Saturday, December 27, 2008

New issues of Tone and A$$Audio online

Great new issues of Tone and Affordable Audio just out, both free and representative of excellent if slightly different approaches (Tone has resources ;). It speaks volumes that regular publications of this kind are alive and kicking, produced by, lets be honest, audio fanatics for other fanatics. I doubt TAS or Stereophile have to worry too much, there's a large community of us out there and just as our tendency is to buy the same recordings more than once, we also tend to read all the mags, not just one. I mention these two in particular as they tend to get less coverage than others, and Tone really is a visual delight also.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Shipping blues

I purchased a pair of Virtual Dynamic David biwire speaker cables in September for a trial. I liked them a lot but they came with spade lugs that were a little too small for the Von Schweikert speakers and this frustrated me. The salesman at VD told me that wider spades were an 'option' but I never noticed it nor could I find mention of it on their site -- so you might call it a secret option but it's one you should know about before shipping. So, at my shipping expense, both ways, VD offered to replace the spades with the larger options. Sending them back I had an uneasy feeling and should have paid more attention to it as the promised two weeks out of my system turned into a month. VD got them, changed them and sent them on their way back to me but they never arrived. Of course, through the power of technology the postal services can trace them, right? Wrong. Canada Post tells me they left the country on Dec 8th and arrived in the US (at some unspecified location) on the 9th, after which they claim no more knowledge. USPS told me their records indicate the parcel left Canada but they have no record of it actually arriving in the US so I have to take it up with Canada. Meanwhile Rick Schultz, the head honcho at VD, told me he'd make me up a new pair and ship them on, but it would not be this week. So, what can one figure? The biwire cables leave Canada by air but don't make it to the US. Does some light-fingered flyer have a penchant for exotic cable? Did someone steal the parcel expecting a prize and then stare in bewilderment at the thick wire that was insured for over $1k? Did Homeland Security get involved and should I expect a knock at the door? Well, as luck would have it, the day after posting this, I get a knock at the door and the original parcel has arrived. So, three months after paying for them, I finally get a chance to really listen to them -- too bad I've changed amps and now really need a shorter pair, given the snake's nest these create given their size and inflexibility. So you can see some further shipping is in my near future....just not this week. 

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reviewing the reviews

The Daily Audiophile (see link on the right) is running a survey at the moment asking people which of the main audio mags/sites they trust for reviews. Sadly A$$Audio is not listed but most of the others you'll know. Interestingly, 6Moons is proving very popular in early voting. In my own experience, I'd not say it is so easy to trust an entire publication, but certain reviewers within them. Over the years I've learned to calibrate what I hear with what others say and then I begin to get an idea which reviewers hear music as I do. As a result, I don't trust or distrust any of the major mags but I don't place much faith in several of the regular columnists within them. Either they hear things I don't, or they continually say the same things about products I find to differ in my system (or in one case, to continually push products from the same company or importer). No point naming names in that regard but those whose opinions I've learned to place more faith in include Kal Rubinson at S'phile and Wayne Garcia and Sue Kraft at TAS, only because I've heard some of the products they liked and found I liked them for similar reasons. Oddly, I respect greatly the work of Robert Harley but I don't assume the we will like the same products, since I've even visited a store he wrote about once, claiming it had great sound in all demo rooms, an experience I found not to be so when I went, even when hearing similar gear.

All this goes to say that writing audio reviews that convey a true understanding of a product's sound is largely impossible and you have to spend the time hearing and calibrating to learn the vocabulary that conveys most information for you. In that regard, while I like 6Moons, I would not 'trust' their reviews yet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Used market - bargains, lies and BS

Been looking at A'gon for a good deal's interesting to watch what sells and what doesn't. There seems to be a natural leveling of prices when several sellers have the same goods, as you would expect in any market, but there are exceptions, including one dealer who seems to increase his items when he relists them after they don't sell in the first 30 days (check the BAT 600SE listings!). Further, some people make purchasing easier than others. I was tempted by a pair of BAT VK60 monos but the seller was adamant that he would not ship, I'd have to get to NJ to buy them. A 'mint' PASS amp caught my eye but the seller's idea of mint included the fact that he was the second owner and the amp only had a couple of nicks! Wow, 'mint' now means third hand and scratched! Then there's the folks who won't take anything but a money order, sent in advance before they ship the items. Reputation is everything in this game, but it is not hard to find 'dealers' such as they guy selling Revel out of an address that belongs to a car dealership and who only answers questions on the phone, or a mystery company that specializes in selling 'new' Eggleston Andra II's or even old but brand "new" original Andras at half price, for people who prefer that model. Interestingly both have high positive scores from 'customers' on A'gon. Am sure there are genuine bargains to be had but as always, caveat emptor.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Audio Horizons Tube Buffer cooking...

I've received the Audio Horizon Tube Buffer for review and it's now in my reference system, between PS Audio preamp and the BAT VK500. It needs a few more hours to settle but I intend to move it in and out to learn exactly what it does to the sound, and move it up front between cd player and preamp, in case it works differently there. Too soon for impressions....all in due course. Review anticipated in an early Spring edition of Affordable Audio.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Audio Space 3.1 Review up next

The Audio Space Ref 3.1 has been making sweet music in my system for the last two months and I have fallen heavily for it's tubed charms. The full review is published in the Nov 08 edition of Affordable Audio  (and linked directly  in my reviews list sidebar here) but I can say that I've not found so much pleasure in any other component at this price. It's heavy, it's beautiful and it really makes sweet music. I'll be sorry when it's time to send it back!

Later footote -- too late for the A$$Audio review, I tried this with my new Virtual Dynamics David speaker cables. It's a tight fit round the back with these cables but the increase in bass articulation is noticeable from the first. This amp with Davids is just one sweet combo....I hate to argue for these expensive and heavy cables but there is no doubt that on everything I've tried, they work. Any doubts I had about the Audio Space's ability to articulate well in the lower regions are removed - this amp is just first rate. $3300 and you don't need a preamp!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

New cartridge on the Aries

Brian, the owner of Sound Mind Audio came round today to install a new Benz Wood Body SL on my original VPI Aries w/ JMW 10 arm. I traded up from a Benz Glider that had served its purpose for the last few years and right now am listening to LP after LP, enjoying the extra life and sparkle the new cartridge has brought to the chain. I'm advised to wait 150 hours before making any judgement but seriously, this new cartridge is already showing serious promise.

The beauty of LPs is partly the physical engagement with music: large sleeves, tangible sources,a real mechanically engineered device for spinning the record, a surface of grooves which a stylus intimately mates, the resulting magic of tiny vibration converted to electricity and amplified. It's a very human process.

All this would count for naught if the resulting sound was not good. With this cartridge I feel I have the kind of upper air extension only previously found on CD but with a smoothness lacking in most digital reproduction. Sure there is background noise, but as legendary English DJ John Peel memorably put it, life has background noise too. With good vinyl this background really is deep in the background. Now I just need to worry about getting a better platform for the table, my Lovan rack with self-made top shelf is just not cutting it (and it seems on A'gon there really are only a handful of platform makers out there, none of them very affrodable). But for now, am grooving.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The absolute, in reality, sound

I sat for a few minutes last night listening to an excellent string quartet (from UT Austin's School of Music) playing in an acoustically engineered conference room -- just me and them in a venue designed to allow a person in the back to speak in a normal voice and be heard by another person at the front. Yes, lots of money was spent on creating this space, part of the new AT&T conference center on campus. That aside, I confirmed in this listening what I have experienced on other occasions when I have had the chance to really listen to live playing of acoustic instruments in a public space: soundstaging is not what you imagine. Here, the quartet did sound like four players, but the music was not etched in space with clear delineation between instruments. I could hear four players, and follow individual lines, but in combination the quartet produced a ball of sound that sat over and around the players. There was no wider-than- placement soundstage, beyond the edge of the soundmakers, there was no great height to the music, it just sounded like four instrument combining in a world of sonics that fleshed out but did not unaturally expand beyond the placement of the instrumentalists on the stage. I closed my eyes and tried to invoke my set-up's reproduction, finding that the ultimate test is not detail or placement, but timbre. Real strings, played by real people, in a real room, have a palpability that makes it obvious you are listening to the real thing. My system is good in comparison, but it's clear now to me that soundstaging is not that important if you want to approach realistic reproduction, a cello sounds like a cello because of the auditory sensations it manifests when a bow is placed in physical contact with a string bound at both ends to the wood. Sound should be in the middle, not tied to location of each speaker but anything more might be recording artifice, not high fidelity.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Von Schweikert Audio Circle comes alive

Seems like there is far more interest in VSA than I thought with my last post. After having my poll linked to a topic in Audio Central, the discussion on Von Schweikert exploded, hitting 2000 views and over 90 postings in 7 days. The poll ended early in support of setting up and, as per the rules of Audio Circle, I found myself the facilitator of a new circle. Albert himself promised to join, and we've had postings form dealers and owners around the world. Interested in joining, go here:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

No interest in a VSA circle?

I asked on Audio Circle if there was interest in starting up a circle for owners of Von Schweikert speakers since my suggestion to VSA directly that they host a forum on their site was met with positive responses but no action in six months. Despite getting more than 500 views, only two people expressed interest so no joy there either (yet). There is a VSA thread on AVS Forum but it tends to deteriorate into 'my speakers are better than yours' noise too often. The Audio Circle forum is usually much better managed but the dedicated circles are quite limited, though thankfully they provide a great outlet for loyal customers of some smaller manufacturers. If interested, let me know. If we get a circle going, I'll invite Albert to join us.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wyred 4 Sound review goes live

My review of the Wyred4Sound MC4 amp goes live in the September issue of Affordable Audio. This is a bumper issue and a great example of how collective effort by committed people can yield impressive results.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

what I'm listening to now

I just completed my review of the W4S MC4 and it will likely make the Sept issue of A$$Audio, we'll see. All round, it's a really interesting amp, no maintenance, dead quiet, soundstage-controlling, high power amp. For the price, if you want power, I am not sure where you could get more of this for the price. But...but...but...I hate to admit it but those folks who claim Class D has something not quite right upstairs (the upper frequency reproduction) might be onto something. 

In my rig at this very moment is something completely different, an Audio Space REf 3.1 integrated amp with KT 88 output tubes. Wow -- only one pair of cables between CD player and amp, then speaker cables to the Von S Vr5SE. Simplicity has it's rewards -- this is a 22-40w unit (depending on how you use it, triode or ultralinear) but you'd never know it. Forget watts, think music. This unit will make any sensitive speaker (and listener) take notice. More anon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Interesting TAS discussion on evaluation methods

Robert Harley wrote a provocative editorial in this months issue of TAS in which is essentially dismissed blind tests as having value in audio reviewing. Obviously not everyone agrees. To his credit, he has invited an ongoing discussion of this topic at the TAS forum, which you can find here. As you soon realize when you discuss blind or sightless comparison, the topic spawns more heat than light and tends to divide people into camps. Sadly, there are few people who will admit that blind testing is a useful method, one among many, and while it is possible to set up silly tests that offer little real insight into true listening behavior, it is also possible to design reliable tests, albeit at some cost in terms of time and effort.  Human reactions to stimuli (musical or otherwise) are not trivially determined by one variable so we should recognize that by seeing what we are listening to, we are letting more than sound drive our impressions. My main wish is that people could have an intelligent and open-minded discussion of this, but it seems most audio lists where the topic arises soon degenerate into extremist (and often uninformed) rhetoric. Let's see how the TAS site evolves, and cudos to Robert Harley for taking a lead.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The trouble with audio

Ever wonder about the advice you are generally given by the mags to audition in person? Do Stereophile and TAS still labor under the illusion that dealers are out there, willing to support home auditions for their trusted customers? Well, maybe they exist somewhere but the reality of modern purchasing is that dealers with listening rooms are going the way of the dodo, and in the last 5 years, I've not met a single dealer willing to let me hear a pair of speakers in my own room. Am not blaming the dealers, but it suggests that a magazine reviewer hiding behind the 'don't take my word for it, go hear it yourself' is now invoking this as a weak defense for the state of the reviewing art.

There are two aspects here I wish to explore, and it will take several entries. First, buying audio can be a painful experience, and it is no wonder that online dealers are taking over.
Second, the science of audio discrimination is so limited, reviewers are just not reliable as guides to purchasing when they won't even subject themselves to calibration tests. More anon.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Audio Wiki set up

Check out the new PSAudio sponsored (created?) wiki --


Yes, I've been quiet, real life and work got in the way, but I also have been busy breaking in the revised Wyred4Sound MC4 that I have in for review. Wyred changed a couple of modules when I reported I found the original version to be a little hard sounding with no air in the upper range. They also said the 300 hours break-in was crucial. So.....let me say, 300 hours of listening when you share a room with a family is no trivial deal. I'm at 230 hours now so the review period will commence soon but it means I've yet to re-install the now-back-in-one-piece VK500 or my newly Cullen-mod'd GCP200. All in due course.....June is looking a little more open and I'll post more as we go.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The BAT is Back (nearly)

Right channel returned yesterday -- here it is:
I've not installed it yet but it looks clean, smells almost new and am not clear on how many new parts it contains there's plenty of fresh solder there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Affordable Audio - May Issue out now

Check out the May issue of affordable audio for my review of the PS Audio GCP 200. Just after I submitted, naturally, the gain cell in one channel went and I had to send it off to Cullen Circuits for repair. After some back and forth over warranty etc. I decided to take an upgrade option on new modified gain cells from Cullen. I am awaiting the return so I can check it out.

Monday, May 5, 2008

BAT VK500 redux

Well, I heard back to my last email, and BAT claim that my problem was a thorny one for which they cannot provide a simple solution. After changing out parts one by one, they ended up replacing them by the handful. The bill comes to $300 and I am told the channel is clean. The problem of course is that since I sent the amp to them the problem seemed to result from my PS audio preamp instead, so I wonder if BAT have replaced parts without need. But presumably, they checked first to make sure that the channel WAS making noise before replacing even the first part so I guess I have a new channel with no noise. That the unit has been out of my system now for more than 22 days means I have made a record, but as yet their site does not reflect this.

Am waiting for the channel to get back to me so I can reinstall it and check out the sound. In the interim, I'm grooving to the updated Wyred MC4 fed by my old McCormack TLC1, using both the passive and buffered outputs. Sounds pretty sweet but the Wyred needs a few hundred hours more to break-in.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BAT problem lingers

It's been 16 days since I shipped my right channel from the VK500 off to BAT. On their site service page they proudly declare that repairs take priority and the longest any customer has been without their amp is 15 days....well, I guess I broke the record. So far, my two requests for info have fallen on deaf ears.....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BAT VK500 problemo, part 2

Well, I followed the multi-step instructions, removed some two dozen torx screws, disconnected three sets of wires and eventually lifted out one whole side of the VK500, heatsinks included, which I shipped off to BAT this week. I'll post pics when I get a chance but it was actually fun to play around with the innards and not too difficult either (though ask me again when I try to put it all back together again). BAT have pretty clear (but not totally clear) instructions on this, and I was expecting just a circuit board to come out, not the whole side. Victor tells me it may cost 'little or a bit more' to fix this, so stay tuned.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Amp thoughts

What has Naim Nait 2 got in common with a BAT VK500, PA Audio GCP-200 with external power supply and a PS Audio GCPH phono stage? Both set ups amplify CD and turntable signals in my system. What are the differences?

Naim cost less than $1k a few years back,
it weighs less than 10lbs,
is half-sized.

The other set up costs $10k,
tops the scales at >150lbs,
takes up 4 boxes, one of which will not fit on a rack

Forgetting the extra cables you need to run the separates, is there 10 times the difference in sound quality? Hum........

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Deal of the Year

Harmonia Mundi's 50th anniversary box set release was lauded in December's TAS, and rightly so. At $100 it offered 29 cds of top quality music through the ages, and mostly excellent sounding too, as one would expect from this label. Well, if you held off, now's the time as Amazon, among others, are selling the set for a knock down $79. That's a little over $2.50 per disk. I have no idea how anyone makes any money on this but you get a musical education for next to nothing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

BAT VK500 problemo

I woke up the other night to a persistent buzzing and scratching in the right channel. After much back and forth with cable changing and channel switching, I fired off an email to Victor at BAT who agreed, after a while, that it likely was the right channel of my amp that was acting up. Since the whole component weighs upward of 100lbs, we agreed that shipping was not ideal so I am about to embark on channel removal with a Torx driver. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Affordable Audio

I accepted an offer to write for Affordable Audio. Expect the Wyred review to appear there after I've really finished it. After discussion with Wyred, they want to install an alternative module in the front channels to see if I prefer that sound.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wyred4Sound amps

I've spent more than a week comparing a Wyred4Sound 4-channel amp with my regular gear as I grapple with the benefits of biamping my Von Schweikerts. You can real the full review here

I tried to post directly from google docs but it won't work. Cut to the chase: biamping improves soundstaging, but this Class D amp cannot match the timbre of the BAT.