Break-through amplifiers. Part II

So, lets compare the Audio Note U.K. Gaku-on and Lamm ML3 amps.

The Gaku-On is a $265,000 monoblock 211-based amp [I think of it sometimes as 2 very souped-up Ongaku amps without a volume control]

The Lamm ML3 Signature is a $139,490 monoblock GM-70-based amp [4 boxes: 2 amps plus 2 power supplies]

Technology

Though I understand just a very little about how these amps break new ground in technology and simplicity of design, I am not qualified to compare them to other designs out there and describe why these are significantly better. So, although these are pretty obviously breakthrough amps in terms of technology [just look at the circuits – it is simplicity itself], it is really the breakthroughs in terms of the listening experience that is, and what some say [including us, and many others of this blog :-)] should be, the real criteria for breakthrough-level excellence.

The technology of the Gaku-On is found in several other amps from AN including the Kegon Balanced. Some of the technology of the ML3 is found in their matching L1 preamplifier.

Audiophile Characteristics

I feel that the ML3 has more resolution than the Gaku-On, but both have more than any other amp we have heard. The Gaku-On has purer harmonics than the ML3, much purer than any other amp we have heard [especially when paired with the better AN amps and digital sources]. The ML3 has greater harmonic resolution and harmonic and dynamic linearity, again breaking new ground. The Gaku-On is more dynamic and dynamically nimble, breaking new ground here itself [live with these for awhile and you will understand in a visceral and indelible manner why most big amps and solid-state amps have real problems with the kind of dynamics found in real music]. The ML3 has a quieter, startlingly dark background although the Gaku-On is itself among the most quiet tube amps in the world.

But enough with the audiophile chatter… πŸ™‚

Character of the Amps

These can be thought of, I think, in terms of Heart versus Mind [though it is a Yin Mind and a Yang Heart we are talking about here].

When one things of Yin amplifiers versus Yang amplifiers one might think of, say, Jadis amps versus old Krell amps. And certainly the idea that Yin represents winning us to its side through delicacy and Yang through overwhelming power… kind…of… represents the case here…

The idea is that the Lamm ML3 presents music in a very sophisticated, delicate, intricate and accurate manner – and the Audio Note UK Gaku-On in a dynamic, colorful, and enthusiastic manner.

Effect of the Amps

The effects are more similar than what one might expect, especially when you realize that the heart can be won by convincing the mind [some say we always consciously (mentally) CHOOSE who we fall in love with], and the mind can be won by convincing the heart [e.g. love is blind, all you need is love, etc.].

I feel that the Gaku-On pulls harder on the heart strings, that the dynamic swells and casual ease and rich, insidiously TRUTHFUL color overwhelms our inhibitions and forces us to fall heels over head into the music.

I feel that the ML3 pulls harder on the higher mental functions, that the dynamic and harmonic resolution and convincingness is so entrancing that the mind is unable to resist falling head over heels into the music.

Strength of the Effect

It depends

You might think that after a day of doing math homework, say, you might want… something different – something that appeals to the heartstrings to distract your tired mind from a day’s hard work? Or would you want something that is intellectual but incredibly beautiful that sneaks into the head which is already open to intellectual stimulation.

Similarly, after a day of arguing with nincompoops, you might want something refined and delicate, the best of humanity in high resolution. But, maybe you want to just blast away all remembrances and de-nincompoop the day with some beautiful, heart-rending stimulation.

Both these amps are fun. Both help distract me from the days’ travails. Both are convincing and exciting and delicious. And even if I sometimes THINK I would prefer one or the other, I am wrong as often as I am right.

But that is me. I enjoy equally well both appeals to the heart and to the mind…. just sometimes more one than the other.

Mental Pattern Matching

Now that we have described some of the basic characteristics of these amps, we can try and talk about the listening experiences in more detail.

Our Believability Helper Processor
Our Whiteout Processor

These amps, largely based on the quality of their reproduction, require previously unheard of low levels of use of our fixer-upper mental processors. They are far more believable and have far fewer annoying characteristics than other amps currently available and/or that we have heard.

Our Rainbow Processor

Our desire and ability to mentally enhance our music in a fun and exaggerated manner never flags, and with these amps there is no exception, although the need or desire to do so is lessened quite a bit.

Our Pattern Detection Processor
Our Pattern Matching Processor

Here is where we can start comparing the amps and how they differ in what they offer the listener.

[Please note I am somewhat exaggerating the differences in order to better explain what is happening to a listener. In reality there is quite a bit of overlap as both amps are able to render the all kinds of music quite well and convincingly]

The extreme resolution of the ML3 lends itself the ability to render very complex patterns. These patterns stimulate the higher cortex of the brain. [I think. Therefore I am]

The extreme purity and dynamics of the Gaku-On lends itself to render very deep, primal patterns. Patterns that stimulate our human and animal natures. [Woof!]

[I feel like I should write more here in this section. But… well… see previous posts about how the patterns in music cause matching resonances in our brains, resonances that aid us in thinking and understanding and feeling things.]

Our Emotional Contexualizer

Both amps draw out the emotional subtleties of the music. In somewhat different ways, as described above, but both are very emotional amps.

Our Beauty / Wonder / Spiritual Processor

Similar to the emotions, both can frequently provide glimmers, nay stark proof, of the beauty of the universe.

An example: these amps on the Marten Coltrane Supreme Speakers

Putting the ML3 on the Supremes is pairing like with like. They are both high resolution and capable of rendering exquisitely subtle detail. People who are looking just for music that stimulates their heart, and not their mind, will not be so pleased. Those who like both will enjoy the experience quite a bit. And those who are primarily looking for music that stimulates the mind first and foremost, these people will be flabbergasted.

We played this exact system at RMAF … 2008? … and if you read the reviews, you are able to see immediately the preferences of the reviewer. The next year we brought the Gaku-On amps in a mostly Audio Note system. This mostly ‘appealing to the heart’ system flabbergasted those who really did not like nor understand the above system, these people preferring their music to be heart-centric rather than mind-centric.

Putting the Gaku-On on the Supremes is pairing male with female, chocolate and peanut butter. The combination sounds like the perfect horn speaker: a dynamic, high-resolution, harmonically rich point source. This was a more balanced, both heart-and-mind centric sound. Systems like this are a good compromise if you, like me, like both heart-centric and mind-centric sound.

Comparison to other sounds

Mind-centric does not mean cold and unemotional. Cold and unemotional systems have insufficient resolution to render the subtleties required to communicate emotion in voices and instruments [often because the speakers are too hard to drive and small sounds just get lost as the amps struggle with the major sounds] .

Heart-centric does not mean fake or sugary sound. The often used epithet used by people who fear heart-centric sound is artificially sweet is undeserved for real heart-centric systems. If there is to be more than just one emotion communicated by a system [like cheap wine, missing is all the wonderful variety of flavors possible], it needs to be high-resolution and highly realistic.

Conclusion

For a long time I preferred the Gaku-On and neli preferred the ML3. The I’d hear the ML3 and she would hear our Kegons or something and we’d swap. We’d go back and forth, usually wanting the opposite of what the other wanted [yes, some of it due to husbandly cantankerousness, but also some of it because I really do know best and she just kept getting it wrong :-)].

I lot of the appreciation of life, for me, comes when one knows what one appreciates. Not so much from getting what one appreciates, but understanding just where one stands with respect to where quality can be found. I know which two amps I want, and this does make the world make a little more sense than back in the day when I was a fish biting on everything that came along – including all those rocks, leaves and whatnot.

Part 1. Lamm ML3 Signature: Review of Stereophile’s Review

Review of Mike Fremer’s review of the Lamm ML3 Signature amplifiers.

[Hi everybody. πŸ™‚

A few days ago I heard there was a ML3 review by Mike Fremer. OK. Oh boy, another review. *yawn*

It would probably just be the usual cautiously positive review that we see fairly frequently these days. *snore*

But when I saw that Mr. Fremer was doing the review on a system I am somewhat familiar with, I couldn’t resist reading it.

Uh. Oh.

Although it was indeed one of those cautiously but really positive reviews, as expected, other things said in the review resulted in the urge to provide a different, more tube-friendly, many might even say a more listener friendly, perspective.

This review review is not meant to be a dig at Mr. Fremer in any way. I think he is the best reviewer we got and he seems to be able to hear things and describe them well and honestly. This review review does, however, take exception to the solid-state bias, the over reliance on measurements as a determinant of overall quality [even though in this case the ML3 measures quite well], and the general trend in the industry these days of homogenizing descriptions [whether parsimonious or excessively over-hyped] of good and exceptional gear.

This review review also seems to have been used as an opportunity for yours truly to [it seems to me unwittingly, yet at length] ramble on about several only peripherally related things to do with the industry, system setup, and the High-end Audio Golden Age which it is argued herein we are in the midst of – so, you know, maybe we should be enjoying it more.

I decided to post this whole thing here on Audio Federation, instead of Ultimist. In four parts.

Ultimist represents all aspects of audiophiledom – supplying a level playing field for all brands of high-end audio gear. On my blog over there I try to provide hopefully fun and useful bits for average everyday audiophile consumption [not sure I have quite ‘found my voice’ over there yet. But I am hanging in there… :-)]. But until Ultimist takes off [and it is currently under-going an 15X upgrade, being currently too busy (slow) for members right now. So please stand by…] I am going to start posting the usual wild and crazy stuff here again – stuff on the state of the art and what the state of the art means to the industry and to all audiophiles interested in those Ultimate Listening Experiences.

This is a review of the review by Michael Fremer of the Lamm ML3 Signature amplifiers, hidden away in the September 2013 Stereophile.

In the following review review, I am going to refer to Mike Fremer as Mr. Fremer in this review. Many people refer to him as ‘Mikey’ but I have found, when using ‘Mikey’ when talking to a random assortment of industry people, that they feel this shows a lack of respect for him, that it is belittling or something, as opposed to being an affectionate term for him, which is how we all mean it [or, at least, that is how we mean it]. And I can’t call him just ‘Mike’ because, you know, like, *I* am Mike. Ergo: Mr. Fremer.

Links: Some notes about our impressions of the ML3. Some photos Lamm ML3 photos, our impressions of the Wilson Alexandria X2 speakers, and our impressions of the almost exact same system as reviewed by Mr. Fremer: Lamm ML3 on Wilson Alexandria XLF speakers (some differences are that our system was completely outfitted with HRS racks and platforms and it had a different source: a Basis turntable instead of the Continuum).

The Review

This seems to be an extremely positive review on the one hand – and on the other a prejudiced [and unfair and unbalanced, like most prejudices are] indictment of all tube gear, implicitly labeling the ML3 as the best of a bad (fatally flawed) bunch.

In my opinion the ML3 is a breakthrough product and not just another slightly better statement product with an exorbitant price tag.

But lets talk about statement products for a bit. The politics of the last 30 years have resulted in a small number of people becoming extremely rich. This has resulted in the increasing validity of a business model that has small high-end audio businesses selling just a very few, but extremely expensive, products per year. So the ‘statement product’ boom is born. But the problem with being too cynical about this is that these products ARE actually better than everything else in a brand’s product line. And in fact, they are often quite good on a competitive and historical basis.

So people can complain about reviewers loving each new yet ever more expensive thing they review – but in the vast majority of cases these outrageously expensive things are indeed actually quite good. Better to complain about such wonderful gear being wasted on the generally unappreciative rich [are Russian robber barons REALLY that much more into high-end audio than the ordinary guy on the street?]. Or perhaps you might even complain about the growing economic disparities in the world. But people should give reviewers a break… at least in this case; there is plenty of other things to spank their fat listening-chair-shaped behinds about – but I think this isn’t one of those things.

With all these statement-level products being created for the 1%, this is a kind of golden age for high-end audio research. Manufacturers get to try all sorts of what was before prohibitively expensive and/or laborious approaches to getting the most from their designs.

This was epitomized for me a few years ago when I heard a new statement level amp from a popular tube amp manufacturer at CES. It was an expensive [for them!] tube amp at something like $10K. They are known for inexpensive, and to my ears very congested and dull sounding, tube amps. But this new amp, which was apparently not built to a price point [or to a more relaxed one in any case] actually sounded quite excellent. I interpreted this to mean that manufacturers not known for their excellence can indeed make excellent products when some of their constraints are relaxed [and, you know, choices made decades ago about HOW to build to a price point really should be revisited periodically. Yes this is harder than designing and building a statement product [and not as much fun!]. Not as hard as making a breakthrough product though :-)].

There are also many new high-end audio companies – started by people with expert skills who have nowhere else to go; having been laid off because of the Great Recession, rampant ageism, and/or replaced by cheap-skill-challenged wage slaves because they look better in the bean counter comic-books. We can eventually expect some great things from some of these new companies, I think.

To my mind, a break-through product usually has a new, very simple, very obvious [once you see it!] design. It is typically not just a successive refinement of a previous statement product. Like other industries [software and auto come to mind] the breakthrough product is not always successful in the marketplace – but it does often cause a shift in the industry [although our industry is strangely pig-headed, so we will see].

The problem is that a lot of these reviews of spectacular, and sometimes breakthrough, gear just do not seem to identify the actual character of the gear and what makes it spectacular. In fact, it appears that many just do not or cannot understand what they are reviewing. They really ignore what makes it unique and what makes it great. They are just doing things as they always did – going through the motions – in some ways buying into their detractors case that everything sounds the same with just slight refinements here and there or with perhaps a different flavor thrown in once in awhile. This makes the reviews just a mass of sad, boring, worthless bytes wasting everyone’s time and energy. There is a revolution going on [many in fact…] and they [journalists] are sleep-walking during one of the most exciting times in [audiophile] history.

So WAKE UP, already! Jeez…

It does seem that one of the problems of Golden Ages is recognizing when you are living in one. BEFORE they are over, I mean. And they DO end.

It is like we are reviewing things in some kind of commoditized supermarket, pulling something off a shelf, measuring it, weighing it, figuring out its color and what the ingredients are, and then declaring its value to the reader to be the asking price. Next. This method purposely minimizes the difference between the GREAT things and the things that, you know, are kinda average. That great thing, the Mona Lisa say, is, by golly look at that: using an inferior paint and that flea market item is using really high quality framing using reclaimed mahogany from a now extinct rain forest. This works well for a magazine [or website] who needs to present a level playing field to the industry, but it does a disservice to those who want to, you know, enjoy the Golden Age before it is, you know, like… over?


(our review of a very, very similar system)

OK. So on to Mr. Fremer’s review of the ML3.

Good that we can start out the review review with something that we can agree with: the gulf is indeed narrowing between high-quality tube amplifiers and high-quality solid-state amplifiers.

OK. Whew! Got that over with. Now to the rest of the review.

1. Too much harmonics and your expensive box suddenly becomes a tone control and you a tone control lover

“… in a power amplifier, a relative lack of coloration is preferable…” in comparison to amps which JA characterizes “as ‘tone controls’ usually of the tubed variety”

Hmmmm? That is a strong statement. How about:

“… in a power amplifier, a relative ability to render harmonics is preferable…” in comparison to amps which Mike [me πŸ™‚ and a few other million listeners] characterizes “as ‘cold and analytical, soulless’ usually of the solid-state variety”

or even:

“… in a power amplifier, a relative ability to render something well besides large square-waves is preferable…” in comparison to amps which Mike [me again πŸ™‚ and I bet a lot of you all too] characterizes “as ‘bright, hard sounding’ almost exclusively of the solid-state variety”

2. Measurements are the ultimate determinant of how good a component is

Mr. Fremer then writes about how he has “positively reviewed” tube amps in the past, but when they performed poorly on JA’s test bench, he felt it was like

“having my pants pulled down in front of a large crowd of people”.

First [no, we are not going THERE!], it should be JA who should feel embarrassed, and pantless, not Mr. Fremer. JA’s measurements are just not reflecting the qualities that an experienced listener is able to hear. Mr. Fremer should have the courage of his ear’s convictions – he hears what he hears. And in reality, even JA should not feel too embarrassed [pull those pants back up!], he does quite well given his limited resources and funds [same thing these days] to explore new ways to measure things. However, we are relying almost completely on 50+ year old models of what the important things are to measure and how much [little] each of these affect listener suspension of disbelief and enjoyment.

Remember: if reality does not fit the model, change the model, don’t deny reality.

3. [My Niggles]

Vladimir Lamm was a Soviet scientist but not of the rocket variety, contrary to what was reported in the review.

Yes, the feedback switches on the ML3 do, as Lamm says, just serve the degrade the sound – at least in our experience to date. Not sure we needed these switches on the amp to tell us this, however… they just could have told us in the manual and we would have believed them… πŸ™‚

In JA’s technical section of the review, it is incorrectly stated that the ML3 is not inverting, whereas they in fact ARE inverting [as is the Lamm LL1 (ne: L3) preamp designed to go with it – their inversions cancelling each other out when used as a pair in a system].

4. Whining about the price

“considering the price, this [a number of transformers and electronic parts etc.] is the LEAST you should expect”

I know this is nit-picking, and it is a common heuristic used by a lot of people but it really makes little sense, and not just in high-end audio land. I think all one really [should] care about is the ultimate performance and utility of something. Neli says she doesn’t care if there are a bunch of hamsters on a wheel in the thing, as long as it sounds good. Do you really care about how many resistors are in a Mercedes?

Mentioning the relatively high price every paragraph or two is a little… bizarre? They are expensive but so are the speakers, the rack, and as they should be, the cables. The number of amps at this price range has been growing steadily for many years: WAVAC, Audio Power Labs, Audio Note, …most tube amp brands have a statement amp in this price range, as well as solid-state amps: Soulution, Kharma, etc.

As for the voltmeter, and whether or not it should come with the amps… Some people do indeed want the voltmeter to just ‘come with the amps’, and we can provide them one free of charge. However most are delighted as heck to have an excuse for buying (online for $300 or so), what is one of the classic boy toys of all time. And then to have a valid reason for periodically actually getting to use it? How awesome is that!

[Neli points out that a lot of ML3 owners are ex-ML2 owners, in which case they already have a voltmeter]

[to be continued]

Part 2: Lamm ML3 amplifiers – Review of the Stereophile Review

[continued…]

5. Only big [solid-state] amps need apply

Next he mentions that the ML3s …

“must be paired with a sensitive speaker with a relatively benign impedance curve”.

This statement is so laden with solid-state amp falsisms that it is really misleading and even insulting. First, ALL amps, solid-state and both large and small tube amps, sound better paired with ‘sensitive speaker[s] with a relatively benign impedance curve[s]’. Second, speakers that are harder to drive ALWAYS [in my experience] have problems with the amp not being able to drive them well. Even hugemongous amps will have problems with these kinds of speakers. Yes, smaller amps have MORE problems, everything else being equal. But everything else is not equal; smaller amps almost always have a better sounding midrange. I.E., depending on your preferences, you might prefer a little less electronic drum-like slam and a little more Stradivarius-violin-like charm and use a smaller amp instead of a larger amp.

So perhaps one might say: “when choosing speaker / amp pairings one should chose a more efficient speaker in direct proportion to your desire for electronic-bass-like slamm and overall SPL, realizing that the specifics for any given speaker’s impedance curve, and the way each amplifier design seems to interact with these curves differently, makes it hard to predict, just from the efficiency of the speaker alone, just how any specific model of speaker / amp combo will perform.”

Mr. Fremer says he heard “two ML3s driving Wilson… MAXX 3 speakers in a large hotel room at …CES”.

Actually, there were two Lamm ML2.2 amps driving the Verity Lohengrin speakers in a small room at CES [we have a guy who really enjoys these speakers with one pair of the ML3 amps] and next door to this room at CES there was just *ONE* pair of ML3 amps driving the MAXX 3 speakers.

Mr. Fremer says he found the sound “anemic and lacked dynamic drive and slam” and … “though tonally it was mesmerizingly lush and smooth”.

My impressions were different.

First, Vladimir and Elina Lamm go for the ‘musical oasis’ sound at shows as opposed to the in-your-face let’s impress the silly boys who like to get pummeled by their music sound [ πŸ™‚ I exaggerate a little bit… but, since I AM a boy, and sometimes as silly as the next guy, check out our write-up of the Luxman amps on the Magico Q5 a few CES’s ago – lots of wild dynamic drive and slam for us boys; and which did not seem to do anything particularly horribly (if you can ignore the near absence of micro-dynamics and texture) which, unfortunately, is rather extremely rare with these boy toy type systems. This sound, which neither component seems to be able to achieve by itself, is one which other boy toy systems should be very envious of].

Second, the cabling and equipment rack that were used in the Lamm ML3 / MAXX 3 system are ones that will typically reduce dynamics [often desirable in certain systems and arguably very useful at shows where the average showgoer’s ears are so bloodied that an little extra smoothness is like a ice cold beer on Vulcan].

Third, it is a BIG room.

Fourth, lush? LUSH? OMG. This was not lush. Calling it ‘lush’ sounds like just another solid-state fanboy trying to make a strength out of the weakness that plagues solid-state amps: i.e. that they are dry and scratchy in comparison to the harmonics of real music.

Realize that music is ALL about harmonics [voice, strings, woodwinds, keyboards] and that real instruments are so full of harmonics that they make, in comparison, the typical stereo system sound like sandpaper on a chalkboard…. Dynamics are fun, required for percussive sounds, and help us determine where the notes harmonics start. But that is all they are.

I am somewhat fond of this particular system because I spent a lot of time in this room. We had the Marten Coltrane Supreme speakers up for sale. We weren’t about to buy another pair of these $350K speakers or anything near its price. Certainly not until we finally sell our home here in the foothills above Boulder Colorado [hint, hint]. So listening… listening… All the while thinking about what system we would be able to live with. About what the criteria was [to enjoy many kinds of music, to have no bad behavior that distracted from the music experience, etc.]. Neli disagrees with me [she much prefers the Alexandrias – as do I, but I think they are just an improvement on the MAXX 3 ‘in kind’ (in the same vein)].

So, anyway, I tried hard to poke holes in the quality of this sound in this room, and in my opinion it was decently balanced. I felt that the distance between the sound in that room and the one I wanted in our room was one that I could achieve by using the standard tricks of the trade [and bringing the speakers closer together for more solidity] and careful [but not THAT careful, for goodness sake, people] component / cable choices.

OK… back to the review of the review.

5. Summing up #1

We talked above about measurements and who cares if solid-state amps measure better given the fact that what we are all measuring here has only theoretical connection to what we are hearing [and how we are processing what we hearing]. In fact the evidence from the last 50 years of transistor-based gear and digital playback is that there is often an inverse relationship between how well something measures and the quality of the perceived sound. So measurements are fun for us geeks, but it is like measuring the quality of the suspension on a car – it is so much easier to just drive the darn thing.

Given a relaxed view of Mr. Fremer’s definition for some of our woefully under-defined audiophile terms I can agree with most of the benefits of solid-state described in the following paragraphs except ‘superior bass… control’. I do not think solid-state amps control the bass at all well. They throw watts at the lower frequencies, they ‘punch the speaker drivers’, but this is not control. There is a tremendous amount of information in the bass that solid-state amps walk all over that many good tube amps do not. In fact, solid-state amps try to ‘power through’ most dynamics and in so doing over-power [get it? πŸ™‚ I know. Stupid pun.] the other information present at those time-slots – and this occurs at ALL frequencies.

The paragraph on problems with tube amps is more or less true for less expensive tube amps [say, less than $5K… there are a lot of these tube amps out there] except for the following extreme generalization: “are generally overripe, richer than life…”. I wish. Most are dull sounding, only slightly better than solid-state amps [mostly because they will NOT bite your ear off, will not give you frequent headaches, and not make people think you (and all audiophiles) are an idiot for spending money on something so aggressively unpleasant. On the other hand, the Ford F150 pickup is the best selling car, so I don’t know, maybe people like living on the edge]. Joule amps are a popular notable exception and richer than life [which is kind of fun, IMHO].

But, guys and gals, real life music is rich. The richness found in harmonics is ignored by so many audiophiles because for the most part we have no choice if we are going to be audiophiles. Our systems are so under-performing in the harmonics department and when you finally realize how bad it is, it is extremely sad and disturbing. You finally realize that dynamics are FUN [and exciting] but harmonics is the MUSIC [yes, I am yelling]. The more accurately we can reproduce harmonics, the more depth and color and resolution and inner-dynamics to the harmonics [yes, harmonics have dynamics] the more we will connect with the music, feel it in our souls, and just spontaneously start emoting over the beauty of life [ok, yes, life, the universe and everything. Can’t forget to stick Douglas Adams’s tongue into the mix when we start getting too serious :-)].

I remember one time in Santa Fe we were on a balcony looking over the city, in an art gallery or something, and then this trumpet player seemingly comes out of nowhere and starts playing jazz about 10 feet from us. The color and harmonics were a-mazing. If you were fortunate enough to have grown up in a school with a band, or music class, remember what the trumpet sounded like there? Or the clarinet? Or flute? I think people get so used to the coldness of solid-state sound reproduction, that even when they hear live music, they are are continually interpreting it through the lens of their comfort zones: perfect-sound-forever and tubes are old-fashioned [it is *safe* to think these things – safe to say these things in public and on forums. That measurements measure how things sound, as opposed to the fact that they are REALLY just measuring some relatively random minuscule slices of something. That we are choosing what to measure, and what measurements to use as the basis for what is good and bad, based on the sole fact that they were easily measurable back-in-the-day.]

Solid-state amps ARE good in some circumstances

Solid-state is good if you do not want to muck with the thing for 5 to 15 years and do not want to have to replace tubes every several or so years [this is me. I’d MUCH prefer solid-state if it didn’t sound so poorly. I do not think tubes are cool (well… a little but) and I think they are a pain to track down and replace. But they sound SO MUCH better! neli likes the whole tube scene much more than I do.] If you have young kids or dogs [cats seem not to get into as much trouble] and you can’t elevate the amps to your top shelf out of reach. If you do not like staring at the light tubes make. If you want something that does not give off much heat (ignoring class A solid-state). If you do not want your neighbors to wonder what the heck is THAT thing with the light bulbs sticking out of it? And they are good if you just want to play with with the darn things for no discernible reason – who cares why.

But to imply that solid-state is inherently BETTER, for reproducing MUSIC? It just ain’t so. In fact they are worse [but getting better]. This whole argument is an analog [sic] to the LP versus CD arguments. Surprised Mr. Fremer is on the wrong side of this one.

Mr. Fremer then goes on to describe the characteristics of the sound of the ML3 based on his mental reference of what ‘real music’ sounds like. Its all really positive, especially coming from a solid-state guy.

6. Uh oh! Associated equipment makes a difference

The review then talks about choosing the right cable and how all cables seemed to reveal the cables weakness, but

“choose the right cable, and it was smooth sailing from top to bottom”.

We’ve heard one of the cables listed in Mr. Fremer’s associated equipment, the Tara Labs Omega Gold ( Zero Gold ), in this exact same system [ML3 on Alexandria XLF] and they are really decent (albeit expensive $22K/speaker $18K/interconnect) cables – a little less dynamic and transparent than Nordost Odin, but a little more compressively solid. For Mr. Fremer’s apparent sonic tastes, I think either cable would be about as good as the other in this system. As far as the other associated equipment goes… the dCS is the best of his digital sources [which is what he uses later in the review]; the analog looks like it would be actually fun to hear [as expected at Mr. Fremer’s digs], hopefully the power conditioners were not in the system [or just on the turntable power-supply], and hopefully, HOPEFULLY the amps were on the SXR amp stands, sitting on their HRS Nimbus spacers/couplers.

You do not need to use top-notch associated equipment with these top-notch amps, but if one is going to criticize, it behooves one to at least use associated equipment that is not going to cause one frustration [i.e. when you drop a new extremely high-quality component into your system – you have to assume, initially, that the component is the perfect component. That all the problems you hear are endemic to other parts of the system, and the previous component being used was compensating for these problems – perhaps exaggerated in some way, perhaps covering up something else, problems that were always there, but were obscured by, or over-powered by, the old component. This is true whenever a new component or cable is dropped into a system. The balancing act of the system is thrown out-of-kilter]. Through complex triangulation, one can explore and determine the weaknesses of a system, and what component’s weakness is balanced by what other component’s strength [or weakness, like when, for example, a bright-sounding amp is balanced by dull-sounding cables].

Can’t tell you how many times we dropped a wonderful component into a system just to have a problem of the system revealed and to have the owner of the system blame the problem on the wonderful component. You hint and nudge the owner into realizing what is happening, all the time wanting to shout: Your precious XYZ component over there is really a POS [in this context]! They no doubt will fall out of love with the XYZ POS soon enough, but it is unfortunately us who are the first to deliver the bad news to the poor guy/gal.

Anyway, it would be interesting to know what cables in his collection he thought was (were) the ‘right’ cable(s). [Oh, Neli points out that Mr. Fremer mentions the Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 7 later on in the review.]

[to be continued…]