On The Feeding And Care Of Vienna Mahlers


As already you may have gleaned from several threads, I have fallen in love with the Vienna Mahlers during the 2006 RMAF, where I listened to them repeatedly and at length in the excellent Rowland / Soundings / Sumiko suite. At the time, they were driven by a Primare CD21 CD player, Rowland Concerto preamp, Rowland 312 stereo amp.

No longer able to resist, I decided to retire my Maggies IIIAs, and ordered a pair of Mahlers in Rosewood livery during late August, and have received them a couple of weeks ago, crated in their coffins. Soon after, they were hoisted up the stairs to the loft with the help of a stout hand-cart and of a 'few good men'--you know who you are. . . and thanks a bunch guys! Why is it that anything good has to weigh almost 200lbs?

Well, now they are all connected, via a set of emergency Monster speaker wires, while my trusted Cardas Golden Refs are awaiting to be shipped to Cardas for retermination. They are at the end of a fully balanced chain consisting of TEAC Esoteric X-01, ARC Ref 3, Rowland model 7M balanced (latest series made 1989 with trans-impedance modules and rear primary power switches). ICs are Audioquest Skys. Temporarily, I am running the Mahlers with woofers facing outward, speakers cantered in by perhaps 7 degrees. Speakers are approximately 22 inches from a half wall behind them, and are standing about 77 inches apart center to center. Because of the shape of the listening loft -- which has a passage on its right leading to the stairs -- i cannot center them evenly from the side walls: the front of the left speaker is 28 inches from the wall, while the right speaker sits 60 inches from the right wall. The listening loft is a carpeted area having stippled walls approximately 17 feet x 19 feet with a half wall along the long side where the system is situated. The ceiling is coffered with a max height of perhaps 12 ft. The half wall opens to an even larger area that extends downstairs to the house entrance. The carpeted floor of the loft is in turn covered by an extremely thick 9 X 12 ft wool rug. A couch sits close to the windows opposite the stereo.

At approx 60 hours of break in, the Mahlers were already making wonderful music; the treble opening nicely; midrange already solid and textured; the bass deepening; staging and imaging fleshing out. At 68 hrs some -- I trust temporary -- excessive warmth sat in. I can only guess about their sound once they stabilize, and only then I will write a full review. In the meantime I'd like to hear from other audiophiles about their experiences/opinions of the Mahlers.

Here are some possible topics for discussion:

Any experiences connecting speaker wires to Mahlers via maggie Pins? The socket on the 5-way binding post of my Mahlers is marginally too narrow for the Maggie Pins on my Cardas Golden Ref speaker wires. . . I can fit 1 connector out of 4 only.

Total speaker break in time, and expected performance/sonic fluctuations during break in.

The eternal debate. . . woofers out or woofers in?

Experiments with bass and treble management dip-switches?

Effect of front grilles on/off?

Ideal distance from back wall / side walls?

Ideal angling?

Amplifiers and speaker wires that in your experience match well or do not match well with Mahlers.

Things that in your view Mahlers excell at, and areas they may not do so well.

That's it from my end. . . . 'tis your turn now guys & girls!

Guido
guidocorona
Guido, you haven't been listening to Sumiko. There's no "ideal distance" from the back and side walls. You need to have Rod from Soundings over to position them optimally in your space. All your issues will magically disappear.

You might go ahead and burn-in your speaker cables. I'm not one to get carried away, finding that Kimber has some reasonably priced offerings that will work with your speakers. Thank goodness that VA takes responsibility for the crossover and there's none of that bi-wiring mumbo jumbo to concern yourself with.

BTW, what amp are you using?

Dave
Hey Guido - Sorry I didn't get to meet you at RMAF. Albert mentioned you were there, and that he enjoyed meeting you. Congratulations on the Mahlers! That was definitely one of the most memorable rooms for me as well. I enjoyed both the Mahlers, and the smaller Beethovens (mini grands) in the next room. I went back to listen again too. They seem to do a everything right. I did prefer both without the subs that each of the two rooms had added to them. I thought both had very clean bass as low as I'd need it to go without the reinforcement from a sub, especially the Mahlers. I'll be curious to hear how your new ones evolve.

Marco
Hey Marco, sorry missing you as well! I agree completely about subs on Vienna speakers. In my view neither the Beethoven Baby Grands nor the Mahler remotely require a sub. . . . totally satisfying without one. By the way, last year's Soundings / Rowland / Sumiko suite had the same product lineup but being a larger suite, sounded even better than this years. For next year, Brent rainwater and I are already starting a groundsswell of Agoners to meet at the bar on Thursday evening at 7:00 pm for drings. . . hopefully to follow with chowdown somewhere.
Are you considering Mahlers or their upcoming reference-level big brothers for your system?
Hi Dave, unfortunately Soundings is in Denver and I live in Austin (TX). No budget for professional placement I fear. My case is going to be one of Do-ItYourself placement. Has Soundings published a placement methodology.?
Hey Guido - I do hope I can join y'all next year. I don't know, one of those shows every six years or so is about my fill, though I had a great time experiencing this year's show. The Mahlers are too big for my moderately sized listening space, though I liked them more than the Beethoven minis, I would definitely consider the later to succeed my Silverline Sonatinas someday. Not anytime very soon...too many other priorities right now. What's the rest of your system you're using with the Mahlers?

Marco
No, that Sumiko methodology is proprietery. If you bought new from a Sumiko dealer, then I think they'll do it free. If you bought used, then you'll need to find a consultant, most likely at a Sumiko dealer. I think you'll find it worth paying a fee.

One thing I know for certain, is that Soundings turns the bass speakers in toward each other. The do the same on the Straus. Also, the speakers are a good ways into the room in every set up I've seen by Soundings.

I can tell you that they use a Rob Wasserman CD, "Duos", and use the Jennifer Warnes cut of "Runaway Horse". The same cut on her album "Famous Blue Raincoat" won't do because it doesn't have the same bass content and the vocal isn't as well recorded. They move the speakers around until the female voice and bass come into balance, with great extension and a solid image. You've heard the result, but you haven't been through the progression, but you can still get pretty close if you remember how good they sounded.

Dave
Hi Marco, rest of system is TEAC X-01 Limited, ARC Ref 3, JRDG 7M monoblocks, Audioquest Sky XLR, Cardas Golden Ref Speaker wires, Shunyata Anaconda Helix Alpha on X-01, Purist Anniv on Ref 3.
I can tell you that they use a Rob Wasserman CD, "Duos", and use the Jennifer Warnes cut of "Runaway Horse". The same cut on her album "Famous Blue Raincoat" won't do because it doesn't have the same bass content and the vocal isn't as well recorded.

That's my favorite cut on the Rob Wasserman album. Great recording! Haunting! You may want to note it is only on the 20th Anniversary version of Famous Blue Raincoat as a bonus track, and is not on the original version of that album at all. I believe it's originally written by Emmylou Harris, whereas the original Famous Blue Raincoat is all Leonard Cohen covers, of course. Great cut on the Wasserman album though! Haven't heard that 20th anniversary Raincoat though...it'd be hard to top the Wasserman version.

Marco

PS...the Wasserman CD is titled "Duets" and not "Duos". There's another amazing cut on there...Angel Eyes. Damn, what an amazing vocal range that singer has...I think it is Cheryl Bentyne.
Thanks guys, the speakers are brand new. Purchased them from Sumiko on accommodation. prob of course is that Sumiko is in Berkeley and I am in the middle of Texas.
I will probably switch places of the two speakers and have woofers pointed inwards by the end of the weekend. I will fiddle with detailed placement only after I have my Cardas wires reterminated and break-in more or less complete. No point obsessing while sound is still changing and I am using my standby Monster wires. Dave, what's the estimated break in time for your Beethoven Baby Grands?
I don't know the Rowland line that well...is that the Class D stuff you're working with, Guido? I've been really loving my Bel Canto Ref 1000's! I keep thinking I'm going to find flaw with them, but my feet just keep tappin'. Another room I had to go back to at RMAF had the Ref 1000's paired off with Pioneer TAD speakers...rivetting! Just wasn't doing anything wrong. Anyway, I'm using them with a Cary tube pre, and like that combination very much. If it lacks anything, perhaps it could use more depth in the soundstage, but everything else is just spot-on great for my ears. Mids like tubes. Resolution and speed of SS. Color me impressed. Anyway, haven't had the pleasure of hearing Rowland gear.

Marco
I am using a Mcintosh MC-402 amp with my Mahlers and it is magical! I am using a MX-119 preamp/processor and a Mcintosh MS300 music server and a Underwood "ultimate" modified Denon 3910. I started out with the woofers facing in, but ended up preferring them outward. I also am using a REL B1 Sub to round out the very lowest levels and for HT.

I left the dip switches alone in their neutral position.

(Wasatch balanced interconnects and Signal Cable Silver Reference cables.)

Have fun and enjoy!

The Mahlers do really prefer to strong amp as it gets a good tight grip on the woofers. I have mine running off of the 4 ohm position as it sounded much better than the 8 ohm taps.
Jax2

Ballad of the Runaway Horse was written by Leonard Cohen.
(I will actually be upgrading to Mcintosh MC-501 amps next week)
Guido, Rod suggested 200-hours to fully break in the Baby Grands. I'm at 100 and I'm feeling very comfortable. I'm also breaking in a Sumiko Blackbird cartridge, which has under 40-hours. This long weekend is helping a bunch.

Since those Mahlers are going to be in a reviewer's reference system, I can't imagine Sumiko wouldn't want them set up right. Give them a call. I'll bet that they can find someone near you to do the set up.

Dave
Thanks for the correction, Don. I'd only heard it otherwise attributed to Emmylou, but looked it up and you're certainly correct. It was not, however, on the original FBR, and AFAIK is just on the more recently released 20th anniversary edition of FBR.

Marco
Hi Marco, JRDG Model 7Ms are 1989 class A/B balanced vintage furnaces. . . not class D at all. They deliver a stout 350W into 8 Ohms and about 700 into 4Ohms; max continuous current is 50A and damping factor is over 300 between 20Hz and 20Khz. Quite sweet, but perhaps not the ultimate resolution and transparency by today's standards. By contrast, current JRDG lineup is instead completely class D. If you want a super treat, have a listen to the 312 stereo, which is one of the most likely candidates to become my next amp.

Dave, good idea, I'll buzz sumiko after completion of break in and will see what they can do for me. I have dialed 300 hrs on my break in tracking spread sheet, and it's telling me that I should complete the process just before Christmas if I keep it up.

Thanks Mike1000, what did you like better with the woofers facing out? Mahler driven by McIntosh must be wonderful!
Guidocorona,

I have my set up in a fairly large room and the woofers facing outside just sounded better. I also have a REL B1 sub integrated into my system as well. The MC-402 sounds fantastic, but upgrading to the Mcintosh mono-block 501 amps will be wonderful.. The listening to music reproduced through the Mahler speakers brings me a lot of enjoyment. I think that they are a stunning deal especially if you can pick up a pair on the used market. To get significantly better sound you would have to spend a LOT more money..

Micahel
Hi Micahel, could you please elaborate on 'better'. . . Could you describe the audible effect of having the woofers facing outwards rather than inwards?
Guidocorona,

Hmmm, It is tough for me to describe. It has been a year and a half since I positioned them so it is tough to describe.

Not to opt out or providing an opinion, but go ahead and try each way and see what you prefer.

Michael
Looking at pictures of the Soundings room at RMAF, the woofers are facting outward. See:

http://live.audiogon.com/i/rmf2007/h/1192929136.jpg

I guess the placement is room dependent.

Dave
Yup, that is how mine are set up, though a little bit farther apart...
Guido
In my experience, as far away from walls as possible and they possess huge bass and mid bass exerberance.
I thought they sounded better woofers placed out, mainly due to the fact that they seemed to breath easier with them out and not effect the huge soundstage and they were designed to have the woofers out.
definately without the grilles - they just sound more natural and transparent with the grilles off.
personally I did not use them with much toe in at all and thought they sounded more coherent almost front on.

great speakers of you have the amps to control their woofers.
Thank you Downunder, I definitely concur about sounding even better with front grilles removed. I am still running with woofers facing out. Tonight I'll try to reduce toein to just a couple of degrees: with about 7 or 8 degrees staging is very good, but speakers do not quite disappear from imaging. Does anyone know if woofer grilles are removable as well?
I finally have my Strausses home and in place and have been spending the weekend playing with them. I'm able to let them run 24 hours per day so I'm already well along the break-in curve. I think the main difference between the Strauss and the Mahler is that the latter has two woofers per side while I have only one. That seems to be plenty for my small room.
I am liking them better with the woofers outward facing. With them inward, I thought the bass was more extended, but not quite so controlled. With the outward facing woofers, I think the room is carrying the bass better and what I hear is a bit less deep, but definitely more musical. I've also tried, and think I like, an arrangement whereby I have my Hsu subwoofer set at a very low filter point, probably about 25 Hertz and am using minimal gain on the subwoofer amplifier. I think it's picking up that bottom half octave just right where the Strauss rolls off.
I'm not sure how far from the side walls to have the speakers. My room is only 15 feet long. Rig and 13 feet wide. I have them about 1.5 feet from the back walls and about 8 inches from the side walls. I think they're imaging well, but it can always be better!
Peter
When Rod from Soundings set up my Mahlers he told me that whether the woofers face in or out is very room dependent. He ended up setting mine up facing out, and doing a few things differently than the way I had set them up. They sounded very good when I first got them but much better after he set them up. I add another recommendation for the Sumiko set up if that is at all possible.

In my case, the speakers are toed in to the pt where you see just a sliver of the sides from the listening position -- a fairly classic speaker set up. The main thing I remember about the set-up discussions we had was the idea that everything is very room dependent.

FWIW, I have a very large hexagonaolly shapred room with high ceilings. Speakers are about 3 ' out into the room centered, which leaves no real sidewalls due to the hexagonal sloping of the sides away from the back wall. The rest of my system is Linn with their 2250 200 watt amp.
Few days ago I swapped my mahlers sideways for curiosity. I have a cluttered living room, large enough but L shaped. Not an easy task for the mahlers. However, with the woofers facing each other, i can clearly notice an increase in output in the region 100hz - 80hz. Not
exactly a good thing but its a matter of personal opinion. It make the sound bold. I enjoy them either ways. However I will return them to the original place. I also have a rel stadium iii to complement the very last octave, crossed at 22hz. I set the mahlers without spikes on the wood floor. The amp is a. Bryston 4bsst.
" Does anyone know if woofer grilles are removable as well? "

Yes you can, you need to pull on the material a litle bit as from memory they are stuck on with valcro. I just pulled one off to look at the woofer, then put it back on.
Just a small change and. . . Oh My God!

The Monster speaker wires I have been using 'temporarily' for the last two months are finally gone. I managed to fit my Cardas Golden ref speaker wires onto the Mahlers. , in spite of the Maggie pins on them being just slightly too thick. . . on a hunch I applied some 3200 grit Aluminum oxide sand paper and just a slight amount of elbow grease to a couple of the
most obsteperous pins, and. . . voila! No retermination to spades needed. . . Now the wires fit perfectly. . . and what a difference they make. . .
I have now just over 180 hrs on the Mahlers. I am operating them with woofers facing inward, and 12 to 15 degrees of toein. Still no spikes under them. . . . these will come into place after some more twiddling with placement. Glorious is the operative word. . . I
am now finally starting to hear that sound of music that made me fall in love with the Mahlers in Denver. Glorious tight and deep/musical bass (no bloat), a midrange to die for, extended treble without a trace of harshness, speed, delicacy, authority, solid imaging and staging.

In the meantime my Ref 3 has racked over 2,000 hours on its original set of 6H30s, and I was thinking to get new 6H30 tubes for it. I am
thinking about EH6H30Gs from the Tube Store in Hamilton (Ontario). Similar to the standard Sovtek, but with Gold plated contacts and cost $23 each. Anyone tried them? Can't
afford 6H30DRs at this time, and I wonder if the EH may be slightly higher grade than the Sovtek version provided by ARC. Any other suggestions?

Babybear suggests that a tube change on my Ref 3 may be unwarranted at this time, and I would get a much bigger bang for the same microscopic buck if I upgraded my home-builder-grade duplex AC outlet I use for the Ref 3 and the TEAC X-01 to an Oyaide R1, and perhaps the standard fuse on the Ref 3 to an Isoclean. Not a bad idea at all, as the junky outlet is starting to fall apart anyhow. Opinions?
12-03-07: Tpy said:
"When Rod from Soundings set up my Mahlers he told me that whether the woofers face in or out is very room dependent. He ended up setting mine up facing out, and doing a few things differently than the way I had set them up. They sounded very good when I first got them but much better after he set them up. I add another recommendation for the Sumiko set up if that is at all possible."

Tpy, did you watch Rod do the set up? If so, isn't amazing how much the sound changes with very small moves?

I'm just amazed how few take the advice to get a Sumiko set. It's like we're talking to the wall, yet this is one of the biggest things I've ever seen to fully integrate a system. We're talking about gross changes, like woofers in or out, when it's little tiny moves that get everything right. That hump in the bass the Guidocorona notices might be dialed out with a 2" move.

Rod literally made my Beethoven Baby Grands sound twice as big, while keeping the midrange and imaging totally integrated. Even after 40-years of audiophilia, I couldn't have done it without Rod's help. I'd get the bass right, but screw up the mids, or vice versa. Even with his training and experience, it took Rod and hour and a half to set my speakers. I'd spent two months and had great mids and imaging, but there was still glare left in that totally evaporated.

Have Sumiko set your speakers, if at all possible. It's crazy to spend money on cables before you do that, IMHO.

Dave
Yes, if possible I will obtain a Sumiko setup. No intention of changing wires at this time. I have own these Cardas Golden refs for more than 5 years and have used them for all this time on Maggie IIIAs. . by the way, Cardas Golden Refs are the very speaker wires used by Soundings on the Mahlers at RMAF.

Yesterday, on Antonin Dvorak: Complete Piano Music, Inna Poroshina (Brilliant Classics), I could not detect any of the feared excess in the bass. Rather, bass was authoritative,deep, tuneful, quick, harmonically correct. I will do more listening/analysis in the next several days on different recordings.
01-03-08: Guidocorona said:
"Yes, if possible I will obtain a Sumiko setup. No intention of changing wires at this time. I have own these Cardas Golden refs for more than 5 years and have used them for all this time on Maggie IIIAs. . by the way, Cardas Golden Refs are the very speaker wires used by Soundings on the Mahlers at RMAF."

That's interesting about the Cardas. Rod's going to lend me Analysis-Plus this weekend to try out. He's got the Black Oval 9s on the Mahlers in the showroom, as of Monday. I'll ask him about Cardas when I pick them up at the close on Saturday.

I'm anxious to hear what you think of the Sumiko set. Hope it happens. In fact, I think it'd be worthy of a review in the mag your write for. ;-) At least write a review here or pile-on to my review.

Dave

Here's another question. . . has anyone added sand or other ballast in the Mahler's lower chamber as indicated in the manual? With what results?
Dave, thinking about it, it's quite possible that the speaker wires may have been the Black Oval 9s and that PCs were instead Cardas Golden refs. I should have taken notes at the time. . . but I regretably didn't. Pls let me know what you hear from Soundings.
Thanks Guido. I'll ask about Cardas, realizing that they may not have used those. Rod's raving about the Analysis-Plus. I'll give a report after I compare to my Kimber 8PR.

Dave
Dave, anything new on your audition of the Analysis-Plus Oval 9 wires on the Vienna speakers at Soundings?
No Guido. I'm waiting another week or two until they get in the OCOS, then I'll compare the Cardas, A-P and OCOS before I buy. That's a week or two away since Sumiko just inked their deal with OCOS.

Dave
Thanks Dave. Since my last post, I chatted with Shanker at Soundings HiFi in Denver. He confirmed that Soundings used Cardas Golden Ref speaker wires at RMAF between the Mahlers and the Rowland 312. According to Shanker, this wire may be an ideal match between JRDG amps and Vienna speakers.
Yeah, Rod said that they switch around quite a bit, depending on the amp and whim. He hasn't really tried the OCOS, but want to try some as soon as Sumiko starts delivering.

Dave
So, Guidocorona, are you still just giddy with these beasts or WHAT???!!! There is one dealer other than Duane whose ears I trust to be very similar to my own. This dealer said that the Mahlers were the best speakers he'd ever heard, and here's the kicker: his store does NOT sell them! So, is "glorious" still the operative word? (I'm secretly hoping that you say "yes"!!)
Ahem. . . what a coincidence MDHoover. . . just yesterday my Mahlers were professionally set up by Sumiko and by Rod Thomson of Soundings Hifi (of Denver, Co), 303-759-5505) using the Master Set iterative speaker placement methodology developed by Sumiko and adopted by Soundings. While the mahlers were excellent before the set up, they sounded truly marvellous afterwards, with amazing staging, imaging, top to bottom frequency extension, linearity, harmonic development, ease of listening. I do not believe there is such a beast as 'the best speaker', but I am sure glad I discovered them.
03-11-08: Guidocorona said:
"Ahem. . . what a coincidence MDHoover. . . just yesterday my Mahlers were professionally set up by Sumiko and by Rod Thomson of Soundings Hifi (of Denver, Co), 303-759-5505) using the Master Set iterative speaker placement methodology developed by Sumiko and adopted by Soundings. While the mahlers were excellent before the set up, they sounded truly marvellous afterwards, with amazing staging, imaging, top to bottom frequency extension, linearity,"

Bro, I told you so. Ain't that amazing??

Tell me, did the side woofers end up in or out in your setting?

Dave
Oh yes, subwoofers end up firing out with speakers just over 10ft apart center to center.
So, you're saying you pretty much like them then, huh?

OK, just kidding. That's wonderful news and congratulations on your audiophile success! Woohoo!