The Audio Geek!

The Bad and the Good news...........

Well, for all of you following the upgrade saga, I am sorry to say all has not been well.

After the previous post and some early progress, the sound improvements certainly didn't meet my expectations based on all the feedback I had heard, and for the level of investment made! Some additional detail was resolved but the system lost it's musicality and foot tapping pace.

Serious head scratching then commenced.

Trying new speaker stands (solid metal, with the speakers on cone points) and re-terminating the original power cables didn't help, plus an 'old' problem of noise in the power amplifier returned.

This was now quickly turning into a unmitigated disaster.

The technician who upgraded the Wadia was equally disturbed at the current state of affairs and over the last couple weeks we have set about a significant amount of tweaking and experimenting. Permanent changes now include new input and driver tubes (out with Electro Harmonix and in with Telefunken) on the amplifier which has radically improved the bass speed and depth, the wooden speaker stands were returned into play with some new found musicality and, most importantly, some science went into speaker placement (dividing the room into thirds etc) resulting in far superior imaging and sound stage. Finally some heavy, subjective A/B listening sessions to make sure the changes were real.

Further changes tested and shown to be beneficial were swapping the old speaker cables for Kimber Cable Monocle X, and the addition of a Furman power conditioner (a serious high end model with a nifty live current readout). I just now need to find some bucks for these bits. Interestingly, we tried a similar quality Kimber RCA interconnect which was soundly beaten by my current Red Rose Silver Litz RCA's. Phew.

With all the above in place, I am delighted to say the system is singing again. Better than ever, IMHO.

Unfortunately when the amplifier gets hot after three or so hours of continuous listening the crackling noise re-commences. I will contact Red Rose in New York to source a circuit diagram with voltages in order for a local tube amplifier guru to identify the faulty component.

FYI, tracks used for evaluation were: 'Ode to Billy Joe', by Patricia Barber; 'Tin Pan Alley' by Stevie Ray Vaughan; 'Spanish Harlem' by Rebecca Pidgeon; 'Blackbird' by The Beatles and 'Tobacco Road' by The Bill Wyman Rhythm Kings.

Audio happiness is slowly returning to the Humphries household in time for 2007.

It's back!

I am pleased to report that the Wadia is back, with the full 861 SE upgrade. Now with 220v power supply, a new transport and clamp mechanism, new logic board (see the old one below) and the latest DigiMaster processing chip.

The Red Rose power amp also is now also running 220v power so away with the loud step-down transformer I have been using for the last several years.

More new music has arrived in the Humphries household - a couple of Mike Bloomfield, including the 'Super Sessions' album with Stephen Stills and Al Kooper, the new JET, Bob Dylan and Madeleine Peyroux albums (who said my tastes were not eclectic?), a new Tony Joe White album, 'Uncovered' with a number of duets including one with Mark Knopfler and another Joss Stone of whom I am quickly becoming a fan.

Work has commenced on fine tuning the system now, starting with installation and test discs this afternoon. After an initial impression of harshness at the upper mid/lower top, today's non-stop listening program has mellowed the sound significantly. The stock power cables are off being re-terminated to Aussie plugs should also help.

More soon.

New Music

No good having a decent system with no music to listen to so I am on the hunt for some new tunes. More likely they will be 'old' tunes because there doesn't seem to be much of the current stuff that piques my interest.

I have surfed the Acoustic Sounds catalog and some Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and other 'audiophile' labels are hopefully winging their way out from the states. John Lennon - Mind Games; John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band - Live in Toronto; The Pointer Sisters - Self Titled; Ted Hawkins, - The Next Hundred Years; a James Newton Howard compilation; two Steve Winwood - Self Titled & Talking Back to the Night; The Chieftans - Long Black Veil; and a Frank Zappa - We're Only in it for the Money.

Found myself in the city recently and dropped into Dirt Cheap CDs on Collins Street. Twenty one CDs later I got out again! Some absolute bargains, including the Blue Note, Rudy Van Gelder re-issues of 50's/60's/70's jazz. Picked up four Tom Waits, a couple of Kasey Chambers and Joss Stone, 'The Soul Sessions' to name some of the others. All burned into iTunes now and available for listening.

Speakers Recently Auditioned

I am happy with my source and amplification but feel a little more bass and fullness of sound is required in the relatively large space that is my listening room. So I have been up and about listening to various loudspeakers around town.

My standard evaluation discs and tracks are:

'Blackbird', Double White, The Beatles
'Tin Pan Alley', Couldn't Stand the Weather, Stevie Ray Vaughan
'Two Roads', Two Roads, Phil Manning
'Lily was Here', Lily was Here Soundtrack, David A Stewart
'Jest Smoochin'', Austin Backalley Blue, Sweetman & South Side Groove Kings
'Fields of Gold', Live at Blues Alley, Eva Cassidy

The speaker models and my initial listening impressions are documented below. Remember YMMV!

Martin Logan Ascent (I think) - I have never been a real ML fan, and listening to this speaker with McIntosh power didn't do it for me either. Excellent mid range but the sound never really appeals as entertaining (or foot tapping).

B&W 802 (non diamond) - This speaker seems to do everything OK, if only it cost 50% less. Not spectacular at anything however.

Wilson Audio Sophia (Mk 2) - Extremely crisp highs and deep lows but thin in the mid-range I felt. Also the speaker had a strange tonal balance. 'Blackbird' sounded like John Lennon was singing with a head cold, when it should sound like a healthy Paul Mac! Excellent build quality though but at a very high-end price.

Dynaudio Confidence 2 & 4 - The C2's were a bit bland for my taste, but the C4's were certainly a cut above the C2. I particularly enjoyed the bass, sound stage and presence of this monster. Big and quirky looks results in a questionable Wife Acceptance Factor however!

Legend Acoustics Big Reds - A great concept IMHO and an extremely well constructed speaker system. A good all round performer at a realistic price. The demo included the DEQX speaker management and room calibration device which logically appeals but I am sure is extremely complex to understand, configure and exploit.

Martin Logan Depth Sub Woofer - Well built and attractive for a sub (not just a 'box') and a sound that was solid and musical. Got to test this at home but was not really comfortable with the 'passive' RCA splitter I used to connect the sub to the Wadia. A powered splitter should get me over this limitation. I probably needed to spend more time 'tuning' the Depth for my room.

In summary, good speakers all, but none of the above really did it for me at first listen, but I reserve the right to re-visit, especially the Big Reds and the ML Depth. I should however add that my 'ears' are tuned to tube amplification and all the above (except the ML sub) were tested with solid state gear.

To close I would like to recognise the professional attention and service I received while auditioning the above at Secher Audio, Tivoli Hi Fi, Carlton Audio Visual and Frankston Hi Fi. Thanks guys!

Headphones Time

While waiting for the 'Big Rig' to come back, it seemed a great opportunity to dig out the headphones and associated equipment to get my musical jollies and to re-visit the high quality listening experience that headphones offer.

(Headroom Cosmic Amp, Sennheiser 600 'phones)

Details of my headphone gear are listed in the Audio Inventory at the start of this journal.

(Headroom Airhead & Grado SR60's)

I will post listening impressions shortly.

The Journey Begins........

Well, the treadmill is plugged in and running!

I started this journey with my trusty Wadia 860 CD player, and Red Rose Music Model 2 Power Amplifier, sadly both still running 110 VAC from their original purchase in my New York days. I have been using a step-down transformer here in Oz for the past four years. Who knows what that is doing to the sound but it can't be good. I have done significant talking, researching and importantly, procrastinating, to this point and seem strangely surprised that the sound has not really improved.

Even apathy has it's limits and I have reached mine. Decisions have been taken and movement is afoot! Today, the above devices have been left in the care of a trusted technician to upgrade the Wadia to full 861 SE spec (circuit board and transport enhancement / replacement) and the 220 VAC change, and the voltage upgrade also for the Red Rose.

I am two weeks away from starting my next hi fi journey. Speaker improvements (either new stands or complete replacements) are planned next followed by the exciting time tweaking the 'new' system for full benefit and enjoyment.

Let's not forget, it is all about the music!

The Audio Inventory

Just as a starting point for this journey, let me list the gear I have today.

Two Channel Audio

Wadia 860 CD Player & Digital Pre Amplifier & Power Cable
Red Rose Music Model 2 Silver Signature Power Amplifier & Power Cable
Red Rose Music R3 Speakers & Stands
RRM Interconnects, Speaker Cable + Stands
Audio Prism Foundation III Power Conditioner
Bell'O Glass Audio Stand

Headphones, Amplifiers & Source

Sennheiser 600 w/ Stefan AudioArt Equinox Cable
Sennheiser PX 300 (Noise Cancelling)
BOSE QuietComfort Mk 1 (Noise Cancelling)
Grado SR60
KOSS Porta Pro
Etymotic ER-4S
Etymotic ER-6i
Jecklin Float II
Apple iPod Earbuds (x2)

Headroom Airhead
Headroom Cosmic w/ Cardas RCA interconnects

Apple iPod Photo 60GB
iPod Dock & PocketDock (both for analog line out)
Music stored with the Apple Lossless CODEC