My continuing travels through the World of Ken Shindo and Shindo Labs. Many thanks to Matt Rotunda of Pitch Perfect Audio for his knowledge and expertise in all things Shindo. After hunkering down in temporary digs for two years and five months, I finally moved from sunny SoCal to Wine Country in Northern Cal in December of 2016. I'm still unpacking and sorting through boxes (I'm retired so I now have a lot of free time on my hands) but one of the very first things I unpacked and set up was my Hi Fi system. My Shindo system is for the most part, "complete", and I anticipate only a few more upgrades/refinements before reaching the end of the "Road to Hana" and Musical Nirvana. Life is great!
A retirement gift to myself! An opportunity came up, via Matt Rotunda of Pitch Perfect Audio, to trade-up from my Masseto to a Vosne Romanee.
Shindo Labs Lafon WE 300B monoblocks
A pair of Lafon monoblocks featuring the Western Electric 300B NOS tube. I don't think I'll be upgrading amplifiers anytime soon...
Shindo Labs Corton Charlemagne EL34
Two 25W monoblocks that each use two fixed-bias NOS Telefunken EL34 pentode tubes in Ultralinear mode, a pair of 12AY7 dual triodes and 6AU4s rectifiers.
Shindo Labs 301 Player System
With Shindo Mersault RF-773 tonearm & Shindo SPU. I had planned to make this upgrade one of the last pieces of my Shindo system puzzle, but a great local opportunity arose to acquire it at a "reasonable" price. Just a beautiful TT to behold. My TT journey is over!
Auditorium 23 Hommage T1 SUT
Auditorium 23's statement Step Up Transformer (SUT) designed for Shindo and Ortofon SPU's. A magical synergy with both the Shindo 301 TT and Vosne Romanee preamp.
Stock Sony SCD XA-5400es that received ModWright's Ultimate Truth Mod.
REL (Radio Engineering Labs) Precedent 646C Tube Mono FM Tuner
I acquired this highly regarded FM tuner from a fellow audiophile in the Bay Area in early 2017, but its refurbishment and re-calibration was just completed in May 2018. I inserted the tuner into my Shindo system using a Y-splitter to send its mono signal to my Shindo Vosne Romanee preamp and used a basic dipole ribbon antenna (I'm researching what to acquire for my more permanent FM antenna setup). I was beyond floored by how great it sounded! Amazing for a 60+ year old tuner!
McIntosh MR-67 FM Stereophonic Tube Tuner
I purchased this well kept McIntosh tuner from an audio dealer in Redondo Beach CA in 2009. I then had it re-calibrated by Mike Zuccaro in 2010 but due to a series of moves, I've never been able to integrate it into either my Audio Research or Shindo systems. But now that I'm settled in NorCal, I thought it time to bring it out of storage and A/B it with my REL Precedent 646C tuner. Not surprisingly, the McIntosh holds up very well in comparison. I have yet to determine my final FM antenna setup, so I'm running both tuners with a simple dipole antenna and even with this basic setup, the sound quality is excellent!
Altec 846A Valencia
A great 16-ohm speaker that works well with both my Shindo and Audio Research gear. Sonically, it never fails to amaze and thrill me.
Mast Mutter Altec 846A custom crossovers
Acquired a pair of Mast Mutter crossovers from fellow Agoner bnrlaw (Thank you!), I haven't had the time nor space to install them into my 846A's but once my system is reassembled in Northern California, I'll be able to A/B with them in and out of the set up.
Don Garber Fi 2A3
A really well-kept earlier 2A3 amp from Don Garber of Fi. Acquired from a fellow Agon-er, it pairs really well with my Shindo Monbrison preamp and Snell Type J II speakers. Can't wait to get my Altec 846A Valencia's out of storage to hear it with the Fi. Ran it over the last several days with a pair of JJ 2A3-40 tubes and a single Bendix 6106 with great results but I plan to do a little tube rolling to see what this gem can do.
Wright Sound WPA 3.5 SET
2A3 SET monoblocks that put out 3.5 wpc.
Quad II monoblocks
An older pair of classic Quad II monoblocks acquired from a gentleman on the East Coast. I plan to run this in both systems and see how they pair with my Quad ESL 57's. For now they sound great with the Altec Valencia's and Shindo gear!
Don Garber Fi X4
The X4 is a single-ended, direct-coupled design with two Tung Sol 46s, two 6SF5 tubes and a 5Y3 rectifier. Puts out 1.5 watts per channel and pairs nicely with my 16-ohm Altec 846A Valencia's.
Wright Sound WLA 12
A very clean WLA 12 acquired from an Audio Asylum owner on the East Coast. I've been swapping this in and out of my Shindo system to figure out the synergy with both the Shindo Montille and the Wright Sound WPA 3.5 monoblocks.
The last pair of Imager speakers made in genuine walnut veneer in 1995 by the late speaker designer, Marco Karpodines. It features an umbilical connection between speakers that produces a great soundstage. I acquired these speakers over the summer from a fellow Los Angeles/Orange County Audio Society member who was the original owner.
Thorens TD-124 mki
Mounted in a multi-layered Baltic Birch plinth. SME 3012r 12-inch tonearm with a Denon DL-103 cartridge retipped by Soundsmith and mounted in a Uwe African ebony body.
Snell Type J II
A pair of really clean original owner speakers acquired on eBay from the East Coast. Unfortunately, shipping them cross country damaged the foam surrounds but they were restored to good as new by Orange County Speaker Repair (highly recommended).
Snell Type J III
Restored by a fellow audiophile, its efficiency is 90 dBA compared to 92 dBA for the Type J II
Thorens TD-124 mkii
Thorens TD-124 mkii mounted in a two-tonearm slate plinth from Oswald Mills Audio with an Ortofon RMG 212 tonearm & Ortofon 90th Anniversary SPU. I need to mount a 12-inch Schick tonearm.
I was finally able to procure a Schick 12-inch tonearm. I plan to use this initially with the Thorens TD-124 mkii TT and the Ortofon 90th Anniversary SPU in the OMA slate plinth but will eventually move this to the Garrard 301 and a yet to be fabricated birch plinth.
WyWires, LLC Juice II Silver power cords
Two WyWire Juice II power cords for the ModWright XA5400es SACD/CD player and its power supply.
Box Furniture Company D4S
The D4S model in sapele from Pitch Perfect Audio in SF (and now of LA). One of the most beautiful and sturdiest racks I have ever had the pleasure of carrying up two flights of stairs. Solid construction and workmanship!
Auditorium 23 Step Up Transformer (SUT)
Denon 103 version specifically made for higher impedance cartridges like the Denon.
Silvercore MC for SPU Special
A special transformer designed specifically for the Ortofon SPU
Silvercore One-to-Ten SUT
Moving-coil step-up transformer containing (see Art Dudley's May 2011 review) "a stereo pair of toroidal transformers, wound from copper wire on proprietary amorphous cores, with a primary-coil impedance of 100 ohms"
Auditorium 23 4.0M Speaker Cable
4.0 M speaker cables with spade adaptors for use with the Altec Valencia's quaint (i.e. tiny) speaker posts or bananas with the Snell's. It's nice to have the extra length to optimize speaker placement.
Shindo Labs 2.0 M Silver Balanced
Matt Rotunda was kind enough to swap a pair of 1.5M RCA Shindo Silver ICs for a pair of balanced 2.0M Shindo Silver ICs that I am using to go from the Vosne Romanee preamp to the pair of Lafon Western Electric 300B monoblocks.
Shindo Labs 1.0 M Silver
Symetrical construction with Teflon dielectric
Shindo Labs 0.5M Silver
Two 0.5M ICs used from the TT to the Auditorium 23 SUT then to the Monbrison.
Shindo Labs Mr. T power conditioner
Acquired from Pitch Perfect Audio in SF. One more piece of the puzzle...
Ortofon SPU Classic GM mkii
I bought this in order to give the 90th Anniversary SPU an occasional break.
Altec 846A Valencia (second pair)
A pristine pair of Altec 846A Valencia's from an estate consignor's store in Sacramento. The original owner passed away about ten years ago and his wife passed earlier this year. The speaker's serial numbers are even lower than my present pair but the cabinets are so clean they look like they came from the factory yesterday. Definitely a keeper!
Ortofon SPU A Mono
I've been collecting and enjoying older mono LPs the last several years and inquired with Matt Rotunda about acquiring an EMT OFD 25i but he was out of stock and EMT had stopped producing them (a key casting mold for the cart had been either lost or damaged) so I purchased this Ortofon SPU A Mono as an interim solution until the EMT is manufactured again.
HH Scott 121-C Dynaural Equalizer Pre-amplifier
I acquired two 121-C's in February 2014 from an Audiomart seller in Pennsylvania who had completely refurbished and restored both units. I was in the process of readying my home for sale, so they remained in packing boxes until today (well at least one has been unpacked). I plan to run them with one of my Thorens TD-124 turntables and a yet-to-be acquired EMT cartridge dedicated towards playback of 78 LPs and mono LPs.
NOS Western Electric 2.5M (8 ft ) KS13385L-1 26 Strand 16awg speaker cables with black sheathing
2.5M (8 ft ) NOS Western Electric KS13385L-1 26 Strand 16awg speaker cables with black sheathing and small spades on both ends. I've ran them in place of the A23 speaker cables for the past year and, once broken in, they compare very favorably against the A23's.
Quad ESL 57
A pair of classic stock Quad 57's that I purchased from their second owner in 2012. I've ran it mostly with my Audio Research system, but mothballed them in 2014 for the eventual Big Move to NorCal. I finally pulled them out of storage, removed the shrink and bubble wrap and am now running them with a pair of NOS Quad II monoblocs that pump out 15 sweet wpc. A perfect pairing with the 57's and my Shindo gear!
Just read your comments and question. I've been back in Hawaii for the past month with minimal access to a PC (and no HiFi) so sorry for the delayed response.
My progression of Shindo amps were initially a Montille EL34 (paired with a Monbrison preamp) then a Cortese F2a (paired with first a Monbrison then a Masseto) then I moved on to pair of Lafon WE300B monoblocs (paired briefly with the Masseto then a Vosne Romanee). Speakers throughout this process were a pair of stock Altec 846A Valencia's. At every level, it was a pleasure to listen to my system. The level of detail, coupled with, for lack of a better word, a certain emotional connectivity to the music. If I were to stay at a particular level in the "journey", I wouldn't feel my system lacked for anything. The Monbrison/Masseto and Cortese pairings were particularly satisfying. I listen to jazz, classical, R&B, R&R, women vocals, Hawaiian slack key and the system pairings reproduced these genres very well. The Cortese is a great SET amp. When that was inserted into my system, plucked strings and dissipation of the crash of a cymbal took on a whole new dimension, well recorded vocals had that "in the room" quality. Background noise was minimized, almost black. There was none of the fatigue I had experienced with high powered SS equipment paired with less efficient speakers that was the earlier HiFi path I had taken.
I would have stayed with Cortese but the Lafon WE300B's became available and that was my "mad splurge" for the year. Earlier this year I acquired a pair of Corton Charlemagne's that use the EL34 tube and they also sound great with my Valencia's. My plan is to alternate between the Lafons and the CC's as soon as I re-insert the Valencia's back into my system (I'm currently running a pair of Quad ESL 57's which pair up better with a pair of Quad II monoblocs). I think my system is set, except for a move to the Giscours should a reasonably priced, gently used one come on the market.
A couple of system additions and equipment rotations as we move into spring here in NorCal (thank goodness!). I acquired a gently used pair of Shindo Corton Charlemagne monoblocs that feature the NOS Telefunken EL34 from an audio friend in SoCal. He has always taken impeccable care of his equipment which helped seal the deal. I also pulled out of storage a stock pair of Quad ESL 57 speakers that I acquired in 2012 down in SoCal and their matching Quad II monoblocs. I thought I'd give the Altec Valencia's part of this spring/summer off and run the 57's to ensure that they survived the Big Move back in 2016. So far, so good! They sound awesome with great synergy with the rest of the system!
Thanks for the kind words and the recommendation! I do love tasting Lafarge's Volnay Clos du Chateau des Ducs and his Clos des Chenes. Volnay is such a great Burgundy commune! Lafarge, d'Angerville, Lafon and Montille keep raising the bar so high. I was digging around in my LA cellar locker two weeks ago and came across a box of '98, '99 and '02 Lafarge and another box of d'Angerville from various vintages all safely "sleeping" until the right time. In fact, I'm finally traveling to Burgundy this fall for the very first time and I hope to walk and gain a better understanding and appreciation of these hallowed vineyards.
Hey Closdesducs, fellow wine lover (Master Sommelier/Shindo nut). Great system! Would love to one day hear a Lafon 300b as I have a desire to maybe move in the SET direction. Been lusting after a Lafon GM70... Keep drinking and listening. BTW if you like Clos Des Ducs check out out Michel Lafarge - his son is a friend. Great stuff just takes ages to come around.
Now that I'm firmly entrenched in my retirement digs, it was time to tackle an area that my system has always lacked; namely FM audio. I had acquired a well-kept McIntosh MR-67 FM tuner in LA back in 2009 but circumstances prevented me from integrating it into my Audio Research system and later my Shindo system.
I was also excited to acquire a fairly well-kept REL Precedent 646C mono FM tuner from a fellow audiophile in the Bay Area back in February 2017 and it's refurbishment and re-calibration were finally completed in May 2018.
So I'll be swapping both units in and out of the Shindo system to evaluate and assess. My initial impressions are that both sound pretty sweet which is mind boggling to me for FM tuners that are ~50-60 years old! I'm also researching what to do for a final FM antenna arrangement.
A friend from Chicago and his family recently came out for a Wine Country visit and really enjoyed listening to the "magic" of a Shindo-based system and it's synergy with Altec 846A Valencia's. Shortly after their departure, I came across a Craigslist ad for a pair at an estate consignor's shop in nearby Sacramento. I checked them out, ostensibly on behalf of my friend, and they were even more pristine cosmetically than my current pair! But my friend is several years away from constructing a dedicated listening room and possibly assembling his own Shindo system, so after mulling it over, he ended up passing on the speakers. But the thought of leaving behind such a beautiful pair of Valencia's made me pause...
But I think it will all eventually work out fine. An audiophile friend from Hawaii who plans to retire and move to Oregon in several years committed to acquiring my first pair of 846A's. So until that day comes, I have an extended period of time to install the mast_mutter crossovers, play around with raising one of the pairs off the floor, and do a true side-by-side A/B evaluation.
I think I will refrain from reading any more Craigslist ads for awhile...
System edited: Latest system upgrade/addition is an Auditorium 23 Hommage T1 SUT acquired from a fellow Agoner. I'm slowly unpacking my boxes of LPs after the Big Move in late December/early January (beyond exhausting; hopefully never again) so it's been fun re-listening to albums with the T1 SUT inserted between the Shindo 301 TT and the Vosne Romanee preamp. An already "involving", very musical system became even more involving. Listening sessions late into the night are now a regular occurrence.
With the free time that retirement brings, I'll gradually start playing around with raising the Altec Valencia's off the wood floor and installing the Mast_Mutter crossovers for a trial listen and evaluation.
Thanks for the info on your MW 5400ES mods. I checked with the fellow Agoner that I am buying my MW from and he also uses the same Phillips rectifier tube that you do, saying it is the best in his experience/opinion. Current price is $119, only an 240% increase in price over the $50 you paid. lol
Just as I thought I had secured an exemplar of the summit of this MW model re: upgrades, I find out that options exist to take it even farther (shoulda known of course). Audio Magic Illusion umbilical, MW 9.9 power supply, and, of course, better tubes. I guess that's what makes this hobby fun over the long haul.
The MW player will hopefully be here by the end of next week. I will let you know how it goes/sounds the week afterward.
Thank you for such an insightful and earnest reply.
I thoroughly understand your perspective and the very effective wine analogy. Your system is providing you what only superior systems do, strengthen and deepen the emotional connection of the music we love and cherish.
I pondered on your questions over the weekend as they were (as always) very thought provoking. I can't provide a meaningful response to your second question as I progressed up the Shindo "food chain" over a period of about 5 years through the following moves:
Monbrison & Montille
Monbrison & Cortese F2a
Masseto & Cortese F2a
Masseto & Lafon WE 300B monoblocks
Vosne Romanee & Lafon WE 300B monoblocks
So apart from very little slices of listening time at Matt Rotunda's Greenhaus events, I don't have extensive first hand experience with the VR-Cortese combo that I could contrast with my present VR-Lafon pairing.
I almost typed in "upgrades" instead of "moves" earlier, but I hesitate to use that word as it would do Shindo a disservice. From the get go, the Monbrison-Montille combo exceeded musically all of my previous systems and if I were to not move beyond that pairing, life would still be very good. But Matt's upgrade program provided opportunities over time to experience the beauty (at least to my ears) of the difference between the push-pull Montille and the Cortese F2a SET and the preamp refinements from the Monbrison to the Masseto and now to the Vosne Romanee.
I may be stretching this analogy a little (but I am moving to wine country after all <g>), so please forgive me if it comes across rather clumsily. For great Burgundy domaines, there may be several different bottlings ranging from a simple bourgogne that combines grape sources from several vineyards; a village, that is vineyard specific but not of premier or grand cru quality, a premier cru which is vineyard specific and very much displays the terroir of the vineyard to a grand cru that is the absolute expression of what that vineyard is capable of producing. There's very much a thread of commonality between all of these bottlings as they reflect the vineyard manager's and winemaker's care and vision. As I progress through these different levels, I encounter increasing levels of complexity; the profundity of their bouquets, textures and impressions and wines that, as a whole, strike a cord in me and move me emotionally.
And that's been my very happy similar experience with Shindo gear. With the caveat of properly pairing their gear with the right type of speakers and sources, a listener enjoys thrilling audio at Shindo's entry level, but if one chooses to progress through their various preamp/amp combinations, while the nuances become increasingly difficult (at least for me) to articulate, the listening enjoyment and pleasure increases exponentially. It's the old cliche of the system getting out of the way of the music and one is left anywhere between enjoying great musical and vocal performances or despairing over not so great to mediocre recordings. And I find myself increasingly less compelled to seek another path to take on this crazy audio road nor look for a tweak to extract that "little something extra" from my system.
Anyway...my apologies for this gossamer thread...
In another forum, I used to call an earlier version of my system the Road to Hana. It wasn't about the beach at the end of the road, it was the twisty, scenic beauty along the way that forces one to slow down, take in the view, and enjoy the drive. It's been a fun ride!
Congratulations on your upcoming retirement and move to TN. And thank you very much for the BBQ recommendation!
The tube is a Philips 5R4GYS rectifier tube that Robert H. Levi wrote about in Positive Feedback back in July/August 2013. I am a member of the LA Orange County Audio Society and Bob is our president so when he wrote about this tube, my interest was piqued.
I ordered a pair of these tubes (one to try and one as a backup for if and when the first tube goes bad) from Upscale Audio and ran it initially in the ModWright PS unit without the stock cover. But I wanted an elegant solution to better house and protect the new tube, so I called Kristin at ModWright and they were only too happy to fabricate a custom cover with a cutout that accommodated the width and height of the Philips tube. If memory serves me right, it cost about $50.
The ModWright has served me well and I haven't even thought about doing any additional upgrades or changes in the digital arena of my system since I acquired it in 2013. I am interested in your thoughts and impressions once you get your unit as I didn't do the SR Black fuses, Gen VX, and Bybee rails to my stock Sony XA5400es due to budget constraints.
Anyway, I hope this info helps. Best wishes to you on your audio journey.
I plan to soon do the same (move to East TN). I grew up there and feel it to be God's country. I hope you will enjoy it. Be sure to try Ridgewood Barbeque in Bluff City.
Quick question: I notice that you have a BIG tube protruding from the top of the Modwright PS with a necessary hole in the top and the cover rotated 180 degrees. Is this a Modwright upgrade or did you do it yourself? Any other custom mods to your Modwright you would recommend? I have one coming shortly and my curiosity is piqued. It already has the Truth umbilical, SR Black fuses, Gen VX, and Bybee rails.
Congratulations on both your upcoming retirement and move. You have an exceptionally lovely system that surely must sound divine. What are the essential differences you've noticed moving from the Shindo F2A SET to their 300b SET? I imagine that both sound wonderful paired with the Vosne-Romanee 😊.
Thank you for your comments; it definitely has been an interesting audio journey! A lot of passionate, interesting, committed people along with the occasional audiophile or two that deserve to be "committed" <g>
As for Los Angeles, I will miss the warm weather and the beach, but the traffic has been going to heck-in-a-hand basket the last several years and being from a small town on the island of Kauai, it's time to move to a small town in Wine Country.
System edited: Well, my retirement and impending move out of LA is just around the corner so I jumped at the opportunity to trade-in my Masseto preamp for a gently used Vosne Romanee via Matt Rotunda's Pitch Perfect Audio "trade up" program. The VR is just settling in, but I hope to maximize my listening time before boxing my system up for The Big Move north. Vosne Romanee is my most favorite Burgundy terroir (with Chambolle Musigny and Volnay close behind) and this preamp does these famed vineyards justice! Subtle nuances, texture and an oh-so-black background. A part of me wishes I weren't moving so soon...
System edited: Transitioned from the Shindo Cortese F2a SET amp to a pair of Shindo Lafon WE 300B SET monoblocks. I also acquired a pair of custom crossovers for my Altec 846A Valencia but will wait until I am at my next and final destination before installing them. Not too many more changes to make other than perhaps one or two more preamp upgrades and acquiring at Auditorium 23 Hommage SUT to raise the level of my analog set up.
System edited: Well in May it was the addition of the Shindo 301 Player System turntable. July brings a transition from my much beloved Monbrison to a Masseto as part of Pitch Perfect's Trade Up program (Thanks Matt!). The Masseto is still settling in from its UPS journey, but if last night is an indication, the Summer of Vinyl just ramped up several notches! I may not leave my loft until work forces me to on Monday...
System edited: The first of two major upgrades to the System. I really need to dig into a sea of shipping boxes and find that carefully stored VPI 16.5 LP cleaner. It's looking like it will be the Summer of Vinyl...
System edited: Couple of recent, fun additions to the system to provide a different audio path every once in awhile as the mood strikes me. A pair of vintage Quad II monoblocks that are in fairly good shape that I plan to run with my Quad ESL 57's; a Don Garber Fi X4 that features a pair of NOS Tung Sol 46 tubes; and a 12-inch Schick tonearm to pair initially with the Thorens TD-124 mkii. Now if I can find the darn VPI 16.5 record cleaner amongst all these storage boxes...
I have to agree. Matt's Greenhaus events are a great experience. I just have to wear a bib to catch all the drool after looking and listening to all the great gear. I missed the last one but hope to make the next G-haus. Cheers!