Dimensions: 10’ × 18’ Medium
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!
Simon, I have read only part of the thread you provided below (I'll get back to it shortly), but very much agree with your comment about ARC phono stages---too much gain for high output pickups, not enough for low. After doing some reading a couple of years ago, I came to appreciate the fact that lots of gain comes at a price---a lower overload margin, for one thing. Less gain, done well, can be rewarded with higher overload characteristics. Using very high output pickups as I do (5mV !), when looking to upgrade and update my phono stage, I looked for one with no more than around 40dB gain. Keith Herron fitted his amp with lower-gain tubes for me (as well as installing the resistance and capacitance I requested), and it's a much better pairing with my Londons than the ARC phono amp it replaced. And I got the amp for about what I sold the ARC for ;-). I think the pickup/phono amp interface is a grossly overlooked issue; it was by me.
Readers, one characteristic of Simon's system I failed to mention is that it, like Simon's room, is very, very, VERY quiet. He addressed grounding to an incredible degree, and it really paid off---no noise that I could associate with the gear---none! A pure black background, out of which appears the music. It didn't occur to me until I reflected upon that which I had heard at Simon's, but I've never before heard a system with that degree of silence. I want it too!
Simon is the very definition of a perfectionist! I've never before seen or heard a system assembled with such attention to detail, and I've seen and heard a few in the past fifty years. I spent an hour listening to the LP's I brought with me, one of which Simon cleaned on his KL ultrasonic (Thanks Simon!). The system is like a Swiss watch, absolutely dripping with precision, quality, and class.
The listening room is built to deal with issues most audiophiles ignore---resonances both mechanical and acoustical, and then tweaked with the most advanced (as well as controversial) products on the market. The room's wall sounded like slate when I rapped it with my knuckles! ASC products aren't mentioned much on Audiogon (for some reason), but I consider Art Noxon the leader in his field. Simon had his room's walls built with ASC Wall Damp between the layers of sheetrock, and it REALLY pays off---the room is by far the "quietest" I have ever been in. Not in the anechoic sense---with zero reflections---but in the sense that the room itself is not adding anything to the sound. My new room is the quietest I have even had, but not to anywhere near this degree!
Into this amazing room (which wouldn't work for me, as I favour dipole planar loudspeakers, but it sure does for Simon) has been installed an extremely fine-tuned high-performance race car of a music system, with across-the-board capabilities. Extreme detail, but not etched. Transparency in spades, but not analytical to a fault. Revealing, but still musical. I will say that it made obvious to me I need to get an ultrasonic LP cleaner!
I find dynamic-driver (boxed) woofers to sound too thick, adding pluminess to, for instance, the upright bass. The woofers in Simon's Magico's reproduced the acoustic bass in a recording he played for me as well as I have ever heard; with the rather "lean", sinewy sound they possess live---without the added fat of boxed woofers. That's a huge deal to me!
Vocals sounded very natural, without the "chestiness" so many speakers add to recordings (assuming the recording itself possesses natural sounding vocals). And vocal are placed where they should be, at the height of the mouths of singers; far too many speaker place vocals at waist-level. High frequencies are reproduced by Simon's system in a very different manner than I am accustomed to, having not spent time with non-planar (ESL, magnetic-planar, ribbon) tweeters in many years, The high end is more prominent than I am use to, which may be partially the result of the room being so neutral, as well as the near-field listening distance of the speakers. Very "crisp" and detailed, but certainly not spitty or, as I said above, etched. The surface noise of my LP's was more noticeable than I remember (they have been packed away in storage for a while, and really need a deep cleaning, which is gonna take some time!), but not obtrusively so.
As nice as Simon's loudspeakers and electronics are (an ARC 40th Anniversary pre-amp! A 4-box DCS Vivaldi!), it was his LP player I loved the most. EAR products are all-but-ignored on Audiogon (again, why?!), but Tim's turntable is really special. Mounted on it are two of the best tonearms in the world, real beauties. I'm not very familiar with the top-tier mc cartridges, but mounted on one of Simon's arms is a mono, which is at the top of my to-buy list. The whole player sits on a Herzan isolation table, the sophistication of which is typical of everything in Simon's system. I found myself feeling like a lazy sod, only dabbling in music reproduction!
And then there is the music. I couldn't believe my ears when Simon asked if I knew David Ackles. David Ackles! I used David's American Gothic album to audition hi-fi back in the early-mid 70's, playing it on the early Magneplanar Tympani's before buying a pair. Simon is not one of those use-music-to-make-your-system-sound-good type audiophiles (no offence intended, ya'll ;-). His considerable music library looked very interesting, with lots from the genres that are of most interest to me---the roots of Americana. My kinda guy!
Thanks for having me over, Simon. It has inspired me to improve my system!
Ah yes ff, I misread where you substituted Nitride in your system. $60 for a set of three 1/2" SN ball bearings is reasonable. I could justify that for source components, and maybe tube pre and power.
I too am anxious to see and hear your room and system in the near future, and to meet you. I've met only musicians since my move hear last year, no audiophile/music lovers. And I've been only to Echo Audio, though I was in Pearl Audio/Video on a visit to Portland back in 2010. I plan to pay Fred's Sound Of Music a visit as well, but anticipate being underwhelmed---I've been spoiled by Brooks Berdan, Brian Berdan at Audio Elements, and Randy at Optimal Enchantment in SoCal. That's a tough act to follow!---Eric.