Letters • January 2013

On concerts, audio systems and "time travel"

January 28, 2013


I wanted to send you a note of appreciation for your little essay ["When Great Music Goes Bad"]. I too am an advocate of the great opportunity a live concert can give and shoulder no shame, but rather an enormously enriching experience, regarding what a good audio system offers. Modestly, I liken it to an opportunity to time travel.

The insight and enjoyment we gain from a few repeat performances of that frozen document we call a recorded performance (live or studio collage) can never be obtained from the live event itself, certainly not one at which you were not present. I would venture to presume that your enjoyment of that Sir J.B. performance -- however amazing the live event was -- has been deepened by your repeated listens, in all the aspects that make it an engaging and powerful interpretation: the many layers of nuance, finesse, sectional balance, structural relationships, overreaching architecture, the intimate turn of a phrase, layers of detail -- so much that simply cannot be absorbed on a single hearing of a fantastic live performance. To wit, it is only a blessing that we fail to hear it all during a pedestrian or confused and ragged performance.

Frankly, our stereo systems allow us not only the opportunity to call up at will any work to suit our momentary fancy, but the unique facility to study different interpretations of a single work by numerous performers across generations. I often host, for my classically trained friends, listening sessions of a single work, juxtaposing several performances of, for example, a Chopin ballad, a movement of a Beethoven quartet, a Schumann lieder, the Goldberg Variations. (It’s a true test of concentration to survey, over a few nights, five complete performances and selections from several different keyboard artists. As of that round of gatherings a few years ago, Ms. Hewitt managed to keep us spellbound throughout -- with and without the score in hand.)

Many decades ago, my principal teacher, Rafael Druian, summarized the opportunities and pitfalls of recordings for the listener. As concertmaster under Dorati, Szell and Boulez -- with all of whom he recording quite a bit -- his insight was deep. He echoed comments from Szell himself that I later heard in an interview preserved from a Cleveland radio interview: ". . .many pluses and dangers to recordings. Ultimately, it is how one uses or abuses the opportunity. Recordings should never be a substitute for the opportunity to experience the unique and very special risk-taking of a live event. Live music and our real-time interaction is of the moment and gone the next." Unless, of course, the live event is as misdirected as the Philharmonia concert you mentioned.

Too bad we are only able to travel back in time. Wouldn't it be something to eventually purchase the ultimate audio component, a concert-channeling crystal ball? Do you think that is in the works at dCS?

Marc Rolnik

P.S., Okay, this was hardly a short note. Sent via iPhone.

Wow! Writing that much on a 3” screen -- that’s commitment.

But on a more serious note, I find your observations about comparing performances fascinating. I have long held that one of the key arbiters of system performance is the ability to reproduce the differences between different readings and different performances of the same work -- or even more critically, different readings of the same work by the same conductor. The temporal telescope that is an audio system allows us to collapse time, sliding one performance or performer up against another. It truly is one of the great joys offered by a great record collection -- and it’s only amplified by having a great system to do it on.

For the record, because someone is bound to ask, that system was:

VPI Classic 4/JMW 12.7/SDS turntable
Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge

Connoisseur 4.2 PLE phono stage

VTL TL7.5 Series III line stage
VTL MB450 Series III monoblocks (running KT88s in tetrode setting, lower-mid DF)

Wilson Benesch Cardinal loudspeakers
Wilson Benesch Torus Infrabass Generator

Nordost Odin cables throughout
Quantum QRT AC distribution and treatment

Racks and supports from Stillpoints (ESS and Ultra 5s) and Leading Edge

Leading Edge acoustic panels

So there you go, Paul -- now you know! Certain of those key components are up for review, with copy due soon. You can probably predict a series of suitably enthusiastic reports. One, the TL-7.5 Series III, has just been reviewed (by both Paul Bolin and Marc Mickelson). You’ll not be surprised to learn that I fully concur with their findings. If I’ve just been discussing the attributes of a great system, what makes a great component is not just the ability to deliver great performances, but to do it in more than one context or location! -Roy Gregory

". . .a most persuasive argument"

January 25, 2013


"When Great Music Goes Bad": a most persuasive argument for great performances on recordings -- and indeed on the value of recordings and the playback hardware that makes them sing. Well done!

Mike Silverton

Well Tempered and Dynavector?

January 21, 2013


I'm back in analog mode and listening to more records lately. I just listened to some live Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. I think it’s a 180-gram pressing. It was awesome. I've been looking at other turntables just for goofs. I'm in no way looking to change, but I like to look. The TW-Acustic tables certainly look nice, as does the Kronos 'table. But both of those are really expensive.

I am trying to figure out what contributes more to the sound we hear. Is it the mechanics of the turntable, or is it the cartridge that we choose? I mean, how can we tell that the 'table we choose is a good one? I have no idea how to measure if my 'table, a Well Tempered Amadeus, keeps stable speed by ear. But I can say that when I listen to music, all I hear is blackness and music coming from the blackness. I don’t know how my 'table compares to more expensive 'tables like yours, but I do know that at shows, my 'table has been used in several rooms and I thought it sounded just as good as more expensive 'tables.

I am using a Dynavector XX2 Mk II cartridge. I know that my turntable has also been used with an XV-1t at CES. That's a $9000 cartridge mated to a $2850 table. I also read where someone used a Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, which retails for $7699. Those are some heavy-duty cartridges. Doesn’t that mean that the Amadeus has good mechanics behind it? Meaning, a good motor that fits the 'table and really good speed control? I can’t imagine that the company that sells the 'table and the people who buy it would put such expensive cartridges on it if they didn't feel it really did sound fantastic with them.

I really think Well Tempered put one under the radar with the Amadeus. If this 'table can handle a $9000 cartridge, then I see no reason to even think about another 'table. I may try and get the XV-1s at some point, though.

Michael Doukas

Your questions cut to the heart of the mystery of high-end audio and analog playback in particular. Which is more important, the turntable or the cartridge? Yes! That is, they both are, and ideally they work in synergistic fashion, the abilities of one maximizing the abilities of the other.

Your Well Tempered Amadeus is a unique turntable that's built with great attention to the job of spinning the record and extracting musical information from it. I'm not at all surprised that it's been shown with a cartridge that costs three times as much as it does. As a platform for the cartridge, your turntable does its job with utter simplicity and directness, both of which are good for sound. I suspect that if you put a Dynavector XV-1s on your 'table, you'll hear what it can do. This isn't to say that other turntables won't extract more of its potential (or less), but that your 'table deserves to be in the discussion in terms of its use with such a cartridge.

If you really want to pursue this, the US distributor for Well Tempered, Mike Pranka at Toffco, is also the distributor for Dynavector, and he could give you expert feedback on how your 'table would perform with an XV-1s. I'm sure he has not only heard this combination at length but sold it a few times. -Marc Mickelson

". . .good things about Ray Price, Faron Young, Tammy Wynette and the Dillards in the same article"

January 15, 2013


Thanks for the most enjoyable twenty minutes spent reading record reviews I’ve had in, well, I can’t really remember how long.

Finding someone saying good things about Ray Price, Faron Young, Tammy Wynette and the Dillards in the same article warms my heart. Throwing in a reference for one of my favorite iconoclasts, Pierre Sprey, is just the icing on the cake.

I suspect we share some common background in listening, although I came to audiophilia much later. I struggle to find voices that I can relate to or trust to give me an authentic perspective on the industry, technology, and reproduction of music. I’m happy to have stumbled across yours.

Paul Sairio

"...that's what this hobby is all about"

January 9, 2013


I enjoyed reading Robert Pincus's article on audio shows and recordings he's found. It was well written and a labor of love. Please keep sharing information on music, as that's what this hobby is all about.

Peter Kuntz

I couldn't agree with you more, both about Robert's article and the music that's the heart and soul of our hobby. -Marc Mickelson

David Manley

January 5, 2013


How sad to hear about David Manley passing. It's been years since I've seen him, but word was that he was living the good life, complete with stories which made me smile for him.

Audio is full of great characters, and David was one of the greatest. He once boasted at dinner that if you gave him a tube type and an output power he would have the completed amplifier in two weeks. Not an idle boast. He actually did this with the original Ichiban amplifier. I sure could have used some of his "get it done" with my latest amplifier, the JL5. I've been working on it for months and will have an engineering prototype at CES. Manley would have had full production months ago.

What a legacy David has left behind: two high-end audio companies! They are both highly successful and will continue his work for many, many years, with his son, Luke, one of the nicest guys in the high end, heading up one; and his ex-wife EveAnna, a total gearhead and character in her own right, heading up the other.

I'm sure David is proud of his accomplishments and his Maker is pleased.

Rock on, David!

Ken Stevens
Convergent Audio Technology

Happy New Year

January 1, 2013


I just wanted to thank you for all of your help and advice and the really great service you provide with your excellent site. I wish you all a very happy New Year.

Jeff Levine


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