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.

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@aball ,
Thank You for the feedback on the W4S STP. I understand that it is a passive till a certain point and then changes to active mode - something like that. I do want to try an active preamp in my system - now that my new speakers are pretty good revealing the details.

milpai

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@aball ,
I somehow missed that you auditioned the W4S STP in your system. I am surprised that it let you down. Because 6moons is all over this preamp. Looks like they love this preamp.
So what went wrong with this preamp in your system?

milpai

128x128
Aball,
You need to really try a TVC and not a passive - especially when you have such an efficient front end. See if you can get a loaner from Music First. I love my TVC and am trying to upgrade my loudspeakers around it. The transparency on these things are phenomenal. I would have recommended the Promitheus Reference C-Core or Signature, but not sure of how their delivery times are currently. Every time these 2 come up on used markets, they get picked up fast.

milpai

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Aball,
I overlooked before, but we do have practically the same sized listening room. Mine is 12.5 X 13.5 X 9. Have to tried room treatments?
Yes, I have had to replace the laser mechanism once about 2 years back. But it is going on for now and will remain in the system as long as I don't find a dedicated SACD player which has CD/SACD/HDCD with Digital Input capability for under $4K, or till it breaks down.
Though my speakers are average efficiency, the TVC works well, since the Amp has high sensitivity. And with my new room and layout, it is as if I am listening to a new music system.
BTW, I like the way you have presented your room. Very beautiful.

milpai

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Aball,
I am sorry to hear about your lost posts. But that is one envious system and your past equipment list. Keep it up!!

milpai