My good friend Jeff Whitlock got me thinking about the fabulous Clearaudio Double Matrix record cleaner. I mean, who wouldn’t love to own one: press a button and it performs a complete cleaning, vacuuming and demagnetizing of both sides of an LP in 2.5 minutes, automatically! He also mentioned that you can program it for a double cleaning or for an indefinite period of brushing with fluid, and it’s only $6000 - a bargain, if you have that kind of spare change.
I’m not lazy. I mean I don’t mind getting up and down to change LPs, and I don’t mind the cleaning process, EXCEPT, there’s a definite limit to how long I can stand there holding a brush against the LP, so I end up with far shorter cleaning periods than is optimal.
Recently a reviewer, whom I respect, had this to say about another reviewer’s comments on our reference system, “But I have some impression that under informal circumstances, audio people can get excited and come to debatable conclusions.” This is a fair enough comment, (To be clear, he has not heard the system, but is rather commenting from afar.) however, it got me thinking about the methodologies of inquiry that are commonly accepted practice and the weight that is given to them. It’s not that I think the typical review cycle of: listen to baseline system, insert new item, listen and repeat, and in some more rare instances, measure the device, is wrong, but rather, is that any more valid than say, visiting a room at an audio show and granting it a ‘best of show’ award?
The effect of any given tweak on your system will be directly proportional to its level of resolution. What may yield a negligible effect on one system will have a profound effect on another. Elsewhere I have commented on "The Myth of Diminishing Returns": Common wisdom holds that there is a point beyond which continued effort and expenditure begins to yield less and less. I have demonstrated to my entire satisfaction that this is just not the case. In fact, I hold the reverse to be true: As the system becomes more and more resolving, it yields ever-greater gains with ever-smaller upgrades (not to mention the benefits of major ones). And the good news is that those gains are cumulative so that the next tweak builds with greater efficiency upon the last and so on.
The Acoustic Revive RR-888 is a case in point. On its own it can contribute important improvements to the behavior of a system. It is now common knowledge that its effects can be improved with a robust linear outboard power supply such as the King Rex unit. It has also been demonstrated that using more than one in a system can further increase the overall effect. How and why it works is a topic for another day, but the key point is that it is a device that does not need to be plugged into the same circuit as the system and nothing from the system plugs into it. People have experimented with placement around their rooms and discovered what works best for them. Since the RR-888 needs to be a minimum of 4.5 feet off of the floor, in our case, the only option is on top of the refrigerator, which is behind the listening position on the right side.
We started out with just one unit in place with the King Rex. The improvement was unmistakable. At a certain point I had to find out what a second RR-888 would do, and since I had another King Rex unit available, up they went - again there was a definite uptick in performance. The effect of these two upgrades seemed to be in the realm of greater density of information and an overall increase in clarity.
Months went by, and given that my mind is always presenting me with new and interesting options based on past experience and available materials, I came up with the notion to add weight to the RR-888. If you've ever held one in your hand you know that it is feather light. You might think, "Where's the beef?" if you hadn't experienced what it can do. A given principle in tweaking is that isolation and added weight are generally a good thing. Since the RR-888 has a hump in its top, I thought the way to do this was to cut a sheet of fo.Q SH-22E 2mm thick damping material to size and load the top of it with weights that are used to balance car wheels. Placing this "weighted blanket" on top delivered a significant improvement along the same lines as previously described.
Now remember that we are tweaking a device sits on top of the fridge, unconnected to the system on a separate circuit that puts out a very short burst of signal at a frequency of 7.83Hz. You might well ask what I am smoking. (Call me for an answer to that!)
Most recently we received an order for some Acoustic Revive HQ-4 Hickory wood cube isolators:
And again, the wheels begin to turn. Why not use these to further isolate the RR-888? It would be a good opportunity to test them. For good measure I chose to add the fo.Q SB2025 small platforms underneath the King Rex Supply:
Here is the entire arrangement:
Unpacked - A Hidden Garden of Delights
Since I did not do this incrementally, I cannot yet comment on the effect of each individual part, but the effect of this arrangement was staggering. Frankly, when I started, I didn't expect any improvement at all. I mean, how far can you take things, right? Wrong. See "Myth of Diminishing Returns" above.
Let me put this in context: The sound was stellar before I began. It was only in retrospect that I was able to realize that the higher frequency impulses had been compressed: What seemed like single-point-in-time events became something else: If you've ever used audio editing software you know that you can zoom in on the waveform. This was similar in that the event seems to have been magnified. What was a point before now had a beginning, a development and an end. You could now witness the full "landscape" of the event. All sense of being impinged upon was gone and replaced with wonderment. It was (and is) akin to discovering a new hidden garden of delights.
The Lotus Group Granada Loudspeaker with X1 Crossover
Lotus Group built custom turntable with Redpoint Platter, bearing and motor pod
Durand Kairos tonearm
Ortofon Windfeld Cartridge
Airtight ATE-2005 Phono Stage
EAR MC4 Step Up Transformer
Airtight ATC-2 HQD Preamplifier
SMc 125 watt Stereo Amplifier
PranaWire Lalit Phono Cables
PranaWire Vajra Power Cables 1.5m
PranaWire Cosmos Power Cable Custom 1.5m
PranaWire Cosmos Power Cable 1.5m
PranaWire Sukhavati Power Cable 2.0m
PranaWire Avatar Speaker Cable 2.5m (Woofers)
PranaWire Sukhavati Speaker Cable 2.5m (Main Drivers)
PranaWire Arhat RCA IC 1.5m
PranaWire Sukhavati IC RCA 1.5m
PranaWire Sukhavati XLR 1.0m
Acoustic Revive RCP-1 Power Line Conditioner
Acoustic Revive RR-888 Ultra Low Frequency Generator
fo.Q AB4045 Hybrid Ceramic Platforms
fo.Q Hem-25 Footers - Sets of 4
PranaWire Linebacker XE In-Line Passive Power Conditioners
Furutech NCF Boosters
fo.Q TA-102 Damping Material
fo.Q TA-32 Damping Material
fo.Q IP-11 Cable Supports
Misc. Stuff / Custom etc.
PranaWire Super Enhanced Ground Plane ready for shipment to a high end manufacturer who includes it as an internal upgrade to his product line. You can check out the full lineup of SEGPs here.
If you have been reading my blogs you will have noted that I struggle with language to describe what it is I am hearing. In my attempt is to be as accurate as possible, a simple and true description appears as hyperbole. If I say that this system is at the very least on par with any other top system in existence, I can say it with confidence and yet know that many will not take such a statement seriously and will even view it with disdain as the ramblings of a deranged egomaniac. I’m willing to live with that. Nevertheless, never in my experience have so many elements been combined into such a coherent and cohesive whole. Never has amp spoken to speaker like this. Never before have I experienced sound that reached right into my nervous system and played it like an instrument.
You can only decide whether what I say is true is by hearing it for yourself, and for that, you will have to come to us. I have no plans at present to haul this precisely calibrated and highly tweaked system to a show. The word will have to be spread by those who take it upon themselves to test the validity of my words in person by making the pilgrimage.
Things were fabulous in previous incarnations, but two recent events have pushed us over the edge into Holy Grail territory:
1. Upgrading the SMc Audio custom amplifier that drives the Feastrex D5e Type II field coil driver (full range from 200 cycles up. The Lotus Group Granada Loudspeaker is a calibrated two-way, actively crossed over, open baffle loudspeaker), and,
2. Replacing the speaker cables that connect that amp to the drivers with our magnum opus Sukhavati cables. Since they both arrived at the same time, more or less, and since we started off with a new calibration it is hard to say exactly what each is contributing, but the result is staggering. We are not finished yet, there are more improvements to come.
The stage is limitless. It can encompass a club, The Barns at Wolftrap, a stadium or interstellar space. Each sound arises from nothing, proclaims itself to the firmament, dies and is resurrected in a cosmic cycle.
Let’s be clear: To say that the speakers disappear would not wholly or accurately capture what is occurring here. It’s as if their purpose is not to make sound directly but to send invisible bolts of energy from left and right to the precise point in space from which the sound will arise, and create a new driver there, more solid than the physical one – a driver that lives and breathes and converses with space. That source exists in its own being at that one point, nowhere else. Pulsing in all directions, it floats with absolute freedom, sailing, coasting, soaring, stomping, pirouetting, while echoes illuminate boundaries and fade away.
A chorus of life-size men stands arrayed around the lead singer as drums and guitars, basses, voices, concertinas and horns come forward, filling the stage from floor to ceiling, side to side and front to back. Light splashes onto everything. It spills onto the performers clothes, the bell of a horn, and beads of sweat on the singers’ chests.
I stare ahead, mouth agape, immersed, drinking deeper than ever before. The pleasure centers have been hard wired and are lit up like a Christmas tree.
Sukhavati, as I have previously explained means “Realm of Bliss”. That would be correct.
I've been meaning to write about the more than decade long process of building this wonderful table, and will do so in detail in the near future. In the meanwhile I wanted to give a plug for my friend Norman Cones at Stereo Squares.com who did such an amazing job building this perfect dust cover. I can't recommend his work highly enough.
What happens when you run out of superlatives?
Here are a few that are used repeatedly in high-end audio:
"Epoch Making", "Ground Breaking", "Earth Shaking", "Unprecedented", "Jaw Dropping", "A Revelation", etc.
Many times when these phrases are used, they are in fact accurate. For example, Jeff Day after installing the Acoustic Revive RPC-1 Power Supply Conditioner says, "it was quite a revelation to hear my system after the high-frequency noise was removed by the Acoustic Revive RPC-1 Power Conditioner." Jeff Day, Positive Feedback.com I would certainly concur. See my blog below, "Further Adventures in Realms of Bliss".
How do you quantify a "revelation" or an "earth shaking" event? Is one man's dropped jaw another's yawn? Or would it be, that if we could all hear the actual system described in the review that 95% of us would have the same reaction?
So how can I go about describing what one Sukhavati Power cable is doing in our reference system? Use all of the superlatives listed? Say that after installing the two Sukhavati interconnects I am now at a loss for words?
"Gobsmacked" "Gobsmacked combines the northern English and Scottish slang term gob, mouth, with the verb smack. It suggests the speaker is utterly astonished or astounded. It’s much stronger than just being surprised; it’s used for something that leaves you speechless, or otherwise stops you dead in your tracks. It suggests that something is as surprising as being suddenly hit in the face." www.worldwidewords.org
That'll have to do for now.
"If it's this good, how much better can it get?"
Answer, "More than you can imagine!"
This is becoming an old saw for me but when you hear something for the first time, and perhaps no one before you has heard what you are hearing, it is nevertheless instantly recognizable. Why, because a system that is firing on all cylinders is closer to life. It tells you more about what the composer, musicians and engineer intended, the actual events that unfolded and the space in which they occurred.
Way more then we know is hidden in these grooves, and the adventure is a journey into, and closer to, the truth that was captured in session. One thing it does not appear to be is an asymptotic curve that gives less and less the further it goes: it appears the opposite. Or perhaps the changes get smaller and smaller as the system gains sensitivity with correspondingly larger and larger results? Whatever the case, here, with this system, we are in uncharted territory. Multiple transformational events have occurred in our reference system in rapid succession over the Christmas holiday. First we replaced a PranaWire Cosmos interconnect and and an Arhat interconnect pair with our new Sukhavati interconnects - a major sea change. This upgrade is like waking up in a wonderland: everywhere you look there is beauty. Here's another old saw: We could have stopped there and thought we were done. But we knew and know there are still areas where major improvements can be made. Hearing what we are hearing now and thinking about the remaining possibilities makes me kind of giddy. What can I say? You must hear this.
I have always felt that one of the greatest vulnerabilities in a system is the connectors. On a microscopic level, wherever metal meets metal, there is imperfect contact. There will be areas that touch and areas that don't, and even where they appear to be touching there are microscopic pits and scratches. In this circumstance micro-arcing, that draws noise into the system like an antenna, occurs. Also, the points of contact are especially vulnerable to all of the vibrations that are running throughout the room and the components. The internal connections, where wire joins the contacts, are susceptible to the same influences. Many super high-end cables, such as our PranaWire interconnects and power cables, are heavy and exert downward force on the connector, stressing the pins and the contact points and, in some instances, pulling the pins away from their female counterparts further compromising the connection. Thus exists a panoply of weaknesses that has never really been seriously addressed till now.
Enter the Furutech NCF Booster, a device that supports the connector,surrounds it with noise absorbing materials and has the potential to damp vibrations that smear the signal. I had thought of a similar device. In fact, I have two such prototype devices in my system, but they lack the sophistication of the NCF Booster. Mine are simply shapes that surround a power plug. In their favor they contain materials that absorb noise and more importantly fo.Q material that absorbs vibrations. But they do not support the plug from beneath, which is very important. To give credit where it is due, the Furutech product sounds better than my prototype. Had they merely created a support system for cables, I would have praised them as an important and necessary adjunct to any system, but the added reduction in noise is an important benefit. However there is one area in which they fall short. But this minor shortcoming turns into an advantage when we add fo.Q SH21 or 22 material.
The first booster that I put into the system went around the IEC power plug feeding the Airtight ATE-2005 phono stage. I did not hesitate to line both curved inner surfaces of the clamping device with fo.Q SH21e 2mm thick damping material prior to inserting it in the system. This just seemed to me to be the logical thing to do. The improvement was unmistakeable: improved focus and definition of primary and secondary information including attacks, sustains, decays and ambient cues.
I was asked if I had listened both with and without the fo.Q material. I had not. So when I inserted the second unit on the IEC plug feeding the power supply to the Feastrex field coil drivers, I spent a fair amount of time going back and forth, listening with and without. I listened to two cuts. On the first I listened without, then with and then again without the fo.Q material. On the second, I listened with, without and finally with. This was rather a pain in the neck to accomplish as the component is sitting inside the cabinet between shelves. To affix the top clamp to the bottom clamp portion of the NCF Booster you have to reach behind the component and stretch an O-ring over the top of each of the vertical stiles and wrap it around the knurled knobs that hold the bottom clamp in place and then cross it and stretch it a second time doubling the pull of the O-ring - easier said than done when access is limited. Nevertheless, I persevered and was able to draw a firm conclusion. While the Boosters on their own reduce noise and improve the sound in general, the addition of the damping material gave a more solid, organic and transparent presentation allowing a much deeper view into the soundstage.
Before adding the third Booster to the system I added an fo.Q AB-4045 platform under the Airtight ATC-2 preamplifier. I supported the platform with 4 Oyaide INS-BS insulators. I affixed circles of self-adhesive fo.Q TA-102 material to the tops and bottoms of these. The preamp was already resting on Audio Replas quartz footers, but the addition of the isolated platform was a significant step upward as was the added Booster.
The fourth Booster was a special case. I had intended to use two boosters, one on each RCA connection to the preamp. In actual practice, though, there was only room to treat the input connectors, as the output connectors were too close to the IEC. To make this work I needed an additional damping support for the plugs. I joined together layers of fo.Q SH-21e using two-sided tape to form an "H" shape to cradle and keep each RCA plug vertically and horizontally aligned with the back of the preamp. (See illustration). This configuration provided the same level of improvement as the Boosters used on the IEC connectors.
Note: I tried an analogous setup on the PranaWire Lalit phono cable where it exits the Durand Kairos tonearm. While there was an improvement in terms of solidity, the sound was overdamped with a loss of high end extension.
The inclusion of two Sukhavati interconnects in the system is, without question, the single upgrade with the greatest impact to date. Adding the NCF boosters with fo.Q damping material and the fo.Q platform gave a further significant and important refinement to an already world-class system.
"The more you polish a thing, the more it shines." Nikhil Banerjee, upon completing my lessons in raga Jaunpuri.
I've previously written about the amazing improvement brought about by the inclusion of the Acoustic Revive RPC-1 power Line Conditioner. You plug it in anywhere and forget about it. It has no outlets so you cannot plug anything into it. The circuit was developed to remove noise from the original optical mouse, but this version is seriously beefed up for audio.
An RPC-1 had long since taken up residence in the reference system and had proved its mettle within moments of first being installed. What would a second one bring?
Again, within seconds, the result was clear: even greater clarity, transparency, enhanced three dimensionality, you-are-there-ness. Polished deeper and deeper, peering into space.
Please Visit Our Store for the NCF Booster and fo.Q SH-22K Material
Lush, rich, deep velvet, utterly relaxed, unimpeded harmonics, the piano smooth beyond belief, outrageous! What did I do? After all of the above mentioned upgrades I unpacked and set up the Acoustic Revive RL-30 MK-III record demagnetizer and demagnetized Ray Brown's 'Soular Energy' and listened to both sides. The Rl-30 MKIII equaled the impact of the RPC-1 or a Booster, but seemed to be acting on a finer and more ultimately refined scale. The result was noticeable across all frequencies.
And we are not done yet... In the next few months we will add another PranaWire Sukhavati interconnect and the Sukhavati speaker and power cables. If it's this good, how much better can it get? Stay tuned...
Now I know how it feels to give birth and immediately relinquish the child to the adoptive parents. I had but a few hours to install and audition my latest creation in the reference system before my customer would come to claim it.
In any given series, the speaker cable usually presents a more powerful picture than the interconnect, but I also know that the interconnect performs the support function. The ballerina may soar, but she cannot get off the ground without her partner's lift. I had heard only one Sukhavati interconnect here on two separate occasions, and each time was a major revelation. Three ICs were delivered to the customer. Hearing three in his system was beyond breathtaking. Now I would listen to just the speaker cable before he came, have a short listen together and then pack them up and say goodbye, at least until we can build a set for here. He will now have the only existing three ICs and speaker cable all together. Having heard what three ICs can do, with the speaker cable added, I'm sure I will be on my knees thanking the heavens when I visit his place.
Don't get me wrong, the reference system as it stands is spectacular. If you hadn't heard this you might think there is nowhere to go, but there is no forgetting or going back once you have been presented with the holy grail.
With little time to spare I pulled out a few of reference LPs and embarked on a short marathon:
On 'They Say It's Wonderful', the sound stage receded just a touch, but also got considerably deeper and more spacious overall. The richness of Johnny Hartman's voice has always been breathtaking, but now, the finest edges of his voice are fully present. The last vestiges that you couldn't have known were there arrived like the sun from behind clouds - heaven. With the Arhat speaker cable Coltrane's sax was already full and rich, but here it was all splendor and depth, the sound clearly swelling through the interior shape of the horn. And the brushwork - ultimate delicacy. You want to hold your breath.
How to describe what Jaco's bass sounds like in 'Boogie Man' in this setup? Thunderous, cataclysmic, but swift and agile like lightning, delicate as dew with really round really fat strings.
On Dick Nash's trombone lead and solo on 'Chelsea Bridge'? Velvet, butta. Ted Nash's alto - so rich you could touch it. The notes from Larry Bunker's vibes hanging in space like fruit on a tree.
And Ray Brown... Everyone says Brown's bass is over emphasized on this LP. Get over it! He's closely miked. He's the diva on this recording. But here's the thing, in this situation, it's the first time I've heard the bass absolutely connected through all the registers. Oh I thought I had heard that before too, but Oh man! Uh uh. I could live with that bass 24/7. Just absolutely right on.
Don't turn your nose up. You got to have some electronica now and then to broaden your horizons. I hate vocoders, except when Daft Punk uses them. Everything is just right, rock solid here. Sheer joy.
'Constantinople' gets really relaxed without loosing a speck of energy. Drums up there in back trading riffs - delicacy personified. The raspy twangy timbre of the dumbek membrane, the metallic thwack of the Udu, both clear as a bell.
Bowed bass on 'Fire and Rain?' Fugeddaboutit!
The Sukhavati came and went. Who was that masked man, and when will he return to save our town?