My Audio System
Like most other audiophiles, my system is in a never-ending evolving mode. This is an ideal situation where the journey itself is the experience, because if the destination is "perfection", no matter how it is defined, it will never be reached.
I feel particularly fortunate that at least I now know exactly what I want, and what is actually possible, from my system. This is sadly rare for most audiophiles, mainly because of the multitude of initial choices and alternative directions we have to choose from. I can still make mistakes and deviate temporarily from my chosen path, but I always get back and move further ahead, usually sooner rather than later, and with, I hope, some greater knowledge and wisdom that I can share with others.
Ultimately, the search for a better audio system is, in many ways, a personal discovery of your deepest needs: "what really turns you on". You must experience many different components and systems, while keeping an open mind and heart, if you want to reach your unique destination.
My system is analog oriented, based around a phono front-end. I also have an excellent tuner, and a CD player, but neither of them is my primary source.
My system has a number of purposes. The first is definitely for my personal listening pleasure, but it also serves as a "reference" for comparing components, records and entire systems, within audio shows and in my friends and (now former) customers homes.
Almost all of the components you will see here are in my Reference Components List, and most of them are in Class A. This is not a coincidence. Why I chose these particular components can be further understood by reading "My Audio Philosophy", which will also explain my audio priorities and general direction.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS
The primary strengths of this system are its sheer naturalness and its ability to retrieve low-level musical information, which is my highest sonic priority. This includes; musical harmonics, decays, ambience, dynamic shadings, the sense of space, complexity and tension, intelligibility, and an unpredictability of the sound. There is also a continuous, "absolute presence" that exists on good recordings even when the musicians are not active.
Further, the system is very cohesive, neutral, highly detailed and transparent, and has a "big sound". Finally, the system is truly "dynamic" and "full-range", with the frequency response being flat from 20 Hz all the way up to 30K Hz.
The system is capable of this performance only because of its extreme minimalist design and execution. The end result of my many years of effort:
By stark contrast, most preamplifiers, with phono stages, have 5 to 8 tubes all by themselves. The sonic result of all this "simplicity" is the lowest system "sound-floor", by far, that I have ever experienced.
The only real weaknesses of my system are that it can not play "real loud" (a very rare desire), meaning above 100 dB, and its focusing ability, while excellent, is not up to the highest standards. In actual practice, the loudness levels, which can still cause actual physical pain, are more than adequate for me, and I've never had a single guest who wanted a higher volume capability. The system's focusing ability is a step down from the omni-directional Morrison speakers (which truly excel in this area).
REFERENCE LENCO III L75 VINTAGE IDLER-DRIVE TURNTABLE (REBUILT BY JEAN NANTAIS)*
GRAHAM PHANTOM SUPREME TONEARM
ZYX UNIVERSE II X CARTRIDGE
BENT SILVER MC STEP-UP TRANSFORMER
APL NWO-MASTER (Rebuilt Esoteric UX-1 Ltd.) CD/SACD Player
MARANTZ 10B TUNER
The Lenco and Graham were first installed in my system in 2010. They have a greater amount of ultimate potential than any other front-end combination I've yet heard. The Graham was updated from the II to the Supreme in 2012. The Lenco Reference was also upgraded (to the II) in 2012, and again (to the III) in 2014.
The ZYX UNIverse II X is, without question, the finest cartridge I've ever heard in my own system. The Bent Silver is the finest transformer I've heard in my system. I use the high gain setting (26dB).
The Marantz tuner has been partially modified, with better (Teflon) coupling capacitors. It is used mainly for warm-up and background music. The APL is, by far, the finest digital source I've heard, in my own system or elsewhere. The APL review can be currently found in The Recent File, link below, February 2015.
*For more information about this component, plus my turntable history, you can read my extensive review/essay of THE L75 REFERENCE LENCO.
JADIS JP-80 PHONO STAGE (HIGHLY MODIFIED)**
I have had the JP-80 since the Spring of 1989. I have modified it countless times, in each instance making the signal path simpler and shorter, while also upgrading the passive components that are impossible to remove from the remaining signal path. Itís a shame that the JP-80 couldnít have been built this way to begin with, because it would have cost much less to purchase and there would be no need for any modifications.
As of now, this is a low-gain but highly accurate and musically natural design; definitely the best that I have heard. The difference between a stock JP-80, of any vintage, and this modified version, is literally "night and day".
The Details: The entire line-stage and the phono cathode-follower have been removed from the signal path. That leaves only two tubes and two capacitors in the signal path. The two signal path capacitors are V-Cap CuTF Teflons, the finest I've heard. The RIAA curve is accurate to +/- .01 dB. Even the volume control has been removed from the direct signal path. The power supply is comprised of only film capacitors; since all the electrolytics have also been removed.
** For more information about this component, plus my most recent observations, thoughts and comparisons with the finest phono stages I've heard, you can read the 2011/12 phono stage essay/review, which began in Spring 2010 and completed in February 2012.
COINCIDENT STATEMENT LINE STAGE
After almost a 20 year absence, I am once again using a line stage. The simple reason for this change is this: I believe the Statement is the finest electronic device I have ever experienced. For more information, you can read my review/essay of The Statement.
COINCIDENT EXTREME "SHOTGUN" INTERCONNECTS
These are the finest interconnects I have heard for line-level applications. I haven't heard them for a phono-level signal as of yet. They are superior to the Ars Acoustica cables (below) for line-level signals.
ARS ACOUSTICA INTERCONNECTS (PROTOTYPES)
These are the finest interconnects I have heard, so far, for a phono-level signal. I don't think they will ever become available commercially. I plan to directly compare them, with phono-level signals, to the Coincident Shotgun cables at some point.
Amplifiers were the "weak link" in my system for many years. With the introduction of these two Coincident amplifiers below, particularly the Frankenstein SET, this is no longer the case. Simply put, these are the two finest amplifiers I've ever experienced, and they don't require any modifications to reach their unprecedented level of performance. However, high quality tubes, tube dampers and cables are still required for optimization.
COINCIDENT M300B FRANKENSTEIN MK II-MAIN AMPLIFIER
The finest sounding amplifier I've ever heard. I replaced the "original" model with the latest (shiny stainless steel) version in 2010. I will be attempting some simple modifications of this model in 2015.
COINCIDENT DRAGON 211PP Mk II -BASS AMPLIFIER
This is the finest bass amplifier I've yet heard. The impact, detail, control, weight and neutrality are all superb. It still doesn't equal the Frankenstein or older Golden Tube designs, or other top-notch single-ended amplifiers, in certain very important areas; liquidity, purity, low sound-floor etc.
POLK & COINCIDENT EXTREME SPEAKER CABLES- There are two versions of the Coincident; one "regular" and the other, which is thicker and less flexible, optimized for bass frequencies. I use the thicker version only when I am biamping. When using only one amplifier, fullrange, I use the Polk for the midrange and tweeter and the regular Coincident for the woofers. I believe these cables have been improved, but I haven't heard the latest versions. The Polk is only 3' long and has 6 individual cables wired in parallel.
COINCIDENT PURE REFERENCE EXTREME (DOUBLE PAIR)
These are the finest speakers, overall, I've ever heard. The "Extreme" has two cabinets per channel.
For my extensive review of the original (one cabinet) version, and the later "Extreme" version, and the details of the "double pair", please see The Pure Reference Extreme File.
My listening room has proved to be superb. I chose it most carefully when I purchased my house in 2002, but it has even exceeded my own expectations. It is basically "L" shaped. It is 18' 4" wide, and 40% of the room is around 18.5' deep, while the remaining 60% of the room is 27' deep. The ceiling is 10' high. The entire structure is built out of reinforced concrete. It's extremely solid, with plenty of heavy objects and openings to break-up any potential standing waves. To enhance it even further, I have installed "Room Tunes", "foam panels" and "Tube Traps", at various strategic points, which I brought with me from Toronto.
I have also installed 3 dedicated, shielded, heavy amperage lines, one for each amplification channel, plus the other for the front-end sources. The local high-power AC transformer, for my side of the street, is actually located on my property (by sheer luck!), just a few feet away from my electrical box. There are no heavy industry or commercial users in my vicinity, which was a serious problem for me in Toronto.
The original owner of my house had an "entertainment center" built in as an expensive upgrade. I initially planned to remove it, until I discovered how well built it was, enough to support a hippo. I kept it, but I had to get a cabinetmaker to drill (4" thick) holes through it for the (AC and signal) cables.
The end result is a room that is even more satisfying, overall, than my former room in Toronto. The Toronto room was wider, by almost two feet, but that was still enough to give it a slightly greater sense of "scale". This new room has both better bass and a more intimate and immediate sound in its favor.
The biggest problem I have had is from the local power company, Florida Power and Light. In the Summer, hardly a day passes without a short-term brown-out or even a power outage.
My accessories, in the past, focused on acoustical isolation of the components and the purity of the incoming AC. This is still the case. I am using custom made "sand boxes" underneath both the monitor and subwoofer amplifiers. I use the Coincident Power Cords (the best I have experienced) on the preamplifier and the four (mono) power amplifiers. The Lenco is isolated using a dead metapolymer shelf. There are also fluid bags underneath the preamplifier. I may look at an AC regenerator later this year.
THE NEAR FUTURE
In 2015, I plan to audition and compare the Solen Teflon coupling capactiors, currently used in the Coincident Frankenstein amps, to versions from V-Cap. I also plan to try some Teflon caps in the power supply of both the Frankensteins and the Coincident Statement Line Stage. I also would like to try the Coincident Shotgun cables for phono-level signals. Finally, I have the Mk. II version of the Coincident Dragon amplifiers, which I will audition sometime early in the year.
The pictures below were taken in Spring 2010, I believe by Jean Nantais. Readers should note that there was no line stage in my system at that time. You can compare this system to my current system, three years later, now seen below.
The pictures below were taken by me in Spring 2013. Since Spring 2010, I have changed the speaker positioning of the monitors (now pointed straight ahead), as well as my listening couch position (moved forward). As can be seen, I now use the Coincident Statement Line Stage, plus the speakers are now bi-amped. The Reference Lenco is now the Mk. II, plus there is the Esoteric DV-50S SACD player. There were several other changes (all for the better), but they are not visible with these pictures.
THE RECENT FILE
My Audio Philosophy
The Supreme Recordings
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