Description

A few minor changes for 2012, but first:

When I first put this system together in 1991-2, I was driving the Martin Logan CLS electrostats with a pair of 140W Audio Research M300 MkII triode monoblocks. The "subs" were a pair of Wilson Puppies driven by a Mark Levinson 23.5 through a Bryston 10B x-over. Later on, I sold the Puppies and the x-over and bought Kinergetics SW 800 subwoofers that were designed to match the CLS's (the "Mini Statement" system.) I never really liked them ;--( I recently moved into an apartment and sold all the Kinergetics stuff and my beloved ARC amps due to space limitations. Began driving the CLS's with the ML 23.5 (very nice) and was resigned to listening to the CLS's with whatever bass they could muster.

When Martin Logan introduced their own subs, I could tell from the physical layout of the three opposing woofers that they had potential, plus I just couldn't imagine Martin Logan putting more sluggish subwoofers on the market;--) I'd been an advocate of "two subwoofers" mostly for easier placement rather than for "stereo bass". But first I thought I'd buy just one ML Depth and see how it sounded. I put it in the middle, crossed over at a mere 35Hz. Incredible! Fast and seamless, just like the Puppies. The omnidirectional woofer arrangement really makes two units unnecessary for good imaging, unless you need more poop.

Four years ago, I bought a new McIntosh MC-275 MkIV in order to drive the stats with tubes again, and it's fantastic! (See my post below.) The Purist cabling and the Depth sub really completed my system to where I'm not making any changes. I have been trying different headphone gear lately -- just for fun!

So now it's summer of 2102, and due to the untimely death of an audiophile friend last year, I had the opportunity to try out some of his very fine equipment, before liquidating it for his family. Only one piece of equipment really 'stuck', and that was an Atma-Sphere MP-3 tube preamp. It is a fully balanced differential Class A design with an all-tube phonostage; 'all-tube' meaning no FET's and no step-up transformers! I'd always wanted to try a tube phonoamp, and I'd always wanted to hear what an MC cartridge (a 'balanced output' device) would sound like when amplified by a phonoamp with balanced inputs. So I got to hear both things at the same time! And now it's time for my incredible Levinson 25s phonoamp and 26s preamp to go to a new audiophile ;~) As a famous Guru said, "Once you get the message, you hang up the phone!"

So for the first time in eight years (2004, when I replaced my ARC SP-14 preamp with the Levinson 25s/26s) my system sounds brand new again! Unfortunately my own body just keeps getting older, so this might be the last time the audio system changes ;~)
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Components Toggle details

    • Atma-Sphere MP-3 with phono
    Finally, a tube phonostage with balanced inputs; MC cartridge heaven! Replaced Levinson 25s/26s. I never thought that would happen ;~)
    • Mcintosh MC275 Mk IV -- Shuguang Treasure KT88Z power tubes
    Same as the Mk V (the latest 'un-leaded' version) with XLR inputs, detachable PC, and bigger power transformer. Current power tubes are even (slightly) better than my NOS Gold Lions; and only cost $400! The amp itself is a bargain, and its 95w/ch sound is delicious ;-)
    • HeadRoom Home Balanced Headphone Amp
    Drives headphones balanced! 'Crossfeed' feature eliminates 'hole-in-the-middle' effect common with headphone listening. Solid state.
    • Melos SHA-1
    The classic tube headphone amp/preamp from Melos. Better sonics than my HeadRoom unit ;~)
    • Goldmund Studietto Mk II turntable
    It's on a Target wall shelf. Has the JVC quartz-lock motor, Goldmund cones, van den Hul zirconium spindle oil. Replaced the springs with Pandafeet sorbothane isolators -- no resonance, no noise, great bass, direct drive rules!!
    • SME Series V tonearm
    Bought in 1990. Factory serviced in 2004 and installed new van den Hul MC-150S internal silver wiring.
    • Transfiguration Temper W MC cartridge
    0.5mV output, new double ring magnet (yokeless) design. Stunning fit 'n finish. Now broken after 150 hours. It produces an amazing black background against a sparkling top to bottom neutrality, with great transient response and holographic imaging.
    • Purist Audio Venustas Phono interconnect
    It's totally to die for! -- Increases the sonic value of your cartridge by $5000.
    • Wadia WT-2000 PS-2 CD transport
    Wadia's Esoteric Transport w/ the upgraded VRDS heavy-duty Teac platter.
    • Aural Symphonics Optimism V.2 ST glass optical cable
    If you don't have AT&T inputs/outputs on your digital gear necessary for using this glass digital datalink, then you're missing an unsurpassed musical experience from your CDs!
    • Wadia 27 DAC
    Sounds great w/ the AS Optimism 2 glass cable. May consider GNSC mods later on.
    • Nakamichi CR-7A audiophile cassette
    Basically, a Dragon that doesn't reverse (Thank God!) Bought it new with mics and mixer yet!! Analog rules!!
    • McIntosh MR65B stereo FM tube tuner
    Bought it (very) used in 2007 and had it refurbished. Total $700, more than 2X 1962 retail! Amazing sound.
    • Martin Logan CLS IIz full range electrostat
    Owned these starting in 1991 (as CLS II's) Installed new panels 3/11 and they sound better than ever! The Sound Anchor stands improve both the bass (cleaner) and the mid/highs (transient response.) What a difference!
    • Sound Anchor CLS speaker stand
    They get the CLS's off the floor for better staging and keep the panels from rocking, improving the transients (even when I thought they couldn't get any better!)
    • Martin Logan Depth subwoofer
    Better transient response (faster) than the (larger) Descent due to it's smaller, lighter woofers. See my remarks below.
    • Purist Audio Venustas RCA and XLR interconnects
    RCA (1.5m) connects phono preamp to preamp. XLR (8m - 25 feet) connects preamp to amp.
    • Straightwire Maestro RCA
    An 8m pair preamp to subwoofer.
    • Purist Audio Venustas 2.5m speaker cables
    My last speaker cables!
    • PAD Venustas/Dominus, Aural Thrills and Audio Metallurgy power cords
    Purist for the amp and CDT, other stuff elsewhere.
    • ExactPower EP-15A / SP-15A power units
    The EP is a power regenerator. It supplies the amp, sub, speakers, and the SP balanced power unit. The SP supplies the source devices.
    • Studiotech Performance Series shelf systems
    One of audio's best bangs. Price includes shipping. Easy to assemble, great looking and solid!

Comments 157

222222&text=tz
Hey Neil, are you still using the treasure KT88?

tzh21y

222222&text=ph
hi, thanks so much for your valuable input! after reading your comments, i believe anyone reading in here would agree everything you mentioned. I'm thankful that you shared your knowledge and explained it very well. Of so many reviews (even from highly respected reviewers in AV mag)that i had read, none of them had given such an insight!

i listen to most kinds of music, from Beyonce, K-pop to Full scale cinematic overtures eg.Battlestar Galactica, Val Hellsing & ERA(songs eg THE MASS, I BELIEVE), Engima (especially with real orchestrial recordings) except jazz, chamber music nor vocals.. you get the idea? that's also why i prefer panals, for large scale use! Youtube have many of those tracks to sample..

i'm so eager to hear your other comments. do you think M275 can power my kind of songs? i read from somewhere M275 is special due to its Unity Couple circuit topology, is it an OTL amp? do DHT amp need ancillary power filament current?
Thanks again!
-phil

philipwu

222222&text=ns
Owner
Philipwu and Olympicman: please both forgive me for this slow reply. I haven't been checking in with Agon lately.

Let me say some general things about powering electrostatic speakers, and MartinLogan speakers specifically. Especially because many of you younger audiophiles who are smart enough to consider older model speakers (like the CLS's ;~) may benefit from a little history. First, it is important to remember that of ALL the models MartinLogan EVER produced, only two of them, the various CLS's, and the CLX, have truly "full range" electrostatic panels! All other models are hybrids. That is, they include a woofer(s) to provide low frequency response. Either self-powered (by an internal amp) or powered by an external amp (supplied by the user.)

The electrostatic panels in all the 'hybrid' models have limited low frequency response; they cut off anywhere between ~ 200 Hz and 500 Hz depending on the model. The CLS and CLX go all the way down to 40 Hz and 55 Hz respectively (although not with a lot of oomph -- and they certainly don't cover that critical last octave or octave-and-a-half ;~) But for certain kinds of music, they are absolutely perfect; and give all the bass response needed for those kinds of voices and instruments.** The only other "full range" electrostatic (STILL!) which produces full frequency response down to 20 Hz is of course the largest models of the SoundLab, but that's a whole other discussion.

Both solid-state amps and tube amps require certain electrical "considerations" when used with stats; however, once those considerations have been addressed, it is ABSOLUTELY NOT POSSIBLE to say one type of amp is clearly better than the other, for driving electrostatic panels. There will be some "musical" differences however; and while subtle, these musical differences should be considered when choosing tube vs. solid state amps. However (and I want to be real clear about this) these "musical" differences have to do ONLY with the way solid state circuits versus tube circuits handle music signals. Power output, impedance matching, and all those other electrical considerations that people are always raising as being important issues?: they can all be "handled"! What can't be changed is the way valves and transistors, each in their own way, amplify music signals! And so there will be some trade-offs.

Electrostatic panels are the most accurate audio transducers so far devised (for large scale use.) Meaning, they can change (transduce) an electrical signal into a sound wave more faithfully than any other device commonly available. So why not drive them with the most accurate amplifier? OK . . . . and what would that be? Do you want every last morsel of musical information to make it into your speaker?; or do you want the information that DOES make it into your speaker to be utterly free from distortion, of ANY kind? You can't have both! If you want EVERYTHING in the music signal to be delivered to your speakers, then you will need to use tubes. If you want to know that the signal going into your speakers is free of any kind of electrical (ie non-musical) adulteration, then a solid state circuit can provide it. And PLEASE UNDERSTAND, I'm talking about apples-to-apples comparisons, meaning high-quality, time-tested, and yes, kind of expensive examples of audio components here -- regardless whether they're tube or transistor!

So, what do you get with tubes? You get the ultimate in signal PRESERVATION. All of the (OK, as much as possible ;~) of the micro detail, vocal sibilants, and supersonic overtones that are contained in real, live music. (Almost) nothing missing. What do you get with transistors? You get QUIET; especially when there is supposed to be nothing to hear. And when there is something to hear, get a music signal that is (in the best cases) free of any electronic "artifacts" that either join with the signal, or worse, modify it! As long as you understand that some of the "small stuff" isn't going to make it through a solid state amplification circuit . . . . . Oh sure, you can argue that these descriptions/distinctions don't apply to say Boulder or DarTzeel solid state amps, or to any number of five/six-figure tube amplifiers, but let's not go there right now, OK?

So what is it (if it's not the other silly, but correctable stuff) that produces these two different audio outcomes. The answer is speed; maybe "agility" would be a better word. Tubes turn on and off slowly, like light bulbs; transistors respond (almost) at the speed of light. When a pair of tubes (in a typical push-pull amplifier circuit) hand the signal back and forth to each other, there is some "lag", like a relay runner who doesn't fully let go of the baton until the other runner has a good grip on it -- no chance of the baton getting dropped! However, with a pair of transistors in the same application, unless they are PAINSTAKINGLY (and expensively) matched, a "crack" will open up in the "on-off" cycle, and unfortunately, some of the tiniest signal components will fall through those cracks . . . . . The upside is that transistors don't need ancillary power (like filament current) to make them work. Basically (and I'm over-simplifying here) transistors run on signal alone -- and so as long as they are operated withing their design limits, they won't mess with your music signal -- however, their circuits might lose some of it ;~)

Another time, I will try and add to this post regarding what to consider when combining tube amps or solid state amps with electrostatic panels; and the somewhat different considerations when talking about a full range versus hybrid electrostat. Thanks.

** So if one only listened to string quartets, light jazz vocals (without heavy drums or upright bass), solo guitar, Gregorian chant, etc -- a pair of CLS's or CLX would be fine and you wouldn't miss any bass.

.

nsgarch

222222&text=ol
Hi,
I also am interested in your opinion of MC275 powering electrostats. ML suggests driving CLS at 20-320w/ch, the Theos or Ethos I am thinking about are 20-400 and 20-500 respectively.

I am in love with ML electrostatic speakers and wonder if every one else is just trying to sell me on 'bigger is better' or if there is a reason I need more wattage to drive these. I listen to all kinds of music, but focus on vocal jazz and classical at moderate listening levels.

Thanks very much for your many responses here that have helped illuminate our search for the same nirvana you have reached!

olympicman

222222&text=ph
hi Sir,
may I ask are you still using the M275 mono amps to drive your CLS? Are you satisfied with the power and the music M275 gives?
I'm under the impression that tube amps cannot handle low impedence loads...
Regards,
-phil

philipwu

222222&text=ns
Owner
Ketchup, there are a few forum threads dealing with the subject of 'steam cleaning' which might interest you (and a couple of videos on YouTube also). None of them exactly like I do it, but you might find them interesting. And if you'd like to discuss it with me further, no problem -- just email me at: nsgarchATalumDOTmitDOTedu
Thanks

nsgarch

222222&text=ke
Nsgarch,

Can you give me a run down of your steam cleaning process? I'm building a Loricraft/Monks style record cleaning machine and I have a steamer, but I haven't used it on vinyl yet (unless the wallpaper in my kitchen was vinyl).

ketchup

222222&text=ns
Owner
Pierre, I had a look at your system to refresh my memory. I left some comments there.
Neil
.

nsgarch

222222&text=la
Neil looking to streamline my system with less components.

Thinking about adding another REL sub and finally a power generator (which should have been purchased 5 years ago from your recommendation) but the added components, while welcomed, really crowds my listening room.

+2 would require different configuration of components.

lapierre

222222&text=ns
Owner
"You are correct sir!"
Pierre: Does that mean you've been looking?
.

nsgarch

222222&text=la
You are correct sir!

lapierre

222222&text=ns
Owner
Yes, Atma-Sphere equipment is every inch "American-made". Frankly, considering the high quality of workmanship and the fact that it IS made in the US, it represents a great value for its dollar cost. I was attracted to the preamp primarily for its all-tube, fully balanced phonostage, which to me is a MC cartridge owner's dream ;~) In fact, without doing some research, I can't think of a manufacturer, foreign or domestic, that makes an all-tube balanced phonoamp (standalone) or preamp phonostage?
.

nsgarch

222222&text=la
Continued...

Love handbuilt products built like a tank with good fit and finish. Hard to pass that up if you pay attention to micro details of fabrication and construction.

At that time, I was looking at big "ole tube amps" made in America-but did not know what they really cost. Atma-sphere and McIntosh were at the top of the list followed by Audio Research. MA 2 was really way out of my budget so I refocused my research on Atma M-60s, Audio Research VSi60 and McIntosh MC275.

If I recall, I was in my "big is better" phase with audio components. Big speakers. Big amp. No budget!

lapierre

222222&text=la
Seriously considered MA 2 power amp in 2004 but my budget was a bit short. Was going to pair the MAs with magico monitors.

lapierre

222222&text=ns
Owner
Pierre, have you any experience with Atma-Sphere equipment?

-- N
.

nsgarch

222222&text=la
Atma-Sphere MP-3 with phono.

Nice pickup.

lapierre

222222&text=ns
Owner
System updated . . . . .

nsgarch

222222&text=la
A bit of discover learning. Yeah I do love researching hi-end components and the business side.

I do remember my brother looking at cleaning vinyl with steam back when he was working with Radio Shack. At least back then in the 70s they use to carry HiFi accessories and some stereo components worth purchasing.

Not really surprised about the Yamaha headphones. Yamahas from the 70s (like the 55 watt integrated amp I owned) manufactured great components with solid fronts and knobs of real aluminum. Built like a tank.

The larger room may come much later. The layout is a bit funky with a outdated kitchenette and wood paneling that is not up to par. But it has freshly refinished parquet floor and lots of potential.

lapierre

222222&text=ns
Owner
Pierre, my system sounds pretty much the same as it has for a long time ;--) Why wouldn't it? -- I really haven't changed any of the hardware.

That said, I have made some additions/changes/discoveries in other areas:
1. I've discovered the joy/simplicity/effectiveness of steam cleaning my records. I learned after discussions with Quality Pressing (Chad Kassem's new pressing plant) that if you want to get rid of mold release, you need either heat or solvents. However, steam cleaning is not a casual "plug and play" affair. It's very important to develop a personal technique/procedure that works well with the equipment you will be using. After that, it's a snap. No more record cleaning fluid "du jour" for me (or the ridiculous threads/people that discuss them!)
2. I bought another (brand new!) Goldmund Studietto TT, for an insane three figures, and plan to fit it with an Eminent Technology linear track air-bearing tonearm -- (another three figures used!) which I'm sending to the factory for a complete refurbish/upgrade next week.
3. AND I've discovered orthodynamic headphones. Primarily the Yamahas from the 70's. Amazing sonics, just this side of Stax electrostats (actually, they outperform Stax for bass!)
4. So of course, I just HAD to have one of those legendary Melos SHA-1 tube headphone/line preamps (another three figures on Agon ;--) Currently watching eBay for some Amperex 6DJ8's to roll;--) Who said hi-end had to be expensive? Not if you enjoy research, and exercise both patience and restraint tracking your quarry ;--)
5. I bought a Jolida JD-9 phonoamp (just for fun to compare tube phono stage sound with my all solid state Levinson 25S. I never even got that far, and sold it without even doing an A--B. The manufacturer deceptively describes it as a TUBE phonostage, which it is not! Yes, there are a couple of cathode follower 12AX7's at the output, but all the gain is accomplished with op-amps -- yuck! I'm keeping my Levinson. No more screwing around!

---------------------------------

I read of your recent move. I vote for the larger room.
.

nsgarch

222222&text=la
Neil hows your system sounding?

Recently moved (tallahassee florida) and re-evaluating my system for performance. Waiting for the electrician to evaluate a couple of things like noise, dedicated circuit and sub panel for my workshop.

lapierre

222222&text=tz
I was using Siemens ecc801s and they were detailed, but a little hot in the highs and kind of 2 dimensional. They lack body. I am using Mullards from the early 80's now. I will look into the genelecA2900s. I have the matched quad of tung sols 6550 that I will probably keep for a while. I may try the shuggies in the future

tzh21y

222222&text=ns
Owner
It took my breaking in two sets of KT88-Z's for me to figure out that these tubes REALLY DO take 300 hours to fully burn in. It sounds more tube voodoo, until you realize that OMG! the black carbon/polymer coating must go through a CURING PROCESS -- just like ALL resins must ;--)) I can't believe I didn't pick up on that with the first quad (which only got 80 hours.) But the NEXT time, I logged EVERY MINUTE of operation, and noted that around 200 hours, the Shuggies sounded as good as my two quads of NOS GEC and Gold Lions; and somewhere after 300 hours the Shuggies actually were ahead in areas like huge soundstage, more bass power, and that "shimmer" I'd got addicted to after my first quad of NOS Genalex tubes.

What you said about the Shuggies articulation is certainly true, but I simply fell in love with the "bigness" of their sound! Along with the sparkle you'd expect from any power tube with strong dynamic gain (transconductance.) And I want to mention again, that I continue to use the unbelievable GEC A2900 (12AT7) MC275's driver positions -- which brings me to the 6550's:

I know there are many people who, when there's an option, prefer 6550's over KT88's. They say the sound of 6550's is warmer and more 'natural' in the midrange -- is that correct? I once had lots of experience rolling different 6550's back when I had them (EIGHT per SIDE!!) in my ARC monoblocks -- but that was when vintage TS didn't cost more than your car!! But I never A--B'd them with KT88's in the same amp. ARC has of course always used 6550's (instead of KT88's) -- but in my opinion, ARC amps, or at least the earlier models I'm familiar with, could usually benefit from a bit of "warming up", so maybe that's one reason they've stuck with them.

I DO think that you should re-visit the Shuggies EVENTUALLY. God knows the price is right, compared to a quad of solid blackplate 6550 TS!!! But they (the Shuggies) still have to be burned in for the full 300 hours. There's just no way around that requirement, which BTW I'm certain must apply to ALL the other carbon-coated Treasure Series tubes from Shuguang -- and for the same reason! Maybe you can borrow a seasoned quad of KT88-Z's from a dealer or a friend in order to audition them fairly.

In the meantime, I strongly urge you to get your hands on a matched quad of A2900's! (actually 2 matched pairs will do) They are what every McIntosh amp needs (IMO) to get the most out of the Unity Coupled output circuit -- regardless of the actual brand of the power tubes -- but mandatory if you're using the best power tubes (like Shuggie/EAT's/NOS Genalex) -- and ditto for 6550's! I sent my friend Mark a couple of pairs to try. You can read his comments here:
http://audioaficionado.org/mcintosh-audio/8147-oe-genalex-kt88-tubes-gec-2900s.html
.

nsgarch

222222&text=tz
Hi Neil! I see you changed to the Shuggies. I tried them and did not like them as much as the vintage Tungsol 6550's that I have. I auditioned them for quite a while. How long did yours take to break in? They seemed very weak in the bass and constricted in the mids and highs. Have you ever tried the Tungsols? The one thing that I did like about the Shuggies was they were very articulated in the lower octaves. Maybe I just did not give them long enough to break in. I had them for two weeks.

tzh21y

222222&text=ns
Owner
Tzh21y: Sorry about that -- I actually corrected my answer, but for some reason it didn't post? The rack you refer to is by StudioTech. Here's their homepage: http://www.studiotech.com/index.asp

They don't seem to be making that model anymore, however ;--(
.

nsgarch

222222&text=tz
I was wondering about the shelf you have the mc275 on.

tzh21y

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