Thursday, March 7, 2013

John DeVore’s “Rock-It” 88’s

   Last year I picked up an old school Rega Apollo from Eugene HiFi just to have my world rocked by John DeVore’s little 3xl’s with a host of other tasty analog morsels. It’s only fitting that this year I would get rocked by Mr DeVore’s apes once again while picking up a new Apollo-R. Everytime I step into Dale & Chris Shepherds den of analog sin I wind up jonesin’ for a trip to the city to pick up some LP’s.

   This time around Dale had a set of DeVore’s Gibbon 88’s set up along with a new Line Magnetic amp which was a brute. Couldn’t take my eyes off of the beautiful finish on the 88’s and the glowing 845’s on the LM amp. The source was a lovely Well Tempered Labs Versalex turntable with the DPS, Acoustic Plan Phonomaster phono pre amp and Van den Hul Frog Gold cartridge. Cables were all Auditorium 23. This promised be another special afternoon at Eugene HiFi.

We started the afternoon by fine tuning the speaker setup. Once we had that out of the way we were off and running. The musical selections for the afternoon included but were not limited to…

Iron and Wine- The Shepherds dog
Zino Francesca - A mix of classical violin pieces
Hank Mobley- Straight No Filter
Stanley Turrentine- Blue Hour
Donald Byrd- Royal Flush
Medeski, Martin, and Wood- Best of the Blue Note Years
Kenny Burrell- Midnight Blue
Black Keys- Brother
Eric Truffaz- the Mask
Ahmad Jamal- Porfolio

From the natural sound of the strummed guitar on the Iron and Wine album to the more adventurous electronic beats of Medeski, Martin and Wood the Gibbon’s made sense of it all and with an ease that was utterly beguiling. The Erik Truffaz album was edge of the seat listening for me. It was my first listen to that album, and I hope not the last.
One thing that became clear with every new selection that we played was just how transparent this set up was. From the tight upper bass to the shimmering highs this set up was an open window to each recording. Also evident was just how dynamic the system was. The low bass, though tight as a well tuned drum, was authoritative and hit with real slam. I think it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway…John DeVore really understands how important accurate timbre is. It is essential to my enjoyment of a quality music system. This system did exactly that, it got the timbre and relative scale of instruments right. It came across as natural and free flowing. I’ve listened to some incredible analog set ups and the balance on display here was truly impressive.

As a HiFi dealer these fellas appear to have a method to their madness. An over arching ideology and principle that is rooted in music. For them music is the end and the playback equipment is the means to the end. They carry products they listen to and are proud to sell to family and friends. They aren’t concerned with the latest award winning products or what is hip today. What I notice about the systems that I listen to at Eugene HiFi is that the hardware gets out of the way and lets the music touch my soul. Not surprisingly both of the brothers are musicians, Dale a drummer and Chris a bassist and as you might suspect a listening session with these guys requires plenty of distance between listeners so as to avoid all the flailing about that takes place!

That’s what happened again during my recent visit. The system got out of the way and let me enter in to the world of the musician and feel the music as though It were a part of me. To be honest I don’t know which component in the setup was most impressive or what was mostly responsible for the wonderful sound I listened to. What I do know is that the sound was impressive in so many ways and that no matter where it all started it was John Devore’s “Rock-It” 88’s that touched my ears and heart last and left a lasting impression.

Peace out!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Joy Of Music!

The Joy that a good LP brings on a Sunday afternoon...need I say more.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

One Magnetic Monkey!

I’ve been at this audio game doggone near as long as I’ve known it existed. Always loved music and come upon it honestly as both of my parents were actively involved in the music community in their youth. My Grandparents on both sides of my family were musicians…I have an ear for music.

The first time I realized music could be reproduced in a home well enough to suspend disbelief I was addicted. Like any junkie I have required more and more stuff to get my fix and never seem to be satisfied…I love listening to music and have an extensive music library with several thousand titles…but somehow my thirst for a more natural experience with recorded music is never quenched and no matter where I hear it or how expensive the audio system is it just doesn’t quite get there.

I’ve listened to big, powerful systems with speakers so inert I would have broken my knuckles long before the “rap” test would have revealed any resonance. I’ve listened to small intimate systems with flea powered SET amps where I could hear so deep into a recording that I could hear the toilet flush at the service station next door…but still something wasn’t quite right. Always giving up something to get something else. Damnit I want it all!

I recently received an email from a HiFi retailer who I’ve done business with in the past. He was super excited about some new lines he was going to carry and invited me down (he is about 50 miles south of me) for a listen. Hmm…Dale Shepherd of Eugene HiFi is passionate about music so when he is excited about a product I‘m all ears. I’ve had a number of wonderful listening sessions with Dale, some more satisfying than others, but none have failed to be musical and to inform me in some way.

I’ve owned budget tube gear from the likes of Prima Luna and couldn’t wait to sell it or trade it in on something “good”. So I was a bit apprehensive about more budget priced tube gear. I knew Dale was excited but I also know that we audio junkies get excited about a new flavor of junk nearly every time we score so my interest was piqued but my guard was also readily available.

By the time I finally got a chance to head south for a listen I was pretty stoked. I recently spent an afternoon at a dealer in Portland and had a great time listening to a variety of speakers and decided that I would take the same reference CD’s with me for my listen at Eugene HiFi…digital has not been Dale’s thing for quite a while so I was hoping he would have a digital solution up and working but I was also pumped to hear what wonderful analog treats he had up his sleeve.

The discs I took with me:

The Roy Hargrove/Christian McBride/Stephen Scott Trio - Parker’s Mood
Christian McBride/Nicholas Payton/Mark Whitfield - Fingerpainting: The Music of  Herbie Hancock
Gonzalo Rubalcaba & New Cuban Quartet
Michel Camilo - Spirit of the Moment
The New Gary Burton Quartet - Common Ground
John Williams - The Baroque Album

Enter Line Magnetic, DeVore Fidelity and Auditorium 23.

When I arrived Dale was on a call which was a bit of blessing as it allowed me to peruse the audio goodies and cop a feel or two.

The Line Magnetic amp that was on demo was the LM218IA which is a visually stunning piece of industrial chic art. The 845’s glowed warm and welcoming. The volume control and source selector felt as firm as one would expect from a high end amplifier. The remote followed the amplifier in both form and feel (note my predisposition to feel, guess I‘m the kinesthetic type).

The Well Tempered Versalex looked far better in real than in any of the pictures that I had seen. The plywood plinth that appeared as though it would be rough to the touch was smooth as a…well you get it.  The cartridge was an EMT TSD 15, a very nice nude if I must say so.

Cables were Auditorium 23 and I was really excited to hear these as I had read so much about them…I never did hear them…and now I know what the fuss is all about.

The speakers were the gorgeous DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3xl’s. These speakers must be seen to be appreciated. Eye-popping good looks and build quality to match. My previous experience with these speakers left me with much to like but also with some questions. Those questions were answered during this listening session.

All power cords were Van den Hul Mainstream except as noted.

All of the components were on Box Furniture Company audio furniture…absolutely beautiful!

I was relieved to see an old school Rega Apollo fired up and ready, digital was going to get a chance. The old Apollo would appear to be out of it’s league in the august company of such high end offerings. First up did the old gal even work. First disc reads “no disc”, second disc reads “no disc”…dadburnit…oh yeah, it’s an Apollo. Anyone who has owned one knows that this is a machine that sometimes needs massaged to work properly. We unplugged it for a few seconds and plugged it back in and “voila” it was ready for action.

The Apollo was linked to the LM amp with Van den Hul’s venerable old MC Silver IT65G interconnect, and we started with the stock power cord. First of all let me begin by saying that both Dale and I were stunned at just how good the Apollo sounded from the start. Every CD we threw at it revealed something completely different. Every recording was wide open and an absolute joy to listen to.  We were tapping our toes and playing air bass (sorry, I am a jazz nerd) from the get go. Dale then put in a Van den Hul Mainstream power cord and the we shifted to yet another speed. We still had all of the toe tapping fun along with the rich tone but now we were deeper in a 3 dimensional world where the meaning of each piece was revealed and the dialogue between musicians was clearly enunciated. Both of us have heard the Apollo and are intimately aware of it’s sound and limitations. I owned one for 2 years and used it with a Sonneteer Alabaster integrated, DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8’s and the Mainstream power cord. I never heard it sound like this. Something was clearly different tonight.

This listening session left me scratching my head. Where were the digital nasties…this was clearly a high resolution system why did neither Dale or I sense anything untoward coming from that digital source? I have been lead (or mislead) to believe that jitter was the cause of our discomfort with digital audio. So why then was there no discomfort. The Apollo is not a stellar performer in the jitter department. The Chord Company would have us believing that it’s cabling and indeed why wouldn’t they, they are a cable company. Things that make you go hmm.

As the day progressed my definition of resolution evolved.

Next up was the Well Tempered Versalex and EMT TSD 15 cartridge. The Well Tempered was linked to a Roksan Reference phono pre amp and then to the LM amp with Auditorium 23 interconnects. These are a rather bland looking interconnect and the speaker cable ain’t no looker either. Those looking for garden hose speaker cables need not apply. These look much more like grandma’s vacuum cleaner power cord…oh but the sound or should I say the lack of sound.

Dale loves music and was ready with some mean cuts…he brought it! We listened to Ahmad Jamal‘s Portfolio LP in glorious mono on the Argo label, Claudio Arrau playing Chopin Concertos and Mozart’s “La ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni as well as Cal Tjader’s San Francisco Moods and Oregon “In Performance”, there was Miles Davis In Person at The Blackhawk and plenty more that I don’t even remember.

The Well Tempered Versalex/EMT combo mines so much music from the grooves that I was left speechless on a number of occasions. Everything from the release of a sustain pedal on the piano to applause so real that I wanted to join in. Acoustic bass and all of the richness that the body of the instrument informs us with.  Kick drum and cymbals that hit so dynamically that I was startled…orchestral swells that raised the kind of anticipation and terror that I feel when I’m at a Blue Angels show…this in particular was informative to me. How in the world does John DeVore coax so much sound from those little speakers. I’ve heard little speakers sound big in a sort of micro way but the Gibbon 3xl was all macro, baby. They sound big…not big for a little speaker but just big. This was a system I could live with as an end of the road setup…that good.

Next up was the Well Tempered Amadeus GTA with a Van den Hul Colibri Gold Coil cartridge into an Art Audio Vinyl Reference phono pre amp (the Well Tempered external power supply at $400 was used with both tables). This setup was sublime…Everything the Well Tempered/EMT/Roksan setup had and much, much more. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better Dale pulled this out. He assured me that we only got about 90% of the goodie out of it because we were running out of time for setup and warmup…but let me assure you that 90% of that setup is what dreams are made of.

Now is the time to say it. The Line Magnetic 218 and Auditorium 23’s were amazing. Every change shone clearly and every recording sounded different. Everything we listened to sounded great and most of all fun. The recordings that Dale chose were straight out of his library and were not waiting when I arrived. We were listening to music and not reference recordings and that has always meant taking a risk that something will sound bad…not with this setup. Let me add that nothing here was rolled off or dumbed down this was pure resolution and as clear a window as I’ve experienced. Instruments sounded natural and real and in proper proportion to one another, and the dialogue taking place between the artists was communicated clearly. I now understand resolution and “open” in a whole new way. The greater the resolution and the more open a window the setup is, the less likely anything in a music collection will not be listenable and enjoyable.

The GTA/Colibri setup was the climax of a wonderful day of music…it was like the cherry on top. It’s difficult to put into words how good this was. I heard so deeply into the recordings as to feel that I was sitting among the musicians as they played in real time. I was hearing not only the instruments being played but the body of each instrument and how it contributed to the overall sound and how the recording space blended with the sound of the music. I could hear the musicians talking to one another, clearly. All of this added to the experience rather than detracting from it. This was truly edge of the seat listening as every note hung onto the next. The most immersive and engaging experience I’ve had with recorded music…and as a Dale Shepherd special he brought out an electronica/hip hop kinda LP, frankly I don’t even know who it was as that ain’t my bag, but he wanted to show me just how much “ bumps” this setup had and let me tell you I still don’t know how the 3xl’s do it.

Well the time had come to head home and I was exhausted. What a great day of music and merriment!

I want to thank Dale Shepherd of Eugene HiFi and his lovely wife Doreen for their hospitality. Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports for bringing us wonderful products like the Line Magnetic 218 and Auditorium 23 cables, both were truly a revelation. Mike Pranka of Toffco for what I believe are the best buy in analog today, the Well Tempered line of turntables. And of course John DeVore for designing speakers that are for music lovers and not HiFi enthusiasts. That brings to a close another wonderful day of listening and in the company of One Magnetic Monkey.

Peace out!

For more information about the products above contact Dale Shepherd at Eugene HiFi.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Subjectivist Mantra

...and no it isn't mine, but I love it anyway!

“If it measures good and sounds bad, it is bad; if it measures bad and sounds good, you have measured the wrong thing” ....Daniel von Recklinghausen, Chief Engineer at H.H. Scott

Try this instead of Yoga or TM...

Words to listen by.

The Big Speaker Audition...

 I took the afternoon off Thursday to trip up to Portland and Stereotypes Audio (1.5 hrs north from work) and pick up my Rega Apollo-R. I had resolved to demo a few speakers while I was there and boy did I.

 The speakers I demoed were:

Nola Boxers $1500
PMC TB2i Signature $2850
ProAc Tablette Anniversary $2200
Spendor LS3/5r2 $1600

I took 6 CD’s with me so that I could just get a feel for each speaker.

The Roy Hargrove/Christian McBride/Stephen Scott Trio - Parker’s Mood Christian McBride/Nicholas Payton/Mark Whitfield - Fingerpainting: The Music of Herbie Hancock
Gonzalo Rubalcaba & New Cuban Quartet - Paseo
Michel Camilo - Spirit of the Moment
The New Gary Burton Quartet - Common Ground
John Williams - The Baroque Album

 I grabbed these in a hurry on the way out of the door on my way to work…regrettably I didn’t take any music for voice. As it turns out it didn’t matter as the differences were quite clear without, but still it would have been nice.

 The reference setup for my demo was the Rega Brio-R with Shunyata Venom 3 power cord, Rega Apollo-R with the standard power cord, both components placed on a Quadraspire Q4 rack. Interconnects were Chord Crimson with speaker cable being Analysis Plus Oval 12 for all but the Spendor speakers and she insisted on changing out to Chord Odyssey for that demo. She stated that the A Plus cable would be too laid back. I insisted on closer to entry level cables for all listening.

 First up were the Nola Boxers. These are a beautifully finished muscular looking standmount. The gloss cherry veneer is quite striking. I prefer a more matte finish but as gloss finishes go the Boxers are first rate. Their $1500 price tag seemed a bit out of order considering their high end look. Everything from the label on the back to high quality binding posts looked more polished than all but the PMC’s. 

 Oops…we started with Parker’s Mood, a CD I’m very familiar with and can’t get enough of…but something didn’t sound right. In came Teri Inman, the owner of Stereotypes and something of a legend in audio retail in the Northwest. She said “geez I keep telling these guys to not plug the Brio-R into anything but the wall”. She took the power cord from a Shunyata Hydra and plugged it directly into a wall outlet and the difference was immediate and not subtle. Before Teri stepped in and made the appropriate adjustment the sound seemed a bit vague and the timing was off. That all straightened out considerably.

 On Michel Camilo’s fabulous “Just Now” the piano and percussion were not quite as clear and open as I would like. Piano is a percussive instrument and it is very difficult to get the leading edge right and follow with the soft sound that often lies in the wake of the attack. The Nola’s didn’t get either quite right. Also timbre wasn’t as good as what I’m used to with Harbeth. On John Williams “The Baroque Album” the Classical guitar was not fully convincing. The lower midrange was full bodied and punchy if a bit less detailed and well controlled as with the others. Also cymbals, muted trumpet and so on were pushed from their natural register down to a place in the midrange which wasn’t quite convincing to me, and in fact this presented the biggest issue for me with the Nola. The upper mids were not particularly natural. The biggest strength of this speaker is convincing you that you are listening to a whole lot more speaker than you actually are. This is one effortless sounding speaker…just keep turning it up and it just keeps right on going. Over and over I found myself marveling at just how big and rich this speaker sounded. Overall I liked the speaker and think it is a screaming bargain. For my personal tastes I could not live with the shortcomings after living with Harbeth.

 Next up were the PMC’s…holy smokes. From the first notes I found myself so excited that I thought I would wet myself. Seriously, no really, I simply couldn’t sit still I was so excited. This is one of the finest loudspeakers I’ve ever heard. I was able to follow every note and sound from the opening whoosh of air through the trumpet to the brassy sound midway through to that place where brass gives way to air and a hollowness. The detail was astounding on every disc I played and better yet the ability to boogie was not affected at all by the crystal clear detail. Each hand on a keyboard, each instrumentalist and their relationship to the other, both physically and artistically was laid bare in a way I had not heard for quite sometime and at that price, never. The only 2 standmount speakers I’ve heard that compete are the incredible DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3xl at nearly twice the price and the Harbeth C7 which has better timbre (only) by a hair. The PMC’s, much like the Nola’s, sounded big but far more open as the sky seemed the only limit for the PMC’s. Gobsmacked aptly describes my experience with this speaker. If you have 3k and are speaker shopping you owe it to yourself to give these an audition. You may not get on with them but don’t dismiss them. Oh and did I mention, the PMC's were drop dead gorgeous.

 I required time to gather myself after listening to those and had I still been a smoker it would have been time to light up.

 Next up were the ProAc Tabelette Signature’s. They were just a darlin’ little speaker and to me the second most impressive of the day. No they did not sound big…sorry, laws of physics apply here. They are small with small drivers…but they did sound bigger than they were and did nearly everything else right. Great timbre and balance. The upper register was a bit more recessed and a bit less refined than the spectacular PMC speaker but that was expected. The Tablette blazed through the Camilo and Rubalcaba tracks with aplomb only occasionally sounding small…keep in mind this was a pretty good sized room. Not sure how big…should have asked…my bad. The Tablette was particularly good with the Classical guitar of John Williams. Bass, though not deep was better than any but the PMC’s. Not as deep as the Nola’s but far better defined and with much better overall tone. Midrange was a bit cool but certainly not sterile. A speaker this size begs for a comparison to my very own Harbeth’s. The ProAc’s will play a bit louder but aren’t as good at the timbre game, simply not as natural sounding. I prefer my Harbeth’s but could easily see how someone might go the other way.

 Last and unfortunately absolutely least were the Spendor’s. The LS3/5r2 was a nice sounding speaker…yep a nice sounding speaker. I’m not sure what tracks I listened to because I was asleep..ok so it wasn’t that bad but I must admit I found myself disinterested more often than not. Decent timbre…overall balance very good…in fact I can’t think of a bad thing to say about them as they were supremely well balanced. So why was I so bored. I dunno perhaps I had already shot my wad and was ready for a nap…who’s to say. The Spendor’s were just a bit lost in the room and they simply came up at the wrong time in the audition. I preferred their sound to the Nola but for a room bigger than 10x10 I’d take the Nola over them…this was truly a small sounding speaker. Not fatiguing. Wait..what does fatiguing mean…as I couldn’t stop yawning…oh that’s right your ears hurt during listener fatigue. Hence the difference between listener fatigue and just plain assed fatigue. Have I drifted from the topic, yeah, and you get it.

 Well that’s it…had a great time and can’t wait to do it again.

Big kudos to Stereotypes Audio for providing me with a comfortable listening environment and friendly service even though they knew it weren't gonna pay off for 'em! Also kudos to Rega Research for designing budget products that clearly showed the differences between these fine speakers.

 As beer was involved in this report please allow for liberal editing…peace out!

For more information about the products above contact Teri Inman at Stereotypes Audio.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Moods for Moderns...Audio Classics for a Mod World

So what do you consider to be modern classics in the audio world?

What products are out there today that will have an enduring legacy?

What audio products provide great value and performance?

Are there any products that leave a music lover to their music and the audio anxious to their tweaking?

Gotta say that I have a love of British audio and am a bit biased in that way...

How 'bout you?

Friday, February 24, 2012

I'm Listening to....and You?

I'm listening to Charles Mingus tonight, you?

Beautiful Music, Simple HiFi

All too often folks get caught up in the downward spiral of spending more money on their HiFi with the belief that they will get more from their music. Truth is that the music will still move you whether on a transistor radio or factory car stereo or ghetto blaster...

Yeah, I love Music and I love HiFi...but mostly I love simple HiFi and beautiful music...can I get an Amen!