Description

** UPDATES Sept 2019
Koetsu Blue Lace with Diamond Cantilever is the BOMB. Unambiguously the best cartridge I've ever heard. The diamond cantilever raises detail, speed and dynamics of Koetsu to a next level, without pulling it towards analytical. In fact, this change actually allows MORE of the famous Koetsu musicality to pour through the speakers. Added in March of this year. Mounted on the FR64S (this arm is now clearly superior to the Graham Phantom Supreme for Koetsus). I've also switched my SUT to the Choir Audio unit based on Hashimoto HM-7. My EAR MC-3 and Koetsu SUT (pictured here atop the VAC) also sound great with the Blue Lace, but the Hashimoto sounds HUGE with lifelike dynamics. Another change is rolling tubes in the VAC phono: 1 pair Mazda 12ax7 chrome plates (my favorite), 1 pair RCA black plates 12ax7, 1 pair Mullard reissue 12ax7 - this results in a tonal balance similar to the stock tubes, but with enhanced detail, 3D imaging, and bass impact. If it weren't for my need to closely track the stock tonal balance (because that works well with my system), I'd have all 6 Mazda chromes in there - and the Mullard pair is there because it's warm enough to counter the Mazda's top end (otherwise, it's a serviceable but not stellar tube). Stock tubes were VAC's selected PentaLabs (Chinese) 12ax7. The latest system pic shows a Rogue RP-9 preamp on the bottom rack shelf, but I still use the ARC REF 6 as my primary preamp. I'm also back to the Shelter Harmony on a Clearaudio Universal 12" for my 2nd arm, which I try to mix in to save hours on Koetsu - I haven't been very successful at this, however! As good as the Harmony/Universal combo is (for a while I was going back & forth between this and the non-Diamond Koetsu stone bodies), the Blue Lace just takes everything to another level. 

** Updates Feb 2018
I have upgraded literally EVERYTHING since July 2017. I kept with the same general system composition; in many cases simply moving to newer model years and/or the next model(s) up. I did change from all Rogue Audio electronics to VAC & ARC for phono stage & preamp -- yes, I have to admit that was the right move for me to finally make. I've stuck with the Rogue Apollo amps, but bought the new "Dark" upgraded versions. And also bought a big-boy CMS Maxxum rack -- sayonara, Lovan!! I think I've kept like 3 power cords, a pair of AQ Kilimanjaro, and a pair of AQ Wild interconnects. Everything else is brand new. 

** Updates Sept/Oct 2016
Added a few updated photos, and posted a more detailed comment on recent upgrades. My original upgrade plans, as enumerated below, were formulated in 2010/2011. I've finally logged updates to each of these items. The core Tannoy/Koetsu/Rogue blend has always remained in place -- because it sounds awesome! I've also had my beloved Koetsu Onyx Platinum recently broken (RIP to my girlfriend), and bought a new Coralstone to console myself.

Mazda silver-plate 12ax7 have been put EVERYWHERE. A friend introduced me to this tube in 2015, and I absolutely love it. BIG upgrade over the usual suspects: Telefunken (smooth & ribbed), Mullard long-plates, RCA long black plates, RCA 3-mica 5751, GE 5751 "silver clips", etc.

I've fallen a bit sucker to the cable industry, and have been moving up in the Audioquest line (mostly silver) when I can find the right ones used. 

My headphone system has also gone crazy in the last 2 years: Stax SR-009, Stax L700, Head-amp BHSE (stocked with the ample vintage British/Mullard or Holland/Amperex EL34 on hand), Schiit Yggdrasil. Also have a KGSShv Carbon, Balanced-hev90 clone, KGST, KGSShv x2 etc. But the BHSE is the best. I also have a SR-007 Mk I, but strongly prefer the SR-009 and L700.

My (now very old) upgrade plans:

1) Tannoy Canterbury SE; their size is better suited to my room; the 96dB efficiency is also very appealing 
** UPDATE: Did this October 2012 - A VERY good move in the end, though I must admit it's very frustrating to re-tune & adapt everything for a new speaker, even one from the same line as its predecessor (Tannoy Kensington SE). The Kensington needed a boost in bass energy and some relaxation up top. The Canterbury SE needs some help coaxing sparkle/energy up top. The Canterburys simply sound HUGE, and I love it. 

2) Phono stage...perhaps a CineMag blue step-up to feed into the VAC Ren III's phono. Or, drop the VAC (as good as it is) and start from scratch. Perhaps a Hagerman Trumpet w/ CineMag blue or Artemis Labs? 
** UPDATE: Finally settled on a Rogue Ares in late 2014, after the THIRD TIME buying this phono stage, lol. Its latest revision is superb when paired with: Mazda Silver-plate 12AX7, Sylvania 1950s Black Plate 12BH7 OR Mazda Silver-plate 6189, and Bob's Devices 1131 SUT (each of these makes a BIG difference). Finally, this combo yields notably better sound than the built-in phono of the VAC Renaissance III that I loved so much. 

3) Table: Either a SOTA Cosmos or a Clearaudio Innovation Wood Compact (leaning heavily towards the SOTA due to past experiences) 
** UPDATE: Got the Clearaudio Innovation, obviously, in Spring 2014. With Graham Phantom II Supreme tonearm. Great table/arm, but not without their imperfections. And expensive. VERY expensive. Overall I'm mostly happy with this table rig, though. Added the Clearaudio ring clamp and reference weight late 2014 (way too expensive, but nice).

All setup in an old loft apartment in a commercial district with NO RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORS!! The best time to crank the system up is midnight-5am - there's nobody within a mile! Solid, over-built late 1800s construction. No laundry hookups, no oven, no cable - but NO complaints from me for the overall benefits :)
** UPDATE: Still the same hookup :)
Read more...

Room Details

Dimensions: 21’ × 14’  Medium
Ceiling: 10’


Components Toggle details

    • Tannoy Canterbury GR
    Big Tannoys; totally rad speakers!!
    • VAC Signature 200iQ
    Stunning sound quality
    • VAC Renaissance Phono SE
    Stunningly natural, lifelike sound
    • Clearaudio Master Innovation
    Badass Turntable
    • Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM
    Crazy expensive rack, but it works as advertised, and earns its keep while looking awesome!
    • Audio Research REF 6
    Very clean, clear sounding Preamp
    • Koetsu Coralstone Platinum
    Amazing, stunning, beautiful cartridge. The Onyx Platinum is now my 2nd favorite.
    • Koetsu Onyx Platinum
    Pure. F___ing. Magic. In the midrange. Treble and bass quality are not as good as say an Ortofon Windfeld, but they're still quite good. And the Ortofon midrange is just awful by comparison to any Koetsu.
    Recently rebuilt in Japan; good as new again!
    • Koetsu Jade Platinum
    Sounds almost exactly like the Onyx Platinum, but slightly less warm and slightly more air on top. Very, very close. I keep this one in reserve.
    • Rogue Audio Apollo Dark
    Very good, very powerful tube amps.
    • Bob's Devices Sky 40
    Step-up Transformer; great match for the Koetsu Platinums.
    • AudioQuest Niagara 7000
    w/ NRG 1000 PC
    • Rogue Audio Ares Magnum
    Great phono stage, notably better than the non-Magnum Ares. Even with the Cinemag 1254 Blue SUT built-in, I still added an outboard SUT: Bob's Devices Cinemag Sky 40. Also upgraded the hell out of the mediocre stock tubes: Mazda 12AX7 chrome plates, Sylvania 12BH7 black plates. Superb match with Koetsu cartridges this.
    • Rogue Audio Hera II
    Upgraded to Hera II status. Fabulous sound, BUT NOT dead quiet (in conflict with the product description page's boast). It's a high-gain tube preamp so there is some noise floor if you have sensitivity amps and speakers like I do. I can deal with it because the sound quality beyond that is so great. I liked it better than the VAC Renaissance III line stage.
    • Clearaudio Innovation Wood
    Excellent table. A good clamping scheme is essential for any high-end vinyl rig -- and Clearaudio's clamps are excellent.
    • Graham Engineering Phantom Supreme
    The Graham Phantom Supreme arm is GREAT with Koetsu
    • Head-amp Blue Hawaii SE (BHSE)
    Exotic, beautiful, and amazing sounding electrostatic headphone amplifier for the top Stax headphones.
    • Stax SR-009
    The best headphones in the world. Requires electrostatic headphone amp.
    • Stax L700
    The best of the Lambda series. Not as good as the 009, but an exceedingly enjoyable headphone. I prefer this L700 to the SR-007 Mk I (a.k.a. Omega 2)
    • Audioquest (All analog cabling)
    WEL LP phono, WEL LP 0.5m RCA (for SUT), Fire RCA, Fire XLR, Wild Blue Yonder XLR, Wind XLR, Sky RCA, Sky XLR, Niagara RCA, Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro (x2).
    • Sonic Frontiers Phono 1 SE+
    Fully upgraded by Parts Connexion. Awesome phono stage that's sadly becoming rarer and more unheard of by the day. Think I'll be retiring from the last few years' phono stage madness with this unit. Edit 2016: Whoops, guess I liked the Rogue Ares w/ 1131 SUT better after all. And the new Ares Magnum is even more better.

Comments 83

222222&text=bu
Mulveling...I installed some Isoacoutic Gaia footers on my Canterbury GR and the results were amazing.  Speakers now sound like the weigh 1000lbs.  Beautiful setup you have.

bullot

222222&text=pe
Now you're talking.  Never have been a Rogue fan myself having owned a Cronus Magnum years ago.  I realize this is way down the chain from what you had but I couldn't help thinking you could do better w/your great setup.  I heard the VAC amps at a show in Fla where I live and where VAC is built.  Kevin is a brilliant designer, a genuine nice guy and invited me to visit the factory years ago which I hope to do someday.  Huge congrats and enjoy!

pehare

Center

Koetsu Blue Lace with Diamond Cantilever is the BOMB. Unambiguously the best cartridge I've ever heard. The diamond cantilever raises detail, speed and dynamics of Koetsu to a next level, without pulling it towards analytical. In fact, this change actually allows MORE of the famous Koetsu musicality to pour through the speakers. Added in March of this year. Mounted on the FR64S (this arm is now clearly superior to the Graham Phantom Supreme for Koetsus). I've also switched my SUT ....


Good choice.
I owned a lot of Arms, but the FR-64s is a class on its own. Specially with Koetsu Stone Bodies. It shows a pysical presence in the soundstage no other Arm can show ...
Did own the Koetsu SUT but I gave it away quickly. Average, overrated ... maybe it is a kind of sound religion, but when looking for details, holographic body and speed .. it did not survive in my System

syntax

128x128
Mulveling,,

A big congratulations on your new amps. They are a sizeable investment in your system, but your Canterbury's deserve nothing less.

I guess I don't really need to say "enjoy", as I know you will.

Best regards,
Dan

Ag insider logo xs@2xislandmandan

Center
Owner
NEW AMPS inbound. VAC Signature 200iQ monoblocks. I've been auditioning a loaner pair for 2 weeks. I wouldn't say they're quite "night & day" better than the Apollo Darks - but there are several key areas they improve on and/or clean up compared to the Rogues, which adds up to a very significant cumulative effect. 

Mids are more organic and beautiful (less dry). Imaging is much more 3D, soundstage is bigger, with stage depth quite notably increased. The top end is super clean and has removed a tinge of glare and harshness that had been a bit too forward on average recordings - without reducing perceived detail (actually increasing perceived detail since it's a more pleasant listen). The dynamics and bottom end are subjectively more powerful and exhilarating, despite actually having less Wattage power (200 vs 275+). The net result is a better connection to the music, with delineation of layers and details increased in a way that serves musical enjoyment, rather than leading down the path of analysis or boredom (not that I felt this about the system before).

And I haven't even rolled the 200iQ's 6SN7 tubes yet. I rolled the hell out of the Apollo's small tubes, and felt I had improved its performance significantly over stock. 

The Apollos were great amps for me, almost 10 years now (my first pair being the original version, followed by the "Dark" version 2 years ago), but I think it was finally time to move on and match the rest of the system which has changed quite a lot in that same time period. Like the VAC Reference SE phono, these 200iQ's are a piece that instantly felt "right" when plopped into my Canterbury GR system.

Still using the Audio research REF 6 as my preamp. I recommend getting an audition of the 200iQ amps if you're able!

mulveling

Center
Owner
Wow thanks for your comments pdreher, it means a lot to me!

As for the Tannoys - I was relatively new to high end audio in early 2000s when I heard Tannoy for the first time, and they blew my mind (even though just the modest Eyris DC3 model). Coming from high-end headphones, I missed the coherence of a single driver that the Tannoy dual-concentric point source driver uniquely and fully delivered - this was at a time when I feel many other speaker options failed badly at this. Now of course, things have moved on and many of the modern high end speakers I hear today have excellent coherence and integration, even with separate drivers. However, it's hard to separate from first love so I'm still sticking with Tannoy for the long haul. And yes, the efficiency is a huge advantage. An honest 96 dB per Watt here! Tannoy hasn't remained static either, as I enjoy the GR series Canterbury a lot more than the prior SE series.

Tannoy looks to be doing OK under the new ownership, though there was worry for a while that they'd either eliminate the Prestige series or move its production to China. Seems to have stabilized, and Kevin Deal (from Upscale Audio) just recently picked up distributorship for Tannoy, so I think (and hope) he sells a boatload of them!

mulveling

Center
You have one of the most visually appealing systems I've seen posted.  I think it's a combination of aesthetics of the gear you've selected and your excellent photography skills.  I really like the look of your turntable, cartridges and the headphone amp.  I've never heard Tannoy speakers, but love the vintage look and value their high efficiency.

pdreher

Center
Owner
Koetsu Blue Lace with Diamond Cantilever is the BOMB. Unambiguously the best cartridge I've ever heard. The diamond cantilever raises detail, speed and dynamics of Koetsu to a next level, without pulling it towards analytical. In fact, this change actually allows MORE of the famous Koetsu musicality to pour through the speakers. Added in March of this year. Mounted on the FR64S (this arm is now clearly superior to the Graham Phantom Supreme for Koetsus). I've also switched my SUT to the Choir Audio unit based on Hashimoto HM-7. My EAR MC-3 and Koetsu SUT (pictured here atop the VAC) also sound great with the Blue Lace, but the Hashimoto sounds HUGE with lifelike dynamics. Another change is rolling tubes in the VAC phono: 1 pair Mazda 12ax7 chrome plates (my favorite), 1 pair RCA black plates 12ax7, 1 pair Mullard reissue 12ax7 - this results in a tonal balance similar to the stock tubes, but with enhanced detail, 3D imaging, and bass impact. If it weren't for my need to closely track the stock tonal balance (because that works well with my system), I'd have all 6 Mazda chromes in there - and the Mullard pair is there because it's warm enough to counter the Mazda's top end (otherwise, it's a serviceable but not stellar tube). Stock tubes were VAC's selected PentaLabs (Chinese) 12ax7. The latest system pic shows a Rogue RP-9 preamp on the bottom rack shelf, but I still use the ARC REF 6 as my primary preamp. I'm also back to the Shelter Harmony on a Clearaudio Universal 12" for my 2nd arm, which I try to mix in to save hours on Koetsu - I haven't been very successful at this, however! As good as the Harmony/Universal combo is (for a while I was going back & forth between this and the non-Diamond Koetsu stone bodies), the Blue Lace just takes everything to another level. 

Absolute sonic heaven with any halfway decent record!!

mulveling

Center
Owner
Thanks for the tube recs, guys. It's been some years, and I've optimized and changed everywhere else, so the tube blend could use a revisit. Sylvania TM BP 5751 are certainly one of those variants I should've tried by now. The 1960s Slyvania 5751 gray plates are just awful, but given my experience with Sylvania 12BH7 I know that the 1950s BPs can sound a world away from the terrible 60s GPs.

For several weeks now I've settled in with the Koetsu Coralstone mounted & dialed-in on the Fidelity Research FR64S tonearm. This is without question the finest vinyl reproduction I've ever had, by some margin. The pairing is legendary for good reason. Since I've switched from the Graham Phantom II Supreme, I've been appreciating the 64S's difference even more with time. The Koetsu sounds much more robust, dynamic, impactful, and vivid on the 64S. It wasn't bad on the Graham, but in retrospect too polite and laid back. Imaging is also notably more 3D and holographic on the 64S. I'll be posting the Graham up for sale. I've also switched the Shelter Harmony from Clearaudio Universal 12" to a Fidelity Research FR64fx. Still evaluating this arm swap. It sounds excellent, but the performance gap to the 64S / Coralstone is readily apparent - the latter is just far too good compared to anything else I've ever heard. It feels much more believable as a performance rather than just a recording reproduction!

Almost forgot to mention I switched from the Bob's Devices Sky 40 to an E.A.R. MC-3 step-up for the Koetsu. That was also a significant move in the right direction! Very sweet sounding. The arm & SUT changes have effected such a large leap in performance; I feel kinda stupid for letting things be so held back for so long!

I now have a Blue Lace with diamond cantilever on the way, and I'm eager to see if this can exceed the boron Coralstone on 64S.

mulveling

222222&text=db
Nice system but before you settle on Mazda 12AX7s as nirvana (yes, they are very good); try NOS late '50s Sylvania Triple Mica 5751 black plates in the input positions of your amp; especially with Tannoys. The Sylvanias (better than any 12AX7 I've tried including Mazda silver plates, Telefunken, Bugle Boy, & Philips Miniwatt among others) will add the upper midrange detail that the Mazdas lack, while providing treble sparkle of the Mazdas but with more bass. I too tried the RCA 5751 triple micas and they did not compare. Google Joe's Tube Lore for details; that's where I initially learned of them (I would have never considered trying Sylvania). BTW, my system: David Berning ZOTL amp, Joule Electra LA-300ME, Avantgarde Duo Grossos, etc; extremely revealing.

db2sub1

128x128
Lovely set-up. I'm curious to revisit the Mazda chrome plates. I had some back in the day but thought they sounded, er, very silvery and colorless. I do prefer a neutral (non-Mullard) sound. I'm using Shuguang Black Treasure 12AX7 and find them excellent. http://psvanetube.com/wordpress/store/products/shuguang-custom-12ax7-lx-special-edition-pair-low-noise-triple-mica/
If you can find one, the black plate Brimar CV5042 is an insanely good replacement for the 12BH7A.

noromance

Center
Owner
Thanks @lalitk !
My weekend evenings/nights (my highest priority down-time) have been dominated by listening sessions since the big upgrades. It's what I look forward to each week; well worth the very large expense!

Congrats on your new Canterbury, I hope you'll love them as much as I do. Do you have the GR or an earlier model? I am still using the REF6 w/ Apollo Darks - it's a good combo, but I know well that nothing's perfect. I've run through a few high quality preamps: Rogue Hera II, REF 6, VAC Renaissance V. Settled on the REF6 - though I think the VAC clearly had the best midrange, it couldn't keep up with hard rock and heavy metal music like the ARC. The downside of the ARC is that it's perhaps a slight bit aggressive and forward up top. The Hera II sounded good, but had way too high a noise floor for these very sensitive Tannoys. That said, ideally I'd like something with the gorgeous mids of the VAC that can still rock - I'm just not extremely motivated to go looking yet. The feature set, digital volume, and balance controls of the ARC are absolutely perfect; I can't stand dealing with motorized analog volume controls like the VAC has, and it will be hard to go back to that.

I haven't tried another amp since I fell in love with the original Apollo back several years ago. Given the massive upgrades I've made upstream, I really, really should start looking again. I'll probably start by borrowing a VAC Signature 200iQ from my dealer. It'll be very interesting to hear the results - along with Koetsu and Tannoy, the Apollos have been the only other constant of my system this decade. And I want to make sure I'm not missing something obvious.

mulveling

Center
mulveling, gorgeous setup, I bet your system sounds amazing. I just received my Canterbury’s last week. I am wondering if you’re still using REF6 and Rogue’s Apollo Dark amps? 

Have you tried any other amp/pre combo with Tannoy’s? 


lalitk

Center
Owner
Ok, turns out I'm still a bit of a JUNKIE. Got a brand new Herron VTPH-2A phono stage I'm about to go pick up. I'm certainly not expecting it to displace the VAC Renaissance SE in the main system (so awesome sounding but hurt the wallet bad at 14.4K), but I am expecting it to beat my Rogue Ares Magnum in the Stax setup. I've got a nice new Shelter Accord breaking in on that Stax setup, already sounding about good enough to displace the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze I've had there. This should be fun. I'll give the Herron a whack in the main setup, too.

mulveling

Center
Owner
Hi @shadorne 
Thanks man for your comments - yes, surely I am done now! Haha, I've said that so many times before. But this is truly the system I've had, far beyond all predecessors, that makes me constantly thirst to consume music on it. Loving every hour, and I've also significantly ramped up my record buying again.

I'm currently playing with a VAC Renaissance V preamp as competition for the ARC Ref 6. They're very different beasts. The VAC has a shockingly beautiful midrange. But then the ARC is much better for rock and heavy metal. It's going to be a difficult choice between the two - wish I could keep both and flip a switch between records. 

As for 12AX7 - after RCA black plates I started using Telefunken, which are simply all-around excellent (both smooth plates and ribbed plates). But then I finally found my real "holy grail" 12AX7, which is the Mazda (France) silver/chrome plates. Anything I can stick these in benefits to the order of another small component upgrade. They won't warm up a system though, if you're trying to combat brightness. 

mulveling

Center
I see you are a fan of RCA long black plate 12AX7 from the 50’s.

Have you found anything better/similar in your tube rolling experiments?

Ag insider logo xs@2xshadorne

Center
Wow. I just love the Art Deco look. Stunning gear! Surely you are done for now?

Ag insider logo xs@2xshadorne

Center
Owner
This is it, brohs. I've now upgraded almost EVERYTHING I had since summer 2017, excepting 3 power cords and 1 pair of AQ Kilimanjaro speaker cables. This is no longer a true "ever evolving" system, but reasonably a "done for now". The sonic gains have been HUGE. My last big piece is the VAC Renaissance "Special Edition" phono stage. Absolutely stunning when paired with the Audio Research Ref 6 linestage!

Well...I shall continue to partake in the amusement/joy/frustration of various tweaks. E.g. cable swaps, vinyl minutiae. For example: the Lundhal LL1931 MC step-up transformers (built into the VAC phono) render a shockingly transparent, open, airy, and crystalline sonic image. Whereas my outboard Bob's Devices Sky is fleshy, impactful, ballsy, and completely seductive in the mids. I find the Koetsu Coralstone pairs naturally with the Sky (I generally prefer the two-of-a-kind approach, rather than balancing fire with ice, etc), and Shelter Harmony with the LL1931. I might want to try the silver-wired LL1931Ag or 1933Ag, and see what that get me. 

I've added system photos going back to 2011 to show the upgrade process over the years.

-- Mike

mulveling

Center
Owner
Thanks @mjcmt ! I've been enjoying the upgraded sound immensely. Almost every weekend night now consists of me and the girlfriend having a long (and loud!) listening session to 3 or 4 AM. The effect of the new CMS rack, providing a perfect platform for the TT, has been awesome. 

I've slowly started to love a new (to me) Audio Research REF 6 preamp over my old Hera II. It looks great in black too! So that'll be a keeper now, after initially flirting with its sale. And I'm still tweaking with cable upgrades and damping tweaks, of course. Running AQ Wild Blue Yonder ICs now, but will be upgrading to all WEL Signature in the next month. The speaker cables have been upgraded to a double-run Kilimanjaro biwrie.

mulveling

222222&text=mj
You have it all here - esthetics and sound. Very handsome looking audiophile system.

mjcmt

Center
Owner
Holy cow, I just dusted off my half-broken, dust caked, taped-up Nikon D40 (circa 2004) and retook some pics -- makes the iPhone 6 pics look like trash. I guess I should've expected that, even with just the cheapo kit lens (broken autofocus) on the Nikon. At the end of the day, the high tech phones are handicapped by teeny-tiny sensors and lenses. I've updated recent photos to the D40 takes.

I'm enjoying both my headphone and speaker setups so much -- elated is a better word. It was a long journey to here, and at many points I was ready to give it up. Man, so many missteps that wasted time and money. But in the end, it's worth it.

The AQ Wind interconnect is the last cable I've bought, hopefully for a while. In the BHSE & Stax 009 headphone setup, it's about on par with the old version 1 Sky, actually perhaps a little bit better, because the Wind's ruthless detail retrieval and speed is exactly in line with both the BHSE and Stax 009 -- and the cumulative result is amazing. On the Tannoy speakers, the Sky is the clear winner over the Wind -- the Sky just has that wonderful spatial imaging, that touch of warmth, and effortless musical flow that makes is such an unusual and awesome silver cable. It's going to be very system dependent whether you prefer Sky (version 1) or Wind, and it worked out nicely for me with my 2 setups. The Wind is a more "modern", technical sound though. And it's stiff as hell -- hard to wrestle into place, even if you have adequate length on it. And the old AQ XLR plugs are easier to use and nicer to look at than the new ones. But both are great cables.

Enjoy your systems, and enjoy music guys!

mulveling

Center
Owner
Haven't checked in here in a while. Lately I've been investing heavily on "finishing touches" while keeping the core system components fixed -- as I believe they might very well represent my end game. These core components have been in place now for at least a few years each (well, phono stage maybe only 2 years). But I've been surprised by just how much of a positive difference has been made by further tube rolling and upgraded cabling. It's not at all subtle. The changes:

  • Phono Cartridge
    My beloved Onyx Platinum finally bit the dust at the hands of a drunk girlfriend. Fortunately I got about 5 years of amazing play out of it (sparingly/caringly used). While it's off to Japan for a rebuild, I bought a brand new Coralstone -- it's amazing! Definitely my favorite Koetsu stone body, and it's not even burned in yet. The Coralstone is pure Koetsu in the midrange, but adds a lot more power in the bass vs. even the other stones. A wonderfully balanced cartridge that was obviously designed as a pure musical pleasure machine -- if you still analyze the sound after installing a Coralstone, then medical science hasn't yet invented powerful enough drugs to help you (I'll pray for your soul).
  • Cables
    I like how Audioquest cables are relatively neutral and smooth sounding. But the AQ cables I had were either far from the top line or from older generations, so I've been making significant moves upwards (via used market). Each upgrade has yielded some nice gains:

    Phono
    First came the phono cable, which I upgraded from LeoPard to Wild LP. This was an immediately significant improvement. Soundstage has greater depth and the sound quality overall has a more lifelike dynamic impact. The LeoPard phono cable, like its Cheetah sibling, has a mild flattening effect on both of these aspects, and also can be slightly aggressive in the upper mids & treble (completely absent in the Wild LP). This upgrade was so satisfying that I continued upgrading other cables.

    Speakers
    Next was speaker cabling, for which I've long run a biwire of 6' Mont Blanc low and 7.5' KE-4 high. A couple years ago, this combination performed quite well against a dealer loaner pair of 8' Redwood (biwire) -- the Redwood sounded slightly smoother, and my cabling had a bit more sparkle on top. Overall I decided the Redwood was the slightly better cable, but not by enough to convince me to spend a LOT of money on them (list on that pair was over $8K!!). I recently snagged a gorgeous Kilimanjaro 6' pair here on audiogon, and did a night of comparison with 3 new configurations: Kili alone (all solid silver 12 awg), Kili high & Mont Blanc low (half silver, half copper for a total 9 awg), Kili low and KE-4 high (all solid silver 10 awg). It wasn't even close; the Kili & Mont Blanc combo smoked the rest, and beat my old Mont Blanc + KE-4 arrangement. Based on this, I'd say that this particular biwire represents an excellent value on the used market, as sonically it should be positioned at least at the midpoint of AQ's current Redwood and Wild Wood models -- with very similar metal content and the same geometry. The only problem is that Kilimanjaros are quite rare, and then you'd also have to find a Mont Blanc of similar length, or have it cut by AQ to match. I could also speculate that a biwire of KE-4 (used) and GO-4 or CV-4 would also be an excellent value biwire that would compete with the current AQ Meteor model for a much lower price. I'll also note that I was surprised to prefer the copper/silver combination over the pure silver configurations, since I tend to prefer all silver in interconnects. 

    Interconnects
    And finally, interconnects. I've long used a Sky 1m RCA (1st version) from phono stage to pre, and that's safe for now, as it's still a great sounding cable -- it was the first silver cable I heard that was exceedingly smooth and almost warm in tonality, with speed and detail like silver plus great bass like copper. So first I looked at the Colorado 0.5m RCA running from SUT to phono stage -- because of the way SUTs work, this is a especially critical interconnect that should NOT exceed 0.5m in length. The Colorado is a very good cable, with a great 3D image and good speed/detail, but not quite like silver's speed. They're also a little on the warm side. So I snagged an AQ Niagara 0.5m RCA (audiogon). Again, this yielded a VERY nice gain. Though the staging didn't notably improve over the Colorado (I feel this was the Colorado's strong point), the speed definitely improved, and -- as a pleasant surprise -- the weight and density of the musical image increased significantly with the Niagara. As with AQ Sky, the Niagara didn't impart any brightness or hardness to my system. I was so impressed by its value over the Colorado, that I've ordered a Wind 1m XLR (i.e. the newer generation of Niagara) to replace the Colorado I have between preamp and monoblocks. Also I've used AQ Cheetah cables in the past, but found the Colorado to be slightly superior overall (better 3D staging, and more natural sounding). Based on this, the Niagara is quite an improvement over the prior generation Cheetahs. The Cheetah was a really good cable, but I feel both Colorado and Niagara now represent a better value on the used market than Cheetahs.

  • Headphones
    I've been loving the Stax SR-009 headphones since I first heard them a few years ago. I use mine by my iMac -- so my speakers are vinyl source only, and headphones are digital only. First I upgraded my digital source from the NAD M51/Eximus DP-1 to a Schiit Yggdrasil. A very good upgrade, for a very reasonable cash outlay. Then I got a Head-amp Blue Hawaii SE amplifier, stocked with vintage Mullard tubes. I easily prefer this amp over my KGSShv Carbon. And it's way better than a "plain" KGSShv. The only amp I've heard that beats the BHSE is a DIY T2 (which I can't get). I also got a nice pair of AQ Sky 1m XLR interconnects, which is worthy of the BHSE. And I run the Yggy via an Audiophilleo 2 w/ Pure Power to coax, because I think that the Yggy's USB input absolutely sucks (bright and light on bass). 

  • Tubes
    Mazda 12AX7 chrome plates; phono stage and monoblocks. What an amazing tube; they gave my system a significant step forward in sound. In my system, these absolutely destroy every other legendary 12AX7. The Telefunken ribbed plates take 2nd place, but it's not very close. I also continue using 1950s Sylvania black plate 12BH7 in place of 12AU7 -- another very significant sub, though not quite as much as the Mazda 12AX7. The Mazda chrome plate 3-mica 6189 takes 2nd place here (and they are fairly close). Russian KT-120 fill out the Apollo monoblocks, and 6N30pi for the Hera II pre. For these, vintage alternatives are too costly as I require 3 quads of KT120 and 2 quads of 6N30.

  • TODO
    Based on the wait time I had for my Phantom II Supreme, and on my less-than-stellar perception of their customer service. I definitely won't be sending it in for upgrade. But I have been eyeing the new Graham Phantom III or Elite 10" arm-wands. They have upgraded internal cabling (might as well, since I've upgraded all other cables), and the Elite is a more substantial wand. The Coralstone deserves the best.  

    I might consider continuing to upgrade cables, though anything beyond this level gets VERY expensive in the AQ lineup, even used. I'm interested to see which I prefer between the old version 1 Sky versus the new Wind (1 level below Sky but 2 generations newer). If the Wind is victor, I may look into replacing my Skys.

    I want to explore tube vibration control, via Herbie's dampers. Also the phono stage might benefit from an isolation platform -- I have vibrapods under it now. 

    I have never addressed power cabling or conditioning in my systems. Not sure I wanna go there, yet.

mulveling

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Thanks Mulveling, you're a good guy with good sense.

schubert

Center
Owner
Haha, I know the "stupid enough to still want X" theme very well. But as a member of working middle class, I also knew I eventually had to pick a stopping point.
Here it is, for me! Salamander gear looks great and is well-constructed. In fact the stands under my monoblocks are Salamander (Synergy media rack top shelf plus polished
aluminum claw feet); I keep forgetting about that, but I love 'em.

My dealer has been fantastic to me, and for the last couple years he's been pushing the Critical Mass Systems racks. But with their pricing, I'm just never gonna go for that!
Rack resale value is horrific, and that's very relevant to me. And also, if I could hear more from my TT with better isolation, I'm confident the Stax SR-009 w/ KGSShv would
reveal it, but it doesn't!

mulveling

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I hear that, I've gone back on forth on big buck racks for years.
I go to the symphony 3-4 times a month ,when I get home I spin a vinyl and there is very little difference from live center-hall.
So, I guess my Salamander Archetype is good enough but I am stupid enough to still want a 2-3 K rack .

schubert

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