A Treatise From The Defiant Audiophile
I know, you are probably surprised to see a new post, since I have been gone so long. But it has been a very busy time around here and things other than spouting my often curmudgeonly opinions have taken precedence.
Many of you know that despite the sometimes brutal temperatures, summer is my favorite season; the season during which I feel compelled to do “projects” and create new things. This past summer has been no exception! In July, I started a project that has just seen a measure of completion
It is one of the big projects that has been on my agenda for years; a desire to resurrect the “Listening Room.” That project spawned a huge number of related activities, through which I had dealings with not one, but TWO exceptional businesses and three awesome products. It is the purpose of this post to detail the process and to encourage you to consider these companies and products if you are ever in the market to improve your audio environment.
Several years ago, I used, what was at the time a spare bedroom, to construct a carefully assembled room of furniture and equipment dedicated solely to the pleasure of listening to 2 channel “stereo” music reproduction. In 2003, using some equipment that I already had from previous audio systems and purchasing a new Rotel RB-1070 power amplifier for $649 + Tax and an equipment rack, I put together a pretty credible stack of electronics. But, I tried using a pair of ancient Epicure 5 speakers, and quickly discovered their sonic shortcomings
The Epicures were better than other “mid-fi” bookshelf speakers available in 1977 when I purchased a pair from my local Fred Locke Stereo in December of that year for $66.53. They served me quite well for many years, but technological advances had rendered them obsolete for critical applications. The Epicures finally deteriorated the woofer surrounds and I replaced the woofers with Goldwood 6.5” GW-6024 drivers which were an excellent match, but I have since re-foamed the original drivers, so I can play these with two different voicings, but they still quickly reveal their age and lack of sophistication, hence they have been demoted to casual listening use.
Since my JBL L36A Decade speakers had been recently professionally repaired with new woofer surrounds, I pressed them into service in the new room, but as they were robbed from the emerging home theater setup in the living room, I couldn’t leave them there permanently. None-the-less, they hinted as to what the room could become, with their legendary 70’s sound and their “James B. Lansing” precision.
So, a hunt for new speakers ensued. As I suspect most of you know, no speaker can be decided upon without hearing it in your own setup, and with the cooperation of some excellent, but regrettably, now-defunct stereo stores in town, a number of candidate boxes were dragged home, carefully placed, and critically auditioned. Surprisingly, the ones that really made the room light up were a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 70th Anniversary 8.2 speakers in birdseye maple cabinets. Set with their tweeters at ear height on matching stands, these robust little bookshelf speakers lent such punch and clarity to the music as to practically startle friends who had come to listen.
With a 1″ silk dome tweeter and a 6.5″ Kevlar woofer, and driven by the 130WPC (into 8 Ohms) Rotel, these 6 Ohm speakers extracted details from my music collection that I had never heard before and either floated or punched glorious music into the room on demand. Equipped with small forward-facing tuned bass ports located just underneath the woofers, the Wharfedales also produced convincing, but not room shaking bass down to about 50-55Hz. Their mid-range detail and reproduction of female jazz vocals was so lifelike and pure, that I was frequently convinced that the performers were live in the room.
But, I wanted more! At the time (early 2000’s), the terrific supplier Parts Express, offered a conservative and accurate 10″ powered sub-woofer kit, nicknamed the “Titanic.”
Added to the output of the Wharfedales and carefully tuned over weeks of critical listening and positioning, the sub provided that lower octave dynamism that the room was lacking. Now, I was in heaven when listening to my ever-growing music collection on CD and vinyl. And listen I did! My lifelong dream of having a dedicated listening room had finally been realized, and seeing my enthusiasm, a good friend gifted me an awesome plaque for the door, officially designating it as the “Listening Womb,” to which I happily retreated for many hours at a time.
But, alas, eventually the room needed to be re-purposed, and the equipment and furnishings were disassembled and put into storage. Over time, the room filled with spare furnishings, inherited goods, and items that weren’t being used but were too dear to discard. Only the echoes of the music remained, as the closet in the room contained most of the electronics packed back into their original boxes.
Eventually, though, the desire to revitalize the music room grew. As I was by then retired, time was abundant, and I set about to regain the room’s usefulness. Slowly, stored furnishings were donated or sold, (and often delivered across town to their new owners). Many items which hadn’t been used or seen in years were given away or discarded, and after a few months of sometimes hard decisions, the room was empty again. Out of storage came the equipment rack and the carefully packed components. Back into the room came the subwoofer which had been dutifully serving in the living room “theater” but had recently been replaced by a massive and awesome HSU VTF-15H MKII 15″ monster. The Rotel was reconnected to the Yamaha CX-630 pre-amp with new audiophile grade RCA Cables and the Audio-Technica AT-PL120 turntable with its three interchangeable cartridge shells was dusted off and carefully leveled and realigned.
I set the Wharfedales back onto their matching stands, wired everything together and fired it up. The sound was simply horrible! I played with the sub crossover point and phase, experimented endlessly with speaker positioning and even swapped the power amp over to my Adcom GFA555 MkII and still, nothing could bring back the previous joy. It was then, that I realized I had forgotten a critical element when I reconstructed the room. The original set-up included a huge pair (84″ X 24″ X 4”) of urethane foam panels that were placed behind the speakers. But those panels had been discarded long ago when the room was re-purposed. I was skeptical that a couple of foam panels could make such a giant difference, but in frustration, I dragged all the cushions off the patio furniture and proceeded to stack them systematically along the walls of the room in endless configurations. Magically, a hint of the former glorious sound returned. The sound stage started to reassemble into a recognizable size and shape, and the muddiness of the room diminished dramatically. I knew I was on the right track!
So, armed with a plethora of internet research, and advice generously given by the proprietor of Arizona HI-Fi, LLC on Camelback Rd., I ordered a box of Owens Corning “703” semi-rigid fiberglass panels in 24″ by 48″ by 2″ thick size. When they arrived, I placed them in some logical and obvious locations around the room to damp the room reflections and absorb some of the muddy and boomy bass. Within a few hours of experimenting with speaker and panel placement and with the listening position moved away from the back wall about 18″, the room snapped into focus in an almost startling suddenness when everything finally came together.
Norah Jones could be made to appear on demand and with such lifelike intimacy that I could almost smell her perfume. Jazz ensembles could be visualized in their original stage placement so accurately that I could sometimes tell which way the piano was facing, or how far apart the performers were standing. The room required six panels; one vertically behind each speaker, one set horizontally along the side wall about a foot in front of each slightly toed-in Wharfedale, and one set up high at a 45° angle in each back corner of the room. Once the exact positioning was determined, I built wooden frames for the panels and covered them with a neutral-color sound-transparent cloth and hung them on the walls.
By building these “room treatment” panels myself, I saved more than $200 over purchasing the least expensive commercially available ones I could find.
The room was “back” with a vengeance and with a more focused and punchier (faster?) sound than before. The music flowed out of the system with all the presence and immediacy of a live performance when jazz singers and small ensembles were cued up, and even large rock groups or symphony orchestra works were quite convincing. I was spending so much time listening and fine tuning that jumping up to change a CD or an album was becoming distracting. So, armed with technology and standards that were only in their infancy the last time the room was working, I set out to re-digitize my entire CD collection.
Years ago, to build my first iTunes collection and fill my iPod (5th Generation 30Gb capacity) I had, once before, digitized my CD’s. At the time, around 2005, iTunes for PC was about the best program around for storing and playing music, and its ability to selectively sync albums and tracks to the iPod made it a natural choice. Alas, the state of computer technology and the relatively high cost of hard drive storage made it almost a necessity to store the music in Apple’s compressed proprietary version of MP3: AAC. It was adequate at the time, since the lossy format sounded quite acceptable on the iPod with ear buds. But it was not so terrific when played from a computer in iTunes through a decent stereo rig. So, storing and playing my albums from a laptop in the listening room was, for all intents and purposes, impossible back then.
Hence, the listening room sources were limited to a turntable and a Sony CDP-222ES single disk CD player, and CD’s had to be located, loaded, and played one-at-a-time. To facilitate the process, all the CD’s were numbered as they were digitized into iTunes for play on the iPod, and their details stored in a dedicated music library program that made searching for a particular individual CD or track very convenient and fast. The cataloging program I used at the time was one called MusiFind Pro, which allowed for detailed cataloging and almost instant searches by any variable. Since the CD’s were all stored in order by sequentially assigned catalog numbers in a large rotating rack, assembling a stack of CD’s for a listening session was relatively easy. Unfortunately, since then, MusiFind Pro has become, for the most part, obsolete. Finding it difficult to run it reliably on Win 10 machines and not consistently able to populate CD file data from publicly available sources, I first set out to replace the database program to keep the CD’s organized as they were re-digitized. I needed a simple but sophisticated database that would store all the album and track information, populate additions to the collection automatically via the internet, and allow for custom fields so I could continue using my existing CD numbering system.
I found an obscure developer, https://www.synapsa.com/ that supplies just the right product called VisiTrax Music Database for a very reasonable cost. So, I exported the huge database from MusiFind Pro in an Excel compatible form and massaged it to be imported into VisiTrax. Success was not instant, but after much fine tuning, very workable. The example screenshot below is but one of the ways that the library can be displayed, and searches are instantly satisfied by typing into any of the yellow highlighted data fields.
In any event, it was obvious that with the advent of cheap storage and fast processors, there was no other logical choice but to use a lossless encoding format when re-digitizing the collection.
Since I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Apple’s iTunes, I decided that this time around I would use an open-source standard format instead, but it had to be lossless in any case. I chose FLAC, since it is become one of the de-facto standards and almost any program (other than iTunes) could work with it. I especially liked that it had an extensive ability to annotate the albums and tracks and even embed album (CD jewel case) artwork in the individual song files.
Simultaneously, I also started looking for a flexible music “player” similar to iTunes, but not tied to the fish-out-of-water kludges that running iTunes on a PC involves. After some weeks of experimentation, I settled on MusicBee. I tried some other players, like Volumio, which has a rabid and dedicated user base and is very sophisticated. Frankly, it’s probably the best fidelity player I found and runs on virtually any platform including Raspberry Pi and ASUS Tinkerboard, but since I wanted to integrate my music collection into my existing PC network and have the flexibility of accessing it from any device, I wanted a player that I could load on all my machines and sync to a central server library. MusicBee provides that functionality and it’s free and open. Then, to do the actual “ripping” of my CD’s I purchased a copy of dBpoweramp based on its incredible speed and flexibility and the numerous positive reviews it had garnered on the audiophile blogs.
Now with all the necessary software rounded up and installed, re-digitizing my CD collection could begin. Each CD was retrieved from storage and “ripped” into lossless FLAC format using dBpoweramp which, when run on my i7 Alienware computer would digitize the average CD at 30 to 40 times its normal playing speed. Most CD’s completed in around 2 minutes. One of the best features of dBpoweramp, is that it imports all the track data and suggests an album cover picture which will then be automatically embedded in the metadata of the resulting FLAC files. If the suggested picture is unsuitable, or if you want to use a scanned or custom picture, dBpoweramp easily allows a substitution before ripping the disk, and since the metadata is stored in an industry standard format, later fine-tuning of the catalog is quickly and easily done from within most mainstream music player apps if needed.
Once complete, the ripped album tracks containing the metadata and an album cover .jpg were organized into a temporary folder by artist / album thus slowly building a new lossless library. As each album was completed, dBpoweramp was used to “convert” a copy of the FLAC files into an identical folder but in ALAC format, a process that takes merely seconds on my 8-core machine and produces an Apple iTunes compatible lossless version. This was primarily done to provide some data redundancy since this is a very time intensive undertaking but also to provide the opportunity to compare playback quality between my Vaio Laptop and an older Mac laptop, which were both available to be used as the music server for the “new” listening room.
As the library grew, an awesome feature of dBpoweramp became very useful. As each track is ripped, a complicated checksum is generated. That checksum is then compared to the checksums of all the other people who have used dBpoweramp to rip that track. If the checksum that your computer generates does not match what everyone else has, then the track is flagged as possibly having inaccuracies. In that case, I removed the CD from the drive, carefully cleaned it, waxed and polished the surface, and tried to rip the “defective” tracks again. In most cases, the errors were corrected after one or two retries, and I could be reasonably sure that the CD has been accurately decoded and stored. But some tracks just refused to read despite repeated attempts. Often, the uncooperative tracks with bad checksums were the last two or three tracks on the album and just resisted all attempts at correction. At first, I just resigned myself to the thought that they just might be scratched, as CD’s are recorded from the center out, so the last tracks are at the outer edge where handling and use may have scratched them beyond the reader’s ability to correct the data. Sometimes, just retrying the particular CD in a different optical drive or on another computer allowed for an accurate checksum rip. But, when it repeatedly happened on certain CD’s and always on the last tracks, I became suspicious that something else was going on. The answer came from a Google search of that symptom which pointed to a potentially devastating defect called “CD Rot.”
Apparently, despite careful climate-controlled storage in their original jewel boxes, some of my oldest CD’s have begun to deteriorate the microscopically thin aluminum layer that holds the data just under the slightly thicker layer of paint or shellac that comprises the CD label. Under extreme magnification, I could see the areas of the outer tracks that had semi-transparent voids where the aluminum data pits used to be. One with good eyesight might be able to see them with the naked eye, but in any case, shining a strong light through the disk at the edge makes them more visible. The damage is, unfortunately, unrecoverable. Therefore, I resigned myself to storing less-than-perfect copies of the few tracks that just couldn’t be completely read and made note in the VisiTrax database.
Later, when the whole re-digitizing project was complete, I went into the listening room to critically evaluate the defective tracks. In most cases, the errors were inaudible, but for those that showed audible artifacts, I either purchased a used replacement CD to re-rip or found the offending tracks for sale on one of the Hi-res music download sites like HDtracks. Luckily, out of the 500 or so CD’s that I digitized, only about a dozen had irrecoverable damage.
Once the entire library was complete it occupied about 165Gb of hard disk space in each format; FLAC and ALAC. Both libraries were then copied onto a dedicated NAS file server for backup and as a source for less critical listening around the house. I copied the entire ALAC library onto my old Mac laptop and imported it into iTunes. I also added the relatively few Hi-res digital tracks I have accumulated over the years with higher bit rates and sampling rates which I had also converted to ALAC format using the very versatile dBpoweramp program. All of my ripped tracks were sampled at 44.1kHz, which is the CD standard, but a few downloaded tracks were sampled at 96kHz and a select few at 192kHz and up to 24-bit depth. Once the library was imported, I used the Mac’s unusual feature of incorporating a Toslink optical digital audio out in the headphone output port and sent the resulting signal to my recently acquired Schiit Modi 3 DAC and on through the Yamaha CX-630 preamp and the Rotel RB-1070 Power amp to the Wharfedale Diamonds.
A DETOUR THROUGH SOME SCHIIT
Let me take a moment here to expand a little bit on the Schiit Modi 3 DAC, and the provocatively named company behind it. Last Christmas, I was looking for a little tehno-bauble for my younger brother. A headphone enthusiast with great musical taste and a good collection of quality gear, he often listens using his Grado RS2e cans through a high-quality solid-state dedicated headphone amp. Wanting to have him enjoy a little “tube sound,” I was intrigued by the wide variety of little tube-based headphone amps from China, readily available on Amazon, some for very little money. But, wary of any product that claims “Audiophile” quality at transistor radio prices, I expanded my search.
I found a manufacturer that designs and manufacturers its entire line of products in California. Founded by two guys that have a history of success in high-end audio and dedicated to “sound value,” Schiit Audio makes a very attractive tube-based headphone amp called the Vali 2 for the unbelievable price of just $149! The case is all metal, the circuit boards, manufactured in California appear to be red glass epoxy boards, and the knobs, switches, and connectors are all way above average in look, feel, and function.
It seemed to me that the Vali 2 tube amp was just the thing I needed to send to my brother for Christmas, and so I did. The sound quality, by his description, was so captivating, that he re-discovered his music collection in a new light; the light of the warm glow of the 6BZ7 voltage gain tube that comprises the heart of this awesome little amp. It so impressed him, that in turn, he sent me Shiit Audio’s newest DAC; the Modi 3, knowing that I would need a quality audiophile DAC for the “new” listening room that was destined to use the newly created lossless digital tracks as sources.
BACK INTO THE WOMB
And so, it started; the Mac laptop, running iTunes, feeding the Modi 3 DAC billions of bits and bytes which it magically and very musically turned into an analog stereo signal to feed the Yamaha pre-amp and the Rotel power amp. Music flowed from the mouths of the Wharfedale’s, indistinguishable from the source CD directly played on the Sony CD Transport.
Meanwhile, I was bringing the PC based Vaio laptop up to speed with a new Samsung SSD and a fresh installation of Windows 10. Loaded with MusicBee, it flawlessly loaded and organized the entire FLAC encoded music library in just a few minutes, and since a copy of the library was loaded “locally” on the SSD, allowed me to run it as a source in “Airplane Mode” which eliminates many of the functions that rob CPU resources, pollute the electronic environment with digital noise, and load the laptop enough to require the cooling fan to run with its resultant background noise. That might be fine for an office, but unworkable for the listening room.
Unlike the Mac though, the Vaio does not have a digital output other than USB, of course. So, with the latest USB drivers loaded and a new high-quality USB cable, I connected the laptop to the Schiit DAC and cued up a playlist of my most familiar tracks. Oceans of glorious fidelity flowed into the room from the assembled electronics. Hour after hour was spent fine tuning speaker placement, crossover curves, and perfecting the listening position. MusicBee worked flawlessly to sort, organize, and cue tracks. I started to form playlists of favorites and tracks that are especially good at mimicking the soundstage or showing off the room.
One such track is “Push the River” from Lisbeth Scott’s 2002 album “Dove”. Her lilting soprano is juxtaposed with powerful bass (possibly synthesizer or a very-well tempered bass guitar) notes as she is accompanied by acoustic guitar. I can think of no better combination to exercise all the speaker drivers at once and expose intermodular distortion. During one particular subwoofer cone excursion, my musical bliss was shattered by a frightening crack and flutter which sounded as if the speaker cone had disintegrated. Now, the “Titanic” driver is a massive affair with a dual voice coil and a magnet that dwarfs most other drivers. Equipped with a butyl surround and heavily treated rigid paper cone, it is a paragon of structural integrity and certainly not a driver prone to damage from age or excursion. Investigation and manipulation of the face revealed absolutely no source of the disturbing sound.
Hooking up my signal generator, I ran the subwoofer through a battery of tests at ever increasing volumes at all applicable frequencies and exposed the culprit. Beyond a rather modest volume setting and operating at about 40 Hz the cone was being driven in a most violent resonance, as if it were feeding on itself with each oscillation until it emitted the loud sharp crackle of a clipping amplifier. Apparently, something within the subwoofer’s plate amp had failed and it acted as if it had lost complete control of the cone and had zero damping factor. With each oscillation, the amp was calling for more and more power until it ran into hard clipping. A replacement amp was promptly ordered.
Unfortunately, without the lowest octaves supplemented by the subwoofer, the Wharfedales’ lower 50Hz limit proved just a bit to “thin” for the room. It was as if the foundation of the music had been practically removed. On her particularly well recorded 2002 album “Take This Journey,” Christy Baron sings “Bitter With The Sweet” accompanied by only a double bass. It is a stunning duet with a concrete soundstage upon which the two performers are solidly cemented. Without the subwoofer, the realism is lost as the double bass descends and the wood of its construction turns to papier–mâché.
So, while waiting for the subwoofer amplifier to arrive, I busied myself with researching what has become available in modern speakers. I was at one of the few remaining high-end audio shops in the Valley and they specialize in Sonus Faber and Wilson Speakers. While auditioning a pair of used Wilson Sabrina speakers, the salesman remarked that in the last 10 years, speakers have evolved to a higher degree of sophistication than nearly any other piece of audio gear. The Sabrinas sounded impressive and it was obvious that some care had been taken in the setup of the demo room to play to their strengths. But with the USED pair priced at $12,500, I had to thank him for the advice and the audition, but leave as a listener, not a buyer.
Internet research revealed very few standout speakers that were more moderately priced. Many of the “big” names garnered rave reviews, but at stratospheric prices. The aforementioned Sonus Faber, B & W, Focal, KEF, and many others only seemed to offer models that were either too big for my small listening room or too big for my wallet. My positive experience with the Wharfedale Diamonds made me strongly consider their new Evo 4.4 floor standing speaker, which has apparently impressed more than a few listeners and is competitively priced at around $2K / pair.
Then, I literally stumbled onto a manufacturer that I had never heard of while reading a review of the Wharfedale 4.4’s. A reader who had listened to a pair of these speakers instead purchased a used pair of speakers advertised on Craigslist made by a “local” company based in Orem, Utah; Tekton Design. The poster lauded the speakers with gushing praise and so I searched for additional reviews. The company is small, but their founder, Eric Alexander, has won numerous awards and patented some of the technology he has built into his speakers. Other reviews were stunningly positive.
Their product range includes many designs that were meant for installations much bigger and more sophisticated than my modest listening room, but there were so many incredibly positive reviews and write-ups of their modest “Lore” speakers that I had to take a hard look. When I discovered that the “standard” Lore model sells for only $1000/pair, delivered, I was in disbelief. Studying the Lore line, I found a model that featured an 8” woofer and offered a beryllium tweeter option, had 96dB 1W@1m sensitivity and could handle up to 400W of power, a level at which I imagine it could shatter glass. The model, called the “Lore Reference Be” was slightly smaller than the standard Lore, but was heaped with mountains of praise from reviewers and had received two awards. Thinking that I would be using them with the Titanic subwoofer, I was pleased to see them with a slightly smaller enclosure and 8” driver vs. the standard Lore 10” woofer. Their footprint was virtually identical to that of the Wharfedales’ on their stands.
Despite having reservations regarding the purchase of a “mail-order” speaker, since Tekton Design offers a very liberal 60-day auditioning period within which one can return the speakers for only the cost of shipping, I ordered a pair finished in an unconventional custom red paint. I also ordered the optional speaker grilles and sat back in wait. Meanwhile, the subwoofer amp arrived and brought the Titanic subwoofer completely back to its former heavyweight performance. A couple of weeks went by and I was getting antsy. I let the calendar run out another few days and, not being able to stand the suspense, called the company to ask about my order.
To my complete shock, my call was answered by the man himself, company founder Eric Alexander. When I asked him about my speakers, he stated that they were “almost” ready to ship, but that he still wanted to listen to them a little longer to be sure that the new Beryllium tweeter option I had selected was fully integrated into the sound he demanded from his products. He referred to it as time to final-tweak the crossovers. OK, who really knows? Maybe Eric is a remarkably gifted salesman that said all that to cover up for production delays or shipping problems. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s one of the very few remaining passionate business owners that doesn’t let anything out of the shop that isn’t as good as he can make it. He asked me what I was using for speakers now and I told him about my Wharfedale / Titanic sub combo. “Oh, you’re gonna like the Lores!” he said.
I wondered as I waited.
I’m going to break the suspense now. The speakers arrived via UPS, packed with the utmost protection and care, double wrapped in plastic, padded on all sides by thick panels of foam, and covered with easy-open cardboard boxes about 10 days later. As I unpacked them, they smelled of fresh paint and glue and shone with the luster of a vintage Ferrari’s signature red fenders.
Speakers are, by the very nature of ears, very subjective. I have listened to MBL Radialstrahler 101’s at CES, which cost $70,000+. In my opinion, I have never heard a more perfect speaker. I have enjoyed Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF’s, a used pair on eBay right now is offered at $116,000 – no returns accepted, shipping up to another $2K. They were stunning when I heard them fed by what was probably an additional $150,000 in electronics. The Tekton Lore Reference Be(ryllium) speakers I was now carefully positioning in the listening room cost what many audiophiles refer to as “budget dust” – a mere $1300 per pair. A SINGLE “Audiophile Grade” 6 ½ foot long Nordost Red Dawn LS Speaker Cable costs $1093 and can be shipped to you in a bubble envelope. You’ll need two for stereo. These Lore Be’s weigh about 50 lbs. each, and shipping was included in the price. Guess which one I think represents a better value.
Placed in the same room locations that the Wharfedales had worked so well in, I connected the Lores to the Rotel amp with my standard homemade copper 10-gauge cables terminated with gold plated banana plugs. I bought a 100-foot spool so long ago; I don’t remember all the details, but I think it was made by Monster Cable and was their top-of-the-line bulk speaker cable back in the day.
I powered the system (sans subwoofer for now, as I wanted to see how the speakers performed in their own right) and cued up Norah Jones on the Vaio and hit “play.”
Instantly, I thought, “You should have dressed better,” as I was in my knock-around sweats when Norah entered the room. Instinctively I moved to cover up. Her presence was undeniable, intimate, and personal. She was HERE! I have to admit, I WANTED to hear an instant improvement over the little 6 ½” woofer Wharfedales with their silk dome tweeters. I EXPECTED an improvement if not only for the fact that the Lores were the most expensive speakers I had ever bought, but what I heard exceeded all my expectations.
The next few days were spent, predictably, feeding the Lore Reference Be’s every track I could throw at them. Andras Schiff playing Bach Partitas, Moody Blues, Imogen Heap (“Hide and Seek”), Eminem, and Charlie Parker. I sourced vinyl, CD’s and FLAC files. I re-plugged the DAC to the MAC and compared FLAC to ALAC. I listened until my butt and ears were worn out, and not once did I think that I had made a bad decision. The Lores played everything. Their bass extension was so smooth and powerful that I though the subwoofer was still running. And the Beryllium! Oh, what ether it could conjure up.
I could resort to the terms often found in speaker reviews from the pundits like “airy, detailed, special, riveting,” etc., but I just wanted to listen, hour after hour, which I have done and continue to do. Eventually, I was tempted to see what would happen if I reactivated the newly repaired Titanic subwoofer especially for certain tracks that tax the lower limits of music reproduction. One such track is “Still Got The Blues” from Gary Moore’s 2003 epic album “Blues Alive”. This song also appears on his 1990 album of the same name, “Still Got The Blues,” but that version is not nearly the same. The 2003 recording isn’t just a remix, it’s a completely different performance; one that incorporates some room shaking bass notes that can only be heard on extremely capable systems. Years ago, I thought I was familiar with this song until I was invited for a day of boating on Lake Pleasant in a friend’s “big block” jet boat. It had a sound system to match the engine, and once we were lazily drifting far from shore enjoying a beverage, he punched in the “Blues Alive” CD and cued track number 7.
When the famous bass passages hit, the water rippled outward from the sides of the boat in perfect little waves as the subwoofers shook the hull. “Real” bass is difficult to reproduce in open air, but this system was more than up to the task and reproduced it cleanly, unlike many of the completely overwrought and underthought car systems I have heard, good at rattling the license plates, but not good for much else. I purchased the CD the next day.
With the Titanic sub re-engaged in the system, I brought the crossover point up from the lowest setting just a few Hertz at a time, as I did NOT want to step on the glorious bass that the Lores produced, but rather just supplement the notes below which their 8” woofers and two tuned ports just couldn’t go. It took numerous tweaks of the crossover dial and a little bit of placement experimentation, but my efforts were rewarded. Rather than competing with the Lores, the subwoofer only comes into play at the rarest of passages, and with more of a suggestion of bass than anything else. But in my “near-field” listening environment the effect truly fills the room. The benefits of deciding on a speaker with “only” an eight-inch woofer instead of a ten in this two-way system really became apparent when the subwoofer was used to make the system effectively a three-way system. The smaller 8” woofer, with an area that is only 64% that of a 10”, produces a spectacularly accurate mid-range as its magnet moves a significantly lower cone and air column mass. The resulting “speed” and agility of the smaller driver allows it to follow the transients more accurately and provides considerable reach into frequencies that would trouble a larger driver.
TIME TRAVEL WITH ME?
“Back in the day,” when I started this hobby, two of the most competitive and popular speakers made by JBL were designed to offer a product to compete at two distinct price points; $150 and $200. ($200 in 1970 is $1320 today, so these were “premium” priced speakers.) Part of the “Decade” series, the JBL L26 and L36 speakers both featured a ten-inch woofer (hence the “Decade” moniker) but the L26 was a two-way, and the L36 a three-way design.
Both used the same 125A woofer and the same LE25-x high frequency radiator, but the L36 added a 5” mid-range, the LE5-6, and made appropriate changes in the crossover. The 125A woofer, itself an artfully designed 10” driver with a massive cast aluminum frame (basket) was known to have “issues” in the 2kHz region, and the LE5-6 mid-range excels in precisely that range of frequencies. Therefore, in the L36, the woofer is crossed over to the midrange at 1500Hz, precisely to avoid running the woofer in its potentially unstable 2kHz region. Conversely, the L26, which is forced to extend the woofer up to 2kHz to avoid a response hole before the tweeter takes over, is asking a lot from just two drivers and stretching the woofer too far into the midrange to allow for a smooth transition. In my opinion, the L26 would have been much better served by an 8” woofer, but at the expense of the “punchy” bass that was expected by the buyers of the time to produce the famous “California Sound” for which JBL became a virtual Advent killer.
Advent speakers were more neutral and were “East Coast” tuned, to produce what was likely a more balanced and flat frequency response accentuating the midrange, whereas that era of JBL’s accentuated the bass and sizzle to the delight of Pop music and Rock-and-Roll fans that pushed Beach Boys, Yes, and Renaissance tracks through them at high volumes. The L26, without a midrange driver, was a perfect design (and price) to accomplish this and was, therefore, often auditioned by the stereo shops with just this kind of music, making the JBL’s sound great and conversely making the Advents appear thin.
Were the L26’s critically auditioned with jazz and classical tracks, the shortcomings would become immediately apparent. Hence, the L36 was developed to play well in both genres. Additionally, they were equipped with two L-pads to fine tune the levels of the midrange and tweeter and could thusly be “tweaked” to practically reproduce the desired sound signatures of either coast. I was convinced, at the time, that the L36’s were the perfect speakers for me, and I still play them daily today as the front main speakers of my 5.1 home theater setup.
So, the Lore Reference Be’s with their 2-way design and 8” woofer / midrange driver embody what the JBL L26 could have been, although I concede that the JBL’s had to fit into the extremely popular “bookshelf” category, which the floor-standing Lore’s could never do. But, in any case, the midrange sweetness of the Lores’ 8” woofer almost defies description and its two tuned ports bring the lower end of their response perfectly into the range where the Titanic subwoofer can take over support.
YET MORE SCHIIT
A few weeks before the Lores arrived, prompted by my brother’s delight with the Schiit Vali 2 tube equipped headphone amp, I ordered one of my own. As I had sent him a Gold Lion plate balanced E88CC tube to allow a bit of “tube rolling,” I ordered one also, so we could compare notes. This little amp comes with a Sylvania 6BZ7, and although it sounds very good driving my Audio Technica ATH-M40ƒs headphones, I think the Gold Lion has a bit more bass and slightly better definition. The problem, of course, is that you can’t readily do an A-B comparison, since once you swap the tubes, you have to give them at least 15 to 30 minutes of warmup time before they come into their own. By then, you have mostly forgotten what the last tube sounded like. The stock tube makes for hours of fatigue-free enjoyment and if I didn’t have the Gold Lion, would be just fine. But in this hobby, subtle tweaks are the norm, and this is just another one of those.
I also own a pair of Sennheiser HDR-185 wireless headphones received as a gift from a very generous and kind friend of mine and they, of course, incorporate the electronics in the transmitter base. Equipped with a fine internal DAC, the sound of these headphones fed by the Toslink output of my Mac is about as good as any “consumer” level phones as I have ever heard. When reviewers use the word “engaging,” I think they mean to say that the item being reviewed is of such fine character that you just don’t want to put it down. You just want to play it on and on. The Sennheisers are engaging, and so are the Audio Technica ATH-M40ƒs phones played through the Vali 2 using the Gold Lion tube. It’s musical magic.
Now, the Vali 2 also purportedly serves as a rudimentary tube based pre-amp and has a pair of RCA outputs on the back panel allowing it to be connected to a power amp, albeit with no provision for multiple inputs and no possibility of remote control of volume. By-the-way, it does have a “gain” switch to help match it to various sensitivities of headphones which affects the output at the RCA jacks also, so it can be tailored to a wide variety of input sensitivities of various power amps. Thusly, you can experience “tube sound” in your main system, not just in your cans.
BUT!!! And it’s a BIG “BUT,” the “protection” circuit of the Vali 2 consists of a turn-on delay relay which is supposed to allow the tube a little time to warm up before connecting anything to the outputs. So, about 30 seconds after you toggle the power switch, a very faint mechanical click is heard as the relay closes and the outputs of the amp are connected to the output jacks. If you have a pair of headphones plugged in, the rear RCA jacks are defeated and a noticeable, but not objectionable “thump” is heard in them when the relay connects. Not a real worry, as the amplitude in my Audio-Technica cans is not startling. But, if you have this connected to a nice fat dedicated power amp with the rear RCA jacks for use as a system preamp, that “thump” is amplified by the unrestrained power amp into a disconcerting “THWACK” and a resulting and worrying speaker displacement, regardless of the volume setting of the Vali 2 being used as the pre-amp. As a work-around, you have to be sure that the Vali 2 is warmed up for a minute or two before you switch on your power amp, which when you finally do, will be made to sound glorious by this little tiny, inexpensive one-tube wonder.
I contacted Schiit regarding this one anomaly and they suggested that I send in the Vali 2 for service, just to be sure that there wasn’t some defect that would account for this behavior. When they received and tested it, they deemed this a normal consequence of the simple, albeit effective amplifier circuit, and yet they kindly reworked the circuit to increase the turn-on delay time in an attempt to reduce the amplitude of the thump.
Let’s face it; this is one heck of a capable and fabulous sounding headphone amp for the listener that wants to experience a little tube sound in their headphones without breaking the bank. It has a sophisticated circuit and power supply that doesn’t starve the tube of plate voltage (according to Schiit, I read) as many of the cheap import tube amps do. It comes with a decent and musical NOS Sylvania tube and allows for an endless variety of substitutes for tube rollers, and costs $150. The company customized my amp for free to try and mitigate a problem that can easily be worked around. It plays all the headphones I own with captivating musicality and never runs out of power on any passages up to ear threatening volumes. What’s not to like here? Buy One!
One day, while playing the Mac through the Modi 3 DAC, I was compelled to switch back and forth between the Toslink output and the USB port output and compare the two and subsequently compare the Mac running the Modi to the Vaio running the Modi. As is often the case when it is impossible to set up a scientifically balanced “Double Blind” test, personal biases can affect perception. I truly could not discern any differences between the two output sources on the Mac. But, I wanted the Vaio to sound better than the Mac because I was beginning to see the advantages of MusicBee over iTunes, I wanted to use the bigger, brighter, faster screen of the Vaio as opposed to the old Mac, and because it was easier to connect the Vaio to my home LAN for library updates.
I played numerous challenging tracks from both computers and listened very critically. When I played some of my very best Hi-res tracks, I perceived that the Mac injected just a hint of graininess into the music. I have the CD of Jim Hall and Red Mitchell called “Valse Hot” and also had the good fortune to get access to a 192kHz/24Bit download of all the tracks, thus giving me the opportunity to compare “CD quality” with a Hi-res version. On the Mac, the CD quality version at 44.1kHz/16Bit was just a little more authentic or natural sounding than the Hi-res version which showed some artifacts of digitization. Comparing the CD (44.1kHz/16Bit) versions of the disk between the Mac’s ALAC (.m4a) files and the Vaio’s FLAC files, there was, to me, no distinguishable difference. But when the high-resolution versions were compared between the Mac and the Vaio, there was a surprising difference between, as the Mac reproduced the tracks with what I can only describe as an “edginess or grain.” I then played the Hi-res version from the Mac through the little tube amp that had been so satisfying thus far and served to eliminate the possibility that the music was being affected by the Yamaha preamp or the Rotel power amp.
Again, through the Audio Technica phones, the Mac did not handle the high-resolution files nearly as well as it played the 44.1 kHz “CD” format files whereas the Vaio offered the Hi-res files a slight edge in both definition and depth. This sparked my curiosity and engendered a detailed internet search for a cause. I soon discovered that the iOS operating system on the Mac was incapable of playing tracks in their native format, but rather converted every output to a pre-set rate determined by settings in the Audio configuration. Setting the rate to the higher bit rate for the Hi-res files may have improved the sound ever so slightly but, by then, listener fatigue made such fine judgements difficult.
This iOS limitation is overcome by various third party Mac applications that bypass the restrictions and output the music files at their natively recorded sampling rate and bit depth. One such app is “Bit Perfect” which I sought to download but discovered that my older Mac could not run the current version. Another is Audirvarna, an older version of which can run and claims native-format output of music files.
The Vaio, running MusicBee, claimed to have no such limitations. As a quick disclaimer here; my Mac laptop is very old and many of the limitations I am running into may very well be due to its obsolescence, not anything to do with Apple or Mac computers in general. Apparently recording studios are more likely to use Apple computers in their processes than PC’s. If they were less suited for music reproduction in general, that would most certainly not be the case.
At any rate, it became evident that I had no way of determining what bit rate ANY of the outputs were actually sending to the DAC. Hence, I began a search for an app or a piece of hardware that could allow me to make that determination so that comparisons were more informed and hence fairer. My solution came in the form of an inexpensive outboard DAC from a Chinese supplier that had a digital display on the front panel; the Topping D10 USB DAC. Within seconds of installing it into my system, I had a way of verifying all the claims made for my sources on the internet. Here are my answers.
Yes, the Mac running iTunes only outputs a single bit rate as determined by a configuration setting, regardless of the track’s native bit rate. Audirvana running on the Mac (even the old version that still works on my old Mac) DOES send native bit rate through to the DAC when hooked to the Mac USB2 output ports. Apparently, the Mac up-or-down samples everything it sends out of the USB port to the pre-set rate.
Yes, the Vaio running Music Bee automatically adapts to every file’s native bit rate and depth.
No, the differences in any case are not monumental, but rather barely perceptible and subject to human biases, listener fatigue, or the varying severities of tinnitus that are now my constant companions.
But… what I also discovered is that the Topping D10 is a VERY respectable DAC. Exclusively USB powered, it has been rock steady, dead silent when not being fed bits, and capable of playing every file that I have tried from my library with accuracy, fidelity, and musicality. So far, it has not had any dropouts, clicks or pops, or generated any spurious noises. It adapts instantly to and displays the bit rate of anything you feed it. I do notice that it is somewhat static sensitive, in that it sometimes loses its “lock” and takes a second to reset if I touch it after walking across the carpet of the listening room floor. But even then, it does not pass so much as a click or crackle to the speakers as a result. Direct casual comparison with the Schiit Modi 3 has them sounding virtually identical, with an in-depth comparison slated for the next opportunity. If anything, the Schiit appears to be of better construction, feeling more solid, of better quality and just more finished internally, whereas the outward appearance of the Topping cannot be faulted in any case.
That’s the saga so far. I am very pleased with my “new” listening room and the purchases I have made for it recently. I recommend the products and services of both Schiit and Tekton Design most emphatically. Both companies design, test, and manufacture their products here locally and their products perform way above their price class. The Topping DAC served its purposes as a testing device perfectly and works flawlessly as a portable DAC due to its USB powered design that does not require an outboard power supply.
Specifically, the Lore Reference Be speakers are the best audiophile “bargain” I have ever experienced. In my years as a “budget” audiophile, I have always worked to do my research before buying something as to extract the biggest sonic performance from the most I could afford. Occasionally envious of people who could “buy the best” regardless of cost, flabbergasted at the cost of some systems I have heard, and still skeptical of Voodoo accessories that purport to align your space or your electrons that cost more than I could ever consider, I am confident that I have managed to achieve the best sound possible within my means. Now, I think I’ll go listen to some tunes.
Within the last month, I was reading an article on the Audiogon forum again extolling the virtue of older Adcom products. Since I have owned the Adcom GFA555 MkII since new and had been very pleased with its performance, I decided to move it into the listening room now that all the earlier sonic problems had been sorted and to hear it with the new Tekton Design Lore Be speakers.
That amplifier had been driving the JBL L36 speakers in the living room’s front two channels since it was purchased in May of 1995, and I was well familiar with the power and conservative rating of it. With a newly acquired Denon home theater receiver to take over for the Adcom and drive the JBL’s, I wanted to experience its huge power reserves in in concert with the incredibly fast dynamics that the Tekton speakers were obviously capable of. Independent testing has shown that this amp can easily exceed its 200WPC rating by as much as 25% and it boasts an extremely high damping factor that I expected would easily control the Tektons’ 8” bass drivers with an iron grip.
The swap from the Rotel RB-1070 proved to be a bit more complicated than just plug-and-play, as the Adcom is a substantially larger piece of gear and would not fit in the rack space previously occupied by the Rotel. With nearly double the rated output, and 10 lbs. more heft, the Adcom was going to need its own dedicated shelf on the equipment rack, so all the other components had to be rearranged. This gave an opportunity for some house cleaning and resulted in much neater wiring runs too.
Once everything was back in place the audition could begin, and as usual, I first played a selection of very familiar tracks to allow for at least some sort of valid comparison. Frankly, I didn’t expect much difference, since both amplifiers were in the same class of audio components, but rather I expected just subtle differences if any at all.
Apparently, the Adcom is an excellent match for the Tekton Design Lores. As I anticipated, the bass was all I could have asked for, with virtually endless power reserves and extremely tight control. Damping Factor (DF) refers to an amplifier’s ability to reject a speaker’s tendency to generate voltage back down the speaker wires when the woofer cones return from a large excursion and is a ratio of the amplifier’s output impedance vs. that of the speaker. Since a speaker’s voice coil consists of many turns of wire suspended in a strong magnetic field, it is not only capable of producing motion of the cone when excited by current flow, but can also act as a generator, producing voltage and current as the cone returns from some displacement especially when reproducing loud and sudden transients.
That return voltage or Counter Electro Motive Force (C.E.M.F.) can interfere with the amplifiers output wave form and significantly alter the accuracy of the output signal, thus distorting the musical content. A high damping factor indicates the level of immunity that the amplifier has to the effects of the C.E.M.F., in effect, absorbing it harmlessly rather than letting it alter the output wave form that is being sent to the speaker. This is precisely what reviewers refer to when they say that the amplifier has a “tight grip” on the speaker, in that an amp with a high damping factor “forces” the speaker to follow the waveform as closely as possible and does not allow the speaker cone to overshoot, flutter, or resonate outside the limits of the signal it is being sent.
Please allow a quick aside as not to cast aspersions on traditional tube (valve) amp designs, MANY of which are highly regarded, possibly revered, in the audiophile community, yet have startlingly low damping factors. While my Adcom claims to have a DF of “>800” and the Rotel claims to have a DF of 500, many tube amps sound spectacular despite having damping factors of only 20 or thereabouts. Of course, there are many other factors beside DF that determine whether a particular pairing of amp and speaker will be sonically successful, and a poor amplifier design will sound bad no matter what the DF might be. But, generally, for a speaker to sound particularly pleasing and accurate with a very low DF tube amplifier, which might also have a correspondingly low power output, that speaker will likely have been designed with just such a combination in mind. In other words, speaker engineers and designers can tailor a speaker to work exceptionally well with low power, low damping factor amplifiers and produce a combination that is captivating and satisfying, but paired with the “wrong” speaker even the best design amplifier might exhibit roll-off, clipping, and poor response. As the discussion of proper pairing, specifications vs. sound, and of course, tube vs. solid-state is an endlessly and sometime bitterly fought debate, I maintain that, especially in the “budget audiophile” world in which I live, solid state amps with high damping factors are much more forgiving in terms of speaker pairing than are tube based designs. For this reason, some aficionados prefer a tube pre-amp paired with a high-quality, high damping factor, solid-state (transistorized) power amp to effectively get “the best of both worlds,” and allow for a greater variety of speaker designs from which to select their “perfect pairing.” As I mentioned earlier, I have experimented with just such a combination, using my tube based Schiit Vali 2 as a preamp, as to benefit from the almost magical influence some glowing glass can impart on an audio system.
Many years ago, a good friend of mine lent me his pair of Klipsch La Scalas and corresponding tube based integrated amp and the combination was stunning. But, one must remember that La Scalas were designed and produced in an era that was just seeing the very beginnings of the influx of rudimentary transistorized amplifiers from Japan with their high odd-order harmonic distortions, so most “audiophiles” were still running their trusty Fischer, Dynaco, McIntosh or Marantz tube amps for which the La Scalas were perfectly suited. The La Scalas were capable of producing 104db with 1-watt input at 4 feet away! (1965 Klipsch factory literature specifications) Even very low power “single ended triode” tube amps could drive them to room filling volumes. So then, the combination that I had in my family room for a few months produced awesome sounding results, as the system components were, quite literally, “made for each other.” Driving them with my own Marantz 1070 transistorized amplifier designed some 11 years after the La Scalas first appeared and rated at 35W into 8 ohms did not achieve nearly as pleasing a result. Perhaps because the speaker was literally designed to be used with tube amps, or because the La Scalas of that vintage had 16 Ohms input impedance which would effectively cut the Marantz’s output in half and produce a impedance mismatch that resulted in potentially serious frequency response aberrations. Today’s La Scalas (yes, they are still being produced, now weighing 201 lbs. up from 105 lbs. in 1965, and costing $12,000 / pair) are more amp friendly with 8 ohm impedance and are perfectly happy being driven by virtually any quality amplifier.
Now, back to the first hearing of the Adcom recently put into “Listening Womb” service. It is obvious that the Lores are under very tight control when played by the Adcom. Sudden transients are reproduced with unwavering authority as the reserve capacity of the GFA555 MkII is vast in comparison to the demands the Lores (96dB 1W@1m) put on it, even at substantial sound pressure levels. Not once has it sounded constrained or power limited in the bottom end. Of course, I need to mention that these first listenings were, again performed with the Titanic subwoofer disconnected from the system, as it is a powered sub, and as such, could falsely affect my perception of just what the Lores can produce driven by the Adcom.
In the mid and upper ends of the spectrum, where power is much less of a factor than speed, again the Adcom seems to meet all of the demands that the content calls for. The ultra-fast beryllium tweeters show no evidence of smearing and display a very live-like (and life-like) reproduction of extremely complex material. I have auditioned systems through which all the instruments begin to mash together as the number of players increases. This is especially apparent when a jazz combo involves two guitars or two pianos playing at the same time as the rest of the band. Can you still hear two instruments separate from the band or do they just smear into a single piano or guitar-like mash? Knowing the Lore’s tweeters are easily up to the task, any lack of definition would likely be traceable to the amplifier driving them, and in this case the Adcom is obviously comfortable with this complex task.
After many hours of listening over many days, I am convinced that the switch to the Adcom was worth the trouble as it will provide many rewarding listening sessions in the future. Recently, I re-introduced the subwoofer into the mix, and am now discovering that the combination is encouraging me to expand my music collection into new albums.
Rather than begin another discussion of what music has been entertaining me on this iteration of my system, I will strive to create another post, dedicated to some of the most revealing and stunning tracks I have discovered to display the best features of the room.
One more positive thing that has come from the whole Adcom installation was the previously mentioned opportunity to re-arrange the wiring and cabling that is often the forgotten factor in listening room evolution. Hopefully, anyone setting up a room will pay attention to obvious problems like allowing long parallel runs of power and signal cables, allowing cabling of any kind to sit coiled near powered equipment, or letting cables strain against their connectors and plugs. Over the years, I have acquired a substantial collection of signal cables and I was lucky to have almost enough high-quality interconnects to have logically short runs of quality leads between the newly rearranged components. But, in two areas, my inventory fell short and I was forced to purchase a few pairs of RCA interconnects through Amazon.
Both pairs were sourced form “World’s Best Cables” (WBC); a one-foot long pair using Mogami 2534 wire and the two-foot pair custom made with Canare L-4E6S Star Quad Audio Interconnect Cable and both terminated with Amphenol ACPR Gold RCA Connectors. The conductors are heavily shielded, and the company strongly believes that the shield should only be connected to the ground sleeve conductor at the source end for optimum external noise rejection, thus making these cables “Directional.”
The cable pairs arrived beautifully packaged and every aspect of the design and execution evidenced the kind of care that custom cables should be manufactured with. Frankly, they are jewel-like with flexibility, heft, and precision that vastly surpass their reasonable cost. I’m certainly a believer in excellent quality when it comes to critical components, but I have never subscribed to the voodoo surrounding stratospherically priced interconnects and $1000 power cords. Perhaps it is because I don’t own any related price level components or maybe it’s just that few of the stratospherically priced products can offer a basis in demonstrable science. The Amphenol connectors on the WBC cables mate with their respective RCA jacks with butter-smooth friction fit and a very light coating of DeoxIT Gold promises to keep them working smoothly for years to come.
And so, I was compelled to revisit the speaker cables as well. Not that I feel that there is anything wrong with the Monster Cable pair I constructed years ago and pressed into service again for this iteration of the room, but they are a bit too long for the current arrangement and, if nothing else, aren’t esthetically pleasing.
Determined to replace them, I ordered a length of KnuKonceptz Kord Kable 10 Gauge Copper Speaker Wire. It is audio purpose-built oxygen free copper twin conductor cable with 462 conductors per strand and very flexible bright-blue insulation. Also ordered is a length of braided cable sheathing made of Nylon instead of the more common PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) which promises to be more cloth-like and flexible. I intend to fasten the sheathing to the cable at each end with glue coated 3X shrink tubing and some color-coded 2X shrink for polarity identification.
Lastly, a set of Viborg High End Banana Connectors, with relatively heavy gold plating and two set screws for each wire termination and heavy gauge spring ends should make connections to the components vibration-proof and electrically superior once a coating of DeoxIT Gold completes the installation.
When the components arrived, they exceeded my expectations, and all are of a quality that belies their cost. I constructed two 6-foot cables, running the paired conductors through enough length of the nylon conduit to leave just about 4 inches at each end. I very carefully stripped the insulation from each conductor with a very sharp X-Acto knife and took great care to avoid nicking any of the wire strands. I twisted the ends wearing gloves as to avoid contaminating the copper with skin oils and inserted them all the way into the barrels of the Viborg banana connectors and firmly tightened the pair of screws on each one. I finished the job by using a heat gun to collapse the various bits of shrink tubing.
The resultant cables are very flexible and follow bends easily. They neaten the installation with a professional looking custom length cable. The Viborg ends use a thick gauge of metal in their banana plug “springs” which provides a very firm contact with the inside of the jack. A thin film of DeoxIT Gold lubricates them for easy insertion and protects them from the elements. Total cost outlay; $60.00 and about an hour of work.
Can I claim that they are “sonically” better; Well, no. Not that I can hear. The original cables were almost twice as long, but the differences in resistance and capacitance, inductance, and skin effect are all mathematically and practically moot. Being 10 gauge and with the huge number of very thin wires that make up each conductor, all that matters is that they do not add a resistive “load” to the circuit. Typical 10-gauge copper conductor of 6-foot (~2m) length can be calculated to have .013 Ohms of resistance which is a ratio of about 600:1 when compared to the resistance of the speaker voice coils and crossover. Most scientists will agree that this is vastly larger than any ratio that has been researched to have an audible effect. Audiophiles, on the other hand, have been known to argue these minute differences passionately, and hence the market for stratospherically priced cables is still strong enough that Nordost Supreme Reference: Odin 2 Speaker Cables sell for $38,000 for a 2-meter pair.
That’s it so far! As this is a hobby and, as such, gets attention whenever the need to play with toys or blow off some stink surfaces, future tweaks and changes, updates, and modifications are inevitable.
If you have made it this far, realize that this article, like the hobby, will evolve and change and hopefully grow. Fidelity is a lofty goal. HIGH fidelity, well, even less attainable. But, like so many hobbies, and especially like riding the Harley, it’s not the destination, but rather it’s about the journey. Good Listening my friends!