Letters • November 2013

Miles Davis LPs: Black Friday versus Mobile Fidelity

November 22, 2013


Apparently, Record Store Day will be Black Friday, November 29, and Sony will release a mono version of Kind of Blue then. Is this worth having, because Zia Records here in Las Vegas will call me when it comes in, and I was also thinking about getting the 45rpm version from Mobile Fidelity?

I noticed that the store has several Record Store Day Miles Davis mono LPs in stock. Do you know how these compare to the mostly stereo versions from MoFi? I want to pick up some Miles Davis LPs. Recommendations?

Jeff Levine

I'm a huge fan of Zia Record Exchange. I've been to all of them -- in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson. They're great for new and used LPs and CDs, and a good place to sell music you prune from your collection. I've found some real rarities there for reasonable prices. Unfortunately, I don't live near one, so I won't be there on Black Friday, but I will go to both locations in Las Vegas during CES.

Black Friday and Record Store Day are different, although they are promoted by the same group, and there are special recordings available for both. So far, six Miles Davis mono LPs have been released as part of the promotion: three during last year's Black Friday, and three more for this year's Record Store Day. I have all six and they are worth having unless you don't want to have multiple copies of music you already own or plan to buy. Kind of Blue is one of the rare early stereo recordings that sounds good in stereo -- no giant hole in the middle of the soundstage. If you are only going to buy either the Black Friday mono version or the Mobile Fidelity stereo, go for the MoFi stereo, as it will undoubtedly be one of the label's true highlights (and will likely increase in value over time). The same goes for the other Record Store Day mono and stereo MoFi versions, although stereo versions of Round About Midnight and Milestones don't exist, so your choice there isn't quite so clear cut.

I will still be buying the last three Miles Davis mono LPs available on Black Friday, even though I have a mono original of Kind of Blue (which I bought from one of my college professors). It's such rich music that having other versions just gives another reason to listen to the music again (and again). If I can't get them at Zia's, there's always eBay. -Marc Mickelson

Living Voice speakers "fussy about room placement"?

November 19, 2013


Thank you for the insightful seminar that you gave at the recent TAVES about the importance of speaker placement and room acoustics. However, I can’t help thinking that the Living Voice Avatar IBX-RW loudspeakers that you used in the demonstration were not only very revealing but also very fussy about room placement.

In any case, you most definitely proved your points.

Viggo Zingenberg

Despite your suspicions, I can assure you that if anything the Living Voice speakers are more forgiving of room placement than many designs I might list -- one of the reasons that I chose them for the demonstrations at RMAF and TAVES, a scenario in which I'd have to extract meaningful performance from them in not just one, but two unfamiliar (and very different) rooms. Recent examples that have come my way that demonstrate this point include the equivalently priced but wider bandwidth Wilson Benesch Square 5 and the considerably more affordable Focal 807W and KEF R900, all of which are more positionally critical than the Living Voice Avatar IBX-RW.

Although this might (and in many cases probably should) come as a shock, virtually all speakers are capable of considerably more performance than they're delivering. System setup is an exercise in realizing potential and the speakers can only deliver what they're fed. Setup issues further up the chain will mask performance attributes and musical communication from the speakers and the listener, just as surely as the positioning of the speakers can mask the performance of the system itself. The trick here (as demonstrated last year) is to ensure that all aspects of system set up are considered. That means that you need to look at the integrity of the AC supply and electrical grounding, the coherence of the cable loom and equipment supports/mechanical grounding as well as the placement of the speakers. But get those things right and the full impact of even tiny shifts in speaker position will become obvious -- just as they did at TAVES and RMAF.

One other thing: consider what it is that you are actually doing when you move the loudspeaker -- balancing its low-frequency output against the bass modes in the room. This bass reinforcement needs to be carefully juggled if you are to get it just right. In the case of a wide-bandwidth design, too much reinforcement becomes an embarrassment; in the case of many a stand-mounts, maximizing the added bass becomes critical to achieving convincing scale and weight. One reason the Avatar is less critical than some is that it hits the happy medium between these two extremes, better able to cope with less than perfect bass integration than either speakers that are smaller or larger than it. In this regard, its sensitivity (94dB) and easy drive characteristics (flat 6-ohm load) also help, allowing the amplifier to get a decent grip on the speaker. But the bottom line is simple: Take the considerable time and trouble to feed any speaker properly and you will be surprised just what comes out. -Roy Gregory

Phono stage upgrade

November 14, 2013


I just read your review of the Gryphon Legato Legacy phono stage, and I am very intrigued by what you heard and wrote. I am currently using the Allnic H-3000 and have enjoyed it for the past three and a half years. But, I am looking to see what is available that actually would provide a definite step up in sonics and not just different sonics. I use the Lyra Olympos SL cartridge and will also have a Lyra Atlas in about a month. Do you consider the Legato Legacy a real step up or just better in some ways and not as good in some aspects compared to the H-3000?

Also, do you have an opinion of a phono stage that is a definite step up compared to the Allnic H-3000? I have read some good initial feedback about the new Allnic H-5000 DHT. Any suggestions?

Arnie Sanders

You certainly don't ask easy questions, and I say this for a reason you point out: different does not mean better, especially when you're talking about phono stages like the Allnic H-3000 and Gryphon Legato Legacy, which are in many ways qualitative peers. That said, I do think what the Legato Legacy does so well would certainly lead some listeners to conclude that it's better and not just by a little bit. Its quietness, tonal completeness and bass power are impossible to miss. On the other hand, the H-3000 images in a way that's truly 3D, and it is probably the best I've heard in this respect.

If you want a phono stage that's definitively better than your H-3000, the Legato Legacy would come to mind, depending on your sonic goals and tastes. Other possibilities are the Audio Research Reference Phono 10 and Allnic H-5000 DHT. I've not heard either of these, however, so this is purely speculation, based on the companies, their products and the cost of both units. Roy Gregory has the H-5000 DHT for review now. -Marc Mickelson

Remove dust from records -- fast!

November 11, 2013


Maybe this is nuts, but you know the cans of air computer stores sell, spray dusters, are they safe to use on vinyl?

Sheldon Simon

I use aerosol dusters to blow dust off records. I try to do it in quick bursts, not so vigorously that there is condensation on the record surface, although even that doesn't seem to be harmful to the record. It disappears in a few seconds. -Marc Mickeslon

Thanks for the Stillpoints review

November 6, 2013

I want to thank Roy Gregory for his insightful review of the Stillpoints products.

In particular, the order of placement (speakers, line conditioners, etc.) is extremely helpful, since the usual audiophile train of thought would be: source, preamp, power amp.

I bought Minis (always start out with a small investment, when unsure, is my way of going) and put them under one of my ASL Hurricane amps (only one of them, since I bought three of the Minis). There was an obvious improvement, far out of proportion to a mere $375 investment -- more like $1000 in improvement. And that's the minimum I'd say the Stillpoints make. A case could easily be made for $2000 when used with a line conditioner that will still shake, rattle and roll energy back into the system, so one doesn't even hear what one paid for. Not truly, anyway.

So I purchased a second set, and, with one of the Hurricanes in for repair -- and using an integrated amp I had on hand -- put the first set under the integrated and then the second set under my PS Audio power conditioner. It was like unto a completely new -- and better -- line conditioner entering into the sonic picture. I experimented with placement of the isolation feet -- as I usually do -- and found that very, very slight changes in position either improved the sound or, conversely, lessened the quality (but never to the point where the improvements were less than stellar). It's a matter of simple improvements in the noise floor or, in the optimal positioning, improvements in timing, and more "tension" -- or "stop and start," in the sense of a waltz sounding dramatically more "waltz-like" with the accent clearly on the first beat. With some components, once can hardly tell a waltz from a shuffle beat. No fear of that with the Stillpoints.

So few reviewers, when reviewing isolation devices, make it clear that experimentation is an extremely significant factor in the satisfaction of a device -- or the all-too-common disappointment. Add in the fact that far too many people adhere to the philosophy of plug-and-play (audiophiles can be every big as lazy as anyone else: cables on the floor, equipment stand in the corner with standing waves buffeting it), thereby losing out on how much more sense the music makes when time is taken to allow you to hear the end result, which is music in all its beauty and focus. This is unfortunate and explains how so many people come to wonder: Why does this idiot reviewer praise this product so highly?

Glen McLeod

From solid state to tubes

November 1, 2013


I want to thank you. I took your advice and upgraded from a VPI Classic 1 to a Classic 4 with a JMW 12.7 tonearm. It has been with me for three months now, and I have enjoyed it very much.

I now need to upgrade my power amp -- a Krell FPB600 -- and need your advice again. I'm keeping my Krell for home theater and want a tube amp. I have followed some of your reviews of tube amps -- Coincident and Vacuum State, in particular -- but I have never auditioned a tube amp here in Vancouver, as not many dealers carry them (that I know of). I'm also not sure what is good for my system: Aesthetix Callisto Eclipse line stage, Aesthetix Io Signature phono stage, Hansen Emperor speakers, VPI Classic 4 with Dynavector XV-1S cartridge, Sony SCD-XA9000ES digital player, Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker cables.

I listen at 70-80dB, which is very loud to me. My room is 18' wide by 25' long with a 9' ceiling. I listen to all types music except opera, heavy metal and punk. My budget for a new or used tube amp is not more than $12,000.

I was thinking of a new Coincident Dragon Mk II or a used Cary 211FE, or perhaps used Lamm ML2.1s, used Tenor 300HPs or 75WIs, or VTL MB-450 Mk IIIs. There is a used Nagra VPA-845 for less than $8000.

I understand that SET is best for sound, followed by straight triode. Are 8 watts able to power my speakers?

Chris Sng

You ask a question that, whilst specific in detail, crops up with regularity: the owner who wants to chop in a high-powered solid-state amp and wishes to know whether an 8-watt triode can do the job of filling its shoes. The answer sits somewhere between a flat "no" and "that depends." Let me explain.

One of the most critical (possibly the most critical) interface in your system is the one between the amp and the speakers. Not only do the characteristics (output power and load tolerance) of the amp have to match the demands of the speaker (sensitivity, impedance and bandwidth), the amp also has to deal with the back EMF generated by the loudspeaker -- and that can be crippling. You'll note that I used the term "match" when discussing this relationship. Too much power can be just as damaging as too little -- especially if it is of the wrong type. Thus, sensitive speakers (93dB+) are generally used with lower-powered amps -- and vice versa; there's a reason you own that Krell! Although the audio industry is fond of ignoring the laws of physics, I'm afraid that the watts generated by power amplifiers are not a variable commodity nor a sliding scale. A class-A watt is actually the same as a class-AB or class-D watt. A triode watt is the same as a pentode watt, and they're both the same as a solid-state watt.

Having said that -- and just to confuse things -- there are some exceptions to the high-efficiency/low-power rule. Avantgarde produce the 109dB Trio system and pair it with their own solid-state, 150-watt amplifier(s)! Sadly, the converse is rarely true, and even SET amplifiers of legendary driving capability like the Lamm ML 2.1 still need speakers of at least 90dB to sound at their best.

Why the confusion? Why do people believe that tube watts are somehow worth more than their solid-state equivalents? Because of the thing nobody talks about -- back EMF. This can seriously upset solid-state output stages, but (most) tube amps hide their active devices behind a darned great lump of steel -- the output transformer -- that renders them far less sensitive to disturbance. The greater the number of drivers in a speaker and the more complex its crossover, the more potential there is for generating damaging back-EMF effects.

Now let's look at your speaker. Assuming it is the original Emperor (not the E) it has four drivers and considerable bandwidth capability. At 87dB and a nominal 6-ohm load (I can't find any more detailed information) that sets all the alarm bells ringing! I'm not saying it's impossible to find a triode amp that will do the trick, but a single output device, SET? Highly unlikely. You might make gains in the midrange, but the bottom end is either going to soften and lag or become curtailed. In short, the speakers won't deliver the performance you've paid for -- because the amp driving them is a poor match.

So, what would I recommend? You'll need a high-powered tube amp and given the budget, that means a push-pull pentode or a possibly a hybrid. Top of my "tube" list would be the new VTL ST200 or the Audio Research Reference 150. The Audio Research is likely to be a sweeter and slightly warmer sound with a huge soundstage and highly developed acoustic. The VTL (assuming that it follows form) will be more muscular with greater authority, drive and sense of musical purpose. Either would be a fine match. However, a third option suggests itself -- the Aesthetix Atlas Signature. I rate the Aesthetix amplifiers extremely highly and the Atlas Signature is the sweet spot for value. it is genuinely unburstable, has the presence, color and dynamic heft that make tube amps so beguiling, combined with the sort of grip and dynamic range that make music an almost physical experience. I also happen to know that Hansen have used the Atlas monos at shows with -- you guessed it -- the Emperor, to excellent effect.

I'm sure that any of these three options will offer both a dramatic change from the Krell and also a substantial upgrade. In your situation, they make sense sonically and electrically, in a way that no SET ever will. I guess that the mighty Canary 200-watt, parallel single-ended monos might be an option -- but they bust the budget so wide you could sail the entire US Navy through the gap!

I'll be in Toronto at the TAVES event this weekend. If by chance you'll be there and would like to pursue this discussion, drop by the TAB seminars and we can have a chat. -Roy Gregory


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