I've spent thirty years building up this system, it's very much a personal assemblage drawing on five excellent dealers in LA and Portland (Randy at Optimal Enchantment, David at Weinhart Design, Scott at Scott Walker Audio, Brian at Audio Element and Jonathan at Chambers Audio). Now moved to a dedicated but very small (18' wide, by 10' front to back, speakers on the long wall) room here in OR. The setup is of necessity “nearfield” with the speakers about 9’ apart and the same distance from tweeter to ear. Speaker positioning is in roughly Cardas golden ratio alignment with fine tuning to ensure equidistant to listening position via laser level, differences of 1mm or so are very audible.

The room was designed by Art Noxon of ASC and constructed by Hammer and Hand, I suspect labor and materials for the room was north of $75K (we had other work done at the same time) but having gone through the process I am now convinced that optimizing a room acoustically will have more impact on your system than any component change. 

As you can see I am also a big believer in system optimization through accessories and in fact 50% of the cost of this system is in accessories (excluding the room). LPs and CDs are primarily in a custom shelving system in the storage room next door. Lots of details in the specifics or each element of the system are in the notes to the various system components

Room Details

Dimensions: 10’ × 18’  Medium
Ceiling: 9’

Components Toggle details

    • Magico M3
    So about a month ago I finally got my M3s to replace the Q3s (lead time is about 8 weeks). First off Magico have really worked on their packaging and delivery. While the Qs came two in a crate and had to be brute force manhandled into place the setup for the M3s (which weigh a good bit more than the Q3s) is a delight -- they are locked in place on castors in their crates and then you roll them out and in to place. It's still a 2 (ideally 3) person job and one you should leave to the professionals if you can.

    I've experimented with location but ended up with them basically where the Qs were, just off the Cardas points on the long walls but with a little more toe in then with the Qs. I also dispensed with the EnigmAcoustics super tweeters, the Townshend platforms and also the SR bass modules. The tweeters on the Ms are smooth all the way to wherever and the M-Pod footers fully isolate the speaker from my floors. I also found that I could hear the resonant frequency of the SR ART bass modules so I got rid of them.

    The sound signature of the M3s is the antithesis of flashy, they impose no profile of their own at all but instead almost perfectly transmit what is in the rest of the system. They go deeper and cleaner than the Q3s in my room, but again without any emphasis this can seem as if they are bass light if you miss the typical bass humps you get with so many other speakers.

    One consequence of this linearity is that they call out coloration elsewhere in the setup -- so I found I was now hearing the mid bass emphasis and lower treble halo in my ARC Ref pre. Both of these are pleasant colorations but colorations non the less so I reluctantly swapped that component out for the VTL 7.5III which is much more linear (and dynamic). 

    Overall the M3s are a pleasure to use but they may lead you to rethink many of the other elements in your setup.
    • VTL TL-7.5 III
    As noted in my comments on the M3 the sheer linearity of this speaker led me to hear the colorations in my ARC Ref 40. Reading online reviews I wondered if the VTL 7.5III would be a better fit (and a natural with my amps). I got in a loaner and from the get go it was clear that this was one really consistent pre across the frequency range. Relative to the Ref40 it is so much more consistent, almost too linear if you listen to CDs as the Ref40 lent a delightful bloom and appeal to this format. On LP, and on classical in particular, however there is no question that the VTL is superior. It also excels at dynamics going from zero to 200 in no time at and bringing out low level details even in the most intense peaks. 

    Downsides are the configuration -- especially the widely spaced inputs which could be a real problem depending on your cable configuration. Luckily I was able to make it work by reprogramming the inputs. The flexibility and configurability of the system could also be an issue as it's a bit confusing at first to get to grips with. But overall a superb addition and well worth checking out especially if you use VTL amps.
    • VTL MB-450 III
    Latest iteration of the 450, in lowest damping and sitting on Marigo F8 feet (one front, two rear). Power cords are AQ Dragon HC -- detailed comments on these below
    • DCS Vivaldi
    I have just upgraded my eight year old Paganini to a full Vivaldi stack -- not so much because I was dissatisfied with the Paganini but more because I wanted to give myself some headroom and keep up with future upgrades. Anyway the Vivaldi definitely marks a nice upgrade on the Paganini but whether it's worth the cost is another question (and certainly I would suspect that a Vivaldi with stock cables and tweaks would not perform as well as a fully tweaked up Paganini). Luckily having invested in all the cabling and so I was able to hit the ground running. 

    As with any DCS stack the trick is optimizing the sound which requires molto $$ in accessories. In rough order of importance:
    1. Power cords -- just changed up to SR Galileo SX on all four pieces, compared to the mix of LE and older SR cords I was using these are much more uniform and natural sounding -- adding the grounding cables takes this up another notch, reduces the glare and bass emphasis and gives an overall more involving presentation. I use the silver bullets, gold are too relaxed
    2. Clock cords -- using the Transparent Ref XL BNC, current reference
    3. Dual AES interconnect between Transport and DAC (for SACD) or upsampler and DAC (for CD). I have  Transparent Reference XL for the three AES/EBU cords that run to and from the upsampler -- this is a very worthwhile step up bringing a much more natural, subtle and open sound. For SACD (transport to DAC) I have a pair of Ron Heydrich’s top of the line Marigo digital cords. Compared to the Ref XL these are more open and detail oriented than warm and organic which suits SACD well but was a bit clinical/studio sounding on red book
    4. Footers -- each piece is on its own GPA Monaco shelf and sits on Marigo Labs VX V3 feet which have really tightened up the sound
    5. I also use a Marigo Clear Transformation Mat which is icing on the cake!
    6. Finally each component has a Shakti stone on top (above the transformer for all except the transport where it sits above the disc spinner)
    • Miyajima Labs Zero
    I used to have a Lyra Dorian Mono but never warmed to teh sound of that. The Zero is no comparison, a very big and open sound, tracks at 3.5g.
    • Durand Tonearms Kairos
    Recently installed this superb unipivot, worlds better than the TriPlanar VII it replaced. Wonderfully open and dynamic, completely untroubled by even the most complex and energetic material
    • Ear Yoshino Ltd. DiscMaster
    Magnetic drive, two tonearm turntable. Takes some optimizing to get it to work right, including swapping out the springs in the rear turret, with a stiffer spring I'm finally able to manage the bounce and get everything level

    One perhaps neglected aspect of the EAR (and many similar belt drive turntables with external DC motors) is the sensitivity of the motor to the power cord used on it. Over the years I have gone from stock to Nordost Valhalla, to Marigo Iridium to Marigo Rubidium and with each step there is a clear improvement in rhythmic consistency and timing. The most recent step up in Marigo cables brought the best aspects of digital (i.e. speed stability and absolute inherent consistency in the timing of all parts of the performance) to the spaciousness and richness of analog - a great combination
    • Synergistic Research Various (ART, HFT, Atmosphere)
    Guess I swallowed the Ted Denney gospel. The room includes
    1. A full ART system (with 4 bass stations, and 10 magnetrons/gravitrons)
    2. 36 HFTs (mix of the original, X and 2.0), Cover all walls and the ceiling. Energized by two FEQs
    3. An Atmosphere. Probably the most subtle of the SR gizmos, usually leave it set in the "Expansive" setting
    4. Two Powercell 12 UEFs, one for the sources, one for the power amps. These are the top of the line glass topped model, damped/covered in each case to also cut out the annoying flickering blue LED
    5. Four Galileo SX power cords for the dCS stack and an LE for the pre-amp
    6. Galileo UEF speaker cables
    7. A Transporter Ultra SE to power the one remaining LE cord -- have over time swapped out of this technology which while it works is fiddly and complicated with the additional connections needed. Power cord is an Atmosphere L3
    9. SR Black fuses in all components
    10. SR Black (sources) and Blue (amps) outlets
    11. SR Active Ground Blocks (see detailed comments below)
    • Grand Prix Audio Monaco
    I use Monaco stands throughout on Apex footers for sources. One shelf (under the pre is replaced with a Marigo shelf, but at $1900 this is a pricey upgrade). The turntable sits on a Brooklands wall shelf bolted to dedicated studs (i.e. studs are not otherwise connected to the walls, only the floor and ceiling), studs also have ASC Stud Stabilizers attached
    • Acoustic Sciences Various
    The room was designed by Art Noxon and constructed by Hammer & Hand. The walls are double thickness with ISO Damp and in effect built in bass traps. I have dual windows (two separate sound insulated windows offset to diminish standing waves). Dual doors sound insulated. Concrete floor with wool rugs. Corners treated with ASC 16" Tower Traps. Ceiling to wall with an ASC Acoustic Soffit and all walls and windows with ASC sound panels. Windows also have Marigo tuning dots to further damp them (as well as the SR ART and HFTs)
    • Torus WM-75
    Power to the room comes via a Torus 75A isolating power conditioner. Dedicated lines to the fuse box which also has an Environmental Protections EP-2775 ground filter and EP-2050 surge protector. All cabling is Synergistic Research as are the power receptacles (TeslaPlex SE) and they sit in Oyaide WPC outlets
    • Synergistic Research Galileo UEF Speaker Cables
    Having trialled Nordost Odin (v1), AQ WEL Signature and SR Galileo LE speaker cables in my system I settled on the latter as the best fit for me. Odin was fast and wide open but for me at least a little thin. 

    With the introduction of the latest SX series Galileo cords I got a good deal on the UEF series so changed too these -- compared to the LE the UEF is more open and relaxed, it could seem a bit "laid back" but more a case that this takes some of the unnatural edge and emphasis off leading edges and allows for a more integrated and complete tonal range and soundstage
    • AudioQuest WEL Signature
    WEL Signature is my primary interconnect. I use 2M balanced runs between the CD player and pre, and from the phono to pre. I have a 7.5M run from pre to power amps. Given the cost of long runs of cable I'm not sure I'll be looking for an alternative soon having gotten a very good deal on this cable originally as a 12M single run. AQ have superb after sales service and I was able to get this cut down and re-terminated as three cables for a very reasonable price, the value of a brand that really stands behind their products is not to be underestimated. I also just added this cable for my tonearm-pho run -- another nice addition, a very clean and easy to use cable and improved on the Durand supplied cable (Discovery?) that I had before
    • Shunyata Research Dark Field Suspension System
    Given my long run of interconnect from pre to power I have always used simple wooden cable elevators to get it off the ground. Having decided to try out the FDSS I was very surprised at how much of an improvement they made in really making the resolution crisper and getting a greater degree of space -- highly recommended
    • Herbie's Audio Lab Stabilizers
    Following a recommendation on the 'Gon I added Herbie's stabilizers for all the tubes in my system. I use the HAL-O-III titanium in the VTL power amps big tubes and the Rx in the power amps small tubes. Overall this is a profound improvement bringing a much improved level space and control most noticeable through the greater ability to distinguish details, especially when the content is driven hard and in complex pieces. Tracks that had previously resulted in hardness and distortion now play cleanly -- I cannot recommend these items highly enough -- a must buy for any tube components
    • Acoustical Systems Palladian MC Cartridge
    Latest addition is the new AS Palladian - the top of the line cartridge from Dietrich Brakemeier. This is a LO MC and slotted in very easily on my Kairos in place of the Air Tight PC-1 I have been running for the past five years or so. Straight up with less than ten hours play it's clear that this is a very special transducer. As well as the speed, detail and accuracy you'd expect one of the most striking things about this cartridge is how well it handles instrumental scale -- by this I mean maintaining the difference in the size of instruments even when the mix is getting loud and complex. For an example take something like "Cinema Show" from Genesis. In the final section there's a point where a bass pedal enters. With the PC-1 the bass pedal sounded like the existing bass guitar line but deeper, while with the Palladian the bass guitar line is more tightly defined and clear while when the bass pedal enters it's a completely distinct and soundstage filling presence. In other words the Palladian excels at preserving little differences in the presence of larger ones -- the essence of reproducing a musical event I believe
    • Durand Tonearms The Record Weight
    It might cost an arm and a leg but by gum this thing makes a difference. I compared with a range of other record weights but this is by far and away the most musical -- where other weights tighten up and damp the sound this one somehow opens out the music and lets you hear into the mix -- highly recommended if you can get one to try
    • Transparent Audio Reference XL Digital
    Have finally upgraded to Ref XL for all my digital connections (3 BNC and 3 AES/EBU). While very expensive these are great cords bringing a sense of openness, ease and naturalness to all recordings. They make other cords sound brash and flashy by comparison
    • Herzan TS-150 Active Isolation
    THere's been a lot of discussion of the benefits of active isolation and given the prevalence of seismic activity in my location I sprung for a TS-150, the most compact of the range from Herzan. It's not cheap but my does it work -- with active isolation engaged the sound of the turntable takes a huge step up, most in the degree to which the system is completely unflappable and in control at all times, no matter what is happening on the disc you can hear it. Bass may seem diminished but this is simply a matter of removal of distortions. I'd really consider this as a must have component for anyone with a serious turntable
    • Symposium Acoustics Segue stands
    Just added a custom pair of these (6"x6") sitting on rollerblock Jrs to go under my two SR FEQs. The FEQs are sensitive to what is under them -- squishy is a definite no no but too tight (e.g. spikes) can sound a little thin. The segues are ideal and in the context of the system made sense
    • Durand Tonearms Talea
    Just added this great tonearm in place of the Wand Plus. Frankly its in a different league and has had a transformative effect on my mono playback. The dealer who sold it asked if I thought it was worth it "just for mono" -- the answer is "hell yes!"

    I'm continually amazed at how much richness and emotion there is in 50s and 60s mono LPs, and the recent reissues of artists such as Johanna Martzy -- a wealth of great material to explore

    The Talea is very easy to mount as it has normal 9.5" mounting geometry with an offset arm. The setup is also straightforward if you follow the instructions closely. The one niggle in comparison with the Kairos is that the pivot balance is not as crisp to find as on the Kairos -- but by the same token you won't be able to balance in off optimal points. I understand from Joel that this is down to the material the cup is made of which in the case of the Talea is smoother and hence doesn't have that crisp click when you have the balance made (you'll know if your off if the cartridge lolls around)
    • Synergistic Research Active Ground Block SE
    I've been thinking about a grounding solution for some time but despite the many SR products in my system the older simple ground block did not seem robust enough for me. I was almost about to spring for the Telos system when SR came out with the new active ground block that includes a mains connection along with a host of other current UEF technologies. I've now got two of these (one for the sources, one for power amps etc) and a full selection of the HD links to connect to every component. I even grounded all my stands using the supplies basic links (which I stripped back to bare wire and looped into the open metal on my stands which are conductive)

    Overall I would argue that this has been the most transformative "tweak" I've ever implemented. The impact is not felt in terms of changing the tone/dynamics/frequency extent of the system but more by unfolding a whole new wealth of information that had previously not been audible. This is especially obvious in sound washes such as background synths and massed strings which are now clearly audible, yet fully distinct. You will also feel a whole additional dimension of subtle shading in vocals and overall a better sense of integration between all the performers -- some sort of grounding solution is strongly recommended.
    • Levin Design Record Brushes
    Crazy expensive but very attractive and well designed -- for the mid century modern audiophile! They do work very well however. I have the Maser Birch set
    • KL Audio KD-CLN-LP200
    I just replaced my ClearAudio double matrix pro cleaner with the KL ultrasonic -- why did I wait so long! Not only is the process more convenient (drop in the disc and walk away) but the results are transformative. It seems to bring all the performers into the same room, what had before been a collection of individual performers each in their own bubble is now an integrated whole. Overall the outcome is less hi-fi and more organic. Of particular interest is the clarity added to background sounds such as the chorus on Fotheringay on the Fairport LP "What we did on our holidays" -- once cleaned on the KD what had been a shimmery but pleasant wash was now resolved as a number of individual voices. Highly recommended -- it's noisy though!
    • AudioQuest Dragon HC
    I use a pair of these on my mono block power amps. The latest from AQ is a significant step up over the (similarly priced) WEL I was using before. Straight up I was flabbergasted by a completely different presentation of the Dragon vs the WEL. Bass seems less pronounced but there is much more air and space all around. As you listen more you realize that low level dynamics and inflections are now apparent that you had previously not been aware of -- and overall the ability of the amps with these new cables to communicate emotion has gone up in strides. As far as the bass goes - too many audio systems add an emphasis, a boom or low/mid bass stress that seems superficially attractive and is often quite exciting. But real bass isn’t like that, it grows naturally and kind of sits under the Music with its own texture and intensity. With the WELs in my setup I had that hyped up bass, with the Dragons it’s more organic and real world.

    One odd effect is to seemingly amplify dynamic range -- what I mean by this is that while perhaps previously I’d been using a range of say 36-46 on my pre amp to accommodate the optimal loudness for all my CDs, now I found myself using 28-52 -- with the Dragon’s it seems the power cord is no longer compressing the peaks which in some cases (i.e. a more compressed recording) might mean a lower volume setting is optimal while more purist recordings can take a higher.
    • Music First Audio Classic V2
    In anticipation of getting a new MM only phono stage I took the plunge and added at step up to my system. Based on recommendations and having heard it at shows I went with the MFA Classic V2. The buying process for MFA is to have the step up completely custom built for you so you get to specify gain, loading and in my case the option for two switchable inputs for my two arms and cartridges. I've always been leery of step ups worrying about the additional interconnect and complexity. 

    Wow -- how wrong could I have been! Adding a step up and getting the gain cascade right has been transformative on my LP reproduction. Dynamics are much improved and the scale and size of the image expanded. Where dynamic peaks had overloaded and confused they now seem to go on for ever -- while at the same time low level color and fine detail is coming through like never before. Against my prior option of running my pre-amp at high gain the addition of a step up is so much better
    • GIK Acoustics Free Standing Acoustic Panel (GOBO)
    When my room was originally designed Art Noxon of ASC recommended I add a pair of panels just either side of the listening chair to deal with reflections from the stacks of equipment at either side. I didn't think too much of this and was worried about cluttering the space and potentially over deadening things. Based on recommendations by many of GIK products and their great pricing I opted to have them make me up a pair of custom GOBOs for just this purpose. With these in place I became aware how problematic these low level but confusing reflections can be. With them banished (and with the GOBOs slightly offset so I'm not getting any direct reflections off them) I became aware that the rest of the high frequency alignment in my system was off -- specifically I used to have my supertweeters teed in more than the mains, with these now aligned it's as if everything has now snapped into super focus and the level of ease and naturalness especially in vocals has leapt up. AS always fine tuning pays off
    • Mutec Ref-10 10Mhz Clock
    Spurred by following recent review of the Vivaldi One I was intrigued at the though of adding a 10MHz reference clock to my Vivaldi Stack. The Cybershaft mentioned in the review is pretty much unobtainable but a bit of online research helped me find the Ref 10 from Mutec. My full review is here ( but in a nutshell the addition of a dedicated clock with its own enclosure and power supply brought substantial benefits in terms of pace and clarity to the already high performing dCS system. Further improvements were realized by adding improved power cords 75 ohm connections, both top of the line from Marigo. Finally getting the clock on footers and an isolation platform was also very positive. Overall I'd recommend any owner of recent dCS or similar equipment should investigate the addition of some form of external master clock.
    • Voss Elite Sound VOSS VKO Series V/ONE1 REF VIRTUOSO Phonostage
    I first heard John Voss' (Dourmandy) phono stage at the LAAS in 2017. This was an early prototype of this minimalist MM only, 40dB gain, fixed 47K loading battery powered phono stage. From the very first notes I knew that this was something special -- resolving higher frequencies in a way I'd never heard before. Most unlike me I placed an order on the spot and finally, 14 months later, after a lot of continued development its now in my system.

    The Voss is a two box phono where the small black box visible under my amp stand is a power supply for the batteries and a three way switch for off/on/charge. It gets 30-50 hours from a charge and can recharge in 3 hours or so. So far I've got about 10 hours on it only but relative to the ARC Ref2SE I had before it's a completely different beast.

    Only when you make a change of this magnitude do you realize how colored a phono stage can be. The Ref2SE is a fine stage and very musical and exciting but when you compare this to the Voss you understand its giving you a false low/mid bass boost that adds energy and bounce to recordings but also overlays a layer of stodge on everything else.

    One of the best instances I can cite of this is on a mono recording of multiple voices and instruments -- take anything by the Chordettes for example. Through the ARC these are fun and high energy recordings and very enjoyable but through the Voss you can distinguish every voice, follow the lead and each backup individually and listen into the stacked mono soundstage with crystal clarity.

    The Voss also excels at relative scale, small things (like flutes and triangles, and vocalists) stay small even when big things (like bass pedals or bass drums) are resounding all around them. With two many components the latter modulates the former.

    So it's an expensive, uncompromising and ascetic phono stage but having tried it there's no going back
    • Taiko Audio Workshop Taiko Custom Herzan Mods
    Via Mono & Stereo I became aware that Taiko Audio from the NL offer an upgraded PSU and top=plate for the Herzan platform. Having experienced the improvements that changing the power cord on a Herzan can bring I was intrigued. Without even asking me to put down a deposit Taiko sent me the upgrades -- the original plan was that they would fly out to me to upgrade the top plate but circumstances conspired to make this impossible so I did the job myself -- after working out an issue involving a lost screw jamming the mechanism I got it all sorted, its always good to know how your equipment really works!

    So how does it sound -- in a single word "transformative" -- removing another whole level of grunge and resonance from LP playback makes the system sound completely different. I had not realized how much LP coloration was making everything sound similar -- with this removed the differences between recordings are so much more apparent, and the details in every part of the recording so much more clear. Highly recommended!

    One of the odder things about the Taizo PSU upgrade is how sensitive it still is to power cords -- over the years I've tried a $2K SR Atmosphere cord and this didn't work at all well, sounding thing and aggressive. For a year I've been using a basic $200 power cord that seemed a good fit but Ron H from Marigo left me one of his Platinum level cords and having enjoyed what these do with the PSU on my table I thought to try it in the Taizo -- it's a great fit, these just add another level of ease and clarity to how the table presents music -- details like different cymbals stand out more clearly -- it may take time but do experiment to find the cord that works best for you
    • Taiko Audio Setchi Grounding Blocks
    As a believer in the impact of grounding (see my notes on the Synergistic Research Active grounding blocks) I was intrigued when Ed and Emile at Taiko suggested I try out their solution -- the battery powered Setchi ground blocks. These are very attractive wooden boxes, about 6" square (they come in different sizes) with one outlet, terminated as needed, and a 9V battery. I currently use three of the D3s, one connected to the Herzan power supply, one to the diagnostic BNC on the back of the Herzan and the other to my Mutec Clock. I also useone of the smaller A1s on the phono stage. 

    The effect of these is far from subtle, especially on the clock and Herzan PSU. They immediately make things seem much more open and clearer taking away a level of confusion and congestion that you were not previously aware of. I'm not sure I can pin down the effect of the A1 on the VOSS phono stage as well -- perhaps because this is a battery powered device it is pretty impervious to grounding, and all the other solutions I've tried make things worse rather than better. The A1 brings a small extra degree of snap and focus but its a pretty marginal effect.

    The Setchi blocks are also supposed to provide a vibration damping effect -- it's certainly true that they are sensitive to how and where they are located so do experiment with this as well
    • Perfect Path Technologies The Gate
    At Ron Hedrich’s (Marigo Audio) suggestion I recently added this passive power conditioning treatment into my system. Installation was on the 240v input side of my Torus on wall balances conditioner (electrically identical to installing it in the house panel) and once settled in after a day or so the Gate has a clear and intriguing positive impact on an already heavily optimized power system. Think of the Gate as a “balancer” for the system. The entire frequency range seems more consistent so that for example dynamic energy you had previously only enjoyed in the mid range is now available at the lowest bass and highest treble as well. This can result in a major change in the perceived tonality of your system so be prepared to tweak speaker of (in my case) listening height I response. Overall for less than the cost of a power cord the Gate delivers a substantial impact and is highly recommended.

Comments 86


Quick update on the ongoing story of my UK setup. As I mentioned after only seven months or so of use for my new room in West Sussex I'm moving again! 


I've attached a plan (scaled in meters) and a few photos of the current room. As you can see it is a custom designed build mostly in plywood, vented to act as a bass trap and damped in all walls and ceiling. In addition the walls and ceiling are isolated from the basic garage. One area that could be improved is probably the damping of the walls themselves with some sort of constrained layer material.


The room has been a very interesting experience to really help me understand how the design and shape of a room influences the performance of your system. After many months of listening and experimenting I believe I finally have a handle on what the system itself is capable of delivering and a profound realisation of how fundamentally the room defines what you hear.


Before I get to this a quick update on system changes – basically only the upgrade of the Mutec to REF10 SE status, plus some power supply upgrades by the UK Mutec dealer. Other than that the system is as in the US – with of course the upgrade to the latest limited edition SR Galileo PowerCells! I’ve also been restricted to CD listening as I never got around to installing my vinyl setup.


Back in Portland I had a room that was warm, enveloping and exciting with rich round and deep bass. The basic sound was good and acoustic folk type music in particular sounded very believable with great 3D imaging. However, the room would often overload, and complex music tend towards sounding harsh. Image scale was also variable, and the bass tended towards a little tubbiness (i.e. emphasising the upper mid tom tom range)


Initially in the UK I was able to get close to the same sound, and spent time adjusting the amount of SR tuning (primarily ART bowls) in the room to optimise the soundstage. However, on a whim one day knowing I was taking the room down I decided to try taking off the acoustic fabric panels covering every wall. These are taut panels of fabric designed to cover room treatments while being acoustically transparent. 


Wow! What a change. All of the sudden the room came alive and sounded completely different. Images took on a genuine true to life scale – i.e. vocalists became points in space perfectly located relative to one another, instruments scaled to the size of the recording and the instrument (i.e a solo violin playing in an orchestra is actually tiny). In addition, I could pick apart drum lines and interplay in percussion in a way I never had been able to before. I also realised how much the SR add ons were colouring the room – adding an artificial sound stage and metallic tone that was now very apparent. The only SR acoustic treatments I now use are a pair of FEQs which are actually fundamental to the performance of the room.


So what had changed? In a word I think the room was now preserving timing. By this I mean how well the room stops and starts and does so while maintaining the relative integrity of the signal. An over damped room will stop too soon and sound dead. However, an overly resonant room will muddy everything up. However even an ideally (by say RT60) optimised room if overly diffuse will deliver a mix of reflected sound cues that blend reflections from all over the room and mess up the original sound cues in the recording. The same room with a more dominant primary (ie. first reflection point etc) resonant signature retains the timing of the original recording and the brain can make more sense of that and work back to the original cues. So the tubbiness I’m describing (which is shorthand for an overall warm bloom but a muddying of spacial and subtle stylistic cues) I think is the effect of an uncontrolled wash of diffuse second order reflections.


The balance I’m now getting is much closer to the mix from headphones — it’s probably not what many would be after but is hyper analytical and very dynamic — it excels on classical music rendering each player in perfect scale but contained in their own space (if recorded that way). Overly mixed and tweaked studio recordings are treated honestly with all the trickery and artifice laid bare. I’m not meaning that the sound favours “better” recordings but simply that it is truthful — honest recordings (by which I mean ones that are either informed by a true “absolute sound” mindset or ones that have more of a “field” character) are often the ones I like best.  


A couple of examples can help make this point. The first is Chesky. I own a number of Chesky binaural CDs that historically I've never warmed too — take for example “Dazzling Blue” by Alexis Cole. On my past systems this has sounded blown out and confused. But now it all makes sense and the absolute relationship of all the players in space is clear to see. This review gets it quite well — I’d say the room now delivers the sound as described via headphones


Another example is Susan Cagle, “The Subway Recordings” — this was recorded live at Times Square Station at rush hour and frankly on many systems sounds absolutely terrible, overloaded and chaotic with a tilted up overly loud vocal and boomy drums and bass. Get the blend of direct and reflected sound right however and the vocal snaps into place, the relative position and scale of all the instruments makes sense and you are in the station with her and the band.


I also think the system is getting closer to the real sound of live acoustic performance. I’ve often gone to classical performances and come away disappointed that it didn’t sound like my hifi (i.e. it wasn’t glowing with bloom with each player highlighted in space) but the reality is music in the real world doesn’t sound like that. Pianos are not 12’ wide but they are incredibly dynamic. Vocal soloists don’t sound as if they’re six feet in front of you, but they can give you incredibly subtle inflections and go from nothing to full tilt in a breath. The system is now delivering this and I’m finding great pleasure in digging into my back catalogue and comparing different performances of the same piece.


So I guess at the end of the day the big discovery to me is how essential it is to get this timing element right — probably as important if no more so than frequency range, flat response and all the rest — you can listen though and adjust for all manner of frequency anomalies but you cannot recreate timing cues that have been lost. 


The lesson for me is to take nothing for granted – continual experimentation is the basis for really understanding what your system could deliver. Get off the “upgrade” bandwagon and spend time really getting to grips with how the room and system interact – only then can you really benefit from what your existing equipment can bring you.


I’ll take all the lessons I’ve learned from this room into my new setup which is going to be slightly larger (20’ by 24’ rather than 15’ by 18’) which should allow a little more space to breathe and also more room for all of the equipment (including vinyl). The basic room itself is an 36’ by 48’ office on top of a garage block in an early 19th century brick and timber barn so a very different space but should make for an interesting experience – and hopefully somewhere I can stay and listen for a very long time.


Hi Simon: I'm really looking forward to updated pictures of your new room/system. You have been inspirational to many of us on Audiogon. Thanks for all of the great experimentation and advice. Jeff L


So after six months with my new room I'm moving! Onwards and upwards to a bigger room (6m x 8m appx) which I can learn from the one I just had built -- lots of good lessons, and particularly the primacy of room over treatments -- get the room right first and most of the treatments are not needed


After over a year I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. I have a two car detached garage that we are planning to convert to an audio room and with luck the work should be completed by early October -- this time I'll have a better sized space (4mx6m appx) and all the room treatments and acoustics built in from the outset so it should look much better!


System is now boxed up and ready to be shipped off to the UK -- sad to see the room back to bare walls ready for its next owner (who may be planning to make it a home theater so at least the effort on acoustic treatment was not wasted)

Late breaking changes included adding the new Durand Tosca gimbaled tonearm -- based on an hours listening before I totaled my Palladian (don't ask) it's really something special!

Anyway amps back with VTL for change to 240V and new UK spec Power Cells (the latest models with the special power cords) on their way from SR 

Look back for news in a year or so once I'm settled in the UK


Just added discussion and pictures of PPT The Gate installed in my system. An intriguing and positive improvement that brings a new feel and even tonality that I’ve not seen delivered by any other change, impact is akin to adding a grounding solution in a system but while also improving dynamics across the frequency range


Continued adjustment -- moving to the latest Synergistic Galileo SX cables for the dCS stack and continuing to tweak the Taiko upgrades by adding more grounding blocks and working on the power cord to the Tana Herzan power supply.

It's funny how all of these small cumulative changes incrementally progress a system in the same direction of removing artificiality and "hi-fi" and delivering a more relaxed, natural and integrated representation of the acoustic event and constantly drawing me back to keep working  through my extensive backlog of "to be listened to" LPs and CDs


I'm surprised we never crossed paths in Brooks Berdan Ltd. Simon. I was in the shop pretty regularly over the years, and Sheila had my band play at Brooks' 50th birthday party. Brooks wasn't a drinker, so Brian and I had to get some beer for the festivities. I may take my VPI Aries 1 and Helius Omega Silver/Ruby arm with me when I go down to S. California in the spring, have him set it up perfectly.


Yes, Brian is my dealer who supplied the VTL. He also sold me the power amps and my table all while he worked with his dad, and hooked me up with the DCS Vivaldi at a price that worked for me as well -- all around a great dealer.

The M3s came from Pearl Audio who did a great job of getting them in situ, as I noted in the system description the packaging on the M series from Magico is a real advance over their prior models.

The Ref 40 arrived at its new home in AZ yesterday so I hope it enjoys a long and happy second life!


Wow Simon, the Ref 40 is history! Did you get the VTL TL-7.5 from Brian Berdan? Just before I left L.A. I picked out some drum hardware for him, to use with one of the vintage kits I sold his pa and he know owns. Great guy, excellent at all things hi-fi, just like Brooks.


A couple of pretty big updates -- new speakers (Magico M3) and pre-amplifier (VTL TL-7.5III). Detailed notes on these changes are found in the system description but in a nutshell the M3s are much more linear than the Q3s I had previously. They go deeper more cleanly and are more consistent across the frequency range. As a result I was aware of a range of colorations elsewhere in the system including from my pre amp (ARC Ref 40). The VTL is flatter in response and also more dynamic without some of the (attractive) flash and exaggeration delivered by the Ref 40. On LP and classical in particular this is a standout combination but the ARC was a great fit with CD where it's tonality complemented the weaknesses in red book playback ideally


I recently purchased Richard Mak's AnalogMagik setup software and discs. OK so it is expensive (and I needed to buy a laptop and sound card as well) but for those among us who are constantly worrying if our cartridge is performing as well as it can do there is not price we can put on peace of mind

Its actually a pleasure to use assuming you are facile with all aspects of cartridge optimization and have all the normal tools to hand. Within a few hours I was able to a) confirm that I must get a new arm board to allow me to drop VTA a couple of more mm -- currently I have it as low as it can go but because I use a sub board on top of my main board I'm still not quite low enough and b) optimize azimuth in a jiffy. Finally I also got confirmation that what I judged by ear to be the best loading was in fact the flattest response.

In other words these tools bring precision and simple repeatability to what is often a complex trial and error set up process.

Highly recommended for anyone with a significant amount invested in analog, I'm also happy to extend setup offers to anyone else in the Portland, OR area who might be interested (using this in combination with my AS SmartTractor)


Updated photos and posted some details on the Taiko mods which continue to astound


Thanks for your posts @shadorne and @bdp24 

Regarding the questions you posted. I've not actually compared the DCS to anything else -- I've been in the DCS house for 10 years since owning a Paganini so the Vivaldi was a natural transition for me. Digital is interesting, I tend to find that tweaking my digital system forces me to find upgrades to my analog -- as they both get better they tend to approach one another in sound. Perhaps digital still sounds a little more "Kodachrome" a little less lifelike, but in a very attractive and enticing way these days. BTW I have never found a computer based, flash based or streaming based solution to rival good old fashioned silver discs -- despite trying super hit res downloads they all sound off to me.

I've never listened to a Q5 (outside shows) and didn't like the sound at shows. The 5 series would be too big for my room. But by the same token I've never liked any Magico demo at a show either. I originally bought into Magico back with V3s (chosen over the Mini's after an in store demo) and have moved up the line since then -- in the next month I have M3s moving in.

This frankly is why I don't actually bother with comparisons. Its would take a six month or longer in my system comparison to really get to know component A vs B and life's too short for that. My approach is to stick with what I know and then to add scientifically valid (or cheap and interesting) tweaks to try and get the most out of the product.


Keep coming back to this beautiful setup. Love the look of Tim’s turntable! I am hoping to get my hands on an EAR 912 one of these days. Have you compared the DCS Vivaldi to anything else in that rarefied elite level such as MSB or EMM Labs? Would be interested in your thoughts on digital - especially as your vinyl is reference level quality (there being nothing better)?

Are you one of the many folks who seem to prefer the Q3 to the Q5?

Ag insider logo xs@2xshadorne

So true ff. The squiggles in an LP groove are measured in microns---that is really, Really, REALLY small in relation to the size of even the stylus tip that traces those squiggles. Any vibration reaching the turntable, arm, and/or pickup can cause a lot of information, that loss irretrievable. The same is true of any resonances in those three components.


So finally got my phono stage back after working through some battery/power supply issues.

Now I can listen to the effect of the Taiko upgrades to the Herzan -- wow it's like a totally different table and arm. There's a layer of acoustic interference that I had not been aware of that's now been completely swept away. The effect is to accentuate the inherent differences between recordings.

So some recordings I had loved for a sense of bloom and space now become much more constrained and tight, while in others its as if the speakers had disappeared and the sound fills all four corners of the room

In other words it seems a surprising amount of what we hear, and often like, in our systems is actually coloration. A true test of system resolution is how it brings out the differences between recordings rather than homogenizing them (no matter how attractively)

Notwithstanding the changes described above no matter how the recording is presented I am now hearing details and subtle inflections in all frequency ranges that had previously been masked. 

Consider me a complete convert to the need to master vibration at every level in the room, and especially in LP playback


Thanks @lak -- much appreciated

Updates today include the Taiko power supply and top plate for the Herzan, I had to install it myself which was a job of work, still I always think it behooves one to understand how your mechanical equipment works!

Cannot opine on how it sounds yet as my phono system is out of action awaiting a new power supply -- but it sure looks pretty!


Very nice system!

Ag insider logo xs@2xlak

Some major system updates and changes

1) Upgraded from SR Galileo LE to UEF speaker cable -- this is a much more relaxed and open sounding cable, can seem bass shy but is actually much more consistent across the spectrum

2) Big upgrade to the VOSS Phono Stage -- a 40dB gain only single input stage that I use with a MFA step up. This is a world beating battery powered phono stage and one of the first production copies, there's a full description in my system breakdown but in a nutshell it made my prior ARC Ref2SE sound boated and colored -- especially in the mid bass, and reveals midrange and treble details that I've never know existed on my LPs

Big speaker change coming soon as well .... stay posted


@folkfreak Thank you for the update. I enjoyed reading about and learned from your Mutek Ref-10 clock review post. Good stuff.


Quick update on recent changes - added the Mutec Ref-10 clock (review here) which is in my mind a must-have for any top end digital setup. 

Upgrading the power cord to the PSU for my turntable was also a surprising and unexpected positive - see the details on the EAR table for some more comments

I also tried out the Synergistic Research Black Box which despite bringing some positives in terms of clearing up the upper bass and mid range seemed to suck the life out of the room and collapse the sound stage. This is clearly a quite impactful device and in other larger rooms or ones with less existing acoustic treatment could be quite effective but for me did not work out. Luckily the 30 day review period applies and its on its way back to the dealer


Thanks for the comment @sa312 

I’m originally from the UK so this would be considered a medium to large room by EU standards and the type of space I’ll probably have to work with if I go back. For me the key thing was speakers that can go close to the back wall and using the long wall orientation which is something I’d originally thought would not work but which Art suggested


wow, awesome room and amazing system. I thought I was the only one with a small room & great sound :) ... not as much room treatment as you did though.. (incredible) but it's good to see someone with the passion, and dedication for audio love what you did. I wish you are near by .. would love to listen to what you have :)



The room is the final frontier! I believe it to have the largest effect on sound of all the contributing factors, including the loudspeakers. Actually, you cannot separate the two---the speakers and the room are an inextricable system. And bigger is not necessarily better. My last room in SoCal (a 13' x 19' cement slab floor and 10' ceiling) seemed like it should have sounded pretty good, yet it was the worst I've ever had. My new 13' x 14' w/ 8' ceiling sounds far better, which is a pleasant but mysterious surprise.

What I found most remarkable about Simon's room, in fact his whole system, is how quiet it is. Quiet as in noise-free. The room's walls are very non-resonant, and you can "hear" the silence. Simon has gone to great lengths to rid his system of electronic noise, and it has a purity I've never heard before. Hearing music on this system is akin to watching a movie on a home theater that produces the blackest blacks you ever seen. The images pop out of complete and utter silence! 


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