Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Incredible close to music IV – The Evaluation in a Different Set Up and Room

Mikes audio set up is by far the best sounding audio chain I do personally know. Since I do report about it, I wonder how the quality portions in his chain are shared? How much influence to the final stage of naturalness and finesse will each component have and if, are really the big horns with their wide frequency range are doing the main job for this refinement? How much influence does the tube amplifying components have here? How much quality will be inserted by the WE300B tubes, its enveloping exceptional power amplifiers, the driving preamplifier and finally at the beginning of the early signal, the Platine Verdier with its Shindo-tonearm, -cartridge and dedicated step up transformer? Or is this captured perfect harmony mainly formed with Mikes room and with its extremely treated surfaces, or what else might do such a coherent presentation possible? To find definitive answers to these questions, I made a visit to Mikes close friend Hans. He is owner of a very similar installation with the same LM22A/LM555 and LM597 horn array, identical dipole enclosures for the low frequency path, but different equipped with four RFT 15'' woofers, were Mike uses the Siemens Klangfilm KL405 units. Hans uses almost the same preamp and with his Platine Verdier as well a Shindo cartridge, but in difference a curved banana EMT tonearm and A23 step up transformer.

Hans room is some sort of extreme, with a reflective length of 6 meters (roughly 19 to 8 feet) and a width of 2,50 meters it is shaped more like a tunnel than a ordinary proportioned room. I know Hans struggling with these room parameters since I know him and that might be as well for the last 25 years. Like Mike he did use a baffle boarded PHY Salabert speaker set up before the Line Magnetic decision changed his audio life. As Mike, he did order his LM22/555W set with the very first delivery coming to Germany.
I still admire these guys for their 'coolness' to set a binding order with a five digit amount of Euros to some horn and driver parts made as replica in China, without having heard or seen anything in real. Maybe sometimes in life it needs such adventurous decisions to get highly rewarded with before unbelieved presents, to get luckily the best audio, the best house or even a lifetime partner? And such a unbelievable decision shows in a tremendous manner their confidence to their "drug dealer"! Whom of yours would do after 25 years experience with audio products, do a blind order for a unheard and -seen chinese speaker replica? Ok, no more questions for now…

When Hans used the PHY-Salabert speakers with full range baffle boards, he needed a lot of room treatment to make it work to a refined stage. The baffled units disperse the waves in almost any direction of the room, so the reflective wandering parts are quite dominant and needed a complex treatment. Hans covered complete parts of his room, the half were the speakers are positioned got covered with a second layer of wood panels, which are again covered with a layer of thick cloth. Such panels got mounted to the side walls, the ceiling and got unregulary dispersed in the other half around the listening position. Hans said: "since I got the horns, it is the first time that it works perfectly in my difficult listening position with a before unknown ease."
I could not imagine such big horns in his narrow room to work well when I heard some years ago about his investment to go for such a set up, the distance between the two unit is some 50 cm or two feet, – just unbelievable. I thought a single unit set up would do the same job…

Crossover update, after extension with two parallel woofers the auto former  is not anymore
necessary and the crossover for  mf/hf frequencies reduces to tempting simplicity.

But now, after I did hear it in his room, I have to say that it works almost perfect, even in such a wrong space. All these medium frequency horns, like the LM22A, the Satohorn, the Western Electric WE13/15/16As, and the modern japanese Gotos do focus their waveform a lot. They beam a tremendous part of their radiated frequencies so much, that the hot spot of the perfect listening position is extremely narrow, rarely more than the width of a head, sometimes some 60 cm, depending a bit on the distance to the array. This limitation in the stereo impression is so far my only known restriction using such horn transducers. But in the same way their unique forwarded projection reduce the typical amount of wandering room reflections almost completely, comparing it to ordinary cone speakers. This effect helps Hans now a lot in his less than ideally shaped room.
Such a narrow space makes audio life easy in other respects. To the left of his listening position he has big shelves for his record collection, on his right he has installed a wooden support system for the components, as well decoupled with air compressed feet. He is able to select his records and operate his components from his seat in the central listening position without standing up and with perfect ease. Sitting in front his laptop with its digital music library and the web, this position makes the perfect cockpit for the "aficionado".

Different woofers for evaluation, left a Isophon 15" mounted in dedicated baffle board, next to a pair of Altec Biflex 420 mounted against each other.

In difference to Mike, Hans uses RFT 15'' speakers for the low frequency support, as well in double stacked array to improve the energy output. This RFT speakers have been used in former East Germany for pa dedication. These units are quite easy to obtain and can be found for small money in four or eight ohm versions, both with hard edged paper roll. Listening to Hans installation I would not be able to define any difference in performance to Mikes a lot more rare and expensive Siemens Klangfilm KL405 units.

We did listen first to some digitally stored music and after a while of familiarization we switched to some vinyl records of mine to get myself into a real evaluation mode. From the first moment I was impressed that the set up did show almost 95% of the same qualities, which I did only know from Mike. It was really amazing for me to hear that this extreme room proportions not really to degrade the perfect harmonies with bouncing reflexions. I definitely did not expect such a high degree of similarity before. Even the chain is a bit different, were Mike uses the famous Shindo 300b mono blocks, Hans uses the much smaller Shindo Concertino 300b stereo amplifier. Almost the rest of the signal chain can be described as the same. The room and the power amplifier are the major differences, and both together might be responsible for a minimal difference in the naturalness of the presentation. I think it might be the sovereignty of the mono amps in the foremost stage which creates the main difference. But here as well the harmonic portions are present, the dynamic abilities and a indescribable refinement captured with lots of air is almost the same. Nothing superficial or conspicuous spoils the enjoyment. A absolutely amazing performance, which I only know from Mikes set up, all other hifi sets I do know, and believe me or not, I do know a few, are playing in a completely different league. A difference were in the most cases the technical perfection represents the aspects of music reproduction as a sort of superficial statement in contrast to a much more simple natural sounding approach here.

A pair of rare Shindou 1970ties 6bg6g-Mono-Amplifiers with doubled rectifiers tubes

Shindou-Laboratory Model 26 Amps

But I am here today to work out the reasons for such superiority? I do mind the Shindo tube amplified chain and the analogue filtered crossover as main reasons for such a harmony, but who knows? Hans owns another set of vintage Shindo power amplifiers, called Shindou-Laboratory Model 26 Amplifier (they seem to be early models Pavillon Rouge). This mono blocks do incorporate the 6bg6g-tube, a late tv-penthode, easy and cheap to optain. Untypically these early amps from the 1970ties are silver hamerite coated, since the better known Shindo amps are always appear with green metalized laquer and golden inscription. I do like the more purist approach of the early amps a lot better, but we do not discuss design issues here. These Shindo power amps give a good option to evaluate the portion of harmonic properties of the 300b tube in the final soundstage, since they are built as doubled mono set, with improved double power supply. Seen from this point of view they might have an advantage again the small Concertino stereo amplifier. We did set these amps up and to be honest, the difference is big, the 6bg6g-tube do sound very different. It must be these power tubes creating the major difference, since there are less than ten components inside the amp, the transformers look just by appearance a lot more refined than the ones from the Concertino. The marvelous homogeneity seems to be a part of the typical soundstage of the 300B directly heated triodes. Wasn't it at the early beginning in Japan and Paris that the 300B was described as a major component, a time when we were to young to really know? May be, we switched back to the Concertino amp and the major portion of harmonies immediately where back on stage. A well balanced transducer, like the LM22A/555W/597 with dipole low frequency extension, is able to show such a little detail with tremendous effect and insight into the overall performance. I would go as far, that the set up without the famous direct heated triode is something very different. But at this point I would rate the Shindo power amplifier as another causal major component for this stage of refinement, were other amplifiers will do a difference.

We did follow on with a blasphemic approach. A little class-d-amp from Hans, which he uses for television purposes, was set into service instead the Shindo tube amps. A so called digital amp with 10 watts of power and one RCA-input in size of two cigarette boxes. We did set it up with digital source as input and truly were impressed from this little "junk box". It did play with a good portion of harmonies in the foremost manner. So it showed a bit to present bass with little superficial highs, but with unbelievable refined mids it did astonish both of us. But who will spend a good 15k EUR on speakers and will set it up with a 50 EUR digital amp?

RFT 15'' speaker on the table, right the little class-d-amp in evaluation, weighted down to compensate the torsion of the cabling on top of two generations of Shindo(u) power amplifiers
Conclusion... Such a horn installation like the Line Magnetic, but as well with a Sato or some Western Elelectric originals, will mark a unsurpassed approach to music with properties no other speaker design can obtain. They offer a whole lot qualities other transducing principles are not able to match, but they need as well to be fed with the best refined signal quality. Only than they might be able to match some place in audio heaven. In reverse, they will dramatically show any roughness or impurities of the incorporated electronic components with emphasis. To my current knowledge the analogue crossover with mild 6db path has a widely underrated importance to the overall harmonic presentation, as a refined 300b-tube amp carries a tremendous part of the wonder. The extension with a dipole for the lower frequencies marks as well a exceptional statement in the lower registers and is a important contribution to the final harmony. To my taste such a installation betters any digitally filtered, corrected and delayed approach with length. But it needs a educated ear with a clear direction to naturalness to understand the differences, the most people rely to some more sensational performance.

Read on soon, Volker

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