CEs 2014: day 3, 4

WAVAC on soundLab. surprisingly, one of the, if not THE, best sounds of the show.

Perfect8 on Walker Audio and VAC

Kharma is finally back with their characteristically energetic sound.

Lamm on Verity Lohengrin speakers.

Lamm on Wilson Alexia speakers. First time I have heard the bass of the Alexia sound anywhere near what one would expect from a Wilson speaker

Heart and Mind Ratings of Common High-end Audio Gear

In order to help describe what we think are the key differences between the Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On and Lamm ML3 amplifiers we came up with semi-subjective rating that has to do with how much the characteristic sound of the amp appeals to one’s mind versus how much it appeals to one’s heart.

We will now try our hardest to apply this same approach to all sorts of other gear. However, it seems like perhaps a change might be useful here. Instead of just rating things based on a simple HEART < ----- > MIND scale we will instead try and rate Heart and Mind separately, on a scale from 0 to 10.

One reason why these kind of ratings may be really useful is that people who like the quality of the sound to affect their Heart really hate sound directed at their mind. And visa-versa. Really hate. Spending lots of time to let everyone know how much they hate a particular component or system when what they are really saying is that they do not like the fact it is Mind-centric (or visa-versa).

Mind-centric sound is often called ‘sophisticated’, or ‘high resolution’ or having ‘lots of inner detail’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘cold’.

Heart-centric sound is often called ‘emotional’ or ‘involving’. This is completely UNRELATED to the possibility of the sound being ‘warm’.

[NOTE: real world values are very fuzzy and depend heavily upon the music played and system the component / cable is in, and, for Audio Note components, the tubes used]

Name Heart Mind
———– amps ———–
Audio Note U.K. Gaku-On amp 10.0 7
Lamm ML3 amp 8 10.0
Audio Note U.K. Kageki 2A3 amp 9 4
Audio Note U.K. Kegon Balanced amp 8 7
Audio Note U.K. Kegon amp 9 6
Lamm ML2.2 amp 7 7
Edge NL10 amp 5 8
———– speakers ———–
Marten Coltrane Supreme speakers 4 10.0
Kharma Mini Exquisite speaker 9 8
Marten Coltrane 1 speaker 4 8
Marten Coltrane 2 speaker 6 10.0
Acapella Triolon Excalibur speaker 8.5 7
Wilson Alexandria II, XLF speakers 6 8
Wilson MAXX III speakers 5 7
Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers 5 4
Audio Note AN/E SPe HE speakers 5 5
Audio Note AN/E SEC Signature speakers 7 7
Sonus Faber Stradivarius speakers 7 4
Sonus Faber Extrema speakers 8.5 3
———– cd players ———–
Audio Aero Capitole Mk. II CD player 8 4
Audio Aero Capitole Reference CD player 8 6
Audio Aero Capitole LaSource CD player 9 7
Emm Labs CDSA CD player 6 7
Emm Labs XDS1 CD player 7 8
Esoteric K-01 CD player 4 8
Audio Note Level 5 digital 11 7
Audio Note Level 4 digital separates 8 7
———– cables ———–
Nordost ODIN interconnects 7 9
Nordost ODIN speaker cables 7 8
Tara Labs the Zero GOLD 7 7
Nordost ODIN power cords 9 8
Nordost Valhalla interconnects 6 6
Audio Note Sogon cables 8 4
Audio Note brown PALLAS interconnect 7 9
Audio Note black PALLAS interconnect 7.5 4
Stealth INDRA 4 7.5
ELROD classic (average) 6.5 4
ELROD new (average) 7.5 6
Pranawire (average) 9 4
———– preamps ———–
EMMLabs PRE2 preamp 4 6.5
LAMM L2 preamp 6 6
Audio Note M9 preamp 8 5
Audio Note M10 preamp 9 7
———– phono preamps ———–
Audio Note M9 phonostage with S9 step-up transformer 10 7
Lamm LP2 phono preamp 6 5

Rated 0 to 10 and we are assuming they are in a system that really shows off their capability. There are a lot more components and things we can rate, but this is hopefully a decent start.

OK. You all know this is just my Wild Eyed Opinion. But I think most people would agree that the relative values here are close and in proportion to what we experience when we listen to these things.

There are, you know, components with a value of 0,0 and we won’t point fingers but it is an interesting state of affairs for those that own them. The more educated we are about the REAL comparative performance of our gear the less chance end up with stuff that is not what we are looking for.

From this table, one can see why the Gaku-On amps on the Coltrane Supreme speakers was such a significant system. Even though the ML3 on the Supremes was awesomely intense and deeply subtle, the Gaku-On on the Supremes whacks ya, you poor defenseless listener you, over BOTH sides of the head. A roller-coaster ride to wheresoever the music takes you.

This kind of pairing of opposites works well for the most listeners, I think. Like the Edge NL10 amps driven by the Audio Aero Capitole player – it entertains both sides of the brain. On the other hand, there is something kind of special about well-balanced components, components who heart-centric rating is close to the mind-centric rating.

It seems, looking at things here, that some gear uses either some warmth and/or dynamics and/or well-integrated micro-dynamics to appeal to the Heart.

Q&A: The Marten Coltrane Momento speakers (versus Kharma speakers)

[These Marten versus Kharma questions are very popular. I try to answer each one of these a little differently, to hopefully allow people, over the course of all these answers, to paste together a more accurate picture of the two ‘house sounds’.]


I’m curious to know how the Coltrane Momento’s have worked out? I have only seen one review of them (which was very positive), but they seem to have been brought to market rather quietly – as compared to the hoopla of the Supreme several years earlier. Have you had any in your shop for audition? If so, how do you like them? Anything glaringly right or wrong?

Finally, in general terms what kind of soundstage do Marten speakers tend/aspire to create? Small focused or expansive?? (for lack of any better descriptors at this moment…)

I like the look of these speakers – simple to hook up, simple footprint….but apparently with some great components and considerable thought all on board.


Yeah, I guess statement products [the Supremes] do receive a lot more hoopla than the penultimate [the Momentos] – and perhaps because the Momentos are comparably priced to so many other speakers these days, they just don’t stand out like the Coltrane Supreme speakers do? All just speculation on my part – but I do agree the buzz has been rather muted (undeservedly so, IMHO).

No, unfortunately we have not had the Momentos in the shop. We heard them extensively at CES last year, loved them [sounded just like we expected them to], and we were actually interested in purchasing that particular pair, but another line [no, I’m not telling which one :-)] we carry had a hiccup and we decided we just could not swing it at that time. And, now, of course, we are planning on moving the shop, so getting another big speaker just does not seem like the prudent thing to do at this time. [We periodically try to actively sell the Coltrane Supreme speakers so that we can get a pair of Coltrane Momento speakers for awhile – as you may have seen on this blog – only to later think this would be nuts and we can’t live without the Supremes. Kind of an emotional issue here at Audio Federation.]

The Momentos sound similar to the Coltrane Supreme speakers – which we love – and in some instances may be more convenient [2 speakers instead of 4, no external crossover box, and like if, say, you wanted to use an integrated amp like the Audio Note Ongaku to drive them – the absence of an outboard amp (which the Supremes have and the Momentos do not) simplifies things a bit]. Let’s get to your next question, which allows us to talk about these speakers in context, the context being another great set of speakers :-)

>> Hello again – I also wanted to ask about the Marten’s: generally speaking how are they voiced relative to Kharma (a brand that I’ve some experience with)??

* The Marten sound is more determined by upstream equipment and setup than is the Kharma sound. (i.e. the Marten is capable of having more different kinds of sounds than the Kharma)
* The Kharma sound typically creates a larger soundstage and bigger sound, all else being equal [although this is changing with the new Coltrane 2 and maybe the Momento as well]
* The Kharma sound is typically more overtly detailed in the midrange and lower treble [though I think this is changing with the newer Kharma black label drivers] than the Marten sound
* The Marten sound has a blacker background and is more revealing of subtleties than the Kharma sound

One way to look at them is that the Kharma is a party speaker, exuberant, exciting, invigorating, … and the Marten is a truth speaker, beautiful, mind-mucking, deeply insightful…

Please understand I am somewhat exaggerating the differences to help you understand their intrinsic character …. They are both capable of doing all these things quite well.

Hope this helps!