Monday, March 23, 2009

Cable suggestions-Understanding the differences

I often get questions regarding cable suggestions for a particular application. There are many brands that employ similar technologies following some generally agreed upon facts. Some of the facts are based on Physics and some based on listen test by many, many people "in the know". 1. Air is the best dielectric. 2. The smoother the surface of the conductor the better. 3. EMI and RF contamination is bad. 4. Different materials conduct the signal differently. Whither those particular variations will positively effect YOUR listening or watching experience is not guaranteed, but know they definitely do make a difference. There are millions of people around the Globe that appreciate the sonic and visual benefits of quality cabling. Cable companies use a variety of methods to implement the previously mentioned three facts. Audioquest for example uses PE tubes to get close to an Air dielectric, PSC i.e. perfect surface copper and shielding. In my honest opinion; cables with silver conductors (very smooth and highly conductive) and multiple layers of shielding or heavy shielding are the best sounding cables.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What is an Audiophile?

First, I would like to qualify myself as an "Audiophile"* with a brief history. I started my appreciation for audio equipment in the early 80's. My parents like most had the Sears all-in-one eight track AM/FM tuner with built-on record player. We had an appreciation for music, but we didn't have the knowledge or the budget for a McIntosh, Marantz system, etc. . My stepfather gave me my first pair of speakers they were Telefunken I later removed the driver from the small, oval cabinets to discover the driver was a dual paper cone 6x9 running full range.

The next pair of speakers I had were home made (there's a shocker!!). Actually, I had the right idea and keep in mind I was about 13 yrs old. The raw drivers I used were replacements from M&K Satellite IIB's, the crossover was from Speaker Lab out of Oregon and the cabinets were made by me in wood shop class (small golden oak rectangular boxes). From there I saved up for about a year and purchased my first "real system". It was a Yamaha R-100 receiver and a pair of Klipsch Heresy's. Needless to say at 16 I was stoked. One hundred twenty plus dB in your bedroom at 16 is a good thing (although my parents weren't real happy).

Eventually, one of my lowlife friends broke in my place and stole that setup, so on to bigger and better things. In this case it was a Yamaha "Natural Sound" receiver and CD changer with Infinity SM-80s' (nothing great about that setup quite honestly I almost forgot about owning it). About the time I was ready to buy a new system the whole "Surround Sound" thing was happening. So like all the other kids my age I bought a surround receiver. The particular unit was a Phillips FR-980 with the matching VCR and CD changer. I dragged speaker wire all over my living room and had a subwoofer made like a coffee table. The sub consisted of a 15" Cerwin Vega dual voice coil driver with a choke.

From there everything's a little cloudy until I purchased a Adcom GFP-555 preamp and a GFA-555 amplifier. After gaining an appreciation for the increased clarity, soundstage and imaging I noticed a sterile character, which I have since recognized as typical with most Adcom gear. So, once again it was time for a change. So, I took all my stuff back to the store I purchased it from and traded it in on an Sony STR-GX808ES receiver and that's when I finally realized that the gear I was listening to sounded thin and lifeless compared to some of the higher priced stuff I would demo.

My local audio dealer suggested I try an outboard amplifier i.e. Forte' Model six. This whole time I was using a pair of Epicure speakers (don't ask). Anyway it was time for some new speakers and fortunately I purchased a pair of Kef 101/2s.

I still felt the sound was lifeless. Back to my local dealer who, by the way, is the same dealer I've transacted most of the previously mentioned gear and whom I now have partnered with. I liked everything the Forte' brought to the table, but I was looking to take it to the next level. Not to mention all my friends were buying big Threshold and KEF systems. It just so happened that at the same time I was looking to upgrade, a pair of Threshold SA-10E mono blocks became available used at my local dealer.

Now I know what you're thinking, how in the hell do you go from a Sony receiver and Forte' amp to pure class "A" mono blocks? The opportunity was there so I jumped on it! I had to trade damn near everything I owned to swing the deal, but when everything was said and done I had a pair of amps, a pair of KEF 101/2 and a Mission PCM-7000 CD player with variable output. This setup was pretty cool!

I bi-wired the KEFs' and they were putting out an incredible amount of bass. I did learn a lot about how weak and contaminated the wall power was. So I purchased a Tice Powerblock and Titan line conditioner. The shear size of the amplifiers' and the way they looked connected to such small speakers was enough to impress anyone, without even turning it on, but the system did have its limits based on the fact that I had no preamp.

It was time to find a good inexpensive preamp, I was still broke from the purchase of the amps. Well, I found a Musical Reference vacuum tube pre and fell in love with the way it "warmed up" the signal. Intrigued by the discovery of the tube sound I sold those huge monos and bought a Dynaco Stereo 70 Reissue. I retubed the amp with some matched, high output Phillips tubes and I was in business.

Now all that was lacking was good low end bass response. New speakers that's what I needed and what a nightmare looking for speakers was.

Finally, I heard a pair of Dahlquist DQ-20i and bought them on the spot . The only problem then was I didn't have enough power to really get the bass rolling. Naturally, I went back for the Threshold products (now all my buddies were selling there Threshold amps) and I wound up with a Threshold T-100 to run bass. The Dahlquist Dq-20i was the bi-wireable version so I ran the Dynaco on mids/highs and the T-100 on bass. This system I actually listened to for about three years, but soon decided I was ready for a change after I got a job as a salesman for an A/V specialty store (Sound Ideas Stereo

Bring on the deals/sales accommodations. The first thing I ran across was a Threshold 800A. Nelson Pass and Rene' Besnes' first dynamically biased pure class "A" amplifier circa 1977. The second find I actually pulled out of stack of broken speakers. I really didn't know much about the company or the technology, but I soon found out once I hooked the 800A to these Apogee Caliper Signatures. The imaging and accuracy blew me away. I don't know if you have ever heard 800 watts of pure class "A" power on a pair of dipole ribbons, but it sounds pretty damn good. I was back to my trick with a variable output CD player i.e. Sony XA1-ES and a Monster HTS-3500 to clean up the a.c. The system was a simple yet impressive conversation piece.

The way those speakers work still makes me scratch my head. This system kept me entertained for about a year, but I was missing bass response again. I was also afraid something might happen to the amp or speakers and they would not be repairable. Now I know you think this story will never come to an end, but it does. All this brings me to my nect to current system. I purchased a Pass Labs X-250 amplifier, X-1 Preamp, Monster Power AVS-2000 voltage stabilizer, Monster Power HTPS-7000, Sony XA-1ES CD player and Tyler Acoustics Tylo Reference one speakers. Needless to say the system sounded good. Also, I could go on for days about all the different cable brands and models I've gone thru. This system had all Audioquest cables. The speaker cables were Audioquest Caldera, the interconnects are Audioquest Anaconda and Audioquest Python. One of my later SolidState reference system was Pass Labs X250.5, X-1 preamp, Pioneer DV-AX10, Nordost reference speaker/interconnects and Tyler Acoustics Reference 1 speakers. I later replaced the X250.5 with an Audio Aero Capitole tube amp and all my cabling with Synergistic Research X2 active (I became a dealer based on the performance compared with the much more expensive Nordost Reference). The bedroom system was D. Klimo Beltaine 300B monos, Denon DCD-S10 and Odeon model six horns. I sold the Odeons and replaced them with Omega Speakers Heptones that I purchsed from Louis at the 2006 CES Show. The speakers were displayed with Audio Zone Amp 2 monos. After I sold the Klimo
Beltaine I purchased a pair of the Amp 2 monos. About a year later Omega came out with a improved version of the Omega Hemptones and Louis again was nice enogh to give me a deal on a pair. If you are asking yourself, how does he afford this stuff. That's what I was asking myself. So I sold off most of my bedroom system and most of my main Reference System to build just one setup. So I built a completely new system with Paradigm Signature S-6 speakers, Slim Devices Transporter, two pair of Audio Zone Amp 2 monos, Sunfire supercube reference and Exact Power Ultra Pure. Although with this system there was an impedance problem due to the abundance of line level drain and not enough signal to make the amps sing. I temporarily replaced the Amp 2 monos with a pair of Audio Aero Prestige Monos, but really wanted to stay solidstate so I tried a Luminance Audio KST-150 based on a strong recommendation by TAS. That setup was not quite right and I had an oportunity to get a pair of Gensis 6.1e speakers and Genesis GR-360 amplifier. I added a Isotek Sigma for power distribution and filtering as well as Synergistic Research Accelerator cabling. As of today this is the way the system sits. The fact that I have owned and listened to this variety of different gear over the past 20 years, not to mention all the gear I have demoed, qualifies me as an "Audiophile"*.

You can also get information about me through Audiogon. My username on both websites is Audiophileanswers.

* Audiophile- A person who has an appreciation for very good quality musical playback and the equipment associated with that.