The Australian Audio & AV show in Melbourne will take place in 10 days at the Intercontinental Rialto Towers, as in its previous incarnation on which we have reported at the time. The French contingent this year is still minuscule with only five brans represented and the noticeable absence of Davis Acoustics, Elipson and Waterfall Audio. Although not really French anymore we welcome YBA to the fold!
We will be watching a few other brands dear to us but will regret the absence of Bryston which is not listed yet as an exhibitor. Stay tuned as there is still time for them to register...
Interestingly enough there are a few record labels exhibiting, so we will be listening!
I hope you will be visiting if you live in our part of the World and feel free to approach me for a chat - it is always a pleasure to meet my readers in the flesh!
And the answer is...MASS and turntables.
The recent passing of Jean-Constant Verdier triggers this article and will take us on a journey in time to revisit three of the most famous French High-End turntables and pay tribute to the two designers behind these mighty designs, JC Verdier and Pierre Riffaud.
It is quite amazing to see the resemblance between these two, don't you think?
Interestingly enough, both Jean Constant Verdier and Pierre Riffaud came to massive designs from very different paths. Jean Constant worked for ERA and designed a very flimsy turntable with a underhung sub chassis and innovative "virtual pivot" arm. I owned such a "bijou" after leaving home and letting go of our Dual 1219 turntable to my sister - who still has it, I believe.
The ERA turntable was very well regarded at the time and it was also used in a "combo" with amplifier, tuner and matching speakers, called the "Bloc Source Quarante", named after the industrial designer who put it together Danielle Quarante, born in the same year as JCV, 1938 (btw, quarante in French means forty, so I originally thought it was a model number...) and was available in blue, white, red (French flag anyone???) and orange. See photos below. I really like it!
Pierre Riffaud started by re-engineering Garrard 401s - he still does it by the way...
and in that process started to design a new platter for it and reusing the oversize and very reliable motor as well as the very strong spindle and bearing.
JC Verdier went on to design "levitation" for his turntable, first magnetic, and now hydraulic, on the more recent "Magnum" which competes with Pierre Riffaud's Heritage and Clearaudio Statement, and probably a few more I am not aware of...
It definitely has the biggest platter and the heaviest at 60kgs, with 3 motors of 30kgs each and a solid marble plinth, raising the total weight to 400kgs!
JCV claims it is the heaviest on the market, not the most expensive but just the best
The difficult part would be to organise a comparative listening session, and I don't fancy my chances to be successful with that project...
I have not had a chance to listen to any of these separately, just the Classique at Point Musiques in 2011, and that was certainly better than my REGA, but how much better these top of the range turntables would be compared to the Classique or to my current upgrade of choice, the Bergman Magne, a mere 12K$...
Pierre Riffaud will not give you a price for the Heritage, saying to me with a cheeky smile: if you ask, it is that you can't afford it! ditto Epure, Verdier or Clearaudio...
But having said that, I have the upmost respect for people who dedicate their whole life to the pursuit of perfection at any cost, whether they design turntables like these two, or speakers like Wilson Audio, KEF, Cabasse or a meal like Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon or Heston Blumenthal.
So RIP, Monsieur Verdier, in the knowledge that your son will continue holding the fort and we will continue spinning vinyl on whatever turntable one can afford, leaving some money in the bank to buy more records, good food and wine and listen to music in good company...
One of my best friends and ex-colleague at HP just passed away and left behind him the largest collection of HP Test & Measurements instruments and computers in the World with over 750 pieces, most of them in working order! You can read your heart content about his journey at www.hpmemory.org
One of his most recent acquisitions was a very rare so-called Barney Oliver amplifier.
This product has been made in a very limited series of less than 500 units, manufactured by HP employees, following HP manufacturing quality standards (the famous Class B...) after hours and was sold at cost to HP employees and their families. Interestingly enough, a number of them have survived and are still working as well as when they were built more than 40 years ago in 1972. I personally worked for HP from 1978 to 1992 and it has certainly be one of the highlights of my career. Barney Oliver passed away in 1995 and I don't think I ever met him. Even if I have, I never knew he was an audio freak of the highest order, a fan of JBL speakers and the V15 Shure cartridge, components for which this amplifier was optimised. I had a chance to exchange a few emails with Siegfried Linkwitz regarding this amp, but Siegfried was not a fan of JBL, so he didn't bother with the Barney Oliver design...and I couldn't get more info out of him. Fortunately, a few other HP and non HP people have come forward who still have this amplifier. I have approached them for some inside stories and up-to-date measurements and listening notes. I will keep you posted as soon as I hear from them. Ideally, I would really like to be able to make up my own opinion and I am calling out for help to see if anybody would have one to loan me for a few days either here in Australia, or willing to ship one to me (Christmas is around the corner...)
Interestingly enough, Barney Oliver designed his amplifier with quite a limited bandwidth and a high level of negative feedback. One could also reduce the bandwidth further with filters at 5, 8 and 10 KHz, primarily to listen to 78 RPM records or poor FM reception. Even though, here is what somebody has to say of his listening experience:"This amplifier sounds incredible on virtually every level. First and foremost, it is a very sweet sound – a bit on the warm side but not overly lush, and highly detailed but not at all analytical – it is a very musical and involving amplifier with excellent dynamics and literally no listener fatigue. Another aspect of the sonic performance that is amazing is the extremely quiet noise floor, even at full volume. The clarity is also astonishing, with extremely low harmonic distortion that specs out to less than 0.01%, 2 mw to maximum power for all frequencies."
It sounds like this amplifier has some of the qualities of a tube amplifier, but with all the muscle and low noise and distortion of a transistorised design: not a mince feast!
And this is the reason why I am keen to do more measurements on the impulse response/slew rate of this amplifier, as I know from experience with many amplifiers and with my own Bryston 3B this is a key factor in the timbre accuracy, dynamic range and overall enjoyment of long listening sessions...
Yves Bernard André has been a staple of the French Hifi scene since 1981, when he started YBA officially. He has been involved in designing hifi products from 1971. In 2012, he decided to sell a majority stake in his business to very famous and well regarded Chinese company Shanling. I have a sweet tooth for some of their products and even considered buying one of their flagship products for my daughter - a work of art and music!
Interestingly enough, until recently YBA was not distributed in Australia, although the CEO is no other than my good Australian friend Jacki Pugh, nor even in France, where it originated! It took two years to persistent but picky Jacki to find suitable partners in both countries! So, let's the drums roll and announce that Audio Heaven in Melbourne and JFF Diffusion near Lyon in France (JFF comes from the initials of the owners Jean-François Richard and Fabrice Thievon) are the new distributors of YBA in Australia and France respectively.
Both companies are very well versed in high-end audio products and I encourage you to visit their websites to find out more. I will certainly make sure that I review the "outside the square" DC10 Audio speakers later.
I would also recommend you read this Australian Hifi Magazine reviews of YBA products here and a review of the new YBA Heritage CD 100 is published in the latest issue of the magazine and should be on line soon.
Some very good news for the hi-res digital files enthusiasts out there, and I am one of them.
Whether or not this will translate into mass produced products, and we would all welcome Apple for instance to join the flow and invent a high-res iPod or iPhone and iPad, or an entirely new product all together.
Obviously you can spend big money today on a Astell & Kern, the Rolls Royce of the hi-res portable player, or wait for a Pono if you cannot afford the A&K...
An agreement to formally define high-resolution audio technology has been reached by the Consumer Electronics Association, The Digital Entertainment Group, The Recording Academy, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. "The contributions made by our Audio Division Board will help consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers alike in their efforts to market the latest compatible devices and help provide more clarity about HRA for consumers," CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro said
And a bit of warning before we start! This is in no way a criticism of the magazine I extracted these measurements from or the reviewers involved, or the measurements methodology, as I have been reading Hifi News for decades and I personally know a few of these people personally.
This is just an attempt to show another side of the story, and in this particular case, a look into assessing the relative qualities of four very good turntables from the point of view of the measurements of their mechanical performance only. I have not had the luxury to listen to any of these turntables, so this is not about judging which one sound the best, but more about an objective assessment of the quality of their mechanical design.
Prices range from UKP575 to UKP21690 for the deck and arm - no cartridge, no stand (if applicable)
The one on the left is by far the best mechanically, as it as both very good stability and very clean waterfall resonances measurements. then, things get worse once you move to the right.
So which one would you choose on these criteria alone? Some important ones really...
Now, look at their respective prices, and tell me which one takes your fancy...
Obviously, before I reveal the four products in question, I have to state that the the two best ones and less expensive ones are somehow "mass produced", where the other two are in the realm of high hifi and have other attributes that will get some people to choose them...
It just happen that the one on the left is from my favourite "budget" brand of turntable, pure coincidence!
Have you guessed yet? Maybe I should let you find out: I will come back tomorrow and give you the answers...
So, if I were on the market, I would go for the Rega, unless i were very cashed up and then i would go for
I was one of the very first to talk about these speakers that I discovered at the Paris Hifi show in 2010.
Although their designers come with an impeccable pedigree having worked at "cost is no object" Swiss manufacturer Goldmund, I was not totally convinced even though the woofer is made by long time friend and partner in crime Philippe Lesage (ex Technical Director at Audax and now MD of PHL Audio, as well as fostering a VIFA tweeter that I have learned to love in my own design. You can read my first impressions here:
My impressions were further vindicated by the measurements conducted by Stereophile two years later:
Although the listening tests were somewhat more elogious than mine, the measurements show a more rugged picture, as well as confirming my comments on the cabinet vibrations.
I have just received my copy of the April issue of Hifi News and Ken Kessler mention of Stenheim having exhibited at T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas. It caught my (well-trained...) eye, as the company has now unveiled a subwoofer for the Alumine, a configuration I particularly like (in part for historical Microphase related reasons) but also because it makes perfect technical sense.
Ken doesn't say if he liked them or not but Dave Thomas from Stereo Times, that I had the pleasure to meet in Vegas, says:
"The Stenheim speakers are gorgeously built and executed with clean lines and flawless construction. The sound of the system was extremely musical and dynamic, sounding far bigger and more natural than you’d normally hear under show conditions" Humm...
Spencer Holbert from The Absolute Sound says of the Alumine:
"The Alumine 2 Ways were incredibly tight and fast in the mids and highs thanks to its aluminum enclosure (hence the name, Alumine), and would be perfect for smaller room" Ah, ah...
And over last few days, Stenheim has unveiled a new "REFRENCE" system at the HIGH_END SHOW in Munich, so there is certainly something interesting going on there...
The management has changed, and it seems that the original five designers and founders have been sidelined. Jean Pascal Panchard, the new MD, comes from NAGRA, quite a good pedigree as well!
What can be noted is that the most recent incarnation of the Alumine has a more streamlined front baffle, with a more conventional horn piece for the tweeter - a feature I have personally investigated and found quite satisfactory - and a new midrange, or at least a new chassis from this speaker. I cannot find information whether or not it is still made by PHL Audio, but it looks like more of a carbon or kevlar cone as it looks woven rather cellulose. The bass driver in the subwoofer is made of polypropylene, material that I personally wouldn't use for that application, but as I have not had a chance to listen to this new incarnation, I will have to reserve my judgement. (In short, I will have to just shut up!)
The REFERENCE looks mighty enough and sports my favourite WMTMW arrangement, so I am inclined to say it would have a mighty sound indeed. The ribbon super tweeter is mounted off center, so a pair comes as a mirror image and the MTM part of the speaker can be angled remotely to fine tune the image at the listening position!
This is all extremely well fabricated in probably a very limited quantity, so the price of a pair of satellites (Alumine 2) starts at USD 15,000, add the sub and it jumps at USD 35,000 so you can guesstimate the price for the REFERENCe. Maybe I should design new speakers if there is a market at that price point...Just a thought!
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If you have been following this blog recently, you would have noticed me mentioning the names of Brad Serhan and David Allen who were kind enough to help us with the listening session of the new Kronos by Kyron Audio at Len Wallis Audio a couple of weeks back. Following this chance encounter, I was invited to give an opinion on a bespoke pair of speakers that these two gentlemen designed for an overseas and wealthy client.
This client had Quadral speakers and was interested in a little know Finnish brand, Penaudio, but eventually convinced B.A.G. to design a pair of speakers that would use similar drivers to the Penaudio and a ribbon tweeter, as a link to the Quadral he enjoyed listening to previously.
Now, a bit of background: Brad was one of the founders and is still the designer behind Orpheus speakers, a very famous Australian brand and works for other brands no less famous on the local scene as consultant/ designer for hire if you want. He has been designing speakers since 1984, same year I introduced Microphase back in France: good omen!
David on the other end is a Hifi enthusiast and has been for quite a long time. He is also more of a business man than a designer, although he told me that he had once 15" subwoofers embedded in the floor of his living room!
So, we have a lot of talent and experience behind this new venture: Brigadier Audio Group.
We had a first listening session at David's place in Walsh Bay, where we used only digital files from David's computer, Spotify Premium and FLAC files from my iPhone. We had other Hifi geeks joining us and we had a great time! These speakers work, period and they are exquisitely crafted and finished: High WAF, bravo!
Interestingly enough, I have not been given any specifications for these speakers. I have only been told about their genesis, the way these particular drivers ended up being used, some of the challenges along the way (!), but no frequency response or impedance curves. I had only my ears to judge of the result! It was a very interesting and fun exercise...
After an hour or so into this first listening session, I identified two areas for potential improvement, both to do with the way the drivers integrated with each other at the two cut-off frequencies of the filter, which I also identified correctly. We listened to more music, drank some more wine (great choice, David, btw...) and had more conversations between the very seasoned members of the audience and then we eventually had to split.
Brad and David decided then that they would work on my comments and would organise a second session later on, probably at Brad's place! And we did earlier this week.
Trust me, these two guys know their trade, as it took them only a few days to confirm my findings, think about how to improve these speakers by tweaking the filter appropriately and voilà!
For the second listening session, we had David's amp and streamer, Brad's Macbook for digital files and I was convinced to bring my very own OPPO player. Sorry, no turntable, no valves this time around, but eh we are in the 21st century after all!
Here are some of the stuff I brought we listened to:
Well, what can I say? In a nutshell, I really like these speakers. They are really accurate, speedy, they image very well, specially being quite large and the bass is extremely tight, although they are bass reflex, with very low distortion and coloration.
Now, I need to confess something: I don't normally like metal cone drivers and these 6.5" SEAS Excel drivers have magnesium cones. I do like ribbon though and this one from RAAL is really detailed and smooth, which is not a given for that type of driver. Same tweeter as the Kaiser speakers that I like a lot, by the way!
Crossover frequencies are 250Hz and 3.2Khz approximately. The cabinet is a work of art both externally - that you can see for yourself from the photos - and internally: The cabinets are made of a double layer of MDF and ply separated by a viscous compound (can't tell you, would have to kill you...). The drivers are mounted to the internal cabinet and there are two separate chambers for the midrange and the woofer, both bass relax tuned.
The two 6.5" drivers look the same, but are actually two different models with different magnets, voice coils and parameters ((can't tell you more - see above...). Nice terminals, good internal wiring, it is all done by the book!
And not only does it show, but you can hear the care taken in the design of these speakers! Well done!
I sincerely hope that this one off will trigger a suite of new commercial releases. I have been arguing about using a paper version of that midrange driver in future designs: time will tell, stay tuned!
Leon Suter and Lee Gray of Kyron Audio were kind enough to spend a few hours listening to my vintage contraptions, aka my Microphase speakers. My current subwoofer is slightly bigger than the original and now sports a 10" XXLS from Peerless with its own 200w amplifier, and the tweeter now upgraded to a 1" VIFA.
Electronics include a NAD preamp, Bryston 3B amplifier and OPPO player. The Bryston feeds the satellites directly and the preamp drives the Bryston AND the subwoofer's amp separately. I found that setup to give the most control on one end and the best sound out of the satellites, as they are not filtered at the bottom end.
I hope they will leave their own comments below, and without wanting to reveal too much of their reactions, I was pretty chuffed when they said that these speakers "would have created quite a sensation" at the time!
Quite not big enough obviously, but what not cease to amaze me is that after 30 years, they still sound as accurate and dynamic as they were then. Some might say than they have been truly broken in by then...
We listened to Alchemy Live by Dire Straits , Modern Cool by Patricia Barber on Blu-Ray, Anouar Brahem, The Astounding Eyes of Rita on ECM and an historic recording of Bill Evans, Live in Paris, 1972 Vol 2 recorded by Radio France at the time and pressed by the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA) in 1988. we also listened to a famous French percussionist Jean-Pierre Drouet, a digital file kindly "loaned" to me by Alain Wacquet of AW Audio fame. Lee is a percussionist himself, Leon a clarinetist, btw, so he could really appreciate the soundscape!
We had a great time and I had to push them out of the door as they had a plane to catch back to Melbourne.
Thank you guys, it was good to have you in my patch this time!