Description

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
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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 (https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/benefits-of-adding-a-10mhz-master-clock-to-a-digital-system) 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.

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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.

bdp24

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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.

bdp24

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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.

bdp24

Center

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! 

bdp24

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elchamaco, I'm sure your comment was well intended, but Simon's room was designed by the best acoustician in the business---Art Noxon of ASC (Acoustic Science Corp). I've been in the room and listened to music through Simon's outrageously good system, and believe me, the room needs no help from acousticfields, or anyone else!

bdp24

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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!

bdp24

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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!

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Damn, I still haven't gotten around to arranging a visit! If the invitation is still open, I'll be in touch---Eric.

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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. 

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ff, I'm going to have to find out your source for the Si Nitride ball bearings you installed in your Roller Block Jr's. Geoffrey Owen of Helius Designs offers Si Nitride ball bearings in place of Ruby ones in his Omega Silver/Ruby pick-up arm (the arm Tim de Paravicini uses and recommends for his EAR Disc Master turntable). Geoffrey feels that Si Nitride is as quiet as Ruby (due to its very smooth surface texture and hardness), but much less subject to the propensity of Ruby to shatter.

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