Description

I spent roughly 7 years of careful almost obsessive listening and comparing, tweaking and tuning, compulsively buying and selling scores of components and combinations - and eventually came up with remarkable sound with my Almarro 318B SET/Zu Druid system which now bests everything heard before it - and is good enough to satisfy the seemingly endless upgrade itch.

I would not hesitate to recommend this system to an experienced audiophile or especially to someone who is starting out assembling a system (who has similar taste in musical presentation) to initially try and replicate what I have done, then adjust from there to suit personal taste. In my review I also included some experience with choosing equipment and tubes to try and help anyone interested to lessen some time and expense in trying out new equipment - or to get an idea of what they might pick next to move the sound of their system in a particular direction (more warmth or detail, etc).

There are as many systems out there as there are personal preferences in music, so a system that satisfies one listener may not another. All observations here are based on that premise, and I don't pretend to present anything absolute, but only observations which satisfied my personal listening preferences. I have found out that there is no perfect system. If you get an improvement in sound in one direction, you almost always loose something somewhere else. And it follows that a components sound must be qualified by what other components it works with. For instance, a component that balances the sound nicely in one system may sound overly warm or too bright in another depending on how it synergistically blends with the other components and creates a net change in sound on balance. It seems that assembling a system is all a matter of balance - and you ultimately end up choosing what to enhance, and what to compromise.

The highly efficient Zu Druid speakers are clear and open with front row center detailed shimmering engaging highs (without harshness), fast, dynamic, full of life, vibrant, and vivid. Yet they still have a real life midrange pregnant with warm emotion which satisfies my OCD craving for great natural midrange. The Druid have a very good  midbass presence that rolls nicely up into the midrange and covers all but the lower bass and subwoofer range well.  

HEADS UP, I recently added the incredibly musical and fast HSU MBM 12 (mid bass enhanced speaker almost a sub sub (50-150Hz)) and the sound of my 18 Watt tube system system truely went to another level by adding loads of  rich musical powerful bass that only the largest most powerful systems might produce.  I could not be happier as I had tried to accomplish adding musical bass with many quality traditional subs for years to no avail -  until now with the HSU MBM.  Highly recommended.  After hearing it, I would not play my system without it.  Sadly, HSU has recently discontinued them as audiophiles apparently  did not know what it was and home theater people preferred a traditional sub.  You can find this gem used or try their ULS-15 which, according to HSU, offers a linear bass option which has more head room than the MBM-12.  I do have to wonder if that heavy cone might not be near as musical as the faster lighter woofer of the MBM-12. 


However, the Druid speakers with Almarro Amp in my system jumped to a surprisingly great  level of performance in the Bass with the addition of the incredibly musical HSU MBM 12.  It provides the fastest most musical low bass support (50 to 150 Hz - not sub frequencies below 40Hz)  that I have ever heard.  Without exaggeration, the HSU MBM 12  took the sound of my system to a completely new level!   See the write up  below.   

However, some may want sounds  in the gut churning dinasuar stomping lower sub frequency range which is occasionally by nature not the best with music and not required, yet picked up easily by a fast lower powered musical sub like an REL Strata or MJ Ref 100 - see subwoofer review). In my system (built & customized for my personal preference of course) the Zu Druid bested a large group of highly rated speakers (Spendor, Dynaudio, Merlin, B&W, Dali, Von Schweikert, Sonus Faber, & others). Also note that the Almarro 318B, when matched with the Zu Druid speakers (as explained in detail in my following review), bested a multitude of other amplifiers.

However, if you do not choose components that the Zu Druid speakers work best with, the Druid may not realize their full potential. I say that because the Druid are very honest speakers which reveal the source, whether warm or bright and their sonic inclination is very sensitive and dependent on the components connected to it. If your components push the sound too far toward brightness or toward overly warm, you will hear it right away.

As a side note, it seems that the most important factor determining whether a component sounds terrible or great is how a components sonic signature (bright versus warm, etc.) blends synergistically with the net sound of your system - and the quality of the components themselves is secondary to determining how good your system sounds to you. After all, lemonade that is sour (poor net sound), will still be sour even with the best lemons (best components). However, having both the proper sonic balance for your preference in sound along with a higher quality component at the same time (as I have with the Almarro 318B Amp and Zu Druid Speakers) is a wonderful thing.

To me, the sonic nature of the Druid is such that they sound best when paired synergistically with an amp which adds a touch more warmth - such as a tube amp (as historically recommended by Zu on their site - the Druid still sound great with a solid state amp though). And being highly efficient, the Druid can take full advantage of an SET tube amp - which adds even more warmth and palpable mids and allows the Druid to achieve a wonderful sonical balance between warmth and detail.

I recommend choosing an SET Amp with enough power to drive the highly efficient Druid extremely well, such as my 18 Watt per channel Almarro 318B (which has much more than enough power). As mentioned in my virtual system review, the much weaker 5 watt per channel A205A Almarro (not as good sounding as the 318B either) caused the sound to distort at higher volumes. Therefore, if you like to turn the music up loud, I recommend an amp with around 7 Watts per channel or more and preferably some large transformers (like my Almarro 318B Amp has) to provide enough current to drive the Zu Druid speakers well at those higher volume levels.

The Zu Druid, along with the Almarro 318B and other components that I have matched them with in my system, produce a special and rare beautiful sound, that more than likely (from years of experimenting with trying new and different components) any further system tweaking will probably detract from the overall sound.

I listen primarily to vocals and instrumentals, jazz, rock, and everything in between. Although still appreciated, hard rock and classical are secondary. I prefer sound that is dynamic and alive, like an actual performance. That is, music that can be felt, not just sound which will satisfy tonal analysis. I love warmth, sound stage, depth, and midrange texture, along with detail which makes the music vibrant, without sounding so detailed as to be lean, cold, sterile, or get under your skin. I like my music to have depth to it and a strong, warm,rich midrange presence and texture (with a nice midbass bloom), yet not so warm as to sound dull or unnatural.

Although what is best is indeed personal preference, I have had several honest audiophile friends who have spent much more money than I, validate my assessment and tell me that I have one of the best systems that they have ever heard. One came right out (saying with a sigh) that my system actually sounded better than theirs.

I now feel that I have the "sound" that I want and have no desire to jump up on the upgrade treadmill anytime soon. However, a friend reminded me the other day that when it comes to upgrading and tweaking your system "it never ends".

Footnote:  

I feel it important to give a  special thanks to Steve Sank of Talking Dog Transducer Company Tucson AZ who troubleshot, repaired, made suggestions, and installed modifications as needed to my high end gear.  

He grew up with electronics as his father worked for RCA research and development.  He is one of those rare people who can look at a component and immediately spot shortcomings in design and installed components.  From my experience, he is not just an electronics repair person, but rather  a Renascence tube and solid state electronics developer and  modifier extraordinaire who often knows as much or more than the people who designed the equipment he worked on.  
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Room Details

Dimensions: 20’ × 18’  Large
Ceiling: 10’


Components Toggle details

    • Zu Audio Druid MK IV Speakers

    Fast and clear,  yet beautifully natural, detailed and open with three dimensional Dynamics and engaging warm but not gushy glowing & shimmering  sound, the highly efficient Zu Audio Druid MK IV speakers have wonderful synergy with my Amarro 318B SET tube amp. Unlike some other highly efficient speakers, the Zu Druid provide ample strong tight  balanced bass (albeit not heavy - see fix with MBM lower bass support speaker below).

    The Almarro Amp  and Zu Druid speakers produce sound a cut above most systems out there and better than any I have heard for my taste in sound.  Both the Zu Druid speakers and the Almarro amplifier produce detailed  open rich sound clear sound with the right amount of warmth although not overly warm or Euphonic.   If you like a thick woolly romantic sound, this combo may not be your cup of tea.  If you like a shimmering open expansive sound with great soundstage  and vivid tone that is not overly bright or fatiguing this combo may be some of the best sound that you have ever heard.   Both the Almarro and Zu Druid Speakers are open and expansive.  If you find this combo too open and detailed, you may want to try a slightly warmer more laid back tube amp than the Amarro since it, compared to some other tube amps, is very open.   Zu Audio can give you suggestions.   

    I just did an A-B comparison with my Almarro 318b amp and Zu Speakrs along with some  Vandersteen 2CE Signature  speakers and a McIntosh MC275 Amp  and MX110z preamp in my home all with good tubes.  The Zu speakers to me sounded better than the Vandersteens with either amp.  The Vandersteens were very good, just not quit the same soundstage.  And the Almarro, although admittedly not quit powerful enough to control well the Vandersteen bass which sounded flabby,  sounded great with the Zu Druid speakers.  The McIntosh amp and preamp combo was impressive, the McIntoshs amp and preamp could not match the Almarro SET midrange for warmth and three dimentional sound stage.  As a side note, although the Phono on the McIntosh MX110z preamp was impressive, even when tweaked out it better tubes, it got outclassed by the very special and extra rich sounding Phono section of the Conrad Johnson PV-11 which has more  warmth, richness, tonal saturation, and life like sound than any other preamp except on perhaps another CJ Preamp which is damn close.  This is discussed later.  

    By the way, to me the fast deep musical bass from one  Hsu Mid Bass Module 12 (MBM 12) to me outperformed the woofers in the Vandersteens (even with the powerful McIntosh MC275 amp.  The MBM 12 with its lighter faster cone over normal Subwoofers, does goes down to 20Hz is the most musical  natural well blended deep to mid bass support that I have heard.  The MBM 12 unfortunately got discontinued before audiophiles realized how good it is as it could musically double the apparent size of your system with rich bass only enjoyed by huge speakers.   The sound of the MBM 12 is directional though, you need to put it in the middle of your speakers behind something, or get two, one for each side.  Most systems will only need one.  Perhaps the MBM 12 just needed to be marketed a little different and given some time is all.  Aesthetically, it would have benefited from a speaker cover for the huge open port on the front of it and if it were put into a slightly smaller enclosure  without degrading the wonderful rich deep natural musical sound.   If you can find one, and you love rich full musical bass,  pick one up.

    I purchased the Zu Druid on sale when the Zu Soul Superfly replaced them. I did an A-B at home and personally preferred the Druid in my system over the Soul Superfly as the Druid speakers seemed a little warmer with a little more mid-bass bloom and mid-range texture than the Superfly. In other systems, of course, the Superfly being a little more dynamic and detailed, may provide better synergy. However, my system on balance for my taste in music, needed a little more warmth. 

     I have had Spendor & Dali (2 of my favorite lower efficiency speakers), Acoustic Zen, Merlin, Dynaudio, B&W Nautilus (tweeter too bright & harsh for me in my system), and Sonus Faber (lovely but a bit too thick, slow, and muddy to me & require a lot of power to sound good), and eventually (albeit with different complementary components later) the Zu Druid bested them for the sound that I wanted. I liked the Zu Druid speakers so much that I had an auto shop paint them piano black, and I put some granite bases on them (black might have been better), and put in some Acoustic Zen Satori speaker wire to add even more warmth over the silver Ibis hookup wire inside the Druid, as well as replaced the original tweeter crossover caps with Audiocap PPT Theta Caps for enhanced warmth and smoother detail. Added depth with Transparent MM2 speaker Cables, then when moved in brighter living room, switched to warmer yet Audioquest Gribraltar speaker cables which nicely compensated. The Druid basically have no crossover except to the super-tweeter, which is a big part of why they sound so good). I debated putting in some poly-fill to tighten and enhance the bass, but someone high up in Zu Audio said that it might help to reduce a midbass bloom if I thought there is one, and since I like midbass bloom, I decided to leave the poly-fill out. 

    I see Zu has just come out with a new version of the Druid. An Audiogon member with a virtual system on Audiogon has some and apparently loves them.


    • Almarro 318B SET (& Cayin A88T ) Tube Amps

    I originally started out with solid state amps and then my taste in sound changed and I moved on to tube amps which I find provide a more "alive" sonic presentation. My Almarro 318B SET tube amplifier is rated at 18 strong tube Watts per channel (measures 20W) and provides the magical palpable mids famous for single ended triodes, yet possesses enough power to play my efficient Zu Audio Druid speakers loud with strong dynamic control and ease. I purchased it used for around $1,250 with low hours on it (its similar sounding 318A sibling can be purchased for much less). 

    The Almarro bested over a dozen amps including several "favorite" amps including: the Cayin A88T (almost a tie with the Almarro, the Cayin had a little more punch and dynamic presence, yet was not quit as warm and had a slightly noticable upper midrange glare), VTL IT85 (Great Amp - a close 2nd to the Cayin in my system - slightly more treble though than the already revealing Cayin), Musical Fidelity Nu Vista,(a little too lean to me sometimes), McIntosh (great balanced dynamic sound), Unison Unico Hybrid, and Plinius. Other quality amps owned included: Ayon (too solid state sounding to me), Atma, Rogue, Jolida, Melody, Cary, BAT (nice solid state), Red Wine and older Conrad Johnson amps (both Red Wine & the older CJ sounded dull to me) and others. As an example of the Almarro's capabilities, 

    I took mine over to an Audiophile friends house (writes for an Audiophile Magazine) known for his good ear and pursuit of quality sound and had a shootout with his new Atma Amplifier.  Afterwards, his broken voice conceded defeat and he sold his Atma the next day.  Yes, the Almarro 318B is that good. By the way, I found a bias level of 190 to be the best balance between dynamics and warmth (less bias than the factory 220 is warmer and saves tubes). I replaced the factory gold over brass speaker posts and amp RCAs, with gold over copper - as careful listening showed the copper to sound superior to the brass. 

    P.S.  Look under the speaker cable review for budget alternative sources for gold over copper RCAs & Speaker Posts. Also, the Almarro has very thin connection wire which break easily. Be careful not to twist the RCAs and if you do replace them, I recommend removing the plastic RCA mounting board inside the amp and mounting the RCAs on the body itself (self evident when you look inside - keep insulating washers in place of course) Although the Almarro to me sounded to be the best amp overall, if you have less efficient speakers than the Zu Druid (Spendor, Dali, etc) and need more power from your amp, an alternate amp with great immediate front row center live sound is the Cayin A88T tube amp (or Cayin A100T for even more power). With its under rated 45 tube watts ultralilnear (which I preferred), it easily drove my somewhat inefficient Spendor S8e floorstanders (the Spendors and Dali seemed to sound best with the Cayin amp, the Spendors had a slight edge in mid warmth over the Dalis, both sounded beautiful). I did notice a little upper midrange glare (not a deal breaker) with the Cayin which I was able to eliminate with a lovely Joule LA150 MKII preamp. Although the sound of the Cayin A88T is fine to me even without the Joule preamp in front of it, I felt the Joule took the sound to another level. 

    Note: I tried an Ayon Orion Tube Amp and although in my sytem it seemed to have highs which eclipsed my previous best highs champion Plinius amp, it sounded a little too solid state, dry and washed out to me. However, a musician and audiophile friend of mine who owns a more powerful and better Ayon, has it matched with some warm electrostatic speakers for a great sound (I still like the Almarro Zu Druid Combo better though). (perhaps the Ayon amp needs warmer than average speakers to sound its best). Also, I tried the Almarro A205A with the Druid and its 5 Watts of power seemed a little weak when I turned the music up, as the sound then became distored. With that in mind, I recommend (as mentioned elsewhere in this review) that you have an SET Amp with at least 7 watts to drive the Druid well at high volumes. 

    TUBES: Svetlana Winged C 6C33C proved to be the best sounding Power Tubes available for the Almarro. The advantage of the 6C33C tube is that it not only sounds great, but its double triode configuration offers very high power levels for an SET amplifier. In the pre section, I found an RCA JAN CRC-6SN7GT VT-231 sounded best, and for the 6SL7 I preferred a Sylvania JAN CHS-6SL7GT VT-229. I sometimes replace the Sylvania 6SL7 with a Mullard 6SL7 CV569 (ECC35) Brown Base tube that provided more detail although a little less midrange warmth than the Sylvania. The tubes that I preferred with my more powerful other favorite amp, the Cayin A88T (sounded great with Spendor S8e Floor Standing speakers also), were SED Winged C KT88 power tubes (no longer produced. However, the Svetlana KT88 which have the same coke bottle structure and plate structure as the SED Winged C do sound very close to being as good as the Winged C SED KT88 and are still available at a decent price). By the way, the SED 6550 tube while swappable with the KT88, sounded slightly softer and less dynamic to me than the tubes labelled KT88. Interestingly, the same tubes that I liked in the pre-section of the Almarro, were preferred in the pre-section of the Cayin A88T - that is: RCA VT231/6SN7s, and Sylvania VT229/6SL7 ,or Mullard ECC35/6SL7s. The military tubes the the VT designation for 6SL7 (VT229) and 6SN7 (VT231) produced in the 1940s and 1950's sounded best to me. I have noticed that most of the other types of tubes produced in the 40's 50's, and early 60' also usually sound much better than most tubes produced from the mid 1960's on.
    • Kora Electronics Tube DAC - Logitech Duet Music Streamer

    My Kora Hermes tube DAC was purchased used at around $1,000. It bested a long list of DACs. Two similar sounding DACs which were also great were the Audio Note 2.1.X and Monarchy NM24 (a very good budget version of the Monarchy is the lite DAC which sounds close to the NM24 except it has slightly less high end caps and no line stage). 

    I asked Steve Sank of Talking Dog Transducer Co, Tucson (he has done several mods for me with stellar results) to modify the Kora and within my budget constraints he installed Nichicon's highest quality KZ capacitors, and Audio Cap Theta film capacitors in the tube output stage. However, I recently switched the Theta film caps out for 1.8uf Audyn True Copper Caps. Although very big and expensive, the Audyn True Copper caps made the sound from the Kora even more 3D, rich, natural, and organic than the lovely Theta caps. (I left the Theta in the already warm with them CJ PV-11 preamp with Phono Board as warming the already warm CJ PV-11 may well not be a good idea). 

     My Logitech Duet Streams my 2,000 CD Digital Library from my computer and with mods sounds very similar to my CD Player into my DAC. Streaming music through my Duet is now my first choice for playing music. My CD Player is now there simply as a backup. The Duet is easily controlled with the included remote or with my droid phone or ipad with Aps (which show clip art and separates music, artist, genre etc) like Squeezepad or Ipeng that can be downloaded. The nice thing about the Duet over the Touch is that there is room for modifications which improve its already very good sound to great. Reviews can be found on line as to how to modify it. Also, a better linear regulated Power supply improves the sound over the factory included one. You can get a better power supply for the Duet for $20 at Parts Express or a truly high grade Lambda LQ-410 on Ebay for between $50 to $100 (these cost over $500 new). Sadly, Logitech bought out the rights to the Squeeze box from a progressive company and then shelved production of digital streamer technology due to lack of foresight. However, you can buy Duets used on Ebay for around $150 (they were $400 new). I predict in the near future, quality music streamers will be common as well as affordable DACs with built in streamers. PS Audios Directstream DAC version is one of the first. However, although it sounds great and spacious (if you like solid state, non-tubed), it is not realistically affordable for most at $6,000 list. 

     Some of the many changes which improved the already great sound of my Kora Hermes DAC included altering the circuitry to allow me to switch between 6DJ8 or 12AU7 tubes (this model only used 6DJ8 tubes, unlike the newer one). The result of the changes were that the Kora was taken to a whole new level with increased musicality nothing short of spectacular across the board including increased midrange richness, warm, & saturation, increased sound stage, more 3D depth spaciousness and dynamics, blacker less noisy background, and better extension at both ends of the spectrum. Apparently the great sound of the Kora was primarily due to its superior design which was left alone. I fretted over what might happen to my sound with the mods. However, what was changed was the quality of the components which, as mentioned, dramatically stepped up the quality of the overall sound. Mullard Long Plate 12AU7 tubes with square getters sound best in the Kora to me (Mullard short plates sound hard to me and are not recommended). However, Telefunken's were also very musical and provided more detail and very good but slightly less midrange warmth. The Kora Hermes DAC also receives the output of my Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD Blue Ray Player (great sound) and my TV's Tivo player/recorder.
    • Conrad Johnson & Tube Review PV-11 Tube Preamplifier with Phono

    The Conrad Johnson PV-11 tube preamplifier is used primarily for its rich, best heard to date (other than the PV-9), tube Phono Stage. (I did not find an improvement in sound by routing my Kora Hermes DAC through the line stage which then fed into my Almarro 318B integrated amp). Steve Sank of Talking Dog Transducer Co, Tucson (35 years of tube experience/his father was in development with RCA) enhanced the sound of the PV-11 significantly with a few simple and needed mods which left the original design alone, yet added superior compnents - including replacing some factory Solen Caps (poor choice for a signal path) with higher quality and value Audiocap Theta capacitors and replaced one of the two ultra large black film caps in parallel off the transformer with a high value Nichicon electrolytic with great results (better bass, dynamics, soundstage, musical depth, midrange richness, more extended highs). This is pretty much the same change an ex well kown CJ employee makes also (except Steve Sanks is better). 

    I also owned an did an A-B in house with the CJ PV-5, PV-9a, PV-11, and PV-12. The PV-5 was warm to the point of sounding dull to me and the PV-12 started to tip the scale toward lean and solid state to me. The best sounding to me overall for both line and phono stage was the PV-9a until the mods went into the PV-11, which seemed to make the PV-11 phono stage sound every bit as dynamic as the PV-9a and perhaps slightly warmer in the mids (and in a much more compact enclosure). Both are great preamps, yet I felt the preamp in the 9a to be better. For using both line and phono stage as is, from listening and looking at the internal components, I feel that the PV-9a edged out the PV-11 with the exception that the phone stage in the PV-11 gave the PV-9a serious competition after the mods.   I got  a little bit of hum from the PV-11 phono stage though, until installing my dedicated line.  

    I know CJ used compression rings to ground the RCAs, and soldering them is a good very idea. Also, getting a three pin to two pin cheap adapter at ace will help you rule out a ground fault loop problem. Aside from removing the ground to ID the problem, you can shave off the edge of the wider prong on the adapter and try reversing polarity to see if that makes the problem go away. 

    BTW, I didn't like the look of the rack arms, so I simply took them off and replaced them with some hex button bolts as you can see in the photo. A Steve Sank of Talking Dog Transducer Co, Tucson (moscode expert and equipment repair and modifier extraordinaire) partially modified (as per my budget) Moscode Super IT gave the CJ a serious run for best phono with better dynamics, blacker background (less noise), and the ability to easily handle MC Carts. However, the CJ's ability to provide a slightly richer midrange (which my system needed a little more of) is why I chose the CJ phono stage over the Moscode Super IT. Something gained and something lost as usual.  Be aware that original Moscode equipment often has dangerously undervalued caps in it.

    An audiophile friend with years experience who heard both the CJ phono and modified Moscode Super IT bought the Moscode Super IT from me and loves it. Be aware that the original Moscode Super It had some dangerously borderline spec caps in it which were prone to fail and that a fully modified Moscode Super IT is supposed to be something to behold. 

    TUBES: Wonderful rich and warm yet extended sounding Mullard Long plates with square getters (12AT7, 12AU7, 12AX7 where applicable) ended up being chosen in all positions of the phono stage with the exception of a Sylvania "B" 12AX7 which substituted wonderfully (better than any other tube) in the 5751 spot. The sound had become overly warm and slightly dull with a Mullard also in the 5751 spot. However, the Sylvania 12AX7 "B" in the 5751 spot had great synergy with the Mullards and brought the sound back to life and expanded the soundstage. The Mullards have stellar mids which were also pushed nicely forward which I like. However, be forewarned that Mullard short plate 12AX7s don't sound all that good (almost all Telefunken and Mullard 12AT7 do sound good) and the great sounding Mullard 12AX7 long plates are prone to be microphonic and can be extremely expensive (return if microphonic). For those not already initiated to micro-phonic tubes, right after you receive and test them (leaving on in tube tester by themselves before installing them, put them in your tube tester for an hour before thesting, then install them in your system fully on and gently tap them to confirm that they are not micro-phonic. If one or more are microphonic, you will hear a ringing or tapping noise through your system. Sometimes just tapping the enclosure with the microphonic tube in it will do that. Also be aware, that a tube can test high in the first few minutes when you get it, and test bad 5 minutes later if it has a hidden defect. Sellers rarely give them more than a few minutes of use in their tube tester and don't really know if there are any hidden defects waiting to manifest for that reason. I recommend that you let the tube sit on in your tube tester for an hour and then retest to see if it still functions the same as it initially tested. If it reading is going down significantly, leave it in longer before accepting it as a tube to put in your system. There are a lot of substandard tubes being sold, and often because the seller doesn't have the time, knowledge, patience, or proper tester to test them properly. Also, higher testing tubes sound more detailed and leaner than older tubes. I suggest letting NOS tubes stay on in your equipment 24/7 for two weeks for proper break-in and better sound. In general, my favorite smaller tubes (12AU7, 12AX7, 6DJ8, etc) which were chosen for best combination of musicality warmth, and detail, are Telefunken and Mullard (I occasionally throw in a RCA or Sylvania for more warmth). I have found that in general the best tubes were usually made in the 40's, 50's, and early 60's. 

    Tubes that I have found to be both musical and detailed in order of most detail to warmer are: Amperex Holland & Siemens Telefunken Mullard Sylvania RCA Although many people love them, I personally found the Amperex & Siemens to be a little too detailed for my system and preference. I found Tung Sols to be detailed to the point of sounding dry and nervous to me so I left them off the list. Although both Mullard and Telefunken are my favorite brands of preamp tubes, I found Telefunkens to have a nice combination of detail and warmth, with the Mullards offering a smidge more warmth and slightly less detail. The Telefunken 6DJ8 seemed to be a tad more detailed than other Telefunkens however. I used Sylvanias in combination with RCAs sometimes, with the RCA being the warmest offering a rich and thick midrange, although sometimes lacking in the highs. In my PV-11, I liked to use a RCA 5751 and others to add more warmth. Although their tubes can be a little expensive and I occasionally do not agree with them, a great resource for tube information is Tubeworld on the internet.
    • Linn Basik Turntable with Coco Bolo Plinth
    My system is so fine tuned that musical changes become obvious immediately. I added vinyl to my system recently. I originally felt that a CD source was superior until I heard just how natural and rich vinyl sounds with everything except perhaps hard rock, where the added dynamics and highs seemed to favor a CD source. In my system, the Linn Sondek LP12, Thorens TD-125 MKII, Rega RP3, Oracle Alexandria and others bowed down to the incredably great sounding and one of the best ever heard in spite of its lower price (although the switch is underneath) Linn Basik Turntable with Basik LVX tonearm and Shure V15 VMR cartridge. Two top considerations, the Linn Sondek LP12 and Oracle Alexandria, sounded more detailed yet a little cooler and less rich and emotional than the Linn Basik turntable to me. For the quality of sound that you get, the Linn Basik with Basik LVX tonearm has a rare "hard to believe your ears" musical synergy with the Shure V15 VMR cart which surprisingly when matched with the Linn Basic bested all MM & MC cart/turntable combos auditioned (which included some very good Carts). Also, it is an ultra bargain with prices usually between $350 and $450, depending on condition. I suspect that the Linn Axis with its wooden top will sound almost identical if it also has the LVX tonearm. Because I liked the sound so much (and the vinyl was peeling), I had a beautiful Cocobolo Plinth made for it by John Piccioli of Furniture Craftsmen (at a great price no less - the Cocobolo was finished with Bulls Eye Wax free Shellac with light sanding between coats) in Tucson, AZ. I left the original factory wooden top in place so as not to destroy the sonic signature by introducing a different material. BTW, I the preferred sound of the Basik LVX tonearm with its detachable head-shell, to the highly regarded Linn Akito tonearm with its fixed headshell. I found the best cartridge depends on the turntable and tonearm it is mated with. I owned and trialed most of the best and more popular MM and high output MC carts including offerings such as the Sumiko Blackbird & Evo III, Dynavector 20X2H, Benz, Grado (too warm & dull to me), Ortofon Red & 2M Black (too bright to me), Shure M97XE (very nice balance of warm/detailed sound for the price), Denon DL-110 (sounded nervous and lacked richness in my system). Of all the Cartridge/Turntable combinations that I tried, the Shure V15 VMR with the Linn Basik turntable and Basik LVX tonearm sounded the best, by a considerable margin. The Dynavector and Sumiko cartridges were close runner ups with this table. BTW, Shure Specs the VN5MR without the stylus brush at 1.0 to 1.25 grams tracking weight. I have found that around 1.2g tracking weight, the sound is richer and less lean sounding than the recommended 1.0g setting. FYI, the Thorens 125 MKII turntable seemed to come alive and have better synergy with the Sumiko Evo III cartridge (great sounding Cart, good balance, 3D imaging) than the Shure V15 V).
    • Jolida JD-601a Tube CD Player
    The Jolida 601a tube CD player is one of the best sounding CD players around in my opinion. Construction is dirt cheap (it has a good cd drive though), yet for unknown reasons, it delivers warm, lush, yet detailed sound. In my system, it bettered not only current Jolida offerings, but more than at least ten players costing over twice as much. You can usually find a Jolida 601a for around $250 to $400. For the sound that the Jolida 601a produces, it should sell for over $1,000. If the drawer doesn't open, chances are that an easily replacable belt has gone out. However, I saw one with a processor that had gone bad. Although 12AX7 tubes are specified for the Jolida, because they are in the final output stage, I found that 12AT7 tubes can be safely used and sounded better than 12AX7 offerings to me. It was a tight matchup between many tubes. However, in my system the two best were the Mullard 12AT7 small wing plate tubes (no small holes on the very end of the plates closest to the tube), and Brimar 12AT7 tubes. They both offer a wonderful balance of midrange warmth and extended highs. The Mullard on balance offered slightly richer more euphonic mids, and the Brimar slighter more extended highs. A close runner up is the Telefunken 12AT7. Interestingly although close to the above, the Telefunken 12AT7 had a little more detail than I wanted, yet its Telefunken 12AX7 smooth plate cousin, sounded slightly overly warm and dull in comparison. I have heard that someone high up the Jolida uses the Jolida 601a as his reference player and recommends not modifying it as he hasn't been able to replicate the sound (some components no longer available). However, I replaced the cheesy RCAs and output wire with some nice gold over copper RCAs, and Acoustic Zen Wow hookup wire. I also had an IEC installed so I can use a custom power cord, which tweaks the sound to my preference. I did, however, not change out any capacitors. In my opinion it may not be wise to change the capacitors because there is a peculiar synergy in the components that renders its lovely sound, and you may imbalance that in a negative way if you change out any caps. Personally, I like the sound so much I left the caps untouched as the Jolida 601a is one of the best sounding CD players around at any price. It is probably slightly warmer and richer in the midrange than the average CD player with a very natural organic presentation, yet it still offers good balanced detail and spark to the music highs. As my system errors ever so slightly toward detailed highs, slightly warmer peripheral sources like the Jolida CD player and Kora Hermes DAC and even more so with the Linn Basic Turntable play very well into my slightly tipped up system for near perfect synergy and balance of sound. By the way, there are two Joldia 601A cd players out there and one is much better to me than the other. I had one in which the majority of caps on the main board were some cheesy blue Chinese caps and it did not sound good. The better Jolida 601a has some nice black (Chemicon I believe) caps on the main board. Do not confuse the main board with the tube output board. Although most all of my caps on the main board are black, the tube output board in my Jolida (with the tubes on it), has two large blue film caps, one near each tube)
    • SHU MBM -12 Lower Bass Enhancement Speaker (50 to 150 Hz) Subwoofer

    THE HSU MBM 12 THE MOST MUSICAL BASS ENHANCEMENT I HAVE EVER HEARD. CLOSE TO BUT NOT A SUB!


    HEADS UP:  I just bought a HSU research MBM 12 module and when played with the Zu Druid speakers, outperformed  the rich and present Vandersteens bass by a mile.  The energy and dimensionality and sound of my system increased to a completely new level.  The MBM 12 basically supports the 50 to 150 HZ region of low bass and is really not a traditional subwoofer as it rolls off in a natural sounding way below 50 Hz and I am totally impressed.  (you can crossover below 150 Hz or us a port plug to tighten the sound or even turn off the crossover all together).  Now to try to fill in the lower bass with an REL Strata, MJ Acoutstics, or HSU Sub...

    The rolling bass of Fleetwood Mac songs such as Gypsy, Everywhere, or Don't Stop etc are now rich and full and in another league and my system sounds as if I have  extra dual 12" bass woofers built into it.  I recommend the MBM 12 bass support woofer to anyone who would like to make their system sound twice and large and more importantly, to do so with seemless strong musical bass.  This is something I have not been able to do with any  subwoofer, although some came close.. (but no cigar).   No longer to I hear peculiar artifacts of sound in the lower sub region  and the bass now longer lags behind the music as with all my previous well known sub-woofers.  My system now has bass on steroids which I can adjust to suit my taste.  An added benefit is that the slightly lean sound in the treble region sounds much better and blends in perfectly as it now is relatively less with the bass being pushed forward (like pushing up the bass at the lower end of an equalizer).  Kudos to HSU Research.  Sadly the MBM 12 has been discontinued (probably just too new, foreign, and misunderstood to catch on right away).  However, they have a ULS-15 subwoofer (Ultra Linear) which allows a for a bass supplementation option similar to the MBM 12 and also adjustable sub sounds.  Have not heard it yet.It seems to me that the Druid blend musically much better with fast less powerful subwoofers.   The HSU MBM 12 is the best genuinely musical bass support that I have ever heard.  It is fast and blends in beautifully.   See the writeup in this review.  I recommend everyone except those whose systems have two 12" woofers get one.  However, it rolls off below 50HZ.  

    Those who want add the lower sub frequencies should consider adding a sub to the MBM 12.   The more powerful ones seem to take more power and are slow to start, then with their stiffer cones and surround, overeact and stand out disproportionately. My MJ Acoutics Ref 100 sub (formerly REL), was chosen for its musicality and ability to blend in with the music, and make my speakers sound larger yet (and for its remote control and compact size). I found for my taste that the Ref 50 was a little too weak and the Ref 150 a little too strong for balanced musicality with the Druid. MJ Acoustics are made in England by a newly formed company by the people REL (another musical subwoofer) left behind after REL was bought out by an American company and moved to China. The lower powered MJ Acoustics subs and certainly the older lower powered REL subs like the Strata, (haven't heard the newer REL subs) are great subwoofers for music. From experience, some high quality, lower powered subs like my MJ Acoustics Ref 100 or lower powered REL Strata (and others like them) blend in with music much better than their more powerful counterparts. I feel that if you want a larger subwoofer presence primarily for music than one lower powered sub provides, then you should buy two instead of purchasing a larger or more powerful subwoofer (unless, of course, you are truely underpowered for your system). For instance, I had a Sunfire Sub and Velodyne HGS Sub, and both often stood out disproportionately when playing music. Although the Velodyne HGS was more musical to me than the Sunfire, neither seemed to blend well with my full range speakers. Even the more powerful MJ 150 seemed to stand out a little too much by my ears (nice to have a remote to adjust though). The bottom line is, buy a musical lowered power sub like the REL Strata or MJ acoustics if you want to fill in the low 60Hz or below sounds. As mentioned, the midbass is just fine with the Zu Druid. I have yet to audition the Zu Undertone Subwoofer which is supposed to be a very musical subwoofer which works well with the Druid.
    • Power & Speaker Cable Interconnects Audioquest Gibraltar Speaker Cables (Also Transparent MM2 & Acoustic Zen)

    Acoustic Zen had proven to be one of my favorite cable for all cables: speaker, interconnects, and power cables. As a much more expensive departure, and to achieve a desired change in the balance of sound of my system, I have found that the  Transparrent MM2 Super Speaker Cables pushed the Acoustic Zen Satori Speaker Cables aside for best sounding ever speaker cables by being slightly richer tonally but loosing a little speed.  When I moved my system into a new house with a brighter living room which made my speaker sound slightly hard and harsh, I compensated nicely with some warmer Audioquest Gibraltar Speaker Cables (similar although perhaps slightly better than Rockefeller and very close to new Castle Rock Cables in sound).  I noticed a very slight drop in the upper treble with the Gibraltar, which still provides a very rich, warm, and open sound which had been lacking since moving into my new home.

    SPEAKER CABLES Recently, I chose the expensive (though still a bargain for the sound) and absolutely beautiful sounding Transparent MM2 Super speaker cables better than the Acoustic Zen Satori Speaker Cables for balancing the sound of my system by adding a more warmth and richness to the net sound.  After careful listening, I found the Transparent Super MM2 in my system easily  replaced  the also wonderful sounding  Zen Satori.   Both are wonderful speaker cables.  The Transparent Super MM2 brought to the table a richer blacker background, yet miraculously retained detail and natural bass, mids, and highs and 3D imagery at a level never heard before.  (unlike some of the older Transparent and MIT cables and  Analysis Plus Black Mesh Oval 9 which to me sounded sluggish and lacking detail).  Although just a slight touch faster, the Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cables seemed to present a little noise in the form of a metallic sheen which came through.  Also the Satori lacked the rich midrange, bass presence, and   black background than the Transparent Super MM2 have.   When I moved my system into a new house with a brighter living room which made my speaker sound slightly hard and harsh, I compensated nicely with some warmer yet Audioquest Gibraltar Speaker Cables.



    INTERCONNECTS:    I have stayed with the Zen WOW interconnects, as the Transparent interconnects on balance, proved to be too much of a good thing and warmed the sound to the point of coloring the sound a little too much by sounding dull in combination with the Transparent Speaker Cable. In my system, the Transparent power cable also sounded dull. As a great sounding budget alternative, Magnet wire offers the advantage of very low price, pure, and truly oxygen free copper with a insulating enamel coating. From having owned and listened to both, Anti-Cable appears to be nothing more than re-labeled magnet wire. You can save yourself 60% to 75% by buyng it in bulk on Ebay and scraping off the enamel with a file or grinding bur on your dremel tool. For a nice touch, you can terminate them with a crimping tool and soldering iron with some pure copper cmc or other brands spades on ebay and elsewhere. You can also buy some attractive 3/8" jacketing on ebay and tape the ends of the magnet wire together with some painters masking tape so it won't snag and run the magnet wire through it and push on a piece of shrink wrap before terminating the magnet wire. The Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cables offered more warmth and finesse than the magnet wire (Anti-Cable)and are not as hard sounding, and almost as quick. And as just stated, the Transparent MM2 Super were a smidge warmer yet. In my system, the Black Mesh Oval Nine were a little too warm and blunted the highs just a little too much My favorite Interconnects to date are the Acoustic Zen WOW which are also musical, warm and detailed. They won out over a half dozen other interconnects that I tried. An honorable mention goes to some home made *magnet-wire interconnects done up with nice copper RCAs which offered a little more detail and speed, they are still warm, just not quit as rich and warm in the mids. By the way, you can improve the sound of your system significantly by replacing the inferior sounding brass RCAs, Power Cord Inlets, and Speaker Posts with naturally superior sounding pure copper ones. Furutech, WBT, Cardas, etc make some nice pure copper replacements for your brass. Also there are budget alternatives made with pure copper such as CMC on Ebay or Vampire (from Take Five & Parts Connexion). Be wary though, many manufacturers say pure copper, when it is really brass. 

    POWER CABLES I was originally aversive to the notion that power cables can make a significant difference in how your system sounds, as it doesn't seem logical that the last few feet of wire in line with your house wiring should matter. In fact, it still isn't logical to me. However, after taking the time to do some serious listening, I have found in a certain and repeatable way that right power cable (and interconnects as well as speaker cable) can and do indeed make all the difference in the world in the sound of your system! I have heard a great sounding system fall flat because of the wrong power cord being used (interconnects make much more of a difference though). My favorite Power Cables are made by Acoustic Zen and Shunyata. I use a wonderfully dynamic yet slightly warm and romantic sounding Shunyata Python CX into my Shunyata PS8 Power Strip (Distributor) with spectacular results. The Transparent and Cardas Golden Power Cables sounded dull in my system (they may be great in a bright system). I prefer the musical very open yet warm Acoustic Zen El Nino power cables in most of my components. However, I have a AZ Tsunami power cable going to my Almarro Amp, primarily because it is slightly warmer than the El Nino and added a little more warmth needed on balance. It seems that the same power cables sound different with different components.
    • Dedicated Lines-Strips-Conditioning Shunyata PS8 & PS Audio P5

    CONDITIONING:

    It is insane to spend good money on a system and not spend another $350 to $450 for a dedicated line.  However, if that is not in the cards or you rent, you can come closer (but no cigar) to the sound of a dedicated line with a power strip which is conditioner, filter, switch  free and has high quality outlets such as the Furutech Gold Plated Pure Copper GTX-D.  From experience, even the most expensive power conditioners limit the dynamics of the music and hurt more than help.   

    I have gotten far more musicality with retained dynamics, and less noise from using a Shuyata PS8 power distributor (power strip - which does not surge protect, filter, or condition the power coming in) than from any power conditioner or filter strip that I have owned. The only thing for dynamics liberation that topped that was a direct dedicated line using no power strip at all.

    Unlike the others, the Shunyata PS8 does not try to filter and condition the power coming into it, rather, it sets it free and tunes it in a beautiful way. It seems that surge protectors and their filters and power conditioners and their transformers, detract from dynamics significantly. If you want so come close to the wonderful sound that you hear late at night with your stereo system when the power grid is idling and less noisy, in my opinion you will achieve it best with quality power strips (no conditioning or surge protection) with quality outlets with the likes of the Shunyata PS8, and other offerings without filtering or surge supression like the Balanced Power Technologies Pure Power Strip or the PS Audio Juice Bar. 

     I have tried many power conditioners including PS Audio P-5, P-6, Dectet power conditioners, a half dozen high end power filter strips such as the Chang Lightspeed 9600 (one of the better in that it limits dynamics less), a hospital grade Powervar conditioner and others and found that they limited dynamics and blunted the highs or had a sonic signature that I did not like that colored the sound. I even tried the optional Shunyata Defender Surge Protector/Filter with my Shunyata PS8 Power Distributor and felt it limited the dynamics a little bit, and sent it back. I think that you may be able to make your own superior power strip for less by buying two Furutech Pure Copper GTX-D outlets and installing them in a empty power strip box (or perhaps as the first one or two outlets in your old Juice bar) available on ebay and using 10 or 12 gauge magnet wire to connect the outlets (or putting them into the Shunyata which has a lesser grade receptacle than the Furutech, your house typically has 14 guage wire.)

    All power conditioners and filters that I have heard noticeably limited the dynamics of the music and they also usually richened the midrange a bit and had a blacker background while providing noticeably less noise. I wonder how much of what I hear is true conditioning and how much simply a change in the sonics due to running the signal through another amplifier, which is what most conditioners with a transformer are. I do know that with the Shunyata PS8 power distributor (basically a very high quality power strip with great outlets and inlets) and my very dynamic yet slightly warm Python CX cable going into the PS8, I now hear without exaggeration a 15 to 20% higher level of music that I was looking for but did not find in a power conditioner. (BTW, a venerable alternative which comes very close to the expensive Python AC power cable at 1/4 the price is the Acoustic Zen El Nino with 12 guage wire)   Sweet, rounded, dynamic/3D , glowing musical sound typical of what I hear late at night when the power grid is not taxed is what a dedicated line or good power strip. . 

     DEDICATED LINE 

     For roughly the same price as one Shunyata PS8 power strip distributor costs, I had a dedicated line put in for about $450 and added another $280 cost by using with it two great sounding premium pure copper Furutech GTX-D gold plated outlets (if you shop, about $140 each the best sounding available from my experience). From having owned the Furutech Rhodium, Maestro, Shunyata, Hubbel, and other outlets, the Gold playted Furutech GTX-D to me is the best. In fact, the Maestro and Hubbel outlets disappointed, and the Shunyata, although good, was not it the same class as the Furutech. The runner up was the Furutech GTX-D Rhodium. However, with it, the midrange lost a just a little richness and the upper midrange and treble, although slightly more extended, sounded a bit lean and sterile in comparison. Perhaps this might be a good thing in a overly midrange rich system needing more treble. I have read suspicious stories about the Rhodium Furutech GTX-D outlet needing 600 hours to break in. Perhaps the listener had actually just worn the soft Rhodium plating off doing the extended A-B. Impressions: The dedicated line has far superior sonics in a very obvious and dramatic way. Much greater dynamics, tonal saturation, sound-stage, 3 dimensional, and blacker background. The house line in comparison becomes somewhat thin, 2D, and shallow. The richness and boldness disappeared with the house current, and the sound stage and dynamics collapsed. Once having listened to a dedicated line, you will know it to be the best upgrade for your system that you have ever made at any price. You will be surprised and how terrible your current system sounds with regular house current in comparison to what it sounds like plugged into a dedicated line. If at all possible, find the money and get one before worrying about upgrading any more components! You will find that it is one of the very best things that you can do for your system. Easily a 30% improvement in overall sound. There are numerous on line articles about putting in a dedicated line which is a simple task for an electrician. BTW, a nice thing that you can do for your dedicated line if you want, is to buy some Romex 10 gauge 10-2 or 10-3 house wire on Amazon and send it to Cryogenics International in Scottsdale, AZ (Phoenix Metro) to have it cryogenically treated for supposedly much better sound yet (according to some bloggers). They charge $9/lb with a $75 minimum order.

Comments 18

222222&text=ar
Do you you still have your Almarro and Druids? I've owned Druids for a long time now and I'm considering the Almarro. I'd love to discuss your experience.

David

armstrod

222222&text=pl
Owner
My listening room has a brick wall on one side which then opens up wider from 20 feet by the speakers to 25 feet just forward of them. The ceiling is actually more like 9 feet high.

I honestly think that careful listening and speaker placement will compensate for most of the differences in sound caused by room size. I hope not to move soon to test that though.

plangco

222222&text=mi
Thanks for the info, My room is smaller but I look for comparable rooms to see what speakers work there.

michel0749

222222&text=pl
Owner
After checking, my listening room is actually around 20 feet wide, 25 feet deep, with a 9 foot ceiling. I do not turn the amp up all that much to get very loud tight rich sound with my Almarro 318B Amp and the Zu Druid speakers.

plangco

222222&text=pl
Owner
My listening room is approximately 25 X 25 Feet with an 8 foot ceiling. Pulling the speakers out into the room with the distance between the speakers equal to the distance from each speaker to the listener (an equilateral triangle) with the speakers towed in about 15 or so degrees seems to sound best.

plangco

222222&text=mi
Hi, Nice System. What size is your room? Thanks

michel0749

222222&text=pl
Owner
I will check the Zu Undertone Subwoofer out. Thanks.

plangco

Center
Very nice system,

Why not using the ZuAudio fitting undertone subwoofer?
I heard them playing perferctly together withthe Druid.

webmiles

222222&text=gl
Beautiful room and gear. Must be a slice of heaven.

glenfihi

222222&text=pl
Owner
I am wondering if Pianofixer would elaborate on how the sound changed after installing the copper Duelands. A little warmer mids or more detail, etc?

plangco

222222&text=pi
Hello, I thought you Almarro 318b owners would be interested in my experience with this amp. On the recommendation of Chris Johnson of the Parts Connexion, I replaced the coupling caps with copper Duelands. they are about $200 each . It took about 200 hours before they really burned in but I am very impressed with the result. I play my amp every day while I work in my piano shop so it didn't take long to burn them in. The amp continues to improve with about 300 hours on the caps now. I would strongly recommend this upgrade. If anyone is interested, I would gladly send them pics of the installation of these caps. It is something you do yourself if you are careful.
I also installed new driver tubes by Northern Electric ($100 each) and they made a substantial improvement by lowering the noise floor and removing any brightness to the music. Seasoned musicians and fellow audio buffs are shocked when they hear my modest system with the Almarro as the cornerstone. All they want to do is sit down and listen to the music.

pianofixer

222222&text=pl
Owner
By the way, this system excells with vinyl. Music played through the turntable for organic naturelness of presentation and full emotion and depth, blows away the already excellent digital cd or dac output.

plangco

222222&text=pl
Owner
Thanks. Yes indeed, the sound is very natural and involving. It is so fine tuned and in the 'zone', that even a single power cord change on one used component is immediately obvious.

plangco

Center
This is a very nice and well constructed audio system. It must sound natural and quite involving.

charles1dad

222222&text=gu
Hello,
I too am using the the A318B. Good amp. you mentioned that the Wing C tubes sounds better ?
I am now curious to try them as well

guych

Center
Extremely nice and thoughtfully put together. I'd just keep in mind that your room needs to be considered as a component. (Not that I know that's needed) It's just that most neglect this. In my own system, one of the most positive upgrades I've ever made (after room acoustics) was effectivly isolating the power cords,conditioners. It pays big dividends. Rock on!

slaw

222222&text=pl
Peter, congrats on building a fine audio system. I have heard your system at different times over the past several years and when I heard it recently I must admit that when playing the Ella and Louis LP it sounded like the duo was right there in the room with us. Job well done.

plato

222222&text=je
Nice looking system. Two pieces of gear that I have always wanted to hear was the Almarro 318b amp and the Zu speakers. Wish that opportunity presented itself while I was system shopping. Enjoy!

jetrexpro

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