Letters • March 2011

London reissues, Lamm M1.2s

March 29, 2011

Marc,

I've been very interested to read your various reviews on The Audio Beat.

I wonder if you've had the chance to compare the Original Recordings Group 45rpm London reissues to original UK Deccas.

I've also been following your Lamm 1.2 Reference amp comments (vis--vis the Ayre MX-R amps). There is a used pair of M1.2s here in Australia, and I have been considering buying them to replace Goldmund SRM monoblocks. Have you found the Lamms to be reliable? I'm a bit wary of hot-running amps for long-term reliability, especially in a warm climate like down here (well, our summers can be plenty hot).

I think re-reading (and re-reading again!) your reviews that you might have tipped the Ayre MX-Rs as the more transparent amps. I love the little Goldmunds' top-end air and transparency, but they are maybe a bit lacking in body and authority. Any comments would be dearly appreciated, as hearing all contenders down here is well-nigh impossible until they are delivered!

Geoff Cosier

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to compare the Original Recordings Group London reissues to any of the UK Decca originals. However, as I mentioned in my review, I did compare them to a few original London pressings, and there was no comparison. The ORG LPs sounded more spacious, wideband and contemporary -- amazing in an overall sense. They have been added to "The List."

Regarding the Lamm amps, I've owned many different models, and I think the only problem I've had was a bad tube once or twice, and never with the hybrid amps. I've never experienced a problem with either M1.1s or M1.2s, both of which I've owned and used for years at a time. I think they are known as very reliable amps -- and Lamm products in general are known to be the same.

I have no experience with your Goldmund amps, even at shows, but I can tell you that you'll get body and authority from the Lamms, along with an endearing naturalness that is musically significant. The Ayre MX-Rs sound leaner and, at the same time, just as natural, and their quietness helps reveal air and dimension on recordings with rare ability. As for the Lamm amps' heat, I live in Arizona, where it gets plenty hot as well, and while the M1.2s do radiate some heat, they have never become overheated. -Marc Mickelson

Joining the reader list

March 25, 2011

Marc,

I just discovered The Audio Beat and would like to be advised of upcoming articles. I really like your roster of contributors, many of whom have been my favorites for quite awhile. It's great to see that this is a cross-section of some of the best writers from publications that at one time were adversaries. I look forward to future updates.

Chuck Lee

E-mail rl@theaudiobeat.com to be added to the site's reader list -- and be alerted to all site updates. -Marc Mickelson

"...out with the glass and in with the wood?"

March 23, 2011

Marc,

My audio rack unfortunately has glass shelves. I was thinking of removing them and going to a local lumber yard and having wood replacements cut to the exact size of the glass shelves. Does this sound feasible -- out with the glass and in with the wood? It's a lot cheaper than buying a whole new rack.

Sheldon Simon

This not only sounds "feasible," it's a great idea. From my experience, glass is about the worst material for rack shelves, its sonic coloring matching its physical properties: brittleness and hardness. (As an aside, it's a mystery to me why companies persist in making speaker cabinets from glass, which has a resonance frequency in the range of the human voice -- that's why singers can break it.) MDF would be an improvement, but I suspect that any of a number of hardwoods would be better still, although the cost might be prohibitive.

In case you're interested, years ago I had a couple of shelves fabricated from Corian, a marble-like composite material used for countertops (and some speaker cabinets). They didn't perform well as rack shelves, but they are passable sitting on a carpeted floor under equipment. -Marc Mickelson

Tri-Planar or Graham?

March 19, 2011

Marc,

I read a review you previously wrote on the Tri-Planar Mk VII UII tonearm, in which you compared the sound of that tonearm to that of the Graham Phantom. I listen almost exclusively to orchestral music, and I seek to avoid a soundstage that sounds too distant or seems to have exaggerated depth. Being able to hear detail/presence from rear-field instruments is thus very important to me. I had that with my SME IV.Vi tonearm with its Magnan Vi internal wiring, but when I encountered a recurring intermittent problem, I had the Magnan wiring removed (mistakenly, as it turned out) after everything else in my system measured fine.

As it turned out, the problem was with the DIN connector of the SME 'arm. But the damage was done. Making matters worse, the delicate Magnan wiring is no longer available, so I had the 'arm rewired with Discovery. However, with the Discovery, things sounded as if someone had rolled off some of the information coming from instruments in the back of the soundstage. I now consistently lean forward but still sense that something important is missing.

Reading between the lines from both what you and others have said, I have gotten the impression the Graham Phantom's perspective is a bit too distant for my taste. I don't want a sound that makes instruments seem too small. Rather, I desire an involving sense of presence but without an aggressive or in-my-face quality.

I would appreciate very much getting your take on the Tri-Planar and Phantom regarding what I've alluded to. Incidentally, while I still own a VPI HW-19 Mk III turntable, there's a good chance I will be moving up to a TW-Acustic Raven One, so I'll need an 'arm with it that will help bring me closer to the natural sound of the concert hall. Super tightly contoured, squeaky clean hi-fi sound need not apply.

Jeff Lee

I think either the Graham or Tri-Planar tonearms will give you what you want, though they will accomplish it in different ways. The Graham -- especially the Phantom II -- offers a clear, defined, open view of the music that's neither distant nor aggressively up-front. In the process, it defines every inch of the soundstage. The Tri-Planar has a big, layered, whole-cloth presentation that's akin to very good tubes. It will certainly give you the presence you seek. The difference comes down to the broad strokes with which each 'arm presents the music: a finer, more overt sense of detail with the Graham versus a coherent view of the entirety of the soundstage with the Tri-Planar. -Marc Mickelson

Coverage of computer audio, please

March 14, 2011

Marc,

With so many of us looking to take the plunge into computer audio but uncertain of the direction to take, a review of the Olive Media O6HD would be greatly appreciated, as this one-box solution would replace, say, the following components: a Mac Mini, external DAC, external hard drive, and a touch-screen monitor. That would be a great reduction in clutter. But, of course, how does it sound compared to top-flight USB DACs such as the Weiss 202 or the dCS Debussy?

Michael Goldin

I was in touch with Olive when the O6HD was launched and asked about a review sample then. Your message reminds me to contact the company again. I can tell you that we're scheduled to review the Weiss Medea+ DAC and the Bryston BDP-1, a unique product that allows off-the-computer digital-file playback. -Marc Mickelson

Using "The List"

March 11, 2011

Marc,

I perused “The List” earlier today and noted that some listings were in blue. I did not see any explanation for the significance of blue lettering and could only assume it meant that the given items had been reviewed by TAB. Right or wrong?

Alan Trahern

You're correct. The blue text, which is also underscored, marks direct links to our reviews of those products or recordings. Listings that aren't linked are for audio gear and music we haven't formally reviewed on TAB (or have reviewed elsewhere). -Marc Mickelson

BAlabo review?

March 10, 2011

Marc,

I saw somewhere on your website that you were impressed by the BAlabo gear combined with Tidal speakers. Any chance you might get the BAlabo gear in for review?

The only existing review was in TAS, and it's confusing. Written by J. Valin, it says BAlabo is the greatest thing he's heard but, it doesn't do a number of things as well as the Soulution. ["Soundstaging is quite good, but not great. (For great, see the Soulution review.) It is just a little bit narrower in width, a little more laid-back in depth, a little more closed-in in height than the very best I've heard."] Not a ringing endorsement, is it? It reads more like, "It does some things astonishingly well while other aspects of its performance are mediocre."

Strange business, frankly.

M. Tan

Yes, I have been impressed with the combination of BAlabo electronics and Tidal Sunray speakers (I have a pair of the latter in for review right now). I've talked with BAlabo's worldwide distributor about a review of the amplifiers or DAC, but nothing has materialized yet. Your message reminds me to follow up on this for later in the year. -Marc Mickelson

Buying Blue Note reissues

March 7, 2011

Marc,

I am trying to complete my Blue Note collection. I am not one of those buyers who can afford everything, so I am just getting a few dozen titles. I have about a dozen original LPs that sound great, and I have been buying select Audio Wave XRCDs and a few Music Matters LPs (I like the convenience of the CDs over the 45rpm records). There are some titles, such as Go, Blue Train, Blues Walk, Idle Moments that are done by Analogue Productions on both 45rpm LP and SACD. But even Steve Hoffman himself is quoted as saying that the Audio Wave CDs are the best. Does he mean that they are better than his own SACDs? And if you and others still prefer the LPs, probably due to the format and not the engineering, then are the Analogue Productions as good as the Music Matters (both with the same team of Hoffman and Gray)? Do you know how the Analogue Productions SACDs compare with the Audio Wave XRCDs? I just want to know which way to go.

Jeff Levine

Your message calls attention to a central issue with the profusion of Blue Note reissues available right now: lack of overlap between labels and formats. With a few exceptions, the Audio Wave XRCD24 discs mirror the titles Music Matters has released on 45rpm LP. However, none of these titles has been released by Analogue Productions on either SACD or 45rpm LP. This makes comparison guesswork.

Given this, what I counsel people to do is buy the music, not the reissue label or format. If the music you want is only available from Audio Wave and Music Matters, then buy it in whatever format is best for you. It is hard to match the sonic and packaging quality of the Music Matters LPs, but in the digital realm, the same can be said for the Audio Wave XRCD24s. I have heard the Analogue Productions LPs and SACDs, and they are very fine as well, and the titles are some of Blue Note's most iconic.

If I were choosing based on sound alone, the Music Matters LPs would be my choice, but I really can't criticize any of these very fine reissues. -Marc Mickelson

Which one-step record cleaner?

March 3, 2011

Marc,

I need to get some more record-cleaning solution. I am still taking baby steps, so I think I want a one-step cleaner. I have been using the stuff that came with my VPI 16.5, but I'm also looking at Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions cleaners. Is the Premium One-Step Formula No. 6 good, or are there other one-step cleaners I should look at? Do you have other suggestions? And "one-step" to me means apply and wipe, no rinsing. Is that correct?

Mike Doukas

"One-step" means one application with removal and no separate rinse. One-step fluids are formulated without harsh cleaners that require rinsing after their use.

I'm an enthusiastic user of the AIVS fluids, including the One-Step No. 6, which I have found to outperform the VPI cleaner. It applies better too, spreading evenly across the record surface. If you want to venture into a two-step process with even better results, I wrote a blog about using AIVS Formula No.15 along with a water rinse.

No.15 is the best record-cleaning solution I've used, and along with a water rinse, it makes for a two-step process that betters many cleaning regimens that require more fluids and applications. -Marc Mickelson

Atma-Sphere upgrades

March 1, 2011

Tim,

I have read your work on SoundStage! and The Audio Beat and really enjoy it. You write in a very easy-to-read style, and it seems like we have similar tastes. As such, I am looking for a little help with some possible upcoming system changes.

I will definitely be sending my Atma-Sphere MA-1 Mk IIIs in for the upgrade shortly (your blog was the final nail in that coffin). I was wondering what you think about the Speltz Zeroes. I think I see them being used with Wilson Sashas in your system picture. I have always toyed with the idea of trying them with my Vandersteen 5As, but haven't pulled the trigger. I know even the MA-1s like to see a higher impedance, but would like to hear what you think.

Do you use anti-cable jumpers to connect the Zero boxes to the Sashas? Can I use my existing speaker cables or do I need to buy the anti-cable jumpers?

I was wondering if your MP-1 is up to Mk 3.1 status, and if so what improvements you heard when you upgraded.

George Hoenninger

You have a good eye -- I do indeed use the Zero autoformers from Paul Speltz between my MA-1s and the Wilson Sashas. The Zeroes help the amps drive the speakers more easily by letting the amps see a 16-ohm load. Any tube amplifier may reap benefits from the Zeroes, and they fit particularly well with OTLs, which deliver more power into higher impedances. When John Giolas (Wilson Audio's marketing & sales director) was at my house to do the speaker setup, along with Marc Mickelson, we did an A/B and each of us confirmed the Sashas sounded better with the Zeroes. Lower frequencies had more authority and overall tonality was richer. Take the paper specs with a grain of salt -- in the real world, the MA-1 Mk 3.1 monoblocks drive the Sashas with authority and finesse.

I use a one-foot length of Paul Speltz's Anti-Cables as jumpers from the Zeroes to the Sashas and use my regular speaker cables (Shunyata Research Stratos) to connect the Zeroes to the MA-1s. Any speaker cables will work, though I strongly encourage keeping their lengths as short as possible.

As for the MP-1 -- mine is still at Mk 3 status. Shortly I will be sending it to Atma-Sphere to have him upgrade it to 3.1, and I'll be writing another blog about what I hear. Stay tuned. -Tim Aucremann

 

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