Welcome to my March tome. It has certainly been an interesting winter in New Hampshire, with only light snow so far, but it certainly has been cold. Thus perfect weather for playing with my system, at least until yesterday, when I evaluated a system that made me question my tweaking abilities. About a year ago, I was introduced to one of the great characters in high-end audio, an audiophile residing in Boston, who wishes to remain anonymous, who has designed and tweaked his system from the ground up using none of the equipment usually considered to be high end. How we got introduced lies somewhere in my Alzheimer's addled brain, probably by Maurice Schmier of Dyana Audio. Anyway he came over to my abode for a listen last year, and left constructive criticism relating to my systems qualities that would have been devastating to a lesser individual. Defensively, as an audiophile treasures his system more than his relatives and has difficulty taking criticism, for a couple of hours I thought he was a complete schmuck, but finally realized he had pinpointed those negative qualities that I had been trying to determine over the years, after about one hour of listening. Truly "Golden Ears".
He made a second trip about two months ago, but of course the electricity sucked on that day, and the listening, while reasonable, still didn't present my system in all of its glory. He suggested that I visit his abode in downtown Boston for a listen, but with my hate of big city traffic, I kept putting the visit off. Then he notified me last week that he is moving to the suburbs in the next few weeks and if I wanted to hear his creation in all of its glory I'd have to get there soon. So I finally got up the guts to fight Boston traffic and went yesterday afternoon, probably one of the big mistakes of my life. Why? Because it showed me how mediocre my system and tweaking abilities are compared to his. Why? Because he has turned a small room in a garden level (meaning basement in suburban homes) small apartment, (costing twice what I pay in mortgage and taxes for a large house), into one of the finest home music reproduction systems this writer has ever heard.
So why am I presenting this today? Because all of his equipment are either one-offs built to his specifications by various individuals or highly modified top of the line components. His speakers are a mixture of horns, sealed box speakers with normal drivers, and ribbon tweeters which should not mesh in any imaginably good way, and he has taken a small apartment room of weird dimensions which should play havoc with sound, and transformed them into a truly great listening experience. Thus he's the tweaker's tweaker. After listening to his system for two hours, I went home and sat in our small television room not able to even think about going into my media room to listen to what I had thought was the superb music reproducer of all time. That had never happened to me before. Every previous system evaluated could be faulted in one way or another compared to mine, but this was The Matterhorn versus Mt. Washington.
Below are my musings on his system and pictures lifted primarily from his web site as my photos did not do justice to his equipment.
His so-called ‘Macondo' speakers are six-way, each driver matched to 109 dB/W/m sensitivity, consisting of two subwoofer panels going down to 19 Hz, upper bass horn for 95 to 650 Hz, Fundamental Channel from 600 to 1000 Hz, mid range horn from 1000 to 12.5 kHz, and a specially built RAAL super tweeter above 12.5 kHz. All are individually directly driven by their own single ended amps which have built-in passive crossovers, each amp built to mate with its driver. They are configured in such a way as to form a parabola with its focus point at ear level about 5 feet 8 inches from the speaker center, the best listening point in his room. You'll notice that I only mentioned five parts. The sixth speaker component is what he calls an "Injection Channel; a 10" Tannoy RED driver in a sealed cabinet with its own amplifier running 14 dB lower than the other speakers and having a frequency range above 110 Hz. To me it sounded like it was there to integrate the sound of the various drivers and add possibly some ambiance information. I can only say the system lost some coherence when it was removed. All six of the single-ended amplifiers for each channel are on one chassis, using the Russian 6C33 nipple tubes, with each having a crossover specific for the speaker, with no electronic time correction, DSP or Equalization. All drivers are 109 dB efficient and the speaker is mechanically time aligned for the listening position. While the system sounds superb in one position approximately 5-6 feet from the speaker center, they still sound wonderful but not quite as coherent in positions as little as a few inches away. They truly have a "sweet spot" which when heard is impossible to move from.
Happily, unlike with most get-togethers of audiophiles who tend to skip from one recording to the next after a few bars, he let me hear complete movements rather than jumping from recording to recording, as the recordings drew me in and spit me out, and it may have caused brain trauma to interfere with their natural flow. For instance he played a DGG LP of Kleiber and Vienna doing the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth, which while a little hot in the typical DGG American pressing fashion, left me sweating with the passion and verve of the performance. Truly amazing.
I still cannot fathom how these speakers work so well at such a short distance being driven by single-ended tube amps. First, he has a pair of woofer towers consisting of six 10 inch drivers, each array powered only by 18 watts each from a single ended amplifier, again using the Russian 6C33 tube that produce prodigious but excellent bass normally found only in systems with mega wattage solid state amplifiers. I still don't understand how he gets such controlled deep bass from one single ended tube. Second, he has three separate horns per channel which are less than six feet from the listener but integrate perfectly with each other such that one cannot tell which horn the sound is coming from. Who say that horns can't image or that one needs to be yards away from them for them for them to integrate? Third, the only discontinuity I could hear between the various horns, sealed enclosures cone speakers and ribbon tweeter was a slight hotness to the tweeters sound when the ffff's this system can produce overloaded the room. Again, that's a total of six speakers with 11 drivers in a 4 foot wide by eight foot high array with a listening distance of six feet. Fourth, while the ffff's were mind numbing, but only using maybe 2 to 4 watt of power, the pppp's were far superior to anything I've heard in my 63 odd years. Especially on LP's, I could hear room cues and low level information that have only been heard by me before in a concert hall.
His one-off phono stage and preamp, combined with a Micro Seiki turntable with six different tonearms and cartridges resting on a 1000 pound stand topped by large granite slabs picked information off the recording that may never have been heard before on any system, at least any I've come in contact with. Instruments floated in the concert hall in proper proportion to their size, surrounded by air, with ambiance information spreading all the way back to my listening position. The main problem was that on multi-mic'ed recordings, each microphone's space could be picked out with precision such that the concert space became discontinuous. But on single or dual mic'ed recordings, the soundstage was splayed out from about three feet lateral, to several feet behind the speakers and at least level with my listening position.
He played a recording of Rostropovich doing Lutoslavski's cello concerto, and at one point there is a subtle thumping in the recording every two seconds probably due to a record defect, but which could be heard at about the 7 o'clock position directly behind and above my shoulder at the edge of the room which could not image there without a perfectly phased system. Other LP noises were suppressed to the point where the tape hiss from the original recording came to the fore, almost like with my DAT's directly recorded from analog master tapes. Thus, the only thing that came between me and the music were the few ticks and scratches from the clean pressings.
Other electronics included a Pacific Microsonics D/A converter for 172 kHz recordings, a Lavry Gold D/A converter for 88 kHz recordings, Expressive Technologies top of the line step-up transformer and Rohde and Schwartz broadcast relay used as an FM tuner. Like me, he does mix the best of the old with the new, using single ended tubes and horns with a computer as his digital storage and playback deck to the Pacific Microsonics unit. On hard drives, he stores his FM recordings of BSO and other concerts, and high bit rate downloads. All play back superbly, but without that last touch of verisimilitude of analog recordings. Oh well, maybe 32-bit/384kHz will achieve what the ancient LP or analog tape does.
Anyway, I wish all of you could have a chance to listen to such a system built on tweaking to the max. His system certainly blows out of the water several axioms of high end audio related to horns, tubes vs. solid-state, room configuration, near vs. far field listening, and mixing and matching of driver types and components. Unhappily for you, but very happily for him, he's moving in the next couple of weeks into a new house in the country with a huge listening room that he is going to modify by building what appear to be 40 Hz. full size dual horns into the ceiling. This ought to give him many hours of both tweaking fun and listening pleasure. Good Luck with the move and trying to emulate what you have today.