REFERENCE COMPONENTS THE SUPREME RECORDINGS MY AUDIO SYSTEM MISCELLANEOUS REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS' NEW LINKS COMPONENTS NOW ON SALE INTERNAL LINKS
THE SUPREME RECORDINGS
MY AUDIO SYSTEM
REVIEWING THE 'REVIEWERS'
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 "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.
As any serious reader of this website knows, I am not a "cable guy". I'm not curious and I can't get enthusastic about cables, of any type, and will even avoid changing them as a rule. This is why I removed most of the content on cables on this website many years ago and rarely write about them. This wasn't always the case. When I had my audio store in the 1980's, I was completely up to date on cables, experimenting with every version I could get my hands on.
Back then, the entire concept of cables having an effect on the performance of an audio system was still new, so almost all serious audiophiles were interested in learning and experimenting to find the right combination to maximize the performance of their system. Then, the inevitable happened. One cable company (I believe MIT) decided to come out with a cable that was outrageously priced (for back then), especially considering how it was manufactured. When no one called them out on the cost, which back then meant only TAS and Stereophile, the cable game changed permanently (and eventually negatively effected the pricing structure of real components as well).
From that initial "seed", we now have cables that cost more than high quality cars, with "reviewers" even describing them as "good value". I was disgusted by the entire trend of mutual greed (high cable prices/high cost ads), and advised my customers to avoid and ignore the hype from the ads and the "reviews". I had a really good reason for this disgust, my own experiences, shared by many others. Example- Here is the first experience I had which "removed the scales" from my eyes. Ironically, the other audiophile present at the time is directly involved in the experiments now taking place in 2016:
Around 30 years ago, I was a dealer for MIT (which is still in business). I sold so much of their cable that I used to purchase some of it in spools and then terminate it myself, which saved my customers money. Then they came out with the MH-750 speaker cable, of unprecedented size and cost, with the claim that it was far superior to anything else ever made. It received rave reviews*. I, of course, ordered it for the store. I was quite pleased with its performance, which proved to be superior to anything I had in the store at the time.
*HP/TAS- "a considerable step closer to the real thing." Issue #34, Page 76
Stereophile - "the best of the best." Issue #78, Page 110
When I told my closest audiophile friend, Israel Blume, that I had the MH-750 in the store, he begged me to bring them to his place so he could hear them himself, in his own system. So the following Sunday I found myself at his home for a direct comparison with his own speaker cable, which just happened to be Polk, a mainly forgotten cable that had been considered dangerous to use with many transistor amplifiers and had been eventually discontinued.
I was so confident of the superiority of the MIT, that I almost felt sad for the poor old Polk, thinking how bad it would sound in comparison to this latest design. While Blume had configured the Polks so that there were now 4 Polk cables in parallel, I believed that this change wouldn't make that much of a difference. Blume's system back then consisted of the Quad ESL-63 speakers and the Ray Lumley M-100 amplifiers. He played a variety of music, but mainly some excellent selections from Harmonia Mundi, which were very revealing of cable performance. So, what happened? In short, the Polks won, and by a huge margin. We were both shocked. (Further, our "faith" in the magazines' judgment was irreversibly compromised as well. Many more negative experiences like this would later finish this "divorce" process.)
Compared to the multiple Polks, the MIT sound muffled, veiled, slow and dead. Anyone could have noticed what we observed, not just audiophiles. The MIT actually sounded horrible, and almost defective, in comparison. We went back and forth that afternoon, even playing both cables at the same time to try to understand what we were hearing. In the end, the MIT had just one minor advantage, the bass was a little more prominent and impactful (because of its lower impedance/larger gauge).
Blume later reduced that one last advantage by cutting his existing cables in half, thereby reducing the length in half, and then re-soldering them so they were now 8 cables per channel. (More than 8 cables had no further benefit in our experience.) This was a highly tedious and unpleasant job (the fumes are toxic). I soon followed his lead in my own system. With the Polk I already had laying around unused in my closet and a customer purchase, I built a 6' pair with 8 cables in parallel, and have used Polk speaker cables in my own personal system ever since then. (I now have a 3' pair with 6 cables in parallel, which has even less resistance than the initial 6' pair, which I later sold.) Around 15 years later, I had another enlightening experience with cables, this time in my store and with many more people involved:
In early 2001, my audio store's last year of operation, I received the latest version of the Coincident CST Interconnect cable. Israel Blume, the designer, was very happy with the results and he asked me to compare it to any cable I had in the store, at any price, so I did. I just happened to have the top-of-the-line Wireworld Gold Eclipse III (silver) interconnects, the best I had ever heard for line-level signals, and very expensive for that time.
I first broke-in the Coincident CST cables by using a CD player on "Repeat" (I still use this method today), and then conducted extensive, direct, A/B comparisons in my store over an entire weekend. Any person who entered the store was allowed in the room to make the comparison, with the only two conditions being they had to hear both cables for an entire cut of the same music and also promise to be honest and forthcoming in their observations and opinion (no "holding back"). For the sake of consistency and continuity, I decided to use one musical cut almost exclusively during the A/B comparisons: "Spanish Harlem"/Rebecca Pidgeon/Chesky Ultimate Demonstration Disc. (I was so sick of that one cut after that weekend, that I haven't played it even once in the last 15 years!)
I am no longer able to remember the power amplifier and speakers I used in the comparisons, but I do remember using the Ah Tjoeb 99, which was the best CD player I knew for the money back then. For the line stage, I chose the Passive/Active Pass Labs Aleph L, which proved critical in my efforts to make the tests as relevant and objective as possible. This quest for objectivity required a strict protocol, to make the tests as "blind" as possible. This is how the test was set-up:
The Ah Tjoeb had only one pair of stereo outputs (which is normal), so I connected a pair of high quality, gold-plated, Y-Jacks (Vampire Wire) to the outputs to convert them to dual (two) outputs. The Aleph L line stage had 4 inputs, so I connected one pair of cables from the Ah Tjoeb to Input 1 on the Aleph and the second pair to Input 3. The in-between Input 2 on the Aleph, still unused, became the de facto "Mute" position. Thus the test was completely fair to both cables since everything remained exactly the same for them when switching back and forth, including, critically, the volume. I did most of the A/B switching myself, but a few customers I trusted did some of the switches themselves, since it was ultra-easy to conduct, plus I had other customers to look after while the store was open. I even exchanged the cables' inputs a few times during the quiet periods on both days in an effort to further reduce any possible remaining prejudice and/or expectations, even on an unconscious level. The ultimate results of these A/B comparisons were truly edifying to say the least:
Approximately 25 people took the test and the results were 24 to 1 in favor of the Coincident CST. These results surprised me. Not only didn't I believe such a consensus was possible when it came to anything involved with audio, the results also directly contradicted a "Rule" continually spouted by "Audio Objectivists" for many years. Let me explain: Audio Objectivists have long claimed that in a direct A/B test, whichever component is playing (even .1 db) louder will almost always be considered "superior". In this case, the Gold Eclipse III had a noticeably more upfront sound (silver vs. copper), which every single listener immediately observed, and this was also the main reason why every single listener was also able to easily distinguish the two cables from each other, despite the fact that they were both the exact same length, 1 meter, and the volume control was never touched (and was always in its "passive" range) after a test began.
The fact that all the listeners, with one exception (the final listener no less), still preferred the more laid back CST, which also wasn't quite as immediate, proved to be another surprise to me. The Coincident did have more body, warmth and was also better at separating the musicians in the ensemble. The CST proved to be more natural overall, and that ended up trumping the more exciting Wireworld. I frankly didn't expect those results, instead thinking that the two cables would have a similar number of adherents in the end. The really big deal, of course, was that the Coincident CST sold for $ 300, while the Gold Eclipse sold for the $ 1,200. I was further amazed that most of the customers weren't that surprised when they discovered the cable they preferred was only 25% of the price of its competitor. Maybe today's (justifiable) audio cynicism goes back further than we think.
Finally, I have to admit that I had a lot more fun than I expected while I conducted these tests, which would have been extremely tedious otherwise. What happened was this: As I mentioned above, I soon realized that every listener was easily able to distinguish the two cables from each other, no matter what I did or played, so the only real test left for them was deciding which cable they felt was better. Meanwhile, I took this rare opportunity to continually mention that some "serious" journalists, to be specific (so-called) "Audio Objectivists" Peter Aczel and Arny Kruger, now claimed that (paraphrasing them) "all cables sounded exactly the same", and were thus indistinguishable from each other, if heard in a strictly controlled A/B test, as I was then conducting (and they claimed the same was also true with all line stages, amplifiers, CD players etc).
The listeners were incredulous that any so-called "audio expert" could actually believe, and then state, such an absurdity, in public, since it was so obviously false and easily contradicted. The listeners, and I, couldn't resist joking about this "theory", at the direct expense of Aczel and Kruger, during both afternoons. Unfortunately, what I really wished for the most, an actual "audio objectivist" present and involved with these tests, never occurred during this weekend. I still wonder how this person* would have reacted to the irrefutable cognitive dissonance he was experiencing.
*There were a few sceptical listeners, so I simply had them make the switches themselves, or have their friends do it for them instead of me, just to prove that everything was above board.
There have been 4 generations of Coincident cables. Below are the dates when they were introduced, plus their respective retail prices. My notes and relevant commentary are below each generation.
C (Continuous) S (Signal) T (Transfer) Cables - Introduced 1998
CST - Interconnects - $ 300 1M Pair
CST1 - Speaker- $ 495 - 6 ft Pair
CST Power Cord- $ 295 - 6 ft.
Personal Notes on CST- This was Coincident's first generation of cables. They were the only models that I ever sold in my audio store. The CST interconnect was also involved in the shootout described above. I have used the CST power cords in my personal system from 2001 until the present, which is quite a run. However, I still preferred the Polk speaker cables to the CST and I also preferred a prototype interconnect from Ars Acoustica (which was never available to the public) to the CST equivalent.
Extreme Cables- Introduced 2005
Interconnects -RCA - $ 450 1M Pair
Speaker Cable - $ 1,395 6 ft Pair
Power Cord- $ 495 - 6 ft.
Personal Notes on Extreme- I have had extensive experience with this second generation of Coincident cables. I currently use Extreme interconnects between the line stage and subwoofer amplifiers, plus the Extreme speaker cables are used for the subwoofers. I also currently use one Extreme power cord. However, I still prefer the Polk cables to the Extreme on the Pure Reference monitors. The Extreme interconnects sound almost exactly the same as the Ars Acoustica prototype, but the Extreme has better bass. I never compared the CST and Extreme power cords.
Extreme Shotgun - Introduced 2010
Interconnects - $ 900 - 1M Pair
Speaker Cables- $ 2,795 6 ft Pair
Personal Notes on Shotgun- I have very limited experience with this generation, though the little I had was quite positive. The Shotguns are essentially a "doubled up" version of the Extreme, and they are, accordingly, also twice the price. I have only heard the Shotgun interconnects and they are the finest I've ever heard for line-level signals, bettering both the Extreme and the Ars Acoustica. I'm currently using the Shotgun cables between the Jadis phono stage and the Coincident line stage. I have not heard the Shotgun speaker cables.
Statement Cables- Introduced 2015
Interconnects - RCA- $ 595 1M Pair
Speaker Cable - $ 1,995 - 6 ft Pair
Power Cord- $ 595 - 6 ft
Phono - DIN-RCA- $ 795 - 1M Pair
Personal Notes on Statement- These are the cables presently being evaluated. I have every version that is available except the "Balanced" (XLR). The Statements are actually selling for substantially less money than their previous generation Shotgun equivalents, despite 5 years of added inflation. Israel Blume informed me that the basic designs of the Statement cables were accomplished a number of years ago, but only recent technological advances in cable manufacturing have allowed them to be built to his complete satisfaction.
These are the only "audiophile" cables that do not actually transmit the musical signal. Power Cords are easy for anyone to understand since they have only two critical functions, which are self-evident:
1. Maximize the transmission of energy (current) from the AC outlet to the component's power supply. Plus, just as important...
2. Minimize the amount of extraneous and harmful noise (RFI, EMI) that inevitably exists in the power line.
This sounds pretty easy to achieve, but I always felt there was an inherent technical conflict between the #1 and #2 functions. Still, a high quality audio system should be able to reveal if a power cord is competently designed and built. There is also no rational reason for "all-out" power cords that cost thousands of dollars. This is insanity, ego, greed and ignorance epitomized. In fact, cables (of any type) that are designed to look "cool" usually have engineering compromises, so it's the worst of all words; paying more for less performance.
I received three individual Statement power cords; for the CD player, phono stage and line stage; plus two pairs of power cords for the 4 mono power amplifiers I have in my system (I am bi-amping, so there are two mono amplifiers per channel). I conducted 6 (not 5) comparisons in total, because I ended up comparing the line stage power cord twice: Once with the Coincident Statement and once with "The Truth", and I was glad that I did when I heard the results.
I chose the line stage first because it is the heart and common denominator of the system. The comparison's results were inadvertently derived in two stages; first with the Frankenstein/Monitors, playing by themselves, and then full-range, with the Dragon/Subwoofers also being played. There was one other unique and important factor involved with this first comparison; the Statement line stage was already utilizing a CST power cord, but it was only 2 feet in length. The replacement Statement power cord was also 2 foot in length. It was thus only natural to ask whether there could be any audible differences between two quality power cords when both of them were only 2 feet in length? These are the results I observed:
A. Frankensteins/Monitors Only- A very small improvement in favor of the Statement power cord. A slight reduction in the sound-floor, and a touch purer and less homogenized in complex passages. It was similar to the differences heard between an average and good AC day. I most likely would not be able to hear these subtle differences without listening for them. Music: Decca/Bach/Xmas Oratorio plus Alia Vox CD and SACD.
B. System Full-Range- The differences were definitely more noticeable and could be observed this time without prompting. The sound with the Statement power cord was a little larger and more effortless, and it also had more weight and improved bass definition. I only played the subwoofers because I needed a true and recent "Reference" before I conducted Comparison Two (the Dragons). I also didn't want any confusion and/or ambiguity compromising future results. Based on the subtle changes I had earlier heard with the Monitors alone, I expected to hear virtually no change in the lower frequencies, so this positive result was surprising, which is the best and most reliable confirmation that what you are hearing is actually true. Music: RCA/Victory at Sea plus Mobile Fidelity/CSNY/Deja Vu.
I chose the Dragons next, instead of the Frankensteins, to be certain that any differences I heard came from the Dragons alone, and not both amplifiers combined. I wanted to avoid giving the Dragons' new power cords any credit they did not actually earn. So I isolated any Dragon changes as best as I could. The Dragons were already utilizing one four foot CST power cord (left channel) and one six foot "generic" (hardware store) power cord (right channel). A generic cord was used because a CST cable couldn't fit in such a limited space. The Statement replacement power cords were both four feet in length, and the right channel was able to fit with a special L-Shaped IEC plug. These are the results I observed:
I naturally expected any improvements to be strictly limited to the bass frequencies, but I was surprised again, twice actually, pleasantly and unpleasantly. The main differences were in the midrange instead, while the improvements in the bass turned out to be subtle. It actually took some time for me to believe what I was hearing. The sound-floor was lower (more whispers were heard) and there was a greater "sharing of space" with the Statement power cords. There was also less homogenization and the sound was a little more immediate and vivid, like a fog had been removed.
The improvements in the bass were mainly heard during demanding passages, with slightly more control, detail, definition and power. I did not hear the bass go deeper. After Comparison One was completed, I took some time off and played a dozen or so of my more demanding recordings and played them again after the Dragon power cord switch, so the results were as definitive as I could make them. While the subwoofers don't have a steep low-pass filter, it was still a surprise to hear how improved AC filtering (what else could it be?) could make such an improvement even when the drivers were already attenuated 10 db or more. The effect was similar to hearing your system at 2 am (at its very best), rather than 9 pm. It also must be remembered that a 6 foot generic power cord was replaced this time, which may have been the previous weak link for AC noise.
So while I was hoping for even more improvements in the bass, I received more than I ever could have wished for in the even more important midrange, a trade-off I'll take any day. Overall, I was very happy with the final results, even if they were completely unpredictable and almost counter-intuitive. Music: Mobile Fidelity/Pines of Rome, Argo/Pulcinella, Dune, Emerald Forest, Vangelis/China.
The Frankenstein amplifiers were utilizing a pair of earlier generation Coincident power cords, each 6 foot in length, one CST and one Extreme (the only Extreme power cord I had). They were replaced by a pair of six foot Statement power cords. These are the results I observed:
I almost immediately sensed that the sound-floor was lower. The sound was also more immediate and vivid, with longer decays. The Frankensteins were now less homogenized and had more reserve during demanding passages. In all, the sound was more dynamic, secure and had greater integrity. It even sounded a little louder. Especially noticeable was the improvement in the reproduction of drums. I was able to hear multiple bass drums separated as never before, on any system (though this achievement was accomplished by more than just this power cord change).
These sonic improvements were more noticeable than with the earlier Dragon power cord change (Comparison Two), which was not a surprise. Unfortunately, the improvements were not heard on all the records I played, but mainly those with difficult sections and/or a purity and transparency that went beyond just "good". The one surprise for me, which I still don't understand, was that a disproportionate number of Digital recordings were improved with this cable change. I can only guess that many Digital records have greater system requirements, such as the best possible AC, to really demonstrate their potential. Overall, the Frankenstein power cord upgrade was the most satisfying for me so far. Music: Nonesuch/Medieval Xmas Music, Hwong/House of Sleeping Beauties, EMI/Music of Mexico.
The APL was utilizing a six foot generic power cord, which was replaced by a six foot Statement power cord. Because the APL sends out a dangerous pulse whenever it is turned off (by choice or not), it is plugged into a UPS device (battery) instead of directly into the wall (to avoid catastrophic damage to the system). These are the results I observed:
I heard a change immediately, literally. I even had to turn down the volume a few seconds after the switch. Further: The sound-floor was obviously lower with naturally blacker backgrounds, plus there was more space and longer decays. The sound was also more immediate and vivid. When I played the APL with the monitors alone, I heard more natural body than ever before, with both voices (throat and chest) and instruments (drums). With certain music, it was even hard to believe at times that the subwoofers were actually turned off.
In short, the improvements I heard with the APL/Statement power cord switch were definitely the largest and most consequential of the six comparisons that I made (and that includes the Frankensteins, Comparison Three). In fact, I now believe the APL can not be fully optimized, and appreciated, without using a quality power cord like the Statement, which is something I couldn't have known until now (though I long suspected it). Music: Mark Isham/Blue Sun, Erato/Nueva Espana.
The Jadis was utilizing a four foot CST power cord, which was replaced by a four foot Statement power cord. These are the results I observed:
The LP noise was a touch lower and the volume a touch louder. The sound had more control and held together a little better during demanding passages. There was a touch less homogenization and little more body in the voices. The sound-floor was also a bit lower and a FFF climax was a bit louder. There was also a little more detail and intelligibility. These improvements were observed only with better records. Overall, despite all of the variety mentioned, this was the least noticeable improvement of the six comparisons I made, so I was somewhat disappointed in the end. The reason why?...
I believe it is because the Jadis is using a minimal amount of energy. The entire line stage, along with the cathode follower in the phono stage, are no longer active. Further, it has an unusual switching-type power supply, which doesn't depend as much on AC purity as a conventional power supply.
Music: See the LPs mentioned above.
"The Truth" came with a 6 foot generic power cable. I first replaced it with a 2 foot CST power cord and eventually with a 2 foot Statement power cord (the same one used earlier with the Coincident Line Stage, Comparison One). The results I observed are the accumulation of both cables:
The sound-floor was lower, and the sound also became quieter, cleaner, more dynamic and more immediate. I would estimate that 75% of these improvements came from the initial CST switch, while the remaining 25% of the improvements came with the switch from the CST to the Statement. In the end, these two power cord switches were highly successful, and just behind the Coincident Frankensteins (and the APL of course) in overall satisfaction. Music: See all the music mentioned above.
The most important and noticeable changes were with the APL, then the Frankensteins and then "The Truth". It must be emphasized that both the APL and "The Truth" had 6 foot generic power cords to begin with. The least noticeable change was with the Jadis, which has an unique switching power supply, plus it only amplifies very low-level signals and it has had most of its circuit removed and is now unused. (It also had a CST power cord to begin with.)
The improvements I noticed, in all the comparisons, were pretty consistent in their type, though not in their degree. In all cases, it was mainly the two volume level extremes that were most effected by the Statement power cords; the softest and loudest. The loudest volume levels were improved with the Statement power cords by providing a sort of "reserve" during the most demanding passages. I believe the Statement's high current delivery was responsible for this change. Simultaneously, the Statement power cords consistently provided a lower sound-floor as well, which was mainly noticeable during quieter passages. I believe the Statement's AC noise attenuation was responsible for this change.
So these power cord improvements will be most noticeable and welcome for those audiophiles with highly revealing systems, who also listen to a large variety of music and especially with their more challenging recordings. In effect then, there is a double sonic benefit, which matches what a high quality power cord is supposed to do in the first place.
The Bottom Line- All wide-range audio systems require high quality power cords, and this is especially true for those systems which are also designed for a low sound-floor, and subsequently still sound real and natural at very low volume levels (such as mine). If the goal is to optimize the performance of each and every component, and the audio system as a whole, then quality power cords are indispensable. Just make certain that their design and build quality emphasize both high current delivery and AC noise rejection, which the Statement power cord obviously does so admirably.
I've been very fortunate when it comes to speaker cables. More than 30 years ago, I discovered the unique sonic attributes of the Polk speaker cables (see "Shocking" anecdote above). Since then, I've auditioned numerous speaker cables, but not one of them has matched the Polks when using the most revealing amplifiers (SET designs) and speakers. Interestingly, for half this period I also owned an audio store, so what did I tell my customers? If they asked, I always admitted using the Polk in my personal system rather than a speaker cable I was selling in the store at the time. However, only a handful of my customers ever followed me during all those years. The vast majority of them had heard that the Polk was dangerous to use with transistor amplifiers, and also difficult to construct properly (cutting and soldering 4 or more cables in parallel). So they felt it just wasn't worth it.
The Polk cable also has one serious performance qualifier: It does not have truly impactive bass (though the quality of the bass is superb), so I've always used other speaker cables on the various subwoofers I've had over this same period of time. In the last decade or so, I've used the Coincident Extreme cables for the subwoofers, as I found them to have both outstanding detail and impact, an ideal combination. This brings us to the present.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the January 2015 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.
It's now one year since I first posted my review (link below) of the APL and placed it in Reference Digital Sources, Class A (Upper). I have made a number of changes since then and all of them were positive. As I mentioned in the review, I strongly believed that I wasn't hearing the APL at its very best and this turned out to be true. Here are the three improvements I've made within the last few months, and there's even one more potential improvement to report on in the near future.
1. Metapolymer Plate- It was placed underneath the APL for better isolation and it worked. The sound was slightly cleaner and more relaxed. It was subtle, but it did make a difference.
2. UPS Battery- The UPS replaced an AC regenerator with an internal battery. (The APL emits a dangerous pulse on turn-off, so a battery is required to avoid system damage in a brown-out.) The improvements I heard with the new UPS battery surprised me. The sound was cleaner, more transparent and dynamic, and the sound-floor was lower. It almost sounded like a new player. It was obvious that the AC regenerator must have been doing something seriously wrong, so maybe AC regenerators designed for hospitals and commercial use aren't ideal for all audio components.
3. Coincident Statement Power Cord- The APL was using a 6 foot generic power cord and it was replaced with a 6 foot Statement power cord. This was also a significant improvement, one of the largest I've ever heard when going to a good power cord from a generic. In fact, I don't think the APL could be heard at its best without a good quality power cord. (See power cord reviews above.)
In the near future, I plan to replace the APL's current DIY interconnect cable with the new Coincident Statement. I'll report back when I am confident that the results are definitive.
Conclusion- While the improvement with the isolation plate was admittedly subtle, that was decidedly not the case with the other two. Combined, the three changes significantly improved the APL's overall performance. In fact, my most critical associate, II, couldn't be more impressed. In the past, II only liked the APL with SACDs, but now he feels that CDs sound as good as SACDs before the changes, and SACDs are now so good that he's even thinking about giving up on Analogue. I agree with him in general, though I still prefer Analogue at its best.
In the end, I believe the APL NWO-Master is one of the best audio investments I've ever made. It has allowed me to enjoy my digital sources as never before. It was expensive, even purchased used with a huge discount, but worth every cent as far as I'm concerned.
I recently realized that there are some minor issues with the APL which I have neglected to mention:
1. The APL gets uncomfortably warm to the touch after it's turned on for a few hours.
2. The APL has a mechanical noise which can heard from more than 10 feet away when the room is silent, even when it's only in idle. However, I don't hear this noise during playback, even during the softest passages.
3. On occasion, a SACD won't play immediately after a CD is played. To correct this problem, the APL is turned off and the power cord is also unplugged from the wall. Then reverse this process to turn the APL back on, which I assume recalibrates its internal clocks.
Electronic Express (Repair Center for APL and other brands)
Review of APL NWO-Master CD/SACD Player
My Audio System
1. Coincident Statement Cables- I have now completed the power cord comparisons (see above). I will soon start the speaker cable comparisons. I have been delayed due to adverse weather and other unforeseen factors. All of the cable reviews (power, interconnects and speaker) will be posted in the January 2016 section above. I still plan to try to answer the important questions of which type of cable has the largest, and the least, impact on a high resolution system. I will also add a short personal cable history as a perspective.
2. "The Truth" Line Stage- The review of "The Truth" is almost finished. It will be posted during the first week of March 2016. The review expanded, and took longer to write than I expected, for reasons that will be obvious once it is posted. I will use this review to once again discuss line stages (active and passive) in general.
3. Acappella Ion Super Tweeter- I have had no chance to audition these tweeters. They are still in the same carton they arrived in many months ago. I was hoping for some assistance from one of my technically inclined associates, but he wasn't able to make his annual visit this year. If nothing changes, I will try to get to these super tweeters myself sometime this spring.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the February 2015 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
A True "Game Changer"...
I believe "The Truth" line stage is the most important audio component available today. It does not have universal applicability and it also has some impractical features but, within its general component class, it stands by itself, sui generis and "one of a kind". More than that, "The Truth" line stage can even be thought of as a "tool" and/or Reference for both audio designers and those serious audiophiles interested in finally learning the true (no pun intended) capabilities, and limitations, of both their sources and their current line stages. First, some important perspective...
A traditional (active) line stage has four basic functions. In contrast, a "direct connection", from the signal source directly to an amplifier, has no functions by definition. These are the four functions:
1. Gain/Energy (to amplify the original signal)
2. Volume Attenuation (to optimize the volume level)
3. Output Buffer (to reduce, if not eliminate, the problematic effects of incompatible input/output impedances and/or lengthy signal cables)
4. Source Selection (optional, if there is more than one source)
A traditional active line stage should have all four functions, which gives it universal applicability. This means that it should work optimally in all systems, regardless of the sources, cables and/or the amplifier requirements. The Coincident Statement Line Stage (CSLS) is still the finest traditional active line stage I've heard.
A passive line stage will always have Volume Attenuation and sometimes Source Selection as well. The EMIA is still the best passive line stage I've yet heard.
"The Truth" line stage is unique, and may even be described as a "Hybrid". It has every basic function with the sole exception of extra Gain.
Some audio systems require gain in their line stage for one or more sources to reach a satisfying volume level. Other systems have sources with the necessary volume, so they don't require any gain. However, sheer volume, by itself, is never the only objective. The quality of the signal is equally important. The first responsibility of a serious audiophile is to discover the capabilities and requirements of their system, with certainty, and to also do so safely. This is not easily done, however...
When I first found myself in this same position decades ago, I devised "The Bolero Test" (see link below), which safely provides the listener the music and time to discover whether a source has both the volume, and also the sound quality, to avoid using an active line stage. While this test still has validity, "The Truth" line stage has now changed the implications of the results (a literal "game changer"), which is discussed below. Meanwhile, the entire, and complex, active versus passive line stage issue must also be addressed at this time.
If one visits websites with audio discussion groups, such as Audio Asylum and especially Audiogon, you will find numerous threads concerning the benefits and/or deficiencies of active versus passive line stages. There are usually a number of adherents on either side, with most of them talking past each other, and their opinions mainly based on a very limited number of experiences. The most common and consistent claim of active line stages fans is that their favorite models will "improve" the original signal, so it's even better than it was at the output of the source. Unfortunately, this is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve, both technically and by definition. A source, or the original signal, is never able to be "improved".
Why? Consider first the obvious implication. If it was actually possible for an active line stage, or any component, to literally improve the original signal, then more models of that same component could be further used, again and again, in series, until the sound was better than "live" or the original recording. In short, why would anyone ever stop after the first improvement? It would only make sense to go on and on until space and/or money ran out. No component can remove what shouldn't have been in the signal in the first place (distortions), or restore the musical information that was once there, but now is lost. However, there must be some rational explanation for the (obvious and indisputable) better sound usually heard when using an active line stage?
An active line stage's better sound (versus a passive) is not an illusion or personal "taste". The sound is better because the original signal has been "actualized", making it a better "fit" with the amplifier's requirements. Why is this necessary? The direct signal from the source usually requires some sort of "assistance" or transformation before it can properly drive the power amplifier. This signal buffering is the critical function of an active line stage, with gain usually being a "bonus". Proper buffering allows the original output signal to fully satisfy the input requirements of the power amplifier. The goal, or ideal, is to achieve these functions with as few noticeable sonic problems as possible.
Only when the original signal source has the required energy to directly drive the power amplifier, without any sonic compromises, can a passive line stage ever be used with complete success, since the only function remaining at that point is signal attenuation. This basic technical fact is why audiophiles talk past each other when they argue which is better; passive or active. This is because the actual results completely depend on the specific system in question; in particular the source's energy output and the amplifier's energy input requirement.
Those audiophiles who have the sources with the required energy (a minority), will not be able to understand how anyone would want to listen to the inevitable sonic degradations of any active line stage, when there are no corresponding sonic benefits. Meanwhile, those audiophiles whose sources do not have the required energy (a majority), will not be able to understand how anyone would prefer to avoid some relatively minor audible problems while simultaneously ignoring the much larger and more easily noticeable sonic benefits they are experiencing. Both sides are undeniably correct, because they are experiencing two very different realities, though all of their experiences are consistent with the laws of acoustics and electronics.
This brings us to "The Truth" line stage, whose unique design meets the most demanding requirements of both the active and passive camps, and to an unprecedented degree. "The Truth" line stage even changes the implications of "The Bolero Test" results by eliminating "Sound Quality" as an issue. Only the volume level results are still relevant with "The Truth", because of its rare ability to optimize the sound quality of the even the weakest sources.
"The Truth's" design consists of two key elements. First is the volume control, which uses Light as an attenuator, in contrast to a common resistor or a transformer. There are other line stages which also use light, such as the Lightspeed and the LDR from Tortuga Audio (see links below), though "The Truth" purportedly uses light in a different manner than the other two. Unfortunately, I am incapable of describing the technical differences between their respective methods of using light, let alone analyzing them. (I also believe Melos was the first audio manufacturer to use light in some capacity to change the volume, more than 20 years ago now, though I had no first hand experience with that ground breaking preamplifier.)
"The Truth" has another unusual design element; it uses solid-state buffers in an unique manner. The end results are an ultra-high input impedance as well as an ultra-low output impedance. I am not able to separate the distinct audible effects of these different elements, but I am still convinced that the use of these buffers is one of the keys to explaining the unique performance abilities of "The Truth". ("The Truth's" third basic function, Source Selection, which is optional, is nothing special and is irrelevant to its ultimate performance.)
"The Truth" has no On/Off switch. It is always "On" when it is plugged into the AC wall socket. It doesn't draw much power and doesn't get hot, or even warm, to the touch. It took around 2 days of continual play for it to sound its best.
From a certain perspective, "The Truth" is the most difficult component I've ever had to describe. It's like it isn't even "there", which, of course, is the highest compliment imaginable for an audio component (or should be). It has the rare distinction of earning the three words I've described in the past (see "My Audio Philosophy") as highly important and the most neglected by audiophiles: "Indescribable", "Unpredictable" and "Surprising". It also deserves one of my associate's highest accolades, as it sounds like "Nothing".
Still, far more details and specifics are required to fully understand and appreciate the unequalled level of performance of "The Truth". So, I will compare "The Truth" to the two most formidable line stages that I know of at this time:
1. The Coincident Statement Line Stage (CSLS), which is active,
2. The EMIA Transformer based volume control, which is passive, and as a bonus, the most difficult test of them all, a
3. "Direct Connection", which is where we will start.
Vs. "A Direct Connection"- The ultimate test. This is a preliminary report because I'm in the process of switching the signal cables in my system, and the results of these switches may also alter the results of this comparison as well. At this time though, this is what I can report: "The Truth" is now the closest I've ever heard to sounding "direct" or "naked" (a term an associate uses). Let me explain...
As I reported back in 2012, the (passive) EMIA sounded closer to a direct connection than even the outstanding CSLS. This made perfect sense since the CSLS is an active line stage, though both of these models use transformers to change the volume. "The Truth" is even more "direct" and "naked" sounding than the EMIA, and I believe it will take some subjective numbers to best describe the "sonic gaps" that I observed between them:
Direct Connection- 100
"The Truth"- 97
Caveat- The above scale, numbers and gaps have been expanded by around 100% to make them easier to understand. In reality, the subjective numbers, starting with the CSLS, would be approximately 95, 96.5, 98.5 & 100.
Assume a "direct connection" is "100" (perfect), and the CSLS is a "90". Using this expanded scale, I would then give the EMIA a score of "93". While this is closer to 100 (direct), it's still closer to 90 than to 100, so the EMIA sounds more like the CSLS than to a direct connection. Again using this same scale, "The Truth" receives a score of "97", which is not only closer to a direct connection than the EMIA, it also sounds more like a direct connection than it sounds like the EMIA or the CSLS. This is a subtle but important distinction.
Vs. The EMIA- I haven't heard the EMIA for more than 3 years, but I am very familiar with how it sounds compared to the CSLS, so an extrapolation is not that difficult to make. The EMIA, as an outstanding passive line stage, did less harm to the signal than the CSLS or any active line stage I've heard for that matter. However, without the gain and especially the buffering functions of an active line stage, the EMIA is totally dependent on the source having the required energy to drive the amplifiers. In my Reference System (when bi-amping), and for most systems in my experience, the source will not be up to the task. However, what if the source does have the required energy, how then does the EMIA compare to "The Truth"?
"The Truth", as already stated above, is somewhat more direct, immediate and naked sounding than even the EMIA, which is an outstanding accomplishment. "The Truth" is faster and also sounds more extended, in both frequency extremes, than the EMIA, and it's more dynamic as well. The soundstage is around the same size for both, though "The Truth" has somewhat better focus. While the EMIA has around the same input and output gain, "The Truth" loses around .5 db, which is minor but must be mentioned. "The Truth" can also drive two stereo (4 mono) amplifiers at the same time, even with a weak energy source (such as my Jadis JP-80), as well as any length of cables.
Vs. The Coincident Statement Line Stage- This is an even more interesting comparison, because (unlike the EMIA) the CSLS does have the ability to drive multiple amplifiers, with any source, and it also has gain, unlike either the EMIA or "The Truth". However, there is always a sonic price to pay for gain, and while the CSLS keeps that "sonic price" smaller than any other active line stage I've heard, it still exists. Is it unfair to compare a line stage with gain to one with no gain? Maybe, but it must be done for the sake of perspective and, besides, I already directly compared the EMIA to the CSLS almost 4 years ago, so this particular comparison, gain versus no gain, is not setting a precedent for this website. Now for the details...
Compared to the CSLS, "The Truth", as stated above, is more immediate, direct, cleaner, faster and more transparent. "The Truth" also has a lower sound-floor and is more extended at both frequency extremes. The CSLS's bass is outstanding, but "The Truth" is even better. The CSLS's dynamic contrasts are outstanding as well, but it's still not equal to "The Truth". The soundstage is around the same size for both components, but "The Truth" again has superior focus. Both components can be accurately described as natural and neutral, but "The Truth" has an advantage here as well.
I only have one criticism of "The Truth's" sonic performance at this time; it still doesn't possess all the immediacy and "directness" of a direct connection, which means it is still not "perfect", but it comes closer than any component I've heard. I realize this is a nitpick, but "The Truth" has left me no other option. Other than that, "The Truth" is equal or superior in every sonic attribute I can think of, and it's almost always superior. The specifics are important, and this is especially relevant with "The Truth":
"The Truth" is the most immediate, cleanest, fastest and transparent electronic component I've ever heard. These are the first qualities I observed during the initial listening audition.
"The Truth" has the lowest sound-floor of any electronic component I've heard. It has longer decays, a greater sense and feel of the recording space and it also reveals previously hidden subtle dynamic inflections.
"The Truth" has the most extended frequency extremes.
"The Truth" is also the most natural and neutral electronic component in my experience. Anyone who thinks "natural" is strictly "relative" hasn't heard "The Truth". This almost extreme sense of naturalness is present in the entire frequency range.
"The Truth's" electronic character is amazing small and so are the corresponding colorations. It even matches the finest purely passive components, like the EMIA, in this area. Because of this, "The Truth" exposes electronic colorations that I have considered "normal" in the past.
"The Truth" is the most dynamic line stage I've heard, with a convincing and uninhibited quality I've never experienced before, continually surprising me even with music I am overly familiar with. It is so dynamic, that what was considered the normal volume level may have to be changed.
"The Truth" is also the most detailed, individualized and least homogenized line stage I've heard. Example- Lyrics almost always become more intelligible with "The Truth".
The soundstage of "The Truth" is not larger than the other top line stages I've heard, but it does have superior focus and separation.
My system is more cohesive than it has ever been in the past, especially between the Pure Reference Extreme Monitors and Subwoofers. I believe this is primarily because of the improvements in the bass frequencies, which leads us to...
The bass reproduction of "The Truth" deserves special attention. It is simply state of the art in extension, control, texture, linearity, detail and primal force. One LP had me almost losing control of my bowels while playing it with "The Truth". This record went from being superb to truly frightening (though it was not just "The Truth" alone that was fully responsible for this profound change). From a different (though equally telling) perspective, until I heard "The Truth" in my system, I was unaware of just how outstanding the Jadis JP-80, the Dragon II amplifiers and the Coincident Subwoofers actually were in reproducing the bass frequencies. They were always "special" for sure, but "The Truth" was able to take them beyond that.
I need to be clear that most of these improvements are not "dramatic" individually. The relative performance of both the EMIA and the CSLS are at too high a level to allow a casual and honest use of that term. However, almost all of these improvements are easily noticeable, even without listening for them, and they are also cumulative, so they still must be described as significant.
"The Truth" is a simple design, so while I am not a technician, attempting to explain the reason(s) for its performance is not that difficult. "The Truth" has two buffers (input and output) and one light-based attenuator in its signal path. It's obvious that none of these devices is adversely effecting the signal. In fact, they all seem to completely disappear, so this must be the explanation for "The Truth's" unprecedented performance.
"The Truth" also demonstrates, to the point of conviction, that "Light" is sonically superior to a transformer in volume attenuation, just as a good transformer is superior to even the finest resistor in my experience. I was initially concerned with the (two) buffers, since they are solid-state, but the actual sonic results refute any prejudice I had. In fact, nothing else I've heard in the past, tube or transistor, can equal the degree of their innocuousness.
The buffers are also the reason why "The Truth" can easily deal with both the lowest energy sources and the most demanding power amplifier input requirements, simultaneously, and even the longest signal cables as well. No other light-based volume attenuator I'm aware of can make this same claim.
"The Truth", right out of the box, did not sound quite like I described above. I made several changes, nothing major, which made it both practical to use in my system, while also elevating its performance to new heights. There are four changes, though not all of them may be applicable to all users. It will depend on the particular system and set-up.
1. Isolation Plate- I placed a metapolymer isolation plate below "The Truth". The sound became a little purer, relaxed and better focused. It also lowered the sound-floor. Component isolation is common these days for serious audiophiles, so this is nothing special or unexpected.
2. Internal grounding of the (IEC jack) "earth" pin- "The Truth" was quiet with the APL digital player, but it had a loud hum with the phono source, and nothing I did could eliminate it. I later noticed that the internal IEC jack earth pin was unattached, so I connected it to the chassis. This eliminated the hum and it also slightly lowered the sound-floor as a bonus. The audibility of hum is almost always dependent on system/home grounding, so this may not be a problem with other systems.
3. AC power cord switched to Coincident CST and then Statement- "The Truth" comes with a 6 foot generic power cord. I replaced this with a 2 foot Coincident CST power cord and then later with a 2 foot Statement power cord. This was the largest improvement, with the exception of eliminating the hum of course. I believe "The Truth" requires a high quality power cord in the most revealing and demanding systems. I realize that a good quality power cord could cost a high % of the original investment, but it is well worth it in the long run.
4. 10 lb. lead weight placed on top of chassis- The metal case of "The Truth" is somewhat flimsy, so I added the weight, with damping materials placed between the weight and the case. The result was only a tiny improvement, but it cost next to nothing, so why not?
Is it possible to further improve "The Truth"? I believe so, but this would require some internal modifications which are mainly beyond my expertise at this time (see the website, link below). One fantasy I have is to hear a model of "The Truth" with a dual-mono power supply.
There is an issue with the volume control of "The Truth". It is the most sensitive I've ever experienced, by far, and to make matters worse, the dynamic range of "The Truth", also unprecedented in my experience, makes the detection of an optimum volume level that much more critical and difficult to find. Finding the optimum volume level with "The Truth", especially with a dynamic recording, is similar to finding the optimum VTA for a record, and that is not an exaggeration. However, I still prefer this volume control, especially when considering the alternatives. What?...
The ultra-sensitive volume control of "The Truth" is continuous, while most serious line stages (including the EMIA and CSLS) have stepped controls. For me, this is an important if not critical distinction. Why? With "The Truth", it's always possible to find the ideal volume level, even if it isn't an easy process. This is not the case with stepped controls, which usually have 1 to 2 db increments. With them, you must learn to live with an "OK" volume setting most of the time, instead of ideal, unless you get lucky.
Further, and related, I found the remote volume control almost completely useless because of the hyper-sensitivity of the volume control. Maybe constant practice would help, but I gave up after two evenings of frustration.
As I alluded to above, to facilitate optimum grounding in different homes and systems, a grounding/floating switch would be helpful.
"The Truth" changes the paradigm in Reference Line Stages, literally. Its existence has even forced me to remove a "Direct Connection" in "Class A", because such a choice no longer makes any rational sense to me. In the end, "The Truth" is effectively a "direct connection" with no sonic downsides, and with the ability to drive any amplifier load and/or length of cable, while allowing any source to be heard at its very best. With the exception of extra gain, an audiophile can't ask for more than that. I realize that this may all sound "too good to be true", but it isn't. Maybe more important than even that is this: On the most subjective level, "The Truth" facilitates a direct human connection to the music and/or recording, to a greater degree, than anything else I've heard.
I've had a challenge describing and placing "The Truth" in a larger perspective, while remaining consistent with the previous observations and evaluations within this website. Example: More than 5 years ago, in February 2011, I wrote this about the Coincident Statement Line Stage: (The CSLS) "is the most 'perfect' electronic audio amplifying device, of any type, that I have ever heard" (italics added). This review raises an obvious question: Has "The Truth" now invalidated that 2011 statement? The short and definitive answer: No.
My 2011 CSLS statement is still valid even today, because I deliberately included the specific qualifier of "amplifying". To be clear, the CSLS is still the finest amplifying device that I'm aware of, in any category. However, I must emphasize that my description and evaluation of "The Truth" is even less qualified than the CSLS:
"The Truth" is the most 'perfect' electronic audio device, of any type, that I have ever heard, and that is why I also describe it as "one of a kind".
"The Truth" line stage epitomizes true "High-Fidelity". I wish J. Gordon Holt had lived long enough to hear (and see) this design. "The Truth" brings back the feelings I had in the 1970's, when prices weren't outrageous, even for the highest quality components, and you still believed that someone just starting out, and completely unknown, could "build a better mouse trap" by offering a component as good or better than even the most famous and expensive models, even if it looked "cheap", and still sell it at a price that virtually any hobbyist could afford. (The direct selling price of "The Truth" is $ 975*.)
The Bottom Line- If the source provides a satisfying volume level (verify this with "The Bolero Test"), and the "garage built" appearance is not a problem (see below), then "The Truth" is the most desirable line stage I know of at this time, and at any price.
*This is the price for the basic model. Extra inputs and outputs will cost more, as will the remote volume control option. Check the website, link below, for further details.
I feel it is important and necessary to discuss this review of "The Truth, in detail, in the context of consistency (or what I've written in the past). Consistency, continuity and perspective are almost always missing in modern audio journalism. There is a reason for their absence. They are inconvenient and limiting, and thus the mortal enemies of undeserved hype.
To be specific: In my 2011 CSLS review, I wrote that I didn't think it was possible for any line stage in the future to "significantly" improve on the performance of the CSLS. (I later made this exact same claim for the EMIA in its 2012 review, and for the exact same reasons. However, for the sake of clarity, I will only focus on the earlier CSLS review.)
My confidence in making this CSLS claim was mainly based on one factor; the "sonic gap" between a "direct connection" and the CSLS (or the EMIA) was "minor". A minor sonic gap obviously left no "room" for a "significant" improvement, but now the performance of "The Truth" appears to contradict my 2011 opinion and prediction, and this has troubled me. How could I have been so wrong, or was I? So I gave this question some serious thought and analysis, and this is what I believe has happened.
First: The sonic gap between my 2011-system direct connection and the CSLS would still be "minor" today. In fact, the gap would be even smaller now, due to the CSLS' improvements since 2011 (better volume transformers and tubes). Second: The CSLS "sonic gap" consists of two elements, which are equally important. One element is the CSLS of course, while the second element is My Audio System. It is this second element, my audio system, that provides the explanation and answers we are looking for. The details:
My audio system has changed considerably since 2011, and this has an enormous impact on this issue. In fact, every component has either been replaced or modified except the speakers, so I have almost a new system in 2016.
The Most Important System Changes Since 2011:
1. ZYX UNIverse II cartridge replaced "Original" UNIverse*
2. Graham Phantom Supreme tonearm replaced II*
3. Improved DIY tonearm cable*
4. Lenco Reference II and III Upgrades*
5. Jadis JP-80 CuTF capacitor replacements*
6. Coincident Shotgun Interconnects replaced DIY from JP-80 to CSLS*
7. APL NWO-Master replaced Krell SACD Standard II*
8. Frankenstein (.01 uf) CuTF capacitor replacement and superior tubes**
9. Dragon II replaced original Dragon**
10. Coincident Statement power cords (entire system)* & **
*These improvements, individually and cumulatively, have significantly increased the total amount of musical information coming from either the Jadis JP-80 or the digital source. This, in turn, has significantly increased the overall size of the direct connection "sonic gap" between the sources and the CSLS. Further, and just as important...
**These improvements in amplification since 2011 have also made any existing sonic gap, then or now, much more easily noticeable, as well as exposing other sonic problems that existed back then.
In effect, the system deficiencies that existed in 2011, in both the sources and in the amplification, masked some sonic problems with both the 2011 "direct connection" and the 2011 CSLS. While this was unavoidable, I also had no idea in 2011 that the sonic gap could expand from "minor" to "significant" as my system continually improved over the last 5 years. If I made any error of judgment, that was it. "The Larger Lesson"- The audio world never stands still, so serious audiophiles must always remain flexible enough to recognize, and take advantage of, any new realities.
In the end, my improved 2016 audio system is much better able to expose this current sonic gap and any other sonic problems that were previously hidden in 2011. Finally, and inevitably, this expanded 2016 sonic gap created an "opening" for a component such as "The Truth" to fill, which it did.
Relevant Links and Websites:
The Horn Shoppe (Home of "The Truth" Line Stage, plus high-efficiency speakers)
The Bolero Test (Safely answers what type of Line Stage you can use)
My Audio System
2011 Review of the Coincident Statement Line Stage (CSLS)
My Audio Philosophy
Coincident Speaker Technology (High-efficiency speakers, tube electronics and cables)
EMIA (Transformer based components)
LightSpeed Attenuator (A unique passive attenuator using LEDs. Australian. Sells direct.)
Tortuga Audio (Light based passive line stages. Sells direct.)
Below is a picture of "The Truth" line stage currently in my system, with the 10 lb weight on top of it and a metapolymer plate below it. The selector switch is on the left hand side. The balance control is in the center. It is almost at 3 o'clock (instead of 12) because it hasn't been re-centered since it left the factory. The knob on the right is the volume control positioned at around 12 o'clock. The maximum limit of the volume control is around 1 o'clock, while the 10 o'clock position is virtually silent, so the entire volume range is only around 3 hours (see above). The small opening in the center is the sensor for the remote volume control.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the March 2015 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.
A veteran reader sent me a letter concerning this cartridge, from a surprising source, which doesn't cost a fortune, but appears to compete with the finest cartridges available, at any price. Here is his edited letter, with my bold, plus a relevant link:
"...The Audio-Technica AT-ART9 moving coil cartridge... can be had on eBay for as little as ~$ 945 and I have just ordered one from a Japanese seller with flawless eBay feedback...
The AT-ART9 may be another screaming good deal if a couple of Audiogon threads are to be believed. What first grabbed my attention was griffithds's comment that he found the AT-ART9 to be more life-like sounding than (amongst others) the Benz Micro LP-S, which is on your...Reference... list at Class A Upper. (https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/audio-technica-art9-cartridge?highlight=art9) If true, we have a $ 1K cartridge that compares favorably with a $ 6K Class A Upper cartridge (was $ 5K as of your write up) that "...must be regarded as a bargain." (Your associate's words.)
While skepticism is called for in terms of AT-ART9 being as good or better than a Benz LP-S, the Audiogon threads are significant enough that the AT-ART9 merits a critical listen, IMO. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a $ 1K MC cartridge that was at least not embarrassed in the presence of MC cartridge giants if not being an actual giant slayer, itself...From what I can gather, the AT-ART9 is nigh impossible to get from North American Audio-Technica dealers at the moment and must be ordered from places like Japan, Hong Kong, and Europe."
Technical specs on the cartridge are at: http://eu.audio-technica.com/en/products/cartridges/product.asp?catID=8&subID=57&prodID=4498
In the last two months, I first had a technical problem with a critical component (Jadis JP-80 Phono Stage) that proved extremely difficult to resolve. Then a second (and unrelated) important device proved to be defective upon delivery, and that has further delayed my tight schedule. Fortunately, I will still be able to complete most of my currently scheduled listening evaluations before and during the hot weather soon to come, but the resulting articles will all have to be delayed.
There are also some other highly interesting components that may arrive in the coming months, which I am not yet able to discuss at this time, though they will probably have to wait until Fall 2016 to properly evaluate.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the April 2015 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.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the May 2015 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.
My "audio nightmare" finally ended. Details to come. The Florida summer weather (and the Olympics) preclude me from conducting all the experiments and tests I would like, but I can still promise some serious progress in the next few months.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the June 2015 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 my Readers, have found to work very well with low-powered Single Ended Triode (SET) amplifiers;
AcuHorn rosso superiore175
Affirm (formerly Maxxhorn) Lumination & Immersion
Apogee Acoustics Definitive Ribbon Speaker (very expensive)
Aspara Acoustics HL1 Horn Speaker
Audio Note ANE SEC Signature
Avantgarde Duo and Trio (All Versions)
BD-Design Oris and Orphean Models
Bottlehead Straight 8s (Discontinued)
Brentworth Sound Lab
Cain & Cain BEN ES (and other models)
Cardersound Madison (Single-Drive Back Loaded Horns)
Coincident (Total) Victory II & Pure Reference Extreme (and most of their other models)
Decware (Various Models)
(DIY Hi-Fi Supply) Crescendo Ribbon Horn Speaker System
Fab Audio Model 1 (Toronto, Canada)
FAL Supreme-C90 EXW or EXII
Goodmans of England 5 or 612s
Hawthorne Solo and Duet
Horn Shoppe (Two Models)
Horning Hybrids (Various models)
Klipschorn and La Scala (All Versions)
Living Voice OBX-R2 (UK)
Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo
Omega Speaker Systems
Pi Speakers (Various Models)
ProAc Response Two*
Reference 3A MM de Capo i
RL Acoustique Lamhorn 1.8 (Montreal, Canada)
Sonist Concerto 2
Sunlight Engineering 308
Supravox Open Baffle
Teresonic (Various Models)
Tonian Acoustics (Various Models)
WLM (Various Models)
*Recommended by a reader and Gordon Rankin (Wavelength Audio), a veteran expert SET designer, despite its 86 db sensitivity.
I would appreciate finding out about any other models, that readers have actually heard for themselves, to add to this list. This list is not a temporary project. It will be kept permanently in the Speaker Files. Further, don't expect to see the speaker models posted here a day or so after your e-mail is sent to me. Please remember that I'm usually behind in ALL my correspondence, including even the brief and helpful information letters. I will keep my own "SET friendly list" because at least one list should have no commercial foundation, temptations or considerations**.
Important- I would like to know if any of the above models can be bi-amped. This is critical, because I am convinced, based on decades of experience, that speakers with the capability of being bi-amped have far superior potential, assuming everything else is equal.
**For example, another website placed the Merlin speakers on their list, which, despite all their enviable qualities, will still not work well with low-powered SET amplifiers. I know, because I tried them. The sensitivity was just too low. Merlin, themselves, has used the excellent CAT amplifiers, which are pentode based and push-pull, at their audio show demonstrations. I would trust Merlin to know how to optimize their own speaker designs.
Until 2016, neither I nor any of my associates have had any direct experience with Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning (US). In contrast, we have had decades of experience using "traditional" record cleaning machines, which first apply cleaning fluids to the vinyl and then vacuum dry the record, all at once or groove by groove. This has now changed. First my associates, and then I, used the Ultra Sonic method and we can now report the results.
I decided it would be best to make this a two part report. In Part One (below), an associate, with the most US experience, will discuss ultra sonic cleaning in general, along with some observations of the actual results. Part Two, coming next month, will be much more detailed. I will first go over my record cleaning history. I will then discuss my own sonic results, as well as the specifics of the actual models and machines that were used. I will also provide more US cleaning protocol details, and even include some pictures and relevant links.
Editor: Only minor editing and my bold:
"The topic of properly cleaning vinyl has been discussed for decades with a consensus adopted that dictates that all LPs should be subjected to a high quality vacuum machine with a variety of recommended fluids. Many have claimed that washing a record in this manner will not only substantially improve the sonic performance, but will preserve the vinyl and eliminate or substantially reduce noise and static of the vinyl. There are a plethora of such machines in existence at various price points, but all essentially accomplish the same goal, albeit with varying levels of convenience and ease of use.
There is no doubt that a well scrubbed record will sound better and survive longer than a dirty LP littered with human finger oils, dog hair, dust and other sundry contaminants. However, over the years, the overall performance advantages seemed to be overstated and, surprisingly at times, barely evident. What has changed all that? The answer is ultra sonic cleaning of records (or "cavitation"). This method comprises the purchase of an ultra sonic cleaning machine (employed in industry for years to scrupulously clean jewellery, machine and car parts etc) and an adapter kit, where the LPs are mounted and a motor spins them very slowly in the liquid bath. (Editor- I will provide details concerning the specific ultra sonic machine and adapter kit models in Part Two.)
The requirements of the US machine are that its tub capacity be a minimum of 9 liters and that it has an integral power limiter. The former is necessary so that LPs will fit comfortably in the tub for proper cleaning, while the latter permits the reduction of the ultimate power operating parameters to a maximum of 60%. Full power operation will cause permanent damage to the vinyl with the attendant sonic degradation. The complaints coming from some quarters about high end roll off after an ultra sonic cleaning are due to full power output during the cleaning process. Furthermore, the records should not be in the cleaning tub for longer than 15 minutes.
What does this ultra sonic cleaning process actually accomplish that conventional vacuum based machines do not? A revelatory experience, thatís what. To begin, we compared US cleaned records to the VPI 16.5 RCM; two identical recordings, same pressing, same condition (Villancicos - HM 1025*) were the test subjects.
One copy was put through the US process, while the other had been cleaned with the VPI machine using LíArt du Son fluid. The VPI cleaned copy was auditioned first. As usual, the sound was glorious in every way. Villancicos is an exceptional recording with demanding, full range music with stunningly natural, transparent sonics. Hard to find any faults. Then the US cleaned copy was auditioned. After 15 seconds of the first cut, the improvement in sonics was startling. The sound floor was substantially lowered, surface noise was non existent, while previously there was a slight amount of hiss present. The record visually appeared pristine which corresponded to how it sounded. The sense of immediacy, expansion of the soundstage, the revelation of low level detail and more complete harmonics was instantly apparent. Ambient cues created a greater awareness of the size and volume of the recording venue. Dynamic gradations were dramatically expanded.
In short, a transformative experience. One that was completely unexpected in its magnitude. No longer could I listen to any further LPs in my collection without a US cleaning. Within a few days, more than 200 records were cleaned. LP after LP exhibited the same results as that initial Villancicos experience. NOT A SINGLE LP did not exhibit superior sonics with much lower surface noise. Some to a greater degree, others slightly less so. It was as if my record collection was replaced with super 45 RPM versions. The degree of improvement was clearly apparent to every listener who took part in this experiment.
Cleaning your records with a US machine is absolutely necessary if the goal is to hear every last detail of musical information buried in those precious grooves. There is NO downside. This represents a clear cut win- win proposition."
*Editor's Note- Villancicos/HM 1025 is one of only 25 records in the highest category of The Supreme Recordings: THE DIVINITY
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the July 2015 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.
Like many "first experiences" in life, I still vividly remember the first record cleaning machine (RCM) I purchased and used. It was back in 1981, just a few months before I opened my audio store in Toronto, that I purchased the Keith Monks (KM) record cleaner. I had seen the KM being demonstrated at audio shows and just had to have one for myself, despite its very high cost, especially for that time. The entire concept of wet/vacuum record cleaning was more than just appealing to me, I felt it was also an audiophile requirement.
The KM worked well, though it did have some "eccentricities". The wet part was fine, with the platter turning very fast (like a 78 RPM turntable, and unlike later VPI/Nitty Gritty models). The drying part was slow though, with a tonearm device sucking in the fluid from only a single groove* as the platter rotated. This method is claimed to have an advantage by the KM's proponents, though it will obviously take much longer than the later approach used by VPI (and many others). Further, the KM tonearm had a string going through it (for various reasons) which also had the potential to cause problems. In the end, I don't believe I sold even one KM machine, though it did earn some income for the store by cleaning customers records for a small fee. Once the VPI RCM became available within the next year, I eventually sold the KM and never looked back.
The original VPI RCM was a popular breakthrough because it finally brought record cleaning machines into the mainstream. It had two important advantages over the KM model: 1. It was much less expensive. 2. It dried the record much quicker (using a tube to vacuum up the liquid over all of the grooves* simultaneously). The VPI was noisier though and also still somewhat expensive, so most of my customers still paid a fee to clean their records. (By this time, the VPI had become so familiar that I had the customers clean their own records.) Eventually, many models became available using this same basic VPI design, and this is still true today. Bottom Line for all phonophiles: Record Cleaning is a Necessity, period, and this is especially true if purchasing used records is part of an audiophile's life.
*Yes, I realise that there is only one groove on a record in the strict literal sense, but I'm discussing this issue in visual terms.
In the long run, I ended up with a Clearaudio (Double Smart Matrix) that was well built, worked very well and even cleaned both sides at once, saving precious time. Still, based on my decades of experience (along with my associates), I don't believe there is a significant difference between any of these machines in actual cleaning abilities, regardless of cost, even admitting there are separations of noise, build quality, ease of use and one or two-sided cleaning. However, I did discover the one critically important factor when cleaning records with all of these wet/dry machines, regardless of their design and price: the Cleaning Fluids. In short, I strongly believe the record cleaning fluids are more significant to the final results than the actual machines themselves. I ended up using Audio Intelligent cleaning fluids (see link below), though others may do just as well.
This brings us to the present and our experiences with ultra sonic record cleaning, which is a totally different method than the now standard wet/dry cleaning machines. My associate's experiences are already posted above and mine are below. It is also important to note that I deliberately ignored the details of my associate's experiences, so as to avoid any bias.
Critical Perspective- Ultra sonic cleaning (USC) has a very different sonic impact when compared to "standard cleaning" (SC). SC removes foreign material and particles, some even visible, which cause the annoying ticks and pops. In contrast, USC removes invisible, micro-sized, foreign material that SC is not able to remove in our experience, regardless of the machine, fluids and/or number of cleanings attempted. In effect, SC reduces the audible problems which are already audible and known, while USC removes the previously unknown audible problems, which only become actually known if and after they are removed.
It is also important to note that all the records I am basing my reporting on, using USC, were previously cleaned using a VPI, Nitty Gritty or Clearaudio RCM. In fact, most of these records had been cleaned twice. The Clearaudio was always the second machine because of the improved results I reported on, which were mainly due to using superior cleaning fluids. In short, these "experimental/reference" records were already as clean as I was able to get them using SC. And, finally, this is what I consistently observed...
There were only improvements and no downsides at any time. The sound was more immediate, naked and direct. It is similar in type to what you hear with a direct-to-disc record, or when bypassing a line stage (going "direct") or a signal cable, though not to that same degree. The sound was also cleaner and purer, at all volume levels and frequencies (particularly in the highs). There was less noticeable homogenization, especially during complex and challenging passages. There was a greater natural sense of space, longer decays and better image focus. Transients were faster, cleaner and more precise. The "background surface noise" was reduced, along with the entire sound-floor. Some improvements were subtle, while others more easily noticeable. The most concise description of these improvements I can make is this: The records all sounded more like "The Master Tape".
I have followed only one USC protocol. It is the exact same protocol that my associate used earlier and which Kuzma recommended based on their experiments. Why? This would allow me to definitively confirm or contradict my associate's findings, which has to be my main priority at this time. There will obviously be plenty of time and opportunity to experiment with other protocols in the future (and I will provide links to other interesting USC protocols below). Here is a description of our shared protocol, with any minor differences noted:
1. I used a 10 liter container ("bath"), which is manufactured in China (picture below). It has the same liquid capacity of the model my associate used, but the dimensions of my model were slightly different. This difference allowed me to clean 11 records simultaneously, while my associate's machine was "only" capable of cleaning 9 records at a time. Both machines had timers, temperature controls and, most importantly, power controls (see below).
2. The settings I used with my ultra sonic machine were basically the same as my associate. I used the same temperature (33 C), around the same power (80%, based on video evidence of his machine in operation), but the cleaning time was a little longer (15 to 20 minutes) because I had (22%) more records to clean.
3. I used the exact same cleaning solution as my associate: two gallons of distilled water (Walmart $ .68/gallon), plus some Isopropyl alcohol and a few drops of surfactant (Photo-Flo or Triton X-114). I continually replaced the alcohol and surfactant with every other cleaning, while the entire solution was replaced around every dozen or so cleanings. In effect, the solution cost of cleaning each record is around $ .01, which is basically "free" for an audiophile.
4. The records were air dried after removing them from the "bath" and shaking off any excess fluid. It takes around 30 minutes to an hour to dry them, depending on the temperature and humidity of the room. I usually gently brushed the records to remove any remaining loose dust particles and then placed the records back in their original sleeves. It's very easy to create a simple routine to make certain that the records go back into their original sleeves.
5. It is also important to note that, like my associate, all the records I cleaned with this protocol were either brand new or had been previously cleaned with a standard RCM.
The machine is turned on around 15 minutes prior to use to reach the proper fluid temperature. The On/Off switch is in the back. The three front controls, left to right: Temperature, Power and Timer.
This is the inside of the machine before the records are placed in the bath, with the ultra sonic devices turned "On". The visible ripples are the result of the ultra sonic vibrations.
The Kuzma's specific function in the cleaning process is now clearly evident. The On/Off switch for the Kuzma is in the back. The records rotate at the speed of around 1 RPM.
It is important to make certain that no record is touching the side of the bath, which will stop its rotation, while still maximizing the depth of the LP that is in the bath. The space between the two outside LPs and the parallel bath wall is around 1.5". The current spacing between records is .5", while some prefer a 1" spacing (link below).
There are currently available two basic methods of ultra sonic record cleaning:
1. Cleaning multiple records simultaneously, usually with a DIY type device (such as the Kuzma) working in conjunction with a generic ultra sonic machine or
2. Cleaning one record at a time, using a custom machine dedicated just for that purpose (which are usually expensive because of the poor economy of scale). The most famous models are Audio Desk and KLAUDiO.
None of us has had any direct experience with method #2, but it should be superior for One-Step cleaning, assuming it is implemented properly, with the caveats of extra costs in both time and money. The #2 machine itself, because of its greater mechanical complexity, will also inevitably require more service and common maintenance (plus it will have more breakdowns). Still, for those audiophiles who have the required funds, I can understand the demand for this type of machine, since it should produce outstanding results as well as its convenience when having to clean only a single LP (a common experience, especially if you have regular visitors).
For most audiophiles though, method #1 will be the best practical and economical choice, and there are also a growing number of models as well to choose from. In particular, I, along with my associate, can enthusiastically vouch for the Kuzma. The Kuzma is very well built, well thought out and versatile. I've also seen other models (links below), though none of them, so far, match all the Kuzma's strengths, but they do have an advantage in cost, which can be critical for some.
As for the ultra sonic "bath", my industrial model (seen above) works well and it's economical. However, I had a serious problem with the model my associate is using, causing the delay of this article, though his version has worked fine. This problematic model has now been discontinued, so it is irrelevant at this point. There is also a complete USC from Poland that looks interesting and is also very economical. There will be links to all of these models, and others as well, below.
1. Are there any other benefits with USC besides improved sonics?
1. There is much less record static. In fact, there is basically no static charge that I can notice after the cleaning and air-drying. This is in stark contrast with the same records before the USC process, when my arm hair literally would stand on end when close to the records stacked on the Kuzma spindle.
2. It is rare now to see "dirt" on the stylus after playing an LP which has been ultra sonically cleaned. Before USC, there was usually visible debris on the stylus after play, even with new records and/or those records cleaned using the standard method. (I still clean the stylus after each play though, just to make certain, or maybe it's force of habit.)
3. Records look cleaner than you have ever seen them (even when new), which may be an aesthetic pleasure for some.
4. Records have a longer play-life after USC, which should be obvious and, accordingly, they should also be more (monetarily) valuable (see below).
2. Are there sonic differences in the results based on the record manufacturer or when the LP was pressed?
None that any of us have observed, so far. The improvements we've heard are as described above on all the labels and all years of pressings. We can state this observation though: In general, the better the LP was originally (before USC) in sonics, the greater the noticeable improvement, which makes sense. However, I have noticed something unusual: "Digital Records" (LPs with Digital Master Tapes) seem to be particularly improved, though more experiences/tests are still necessary for confirmation of this observation.
3. Is ultra sonic cleaning new technology?
Sadly, no. Ultra sonic record cleaning, particularly Method #1 (which we are using), could have been technologically accomplished decades ago. Of course, that means we've been using a compromised and incomplete record cleaning method for almost 40 years, but there's nothing we can do about it now. The good news is that USC does exist now, with numerous options, and it can be economical.
4. Does USC obsolete "standard" record cleaning machines, such as those from VPI, Nitty-Gritty etc?
No, but! Ultra sonic cleaners, using Method #1, are not good for really dirty records (those with smudges, fingerprints, oils etc.). Only standard RCMs, utilizing quality cleaning fluids and brushes, can clean records with foreign materials that are actually sticking to the surface. However, the ultra sonic cleaners, using Method #2, combine both cleaning methods, which is why they have an advantage and also cost more, and they DO obsolete standard cleaning machines.
USC should be thought of as the final step necessary to remove the last remaining (usually invisible) foreign materials from the record. On a personal note, while I sold my Clearaudio, I will eventually purchase another standard RCM. I still purchase the odd used record and their condition is always "a crap shoot" (a standard RCM can also quicken the drying time). There may be some audiophiles with entire record collections, either already cleaned with a standard RCM, and/or new and unplayed, who can get away with only an USC, but for everyone else I advise having both a standard RCM and an USC.
5. Does USC have any relevance with the use of the ELP (the laser turntable)?
Yes, both positive and negative. The ELP uses lasers that respond to even the tiniest of foreign particles, thus making them (annoyingly) audible. So, using USC is even more important for the ELP than a standard turntable system. In fact, I would say it is an absolute requirement. Ironically though, USC also makes a standard turntable sound more like an ELP, because of the reduction in surface noise and the resulting greater degree of intimate direct contact of the stylus with the inner grooves.
I, and my associates, came late to Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning, which I now regret, but I will do my best to make up for lost time. As of today, my main goal is to confirm that USC is indeed a real "breakthrough", even though the technology is many decades old. Further, there is no substitute for USC, as only USC can remove the final remaining foreign objects from the tiny grooves of the LP. I must also stress that the resulting sonic improvements do make a definite positive difference in "involving" oneself in the musical performance. Further, once these improved sonics are experienced, an audiophile can never go back, which to me is the ultimate test. However, there is arguably even a more important reason to celebrate USC...
Even if there were no audible improvements with USC, I would still be a strong advocate for its use, for one simple and fundamental reason: the resulting minimization of groove damage of the LP during play, which thus allows the record to be played the maximum amount of times without damage and sonic compromise. That reason alone, protecting our precious records*, makes USC well worth it. In fact, I no longer play an LP on my system unless it has been ultra sonically cleaned, knowing I would actually feel "guilty" if I did otherwise. I believe records, ultra sonically cleaned, and even those records still to be cleaned, are more valuable than ever before, because their "life expectancy" has now been increased.
*USC will also protect and extend the life of the stylus, another bonus.
The Bottom Line is simple: All serious audiophiles should use ultra sonics to clean their entire record collection, which for me, and my associates, has become a required project. I understand that some of the USC machines are unaffordable for most audiophiles (including me), but there are economical alternatives (see links below), and USC machines can always be purchased by a group if need be. As for myself, I not only plan to clean my entire collection, as I stated above, I will also experiment with different procedures and methods and report back on the results.
As for USC and this website, I feel USC is important enough to warrant its own dedicated file, which should be initially posted before the end of this year. This dedicated file will consist of all the credible and relevant information on USC I can discover, and any updates when necessary. It will also include Links to all the informative articles and threads on USC that I can find, plus Links to all the manufacturers and sellers of USC machines and related products that become known to me.
Relevant USC Links:
Information and Further USC Reading:
Rush Paul's Positive Feedback USC Article This is Highly Informative
VPI Record Cleaning Forum This is long and also informative
Audio Kharma Thread This is also informative
Audiogon Thread A further discussion of Rush Paul's Important PF Article
DIY Audio Thread An Incredible 154 Pages! Many subjects; heat, frequency etc.
"All in One" USC Models: With Both USC and Standard Cleaning/Drying:
KLAUDiO Ultra Sonic Cleaners
Audio Desk Ultra Sonic Cleaner
USC Only Models/Most are "Adapters" which also Require a USC Machine:
Kuzma Audio The USC Adapter that my associate and I are currently using
Digiprotek The Hong Kong manufacturer of the USC Cleaner that my associate and I are currently using
Ultra Sonic Records The V-8 USC Adapter/Cleaner
Cleaner Vinyl Another USC DIY Adapter
Groove Clean An alternative USC DIY Adapter
Audio Revita A Complete USC Machine from Poland
Vinyl Stack USC Adapters and Kits
Vibrato USC Tanks Made in U.S.A.
These are all the best USC information and supplier links I can find at this time. I will continue to look for other relevant USC links. I would also appreciate assistance finding USC "missing links" from readers.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the August 2015 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.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the September 2015 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.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the October 2015 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.
APL has a very mixed history on this website. The APL Denon 3910 performed quite poorly in my associates' estimation back in 2007, while the more recent APL NWO-Master was felt by me to be a proverbial "Masterpiece". This huge inconsistency has always been a mystery to me. Making matters worse, I didn't hear the Denon, while my associates, likewise, didn't hear the NWO-Master. This reader's letter has some information that may explain this unusual performance gap. My bold:
"Last year I acquired an APL Denon 3910 ('Denon'), the Digital source which was found to be very disappointing in the 2007 digital ďshootoutĒ featured on your website. While I donít have any experience with the APL NWO-Master, I may have at least a partial explanation as to why there is such a performance gap between these two components. I also have a suggestion on how the Denon should be used to get the best performance out of it.
Iím not certain if my experiences will be of interest to you, but I thought it was worth sharing, since you discuss both machines on your site, with very different conclusions about the sonic performance of each one.
I should mention that the Denon unit that I have is from 2012 and features a number of updates not available in 2007. Still, I would describe my 'updated version' as OK but by no means great sounding, when playing back discs, regardless of format (CD, SACD or DVD-A). After I had arrived at an opinion about the unit, I happened to read the brief comment from the 2007 shootout results, describing the sound. It pretty closely matches my initial impressions.
You donít have to spend too much time listening to the Denon to hear that it is polite sounding and veiled, the dynamics are constricted, and the high and low frequency performance is compromised. It has some strong points, itís cohesive sounding with very good transparency. I would say that its greatest strength is its overall clarity combined with what I perceive to be good transient response. This in turn helps resolve the artistic expression of strings really well. As an example, I have an SACD of Lara St. John preforming the Bach works for solo violin. On my TV room system (with Mid-Fi Sound), the performance is absolutely butchered; but fed through the Denon on my stereo setup, her playing is much more interesting. It is sometimes enjoyable to play discs on the Denon but far too often the deficiencies of the machine are too pronounced and too irritating to block out.
It may sound like Iím just expanding along the same general lines as the description of the Denon found on your website. However, before discounting the Denon as a disappointment, I think that people should consider that it has two modes of operation. It can be used as a stand-alone player for playback of various disc formats, or it can be used as a DAC. On the back of my unit is a Coax input which feeds straight into the DAC. Used only as a DAC the Denon is, in my opinion, capable of much better sound.
I opened up the unit when I first got it to take a look at some of the changes which were made. It appears that both the power supply and DAC are completely new, not just tweaks on Denonís design. The Denon seems to merely be a shell for what is essentially Alexís DAC design. Itís probably not surprising that his DAC designs, at least from this era have a lot in common. Like the APL NWO Master, the Denon 3910 uses the same paralleled modules of AKM 4399 DAC chips (though only 6 per channel, not 20). Additionally it uses a ECC 99 based tube output (one tube, one triode section for one channel, the other section for the other channel), with expensive Lundahl amorphous core transformers. Visually itís not apparent that there have been any changes to the transport mechanism, optical assembly or electronics.
After playing the Denon extensively as a stand-alone digital source I decided to use it just as a DAC. I tried hooking it up to a high quality external CD transport (Spectral SDR-3000). The differences were very apparent, and I would say that the obvious shortcomings described above are resolved using this combination. Therefore, I believe the main problems with the APL Denon 3910 are the transport. In my opinion the internal transport is no good and should be bypassed. The APL NWO is clearly a much more advanced implementation of Alexís thinking on DACs but I donít think the Denon should necessarily be overlooked. The NWO starts off with a huge advantage having been built on an already top level transport. I canít compare the two units but I would wager that the single biggest reason why one is disappointing and the other is extraordinarily good has to do with the transports."
APL NWO-Master Review
APL Denon 3910/2007 Digital Shootout
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 a 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?) cartridge
Explanation- Moving-coils have several technical advantages due to their lower-mass combined with higher overall energy output, making them worth the extra expense under most circumstances. Strain-gauge cartridges may have even greater technical advantages, but I haven't heard 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 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 also an 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.
6. 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 Structure as more of a refinement, but I don't feel that way. The sonic improvements, discussed in the article linked to below, are easily observed and much too important to ignore.
Bonus Suggestion- 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 drive the amplifier(s). If successful, there will be both improved performance and money saved, so an experiment is always in order. See Link below.
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 "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 Sources and 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, in great detail, the respective experiences and reasons why I specifically chose the "Structures" 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 (#5 & #6 Structures)
LINE STAGES (Active or Passive? #Bonus Suggestion)
A related article that will also be reposted & updated annually...
I decided to both expand upon, 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 efficiency speakers, are now also options.
3. Bi-amping the speaker is also an option, now, later or never, with the added benefit that the speaker can utilize any combination of amplifiers, based on your own musical preferences and budget. Remember- Bi-amping is a "Structure of a Great Audio System".
4. Lower power, everything else being equal, also means lower cost, so there is even a monetary advantage to this important choice. (Passive line stages are also less expensive than equivalent active line stages, obviously.)
I have now lived with high-efficiency speakers for 25 years and I have never looked back. It is the most positively consequential choice I have ever made in my audio life. Countless other audiophiles have done the same, both before and after me, and it is unusual to learn of anyone who later reversed themselves. There are good reasons why these audiophiles remain "faithful": The advantages when using high-efficiency speakers are far too important, in sonics, component flexibility and savings, to ever give up. Then there's the Science. It's all about Energy...
I am NOT a "scientist", though I do have a basic understanding of the science underlaying audio. Many other audiophiles can make the same claim as I, while others know far more about (audio) science than I ever will, but what I am about to theorize is something anyone can understand. My theory is based on an indisputable reality. Further, I believe it is rational, logical and thus irrefutable. Once again, it is founded on a simple truth and fact: High-Efficiency speakers require less energy to perform at the same level as "normal" speakers. Further, serious Audio is just about recreating, as closely as possible, the original energy, of the original performance, in your listening room.
High-Efficiency (HF) is the most important and critical advantage in audio. Why? HF speakers require less energy from outside sources to achieve the same level of performance. The energy from those "outside sources" is always imperfect and compromised. Accordingly, the less energy from "outside sources" included in the total energy created by the system, the less compromised the sound will be. And, to be clear, "outside sources" specifically mean electronic phono stages, DACs, active line stages and power amplifiers.
All of these electronic components are imperfect and "enemies" of music, though all of them are also unfortunately necessary for the reproduction of music using modern technology. In short, the less energy (or "influence") required from "outside sources" (electronic components), the higher the quality of total energy created by the system, everything else being equal. It's the classic "quantity versus quality" compromise and quandary.
To make my point as clear as I can, I need to use a highly unlikely scenario: Imagine a speaker with an unbelievable high-efficiency specification; let's say 130 dB/1 watt and, further, an ultra-low current requirement (while ignoring noise and other issues). Such a theoretical speaker could be driven by the preamplifier alone (or even the source*)! This scenario would actually eliminate power amplification all together. This is just a fantasy for now, but I'm arguing that even minor steps taken in this direction will have positive results.
*The ultimate scenario would be the phono cartridge directly driving the speakers, with the no electronics in between them. Only an attenuator would separate the two components. Anything else is a (necessary for now) compromise.
The less energy an audio system uses from "outside sources", the better chance that system has to be natural and faithful to the original musical source. So, the goal for serious audiophiles is simple: Reduce the energy required from your compromised outside power sources (AC), to the greatest degree possible. High-Efficiency speakers, more so than any other audio choice, achieve that goal.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the November 2015 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.
The end of 2016 was again disappointing. I had a repeat of the problem I had with the Jadis phono stage in the spring, and even another battery failure, so I also couldn't play my digital source. There's still interesting items I look forward to hearing. Here is the current 2017 schedule:
1. Coincident Statement Cables- I hope to finally complete my listening evaluations of the signal cables; interconnect and speaker, which I began in early 2016. (The power cable survey is finished and already posted.) I will make the 7 final individual direct comparisons with my present Reference signal cables. If possible, I will try to answer the important questions of which type of cable has the largest, and the least, impact on a high resolution system.
2. Acappella Ion Super Tweeter- This tweeter has long had a reputation for being "the best in the world". When I heard it myself, now 13 years ago, I agreed with this assessment. I will attempt to use it successfully with the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers, my personal Reference for almost 9 years. I also hope to learn and understand both its inherent strengths and limitations, which should prove practical and useful for readers with other speaker systems.
3. Nantais Reference Lenco "Super Platter"- I hope to hear this final modification of the Reference Lenco series sometime in early 2017, when Jean Nantais has promised to visit me. I have no other information concerning this item as this is written.
Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the December 2015 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.
Lenco news which is most interesting and highly unusual...
One of my earliest customers, and later an audiophile friend, who formerly lived in Toronto, recently sent me a fascinating letter about his unique (to me) Lenco modification. (I always remember him as very talented and versatile using his hands.) He also sent a picture of his project, which isn't high-definition, but good enough to illustrate his work. Here is his letter and picture. Minor editing and my bold:
"Please keep in mind that this project is on going and still in a very early rough stage and it still needs to be perfected (especially in its appearance).
A few months ago, I purchased two Lenco L75 tables Very cheap (in fact I made a profit reselling the parts that I did not need or use). I had a few different ideas on how I wanted to put together a good Idler drive system that would totally outperform my current belt drive system.
In the end I just kept the 2 motors and the idler wheels, The first thing I did was do a complete cleaning and Re lube of the motor and idler wheel. My working budget was very small and I really wanted to keep my current table that I made with the aluminum plinth and dual platters.
My first thought was to cut out an opening in the aluminum plinth just under the outer edge of the platter and mount the motor and idler wheel assembly underneath, but that would have been a fair size job and if it did not work out well it could ruin the plinth that I worked so long and hard to make. I then decided to think of a way to assemble a unit to use as a stand alone Idler wheel rim drive and use it with my current table without making any other changes to it.
I will try to give a brief description of what I have assembled so far and have been using and totally enjoying now for 2 months. First of all, I want to mention that the Lenco Idler wheel grabs hold of the VPI Delrin platter far better than I thought it would.
1- There is a stationary main base and attached to it is a 4" square ball bearing turntable with a second 4" platform where the motor and idler wheel assembly are attached. (The complete unit sits at an angle to the center point of the platter).
2- The Idler wheel is attached to a small arm with a pivot point and it is free floating between the motor and turntable Platter.
3- I use a weight on a string attached to the bottom corner of the 4 inch platform that the motor sits on (the weight on a string causes the motor assembly to Turn into the idler wheel and on to the platter). I find with the motor turning into the idler wheel and platter works better than pulling the idler wheel in between the motor and platter. Also because the platter is being driven on its outside diameter, the idler wheel needs to spin faster to achieve the correct platter speed, so the idler wheel makes contact at the larger diameter portion of the motor's tapered shaft. (I believe that creates even more torque and that is a bonus.)
There are two VERY Critical areas in this set up that MUST be followed carefully to achieve its Optimum and lasting performance. The first thing is to make sure that the motor and idler wheel are perfectly parallel to the platter at contact.
The second and MOST Important thing is there is a VERY Strong rotational pull when the motor contacts the idler wheel and platter. With the motor turned OFF let the weight on the string apply the pressure to the idler wheel and platter. Then place a stopper at the base of the motor assembly so that the motor can NOT go past that point.
Finally, when I first set this up and compared it to the former stand alone belt drive system that I had been using for a long time, the superior sonic improvements were immediately and easily noticed in all areas, plus the motor assembly was even quieter running than the belt drive unit I used previously.
This set up really does totally outperform my old belt drive system in every way. And after two months of use, the platter speed is still running as accurate and stable as the first day I set it up (also just as smooth and quiet).
My Turntable with this set up will never be as visually stunning as any of your friend Jean Nantais brilliant creations, but I can just close my eyes and enjoy its sonic strengths. I do believe that using this system as a rim drive has a LOT of potential and if I can perfect it even more I will be extremely happy with it.
A big PLUS will be in the maintenance of the unit, as it can easily be removed and re-lubed or replace any parts if needed. (I also have a second unit made up as a spare or it can be used while maintaining the other unit.)"
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.
RACHMANINOV-SYMPHONY NO.3/ROCK-WELLER-DECCA SXL 6720*
*Outstanding recording. It's full-range, huge and very dynamic, with natural harmonics and space, though it lacks the purity, immediacy and "aliveness" of the finest Decca recordings.
CRUMB-MUSIC FOR A SUMMER EVENING/MAKROKOSMOS III-NONESUCH H-71311*
*Superb recording. Very immediate, alive and dynamic, with low noise-floor. Outstanding percussive effects and wide range. Music is Avant-garde, but accessible. Surfaces are somewhat noisy and below average.
CRUMB-VARIAZONI/HODKINSON-FRESCO-GILBERT-LOUISVILLE ORCHESTRA LS 774**
MASSENET-CIGALE/VALSE TRES LENTE-BONYNGE-DECCA SXL 6932/LONDON CS 7163***
**Excellent recording. Transparent, immediate and dynamic. Best I've heard from this label. Avant-garde music. Surfaces are noisy.
***Excellent recording. Full-range and dynamic, with natural harmonics and space, but it's missing the purity, immediacy and "aliveness" of the finest Decca recordings.
MILES DAVIS-SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN-COLUMBIA PC 8851*
*Immediate and dynamic, with good focus and a natural image size. Minor frequency colorations. Sound floor is pretty low, but not low enough to enter higher categories.
WILLIAMS-FANTASIA ON WELSH NURSERY TUNES ETC.-GROVES- EMI ASD 3006*
*Excellent recording, with natural body, large image size and clean crescendos. It is not as immediate and "alive" as the finest records from EMI. Modern, though light and accessible music. Rare and on TAS list.
In the remainder of 2016, I will attempt to finish an unprecedented cable survey, plus make a serious effort to improve the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme speakers. I may even have an opportunity to audition two highly interesting amplification electronics, which have a "best value" reputation.
Janszen Audio (Electrostatic Speakers) NEW 02/16
Tortuga Audio (Light based passive line stages. Sells direct.) NEW 03/16
The Audio Critic (The "Bible" of "Audio Objectivists". The editor has now retired, so back issues only.) NEW 07/16
The Best Turntable (Budget models and despite the title, this website is for turntable beginners only.) NEW 09/16
This is an AC Regenerator that also includes internal batteries. It has an option for added external batteries that can even be swapped while in use. It is in excellent working and cosmetic condition. This model has a capacity of 1050 watts. The internal batteries last 7 minutes at full power and 18 minutes at half power (575 watts). It has been cleaned internally (see picture), unlike the "refurbished" models I've seen.
This commercial/industrial unit has been modified for home audio use by switching the rear fan to a Nexus (see picture), which is famous for being quiet. The stock fan was so noisy it could be heard more than 50 feet away, which I found impossible to live with.
While a picture below displays the current batteries at "100% charged", this must be disregarded as these batteries are now old and can no longer handle a load.
The price is $ 275 without the new replacement batteries, which will also save shipping costs. I have three of these 9120 1500 models for sale, all in the same condition.
While I've had no problems with any of the models, with the exception of routine battery replacement, they are still being sold "AS-IS".
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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