Letters • April 2012

Sources for preamp tubes

April 23, 2012


Along with keeping interconnects and speaker cables under the same family umbrella, what about preamp tubes? I know amplifier power tubes should all be the same brand -- and matched, in the case of my amp -- but what about tubes in the preamp? I need two rectifier tubes, two 12AX7s and two 12AU7s. Is keeping them all in the same family critical?

Sheldon Simon

It might well be impossible to get all of your tubes from the same manufacturer, but companies that make tube electronics will often pick the best tubes for their products, in which case I suppose they are all approved by that company, if not made by one manufacturer. On the other hand, tube rolling is a well-established audiophile practice, and it will undoubtedly lead to a different sound -- and perhaps one that's far more to your liking.

I guess my answer would be that there are two routes you can take: use the tubes the manufacturer recommends, which is easier, or experiment yourself, which you may find to be either tedious or enlightening, depending on your interest in the journey. -Marc Mickelson

Cabling advice

April 18, 2012


I have taken all of your advice with great success. I've upgraded from Revel Salons to Wilson WATT/Puppy 8s, then to Sasha W/Ps. I've moved from Levinson No.33H monos to an interim pair of phenomenal Sierra Denali monos to a set of the renowned Lamm M1.2 Reference monos. Silent Running Audio VR-series isoBases protect the amps from floor-borne vibrations -- all of which as a result of your guidance. I've even sold my Grand Prix Audio Monaco rack in preparation for a Silent Running Audio Scuttle rack. I thank you, for you were right every time. I'm indebted.

My front-end is the Purcell-and-Delius combo, compliments of dCS, which are being fed by a ReQuest Audio media server (that is inconveniently down at the moment). I am currently running Analysis Plus Silver Oval Balanced interconnects from the Purcell/Delius combo to the Lamm amps. And I have Anti-Cables (temporarily) from the amps to the speakers. I'm happy with the sound, but, as is customary with this hobby of ours, I'm looking for more from my system. With not much else to replace, cabling is now on the table for examination. With all the misinformation that exists within the world of cabling, I'm so confused as to which direction to take. I've been considering Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval speaker cables, along with the usual suspects from Transparent, MIT and Shunyata Research.

I know you've had experience with Shunyata products, which are your current reference, I believe, and Transparent, which you wrote a review on. Is Transparent worth the amount of money they're asking? I was considering maybe the Reference model. Your review of the Reference XL line was impressive. Why don't you use Transparent? Please help.

Ray Hendrickson

You're right -- cabling is a world unto itself. My first recommendation is to read over TAB's Tech InSite, "Cabling Your System," for a useful primer on audio cabling. After you've digested that, there are a few "cable looms" that I can recommend, one of which you've hit upon already: Shunyata's new "Zi-Tron" cables, which are very impressive and inexpensive compared to their competition. I would also recommend Nordost, especially the new Norse 2 lines, for your consideration as well, along with AudioQuest WEL Signature if it's in your price range.

You mention Transparent, whose products I reviewed almost eleven years ago. I've not heard any of Transparent's cables since, so I can't help you there, except to say that I thought very highly of the Reference XL interconnects and speaker cables I heard all those years ago. I've written more recently (only nine years ago) about MIT Oracle v2.1, which is the other prominent cable brand that uses inline networks. Again, I liked them a great deal back then.

My sense, however, is that the current crop of cables I mentioned at the beginning of my response -- from Shunyata, Nordost and AudioQuest -- will significantly outperform the networked cables in terms of overall transparency, which translates to across-the-board improvement. From my earlier experience, those networked cables had tremendously powerful bass, and I think again the newer cables will equal or better it, at least in terms of speed and definition. Of course, I'm comparing memory to reality here, but that's all I can do so many years after hearing the Transparent and MIT cables.

There is also the matter of cost, especially with the Shunyata "Zi-Tron" cables, which really do perform far above their cost. I'm finishing a review of the Cobra line now, and I can also say that they work very, very well with Wilson speakers and Lamm electronics. -Marc Mickelson

Understanding dedicated power

April 14, 2012


I am interested in your recommendation to have a separate ground for my audio system. Should the system then be disconnected from the main ground for the rest of the house?

Ant Simon

There are two parts to consider here: ground and power. Ideally, you will install a separate ground rod for your system alone. This would then be connected to dedicated outlets for your audio system and thus the entire power-delivery system would be separate from that for the rest of your house. -Marc Mickelson

Which Beethoven symphonies?

April 11, 2012


I am an avid reader of The Audio Beat, and Marc suggested that I contact you regarding my questions on what are the best Beethoven symphonic cycles to own. I have the Eliot Gardiner/Orchestre Revolutionnaire on Archiv and Claudio Abbado/Berlin Philharmonic on DG, both as CDs.

I was wondering whether there is a great multichannel SACD set worth owning or a great LP set, assuming that any lover of Beethoven should own an LP cycle. How good is the new Paavo Järvi/Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen,  which, I believe, is available in both formats? There are SACDs of Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic, but I do not know whether they are the classic '60s performances.

I don't mind selling my sets if I can upgrade in both sound and performance. I suppose it is worth owning a few, if they represent different interpretations and different presentations in sound, such as multichannel and analog.

I would appreciate any advice and recommendations.

Jeff Levine

The Beethoven symphonies must be amongst the most-recorded classical works of all time, meaning that virtually every conductor of note has had a go at them at least once, some with more success than others. That makes the range of styles and interpretations vast, and that's before you get to questions of recording quality. That makes firm recommendations almost impossible, as personal taste will always rule the final choice -- and one set will rarely cover all the musical bases. However, there are a few points I can make.

Vinyl versions

Original pressings are not too hard to come by as so many were sold, but consider the playback requirements before plopping down your hard-earned cash. The first Karajan cycle for DGG (recorded between December 1961 and November 1962 -- he also recorded a mono cycle for EMI in the early '50s) is pretty much a "must have" in terms of correctness. It is an almost prosaic reading that gives you the score and nothing but the score and stands in stark contrast to later, lusher, more romantic performances. It is fashionable to knock the lack of lyricism, especially in the 6th Symphony, but for me that's the whole point of classical music and the different perspectives it offers the listener. The Karajan set, shorn of artifice and extravagance/self indulgence, stands as the departure point for all serious Beethoven journeys. It might not be your final destination, but you can't get there without starting from here, and you might just find yourself running full circle.

The problem is that sonically the set is cursed with DGG's signature sound: bright and hashy up top, slow and turgid down below. That is not down to pressing quality or the recording, but the fact that the pressings were all cut using CCIR EQ, rather than RIAA. So, unless you have an adjustable-EQ phono stage, the sonics will disappoint. Replayed with correct EQ, the records sound focussed and spacious, with excellent tonality, while the performances become far more directed, effective and intense -- more emotive, less teutonic. You can begin to understand why HvK enjoys the reputation he does! But fear not -- Speakers Corner released the '62 DGG cycle on 180-gram vinyl in a beautifully and faithfully reproduced box, and these were cut RIAA, so if your phono stage lacks the necessary variable EQ facility, this is the set to go for.

Also out of Germany, the Analogue Audio Association released a set originally recorded by Reader's Digest in 1961. Appearing on their Edition Phoenix label, it features the RPO conducted by Rene Leibowitz in a cycle captured by Charles Gerhardt of RCA Living Stereo fame (although I don't know if the engineer was his long-time collaborator Lewis Layton). Sonically this is warmer and more obviously dimensional, although the readings lack the sheer purpose and unadorned focus of HvK. It came out in 1993, but you might still find copies out there. If so, it's well worth a listen if the price isn't too steep.

On original vinyl: Klemperer is easy to find, but the cycle is distinctly uneven; Bernstein and the VPO are a good example of the later, more romantic style, although again, as a DGG pressing, EQ issues need to be considered; Solti and the Chicago are worth a look, but again the more romantic styling tends to obscure the structural elegance of the works -- although he does play every repeat; finally, HvK's 1977 set shows a fuller and arguably more powerful set of symphonies, but for me it lacks the sense of purpose heard in the 1962 set.

SACD versions

The Karajan versions on SACD are the '62 cycle, so if that is your preferred medium, then jump right in, although I've only heard the set on vinyl.

The only SACD sets that I have heard are the Rudolf Kempe set reissued by Esoteric (now sadly discontinued) and the LSO Live recordings with Bernard Haitink, the latter in multichannel and something of a bargain -- currently £21.17 from Amazon, at which price you can't really go wrong.

But the SACD essential has to be the Carlos Kleiber/VPO readings of the 5th and 7th Symphonies on DGG. Storming performances that shouldn't be missed (Linn offered the 5th Symphony on its Re-Kut label, way back in the day), this disc is well worth hunting out. It lists at around £15 in the UK and should be readily available. Whatever complete cycle you get, you need this too!

I hope these necessarily personal views are of some help and interest. Good hunting. There are certainly harder paths to tread, and what's not to like about exploring Beethoven? -Roy Gregory

"A moderately priced Blu-ray player"

April 6, 2012


Following your review of Ayre DX-5, I had a correspondence with you in order to improve the sound of my Oppo BDP-83 player (connected digitally to a Wadia S7i). Since no improvement was possible with that gear, I finally acquired an Electrocompaniet EMP 2 universal player. This $4000 player transformed Blu-ray sound to a new dimension. Although it still needs a lot to reach the Wadia sound, the improvement is huge in every sonic aspect (and also in picture). My enjoyment from Blu-ray music has increased dramatically. I never heard the Ayre and can't compare it to the EMP 2, but $4000 is not $14,000 (for the Wadia) or $10,000 (for the Ayre).

I can think of two kinds of people who need such a player:

  1. People who want very good sound from all discs (audio and video) from one reasonably priced player.

  2. People like me who have excellent audio player and want to enjoy the sound from Blu-ray without adding another very expensive player.

I think that you can do a very good favor to your readers by reviewing such a moderately price Blu-ray player.

Naseem Yacoub

The EMP 2 does look intriguing, as it, like the DX-5, plays everything and is made by a company that cares deeply about sound. I've also heard very good things about Exemplar Audio's modified Oppo player. Perhaps, once my reviewing queue clears out, I can review one of these. -Marc Mickelson

"...the fond memories of audio adventures long passed"

April 3, 2012


[Regarding the blog, "We Didn't Know How Good We Had It: Thoughts on Maggie Dealer-Direct and the Mini Maggie System"]: Ah, yes, the fond memories of audio adventures long passed.

Trips to audio havens that are no longer there, like the Stereo Emporium, to listen to Maggie Typanis and ARC tube amps, then a jaunt down the road and around the corner over to Transcendental Stereo to chat with Dan D'Agostino and see more audio to lust over.

Back home across the Peace Bridge we had a few local shops, one that sold the original Acoustat Monitor X (which I now own), and there were even more as you ventured closer to Toronto.

Now there's only a couple of stores that sell serious hi-fi products, and they are more than an hour's drive away.

Still, whenever I do venture out to those remaining stalwarts of days gone by, I get that old twinge of excitement that I got 40 years ago. Then again, it just might be arthritis.

But the journey for me isn't over. I'm off today to buy another high-priced power cord, the last one I need for my setup, or so I told the wife.

Bless her -- she's heard that one before.

Thank you and the audio industry for many years of happy listening,

Chuck Lee

"Add me to your reader list"

April 1, 2012


I'd be grateful if you could add me to your reader list -- though I do check in regularly to see if anything new has been published. Yours is a great site -- keep up the good work!

James Moon

Checking regularly works, but the reader list is infinitely better. To join and be the first to hear about new articles on the site, send e-mail to rl@theaudiobeat.com. --Marc Mickelson


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