable, that this preference can change depending on the specific recording being played, and even the different cuts of that recording.
It's not surprising that, based on the above observations, my personal choice was extremely difficult. In fact, out of curiosity, and admittedly some frustration, I actually played both the Polk and Statement cables simultaneously (meaning in parallel), to discover if I could combine their strengths, and mitigate their "weaknesses", at the same time. Unfortunately, this (admittedly desperate) experiment did NOT work. The actual outcome of the Polk/Statement Combo was sonic "confusion", like two people talking over each other at the same time.
This failure meant that I was now forced to choose between them. Fortunately, I could console myself with the realization that the sonic differences, in the end, were so minor, that I could either choose the Statement, and not miss the Polk or, alternatively, choose the Polk, and not miss the Statement (though only after a short period "to forget", in either instance). So, after all that, what speaker cable am I using, for now?
I am using the Coincident Statement, but I'm keeping the Polk! I feel, for now, that the Statement is the slightly better choice for most of my music, most of the time*, and for my current tri-amped system (where the ion super tweeters obviate the Polk's advantage in the extreme high frequencies). Finally, for the record, one of the other "veteran listeners" also preferred the Statement, while the other veteran listener preferred the Polk, so it was a "split decision" in favor of the Statement.
*I listen to the Pure Reference Extreme monitors solo most of the time (with the subwoofers off). The Statement cables extend lower in the bass than the Polk, so the monitors sound more full-range with them.
I promised when I started this cable survey, in 2016, that I would make an attempt at identifying "the most important cable", if that was possible. Well, after numerous comparisons, I have come to a conclusion that I have confidence in.
Assuming these important conditions are met:
1. A high-resolution system, which exposes a maximum of differences;
2. No disqualifying impedance, or other system, mismatches between the cable contenders;
3. Short cables used for every connection, 1 meter (or less) and a maximum of 2 meters.
By following these three conditions, no cable has an advantage/disadvantage, or is inherently more important, prior to the comparison, and any sonic differences should be noticeable. So, which cable is it?
Interconnects. Why? They are the only audio cable we have experienced, signal or power, that can provide a "dramatic" sonic improvement, though this is rare. Further, in general, the sonic differences between various interconnects are the most easily noticeable, and thus the most consequential in the long run.
I still have the Statement phono cables, from the tonearm to the MC SUT, to test. I already made an attempt after I broke-in the phono cables on a CD player, but I soon realized that I would have to change the loading of my MC SUT to optimize the Statement's performance, and I haven't had the time and/or opportunity to do so as of yet, due to other commitments. I have no firm schedule at this time for the next test, but I will get to them when my other commitments are finished.
Coincident Website with Further Information
Reference Speaker Cable File
My Audio System
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the February/March 2018 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
An Unprecedented Achievement...
"The Truth" T4 Line Stage fully equals the outstanding (and previously unparalleled) performance of the earlier "T3". This is not surprising, since their respective circuits and parts are exactly the same. However, there is still a major difference between the two models: The T4 also has a dedicated input, utilizing a step-up transformer (SUT), which provides 6 dB of gain. Further, to my (and my associates) utter and literal amazement, this SUT input is virtually indistinguishable when it is directly compared to the T4's other direct inputs. In short, the T4 has achieved something I never thought I would experience in my lifetime; near perfect gain, with almost absolutely nothing added or lost. This is why I describe this particular achievement as "unprecedented".
Now, how did we get here...
Our entire history with "The Truth" line stage, going back to 2015 (with the "T1"), can be read in this file: The Reference Line Stages.
To condense the recent history with "The Truth" line stage; the T4 is the updated version of the earlier "T2", which also had an input with a step-up transformer that provided gain (the T2 and T4 were purchased by an "associate", while I personally own a T3, which has no input with gain).
The T2, a two-chassis design, was a truly outstanding performer. It was as good a line stage, with gain, as we've ever heard (if not even superior), and at any price. However, its gain stage, even as superb as it was, still had various sonic problems, which were easily noticeable to us when it was directly compared to the T2's "direct" inputs. What was our reaction and response to this disappointment? Try using a different transformer! It took some time, but the T4 was eventually re-designed, built (in only one chassis!) and then broken-in.
I received the T4 in early January 2019. The T4 has 3 inputs; #1 SUT/Silver*; #2 Silver/Direct; #3 Copper/Direct. It also has 3 outputs; one silver and two copper (my T3 is slightly different: It has 4 inputs, one of them silver, and 2 outputs, one of them silver). The T4 was already well played, for more than 6 weeks, by Ed Schilling before it was shipped to me, but I decided to make absolutely certain that the SUT input (#1) was fully broken-in, so I added a few hundred more hours of play time on it by using a CD player on "Repeat".
*Details - The signal goes from the RCA input to an input buffer first, then to the SUT and then finally to the selector switch (which provides access to the main signal circuit). The SUT's input buffer has its own dedicated power supply.
We conducted countless listening comparisons, all in pursuit of the goal to observe and accurately describe any sonic consequences of the T4's SUT being in the direct signal path. Four highly experienced listeners made the comparisons. Our observations, and ultimate evaluations, are unanimous. We used an ultra-high resolution system throughout all the experiments, which remained constant. Below are the descriptions of our two most important experiments, in chronological order:
Experiment One - January 20 - My associate (who owns the T4) and I spent an entire evening making comparisons between Input #1 (SUT/Silver) and Input #2 (Silver/Direct), but we were never able to even once definitively distinguish them, no matter which LP was played. As an example, whenever we thought we might be hearing an actual sonic difference, I would make a slight volume adjustment and the difference(s) would disappear. We were both in shock at this (obviously) great achievement, but we were also of the opinion that these amazing results had to be "too good to be true", and so we decided to search for some oversight, and/or error, on our part which allowed such an unexpected outcome to occur (an outcome that we both had believed was technically impossible). I literally slept on the question and came up with a possible reason for the unexpected results the next day. I realized there could be a problem with the break-in process, which was not as thorough and complete as I had originally, and incorrectly, assumed.
Detailed Explanation - I was confident that Input #1 was fully broken-in (as was Input #3, Copper/Direct). However, I (and Ed Schilling before me) had put very few hours on Input #2 (Silver/Direct), which was the "Reference" that Input #1 (SUT/Silver) had been compared to in Experiment One. The reason why I had chosen Input #2, instead of Input #3, was because Input #2 also used silver wire, just like Input #1, thus automatically isolating the specific sonic effects of the SUT alone. If I had used (the fully broken-in) Input # 3 instead of #2, there would have been two material and sonic variables instead of only one (the SUT versus direct, as well as Silver wire versus Copper wire).
Accordingly, I spent the next three weeks breaking in Input #2 in the same manner, and with the same CDs, as I had earlier with Input #1. This then brings us to the next experiment, and this time there could be no excuses, qualifications or compromises, when it came to the results.
Experiment Two - February 18 - My same friend visited me again 4 weeks later, and while the SUT input was still almost indistinguishable from Input #2 Direct, this time we could hear some consistent sonic differences between them. The SUT very slightly veiled, and also softened and thickened* some (mainly percussive) notes, on high-quality recordings, in a manner very similar to good tube electronics when directly compared to good transistor electronics. The lowest bass notes were also slightly attenuated, maybe around 1/2 dB. That was it though, and I must also report that for most of the time, and with a majority of musical genres, the two inputs could still not be reliably identified.
Bottom Line - The sonic deterioration caused by the SUT input can only be described, at the very worst, as insignificant. Further, the T4's subtle sonic imperfections could only be heard with excellent recordings, while average/mediocre recordings sounded exactly the same on both inputs. Based on these results, I assume that the typical flaws of most recordings are so easily noticeable, and obtrusive, that they easily mask the relatively tiny flaws of the T4's SUT.
*My associate also felt that the T4's SUT Input could actually sound more natural than the "Direct Input" in certain instances, because it added "body" to some otherwise thin and lean recordings.
The T4 is, by an easily noticeable margin, the finest line stage, with gain, we have ever heard. In the end...
The T4 "project" was a greater success than we could have ever imagined when it began back in 2016. I want to be clear here. The specific term I used above to describe, overall, the T4's sonic flaws, "insignificant", does not do the T4 justice. In fact, despite being normally innocuous, or even flattering, in many audio contexts, using the word "insignificant", in this instance, actually exaggerates the T4's subtle flaws. Let me explain:
I have already had experiences, since 2010, with other line stages, both passive and active, which also had "insignificant" sonic flaws. The T4 is different from all of them, since its flaws are so subtle, if they're even noticed in the first place, that if they were further reduced, in even the slightest degree, it's possible, if not probable, that they would then be completely inaudible, under ALL current conditions. In short - In most serious audio systems, for most of the time, most listeners will not observe any sonic signature, artifacts or presence, let alone any actual sonic problems, with the T4's gain stage.
Finally, it may also be possible to create a 12 db gain version of the T4 (with a simple, reversible, wiring change with the same SUT). There will probably be a sonic price for this, but it should be quite tiny, since the T4 SUT has already proven to be an outstanding design.
Since the T4 was an experiment, financed by my associate, it is not yet a standard model available for sale by the manufacturer. In fact, there isn't even a projected price for the T4 at this time since, as far as I know, "The Truth" manufacturer, and the SUT manufacturer, haven't yet been in contact with each other. This unusual situation will be rectified sometime in Spring 2019. As soon as my associate facilitates the contact between the two manufacturers, and a firm price is set for the T4, it will be posted in this review. (Important - My associate has informed me that the T4's SUT is expensive, despite its small size, because it requires high quality wire and skilled labor to build.)
The Horn Shoppe (Home of "The Truth" Line Stage, plus high-efficiency speakers)
Ed Schilling's email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reference Line Stages
My Audio System
Because of its literally unprecedented achievement, gain with no sonic pain, the T4, and its no-gain sister model, the T3, must be considered in a class of their own. Accordingly, I have now updated and adjusted my list of Reference Line Stages to reflect their present unique status.
Class A (Upper)
"THE TRUTH" T4 & T3
Class A (Lower)
EMIA VOLUME CONTROL
"THE TRUTH" T1
PASS LABS ALEPH L
*There is now a Mk. II version of the Coincident Statement. We have not heard it.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the March/April 2018 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
Until I find a list which is more definitive, and objective, here are some speakers that I, and mainly the Readers of this websire, have found to work very well with low-powered Single Ended Triode (SET) amplifiers;
AcuHorn rosso superiore175
Affirm (formerly Maxxhorn) Lumination & Immersion
Apogee Acoustics Definitive Ribbon Speaker (very expensive)
Aspara Acoustics HL1 Horn Speaker
Audio Note ANE SEC Signature
Avantgarde Duo and Trio (All Versions)
BD-Design Oris and Orphean Models
Bottlehead Straight 8s (Discontinued)
Brentworth Sound Lab
Cain & Cain BEN ES (and other models)
Cardersound Madison (Single-Drive Back Loaded Horns)
Coincident (Total) Victory II & Pure Reference Extreme (and most of their other models)
Decware (Various Models)
(DIY Hi-Fi Supply) Crescendo Ribbon Horn Speaker System
Fab Audio Model 1 (Toronto, Canada)
FAL Supreme-C90 EXW or EXII
Goodmans of England 5 or 612s
Hawthorne Solo and Duet
Horn Shoppe (Two Models)
Horning Hybrids (Various models)
Klipschorn and La Scala (All Versions)
Living Voice OBX-R2 (UK)
Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo
Omega Speaker Systems
Pi Speakers (Various Models)
ProAc Response Two*
Reference 3A MM de Capo i
RL Acoustique Lamhorn 1.8 (Montreal, Canada)
Sonist Concerto 2
Sunlight Engineering 308
Supravox Open Baffle
Teresonic (Various Models)
Tonian Acoustics (Various Models)
WLM (Various Models)
*Recommended by a reader and Gordon Rankin (Wavelength Audio), a veteran expert SET designer, despite its 86 dB sensitivity.
I would appreciate finding out about any other models, that readers have actually heard for themselves, to add to this list. This list is not a temporary project. It will be kept permanently in the Speaker Files. Further, don't expect to see the speaker models posted here a day or so after your e-mail is sent to me. Please remember that I'm usually behind in ALL my correspondence, including even the brief and helpful information letters. I will keep my own "SET friendly list" because at least one list should have no commercial foundation, temptations or considerations**.
Important- I would like to know if any of the above models can be bi-amped. This is critical, because I am convinced, based on decades of experience, that speakers with the capability of being bi-amped have far superior potential, assuming everything else is equal.
**For example, another website placed the Merlin speakers on their list, which, despite all their enviable qualities, 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.
Coincident Speaker Technology has recently announced two new amplifier models, one of which is an updated version of an existing model. Below are some of the basic details, plus my future plans concerning them...
1. Frankenstein Mk. III - The "III" is an updated version of the "II", which itself replaced the (2007) "original model" back in 2010. According to Coincident's website, the Mk. III has incorporated a generous number of improvements:
-Larger power supply, with improved voltage regulation
-Better quality resistors and capacitors
-Coincident "Statement" internal wiring
-Upgraded output transformers
My Current Plans - I should receive a Mk. III pair sometime in the Fall (2019). I will directly compare them to my current (Reference) Mk. II, with all of the amplifiers completely "stock". I will also later compare the two models a second time, but this time using .01 uf coupling capacitors, which optimizes them for bi-amping. (See the link to the Frankenstein File below for the relevant details.)
2. Turbo 845SE Mono Amplifiers - The Turbo is a brand new design from Coincident. It is almost 3 times the weight (98 lbs each mono amp), and has around 4 times the power (28 watts), of the (300B) Frankenstein. According to the Coincident website, the Turbo is built to "no holds barred" standards, and only 25 pairs will ever be built.
My Current Plans - I have also ordered a pair of the Turbos, which will also arrive sometime this Fall. I will audition the Turbos only after I have first fully completed my evaluation of the Frankenstein Mk. III.
Coincident Website with Further Information
Coincident Frankenstein Amplifier File
My Audio System
From my long-term observations, the primary distinction between myself and all other audio journalists, writers and reviewers, past or present, is the strong and unprecedented emphasis I have placed on the reproduction of (very) soft and subtle sounds. There are many other differences between myself and the others, which is normal and to be expected, but none of them are as evident and important. In fact, I even coined a new expression for the concept of accurately reproducing "soft sounds", after I realized that the default generic term, popular with most audiophiles, was both ill-defined and misleading: Here's the relevant article and direct link: THE "SOUND-FLOOR"-THE ULTIMATE KEY
Music requires soft sounds to be complete and, just as important, an audio system, if it is to be honesty judged as "outstanding", must have the ability to play at (very) soft volume levels without "dying" and still sound real and alive. My 50 years of experience with tube electronics, along with the countless positive results I've had modifying these same electronics, taught me the critical importance of this highly neglected sonic virtue. However, the various experiences I had with literally thousands of fellow audiophiles are the real foundation for my conviction concerning this issue. It has been my consistent observation, for decades, that the more sensitive and experienced the listener, the more they appreciate hearing all the subtleties of soft sounds. This is the indisputable confirmation that provides the confidence for my conviction.
I also highly value (or highly prioritize) the organization of sounds because, at its most fundamental definition, music is simply organized sound. I share this value of organization with (too) few contemporary audio journalists. Both are equally necessary, because soft sound information is mainly useless unless it is properly organized and there isn't as much value to proper organization when much of the information that is supposed to be organized is missing. Three components, the Morrison speaker, the Golden Tube SET amplifier, and the Reference Lenco, specifically and jointly, taught me the importance of this value.
However, I also realize that most audio writers, and audio enthusiasts in general, have very different sonic priorities than mine. The most common sonic priorities, by far, are "the basics" as I define them; the ability of an audio system to play loud, deep and high.
In actuality, when you think about it, it's relatively easy to create an audio system that has the ability to play loud, sound "big" and also go both deep and high. You simply have to use a large assortment of speaker drivers, utilize both large speaker cabinets and woofers, and have a large amplifier output stage, either transistor or tube. It's much more difficult, and expensive, to accomplish the next logical step: Have that same type of audio system also play consistently clean and smooth. Those important upgrades require improved drivers and passive crossover parts, deader cabinets and better power supplies. In recent times, two of the most well-known audio reviewers, (the now late) Harry Pearson and Michael Fremer, had/have a strong preference for systems with those strengths (which also cost a fortune), but I don't share their highest sonic priorities.
In contrast, it's my long-time experience that the most difficult audio accomplishment is for an audio system to accurately play both softly and organized simultaneously, which takes real thought, numerous experiments, research, along with really high quality (and expensive) parts. This is why the vast majority of audio designers simply ignore and/or avoid the attempt to reach, let alone to master, this particular goal. Why is this goal so difficult to achieve? Simple: There is no room for any error; one mistake, anywhere in the long audio chain, means failure.
Example 1: It's wonderful to have deep bass and extended highs in an audio system, as I have and enjoy them myself, but not only are these frequency extremes virtually useless unless they are time coordinated to everything else, specifically the midrange, they actually become an audible distraction if they are out of place and bring attention to themselves as "alien" to the remaining complete sound.
Example 2: Most audio systems, regardless of cost, have to play louder than life to capture the details and excitement in the original recording, and they subsequently "die" when the music volume is soft. This is because they are missing sonic information due the complexity and problems with the signal path, in the speakers and in the electronics, and this missing information is never completely recaptured when playing loud, though it may be less obscured. Meanwhile, a superior system can play at realistic levels and still not sound dead when the music inevitably becomes soft in volume.
In my experience, the most evolved audio systems in theory, which are also the rarest in actuality, can play at an even lower volume than the musicians normally play in real life and still sound alive. This is the goal I 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 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, it may be considered as my personal, three leg "Sonic Stool" - Complete sound, Organized sound, Uncompressed sound and Level Sound*.
*Though I strongly believe that "Audio" is far too complex a subject for any simple equation, no matter how thoughtful, precise and true, to ever fully encompass and define it.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the May/June 2017 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
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.
*A direct-to-disc from 1982, which I never heard (in my own system) until 2018. It is outstanding in every sonic area, and especially so in its dynamic impact (the percussion in particular). This LP should end up in the higher categories, though not at the very top. The music is light jazz, with only the very beginning of the first cut (on Side One) sounding anything even remotely related to "The Andes".
Twenty years ago, I was ridiculed by some "audiophile LP collectors" for claiming, based on my numerous experiences, that there was no inherent difference between Decca and London pressings (outside of the normal and inevitable variances in any pressing runs). It took a while, but eventually a growing number of other audiophiles confirmed my observations, and further definitive evidence, directly from the manufacturer, closed the issue permanently (outside of "dead-enders"). Below is further evidence on this (formerly controversial) issue (my bold).
"I was taking an electrical engineering degree at Imperial College in London during the early 1970s and I had the opportunity to work for Decca at their New Malden plant during one summer vacation, basically acting as a gopher in the pressing plant.
I can state categorically that the same stampers were used for both the Decca and London pressings at that time and the requests for metalwork often included both the US and UK labels in the one invoice- which explains why both issues often have the same stamper codes in the inner section.
I know of at least one copy of such an invoice which definitively proves that there is no difference."
"I was rereading your... (Decca/London Classical) LP evaluation on your site, and noticed one thing from the “middle British” section that I would like to amend.
The vinyl also looks inferior on these earlier pressings, it's not quite as black, as though the vinyl wasn't as pure. In any event, the later pressings, both the British and Dutch, are generally much quieter and allow more low-level musical information to be heard.
The 'not being quite as black' probably has nothing to do with the quality of the vinyl, and probably has everything to do with with the pigment. The 'blacker" records may have more carbon black pigment in them, or they may be using a higher quality of black pigment that is more 'blue shade' instead of 'yellow shade'. Blue shade blacks are more expensive pigments (finer ground and more intense) that are used in automotive applications, whereas the yellow shades are used in cheaper industrial coatings.
Now, there may be a real reason that the 'blacker' ones may sound better. Carbon black is very acidic, and it can act as a catalyst for the vinyl resins, promoting a tougher surface (tougher being as how a material scientist would look at it). I have noticed that the artistic albums, especially the clear ones w/o any carbon black in them, do not sound quite as good. Off the top of my head, one album is a newer Chicago pressing comparing it to a track from a black vinyl, older pressing, comes to mind.
I love your album evaluations maybe even more than your equipment comments. Even 20 years ago, I never really understood what the big deal sonically of the early Decca/London recordings. I had recordings from the mid ’70’s from them that were sonically superior, in my mind. Yet popular belief was that the earlier ones were better."
"I did a few searches on the net, and this was very interesting.
I liked this one because it was a combination of peoples’ experience and some expert comments. The evidence in these posts actually support my hypothesis that cure is extremely important in record quality, and carbon black assists cure in the formation of a record.
I looked at some comments on some small manufacturers that stated it was only the vinyl formulation that mattered. Looking at the small amount of data they released, I feel that they came to the wrong conclusions. Being a former coatings chemist, I realize that most formulators tend to ignore the influence of pigments on their final formulations. It is much, much easier to assume that the pigments have no effect on the final formulation. I have found that not to be the case, especially with red and black formulations."
*An excellent overall recording, with a large and full-range sound, but both the sound-floor and the sense of immediacy are noticeably compromised, so it's NOT equal to Decca's best.
The Last Chapter...
Charles Hansen, of Ayre Acoustics, died on November 28, 2017. I barely remember Hansen when he was with Avalon Speakers decades ago. I was not one of their dealers and we never formally met. In more recent times, specifically since 2007, Hansen has had a strong animus towards this website, and myself personally, due to a comparison review that I edited and posted (though I did NOT participate or otherwise contribute to), in which an Ayre digital component had performed poorly.
Hansen never forgave me for posting that article and has attacked me continuously, in personal terms, since then. I replied directly to Hansen's first attack in 2007, but I have simply ignored every one of his many other personal attacks over the last 10 years. I, and many other audiophiles, found those posts repulsive, malignant and ignorant, and I did not want to dignify any of them by a response.
However, this status changed in the fall of 2017. On September 18 to be exact, Hansen attacked me personally once again, but this time I responded to him for the first time in 10 years, and with no restraints. I have no regrets concerning my final correspondence with Charles Hansen, despite its ugliness. I would have done exactly the same even if I had known that Hansen's death was imminent. Why? Because I feel that any public letter, which maliciously and unfairly abuses someone, and even further claims that some deliberately misleading anecdotes are actual historical facts, should be challenged, and not be simply excused or ignored. In the final analysis, a person's imminent death doesn't grant that person some once-in-a-lifetime license to write whatever they please, and without any risk of consequences.
However, this short article is not concerned with the brief and sad history of Charles Hansen and myself. It is instead concerned with a larger and much more important perspective...
Charles Hansen's final posts, written during the last month of his life, were different, in kind, than any of his previous posts. In fact, looking back now, it would not come as a surprise to discover that Hansen was aware of his imminent death, because these final posts were amazingly direct, frank and naked. They were completely fearless, disclosing thoughts and opinions, previously private, which could even make potential enemies out of former audio friends. So this profound change in Charles Hansen's level of restraint and inhibition is the actual reason I posted this article and the related links below.
Here are some of the examples of Charles Hansen's final thoughts on various audio topics, unedited, in italics, with my bold. They were written in direct response to an earlier post from John Atkinson, the editor of Stereophile:
1. Stereophile and Mark Levinson Components:
When you (John Atkinson) only give Levinson gear to Larry Greenhill for review because you know in advance that he will do nothing but heap praise upon it, does that help or hurt the high end?
Levinson came out with the $4000 No.38 preamp, which used the same cheap op-amps as the $700 Adcom of the day...(and) with a really stupid (and really cheap) volume control...that sounded terrible...Robert Harley gave it a decidedly mediocre review in August 1994...an embarrassed Levinson had to redesign it as the "S" version...in July 1995, you gave it a rave review. Your rave is still up on the Stereophile website, but Harley's dismissal of the original version is MIA...Is that deliberate or accidental?...And did your rush to do damage control on behalf of Levinson help or hurt the high-end industry?
All of the 30 seres (sic) products were a large step backwards - except for the digital products, which had never existed in the 20 series. But not according Larry Greenhill who was duly assigned to review the later Levinson products and never met one he didn't fall in love with. Did Stereophile help or hurt the high-end industry with this type of coverage of the Levinson 30 (and later) series?
2. John Atkinson's UK Bias:
I can't imagine that most of your readers haven't noticed your bias for UK (or UK-designed) products.
3. "MF's" (Michael Fremer's) Bias for:
a) The more expensive the product, the better it must be.
b) Wilson loudspeakers are the best on the planet, presumably because they play really loud, have super spectacular bass thump created by the +10dB bump they all exhibit at 70Hz, and are ungodly expensive (see (a) above).
c) Turntables that follow the exact design principles of his current favorite super-expensive turntable that nobody else has ever heard, as they are so expensive that they aren't even in dealer's showrooms.
d) Hyper-detailed phono cartridges that are spectacular for one song, fatiguing to listen to in the long term.
e) Anything that he currently "owns". It's especially obvious when he concedes that something sounds pretty much as good as what he owns, but since the retail price is much higher for what he owns (or has on long-term loan), he's going to stick with it. (Any normal person would sell the expensive product, buy the cheaper product and buy music with the savings. But MF must either enjoy the prestige of the "Rolex factor" or be bound by accommodation purchase agreements, or afraid to piss off the guys who gave him the long-term loans.
Is that good or bad for the high-end industry?
4. Herb Reichert:
I can say that Herb listens to a HIGHLY colored system that is likely to only sound good with other components that are also HIGHLY colored in complementary ways. After reading that review I couldn't help feeling that it said more about Herb and his idiosyncrasies than it did about the amplifier. (LTA ZOTL40 power amp)
5. United States Audio Press:
...(what) the whole world is demanding today, more than anything else is for people to stand up and tell the truth. Unfortunately for high-end audio, it seems to me that less and less of that comes from the US print press...
All of these above direct quotes of Charles Hansen are included in the Link #1, which I recommend reading in full. Link # 2 was an earlier post by Hansen and not as comprehensive, but it still proves that his later post wasn't a "one-off". In fact, in this earlier post he characterized current Stereophile content as "trite pablum".
Link #3 was my last reply to Charles Hansen (and John Atkinson), after they both personally attacked me even though the original poster's topic was simply an innocent enquiry about my absence this last summer. Hansen's gratuitous personal attack is a sobering reminder that it's possible for even the most rational person to become unhinged when consumed with blind hatred.
I will retain this article and Hansen's two complete posts as well. Charles Hansen's final thoughts, posted in public, are informative and important statements concerning contemporary audio journalism, and they will not pass away with him.
There is a recent thread in Critic's Corner which discusses the above article. Below is a partial sample of a post by one member (in italics), which I felt should not be ignored:
Posted by jamesgarvin (A) on February 7, 2018 at 11:12:37
In Reply to: Not sure what you mean. posted by Rick W on February 6, 2018 at 09:23:48:
"...(Arthur) Salvatore...cites (Charles) Hansen's criticism of Stereophile, without mentioning that Hansen essentially did the same thing Salvatore accuses (Wes) Philips (sic) of doing - which is formulating an opinion and then keeping quiet while the shortcoming exists. I just find it ironic that Salvatore uses a source (Hansen) to support his argument when Hansen basically did the same thing as the target (Stereophile and Philips) of Salvatore's arrows.
The irony is with respect to Salvatore is that he claims folks like (Wes) Philips (sic) kept quite (sic) regarding their issues with a product due to commerce, but then cites as support for criticizing Stereophile a manufacturer who did the very same thing. I hope Salvatore is not the only person who fails to see the irony."
My Response to James Garvin's Post:
James Garvin is a long time and dedicated defender of John Atkinson and Stereophile on Audio Asylum. In this post, Garvin actually equates the actions of Wes Phillips and Charles Hansen, both of whom are now dead. This latest "argument" (actually a distraction) completely ignores the historical facts, as usual for Stereophile defenders, which I will now do my best to rectify.
Wes Phillips was employed by Stereophile as an audio journalist, and he was supposed to work exclusively on behalf of his readers. That was his responsibility. Phillip's deliberate deception, and lack of disclosure, within his WATT/Puppy 5 "review", was a blatant betrayal of those same readers. In stark contrast...
Charles Hansen was an audio engineer/designer employed by Ayre Acoustics, which is an audio component manufacturer. Hansen had no public duty or responsibility to disclose his true critical thoughts about Stereophile, its reviewers, reviews and audio journalism in general. To do so could have created mutual animosity and compromised Ayre's sales and even its viability.
There can be no "irony", because "keeping quiet" for Wes Phillips was a serious betrayal to those who depended on him, which is the worst thing you can do in professional life, while "keeping quiet" for Charles Hansen was necessary for sheer economic survival. In fact, one could confidently argue that Wes Phillips would have "kept quiet" about the WP5's faults until he retired or died. He was only forced by new circumstances to disclose those faults and "come clean". Why? Phillips had to criticize the WP5 (in public) or else he couldn't explain why/how the WP5's replacement model, the WP8, was an improvement worthy of purchase. Meanwhile, Charles Hansen had no compelling reason, other than satisfying his conscience, to open up at the end of his life.
To equate these two men's respective actions, in any manner, is an insult to both Charles Hansen and the concept, and the critical importance, of journalistic responsibility, which Wes Phillips disgraced in his WATT/Puppy 5 "review", and John Atkinson (as Editor) enabled and fully countenanced.
The bottom line concerning this subject is simple: Charles Hansen, in what turned out to be his proverbial "deathbed confession", finally disclosed his highly critical thoughts about Stereophile, its reviewers and audio journalism in general. Any other irrelevant "side issue", designed only to qualify this important fact, is a distraction, period.
Finally, to answer the related question: Is it "ironic" that Charles Hansen, of all people, ended up confirming my negative opinion of Stereophile? Yes, I believe it is, but any irony has nothing to do with Wes Phillips, whose treacherous actions have earned him a well deserved membership in "The Audio Journalists Hall of Shame".
James Garvin's Complete Post
Wes Phillips WATT/PUPPY 5 Review - Stereophile November 1995
Wes Phillips WATT/PUPPY 8 Review - Stereophile June 2007
My Original Criticism of Wes Phillips WP5 Review
My Criticism of Wes Phillips Late WP5 Disclosures (In WP8 Review)
Thus's Audiophile Magazine ("Reviews of Classical Music Records") NEW 07/18
Audio Reputation (For audio beginners and those who are headphone oriented.) NEW 08/18
Contrast Audio (Ukranian Manufacturer of Interesting Speakers) NEW 08/18
Copper Magazine (A very interesting audio magazine from PS Audio.) NEW 09/18
ALK Engineering ("Specializing in filter design software and Klipsch loudspeaker upgrades".) NEW 01/19
Doge 8 (Doge 8 Preamplifier) NEW 02/19
Waynes Audio (Turntable Platter Ring Weight from California) NEW 06/19
Sound Foundations (Turntable Platter Ring Clamp from India) NEW 06/19
Custom Analogue Audio (JLTi & Joe Rasmussen Electronics, Speaker Kit and OPPO Upgrades from Austalia) NEW 06/19
Top Record Players (Basic Turntable Information and Advice for novices, despite the title) NEW 06/19
The Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) has been my personal reference speaker since 2009. They are in excellent condition and have never been abused in any manner. I am selling them for only one reason: To replace them with the newest model, the PRE MK. II (see the related link below). I originally had two pairs of the PRE, stacked, but one pair has already been sold.
The PRE is rarely for sale on the used market. In fact, I haven't seen a used PRE for sale in literally years. This is not surprising, because of the PRE's outstanding overall performance, value, practicality and sensitivity (see the link below for my PRE review). In the rare event a PRE is being sold used, it's almost always because of some peripheral, life-changing or domestic issue and not because of any audiophile dissatisfaction with its performance.
However, there is one issue with this PRE. The cosmetics, specifically the front veneer panel joints on the two subwoofers, are second-rate (see pictures). This cosmetic problem has no effect on the sonic performance of the PRE, obviously, but it will still require some rudimentary woodworking (sanding, staining and re-oiling) to bring them back up to par. Accordingly, I will offer a generous allowance on the selling price.
According to the manufacturer, the price for the used Pure Reference Extreme pair, if it was in excellent cosmetic condition, would be $ 14,750. However, due to the cosmetic flaws, I am reducing the price to $ 12,075, a savings of $ 2,600+, which can then be used for a local woodworker. For those who are handy, it's a $ 2,600+ savings for a simple DIY woodworking job. Some audiophiles, like myself, may not even be bothered by the cosmetics.
Further Thought - Some audiophiles will understandably prefer to purchase the Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II, but don't have all the required funds, $ 30,000, so here is a practical idea. The Mk. II could be purchased in two steps:
1. The PRE Mk. I above, for $ 12,075, and later...
2. The Mk. II factory upgrade, which costs $ 12,000, making the...
Total Cost = $ 24,000+.
Not only does this method avoid one large expenditure, it even provides the additional bonus of a $ 5,900+ discount from the Mk. II's original selling price.
Caveat - The PRE speaker system, which is two subwoofers and two monitors, does NOT include either the stands for the monitors or the spikes for the subwoofers.
Shipping (390 lbs) of the PRE is extra. The PRE is located in Florida (34986). Local pickup can also be arranged.
My Comprehensive Review of the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers
Coincident Speaker PRE MK. II Update Announcement & Further Information
The Supreme Recordings
My Audio System
My Audio Philosophy
Purchasing Used Classical Records
Reviewing the Reviewers
Used Components for Sale
Tubes for Sale
If you have a question, or want audio advice and/or consultation:
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