Blow-by-Blow: The Latest Marathon Audition
Thought this might be interesting …
As we mentioned previously, we setup a number of systems for the guy who is purchasing our Triolon speakers. This audition occured over a three day period.
The different sounds of the different setups are somewhat illustrative of our approach here to High-End Audio System Optmization [sorry, it looks so much more highfalutin when it is capitalized 🙂 ]. We started with a very good system, and slowly optimized it until it was, well, see below.
The first day I think we just played system 1 (below) and our Soundlab system, our Marten Coltrane system and our Marten Coltrane Supreme system. He had already heard Kharma speakers many times at shows, and our Audio Note system at this recent RMAF show.
He was very impressed by all the systems even though he had some (valid) concerns about the Soundlab system which was having some imaging problems on this new side of the room that we have recently put it on (we had the Adagios over there until a day earlier). Its always something that goes wrong… the walls went wrong in this case… Luckily everything else went very well.
System 1 [sorry, somehow we only got photos of about half the system setups]:
We started with the Audio Aero Prestige CD / SACD player with internal linestage running direct (no preamp) into the well-warmed up $140K Edge Electronics NL Reference ‘pyramid’ 800 watt solid-state amplifiers.We were using Nordost Valhalla interconnect and Valhalla speaker cable, Shunyata Anaconda power cords of all 4 kinds, with the Prestige sitting on a Fondato Silenzio platform and the amps sitting on Rix Rax ‘Outpost’ amp stands.
The Audio Aero adds a touch of warmth and drama and character to the tube-like big open sound of the Reference amps. The sound was big, juicy, with a very wide and very deep soundstage. All notes and dynamic swings were generated effortlessly. The downsides, if you can call it that, were that the imaging was fairly indistinct, the dynamics somewhat soft, from micro to mini to macro, and the overall resolution was good, but not great. This was as if the sound was painted with a big, gloriously colorful and fairly wet paint brush.
A ‘minor’ change, we put the Prestige on the HRS M3 Isolation Base and Nimbuses. This is a reference system for us here on these speakers. The dynamics snapped into place and the imaging firmed up compared to the previous system setup. This system strikes a nice balance between naturalness and resolution, between a gargantuan soundstage and pin-point imaging. It is this balance that kind of keeps a listener off balance, never really believing that the system is going to continue to manage to paint such large pictures with such finness.
Next the Edge NL Reference amps were replaced with Lamm ML1.1 90 watt push-pull amps sitting on HRS Isolation Bases with Nimbuses. We probably should have moved the big Ref amps out of the way, but they are a heavy 220 lbs, and we didn’t want to (aka plain forgot) move them then – and then later they were trapped as more and more equipment was brought up from downstairs. BTW, we do all the heavy lifting ourselves, even though every single one of our very courteous guests always offer to help – we are the hosts, they are the guests. And anyway, we need the workout… because guess who gets to carry all this stuff back downstairs? 🙂
We do not run the Audio Aero directly into the Lamm very often – thinking it might be too ‘tubey’ of a sound. But it was not all that tubey at all. There was good resolution, still a nice large soundstage, good depth. It was, however, the slightest bit soft on the top and bottom. In many ways, it was very much like the Edge NL Reference amps, the Lamm ML1.1 being most like the ‘Refs of any of the demo amps here – and probably of most amps out there as well. A very good balance of resolution and naturalness and dynamics.
As planned, we swapped in Emm Labs SE CDSD / DCC2 transport and DAC pair for the Audio Aero Prestige. The Emm labs (Meitner) was run direct into the amps using its internal linestage. Now this system is starting to do things that are hard to explain. The solid-state digital source is a natural balance to the push-pull tube amps – and it works. All the truth, the unexpurgated yet unenhanced details and resolution are provided to the Lamm ML1.1, and it is up to the amp to decide what to do with it. We trust this amp to do the right thing with that information stream – and our trust is rewarded. Now we have big, open, with enough resolution to tighten up the imaging and define the toplogoies of the soundstage, added micro-dynamics that communicates more of the subtle characteristics of the music.
As we were talking about the sound of the Edge Electronics Signature One 400 watt monoblocks compared to the big ‘pyramids’, we just said, hey, you can hear for yourself. So the Edge amps were swapped in for the Lamm ML1.1. The amps were cold so we played a CD or two in the background as we waited the hour or so for these amps to get to 95% or so of their optimal sound [actually, a number of components were added to the system cold – and this got to be a pattern: Isert component into system. Listen casually. Wait. Listen carefully. Rinse and Repeat.]. Now, this is not a system that we play too often – the Edge Signature One amps are a very smooth and detailed sound – very much like the Meitner / Emmlabs CD / SACD player we had in the system. So the balance was likely to be, and was, a little on the very detailed but somewhat uninvolving side. The soundstage was smaller, the images more pinpoint but not as 3D-like, much more resolution and micro-dynamics, but less midi- and macro-dynamics.
At this point the Favorite was the Audio Aero Prestige CD / SACD player with internal linestasge running direct to the Edge NL Reference amps. Second was the Meitner CD / SACD transport / DAC pair running direct to the Lamm ML1.1 amps.
Now we start bringing in the big boys, so to speak. We keep a straight face as we hook up the Lamm ML2.1 18 watt SET amps in place of the Edge Signature Ones. ‘They have to warm up’ we say (they were warm but cooled off during the Edge Sig One stopover). Hee hee hee. Bamm, the sound-stage width and depth expands to equal, if not better, that with the Edge NL Reference. Solidity, presense, dexterity, integrity, naturalness, purity – the midi-dynamics in the midrange are memorable. Note envelopes are as smooth and hypnotizingly fluid as ocean waves, as Pulitzer-prize winning as the notes coming from the Meitner.
We let this system stay up for awhile – wanting to establish this system as a milestone as we traverse further into the audition. It was now the favorite at this point. There is always this certainty that our visitors have that we do this to, I mean ‘with’ :-), that, after this kind of Rush caused by hearing what was previously thought impossible, there is this deep subconscious questioning about why would anyone want anything better than this? Nothing can be significantly better than this, can it?
[Oops, somewhere in here we replaced the Valhalla interconnect that was running between the Meitner and the amps with Jorma Design ‘Prime’. This added another quantum step up in sound-stage definition and harmonic purity and resolution].
The (very warm) 20 watt Audio Note Kegon SET amps are rushed upstairs to replace the Lamm ML2.1. This system, with the Meitner running direct to the Kegons, with INDRA interconnects instead of the Jorma Prime, was our primary reference system with these speakers. It is hard to describe all the things it does well, because we are SO familiar with it and we have described it so many times in the past. But, one of the most obvious differences now was the bass. It was VERY natural yet Impressive yet well-defined. These amps grip the speaker with an iron (make that Silver) fist at all frequencies, but it is most noticable in the bass, where other amps have the most difficulty.
This system was starting to pick up some ground loop hum, and so we replaced the Jorma ‘Prime’ with INDRA interconnect, correctly predicting that the WBT connectors on the Prime were picking up some nasties. The INDRA reduces the resolution and clarity and imaging somewhat, but has a purity that, in my opinion, works very well with the extreme purity of the sound of the Meitner.
At this point, there is an understanding now why we rave about these amps all the time. But, to get this sound, let us not forget the other players: the Meitner, the HRS bases, the Shunyata power cords, the INDRA and Jorma Design Prime and the Valhalla speaker cable.
But we rush to set up the next systems. Time is running out, it is the last day, and we want to spend the most amount of time with the system we think is the Most Optimized of them all…and we have a few more iterations to go…
We add the Audio Note M10 linestage which replaces the internal linestage of the Emm Labs DAC. NOW we really have controlled bass. Never heard these speakers do this before. But before we enjoy it we have to deal with our ground loop hum, which is back again.
Do to the occasional (we hope) people who are very confused about electrical things yet get hired to do electrical inspections here in Wonderful Boulder County – the grounding of our dedicated lines are messed up. Yes, we can fix them sometime (it won’t be easy) but until then… Until then, Mike and Neli get to have a nice family discussion about cheatering (that would be me) and why not to cheat (that would be Neli) in front of our guest, and after messing some with groundwire we finally cheated and lifted the ground on the entire system.
We’ve said it before, the M10 is like having another Kegon, or maybe more like a Kegon with 40 watts instead of 20, or perahps like ‘no need to Bi-amp it, M10 it’. Everything is much more controlled, accurate, dynamic, well-formed, solid….
Oh, wait, now we want to add back in the Jorma Design ‘Prime’ interconnect [I swear, I started getting blisters on the tip of my Switch-turning-off-and-on finger :-)]. It goes in and replaces the Valhalla. How can the Valhalla be called muddy? It can’t. But it was, in comparision!
Bamm, off everything goes again and another Prime goes in to replace the INDRA. Another increase in resolution and harmonic integrity – but not as much, leading us to put another checkmark in the box supporting the proposition that it is the first Prime that makes the most difference.
Bamm, Neli tells me that they all want to replace the Valhalla speaker cable now with Jorma Prime and Jorma No. 1 speaker cable (this is a tri-wired system and we only have one bi-wire Jorma Prime at this time). OK. Fine. But it is getting dark quick, so flashlight in hand, Neli and I change the speaker cables to Jorma. Not quite fast enough, we have to move a lamp over to shed some light to tell which are the red and which are the black connectors… important things like that.
Before we headed out to load up on Indian food, to let the system warm up and settle in some, it was apparent (to me, anyway, but I think I was much more interested than they were in hearing this particular change, as I have been thinking a lot about the difference in the impact on a system’s sound of the Prime interconnect versus the speaker cable) – that the sound-stage and imaging RELAXED. It felt like there was an easier and much smoother transition as the musicans, or their sound-engineers, moved things around on the stage. That, before, the soundstage was blotchy, that images jerked from place to place and clung to certain spots. Now, the soundstage was no longer constipated.Now it flowed…
This increased sense of continuity was also somewhat apparent in the dynamics as well: whereas before it seemed like there were maybe, say, 100 different ways a note could go from soft to loud (and back again) now there were 1000.
There were other improvements as well – the resultant being that the system felt whole now, having everything be wired with 100% Jorma Prime (except for the Jorma No. 1 speaker cable on the bass towers) seemed to allow the Prime’s capabilities to shine through, all the way from source to speaker.
After Indian buffet dinner (the food was kind of bland,.. how can they make bland Indian food??? How embarrasing, since we picked the place. Seems like Mike and Neli need to catch up on where the good Indian food restaurants are again.. and add a few pounds in the process I bet 🙂 ) we played a few songs from each of about a dozen CDs. Played it fairly loud, since it was our last night (volume set at ‘7’ for those who grok Audio Note volume controls, driving a high-gain amp on 97dB speakers 🙂 ). It was kick ass.
Classical music was so much more realistically laid out, both dynamics and imaging – such separation and definition, not quite at Real, of course, but there was a lot of stuff now that we didn’t know that we were missing before this [we never had the Jorma Prime combined with the M10 here before].
Played some of Lady in Satin as well, the 3D nature of her voice and the way she moved – it was much more like being in a cabaret than sitting in a livingroom.
We heard this same system for a few more days after our guest left and then performed the swapping out of the front end for the Audio Note digital to see what THAT would do [see previous post].
No, we did NOT try adding analog to system 10 – creating system 11. Have to save something for next time, right? 🙂
By then the M10 will be broken in (it is only 5 weeks old at this point).
And it will be the Marten Design Coltrane Supreme loudspeakers that we will use to navigate even further out into the Audiophile Gulf Stream, ….