Description

I am an electrical and mechanical engineer who's been in this hobby for 26 years now.  Our system is entirely dedicated to our love of music and we listen critically every day. Our 1500 CDs and SACDs, and countless digital files comprise just about every type of music you can think of.  We also use Tidal streaming extensively these days.  I believe that achieving highest quality sound is primarily dependent on setup execution, and not on component cost.

The Nanos are extremely efficient, making concerns about amplifier power irrelevant, and, most importantly, guarantees that nothing is ever lost in translation. Their resolution is so clear, so musical, and so right, that music entrances me for hours on end. Now that I've experienced their sound of life, I don’'t think I could ever go back to conventional speakers.

I own a wide variety of amplifiers because the Nanos allow each one’'s personality to shine through, and getting to know them in otherwise the same system (speaker/room/human) is great fun and highly instructive. It has given me the opportunity to expertly hone my hearing and to delight in a new sound experience every month or so when I change amps. There is no one best amplifier anyway; just like there isn’'t one best musician.

I find that high value is an elegant guide to attaining my desired result. I also feel that a huge amount of experimentation is needed to establish a true reference point.  Here is a list of past equipment I've had in my little music room that has led me to what I have today:

Lavardin IS Reference
BPT BP-1 Signature Plus
Devialet Expert 120
Aesthetix Calypso
MBL 1431 
Nordost El Dorado
Nottingham Analogue Spacedeck
Nottingham Ace Space tonearm
Dynavector Karat 19A mk2
Audio Research SP6-C1
Threshold S/150 mk2
Acoustic Research XA
Finale Audio 2A3M-FFX
McIntosh MX110Z
LTA Berning ZOTL10
McIntosh C48
Triode Labs 2A3 SET
Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE
Audio Research LS26
Kora Flash
Primare Systems A30.1 
Marantz PM6004
Kora Galaxy
Kora Eclipse B/C
Triode Labs 2A3S
Rogue Stereo 90 with 6550
Ayre C5xe mp
Finale Audio F168R 6BM8
Transcendent Mini Beast OTL
Pass Labs XA30.5
Conrad-Johnson Classic I
McIntosh MC452
BC Acoustique A3
Atoll IN-100
Wright Sound WLA12A
Tom Evans Linear A
Classe Delta CA-2200
Plinius SA-50 Mk3 
McIntosh C46
McIntosh MC122
Audio Aero Prima Mk2
Unison S2K
Cairn Fog v3
Kora Titan monoblocks
Cairn Fog v2
Ayre AX-7e
Kora Eclipse version A
Kora Galaxy Reference (x2)
Cairn KO2
Pass Labs Aleph 30
McIntosh C42
Kora Eclipse version C
WAVAC MD-300B
Kora Eclipse version B
47 Labs Shigaraki 4717  
Focal JM Lab Electra 926
Reference 3A MM DeCapo i
MIT AVt 1 non-biwire
Monitor Audio RS1
Innersound i-Pre
Zu Birth
McIntosh MC202
KEF iQ10
NAD C720BEE
van den Hul Orchid XLR
Rega Apollo
NBS M/S II
MIT MI330S3 RCAs
Sony SCD-C333ES
Cayin CD-50T
QED Silver Anniversary XT
Gutwire Basic 2
Van den Hul First Ultimate mk2
QED Qunex 1
Cary SLP-98
Triangle Antal ESw
Kimber Select KS1121
B&W Nautilus 804
MIT T2 biwires
Rogue Audio Magnum 99
Kimber Kable 8TC
Belles GR8 passive
Energy Connoisseur C8
Monitor Audio Silver RS6
MIT AVT2 biwire
Primare CD31
MIT Shotgun S3
Sony SCD-XA777ES
Pro-Ject RM 6 SB, Blue Point #2
McIntosh MC7100
Cambridge Audio 640C
Audio Research LS3b
Classe CP50 (x2)
Epos ELS3
California Audio Labs Icon MkII
Omega Loudspeakers TS1
Music Hall CD25
McIntosh C712 (x2)
Sony ST-550ES
McIntosh MA6500
Consonance CD2.2
Guerrilla Hyper
DH Labs Q10
McIntosh MC2125
Jolida 302b
Conrad Johnson PV10a
Marantz SA-8260
Odyssey Stratos
Arcam CD72
Sony SCD-CE595
McIntosh MC7200 (x2)
Classe DR10
Paradigm Reference 100.2
Elac 101
Triangle Comete ES
Classe CA200
Nordost Flatline Mk2
Nordost Solar Winds
Kimber KCAG
Atlas All Cu Navigator
van den Hul Orchid RCA
Bryston 4B
Adcom GFA-545 mk2
BAT VK-3i
Jolida JD100
Yamaha TT-400U
Krell KSA100
Krell KAV250
Conrad Johnson MV55
Kora Explorer 90SI
Granite 657
Jolida 1701A
Totem Acoustic Hawks
3A Master Control
Kora Explorer 150SB
Myryad Z140
Klipsch Heresys
van den Hul The Second
van den Hul D352
van den Hul Mainsstream
NAD C740
Rotel RCD-1072
Signal Classic cables
Read more...

Room Details

Dimensions: 33’ × 20’  X large
Ceiling: 8’


Components Toggle details

    • Avantgarde Uno Nano speakers
    German ultra-high-efficiency speaker with full dynamic range. The active-design approach and ideal sensitivity maximize dynamic headroom in the most natural and logical way possible. The result is music is never lost in translation. It's the most incredible sound I've ever heard from a speaker. So alive and so clear! They make most other speakers sound like "cones-in-a-box" by comparison. Having the lowest possible distortion allows the personalities of each amp to shine through like no other speakers in my experience. Avantgarde manufactures everything either in-house or locally for their speakers. This has become a rare thing these days, but it's critical when making top-level equipment since it allows them to fully optimize every component, as well as the sum total. And not only that - they offer impeccable customer service too. Their entire business model achieves the goal of combining precision engineering with a wholistic understanding of gestalt and purpose. The end result is priceless.
    • Velodyne DD-15 subwoofer
    Finally got a subwoofer. Ever since I'd left my little room at my old house, I'd noticed my bass wasn't as fleshed out or as deep since I now have insignificant room reinforcement. But the Nanos were good enough that I was able to overlook it until the right deal fell from the sky. And now it has. Bought a Velodyne Direct Digital 15" with a 1250W switching amplifier and man what a difference it has made! Everything is better, all the way up to the treble. It is a terrific addition. The Nanos have two "subwoofers" already but the speakers are designed to sound "of a piece" rather than "two horns with a sub." This is to preserve the speed needed to have a smooth midrange transition. So now the DD15 does the heavy lifting and its graphical interface for optimization of the sub is brilliant. My response is perfectly integrated, and it sounds like it.
    • Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe preamplifier
    TEAD's preamp, considered to be the world's best by a couple 6moons reviewers. All I can say is that after going through 16 preamps, the Vibe is the only solid-state piece I've fallen in love with. The TEAD Lithos regulators allow for huge bandwidth and huge dynamic range that yield equally superlative sound. It's an amazing design that only Tom Evans seems able to come up with in a simple and elegant way. Mega-detailed, mega-transparent, and mega-musical.  It's so good that it sounds completely different with each amplifier I hook up to it.  I've never had a preamp like this before.
    • Tom Evans Audio Design Pulse power supply
    Optional power supply for the TEAD Vibe preamp. One box houses Lithos regulators and capacitor banks while the other box houses a custom-made 70VA transformer that Tom and his team designed for this preamp. I've opened it up and was surprised to see so many parts in both boxes! Very very complex for what is badged as a "simple" power supply. It's no wonder it costs so much. I also think it looks much nicer than the new Pulse 2 supply.
    • Kora Electronics Crescendo tube preamplifier
    French-made, fully-balanced, single-gain-stage vacuum tube preamplifier. It was designed for use with Aries monoblocks, and what a wonderful combo they are, but this preamplifier is unbelievably good with all my amps, whether run balanced or single-ended (a rarity). The Vibe is killer solid state, but there is something very special about the sound of this preamp. It balances extreme clarity and resolution with a friendliness and sophistication that is unique in my experience. It's such a shame that so few people will ever get to know this design. This is the second one I've owned - I kicked myself for years for selling my first one, and I thank my lucky stars I found another!  Current tubes: pair of 1957 Raytheon black plate 12BH7
    • Kora Electronics Aries hybrid monoblocks
    Totally unique French design using a 12BH7 to feed 2 HEXFETs in single-ended parallel. On paper, it looks like it'd never work, but in fact these little amps sound magical. What is special about these amps is their wonderful coherence and the accuracy of their timing. They have an ease about them and yet the treble information is all there. Jazz suits them perfectly. I call it "Kora Coherence" because all the Koras exhibit this trait no matter how different the design - and Kora has made quite a range of designs, unlike 95% of hifi companies. They were true hifi artisans and these little monoblocks make that imminently clear. Current tubes: 1960 GE gray plate 12BH7A.
    • McIntosh MC152
    After a bad experience with the MC452, I decided to give McIntosh one last chance.  It is hard for me to get by without blue eyes after all these years, and I will forever remember the sound of my MC7200.  I came to the conclusion that the phase irregularities of the 452 might be due to the fact the circuit is optimized for a power level above what my speakers require.  After all, it's very hard to perfectly balance so many transistors, especially at low-power outputs.

    It turns out that reducing the transistor count by 75% does the trick!  The 152 is by far the finest solid-state amp I've had in my system.  It's incredible.  It's smooth and rich, yet fast and delicate.  It's really rare to find an amp that can combine such clear resolution with enveloping musicality, but this one does it better than any I've experienced so far.  The 7200 has been resurrected - and this time with autoformers!  I'm in love with this little amp.
    • Unison Research S2 SEP
    Italian single-ended pentode amp using EL34 tubes. I recently recapped the entire thing with upgraded capacitors, and optimized the operating point for even better performance.  It basically runs as a "mostly-triode" amplifier with lower plate current.  The sound has gotten even more musical, without hurting resolution whatsoever, and as a bonus my tubes will last much longer.  Downside is that now it only makes about 4W (instead of 10), but my speakers don't care.

    This amp loves to boogie!  Tons of fun to listen to and get this - it has the most potent bass of any of my amps!  It can shake the walls if the recording has enough extension. It often feels like my favorite amp since it is unfailingly musical with terrific detail and a deliciously smooth presentation.  It's similar to the F138FFX but with an even bigger soundstage and more nuanced image separation. I want to point out too that it has foil-wound output transformers - the cheap transformers in the new versions of this amp don't even come close to this level of quality.  Current tubes: Psvane 6CA7 TII, NOS Philips 6189W.
    • Rogue Audio Model 88 amplifier
    I recently stumbled upon this most incredible amplifier.  It is actually a Tempest integrated but I'm running it in "preamp bypass" mode so it acts like a regular amplifier (Stereo 88 version 4) since the preamp is passive.  It sounds phenomenal with my solid-state TEAD Vibe preamp (it doesn't really get along with the Crescendo for some reason).  

    It clearly sounds best in triode mode, 30 Wpc, and I'm currently using my preferred EH KT88 in it, and 8 Ohm taps.  My comments relate only to this arrangement.  The pentode mode lacks microdynamics, and the treble is crude in comparison.  It's a completely different amp in triode.

    Simply put, this is the only amp that truly rivals the 152.  Resolution is as good, though restitution is not, but then dynamics are surprisingly similar, and it makes everything sound so alive!  Not the finest in soundstaging, but everything else is superb.  One of the cheapest amps I've ever owned, and yet in terms of "hifi," it's nearly the best.  What a find!

    PS, I tried a Rogue Stereo 90 just to see, and even after I had optimized the circuit and run in a new set of tubes, it just didn't have the magic of the 88.  It runs the tubes too hard and everything falls on its face in the vain attempt of making it barely more powerful.  The 88 is way better.
    • McIntosh MC240 push-pull amp
    The classic 1961 MC240 needs no introduction. After 50 years of use, it naturally needed a complete overhaul so I spent two solid weeks rebuilding it to perfection by replacing all the capacitors, diodes, rectifiers and bias resistors with proper parts, and tweaking all the voltages to exactly match specification. It is no surprise this amplifier is a legend when you hear it play music. It's warm and relaxed with tremendous inner detail. Full tube sound at its finest. Current tubes: quad of TAD 6L6GC-STR, pair of GE gray 12BH7s, pair of clear-top RCA 12AU7s, trio of Electro-Harmonix 12AX7s
    • Finale Audio F138 FFX
    This amp uses one EL84 per channel in pentode mode with tube rectification, pure Class A. I have optimized its design for my speakers to get unbelievable performance gains over the stock design.  In this new configuration, it only puts out about 3W (instead of 6) but sounds like 500W - its bass can shake the walls!  It sounds the way I'd hoped my McIntosh MC452 would have sounded.

    I got a full suite of fancy Hashimoto magnetics because the heart of a tube amp is its transformers. It's so coherent, so rich, so detailed, so musical - it really has zero drawbacks now that I've modified it. Forget SET - SEP is where it's at.  It doesn't quite have the resolution of the Tempest/88 or 152, but it has wonderful musicality similar to the S2 that's augmented by the clean treble extension the EL84 is famous for.

    Currently using: 6P14P-EV, EH 12AX7, 1969 Mullard Blackburn GZ34 rectifier.
    • Electrocompaniet AW60 FTT
    Giving solid-state another try, this time a 60W amp from Norway. It is very revealing and exposes the different recording styles in a very clear way. The highs aren't quite as nuanced as my tube amps, but for solid-state, it has a very impressive soundstage and liquid midrange that isn't easy to find at any price. It's no wonder their flagship models are so revered - these designers really know what they are doing.
    • McIntosh MCD301 sacd player
    The CD player that has it all: body, dynamics, tone, subtlety, extension, potent bass, natural midrange and airy highs. It allows the performance of the music being played to come alive like no other sources I've heard, whether vinyl or CD based. It has psychedelic imaging and a walk-in soundstage that I still can't believe to this day.  I recently A/B tested it against an Ayre C5xemp and it was no contest.  I don't understand why the C5xe is so loved by reviewers because in my system it sounds constricted and small in comparison to my 301.
    • Audioengine D2 wireless DAC
    This is the way to stream music!! Great DAC, great signal strength, and way-better sound than the Airport Express. I cannot believe how good this thing sounds for only $600. There is nothing out there with this amount of simplicity and ease of use for the money. I feel this product is highly underrated based on its features/abilities and it's superlative sound. I feel lucky to have come across it!
    • DIY tube amp for iPhone/Macbook using 6N6P
    A lot of people feel the aural inadequacies of music files are because of inferior DACs. This, in fact, isn't the big problem. Even expensive DACs are actually cheap parts. The big problem is a weak power supply in the device that makes the sound anemic. Making high-current drive is big, bulky and expensive - 3 things that are not conducive to MP3 players. So I took advantage of knowing this to improve the sound of my Audioengine D2. I designed a tube output stage for it based on the rare (i.e., cheap) Russian 6N6P, as a cathode-follower buffer. This circuit makes it a transconductance amplifier which does nothing to the voltage (it's already sufficient) but boosts current drive a huge amount to correct this characteristic inadequacy. It took a good bit of tweaking to get the most of the design but the outcome is shocking. The amount of microdynamic detail and decay of the notes that was 'restored,' or whatever, is really amazing. Downloaded music files have gone from terrible to sublime. It's made a believer out of me and my friends (for whom I've had to build similar ones :).
    • Piega P-4L mkII ribbon speakers
    Fantastic Swiss speakers that have an aluminum cabinet. Effortless sound and shockingly powerful bass from such a small tower, which makes it perfect for TV room use. It's very hard to beat a ribbon tweeter when it comes to articulate highs. These little speakers revolutionized the TV watching experience. I've placed them near the back wall so the bass is just right - I've had people ask where the subwoofer is, but there isn't one!
    • Emotiva Stealth DC-1 DAC preamp
    Really slick design with analog input and fully-balanced circuitry to match the Cairn KO2. I use its built-in DAC for iTunes, Bluray, and DirectTV. Warm and inviting sound that is clear and composed. Hope to score a Cairn Nitro with DAC board eventually to replace it.
    • Cairn KO2 Class A/AB solid-state amp
    French-made fully-balanced solid-state amp that now drives the Piegas in the TV room. Super powerful, fantastic build quality, terrific soundstaging, a bargain on the used market, can be switched between Class A and AB (10W versus 100W), and has an "auto-on" feature that is super handy for the TV room.
    • I.C.E. Model 473-3 AC line filter
    CM and DM noise filter. None of the audiophile frills and hooplah - this is electrical engineering at its finest. It filters out a massive bandwidth and cannot restrict current flow. $4,000 performance for $80. Everyone should have one of these. I have one feeding each system.
    • MIT Z-strip with circuit breakers
    8 outlets with single-cap parallel filtering and circuit breaker protection. I really have this for the circuit breaker as the filtering is minimal compared to the ICE.
    • van den Hul, Blue Circle, and MIT power cords
    A variety, each with a job and purpose. I particularly love the BC power cords and want to get more of them.
    • van den Hul and Cardas interconnects
    AJ van den Hul and George Cardas are the cable wizards of the world, in my opinion. They truly understand what they are doing.
    • Cardas speaker cables
    It's really hard to beat George's cables, but eventually I want to get van den Hul speaker cables - if I can ever figure out which one to get!
    • DIY rubber eraser cable lifters
    Found these very-soft erasers at a craft store for $2 each. One thing is for sure about their performance - I can't feel the vibration on the cables with my hand anymore!
    • Dedicated power circuit with hospital outlets
    it makes a difference...
    • VTI BL503 and BL404 audio racks
    My audio racks, super nice for the money. They are the best deal going, hands down. I got the silver poles, silver caps and black shelves. Price is for both racks.

Comments 183

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222222&text=ab
Owner
Thanks!

The demo list is mostly chronological and that helps me go back and remember what I had, and what I compared them to.  It's definitely crazy to go through so much stuff, but it's the best way to develop a "ground" reference.  All circuits have to have a ground to know what exact voltages they have, and humans are no different, even though few realize it.

Not too many horn choices around.  Two of my audio buddies bought Avantgardes after hearing mine.  They couldn't listen to their old systems anymore!  They are remarkable, especially considering their design is far from textbook ideal.  But when it comes to making music, I haven't heard anything that comes close.

I too have modded all of my amps, except for the MC152.  It's amazing how much impact capacitors have, isn't it!?!  Totally underestimated even by most engineers.  I haven't tried the Duelunds mostly because I don't think they would fit in any of them lol, but a buddy of mine has and he loves them, as well as the Obbligatos.

I have been tempted by a Tubadour before.  I keep feeling like I can better my little CXNv2, but then when I sit down and listen to my system, I don't want to change a single thing. 

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
Ah yes, Kora.  The wonder that was.  Luckily pieces of them still live on throughout the world, and I do my best to keep them going.  In fact, I'm going to be repairing and rebiasing a pair of Cosmos soon, and I just finished recapping and retubing a Galaxy Reference.  

When they are just right, they are incredible amplifiers.  The thing that gets me, now that I've owned or heard pretty much every model they've ever made, is that they came up with new and unique designs that no one else does...!  And yet they all sound equally fantastic in different ways.  Those guys understood the black magic that is recreating great sound.  Most designers just build something and hope it sounds good when they are done, but Cyril and François knew it would sound great as they designed it.  The advantage of this savoir faire is clear in all their amps' performances.

The Galaxy Reference that I just finished sounds 'absolutely glorious.'  Those are the perfect two words to describe its sound.  It has a gigantic soundstage in which musicians are recreated with a certain joie de vivre that is always witnessed live, but rarely revived from a recording.  Its music is majestic and subtle at the same time, and has a way of finding new background melodies that were not even noticeable with many other amps.  Big power triodes at their finest is a glorious thing.  

I saw your Tranfomatic but not familiar with them.  My experience with 300B has been sub-optimal thus far.  The WAVAC 300B sounded mushy and dark even though all the circuit voltages and tubes were fine.  Then I have a pair of Finale Audio 2A3FFX monoblocks in for repair right now that are going to need a complete redesign of the driver stage for them to sound right.  I hope to get them singing as I know they can be awesome.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
Andy, your meds are clouding your judgement.  Nirvana can be found in the depths of audiophilia nervosa.  Read about it in your doctor books.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
I have tried and tested a few components lately.  The biggest stand-out has been a 1982 Audio Research SP6, version C1, that I repaired for a friend.  It needed some new caps and tubes, but man oh man is it wonderful.  Its extremely musical presentation is imbued with fun, and never gets old.  It worked equally well with a variety of amplifiers.  The only downside is that it has too much gain, especially in my system, but perhaps that is part of the reason it sounds so good...don't know.  Either way it's a tour-de-force, especially considering the LS3b has the dubious honor of being the worst preamp I've ever tried, and the LS26 sounded tubby and hollow by comparison.  It makes me want to try more vintage ARC preamps to see what they can do.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
Hi Cio52, thank you for your compliments.  I have not tried a C45, but I've had a C42, a C46, and a C48, so I have a pretty good idea what the C45 is like already.  

Your system looks great!  I have a friend who had Harbeths and I loved them.  I think he regrets having sold them.

I would suggest you try an MC152.  It has mightily impressed me!  It is definitely better than my MC452 was, at least with my speakers.  And it can actually put out 250W.  In general I've found that fewer transistors results in better sound.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
The premise that since a known reviewer is all over a component, I must therefore equally love it, brings up several issues I've been thinking about.  And in light of recent posts on here for the first time in a long time, I see that this premise is still a rampant problem that fuels completely pointless pissing contests.

Through the years of testing gear (see Description above), one thing I've come to realize is that reviews are practically useless.  I don't even subscribe to any magazines anymore, and I've given up posting in this forum and others.  

There are so many variables, not the least of which is a human, that there is essentially no value in comparing a component in two different systems.  Cable effects, loading effects, speaker setup, room characteristics, distractions, source material, frequency response, human hearing, mood, etc., all play a role in the outcome.  Statistically speaking, that makes it just about pointless, and practice bears that out - if you do enough testing of your own.

My mantra is "buy and try."  That way, you can make up your own mind, in your own system (that's the one that matters).  There's no other way to know what YOU will think about a component.  My advice is to listen a lot, develop a reference point, and then learn to trust your ears instead of someone else's.

Then the question becomes, what should I buy?  For that, I say get whatever "tickles your fancy."  That's it!  Enjoy the music.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
It lacked dynamics.  At first it sounded quite good, but then the more I listened to it, the more I realized that it was actually restrained, and lacked the sparkle of reality in the treble.  But my speakers are extremely sensitive to dynamics - on most other speakers you probably wouldn't even notice there was a problem.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
I have been restoring an MX110Z and an MC240, both from 1965.  To test it out, I hooked up the revamped 110 in my system to see how it performs.  After the new tubes and caps burned in, I am amazed at the result.  Wow!  It sounds so modern and clean and clear!  I can't believe it sounds this good.  No wonder it has achieved cult status.  I'm going to have have a hard time giving it back to its eager owners.  This is the biggest surprise I've had in a long time.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
I A/B compared the DAC in the McIntosh C48 to the DAC in my AudioEngine D2.  The DAC in the C48 does 32/192, and the one in the D2 is a BB1792A 24/192.  I have always loved the 1792, but with all the new DACs that have come out since its heyday, I thought it would be interesting to carefully compare it to the C48's.  

Well, the overall outcome is that they are extremely similar.  I was expecting the C48 to leave the 1792 behind simply by virtue of being a newer design, but it did not.  Central voices were a tad more forward with the Mc DAC, and the soundstage was perhaps a smidgen wider, but in a blind test, I would struggle to tell them apart.

Then I added my 6N6P cathode follower to the D2, as I normally have it, and found that this combo was much better than the C48 alone could offer - more bass, bigger soundstage, improved image separation, better rhythmic flow, etc.  No comparison.  It is yet another example of my argument that it's not the DAC chip that matters - it's its output stage implementation that determines how good it will sound.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
The latest in my preamp shootout, a McIntosh C48, turns out to be the clear winner.  The previous ARC LS26 and W4S STP were let-downs, as described previously, but the C48 is something special.  It has a clear and commanding sound quality, with the beautiful refinement that McIntosh has always been known for.  I am surprised at how forward it is for a Mc, and yet has impressive bass and excellent soundstage width.  Dynamics and stage depth are not quite as good as my TEAD Vibe, but it is only noticeable in direct comparisons with the same tracks.  Otherwise, the C48 exhibits the coherence of a true hifi preamp, with all the functionality one could ever want or need.  I could easily live with this one.  It channels the fond memories I have of my C42 from long ago.
Arthur

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
Hi Milpai
Yes I know!  A buddy of mine has a Music First and I've been trying to sweet talk him into sending it to me to try out, so I've been holding off on buying one.  I am the one who actually suggested he try an MF when he said he wanted a passive (he has Avantgarde speakers too).  So far I haven't taken my own advice...but the chance to hear an MF is coming.  I have read about Promitheus' offerings; sounds like he's an interesting character.  I have yet to come across one of his designs though.  Thanks for reminding me about both of these TVC.
Arthur

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
I also tried an Audio Research LS26 preamp.  This thing is terrible, despite the fact the tubes were in great shape.  The noise floor is so high that it obscures fine detail.  People with low-efficiency speakers probably don't notice the problems, but I was shocked that ARC would produce something with such an obvious design flaw.  Overlooking the poor resolution, it does have very-good dynamics, and the display is beautiful.  But the midrange is a bit dry, the treble is fairly coarse, soundstaging is flat, and there's hardly any bass.  Quite a disappointment in my system.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
Gave another passive preamp a try:  W4S STP-SE.  I'm always drawn to try passives but so far it hasn't worked out.  This preamp is heavier than expected and the circuit seems very-well designed, but the sound quality does not make the cut in my system:  Whether used single-ended or balanced, the treble is not very clean or extended, and the bass is not very deep or nuanced.  The midrange is quite good however!  But overall this preamp is unable to sound special, nor is it hi-fi.

aball

222222&text=ab
Owner
Right after getting the 152, a David Berning LTA ZOTL10 amplifier came across my path and I had to get one.  It's such a bizarre design, and since switching circuits are my specialty, I had to have one.  No one does it like David.  Such a complex circuit results in a really complex personality.  I'm having trouble putting my finger on it.  I've been playing with different tubes and the results are all over the map!  It sounds great, but it's not there yet.  I look forward to getting to know it better.

aball

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Owner
My latest amp is the new McIntosh MC152.  On my speakers, it was clear that my past MC452 was not successful in properly establishing the "first watt" of power.  It just sounded disjointed.  But this baby 152 with its much-simpler circuit is incredible!  Not only did it fix the 452's problems, but it adds incredible 3D soundstaging.  Only my Aries can rival the enveloping sound of this amplifier.  And it has fantastic resolution - probably the finest I've ever heard - and it's only really obvious with the Vibe.  People who say these amps don't have the final bit of resolution have a system that needs work, because in mine, it's superlative.  And along with all this fine sound, it looks fantastic too!  It actually has better proportions than the 452, so I'm in love with this new little McIntosh.  They have come a long way with their autoformer amps in the last couple decades.  Kudos to Mc!

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Looking back through the long list of equipment I've had, there are some notable standouts that were clearly a big step up in performance when I got them.  Here are the ones I will never forget buying, since they made my jaw drop, in order of occurrence:

1.  (Focal) JMLab Electra 926 
2.  Classe CP50
3.  B&W N804
4.  McIntosh MC7200
5.  Tom Evans Vibe + Pulse
6.  Avantgarde Uno Nano
7.  Rogue Tempest (used as an amp)
8.  McIntosh MC152


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Hi Jet, I'd love to hear your amp!  I have always been curious about the WE91A implementation after talking to Min at Tube Audio Lab a few years ago.  I am helping one of my best friends build a very-unusual 300b SET amp right now in fact.  We're still working on tweaking it fully and found your detailed notes fascinating and insightful.  I have a few comments about them that I will post on your page.
Thanks
Arthur

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I have been modifying the operating points of all my amplifiers in the last year and have made some interesting discoveries.  I'm finding that nearly all designers are strictly choosing the operating conditions based on maximum power.  I have varied the tube and transistor conditions in a variety of ways and have come across terrific improvements in sound quality simply by putting effort into finding an more-optimal bias point.

Maximum power output is great in theory - more control, better bass, suits a wider range of speakers, etc.  But in practice is comes with some very-real costs, such as shorter tube/transistor life, higher stress on capacitors, greater heat, decreased source impedance of transistors, and higher loading of the power supply.  In addition to all of that, the extra gain in volume from a little more power is really academic, being just about useless in reality.

Therefore, optimizing the bias has numerous advantages, and my discovery is that a little less power output is greatly outweighed by the fact the circuit isn't loaded down as much as it was.  This translates into dramatically better sound quality with only a couple little part changes - not to mention far less maintenance and longer life.  This notion should be embraced by the industry as improvement is great for business and warranties, but somehow the ability to see the light is lost along the way.

It reminds me of my last post where I said the brute-force method is regularly employed in scientific disciplines.  The artful craft of fine tuning gets trampled in the quest for "proper numbers."  As Mies van der Rohe said, there are many examples in life where less is more - the key is to find them.

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Hi Paul

No I haven't heard the new Avantgardes.  I will look into the Dirac software - sounds very interesting and worth trying.  

Modifying time and frequency domains simultaneously in a 3D environment is very complex.  If it does work well, it would only be for a certain location and in certain conditions.  Perhaps they do a good job, but you basically can't fix one domain without messing up something else.  There is always a price to pay (compromise) in engineering.  This high sales price is likely not the only cost!  

I generally believe that simpler is better, at this point in my life.  Digital filters can be a can of worms.  I know because I have designed similar systems for space satellites.  Creating a complex system to fix a complex response makes the job all that much tougher.  No way around that in nature.  This is what I was trying to say in my last post.  Luckily there are some very elegant solutions, but they require a very particular type of designer to recognize them.  A lot of engineers only really know the brute-force method.

But that is just the technical side (without getting technical at all).  As for how good it sounds, I will have to wait to determine that until I try it in my system.  Maybe I will one day.  For now, I'm happy just enjoying the music!

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Hi Paul

Great to hear from you!  I remember our past discussions.  I would love to hear your system but I likely won't have time to go from the south of France to Amsterdam on this trip, but perhaps at Christmas.

I am fortunate to have a large room that suits the Nanos perfectly so I don't have any need for room correction.  My response is already as good as it can be.  I used passive correction in my previous room with good results, but in setting up stereos for friends, in addition to my own, I've found there is no substitute for a proper room/speaker relationship.  Correction is exactly that, it's "correction," which means you start at a disadvantage.  I prefer to start with ideal circumstances, but I realize this is not always possible.

As for digital amplifiers, I hesitate to endorse them without hearing them first.  I am biased as an electrical engineer - digital amplification has significant drawbacks that must be corrected at the output stage by means of a complex filter, and technically this is a poor method for amplification design.  Having said that, I love my CD player more than my past turntables, so perhaps I am overlooking a potential improvement due to my bias.  I hope to have a chance to hear some digital amps in my stereo in the future, namely NuForce.  But for now my tube amplifiers sound so incredible that they have eliminated my desire to spend effort in making it happen.  

If you enjoy what you have, then there's no need to question it.  Enjoy the music!  Take care,
Arthur

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My parents' 20-year-old Yamaha receiver bit the dust so I bought them a Marantz PM6004 stereo integrated largely due to winning Amplifier of the Year at WhatHifi.  They were not wrong in lauding this design.  For $400 used, this thing is mighty impressive.  I've had amps that cost $3000 that were not as good as this amp.  In absolute terms, compared to my chosen gear, it lacked space and ease, and could sound restrained in a few ways, but for the money, this thing is one of the sweetest amps I've come across.  It has an very even tonality, with excellent detail, and just enough coherence to be truly musical - a rarity at this price point.  It's an award winner for me too.

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Hi Andy, I just retubed, recapped, and rebiased a Galaxy Reference the other day and thought of you.  I tested it out in my stereo when I was finished to make sure all was well and was as impressed as ever by this design.  We installed Mundorf Supreme caps and they made quite an improvement!  It's too bad the 6AS7 are getting so scarce these days.  Next time around I'm going to modify the operating point to accommodate the much-more-common 6H13C so that it can continue to have a long life ahead.

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However, there is one thing I have to warn you about. The bias on the Galaxy is critical for its performance, and it is not an easy thing to get done just right. I have done it on several of them now and have gotten a feel for how that circuit operates and it is rather complex in the sense that it requires a fixed bias for all the tubes. It is just like any other high-performance system, such as a Ferrari or Lamborghini: getting it tuned right is quite difficult, but when it's right, it's sublime, and when it's not, it's terrible. If you hear one in proper condition, it will knock your socks off, just like the Cosmos did Fremer's.

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I feel the Galaxy would have no problem with them. It has a very low output impedance because of the power tubes used in that circuit. As a result, it has quite a bit of drive and has some of the most beautiful bass I've heard in a tube amplifier. And if you can get your hands on a Reference version, everything gets taken up by a considerable amount. I think your speakers are a great match for this amplifier.

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You're so trashy, and finally you admit it. I knew you couldn't hold out.

One of my buddies has a Pass Labs XA30.5. He is in Denmark for the summer so I requested it while he's gone. I have to reiterate that it's an amazing amplifier. I can't believe I've finally found a solid-state amp worth keeping. It's not perfect, but its kick-ass authority, shocking resolution, and honest passion are a winning combination. It has also brought new-found respect for my fully-balanced Kora Crescendo. It's the finest tube preamp I've ever owned, by far. I can't believe the resolution and speed it has.

Still have the Viva?

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I can't take all the credit for the photos. Most of them were taken by my partner - but I'll accept the compliments, even Andy's backhanded one.

As for the seat, it's an Ekornes Pegasus. The seats individually recline and the headrests can be raised. It took me a long time to find the right chair, but this was definitely it. After 6 years of heavy use it all works perfectly, and the leather looks even better than new.

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Thank you Andy for the thoughtful introduction. It's guaranteed to have them appreciating my pearls of wisdom to their fullest.

Hey Joe, I went with one subwoofer just to try it out first, and that's what was easily available to me. It's in the back left of the room and and I found it really easy to integrate with the built-in graphic equalizer that can be projected on a TV screen for real-time optimization. It's tediously geeky but really effective. I believe a few other brands also offer the feature now. Overall, at this point, I consider a subwoofer an absolute necessity. It has been an even more profound change than I'd hoped for. It's one of the greatest improvements I've made to my stereo.

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System edited: I updated my room pics.

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Indeed I am, but it's really between three of them. The new capacitors in the 2A3 have allowed it to regain its competitive edge versus the F138. They actually have very different characters: The 2A3 is delicate and airy with vocals that are very easy to understand. The F138 has a robust, full, deliberate sound in comparison, not quite as keen in terms of clarity, but more powerful sounding, even though on paper they have similar output power.

The S2 is the third contender in the ring with an altogether different approach to making music. It has more obvious treble extension than the other two, which gives it the impression of more dynamics and excitement. It's a fun party amp that makes it's rivals seem very serious in comparison. But when the going gets tough, its deft resolution is there ready to fight. I'll be cycling through all three in the next couple months to see how it ends but really I don't expect - or want - a winner. I bet all three will continue to shine in their own way, and I will love all three of them equally as a result.

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I have recapped the 2A3 with Sprague Atom electrolytics, the latest Nichicon low-ESR OSCONS, and Mundorf Supreme coupling capacitors. Similarly recapping the S2 made such a profound difference, and knowing the 2A3 had a number of years of use (made clear by faint motorboating), I decided to do the same to it. It hasn't even fully burned in yet that I can tell the change is equally profound. There is better timing and focus, and expansive soundstaging that eclipses even its previously-exemplary performance in this regard. I think it's a smidge clearer than the F138 at this point, but has a more relaxed and composed air about it. The 2A3 has such a beautiful sound. I can't help but think how transistors have such a long way to go to beat this. It's no surprise that after 80 years these tubes are still around. I wish everyone could hear what they are capable of.

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I'm referring to the Finale Audio F138 FFX.

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System edited: I got this amplifier custom made and received it a couple weeks ago. I have been letting it run in before I say anything here about it. It uses one single-ended EL84 tube per channel for 5W of power, with tube rectification. At first it was rough, but it has turned into the most unbelievable amplifier. Forget SET! SEP is where it's at! I'm really having trouble finding things to nitpick about its sound. It's so seamless and coherent, so detailed and dynamic, it really does nothing but play music. I'm in love. Frank and the gang at Finale have knocked it out of the park with this one. He was right.

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I'm still getting to know it but I'm enjoying it a whole lot. I actually prefer it over the MC452! Although the McIntosh was more detailed, it wasn't able to sound as coherent as the AW60, or have as good soundstaging. This amp is a bit light in the bass (it's funny to think most of my tube amps have more bass depth and slam) and, like I say, the treble isn't all that great, but the midrange is seductive and sophisticated. It's a very complex circuit - I have no idea what they are doing in there with so many little parts on a packed PCB - but it's successful at making music!

aball

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System edited: Giving solid-state another try, this time a 60W amp from Norway. It is very revealing and exposes the different recording styles in a very clear way. The highs aren't quite as developed as my tube amps, but for solid-state, it has a very impressive soundstage and liquid character that isn't easy to find. It's no wonder their flagship models are so revered - these designers really know what they are doing.

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Hi Joe

I had considered the Rythmik 15" sealed subwoofer too. A friend of mine has one and it is impressive for the money. But another friend had this Velodyne and I remembered seeing the TV display feature for fine tuning it and always felt that was the best way to do it, especially for someone like me who really gets into optimization. He recently decided to sell it so I bought it from him.

I didn't consider any smaller and felt like my speakers were already big enough to risk making a smaller one unnecessary. But, the 15" is a monster. I have it barely on and it's doing a lot already, so a smaller may have been just fine in hindsight. I am not a bass freak - I just wanted to extend my frequency response, and man what a difference that makes. It was the best upgrade I've made to my stereo in a long time and it didn't even cost very much. I very-highly recommend it.

The only other brand I considered was JL Audio because I've been very impressed by their subs at demos and they're also made in USA, which I value.

Hi Zephyr

Thanks! It's so rare to find someone who actually reads the story and thread. The 240 is really a fantastic piece. It doesn't sound like the usual "warm and cuddly" 6L6 amp in that it has a lot of resolution and detail, but it achieves this by running all the tubes quite hard. I've actually modded just about all my amps to some extent. I try to strike a balance between tube life and the original designer's intent. A lot of designers run the tubes beyond their abilities, making reliability and tube life very iffy. I've found that's not necessary to achieve great sound.

I need to start building my own amps. All this tinkering has given me lots of great ideas that I want to collect into my own designs. One day I'll hopefully have the time to do that.

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I cut the Nanos back to -3dB at 40Hz with a volume of 5/10 and the sub is -6 at 100. I made the overlap fall right across a room suck-out. It measures perfectly with both of my methods. My stereo now sounds like no other I've ever heard. I finally beat the Apertura Tanagra with Jadis DA88S and Naim CDX2 combo that had been one of the finest thus far in my exploration. It's the sound of sweet success when using my freshly recapped Unison ARIA S2. The result is more than I can say.

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System edited: Finally got a subwoofer. Ever since I'd left my little room at my old house, I'd noticed my bass wasn't as fleshed out or as deep since I now have insignificant room reinforcement. But the Nanos were good enough that I was able to overlook it until the right deal fell from the sky. And now it has. Bought a Velodyne Direct Digital 15" with a 1250W switching amplifier and man what a difference it has made! Everything is better, all the way up to the treble. It is a terrific addition. The Nanos have two "subwoofers" already but the speakers are designed to sound "of a piece" rather than "two horns with a sub." This is to preserve the speed needed to have a smooth midrange transition. So now the DD15 does the heavy lifting and its graphical interface for optimization of the sub is brilliant. My response is perfectly integrated, and it sounds like it.

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Hi Dan - I totally agree that many systems here will never reach their full potential because people choose the wrong speakers for their rooms. It's the room that needs to choose the speaker - not the owner! But they will never want to understand that. It's too bad for them, but hey, if they're happy, ignorance is bliss.

That's one thing I always loved about my Avantagardes is that they are adjustable so you can least dial them in for a range of rooms. Getting the bass right is 2/3 of the battle. A friend of mine has some Legacy speakers that are adjustable in both bass and treble. It makes so much sense. It's too bad there aren't more manufacturers that do this. Some people argue that feature degrades the sound without ever realizing that if the speakers don't suit the room, the damage is far greater.

I had a chance to have a Pass Labs XA30.5 for a few days and was greatly impressed by it. FINALLY a solid-state amp that sounds wonderful. Too bad it's so big and ugly though. I just can't get past the ungainly looks but it has incredible resolution and remarkable bass, and yet manages to be coherent and musical too. There's no doubt it sounds like a solid-state amp, but gosh I fell in love with it. It's really unfortunate my McIntosh MC452 didn't sound like this!! Stay tuned - a First Watt or Pass Labs XA amp is in my future....

Arthur

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Hey guys, it's been a while, sorry for the delay.

Jeff - thanks! I use all my amps about evenly. Every month or two I switch to a different amp or a different preamp. I've gone through all the combinations and frankly don't have a clear favorite, with each combo preferring a certain type of music but all of them sounding wonderful. I've been changing out tubes and capacitors (electrolytic, coupling and bypass) on most of them and now I've got a completely different selection of sound styles to choose from. It's amazing the difference tubes and caps have on the sound. It makes me realize that how an amp sounds is largely a crapshoot if the designer isn't thorough in his part selection. But by and large, one thing is for sure: more expensive parts = better quality sound.

Bill - Ah yes, the monster K2s. I heard a pair of S9800 in Germany one time and was mightily impressed. My clearest recollection is that they don't sound anything like they look! The amps were the equally-amazing Vacuum State 300B monoblocks.

Andy - glad the IDs are working out as well as hoped. I keep seeing ads for the Auralic - great looking gear. Lukasz is a trip isn't he!? He cracks me up, and has some very good ideas too.

LaPierre - my MC452 has moved on to another life. I couldn't quite get it to gel in my new room. It sounded great in my little room but in the big room, with fewer reflections, it wasn't cohesive enough for my tastes. Lots of great sounds, not enough great music. It was a bummer. I still miss its killer looks though.

Arthur

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System edited: I have revamped by TV room system by replacing the Atoll IN100 with fellow compatriot Cairn KO2 and Emotiva Stealth DC-1. Run fully balanced and the DAC is used for DirectTV, iTunes, XBOX, and Bluray. The preamp has a relaxed sound (much friendlier than the Benchmark) and the amp has a forward sound, so they're a great match. Definitely a big step up from the IN100, as it should be for the higher price range. However, the Stealth is an absolute bargain for what you get. It doesn't get the press it deserves.

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Hey Andy - so it sounds like you got the Intuitive Design speakers. How do you like them so far?

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Or could it be that he's simply the real deal? That makes more sense to me.

I didn't think you would stay away from tubes for very long. I've been told it's a killer amp on my speakers but I've never tried one. At least so far, I'm finding that I'm more of a push-pull guy than single-ended. But I guess you knew that already!

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Acapellas! One of my biggest audio idols has a pair in his stereo: AJ van den Hul. I love that guy. He is fascinating. Not only does he invent new materials, but he invents the equipment to make them too! Few designers go that far. The results are very-wide ranging, but that means you can find the right cable for each application. I've gone pretty much all vdH in my system. If I win the lottery, I would order up a bunch of his fancy stuff in a heart beat.

A buddy of mine used a Condor cart for a while in his vinyl rig. Man that thing was amazing. Finicky (even by vinyl standards!) but when it was right, it was glorious. I think he still regrets having replaced it with a Titan i.

Do you still have your Neodio? Have you seen their new Origine? Pretty slick design.

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Oh Andy, don't be jealous. LoL. I spend my time contemplating tons of stuff and I'm always willing to share my thoughts, especially when I disagree. Feel free to do the same - I love debate. That's how we learn in depth.

I actually haven't heard any plasma tweeter speakers but I really want to. I have heard several ribbons though and I love them. They convinced me that the weight of the driver is a huge factor in performance. Light weight is king, and you really can't beat a plasma in that regard. Which ones have you heard?

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Hey Andy

Always good to hear from you. I'm totally with you on distortion being predominantly at the speaker/room interface. And it doesn't even have to be in quotes - it truly is distortion. Speakers are typically on the order of 50x higher THD than amplifiers, so it makes worshipping amplifier specs laughable. The speaker carries the majority of the burden in the system, all by itself, so I've always given it priority in the budget. It has a tough job.

Technical specs typically fail to tell the real story. They're little blobs of data devoid of context. Bring in the context and you realize that what you were after wasn't what you thought in the first place! That's a very astute observation you had.

The technology progression has been very slow, but then again that's how nature is. How many ways can you punch air? There will always be more ways discovered. I think the future in our lifetime is in ion plasma. There is so much more than could be done in that domain. The tweeters are a start but what about midrange too? Imagine what that would look like! And funny thing is that even that technology is over 100 years old. The reason it's slow in coming is that there isn't a money-making end goal attached to it. Maybe one day there will be and we can reap the rewards through the back door.

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I go by the dictionary's definition of resolution.

Check this out - it just popped in my inbox. He arrived at the same conclusions:

http://www.stereophile.com/content/new-sensations

Arthur

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Hi Charles. My name is Arthur.

Resolution is "the ability of a device to show an image clearly and with a lot of detail," per the MW dictionary. So the question here is not that of a human listening to an instrument being played, but rather that of a "device" (i.e., stereo system, in this case) recreating a musical experience with a lot of "detail." There is the element of translation, or synthesizing, of an auditory effect that must be recognized to be able to understand the technical notion of resolution. As in all systems in the universe that we know of today, there is no perfect translation - the "ability" is never perfect (generally credited to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but I'll quickly digress before I get carried away on that). The question then becomes, how is it not? Therein lies at least 75% of all forum posts on Audiogon.

Furthermore, you have to determine what it is you are talking about. Let's take two examples in the abstract: Is it the recreation of the sound of the trumpet itself? Or is it the recreation of the sound of the trumpet in a room? These two presentations are very different when it comes to stereo reproduction. Both are demanding, but the latter requires far more dynamic range than the former. Does the stereo have the dynamic range necessary to achieve high resolution for the latter? Does the latter even matter if the trumpet's sound itself is perfectly resolved? I know people who love single-driver speakers and they only seek resolution of the instrument itself, since resolving the room without deep bass is technically impossible. In this case, the texture of the space (e.g., the reverberations and reflections) is effectively lost. This is what I was referring to in my earlier post. On the other hand, if energy is spent getting the entire bandwidth correct, is enough attention placed on the critical sound of the trumpet? Jack of all trades and master of none?

Some stereo devices are better at the former than the latter even if we assume the speakers are omnipotent. I had this very same discussion with a friend of mine in Switzerland who sells YG, Cary, Plinius, and a bunch of others. When a prospective buyer is interested in buying a system, he will first ask many questions about their listening habits, what kind of music they listen to, and what kind of resolution they find is most important. Then he can tailor the system to best suit their desires because even his $200,000 stereos have a specific personality and approach and don't do everything equally well. Let's be thankful that "true resolution" doesn't exist, otherwise there would only be one single hi-fi company in the world and we'd all have identical stereos. Everything would boil down to Fourier Transforms and there wouldn't be any room for our personal tastes anymore. What a sad place that would be!

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System edited: You're right Andy. I wound up getting a Transcendent Mini Beast a month ago and it's been an interesting experience. It's very different from what I'm used to, and it's very sensitive to what preamp and cables I use with it. Works well with some and bad with others. I'm not sure I'm getting the best out of it yet but I'm working on it. Meanwhile I'm enjoying the challenge and its unusual sound reproduction style.

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Hi Charles and Ivan - the key thing to remember is that everything is relative, and that means resolution is included too. I agree it can be a brain teaser. Besides, at the end of the day, the more resolution, the more you're at the mercy of the recording quality. Nothing is perfect, not even perfect resolution! Wouldn't it be nice is life was as clear cut as you make it out to be!? LOL. As for "natural," well, that's different for each human.

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Thank you! I have always had a soft spot for McIntosh, from the very beginning. With the right speakers they are generally fantastic, and most importantly always enjoyable. After all, isn't that how it's supposed to be?

When I had my Focal 926s, I lusted after the MA6600. Today I have horns that prefer my vintage MC240, which is good because it sounds like the legend it is.

All the while I'm using my MCD301. It has the best combination of attributes I've heard to date. People get caught up buying the next bigger number, always wanting it but never exactly knowing why. The thing I've learned is that there is a price for everything, and it's rarely solely a monetary one. Increase resolution, lose texture. Increase speed, lose emotion. Nothing is perfect - the trick is to first know why, then how to best work with it.

Enjoy that 6600! It's a real beauty in every sense of the word.

aball

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System edited: Continuing the buying spree - got a Finale Audio F-168R using the super-cool 6BM8 tube from the wonder workers at Triode Labs, replete with Audio Note transformers and Mundorf caps. Frank and his team are not only great designers, but great people too. This amp is all about perfect timing and timbre. Definition and detail are irrelevant when you hear this little amp make music. It recreates jazz and brass ensembles like no other amp I own. I played the saxophone for 6 years, and hearing that instrument through this amp brings tears to my eyes and floods of memories. It's been a revelation that only the Japanese seem to know about. I also bought another one of my old favorites that I always regretted having sold: The Kora Crescendo tube preamp. Its very-simple fully-balanced topology is designed to sing with the Aries monoblocks, and boy does it ever. I'm excited to cycle it through my other amps and see how it fares with them. It also sets the stage for the balanced BAT VK-55 I want to get at some point.

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System edited: I bought my old Flash back and it was one of the best moves I've ever made. Way better than the 452 - it's not even close. This thing has unbelievable resolution. I've never heard anything like it. Ever. I also repaired the S2 and have it back up and running now with new JJ KT77 tubes. I used the old Shuguang Treasures too long and someone put the wrong fuses inside the amp so the cathode resistors fried. While I was at it, I replaced all the electrolytics with ultra-low ESR 5000+hr 105C types for a new lease on life. It's a very quiet amp, and I can say that Dr. Sacchetti did a beautiful job with the circuit design. It's no wonder this amp is on its fourth generation basically unchanged - it really is that great.

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Hi Paul

You got very similar results as I did with my McIntosh MC452's meters. They have a very practical "hold" feature that slows the needle down so you can clearly see the peaks. The readings I got were generally 0.1W for 85dB, 1W for 90dB, and 4W for 95dB, aka the nightclub. Based on that I determined I don't really need more than a 4W amplifier.

I love Patricia Barber, especially the album Companion. You've inspired me to dig it out this weekend - I haven't heard it a long time.

aball

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Yeah they do put out a ton of heat. But I bet all that inefficiency is well spent. It's like my 2A3 amp - the engineer in me never would have guessed that 2.7% efficiency could have such high performance. It really makes it obvious that mathematical metrics used to describe electronics don't hold water when it comes to measuring natural responses, i.e., human ones.

But then again, I can't believe that this 4W amp can turn my 600 sqft room into a nightclub. So I suppose the speakers' efficiency does make up for it on some level. The upshot is that it's really all about compatibility, as any one in a relationship knows, and as you say. Why should we expect any different from another system based on electrical impulses? And yet audio reviewers spend their time proclaiming absolutes based on one single chance combination, when we all know that not all dates work out. Applying math to those sorts of situations doesn't work out either. Those dang blasted humans screw that up too. Ah, life, gotta love it!

aball

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Thanks guys for the compliments. I’m very happy to finally be able to enjoy SET.

Andy - In addition to bandwidth, phase relationships are the most important secondary factor, and there are numerous types whose interactions are not well characterized. Without getting into geek talk about open loop and closed loop responses, just in the amplifier stage there can be 180 degrees of shift across the bandwidth of the amp, and that's before you even take cables, crossovers, driver magnets, speakers dispersion characteristics, room acoustics, and human hearing non-linearities into account, all of which can contribute significant amounts of shift in all sorts of directions.

But if all else is held constant and only the amp is changed, the overall impact is still difficult to predict. I remain a firm believer in headroom (I could write a treatise on headroom as it pertains to vacuum tubes, which is a whole other world compared to transistors and cannot be compared directly) but my current logic is that it's tough to make so many BJTs march to the beat of the drum, especially at low powers. I love BJTs, but they are tough to deal with compared to MOSFETs. The ThermalTraks are a big improvement, but I surmise only really at higher power. At low power, other factors dominate and these are the ones I was hearing. Ultimately it is not a criticism of the 452 as much as it is a speaker/amp incompatibility.

It wasn't apparent in my old room because this problem was masked by room reflections. But in the new space, it’s the next-biggest problem that surfaces…. I had the 452 hooked up for the first three months and never felt like the sound was quite right. I was determined the problem stemmed from speaker placement and room interactions, so I moved the speakers all over the place, played with room treatments and woofer settings, and at times I could get great sound, and at other times, it simply wasn't. Then I changed amps. My Kora Aries instantly made it clear the problem wasn't speaker placement - it was the 452. My big beauty became a big bummer. Ah well, it was a good learning experience.

I do want to test out an ultra-high bandwidth amplifier design and see how that goes. My Tom Evans preamp is already of this ilk, and Goldmund definitely springs to mind as a similar mate, so I’m seriously considering a Job 225. But for now, I’m hooked on low-power tubes and want to experience an OTL next. I think I’ll build a Transcendent Mini Beast as my first foray into OTL, though something with 6C33s will be next if the Beast pans out.

aball

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Owner
System edited: Well I decided to sell my big McIntosh, the one I wanted
for about 16 years. It was great in my old room, but in the new room,
resolution had increased to a point that was no longer suitable for an
amp with 32 transistors. The image no longer gelled and timing issues
crept up. It came as a big surprise, despite the fact I had it mated to
speakers it wasn't designed for. So now I've gone clear to the
opposite end of the spectrum - a puny lightweight, 4W SET amp, and
man does it ever rock! Now I know why SET amps have such a cult
following, and I also now fully understand why the 2A3 is considered
the clarity champ. Soundstaging is wonderful, timing is perfect, and the
sound is fast, transparent, warm and rich. I was expecting some sort of
deficiency somewhere, but haven't found any so far.

aball

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Owner
Two comments on the cat! Yes, that's Martin, or as I call him, Bubby. He loves music and sits on the Stressless Ekornes along with me. He too finds it to be an equally satisfying place to spend a good amount of time.... Maybe we're morphing into similar beings. Yikes! Perhaps we're there already.

The great Albert Porter! I remember you from my days of posting in the forum. Bubby actually has some pretty good attributes for acoustics. His panis is a good energy sink! Don't tell him I said so. He gets very upset when I make it flop back and forth as he walks by.

He is indoor/outdoor so he never claws anything in the house. Thank goodness too because most of my furniture was purchased to endure a lifetime. He has however slept on my MC7200 because it had a smooth finely-perforated cover and ran at just the right temperature to be his ideal napping spot, but luckily none of the other amps have suited His Highness well enough.

I used to sit 3 meters from the speakers in my old room and I can tell you that 4 meters is ideal. AG likes to say 3 because it covers a broader range of potential owners, especially outside the US, but in reality physics dictate a bit more distance. That's not to say I didn't enjoy them in the old small room - soundstaging was truly immersive with tubes - but in the new room, resolution has increased dramatically, and everything else along with it. I didn't know they could sound this good! That's the beauty of these speakers: They never cease to amaze, and yet it's never at the expense of reproducing music. For me, that's the ideal balance I sought all along.

aball

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Owner
Ah yes! Viva. Those Italians do have a certain flair, don't they? It seems to permeate everything they do. It's like circuit designers who build amplifiers that end up having a certain degree of their own personality built into the sound. How does that happen?? The million Dollar question.... Roy Gregory (one of my idols) says that speakers by and large sound the way they look. I find that interesting too.

I haven't tried one but a buddy of mine loved his Solista. It's been on the list ever since then. I do however have a Unison Research S2 (same as the Simply 2, which has now been resurrected 3 times). It currently has a toasted cathode bias resistor so I can't use it until I free up time to repair it, but it sounds glorious with the right tubes. It has a propensity for throwing care to the wind, and having a great time doing it! Some would say that isn't accurate, but then again they can't ever convince me that their reference should be any better.

You and I tend to prefer the path less traveled, and Delta Summits fit that bill. They remind me of the Goldmunds and, for a tiny fraction of the price, encompass most of their design concept. If Dale's purported personality comes through in his design, you're in for a treat, indeed.

aball

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Owner
I often hear that Avantgardes require your head to be "locked in a
vise" for imaging to be right. I want to address this notion now that
I've lived with AGs for years, and have tried a large variety of amplifiers
during that time. My conclusion is that it's, in fact, not really the case.

Having 104dB sensitivity changes things. A lot. Changes in volume are
clearly audible; much moreso than with a normal-sensitivity speaker. Tiny
inflections come out of the background, instead of being the background.
It's all about resolution at the end of the day, and this means that any
difference in sound is clear, in both the time and frequency domains.

The issue is that most recordings do not have a central image. Recording
engineers don't really pay that much attention to it. They're too busy
twisting knobs, adjusting mic's, and pushing slides to realize they're slightly
off balance. When I was a kid, I got interested in making quality recordings
on magnetic tape. It always came as a shock to me how many recordings
were off balance. And some were off a lot! The meters clearly told me so.
Sometimes right, but most often the left channel was the hotter one.

Fast forward to the Nanos. It's as if I was a kid again, except it isn't
presicion VU meters telling me, it's my stereo. Is that a bad thing? I don't
think so - I see it as information, truth, and reality, in equal measure. The
goal after all is to enjoy the music, and I don't find that this information
detracts from the fun -- particularly if you use the right amp.

Debussy said that "music is the space between the notes." The
corollary to this is that not all amplifiers make music. Some are more
interested in making a frenetic stream of sounds. If that's the case, then
there's precious little to listen to other than channel imbalance, treble, bass,
etc.; essentially all the mechanical stuff. It's like those people who have to
do something because they don't know what else to do. Eventually all that
fidgeting gets annoying. You find yourself longing for composed and
thoughtful responses, with natural control, like the ones good tube amps
can offer. When that happens, a shifted central image is no more
concerning than seeing someone off center in your field of vision. It's simply
part of reality. Once that's clear, all that's left to do is listen to the music,
and contemplate its spaces.

aball

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Owner
Thanks!

aball

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Owner
Thanks Andy! I love it. The resolution I have now is so much better than before, it's amazing. Moving to a large room made me realize how many reflections I had in the small room. Imaging has improved dramatically too. Being able to sit back farther from the speakers helped with that as well.

Still enjoying the Neodio?

aball

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Owner
Hi Paul

No not at all. The Nanos fill the space perfectly, the larger ones have no more bass, and the larger models have their drivers too far apart for ideal imaging. Proper driver integration is critical for me.

I see you ended up getting Nanos. That's great! I feel they are the best overall design Avantgarde offers.

Arthur

aball

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Owner
Thank you both! That 6N6P amp is quite a trick. If I had the time and gumption, I would commercialize it in a slick little package.

Arthur

aball

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Owner
System edited: Moved into a new house a few months ago and now my
room is 4x larger. It's changed everything, but it's been fun getting a
feel for those changes. But one thing's for sure - the sound is better
than ever.

Hi Lall - Sorry I didn't see your message sooner. You've got yourself a
tough situation there. Sounds like you will have to desolder the
surrounding parts to make room. It's like repairing a car - you always
have to take off more parts than you want to! You may even have to
take the board out to do it.

BUT, if you aren't familiar with soldering, I don't recommend you do it
yourself. Soldering seems so trivial but doing it well is an art form -
and it needs to be done well, with a proper soldering iron. Also, there
absolutely is a direction to the tube! If you put one or both in
backwards, you will have much bigger problems than you have now.
You have to look very carefully at the interior parts of the tube and
match the new one up with the old one. Bend and cut all the pins such
that it mimics the old one as close as possible before soldering it in.
Take your time doing this - it will save you a big headache when you go
to solder them in. And be sure to take lots of pictures of everything
before you take anything apart, so you can remember how it all goes
back.

Arthur

aball

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Owner
Ah Andy, I didn't know your username. You little prankster!

aball

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Owner
Schubert - Ha! Well it all started off cheap and little,
and gradually got built up.

Agear - Sorry to break it to you, but the money came from
very hard work. I got a big scholarship right out of high
school because of my excellent grades. I chose to go into a
technical field that would give me a future. While doing my
BA in mechanical engineering I was a European-collector-car
mechanic and repaired cars in the evenings after classes.
Then as I worked on my BA in electrical engineering I was
hired by a French manufacturing firm that built electric
airport baggage tractors. I took an average of 20 hours a
semester and worked part time on top of that. I finished
both degrees in 6 years, and because of my breadth of
knowledge and GRE scores, I landed three research
fellowships during my grad student years that covered more
than my living costs. During that time, I leveraged my EE
knowledge by buying broken electronics, repairing them,
using them in my stereo and then selling them. This money
was recycled into my stereo while keeping me totally debt
free. My parents never paid a dime for any of my schooling
– I did it all by myself. When I finished my PhD, I was
immediately hired as a senior design engineer and got a
large sign-on bonus. That’s when I bought the Nanos. I
don’t appreciate the failure to realize that it took
thousands of late nights working very hard to get what I
have today. Getting here didn’t fall from the sky, nor did
it come from illicit gains. It simply came from tireless
determination and making the right decisions.

aball

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Owner
Hi Brian, thanks for the update. I'm planning on selling one of my amps and replacing its spot in the rack with a Furman, most likely. I've been eyeing the IT20i for years now - it would be about time I finally try one.

Arthur

aball

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Owner
Bonjour Rex - oui ça serait avec plaisir. Regardez votre émail car mon ami vous a répondu avec mon adresse pour me rejoindre. Je vous appellerai depuis mon bureau puisque à la maison je n'ai qu'un portable qui revient trop cher a utiliser. Je serai de retour au travail mercredi prochain après le nouvel an. A très bientôt et je vous souhaite bonne année!

Arthur

aball

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Owner
AGs are interesting because it's hard to predict which amps will sound great and which won't. Hunches and desires don't always match up with reality. I thought I might be crazy for getting a 450W amplifier for them but I'll tell you what, they sing beautifully with my MC452. It's really unbelievable. My favorite reviewer Roy Gregory is famous for saying (although Chris Binns says it too) that high power amps can't sound agile and quick. Well that's not true at all with the McIntosh. On the other hand, we felt sure the WAVAC 300B integrated would be killer, and it wasn't nearly as good as expected. It just sounded vague and confused, with prominent lower-mid bloat.

I don't move the speakers around much anymore - their positions are dictated more by the room than the components - but I do change toe-in for each amp. The Nanos have a superbly even lateral response so it becomes clear very quickly when the toe is off (at least to my ears). Their only anomaly is in the presence region but adjusting for that is even clearer.

I've always wanted to try the Lamm ML2, especially since I have a fascination with the 6C33 tube, but I haven't. At this point, I'm too satisfied with what I have to try anything else.

aball

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Owner
Actually, it makes them good to judge ALL aspects. I'll try to give a brief explanation why: Resolution is a combination of bandwidth and dynamic range. Their bandwidth is similar to any good full-range speaker. However, their dynamic range is roughly 4x greater, which in turn makes their resolution 4x greater! Dynamic range is the scale of signal magnitude that is possible. The beauty of high sensitivity is that not only can that magnitude be great (with little power) but, more importantly, it can be very low without hitting the driver/motor limitations. This low-level information is what creates dynamic shading and microdynamics, both of which are critical in conveying emotion and flow of music.

When the speaker's capability is lower than the amplifying components’, then the speaker limits the quantity of information you can hear. This is the typical case of most systems because speakers have a very tough job, and designing drivers for very low distortion at low signal levels is extremely challenging.

But when the opposite is true, then what you hear is the sound signature of the amplifiers themselves. Suddenly, you can truly hear all aspects of the amplifiers for the first time, what their microdynamic capability is, what their dynamic shading capability is, and what kind of noise floor they have. Macrodynamics get reproduced regardless, so these are the determining factors. Only the latter of those three is potentially bad, but the other two have such huge implications in the reproduction of music, that the extra hassle of finding a well-designed amplifier is more than worth it. When less information is lost, all aspects of the musical performance are improved.

aball

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Owner
Yes, the Classe was a bummer. But alas, they won't all be winners. The Plinius Mk3 also had a high noise floor - not quite like the Classe but still too high for the Nanos. It's kind of funny that their dynamic range can't even compare to my tube amps.

I've read some say it's the speakers' fault for having such high sensitivity, but that's like saying it's ok for people to steal from you if you don't know it's happening. Besides, it's clear I haven't had much difficulty finding amplifiers that are well designed. If their fundamentals aren't right, then their singing won't be either.

aball

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Owner
I tried a Classe CA2200 to see how it compares to the 452 and, it didn't. It has a very high noise floor that is totally obvious on horn speakers. With the music paused, the 452 is absolutely dead silent with my head in the horn, whereas I could heard the CA2200 from the next room! It's literally that bad. I peered into it with a flashlight and confirmed that it's a cheap power supply with a small transformer for a 200W amp. It looks and sounds to me like B&W is boosting their profit margins to Classe's detriment.

Turning it up loudly to swamp out the noise revealed a pretty nice midrange, tight bass that is light and shallow, and a treble that isn't very nuanced - although the high noise floor was probably the reason for that. On a friend's Wilsons, the noise floor was acceptable so I'm confident the amp was operating normally. But one thing is for sure, it's no McIntosh design. The Mc is more expensive but it sounds so much better and is so much better built, it isn't even funny. And that's too bad because Classe used to make really classy stuff I enjoyed a lot in the past. But it sounds like times have changed.

aball

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Owner
Hey Brian, same to you! As a matter of fact, I thought of you the other day. I remember a long time ago we were talking about the sound of McIntosh SS amps and you mentioned you felt they had a recessed midrange. Now that I'm back to having a big Mc, your thought came to mind and I wondered whether you would still feel that way when hearing one of these new ThermalTrak amps. Then I thought back to my MC202 which I absolutely agree was laid back with recessed mids - and recessed highs as well! I just never liked the autoformer amps as much as their direct-coupled ones.

Compared to my tube amps, the 452 still doesn't have an upfront presentation, favoring instead to focus on an expansive stage, which suits classical music perfectly. Actually concerts in general are well suited by this "you are there" presentation style.

On its own merit however, the 452 strikes a beautiful set of virtues. I listened that night to Rickie Lee Jones, Neko Case and lots of Greg Brown and was totally consumed by the emotional connection and the "they are here" feeling, proving the mids are no longer recessed per se. I'm constantly impressed by this amp's range of capability. Not soft and not laid back - yet liquid and natural. It's the finest balance I've heard yet. The 601s my buddy has are the same way, so I expect it's the new BJTs. In any case, we all agree it was exactly the right direction of change for McIntosh, and I'm really impressed with it. I no longer believe in the value of auditions, so I bought it sound unheard. Luckily it has turned out to be a perfect fit for my system, and for me.

Arthur

aball

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Owner
Thanks! The posts couldn't be recovered. Oh well, starting off fresh is fine - I'm not so sure anyone ever read all the old stuff anyway. Many people don't even read the main summary as it is.

I'm always amazed how little time most people spend on speaker placement. They just plop them down based on where they 'look' good, and then spend tons of money finding gear to make them work in those spots, when in many instances, some readjustment of the speakers would have taken care of the bulk of the problems! All for free! It's a benefit that should never be underestimated or overlooked, and should always be the starting point when setting up a system - once the right size speaker has been chosen, but that's a whole other discussion.

aball

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Owner
Thanks! I regularly alter toe-in. Pretty much each amp requires it slightly differently for soundstaging to be just right. Even certain cable swaps will require a change. So you're right - it is critical to get this right! It always is with successful speaker designs. However generally speaking, they're in the range where they point just off the sides of my shoulders.

I have tried crossing them in front of me on many occasions, with a bunch of amplifiers and sources, and it does work super well with certain systems. Overall I found they sounded best that way when I had the speakers far out into the room, listening in the nearfield. When I pushed them away from me, I was able to get them to work similarly well with about the same angle, except crossing behind me instead. I simply readjusted the subwoofers to compensate for the increase in bass the corners gave me.

When I get a new component, I will move the speakers all over the place and even try wacky positions just to see what happens. This in turn allows me to optimize their positions for that particular system. That's when I really learn the most. I do the same thing when I setup stereo systems for family and friends. I have to get an excellent feel for the room and the equipment to determine the best arrangement.

aball

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Owner
I use all 5 of my amps - both McIntoshes, the Kora Aries,
the Unison S2 and the Linear A. I'll use one for 1 or 2
months and then swap it out for another to enjoy a new
perspective. In the summer I only really use the 452 or the
Aries because the others throw off so much heat.

The 452 is way overkill on AGs: It is the equivalent of
using a 35,800W (yes, 35.8kW) amplifier on typical monitor
speakers of 89dB and 4 Ohms! But I'll tell you what, it is
magical. The 452 makes the 301 sound like the world's
finest turntable - without all the noise, wow and flutter.
It is fantastic. These new ThermalTrak amps are a big leap
in performance over the previous McIntosh SS amps. It's no
wonder Charlie Hansen of Ayre chose the same devices for his
MX-R monoblocks.

Thanks for the invite! Likewise, you can come by and hear
my system with any amps you want, and then we can go to my
neighbor's so you can see his Lamborghinis! There are lots
of great driving roads around here. I'm a huge BMW fan and
fully exploit the back roads for maximum enjoyment. I'm
only a half-hour from the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is very
scenic and fun despite the low speed limit.

aball

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Owner
Sure, come on over!  I'm part of a little audio club here so you can check out a lot more than just my system if you like.  I'll email you.

I don't use the EL84 amp in the summer - it's a veritable space heater.  But you're right, it's a wonderful tube that does so much right and so little wrong.  It's my favorite of all power tubes.

aball

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Owner
System edited: I have added my audio racks to my equipment
list. I have been asked about them many times before and
kept forgetting to add them till now.

My audio room dimensions are at the bottom of the list.

Thanks for the compliments! Arthur

aball

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Owner
I summarized my room treatment experience in the system write-up. I had a full set of Room Tunes, big bass traps a friend made, I also made some with the Corning 704 (I think that was it) and had them all over the place. I also had diffusion panels.

I did all this back when I had my Focal speakers and it helped somewhat. My bass problem was mainly a peak at 38Hz and it takes gigantic bass traps to fix that. I'd no longer have room left for my stereo! So I used what I had and it helped a bit.

The mids and highs never seemed to need much but I figured it had to be better with all this extra stuff on the walls, right? Well, it was, I think. Measurements seemed to indicate it but even that is a mixed bag because the error is on the order of the a clearly-audible 0.5dB difference. So effectively the measurements are in the noise.

What I learned from my experience was that ears are a better judge of performance than a graph (once you've heard many stereo systems), diffusion works better than absorption, there's not much you can do to fix deep bass problems, and it's easy to fall in the trap of fixing problems that actually don't need fixing.

I changed all that when I got the Uno Nanos. They solved my issues by: having adjustable bass that allows for incremental adjustments of less than 0.5dB at both ends of the bandwidth, have directional horns that won't cause reflections in the first place, and have sealed bass so I wouldn't have a hump at 38Hz (ports are nothing but trouble). These three things did what no quantity of room treatments could have done with my old speakers.

The point is it takes a lot of fine tuning the speakers before you should do anything else. I spend months getting speakers just right, literally. I have setup systems for friends of mine (who don't have Nanos) and it always takes many visits before I'm done fine tuning. Few people spend that kind of time and I can't figure out why - it costs nothing! I actually change toe-in each time I change amps. Each amp has it's own way of setting up the soundstage and I like it a certain size, so I compensate with tiny changes in toe.

Thanks for the compliments! The plants and paintings play their role in making the room sound good. The thin rug does too. You don't really need to worry about the high-back seat. Only treble would have sufficient beaming to hit your chair, and then once it does, it's energy will be too low to have an impact. There is little energy in treble so it doesn't take much to dampen it out, especially from 3 meters away.

Arthur

aball

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Owner
System edited: I just realized I'd left off my Kora Aries! I used to have a pair with the matching Crescendo and one of my buddies begged and pleaded for almost two years for me to sell them to him, so I did. Then I regretted it and lucky for me, I found the last remaining new pair in the USA and bought them.

aball

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Owner
I really like those Wyetech monoblocks you have. Very interesting and rare amps. I take it you feel they aren't enough power for the Legacys?

aball

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Owner
Thanks. It's been a ton of fun. I used to have an 8260 and liked its sound, but it was buggy. Have you had problems with yours? Mine needed abilify or something.

I've been eyeing TVCs lately. I like the idea of the Bent Audio/Music First TAP but never made the leap. I just enjoy the Vibe too much. Passives make good sense in my stereo because I don't need much gain.

aball

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Owner
I'm very sorry to say but the new Audiogon system lost all 265 posts that went along with my system. They represented 9 years worth of information and all my system notes, but now it's gone. So I'm starting over. Feel free to ask any questions. Thanks

Arthur

aball