Santa Claus included in His shipment of goodies this lovely, simple and inexpensive new toy - and I gather my friend Len Wallis had a hand in this this...
But between my own travels, visitors from overseas and...work, I have not had a chance to try this wonderful addition to my hifi kingdom.
We are experiencing a very strong storm here in Sydney, really the tail of a cyclone hitting the Coast 6 hours drive north, so it is a good time to set it up (a breeze...sic) and clean a few records and take the time to listen to the results.
First cab off the rank is "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" by Simon and Garfunkel, a 1969 CBS record pressed in Holland and purchased in Paris for 49.00 francs, which was quite a sum at the time) which has seen many needles and turntables over the years (Dual 1219, Clement for a few nights, ERA 455, Rega Planar 3 since 194, and more recently Rega P1 branded NAD. BTW, as my daughter is in Paris for six months, I have pinched the glass platter of her (my old...) Planar 3 and installed it in the P1 which brings a significant improvement to the overall sound.
Back to cleaning, after three spins clockwise and three counterclockwise and a good dry with the special doth provided, it has to be said that most of the surface noise is gone, and it brings clarity to the whole affair. For sure, there is still audible noise in the groove in between songs, indicating that the brushes are not doing a great job in the depth of the groove, but gently clean the upper part of it satisfactorily to bring back the music to a very low level of noise free enjoyment.
Next I tried my original 1968 US pressing of the "White Album" from the Beatles bought in Mexico City at the time. This record has been abused at parties, on portable plasticky japanese player a la Teppaz, then on the same turntables as mentioned before. It is so damaged that I bought the 30th anniversary pressing which is still in pristine condition. However the 1968 pressing is still quite not there after the cleaning, as the needle collects a nice little fluff of dirt after the second side of the record finished playing. I think I will have to try a second clean another day and maybe keep it as a collector item, rather than a playable pleasure...I will let you know.
(That's 25 years ago, mon Dieu...)
Having said that, this Spin-Clean costs less than one hundred dollar and will restore most of your precious "galettes" to a listenable condition. To get something more efficient would cost about ten times more with a Clearaudio machine that would probably be my next choice up. But frankly, I rather spend the price difference on more records! Let me have your own cleaning stories...
Well, this is not MY reference system...
But it was certainly very adequate to listen to the new Martin Logan Ethos!
Thanks to the very friendly and knowledgeable team of my friend Adam Carlino at AudioConnection, I think I was the first person in Sydney at least to have the chance to listen to these fabulous speakers.
I will summarise my findings by saying it is the first time I am considering upgrading from my cherished Microphase speakers in the last 25 years...(yes, I know, I am biaised!)
But let's start at the begining:
I currently use a REGA P1 (in its NAD jacket...) with the new RB250 arm(I also have a REGA P3 - vintage 1984...currently on loan to my daughter) and a recently acquired Ortofon RED MM cartridge feeding a NAD 7140 receiver (1984 vintage) used only as a preamp/FM Tuner and then into my Bryston 3B (1994 vintage).
I use a Pioneer DVD/SACD player as a digital source.
I also recently got an iPhone than I am keen to try as a pure digital source.
I have been very happy with this system for many a year and even after visting the HiFi show in Paris, I didn't find anything that took my fancy at a reasonable price.
I have been investigating upgrading my preamp and am considering buying either a NAD C165BEE (#1500$) or a Bryston BP26 with a MM phono stage (#5000$ for comparable features).
So the question is: Is it worth spending an additional 3500$ to get a complete Bryston amplification, or should we spend that money on upgrading the front-end, namely the turntable?
Obviously, it is only by trying the different combinations that you might be able to find the answer, and this is almost impossible to achieve as it would be almost impossible to find all this gear at ONE dealer, willing to spend the time to put such a system together with the hope that one might something out of this exercise.
My ideal and theoritical reference system today would look like this this:
Michell Orbe turnable with Origin-modified Rega RB250 (as the one fitted on the rega P1/NAD555), probably fitted with a Grado Platinum (6500$)
Bryston BP26 with external power supply, remote control and phono stage (4500$)
Bryston 3B power amp
Martin Logan Ethos (10000$)
Total price of the upgrade: 21000$
My second choice would be to upgrade my Rega turntable with Isokinetic kits and arm using Origin Live mods and Grado Platinum cartridge, a new C165BEE NAD preamp, my current Bryston 3B amp and Microphase speakers - that would cost me around 3000$ and would probably satiate my appetite for a better system for many years to come. And that is a 700% price difference!
Will I get a 700% improvement in my listening pleasure???
I let you be the judge...
In the meantime, my current system is MY reference system as I know perfectly all its weaknesses and strengths and this is totally adequate to review other systems against it
BTW, the Martin Logan Ethos are the best value for money speakers I have ever listen to and they provide REAL music and enjoyment:
It was really fabulous to see the expression of surprise and delight on my dealer's face as we listened together to a live recording of "Private Investigations" from an old Dire Straits album called "Alchemy" and my best test record...
It was recorded in 1983 on a Rolling Stone mobile studio and is a magical piece of music, engineering and it was (unknowingly at the time...) my first encounter with Australia, as Brett Whiteley, one of the most famous Australian painter, did the artwork for the cover.
Brett Whiteley in this particular work could be labeled as the Aussie Salvator Dali, my most favourite artist of all times (Album Vertigo VERY 11 #818 243-1)
Just found out that this is now available as a DVD/Blu-Ray album (http://www.mark-knopfler.info/d2010.htm). My birthday is coming soon...
Today, I will review the two brands/products that have most impressed me in terms of speaker design and new to me.
Atohm and Waterfall Audio are kind of cousins as Thierry Comte is a partner in Waterfall, and the main driver (sic...) behind Atohm.
Besides, Waterfall Audio uses almost exclusively Atohm speakers.
Both companies have created a range of speakers that have some design criteria in common, but have achieved very different products out of some of the same components.
Atohm drivers are all high efficiency and both bass and midrange drivers have a metal membrane. Their top of the range tweeter however has a silk membrane and a 28mm diameter coil small enough to always stay within the humongous magnetic field of more than 17000 Gauss, resulting in a massive 98db/w/m efficiency.
We were exposed to their top model, the GT 3.0, a so-called 3.5 way freestanding speaker beautifully finished and equipped with 2 7inch bass drivers, 1 6inch medium with a phase plug and the above mentioned supertweeter.
The crossover frequencies are 100, 150 and 2500Hz, hence the 3.5 way name.
All filter slopes are 6db and the tweeter is time aligned.
The midrange driver has its own chamber fitted with an internal conical structure aimed at taming the standing waves and reflections inside that cabinet. This is reminiscent of the structure in the B&W Nautilus, but inverted inside the cabinet.
The bass drivers are installed in a bass reflex enclosure with a laminated vent at the base of the speaker's cabinet (like in our Microphase SWS subwoofer, this arrangement removes most of the potential problems linked with the floor structure and the position within the room).
The very well conducted demo showed the accuracy, speed and time alignment of this speaker, highly respecting the timbres of instruments and at 92db efficiency and 300W power capacity, reproducing the music with a realistic level and a total absence of distortion. Definitely in my top five at the show.
Their cost of 7,900 euros + seems to be the norm at that level of quality (Elipson 4260, Vienna Acoustics, or my favourite Martin Logans are twice the price...)
Waterfall Audio has taken a different approach, using some of the same drivers, in their top model, the Niagara.
First of all, Waterfall has made a name for themselves by introducing glass cabinets for their speakers.
We all know that glass is a very inert material, but being transparent, one cannot hide much inside the cabinet. Besides, it is quite a difficult material to process and assemble, more so once you add the complexity of a horn in front of the tweeter!
But Cedric Aubriot and Thierry Combe are not the types to refuse a challenge, and they came up with a number of innovative ideas to make this speaker a "chef d'oeuvre" in the sense of the Compagnons in the Middle Ages.
The result is a beautiful objet with a very high WAF - they have their Export Manager, Nadine, as their first judge, and she has convinced women (and men, I am sure...) in 30 countries to agree with her and buy this wonderful object!
Having said that, the auditive result is totaly in tune with the aesthetics of the product, proving once more that form should follow function if one wants to achieve the best possible results in any field. Electroacoustics are still full of "black magic" and in this case a transparent one: the filter is hidden in the base of the speaker, and so is the larger passive bass driver. Again, the midrange driver has its own enclosure baptised Acoustic Damping Tube, and the bass is generated mainly by a second 7inch driver. The tweeter is a 21mm diameter with a silk cone behind the proprietary glass horn. All drivers are bespoke versions of Atohm drivers.
The sound is solid, accurate and neutral. At 89db and 200w power handling, the output is realistic with a very nice, precise soundstage.
At 27,000 euros, this is not for the faint hearted, but a tenth of the price of a Focal Utopia and a lot easier to fit in one's living room. And with all due respect to Jacques Mahul, a much more lively proposition, more engaging with the source material, and, after a relatively short audition, certainly not less accurate.
It is to be noted here that Len Wallis (of Len Wallis Audio fame in Sydney) has given me access for a full morning to the Utopia in his showroom with two of his most knowledgeable sales people (and vinyl enthusiasts on top...) as my 60th birthday present...and so, my opinion of the Utopia is based on a much longer listening session on my own material. Although we had probably hal a million dollars of equipment in that room, I cannot say I was totally convinced mainly because it was almost surgical and lack the passion to engage my senses totally.
So, if I had a spare 40,000A$, I would certainly consider the Niagara!
I would like to try them with my Bryston amp and a Michell turntable and Grado Signature cartridge. Maybe the Aussie distributor of Waterfall Audio can organise that for me ( I will BYO my amp!!!)
I am not too sure how I came to own one of these fancy French contraptions, and I have no recollection how it disappeared from my life, apart from the fact that I had a very naughty kitten at one point who really enjoyed playing with the antiskating counterweight!
One can always use a cover, I hear you say, but there is great debate out there, whether or not it affects the sound!
The cat certainly did!!!
This was quite an elaborate design, with a floating subchassis and an arm based on an unprecedented (and unrepeated, as far as I know) virtual design pivot.
I heard on another forum that JC Verdier had a hand in the design...If it is true, then it would have been the most inexpensive of his designs!
The whole thing was pretty difficult to set up and was very wobbly indeed, but the sound was quite an upgrade from the Dual it replaced.
It is also at that time, that I started to be very found of the Grado cartridges, certainly contributing to the notch up in quality from the inexpensive Shure cartridges used on the Dual.
It is also at that time that I started to work for HP in the Test & Measurement division - now Agilent, and had access to the best test equipment in the World!
I had a big garage at the time, all fitted as an electronic laboratory, where I played with MOSFET amplifiers, ICE amplifiers modules from Sanken (I used to sell them...) and curiously, not much with tubes and speakers. All this happened before I moved to Scotland and discovered NAD, and the battle between Linn and Rega, the emergence of the CD...and started designing the Microphase speakers.
All photos are courtesy of www.vinylengine.com
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.