Review: Spectron Musician II Amplifier
REVIEW AND EVALUATION OF THE SPECTRON
MUSICIAN II AMPLIFIER and REMOTE SENSE ACTIVE SPEAKER CABLES
For those of you who haven’t the time or energy to read the entirety of this rather lengthy evaluation, let me cut-to-the-chase. Spectron has developed sure-fire winners with both their newest Musician II amplifier and their Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables. These are both unprecedented bargains at any price and, most definitely, keepers!
And yes, I own them both. And yes, I definitely will keep both of them! To reiterate what I previously stated, “these are both unprecedented bargains at any price and, most definitely, keepers!”
For those of you with a bit more time, share with me my introduction to and my experience with these two wonderful audio products.
I have been listening to and enjoying music for as long as I can remember. When I was 13 years old my parents gave me the choice between a used1953 Ford 2 door coupe in questionable condition and a brand new Wollensac reel-to-reel tape recorder from Sears Roebuck. The choice was obvious. My folks let me use their car whenever it was there, and they paid for the gas. On the other hand, with a tape recorder, I was making copies of all of the latest hits on the radio and, in short order, I had copies of all of my friends and relatives record collections! I could even sign out records from the public library and, need I say it, make copies.
That was 45 years ago. During those interim years that first reel to reel tape recorder has evolved and metamorphosed many times over. I still have a reel to reel tape recorder, but my present system now encompasses home theater as well music listening.
But, don’t be misled when I write that home theater and music are part of the same system. To the audiophile who is about to dismiss my words as blasphemy and pure foolishness, not so! You see, with 45 years of experience behind me, I know how to extract the-best-of-the-best from both mediums.
To begin with, I believe in a strong foundation.
(1) Dedicated 220volt, 40-amp AC circuit, six-gage o.f.c. wire;
(2) cryo treated 20 amp wall receptacle;
(3) 5KV isolation transformer treated with Bybee Filters, 20 amp AC power cord especially made and designed by Richard Gray of the Richard Gray Power Co., and 2 PS Audio AC receptacles;
(4) 20 amp Shunyata King Cobra II Power Snake plugged into a
(5) Richard Gray 1200 Power Station, http://www.richardgrayspowercompany.com/
(6) a sprinkling of Bybee cryo treated filters throughout my music system.
As I cannot expect good performance from my car running on dirty, poor quality fuel, why would I expect my audio and video system to perform at its optimum when refrigerators, air conditioners, and computers from all over the neighborhood are leaking their electrical noise back into the general ac line and specifically my home’s ac line and therefore limiting the ultimate potential of the components of my audio and home theater system? Noise in noise out… But, I digress.
My home theater system’s front left and front right channels are routed from the line output of a home theater a.v. processor through an input of a separate preamplifier. The amplifier for those same front left and front channels is in turn fed by that dedicated preamplifier so that when in home theater mode, every thing operates together. But, when in music mode, the preamplifier, front left and right stereo amplifier, and front left and front right speakers operate independently from the rest of the system. This provides me with the best of both worlds.
Each time I audition a new piece of audio gear, it is with the hope that that component will deliver my system a bit closer to sensory Nirvana. In the beginning, when I was moving up from a low fidelity to a high fidelity music system, the changes were pretty dramatic. When I plugged the output of my single speaker Wollensac tape recorder into a Voice of Music stereo record player with separate woofers and tweeters, the change was dramatic!
Over the years, as my music system has been developed and refined, the changes that new components and tweaks make to the over all sound and quality of my music system are most often quite small in scope and incremental at best. So when my good friend Gary Wiener brought his Spectron Musician II amplifier over to my home for me to audition in my system, I wasn’t expecting anything really significant, but I knew that this would be fun.
The Musician II is rather nondescript. It is a black box with an illuminated blue oval on the front. The power switch is on the back panel as the instructions advocate that the power be left on at all times. That’s O.K., as I will admit that like “not complicated” and I am rather partial to blue lights. The Spectron Musician II is a class D, as in digital, switching amplifier. It is 90% efficient, so it generates very little heat and has a claimed output of 500 watts per channel into 8 ohms. That is quite a bit more than my 200-watt per channel power amplifier that was currently in use.
We connected the Musician II to the front left and front right speakers of my home theater/ music system. The inputs to the Musician were fed directly from the output of a highly tweaked Audio Research SP-6 tube preamplifier with rolled ultra premium tubes. The front left and front right channel line outputs of my Denon AVR-5800, in turn, fed the Tuner input of the SP-6. The digital output of the DVD player is connected to the AVR-5800 and the analogue output of the player is connected to the aux-1 input of the SP-6.
Experience has taught me that any component sounds best after it has had at least an hour’s playing time in order to form a better electrical synergy with the rest of the system. So, we put on a movie. This “bad boy” clamed 1000 watts compared to the 400 watts of my then amplifier, so we recalibrated the system to THX specs and put on the Terminator II DVD which is always a good showpiece for loud dynamics. Well, Boys and Girls, when the twin machine gun wielding shiny evil robot with red glowing eyes menacingly steps center screen, turns to face the audience, and fires its twin machine guns into your living room, I was prepared for the loud rat-a-tat-tat. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the explosive concussions that pounded my chest and stomach, shook my recliner, and left me with saucer shaped eyes, a silly grin on my face, and tears in my eyes.
The scene where Arnold, as the good Terminator, rides off on a Harley Davidson motorcycle was pure music. Gunshots were concussive and explosions were a down right religious experience. We flipped through the movie and played all of the hot scenes. Then we put on The Matrix, then U-571; our ears were figuratively bleeding! We ended the home theater test with a clip from The 5th Element where the Blue Diva’s singing beckons God’s Angles. Our ears were healed.
By now, the Musician II was very much “one” with the system, so I turned off the AVR-5800 and switched the input selector of the SP-6 to aux-1. I balanced the channels for stereo and played the demagnetizing test sweeps on tracks 8 and 9 of the XLO Test CD. (XLO TEST CD - Write this one down.)
We started off by adjusting the volume of the SP-6 so that the instrument that we were listening to approximated the level that we would hear at a live performance, be it nightclub, concert, or in-the-room performance. Getting the volume right was paramount to our testing.
Gary and I were both intimately familiar with both the sonic virtues and shortcomings of my music system. My music system was defined and dynamic, but with a thickened low end that lacked ultimate control, a treble with a bit too much grain and in need of refining, and a sound stage that was mostly between the speakers.
We listened to vinyl, to CDs, to SACDs, and to reel-to-reel tape. Gracing my living room were the likes of Anna-Sophie Mutter, and the Wiener Philharmoniker with James Levine conducting, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Diana Krall, Holly Cole, Mel Tormai, and Andrea Bocelli. We listened to music, close your eyes-you-are-there music. Holly Cole’s Temptations CD displayed rock solid 25-hertz lows that were tight, controlled, and tuneful. Dave Brubeck’s rendition of Blue Rondo presented fine detail and inner rhythms that were easily discernable and instruments that were readily definable. Anne-Sophie Mutter’s violin proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that not a hint of harshness remained in the system. The disk entitled Carmen-Fantasie literally turned my living room into Philharmonic Hall. The dynamics were so profound that hanging pictures had to be silenced by securing them to the walls with putty. And Andrea Bocelli… magnificently and reverently intoned the most beautiful angelic supplications to The Almighty in His loveliest of cathedrals.
I was transported. I was convinced, and I ordered one on the spot. We checked the Spectron web site www.spectronaudio.com checked the ordering information, was assigned a dealer, and put a check in the mail. The folks at Spectron were most accommodating, and patient, thoroughly answering all of my questions in great detail. When I ordered my Musician II, John Ulrick, head of Spectron and inventor of the Musician II, was implementing several changes to the amplifier so my unit took a bit longer than expected to arrive. But, when it did arrive… well! It arrived in large double-boxed security with the two thick boxes separated by large green heavy-duty foam spacers. The amplifier, in turn, was securely wrapped in heavy-duty clear vinyl and secured again in more of the same heavy-duty foam packing specifically designed for this piece of equipment. So, it arrived in perfect order. This type of attention to detail spelled quality from the very beginning.
The new Musician II (revision 5) has two new Neutrik connection ports on the rear of the amplifier exactly between the high quality, heavy-duty, 5-way speaker output binding posts. The new Musician II was able to utilize Spectron’s four wire active speaker cable technology where the terminals of the speaker, when connected to these special cables, are at the same electrical potential as the amplifier, and in that the speaker cables are, in essence, part of the amplifier, the amplifier is literally sitting at the speaker terminals and speaker cable effects and interaction is, in theory, literally, nonexistent.
Having previously spoken to both John Ulrick and Toni Ulrick, John’s wife and Spectron’s business manager, I both learned of the Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables and consequently ordered them. So, as I welcomed the new Musician II into the family, I planned to replace my old biwire speaker cables with the new-tech Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables.
Ready for a demonstration of what had arrived, I plugged a Shunyata King Cobra 1 power cable into a PS Audio AC outlet at the output of the 5 KV isolation transformer and fired up the system.
Remember what I previously said about letting components reach synergy and burn in, yada, yada, yada? I had waited too long for this listening to pay attention to my own advice. So, I put on Terminator II and… hubba, hubba, hubba. This beast was ferocious. I was blown away! As far as home theater is concerned, this is definitely a keeper.
I then turned off the Denon AVR-5800 and switched the SP-6 to aux-1. Diana Krall was first in line, and as her first notes caressed my ears, I heard again the presence, the power, and the space that I had heard when I first heard Gary’s Musician II in my system, only…more so. I don’t remember my system ever sounding this good. As I closed my eyes, I could place Diana, sitting at the piano, left center of my listening space. The speakers ceased to exist and she was there, in my living room, for me. The sound stage extended clear across the room and beyond the physical limits of both the front and side walls of my living room, awesome!
Track 14 on the XLO Test Disk, Shiny Stockings, Bob Lark / DePaul University Jazz Ensemble is a piece that exhibits the power, the pace, and the inner detail and thoroughly tests what a music system is capable of. I was hearing nuances that my trusty Acurus simply wasn’t capable of delivering and, to my pure and unabashed delight, out performed and out tubed my venerable super tweaked Baby Gray (Dynakit, PAS-70), which I must state is one of my favorite sounding amplifiers regardless of lineage or cost.
O.K., the amp. sounded wonderful and is a keeper, but it was time to see what the Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables did or didn’t do. John Ulrick said that they bested venerable brands costing three and four times more than his cables.
I disconnected my trusty, very flexible, biwired speaker cables from the Musician II and pushed, turned, and clicked the Neutrik connectors into their respective receptacles located between the gold heavy duty, 5 way binding posts; cool! All amplifiers should have this! Definitely a solid eleven on the cool meter!
The other end of the speaker cable plugged into the speaker terminals with the supplied, snug fitting, banana plugs. I’m a torque down, spade lug type of guy and I will, in all probability, replace the bananas with silver spades, but I must admit that these bananas seem to do the job.
My initial impression was clarity, nothing between the music and me, but the sound was hard, brittle, and fatiguing. These “creatures” definitely needed a bunch of hours on them before I could go any further. So, again, I put on the XLO Test CD, but this time, to track 9, System Burn In, which is composed of garish sound repeatedly sweeping up and down the frequency spectrum, and I set the CD player to repeat that track over and over until I returned. I turned the SP-6 to 12 o’clock, which is really loud, and left the house for the weekend.
When I returned home about 50 hours later, my next-door neighbor gave me a hard look, what…! I unlocked the front door and turned off the defining cacophony of sound. Every thing was eerily quiet. No sound from anything, quiet! Dogs, cats, mice, squirrels, birds had all left the neighborhood. Even the insects were gone or in hiding.
After a good night’s sleep and with my hearing fresh and rested, I fired up the beast, my term of endearment for my beloved stereo. About ten minutes later, I had to let the tubes in the SP-6 come to temperature; I flipped off the SP-6’s mute switch and turned the AVR-5800 to tuner. WNPR at 88.90 kHz on the FM dial was in full swing with symphonic fireworks by somebody or other long dead…and definitely in heaven. This sounded really good! FM isn’t supposed to sound like this! The dynamics, the precise detail, I was easily able to discern individual instruments. I turned up the volume and I was sitting in the 5th row center orchestra. I fell asleep listening. And if I snored, not one member of that audience complained. This was really scary, and very, very, nice. My music system had taken on a whole new level of realism. A veil that I didn’t ever realize was there had been lifted, and I was enjoying music with clarity that I had only experienced when listening to live unamplified performances. The addition of the Musician II to my system has made a profound improvement. Combining the Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables with the Musician was jaw dropping. These are both, most definitely, keepers!
Just for fun, I vertically biamplified one of my speakers using the Musician II and the Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables. Big mistake! I am in love! No, I am in lust! I must have another Musician II with Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables. Words alone cannot express what 1000 watts of clean high quality amplifier power will do for the performance of a loudspeaker!
A short addendum: During a conversation with John Ulrick, John mentioned that the Musician II could be internally bridged to produce 1400 watts into 8 ohms…oh the possibilities.
A second not so short addendum: I belong to a high end audio club called BBATS or Big Boys Audio Toys Society where the members get together at each other’s homes to see and hear what each of us has put together and for that host to show off his music system. BBATS is coordinated by Duke Lejeune, a.k.a. Fearless Leader, and can be contacted at http://www.audiokinesis.com/. Every so often, we will have a shoot-out between components, be it interconnects, speaker cables, power cords, power amplifiers, or the like. When the Musician II arrived, we put it up against a venerable, and again, highly tweaked Audio Research D-150 all tube amplifier. The D-150 is a monster, but a monster that, indeed, plays beautiful music. We listened to the D-150 first and the sound through the old six panel Magniplainer speakers was sweet, detailed, and powerful with a good sound stage as long as you were in the amazingly small and exact sweet spot.
When the Musician II sang its first notes, every last person, and there were 20+ of us, exclaimed at the tremendous sound stage and how the sweet spot now extended all across the room! My friend, Richard Gray, put his oscilloscope on the output of the Musician and recorded a very clean, very respectable 650 watts per side at 6 ohms. This “bad boy” could play really, really loud. But we all knew that, and so did Richard’s neighbors. Compared to the D-150, the Musician II is every bit as musical, a lot less finicky, and much more detailed. Although, the D-150 proved a worthy contender, the Musician II was the clear winner!
John Ulrick has a sure fire winner with the Musician II, and I hear he is about to launch both his Premier 450 watt x 5 and 450 watt x 6 channel home theater amplifiers as well as the quintessential Spectron Maestro Preamplifier with point to point hand wiring.
Let me see, a second Musician II, another pair of Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables, a six-channel Premiere, and the new Maestro Preamp… I think I’ve got to get a second job!
Dedicated 220 Volt AC line with 6 gage wiring and cryo treated 20-amp outlet
Tice 5kw isolation transformer with 220 VAC balanced input and 120vac output constructed with Bybee Filters on input windings, PS Audio AC Outlets, Richard Gray wiring and input power cord.
Shunyata King Cobra 2, 20 amp Power Snake to Richard Gray Power Station Model 1200.
Shunyata King Cobra 1, 20 amp Power Snake from Tice to Spectron Musician II series 5.
Spectron Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables to Newform Research 645 speakers with KSU Upgrade, Richard Gray internal & external wiring, Cardas binding Posts, & Bybee Filters on all drivers.
Audio Research SP-6 preamp upgraded by Richard Gray and with rolled premium tubes plugged into the Richard Gray 1200 Power Station
Richard Gray interconnects
Pioneer PL-L1000 linear tracking turntable with Denon DL-110 MC high output phono cartridge.
Sony DVP S9000ES, SACD, CD, DVD player with a Richard Gray power cord.
That's the music system.
Also connected is a Denon 5800 Surround Receiver powered by a Black Niter power cord and connected to the RG 1200.
Acurus 200X3 amplifier powered by a Black Nite power cord and connected to the RG 1200. The center channel uses a Richard Grey interconnect and the right and left channels use Better Cables silver Serpent interconnects.
Definitive Technology BPX bipolar surround speakers routed through a Klipsch KSW-12 powered subwoofer all used for the side surrounds. The Klipsch is plugged into the Acurus amplifier.
Cambridge Soundworks dipolar surround one speakers for rear surrounds in 7.1 system & connected to the Denon 5800 with Audio Quest Turquoise speaker cable and banana connectors.
Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble speakers for surround 5.1 music and connected to the Denon 5800 with Monster cable heavy-duty speaker wire with banana connectors.
Sound Lab Marquee hybrid electrostatic center channel loudspeaker powered by a Black Nite Power Cord, plugged into RG 1200 and using Richard Gray speaker Cable connected to the center channel of the Acurus amplifier.
2 Definitive Technology TL-15+ powered sub woofers plugged into the RG 1200 and connected to the Denon 5800 via Better Cables audio interconnects routed through an input level-balancing box constructed by Richard Gray.
Sony SLV-R1000 super VHS VCR
Sony SL-HF900 super beta VCR
Radio Shack folded dipolar rooftop FM antenna
Sony KV-36XBR400 television with a Richard Gray Power cord plugged into a separate 1,200kv isolation transformer with Bybee Filters on the secondary windings and 3 Quantum Pro power conditioners plugged into additional outlets on this isolation transformer. This isolation transformer is plugged into the RG 1200 via a Richard Grey power cord. The connection from the TV to the DVD player is via a Better Cables Silver Serpent Component cable, from the TV to the Denon 5800 via Better Cables Silver Serpent S-Video Cables, and from the TV to both VCRs and the Denon receiver with Better Cables RCA Interconnects and S-Video Cables.
I have listened to a lot of equipment over the years and absolutely nothing save for the Theta Dreadnaught comes close to a combination of utter musicality for music and sheer brute power for home theater. The Musician II used with the Remote Sense Active Speaker Cables and an upscale power cord in an absolute class of one! The only amplifier that I have heard to sound better than the Musician was an $11,000.00 pair of Air-Tight mono-blocks especially modified by Richard Gray and that had the very best in rolled premium tubes. Although the Air Tights were ultimately better musically, they paled in home theater service by comparison to the awesome 650 watts RMS of slam per channel that we measured coming out of the Musician II.