Just though I'd share my journey with my fellow Agoners as I essentially start over with my system. Any suggestions/input would be greatly appreciated.
Every once and a while there comes a time to overhaul to system.
Hopefully it’s an exercise in getting closer to the music without
spending a fortune. I have long accepted the fact that there is a law of
diminishing return in audio and that taking that next leap in musical
satisfaction will come at a considerable cost once a certain level of
system sophistication is attained…or does it? That’s the fun of this
passionate quest for musical bliss, putting together a terrific system
without mortgaging the house.But being the stubborn audiophile that I
am, I refuse to give in. I might accept the fact, but that doesn’t mean I
like it. What I usually end up with when trying to elevate the system
on the cheap is taking a lateral versus a vertical move. I get a
different flavor, but not an elevated experience.
One night while listening to some new LPs I planned on reviewing I
simply got bored. No matter how much tweaking, cable swaps,
repositioning, cleaning, etc.…I just got bored. If my system had a mind
it would know that boring me IS NOT a good sign. This resulted in a
hiatus from listening for two months! The system that once propelled me
into musical nirvana now hardly raised an eyebrow. This attitude peaked
on Super Bowl Sunday when we had guests over for the game and we decided
to “jam” during halftime. We threw on Gratitude by Earth,
Wind, & Fire and the system never sounded so flat, dull, disjointed,
just simply bad. If it weren’t for the fact that my guests aren’t
audiophiles, the mediocrity of the sound did not disappoint them. In
fact, they were so enamored with sound coming out of these large panels
(Maggie MG3.6r) that they enjoyed it immensely! But for me, I couldn’t
wait until the game started gain so I could get out of the room!
Something had to be done and it needed to be done quickly. I need my
music fix and not listening is not an option.
So my hiatus began. My first step was reassessing what I wanted from a
system and if I had the proper components to deliver what I wanted.
What I want from a system is simple (not cheap). I want to be so close
to the performers that I can reach out and touch them. I want to be
immersed in the musical performance. I want to attach myself emotionally
to the performance. I want to be more than a casual listener. I want to
be moved and stimulated. All of this I want, yet obviously I wasn’t
getting it. I assumed that I had gotten used to the system and now that
the new had worn off, I began to detach emotionally from the equipment
and listen to what is there, not to what my brain is telling me should be
there. This filling-in-the-gap listening process is probably what kept
this particular assembly of components around as long as it did. Mind
you, there were the usual signs, shorter listening sessions, sometimes
going days without listening. Even my lovely wife (a beautiful
audiophile widow), knew something was up. When I start exhibiting these
behaviors, she knows to expect boxes to start going in and out of the
house in short order!
My first assessment was the Maggies. I began to realize the
discontinuity between the ribbon tweeters and the panels. Listening to
two separate transducers never became so obvious to me. The lack of
midbass was also an issue. I didn’t want to position them around the
room (short wall vs. long wall) so moving them back and forth, switching
tweeter locations, toe-in, etc. became an obsession. The more I moved
them it seemed the farther from ideal they became. The next, and
probably the most bothersome was the incompatibility with my love for
point source loudspeakers. The last dissatisfier was their need for
power. As impressive as the Ghent audio amplifiers were, they are what I
would now call a “Hi-Fi Spectacular” amp, not musically accurate. No
matter what combination of interconnect or speaker cable I tried, I
couldn’t get the reach out and touch transparency I wanted and what I
had read the Maggies were capable of. Being that I had a budget, getting
mega-watt tube amps to feed these beasts I surmised was out of the
question. So my solution was to get rid of both and pursue an
amp/dynamic speaker combination that would get me closer to the musical
truth. You may ask why did I but the Maggies in the first place….good
question. I like a big soundstage, but with pinpoint imaging and I’ve
heard some of the most magical music through Maggies over the years. In
fact my first hi-end speakers were Maggie Tympani 1D’s! With
the 3.6r’s I got big for sure, but pinpoint imaging…not even close. So
up for sale they went. The Maggies sold in about 2 hours, the Ghents in 2
Having a love affair with Totem Acoustic speakers I made my mind up
to find some good Mani 2 Signatures. I’ve heard them without mega power
and they sounded quite nice…as I remembered them. As providence would
have it a pair popped up and I purchased them. The amplifier used which
impressed me when I originally heard the Totems were Quicksilver M135s. I
knew I would have little luck in finding those, but again as fate would
have it I found a pair of Quicksilver V4 at a giveaway price. So I
assembled the new speakers and amps expecting a flash to the past filed
with musical truth. What I got instead was anything but! Wow, the Totems
just didn’t click at all and I have their dedicated stands which are
filled and weight 75 pounds each. No dice, no bass or dynamic swing. I
got that imaging though, but no bass. Given that the V4’s were current I
decided to keep then and quickly move on top another speaker after a
week of suffering.
Back to researching I went. I went to the local dealer to listen to
Vandersteens. The model I liked were $14K…that’s not going to work…so
back to reading I went. Then I happened upon a thread about the new
Scansonic loudspeakers. Call it luck or destiny, but a pair of Scansonic
MB2.5’s popped up, again at a giveaway price, so I took a chance. They
arrived in mint condition and hardly played. So while I was at it I said
to myself, self…the Calypso may be getting long in the tooth and the
Line Magnetic LM515CD was getting little use as a CD player, so I began
looking for dac/preamps. My short list included the PS audio
Directstream which had been on my bucket since its release. The others
that caught my eye were the Mytech Brooklyn and Manhattan (Both of which
have phono sections and I need DSD)…that led me to think…hey maybe the
Fosgate is expendable, too! So yes, that went all to new homes along
with the Ghent and the Maggies and lucky me a PS Audio Directstream came
up at a desperation price! Of course I purchased it. Then PS Audio sent
me an email saying the price of the NPC went from $1899 to $999. This
is only significant due to the fact that when I purchased the Fosgate it
was a tossup between it and the NPC. (I already had a DSD recorder.) So
I got the NPC.
Next was the preamp. I wanted transparency, tubes, and
expansiveness…nothing new. Only one placed I looked towards and that was
Audio Research. Lusting after their preamps since the glory days of the
SP-10, I kept an eagle eye out. The debate centered around which to
buy. Do I get an old Reference…very old actually in my budget…or a newer
current production unit? After toying with the idea of a Reference 2
MKII, but running low on the budget, I fell into a “like-new” LS-17SE.
Another no-brainer and yes, I’m listening to everything as I write this.
Writing alone is a clue to my nirvana since it’s the music that
inspires me to write/review/listen to music. Ok…I’ll admit that it’s
been less than a month and I’m still in my new system honeymoon period, but I’ll be doggon if I’m in a space I’ve never been before. My system notes so far…
- All the hype surrounding the Scansonic MB 2.5 speakers is true. They disappear like mini monitors yet have A LOT of midbass…not
low bass, but mid bass. I stuff the ports with insulation to tame the
100hz peak in the room. This has worked wonders. I let the Pioneers
supplement the MB’s which I run full range. The Pioneers are set to ½
gain and 40hz, placed in the corners. Pinpoint imaging. An expansive
soundstage, sharp transients, and reach out and touch clarity (above
100hz). The tweeter is special to, probably its strongest point. It
reminds me of the Volent tweeter I so miss.
- The Quicksilver V4’s DO NOT sound like classic tube amps. No
muddiness, slowness, or bloat. Utter transparency is all I can say. They
have exactly what the Ghents lacked…musical realism. Timbre is spot on
and imaging is impressive. I’ve not gotten the urge to tube roll, though
I substituted the JJ KT88 for EH KT88s when I received them because
they were poorly packed and the tubes were broken.
- The PS Audio Directstream is the real deal…all that I could have
hoped for and more! Used directly into the Quicksilvers I heard a level
of transparency never realized before. Its as if many veils have been
removed between me and the music. I expected an improvement over the
Line Magnetic LM515CD…no slouch in its own right, be goodness, this is
jaw dropping! The DS is in another universe by comparison.
- The NPC phono preamplifier, while it has its benefits and sounds ok,
its no more than respectable. It certainly has enough gain (72db with
the Zyx), something that the Fosgate lacked with the ZYX 4D. I have it
feeding the DS through IS2 It’s certainly not better than the
Fosgate it replaced. It almost sounds like a mono preamp as everything
played through it lacks lateral dimensionality. It’s quick, dynamic, and
quiet, and has bass…not too tough when using the 4D, but in comparison
to the holographic nature of the Fosgate there’s no contest.
- The Audio Research LS17SE does what its supposed to do. Let the
magic shine through. My concern was that the transparency of the DS
would be harmed by this preamp. I’m glad to report no such destruction
happened. I needed a way to feed the Tascam for needle drops and it fits
the ticket. I also needed balanced inputs/outputs and this has them.
Couldn’t be happier now. I was worried about possible thinness with the
6H30 tubes vs 12ax7s in the Calypso (yes I was using NOS this and that,
blah, blah, blah….), but it just preserves what going into it and is way
more transparent than the Calypso as well as much quieter. What more
could I ask?
So where do I stand now with the system?
- As I begin to ramp up reviewing again…still getting used to the
system, there are some changes I’m going to make. I’m returning the NPC
for a better phono stage. It is by far the weak link in the system! I
played Tin Pan Alley via Tidal through the DS and compared it to
phono…the timbre was very close, but the Tidal version had wall-to-wall
air and spacing. The NPC had everything jammed in the center with much
less separation of instruments. There were more difference but this is
what stood out immediately. I don’t know what I’ll get yet, but I’m
- I need subs and good ones, too. I’m not a bass freak, but I like
bottom end. With the current setup the MB’s don’t go low enough, ports
stuffed or not, and I’m looking for subs that won’t mess up the
transparency I now enjoy but fills in the bottom oomph that’s missing.
The Pioneers are still amazing, especially for the money, but I consider
them bass augmentation, not subwoofers.
- I’m still figuring out how to connect Tidal through the Bridge II
which is supposed to offer even better sound. That would be awesome!
- I want a new record cleaner. The gentleman that purchased the
Maggies told me he’s working on a ultrasonic record cleaner with vacuum
drying with a target price of @ $1400. I’ll be looking forward to that.
In the mean time the VPI 16.5 will continue its ritual.
So now I’ll continue to listen and enjoy my newfound musical system.
Will it be subject to further improvement? Well of course! But now that
law of diminishing returns is really kicking in hard I’ll have to spend
wisely. As the budget increases I will be purchasing Wilson Audio
speakers to replace the Scansonics. But for now I’ll settle for being
mortal and enjoy what I have for the moment. I have purchased so much
new music I’m looking forward to adding to my recommended jazz list.