This is a living room system with a digital source. Currently a streamer with cd transport removed. The amp is a 300B SET circuit by JC Morrison, modified and built by Blackie Pagano, with one half of a 6SN7 direct-coupled to the second half in the driver stage. There is a cap in the signal path. Right now, I have an Audio Note silver cap in there. My current tube compliment: Side Getter Short Bottle RCA 6SN7 GT, Takatsuki TA-300, and RCA 5R4. The amp has Tango NY15 3.5S output transformers and strong, choke-filtered power.
The speakers are Cain & Cain IM Bens with 6.5" Fostex drivers and super tweeters. Bass is augmented with two Cain & Cain Bailey subwoofers each powered by a Dayton plate amp.
In 2015 I went from a dedicated, very small room, to a much larger living room. This has its positives and negatives. It is not always convenient finding opportunities to listen to loud music in a shared living space but the system sounds better now than it did in that tiny room.
My source is an Emm Labs DCC2SE with a blue sound node 2i as a transport and a streamer.
When I am not listening to speakers, I listen to headphones. When I am not listening to the large system, I also have a smaller desktop system in an office. The speakers are very old Klipsch KM2, in need of upgrading. I use a Moon Audio Dragon IHA-1 for headphones and as a preamp with a Peter Daniel Patek Gainclone for power. A Cambridge Audio DacMagic output to the IHA-1.
Backloaded Horn 6 inch Fostex 168E Sigma driver plus super tweeter. This is the intermediate size double horn by Cain & Cain. For bass duties, there are two Bailey Subwoofers with two Dayton SP250 plate amplifiers. The Bens are running full range through the plate amps.
Custom Amp 300B SET
Dual mono custom 300B SET built by Blackie Pagano. Tango NY15 3.5S output iron, separate power and signal chassis.
Tubesville by Blackie Pagano Duality
Another shot of the signal chassis
Tango NY15 3.5S
Output transformer upgrade installed by Steve Berger.
Emm Labs DCC2 SE
Signature Edition DAC/Preamp
Emm Labs CDSD SE
Signature Edition CDSD redbook/SACD transport
47 Labs Ota
Single strand copper
47 Labs Ota
My favorite interconnect.
ATS Acoustics Acoustic panels and bass traps
2' by 2' panels and bass traps. I suppose the artwork is a kind of diffusion...
ATS Acoustics Acoustic panels and bass traps
2' by 2' panels and bass traps
Audio Note Silver/Mylar Capacitor
%99.99 pure silver capacitor.
Audio Sector Patek SE
50 WPC Gainclone built by Peter Daniel. A nice solid state backup/alternative.
Disc player used as a transport and music streamer.
Moon Audio Dragon Inspire IHA-1
This is tube preamp/headphone amp. I really enjoy it in my desktop system.
Cambridge Audio Dacmagic 100
A general purpose DAC with lots of switchable inputs. Desktop system. I am using three out of the four inputs, USB from Mac Mini, SPDIF from Direct TV box, and TOS from Xbox.
I love these headphones. They sound great with both the Moon Audio IHA-1 or the Tubesville amp. Paired with a Kimber Axios Copper cable.
At the moment I am glad the weekend is here and I am listening to Streets of Dreams by Grant Green. What a fantastic album. Just a couple of comments on tubes: I switched out the drivers to the old Sylvania “bad boy” bottom getters from the 40s and I observed that they do miss out on a good bit of bass and low mid info. They have a very nice clarity and airiness always. But switching to the RCA side getter gives a bit more oomph on the low mid and bass. With a less smooth sound in the high end. I wouldn’t normally comment on the sound of an album I am just enjoying. But in this case the difference is significant and clearly audible in the bass pedals of Larry Young’s organ. Much better with the RCA. Sadly Bobby Hutchersons vibes are harder edged with the RCA. I guess you can’t have it all!! This will do for now though.
Ok. Let’s try this again. I went the full 80/100 on my speaker placement. Where distance between speakers is 80% of the distance to the listening chair. The math was easy because the chair is 10’. So the speakers are 8’ apart.
This is the way. I don’t know why I resisted this relatively common approach to speaker positioning. It works really well and my set up is symmetrical so why wouldn’t it? Maybe I was in the habit of keeping the physical footprint of the system as small as possible (a remnant from living in a Queens apt for so many years?). Should have gone this big years ago. This is how it should sound.
Further refinements: speakers are now 10’ away from listening position and 7.5’ apart. Increasing speaker separation by such a large margin had significant impact on the sound. I definitely prefer it. More instrument separation, reduced smearing, and more clarity. Dynamics are also improved. The soundstage depth, width, and height remains approximately the same. But the interaction between the two speakers is significantly reduced so the sound is more open and gives the impression of bigger sound particularly in the mid range. These are large speakers and require space between them as well as space from walls. In this case I think further apart from each other is better than further from walls. I would encourage anyone to make these kinds of adjustments. You never know what improvements/changes will result.
Currently listening/testing with XLO Test CD (nerd!!). But also enjoying Bach Partitas, Badly Drawn Boy, and Sonny Rollins.
I just reinstalled the 300b back in the system and it is a very big difference. Much, much better than the “B set up.” Which isn’t to say the Had/Patek combo sounds bad. It is simply that the 300b makes it very difficult to listen to anything else because it leaves a lasting impression. A very good but still inferior amp remains inferior for weeks and months after. This is different from changing tubes or cables because you can forget what was different. But the entire time the other amp and preamp were in there I felt like something was missing. I imagine changes in sources and speakers can have the same effect and I will find out soon enough as a Denafrips Venus 2 is on the horizon. I will look forward to seeing if the old Emm Labs DAC has finally been outstripped.
In rotation: singles: Pretenders Disintegration: the Cure Viva Hate: morrissey. Disintegration is really a masterpiece. And is sounds amazing on a good system but it is not a test CD. It is far too emotionally involving to “test your system” with it. I say this because this is the last night I will spend with the Dennis Had preamp and Patek SE combo in my main system for a long while. Picking up the number one amp from repairs tomorrow. Just getting some last few hours with the very worthy “B” system and listening to some variety. I would recommend anyone put a new amp in there just to check it out every now and then. But I will be very glad to have the 300B back in there after a month out of commission. Just loving this amazing album by the cure. It immediately takes you away to an emotional place and you can listen to it straight through and feel as though you’ve been through something at the end.
Added a Bluesound Node2i to the system. After some hiccups with getting the right streaming service, I think I like it. For $550, I think it is worth having. I need to do a direct comparison with the Oppo, but if the sound is basically a lateral move, I will keep it. The interface and user experience is notably better with the Node than the Oppo. After some small issues with the 300B amp, I switched it out with the IHA-1 and Patek Amp combo. It sounds great!! I will bring the 300B to my repair person in Troy, NY for service and get it back in as soon as possible. I am glad to have a backup system and I recommend it to anyone!!!
Currently listening to Lana Del Rey, Sugarcubes, and one song, Paradise Circus, by Massive Attack. Enjoying some female voices at the moment.
It’s all Monk all the time right now. Exploring the entire list available to me on TIDAL. Currently listening to Monk and Sonny Rollins. It is amazing. Their styles compliment each other so well. The frenetic action from the very first track is uplifting. And the sound is enormous and super clean. It must have been a pretty lively room where they recorded it and you can hear the reverb on the recording. This is another nice thing about the album. It is wonderful.
Speakers are now 10’ away from the listening position and 6.5’ apart. I will keep it this way for a while. When I was sitting two feet forward (8’ away) the sound was lean, bright, and missing the impact of a large speaker system. I think this is because I was completely missing the sound coming from the horns of the speaker. At 10’ the sound is louder, bigger, and better balanced. I am so happy with this. It has taken me years to find the correct configuration. I removed some bookcases from behind the speakers and moved the subwoofers. It sounds huge like this. Reviewing my notes from prior posts I find that the shortcomings I was describing were the direct result of sitting too close for the horns to integrate.
Currently listening to The Undivided Five by A Winged Victory for the Sullen. It is a big sounding recording and I am enjoying the way my system presents it.
Speaker positioning is very difficult. For a while I had
my speakers 5' apart with the listening seat 8' away from each driver. 5'
apart was kind of arbitrary: distance from the nearest wall was the only
determining factor and the speakers were nearly 6' away from the
nearest wall. I determined the distance
from the speaker by moving the chair back and forth to get a sound I like. My
preferred sound has a "headphone like" quality: where the
speakers and even the room almost disappear. It is like being in an
entirely different space. There was something about this sound that was
not quite right, though. It was very "bubble like" and sounded
a bit constrained. I felt like I was missing something I can only describe
So I made a pretty drastic change by moving the speakers 6’ apart
and put the chair 9’ away from the speakers.Changing position by just one foot made a big difference.It was
like extending the size of the bubble of sound forward and more wide.There was also a nice addition of impact and
power that I feel like I was missing.The
sound coalesced into a more impactful package.My room constraints do not allow me to move too much further from the
speakers but one day I will rearrange everything and give it a try.The downside is that there is a very small
amount of shout in the upper midrange when played a higher levels (75-78 db
peaks).I only listened for about 2
hours with this new configuration so I am trying to figure it out.
Suffice it to say, changing speaker positioning can update a
system a lot more than changing downstream components.
Herbie's Gliders under the main speakers and subwoofers has made a nice improvement in imaging and detail. The sound is more open and removes "smearing." I also placed some 1/2" risers under the mains feet to place the main driver on the same plane as my ears. The short RCA with side getter sounds very good. Very nice balanced sound with nice detail. This is my new favorite tube in the driver stage. I have also stuck with RCA 5R4 ST shape. It sounds great.
Listening to Bill Frisell "Blues Dream." One of my very favorite albums. Also listening to A Winged Victory For the Sullen. Until I signed up for TIDAL, I had never heard of this group. Really enjoy them in the evenings.
NEXT UP: Oiled Cotton Jacketed Duelund tinned copper speaker wire. Right now I am using 12ga Blue Jeans copper wire (I think Belden makes it). The system sounds really, really good now and I probably don't need to work on it much more. But maybe the Duelund wire will be good. And it is relatively inexpensive.
Very happy with how the system is sounding at the moment with the normal criticisms remaining. I have known this system for a long time and I am more satisfied with its strengths than frustrated by its weaknesses.
After years in the this house, I have found a nice set up for the room. Speakers are more than 5' from the nearest wall. 5' apart from each other, and I sit 8' away. This has made a nice improvement in the sound stage. I am getting that 'being there' sound as well as the in your head sound of horns, with none of the transistor radio sound for which BLH speakers are known. This will always be a scooped system, I think. A bit bright, tipped up in the upper midrange and thin in the lower midrange. It sounds great, but the lower midrange is the system's failing. I recently switched from Sylvania (an inherently bright tube) to RCA with very nice results. The subwoofers are very well integrated at this point and provide great bass presence and power.
I also installed HiFi Tuning Supreme fuses in the amp. They are relatively new with approx. 8 hrs on them. They actually had a pretty significant impact. I had one original fuse of unknown make and another scavenged from a guitar amp, also unknown make. Putting in two fuses of the same make in a dual mono amp, made the left and right channels match up better, improving the listening experience quite a lot. Tonally, I am not sure. I don't have enough hours listening to be able to judge but I am enjoying the sound very much.
I have Herbie's Audio threaded glider feet on the way to replace the stock feet (prone to bending). And I signed up for TIDAL, which is excellent!
Listening to: Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Bonobo, and Dntel lately. And Eno quite a lot as well.
Four years since my last post and I still have the same system. Upgraded headphones, obtained a new little preamp/headphone amp for a desktop system that I also set up. I still enjoy my Cain & Cain speakers but I have been listening to the desktop system a lot more. My next step will be to refine that system, perhaps with KEF bookshelf speakers. Switched back to Sylvanias in the 300B amp. In a larger room, the system has room to breathe and opens up quite a lot. Still intimate sounding, as I sit rather close, but with more presence and "room."
Having lived with the Cains for something like 7 years now, I think I am quite ready for a change. Over the next several years I will be gearing up to a full horn system, either DIY or used Avantgarde. For quite a while my sights were fixed on the Cains and on the present system. Now they are drifting into the future, at a full horn system (or at least a horn midrange and treble and a subwoofer bass).
Hi Charles, I bought the tubes used just to try it from a reputable person who told me it was about a month old. So I figure they were burned in, but not over worked. It is definitely possible that they are not fully burned in, though. How much time does one really put on one's gear over a month? Unfortunately, I am not that interested in finding out with these tubes. Mostly, I don't want to have to listen to them during the burn-in time! I think, more than likely, it is the second option you mentioned that makes them sound bad. There must be something about the design of my amp and the tube itself that makes for a bad combination. I will post these on a few websites and see if I can offload them.
The Shuguang CV181 50 yrs. Treasure is anything but a treasure for me. It is a poor-sounding tube in my system. Compared to all of my NOS tubes: Sylvania GTA, GT, 5692, Tung Sol GTA, Ken Rad VT231, Brimar CV1988, it has worse tonal balance, less resolution, less speed, poor soundstage... The tonal balance is focused on the lower half of the spectrum and is very thick-sounding with unnaturally heavy bass. There is good detail in the midrange but it is not as balanced as the NOS tubes. I purchased this tube because of a glowing review it received on the TNT website. The review was from 2009 and the reviewer stated that the Shuguang sounded better than the Brimar CV1988. I can't imagine how or why he came to such a conclusion. His system must be very different from mine because the Shuguang tube does not even come close to the Brimar (the Assemblage 300B he was using had a single 6SN7 as the first stage driver and two 6BX7s in the second stage, I believe). In my system, the Brimar is more refined, cleaner, faster, better balanced, more open, and more harmonically sophisticated. It is very difficult to describe accurately the sound of "optimized" SET amplifiers. There is something special about the harmonic refinement and "sophistication" of good SET. I find that the Shuguang tube destroys this sophistication in my system and makes it a bit of a mess. At all volumes it makes pretty unappealing sound.
Sylvania 5692 are OK, but they lack the air of the Sylvania GT. They are a bit too thick in the low-mid and upper bass. I would consider the 5692 a warmer tube than the GT. Of course, the GT is a brighter tube in general but it is more balanced than the 5692. The Syl is more revealing than the 5692. For a less direct sound, the 5692 might be a good option. The fact is, however, the brightness of the GT is never fatiguing. It is simply more beautiful with more detail and airiness with solid, smooth, low mids and clean bass. I will try the Shuguang 50 years treasure CV181 next.
Briefly put in Tung Sol tall, triangle plate, 6SN7s. The sound was bright, even brighter than the chrome top Sylvania. They have a nice airy quality and are very fast. There is also a good bit of impact to these tubes, dynamics are good. But the sound is too bright and even became a bit harsh. At higher volumes 75-80 db, these tubes are not comfortable to listen to. At lower volumes <60 db, they are quite nice. These tubes cost me $60/pair. It is a reasonable cost to find out I don't like them all that much. Next up are Sylvania 5692.
Just put in Sylvania, "T" plate, bottom getter, 6sn7 GTAs. They sound GREAT! I will live with this for a while, I think. Difference between bottom getter "T" plate (BG) and top getter "Chrome Dome: (TG)" More liquid and lush midrange in the BG with a thicker, more intense sound. Seemingly louder with more harmonic richness (distortion). The best way to describe the sound is "thicker" and "fatter." The TG has a much more delicate, cleaner sound, but it is also more laid back and less powerful. The detail with the TG is more discernible than with the BG. In fact, the difference is similar to switching from copper to silver in the coupling capacitors. The BG tube has more detail than the copper cap (thanks, I'm sure, to the silver cap still being in the circuit) but there is a similar "thickness" to the BG tube. This seems to bring out the best in the system as a whole. I like the combination of the strong midrange with the cleanliness of the silver caps and TA300B. The BG tubes really seem to give the sound more power.
I really like these tubes in my system. They give it that little something extra. The combination of delicate, clear, fast sound from the top getter 6SN7 "Chrome Dome" and the silver capacitors, and the very detailed TA300B pushed the system in a very "dry" direction. Especially for an all tube system. The bottom getter GTA adds some of the lushness and life without sacrificing too much clarity.
I can understand the preference for copper. It had a nice sound. Plenty of detail with beautiful, lush sound. But for my preference (detail and speed from an all-tube amp), the silver caps are ideal. I'm certainly curious about other caps, but it really becomes a difficult proposition as I have no experience with building. From my memory, the Audionote copper foil in oil caps sounded better than the Jensens. Unfortunately, those went bad.
I definitely prefer the AN caps. They really do improve on every aspect of the sound. It is smoother and cleaner and faster. More detail and resolution and an overall more open sound. Dynamics are also improved. I think that it is a superior cap in every way. Of course, they better be considering the price. I hope it is not the expense and "newness" that is telling me that the AN are better, but I don't really think there is much question regarding the quality and the improvement. While I imagine that someone might prefer the sound of the Jensen copper caps, I don't think it would be because they sound better on a "technical" level. It would have to be because of a preference for increased warmth and a more rolled of presentation.
If you can use the Jensens and would like to try them out, I'd be happy to pop them in the mail for you. I think they are .25 uf and 630v. It looks like you use a coupling cap with a different value. Also, the vCaps are pretty hard to beat, I'll bet.
I recently went to a friends house who has a very nice system set up. Two large public announcement horns from the mid-twentieth century (I think, I can't remember). They were pretty big but are technically mid-horns, I think. They were crossed over at something like 125hz to a big cube-shaped subwoofer with small, bullet-tweeters hanging below the horns. He once had a very large system of horns (including bass horns) but these two mid horns are the ones that remain. Hooked up to Welborne Labs Moondog 2A3 amps. With a transformer based attenuator. He was using computer-as-source with Audiovarna software.
What an interesting sound true horns make! It took me a while to get into it, but eventually I was captivated. They have an extreme immediacy and speed. They did not have any soundstage to speak of, no "spacial cues," the midbass and lowbass integration was off-kilter, there were railroad spikes in the treble. They had laser-beam-like focus making the sweet spot about the width of a human head. It was as if all recordings were mono recording. Still, I was pretty overcome by the quality of the sound. I think because of the immediacy and the "in-the-head" presentation. The female voice was quite amazing.
I have heard systems with multiple big cone drivers that sound distant and un-involving that do all those soundstage things right and have all the frequencies there, that are flat and "measure right." His was the opposite of that. But it was as involving as any system I have heard (with the right music). I do believe that anyone who gave themselves to the music, rather than "what they were hearing" would realize that horns have a great deal to offer. And maybe the multi-way cone driver systems are lacking in that most important quality of musicality.
When I came home I listened to my system and found that I still loved it. That it offered the same kind of immediacy as his horns but with a bit more of that "audiophile" stuff. My system does not have the same kind of dynamics as the horns and are far less efficient. And it does not get that last bit of immediacy that probably separates horns from cone speakers. But I think, in my small room, it is as captivating as the horn system.
One conclusion I have reached is that this small room is a blessing in disguise. The speakers are not too large for it. On the contrary, the smallness of the room actually gives the speakers a more intimate sound.
My friend will soon have an open baffle woofer system in place that will probably put his system over the edge and have me searching audiogon for some Avantgardes!
I reintegrated computer-as-source into my system. This makes things easier for some casual listening. I quite enjoy the sound. Listening a lot more to the Peter Daniel Patek SE Gainclone lately. It has a good, clean sound. It can be a bit peaky and dry and is not as refined or musical as the 300B, but it does plenty of good things. There is a pretty significant difference between Apple Lossless through TOSlink and the CDSDSE transport.
The subwoofers really make a big difference in the overall tone and presentation of the system. The music has significantly more impact. With body and depth. I have it conservatively set up somewhere near 100hz with the gain set just on the threshold. I have found that this is ideal for me. In addition, getting the ports of the subwoofer away from the wall and pointed more into the room made for significant improvements over having the ports pointed directly at two bass traps. When the ports were facing the bass traps, all of the bass dispersed along the walls! Strange to have no bass in the middle of the room and booming, unnaturally loud bass along the walls.
I have been listening to a lot of music and have not been active on the forum but I wanted to update the thread. I like the convenience of computer-as-source, but it does not cut it for attentive listening. I think of my system now as two systems in one. The 300B, Compact Disc system and the Patek SE, computer system. Lately it has been all computer as I only recently set up the computer. Happy with it!
I would like to get some other gear in here for comparison.
System edited: Added Cain and Cain Bailey Subwoofers with Dayton SPA250 plate amps. The improvement with the subs is not subtle at all. They integrated extremely easily, though I had to move the speakers a bit. The subs provide an incredible amount of scale to the sound of the system. I am pleasantly surprised. I expected more bass impact, but what I got was more bass "presence" similar to treble "presence." The bass is not overpowering; it is simply correct and "there." I don't plan on any upgrades in the future so I moved the system in the "done for now" category.
Elvin Jones is one of my all-time favorite drummers. I am listening to him as I type this. A really nice album he recorded with Bill Frisell and Dave Holland. Through headphones, actually. I am really enjoying headphones lately, by the way. A good way to test out tonal changes when tube rolling or capacitor changing. With a headphone like the HD800, soundscape cues are much more noticeable than with other headphones. I love the sound of mine. They were "cold" because I was listening to my speaker rig so much and neglected them for about two months. But they have really found a nice voice after several hours of running.
Jet, I was not a good drummer! In fact, I got kicked out of that band! It did require quite a bit of kinetic energy. I was more of a basher. I never developed my skills enough to use the drums as a musical instrument, a la the late great Paul Motian.
I have sat in just about every section of Carnegie Hall and I am also a fan of the balconies. There was a time when Keith Jarrett brought his great trio to Carnegie Hall every year during the late 90's and early 2000's. My girlfriend at the time and I used to go every year. What a great time that was. I saw so many great acts there. I also really like Zankel Hall next door to the Stern Auditorium.
Thank you so much for those classical recommendations. I can't wait to check them out. I am a bit of an ignoramus when it comes to classical music. But that Mussorgsky really made an impression on me.
Interesting to hear your comparison with the Abbys. I have a pair of Omega Grande 6Rs and they have the same driver as the Abbys in Fortapache's system. I imagine that the driver has a big influence on the super fast, light-textured sound. It is a very clear sound that is a bit low on texture and body for me (although I imagine that the Voight pipe design of the Abby adds plenty over the bass reflex design of the Omega). It is my understanding that the Abbys really benefit from a subwoofer.
I am really excited to get the dual subwoofers going. If I am honest, even my double horn speakers leave me wanting a little more on the bottom. The midrange through the highest registers is truly astounding. I feel that once I get the subwoofers well integrated I will be on an even higher plane of enjoyment.
Regarding the AN silvers: I was listening to the Miles Davis Bootleg series, Vol. 1. 1967: the great quintet with Shorter, Carter, Hancock, and Tony Williams. Tony Williams' ride cymbal is very bright. I think it is probably an inherently bright recording, but it also indicates to me that the caps might still be a little raw. They also require a good bit of warmup. My amp sounds distinctly better after about six hrs. of run in. I am still VERY much enjoying them, though. Lots of detail, clarity, and speed. But always with very smooth, lovely harmonics.
Thanks for all your insight! I definitely hope to see you soon and check out your system!
Hey Jet! Thanks so much for your comments. Really interesting career! That info regarding studio playback is particularly useful to me. I played drums in a blues band in college, so I know what that can sound like. I have some hearing damage in my right ear from crushing the ride cymbal a little too much. Does not present much of a problem because my brain is used to it. My favorite venue is the Vanguard. One of my most distinct memories is sitting in the front row during a Joe Lovano show and feeling the breath from the sax on my face! What an experience. And what great sound.
I have not had too much trouble with the sound of my system. A live orchestra in the 8th row is definitely a reality check, though, isn't it? I would say that my system presents orchestras more in the very rear of the hall! It does sound really good, in my opinion. I am getting more and more intrigued by Audio Note, though. The problem for me is that those AN-Es probably cost more than my speakers and amp combined!
My dream speakers are probably the Avantgarde Duo Omegas. From everything I have read they seem like the ideal speaker for me. I think that my Cains with tweeter and subwoofers will approach that kind of sound, but I think ignorance will be bliss until I can get enough cash together to upgrade. Maybe someday, maybe never. Until then I am happy, though.
As always, very "sound" comments, Charles. Indeed, I am not too worried about it. I have two subwoofers on the way as well, hoping they will arrive sometime next week. They are already two months delayed! I am wondering if the subwoofers will offer a little more bottom and spacial magnitude to the sound, which I think will help on the orchestral pieces. If I am honest I never listen at sustained 85db levels with 90-95db peaks. My idea of "rocking out" is somewhere in the vicinity of 75-80 with it *rarely* peaking over 85. And every jazz album I have sound great. I am hoping the subs make everything even more realistic. Once the subs come in, I will likely move the system to the "Done for Now" section.
Recently, I went to see Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Also featured was a piece by Ravel that I loved and in between a more modernist piece featuring three solo cellos. We were in the 8th Row, orchestra level, on the right side of the stage.
I must say, the sound was incredible and far beyond the capabilities of my system. My memory constantly fails me, but the lasting impression was that of DYNAMICS and MAGNITUDE. Incredible dynamics. And perfect (obviously) detail and coherence. There were moments when the music was filling my head in the way that headphones fill the head, but there was also huge sound hitting the body and running through the floorboards and the seat. It was a visceral, full body experience. I would guess that the SPL peaked above 100db where I was sitting and during the most powerful sections. I am curious to know what it would take to replicate the sound (with all of its coherence, dynamics, detail) and volume of that orchestra in that hall in one's home. I would think multiple drivers, lots of power, and very good crossover networks.
Switching back to my system, I attempted to reach SPL levels approaching what I heard at the show. Negative, Ghost Rider! My single-driver, backloaded horns are not equipped to handle anything approaching a complicated, loud, orchestral piece at those kinds of volumes. The single driver simply gets overwhelmed. Compression sets in and details are completely lost. It becomes a "wall of noise" situation. I would guess that my system maxes out at about 90db sustained, probably closer to 85db when we are talking about a full orchestra. Transient peaks are easy. A full orchestra is not. I am not sure orchestral works will ever sound good on my system.
I am lucky my diet consists mainly of more readily digestible small jazz. I have found that I am able to come a lot closer to the Village Vanguard in my home than Avery Fisher Hall. And that's OK with me!
In other news, the capacitor break-in continues and they are starting to smooth out significantly. I goosed the super tweeters a little bit and they are back in the fold. I think there are still some changes on the way, but things are starting to come together. 80db sustained is now a very listenable volume. I also separated my speakers a bit. They are further apart and closer to the side walls. This gives a larger center image and the speakers breath a little more. There is more room between the instruments.
Approx 30hrs total on the new capacitors now. I am getting to the point where I can't really remember what the amp sounded like before these capacitors. Overall, the sound is very good, in my opinion. There is a lot of speed to the amp that I did not notice before. The amp really keeps up with more lively, jumpy music. The overall response is livelier. Today, I have been listening at louder volumes (75-85 db) and the speed really becomes apparent at these volumes. Detail is still there and the frequency response in the upper to lower mids is nicely balanced. There is no shout in the upper mids, which tells me that my room treatments are probably doing a good job of taming these large speakers.
At louder volumes the most noticeable problem is glare. HUGE amounts of glare at louder volumes to the point where I had to set the super tweeter at zero. This solved a good bit of the glare but reduced some of the presence. I think this is attributable to the rawness of the capacitor. I think the break-in period must continue before the sound settles in. It has that raw, hard, slightly compressed sound. I think most audio nuts are familiar with this sound because we change components so often. My problem right now is that I can't listen at louder volumes because of this glare. Loud is TOO LOUD. I think that as the capacitor breaks in, these problems will be mitigated and the capacitor will "open up," but I must watch out for this.
In the extremely early going (the first three hours), there was a very strange quality to the amp that is difficult to describe. I kept thinking to myself: "TOO MUCH AIR!" The sound was too airy. I can't really put it in any other way.
After approximately 12 hrs of running time on the capacitors and the amp, I feel as though I can give some early impressions. Basically, the amp has been running all day long now. I will shut it off before too long and rest it overnight. However, I did a do a very brief listening comparison with my Audiosector Patek SE.
The Patek SE is a 50WPC Gainclone, based on the 47 labs Gaincard. It is a dual-mono design with a separate power supply and black gate capacitors. It is a very good-sounding amplifier. It is quick and detailed. It does offer that "you are there" sensation due to the level of detail. Accurate and nice sounding. It can be a bit fatiguing due to its starkness. It is not a very romantic amplifier and has more of an analytical sound. At least to my ears. In various reviews I have read of the gaincard and the well executed gainclones, these amps are generally characterized as rather smooth. More SET-like than other SS amps. My ears are tuned to the more harmonically dense all-tube sound. So the Patek does have a bit of an etched quality to me. The sound has just a bit more hard separation of notes/instruments/voices than many tube offerings.
The Patek SE is a good antidote to the lush, "tube sound:" that sonic quality when there is too little separation of the individual sounds. You get what I call "smearing." This is when the sound is TOO harmonically dense. It is a kind of muddy sound. Very full and quite beautiful when you are not listening analytically (most of the time), but occasionally too much so. Many people characterize mid-level tube amplification (especially those that use 300Bs) as having this harmonically rich, romantic sound. Put a good SS amp like the Patek in, though, and the sound seems a bit cleaner. Like moving from a sweet, syrupy soft drink to a very cold, clean glass of water. Depending on your point of view, the "coldness" of the SS amp may seem harsh and fatiguing -or- the tube amp may seem muddy and too dense. In a single-ended, class A tube amplifier, I believe this density is due to even-order harmonics.
The ideal situation would be to have the harmonic richness of the tube amp COMBINED with the clean, fast sound of the solid state amp. And to have it in a natural, unforced way. To have all of these qualities come from ONE amp, not a combination of tube preamp and solid state power amp.
I have always thought that my custom-made 300B achieved this. It has always had the detail but with a great deal of harmonics. The Jensen Copper/Paper in oil capacitors offered these things. But they did have an added layer of harmonic density. I considered this extra density a shortcoming. Others may not. In extensive comparisons, I knew I was not missing many details. All of the information was there and it was just as accurate. But there was a bit too much density to the sound. This made the amp seem slower than I wanted. I had the silver capacitors installed in the hope that I would speed things up a little and get a bit of a cleaner sound. The results have far exceeded my desires or expectations.
After having the Audio Note Silver/Mylar capacitors installed, I have noticed a significant increase in detail over both the Jensen Capacitor and the Patek SE. What seems to have happened is that the familiar detail and harmonic richness (for lack of a better term) remain, but now, all of the harmonics seem to ALSO contain information. This is a very important distinction between the Jensen and the Audio Note. What seemed like harmonic density in the Jensen has become harmonic information in the Audio Note. So that there is not only an added layer of harmonics but those harmonics now convey the music, rather than simply reinforce the "sound." I am rather surprised by this. I may be describing something as simple as increased detail, but it would not be enough to say that details are increased because of the *density* of the details.
Improvements in all areas as significant as changing from a low-grade 300B to the Takatsuki 300B. Perhaps EVEN MORE significant (Charles, I think you will understand the seriousness of a statement like this). Different from a component change, I think. Some component changes can result in lateral differences. This is an *overall* upgrade. There is no aspect of the sound or tone of my amplifier that the Audio Note capacitors have failed to improve. To me this is shocking.
The amp is more polite, but more aggressive. Faster, but smoother. The sound stage is larger but more focused. Each instrument is more highlighted and separated, but the sound is less "etched." There is a significant improvement in bass response. The highs are a bit ragged and bitey, but I expect that this is due to lack of break-in. This would be the sole shortcoming.
I must say, I am VERY satisfied. Each improvement in the sound of my amplifier comes as a surprise to me. I am continually knocked out by the improvements that are possible even when the sound I started with was so good.
Blackie installed the capacitors last night and delivered today. I drove 5 hrs. from his shop in the E. Village to my home in the country. Current state: Three hours TOTAL running time (due to my tight schedule, Blackie could not break in), one hour on Blackie's bench, two hours here in my home. I am unable to provide proper impressions at the moment. The iron is cold, the tubes are cold, the capacitors are just this side of newborn. I can't help but smile, though, because it sounds pretty damn good.
Thanks for the info Tympani! I have been listening to my system a good bit and I have found that, with experimentation with speaker placement, seat placement, and room treatments, my soundstage problems have been significantly mitigated. In addition, soundstage changes often according to the specific recordings I am listening to. While this is obvious, I was a bit slow on the uptake and did not realize that I was asking my system to do things that the recording would not allow! It's a new room, please forgive me!
Like you, I have also found that inverting phase can alleviate collapsed soundstage issues. My DAC has this capability and I use it often.
Again, thank you, and congratulations on your wonderful system.
Recently put in Sylvania chrome top 6SN7s from the 1950s in place of the Brimar CV1988. While nearly all accounts will indicate that the Brimar is a far superior tube, I find the Sylvania captivating. It has a sparkle in the high end that I like very much. By most standards, the Brimar is better. It has a smoother top end, warmer midrange, and a more even in frequency response. The Sylvania has a tipped up treble, strong, tight bass, and scooped midrange. This seems to give the illusion that it is faster and has better dynamics. For some reason, I like this for right now. When it is driving a tube like the Takatsuki 300B, there is no fatiguing harshness up top. This is in contrast to the JJ300b, which already has a slightly ragged top end, combined with the Syl, this gave a fatiguing sound. The TA tames the Syl's slightly "hi-fi" sound.
I must also note, however, that the Sylvania is the tube that I was using forever until recently. It is a familiar sound, like an old friend. You accept and love them in spite of, or maybe even because of, their flaws. Let's not forget the classics, people!
Hi Charles. I plan on living with this sound for a little while and seeing what diffusion does in the future. From what I can gather, the thinner foam/plastic/polystyrene diffusors don't seem to do that much. The deeper skyline and QRD diffusors seem to be the more effective choice. Of course, the price is commensurate with effectiveness.
I upgraded to Tango from James brand transformers. I can't really speak very well to the change because it was so long ago. I have owned this amp for quite a long time! 8 years or so! I did the Tango upgrade nearly 5 years ago. So it is really hard to remember/judge accurately. I've been using my speakers for something like 6 years! I am quite proud that I found a sound I like and stuck with it. Not much of a revolving door of gear. Just upgrades to add refinement. And digital is always evolving, of course...
The sound is indeed very lifelike and organic. It has nice clarity, detail, and speed, but with a pretty big, robust sound. My speakers are not as ultra-hi-rez as my Sennheiser HD800 headphones. But I'm not sure I would want speakers as hi resolution as those headphones. Using the headphones I have some idea of how high bandwidth, dynamic, and musical my source and amp are. I have found that any sonic limitations I am hearing are probably on the speakers (placement, interaction with room, shortcomings of design/driver). Which isn't to say I am unhappy. Sometimes slightly less detail results in ease of listening. What the speakers do wonderfully is general immediacy, coherence of sound resulting in realism, and soundstage size and imaging. I think the speaker's largest shortcoming is the dynamic range.
Look forward to seeing the pics, Lapierre! Looking on the back of my Emm units, there is no Analog Level switch. It's OK, though, because I can't find much fault with the source.
At this point, I can honestly say that my system sounds as good as it ever has. It is truly satisfying to me. The soundstage problems I was having seemed to do with sitting in the null (ten feet from the speakers). I have only been in this room for about a week or two and it took that long to set it up. So I took pictures as soon as I thought I had reasonably good sound. Now that I have lived with it for a few days I have found it is ridiculously great to my ears. I am hoping that it can only get better as I get even more familiar with the room and treatments. I am thinking about diffusion in the future. Maybe even diffusion on all four walls in different places. My speakers are more than three feet from my back wall so the depth is there. They are about two feet from the side walls so that is less than ideal. But, again, the sound is very big and nice.
Thanks Lapierre! Your system looks great, too! And I especially enjoyed reading your thread. A lot of good info on there regarding your components and the effect each change had on your overall sound. One question: Is this high switch on your CDSA, is it only found on the CDSA? Is there an equivalent thing on the DCC2 or CDSA? I can't see anything but maybe I am missing it.
Regarding the Synergistic Research... I noticed you mentioned that there is not much increase in width of the soundstage. I have a feeling that the constrained soundstage I am hearing is a combination of two things: Room and recording.
On certain recordings, Miles Davis "On the Corner," for example, which I am listening to right now, the soundstage is cavernous. Extending far beyond the very narrow sidewalls but still with precise imaging. On a recording like Coltrane at the Village Vanguard in '62, the soundstage is rather smaller. Of course, having been to the Vanguard, I know how small a space that is. And perhaps I am simply hearing the sound of the space where the recording was made.
A very small (1 inch) amount of toe-in on my speakers tightened up the image, and actually broadened the overall presentation of the system.
In addition, changing the listening position REALLY has a major effect. I have found a good spot about 9' away from the speakers that usually works. The null is still there at around 10' away from the speakers but, again, that small amount of toe in really alleviated it.
I am thinking of experimenting with a little more changes in speaker positioning. But right now I am really enjoying the sound I am getting.
System edited: Added photos of my new room. It is a dedicated room, but very small. WAF is not an issue, but getting a large, open soundstage is. As it is set up now, the sound is robust and full with nice imaging even frequency response. The only issue I have is that the soundstage is a bit confined and there is a room null at the furthest usable point from the speakers.
Good info, Charles! It is hard to go with anything but the Takas for me, I think. When I first got them I was able to go through a relative who lives in Japan. So there were no extra costs in terms of import taxes or distributor add-ons. They ended up costing me $1400. Right now I am thinking of going through one of those services online that makes purchases in Japan on behalf of those living overseas. If I can find the right opportunity with the exchange rate I am hoping that the price difference from the RP will be a little easier to digest.
I really don't know whether the WE300B will improve with the new production. I liked them when they were noise free. However, you are certainly correct in saying that the Takatsuki bests them by a wide margin. I bought the Reissue WEs for $900/pair. I really like them at that price. But the WE websites have a price of $1200/pair. That is too much. The TA are a better deal at the approx. $1500 price. Do you think the Sophia Royal Princess is worth owning? Or would you just stick with more TA? I had the Carbon Princess by Sophia and there really is no comparison with TA. Not sure what to do with my Carbon Princess tubes now that I am spoiled by the TA.
Jetrexpro: I am also looking forward to seeing my new listening room. We do not move in until August. It will take a little while to set it up as well I think. Really looking forward to getting it together.
Charles: I have seen your comments on the Takatsukis in many places on Audiogon. Your impressions contributed to my purchase! I love these tubes. They really are amazing. There is news also that WE has moved into its new location and will soon be making their 300B again. Unless the WE is a lot more reliable with no noise (like the TA) I don't think I will purchase them. Instead, I will spend the extra money on more TA. These things have about 200 hrs on them, have stabilized, and are dead quiet. The build quality is amazing, and, most importantly, they sound incredible.
Isochronism: Yes! We have similar systems. I would love to hear those Beauhorns! The next step for me is, I think, Feastrex. I know a woodworker here in upstate NY who will build the Feastrex recommended cabinet. Or perhaps retrofit them into my Cain cabinets. I will have to see what happens. The Blackie Pagano amp truly is a work of art. It is extraordinarily good.
System edited: I recently added some new tubes, including Takatsuki 300Bs, which are extraordinarily good. The best new production 300B I have heard. The sound surpasses the reissue WE300B. I also recently added the Signature Edition Emm Labs CDSD/DCC2 combo. It sounds just great! Recently moved and I look forward to posting pictures of my dedicated listening room!
Thanks for mentioning GIK Acoustics. I looked at their website and it looks like the kind of thing I am looking for. I will give them a call and inquire. My room is rather sparsely decorated as you can see. In my previous setup I had a larger room and bookcases containing about 1000 books and 1000 CDs in the room. Those solid pine book cases stacked with different sized books made for really great room treatments. I now have the books in a different room and my CDs are in boxes awaiting a Can Am drawer system. I think acoustic panels have become a necessity.