Main Acoustic Devices: Michael Green Room Tunes for uppper corners and ceilings. The rear of the room has 12 Auralex diffusers.
All corners have Lenard Bass Traps. The front of the room, up to the first reflection point, has sparingly placed absorption panels.
I have just recently went back to vinyl after two years with SACD, which, in my opinion, just doesn’t deliver (and I have heard the EMM Labs and the DCS). I am really enjoying the music now.
My system has such great tone, timing and a natural sense of space. It truly sounds like “Almost LIVE” acoustic music.
I would like to single out one special product that I own which is the Nick Doshi preamp. I recommend that you try to get your “ears” on one!
But I must say, it won’t be easy because Nick Doshi usually only makes them for his friends or friends of friends. This is the only sonically irreplaceable product I own. I will be buried with it! It’s that good!
However,the VAC Phi 300 Tube Amp is also awesome in every way. The Phi 300 is the 3rd $15,000 tube amp I have owned. The prior two were the Mcintosh MC 2000 and the Sonic Frontiers Power 3’s. Both are inferior to the VAC; neither does one thing better.
For me, component changes often offer some compromise in some area-this one did not.
Here’s how I compare the VAC to the McINTOSH 2000: The McINTOSH is a good amp, and it is MUCH better than the SONIC FRONTIERS Power 3’s. However, it is not as good as the PHI 300.
The VAC combines the best virtues sonicaly of tubes and solid state. It presents the midrange with natural tone; it is not lush nor stark. It is just natural and right. I cannot give it a better compliment than that.
The Mcintosh has good tone, but it is a little soft, and it cannot do “wood tones” well. Also, the Mac’s bass presentation is “rubbery” sounding. In a word, the Mcintosh lacked “snap”.
The VAC presents a sonic image with a natural air, transparency and scale. The dimensionality is presented as organically as the recording allows.
The VAC bass performance is the best compared to solid sate. It has “snap”, it controls deep bass, and best of all, is tuneful. Solid state amps I have heard in my system recently include the DARTZEEL 108 and KRELL 400.
The VAC’s bass control is as good as the Krells, at any volumes I listen to. And it is better then the Dartzeel at all volumes. The amp is “right” from top to bottom, the closest thing to perfect I have heard. Like the Doshi Pre Amp, do not listen to one unless you are prepared to buy one. It would be hard to live without once you’ve heard it.
NOTE: The VAC is not in use now as the ATC’s have their own built in amps. But, I’m leaving my thoughts on it so others know how awesome it is. Great products deserve praise.
The Road To This System: I’m going to rank the products I have owned or did very extensive auditions with.
By extensive auditions, I mean an audition that I brought ALL my own equipment with me, including my turntable, YES I am nuts!!!
These are just my OPINIONS, but I hope this ranking list will save others some time and money.
Speakers: The Top 4 are Worlds Better then the bottom 12!!!!!
(All speakers were evaluated with the EXACT same components and cables, EXCEPT the VR-9’s and Classic Audio Reproductions T-1’s.)
1. I have heard a new Speaker that swept me away. I will list it here if I can ever get a fair deal on them, but as of yet I have not been able too. I don’t want to mention it here for selfish reasons, because it appears I am going to have to wait for a pari to come up for sale on Audiogon. (Luck for me, my spare speakers kick but, ATC SCM 20’s)
2. MBL 111e or 101e: The closest to live music I’ve ever heard. I don’t know how they sound in a “real world room” because the room I heard them in is very good. (Ultimate Audio Video in Chicago, IL).
These speakers have an awesome “live” presence like no other. And were not as tonal as the Rockports in the same system. But they do have very good tone. The good tone when combined with the presence makes them pretty special.
I have to admit I would like to hear them again, because I bought the Brikmann Balance Turntable after hearing it in this system that day,and not the MBL’s.
The Balance brought my ATC’s to a whole new level. So I don’t know where they may rank now. The ATC’s tone may make the MBl’s presence novel now. But they can stay number one, its nice to have a dream.
3. ATC Anniversary 50’s: (Best “real world speaker”). These do not require $30,000 worth of amps. They have awesome tone and impact the Second best midrange of all speakers.
However, they are not the last word in treble or bass response. They do bring electrostatic-like cohesiveness to drivers. They have awesome “tube like”, or “music like” tonality in the midrange, not lush “tube like”, think VAC PHI 300 or your own personal best tube reference.
Then, imagine a very good solid state amp on the bass. Basically, you get great tone from top to bottom, with great image palpability and natural image size.
By far the best sonic value for the dollar, and a damn fine speaker and amp combo regardless of value. To beat them you would need to spend an ADDITIONAL minimum $40,000 on speakers, amps, and speaker cables.
4.0 Quads 2905: I loved these a lot, the BEST midrage of all speakers. However, they are only SLIGHTLY better in the mids than the ATC’s. So when I factored in the lack of impact, and that they also could not capute the power of the piano, the decesion was easy for my tastes.
These make Martin Logan’s and Maggies, look very bad by comparison. The image size is more accurate, and bass good.
Quads are the second best value after ATC’s. They should be matched to the finest electronics. They deserve $30,000 to $40,000 in front of them not $8,000-$9,000 their price might suggest was balanced. They excel at string tones and vocals.
5. Von Schweikert VR-9: gives up midrange tone to the ATCs and real life presence to the MBLs. However, it adds thunderous bass and ultimate high frequency response.
6. Verity Sarastro :(Please note the auditon was in a dealer setting with all his own equipment, which was top notch Shindo, and his turntable was a Basis with my same Dynavector XV-1S cartridge, so I felt no reason to use my own equipment.) I liked many things about this speaker: its speed, transparency, and its tone is first rate.
However, in the room I heard them in, which was rather live sounding they, were not “intimate” enough for me. I don’t know exactly how much was the room, and how much was the speakers.
7. Goldmund Active Speakers: were very nice, but for $33,000, I expect a speaker to go deeper unless it can put a LIVE violin in my room, which it could not. However, it is a fine speaker!!!
8. Rockport ($30,000 version): sounded similar to the ATC’s. They had slightly better bass; but I had $ 15,000 to $28,000 worth of amps in use. I have no sonic complaints, rather just value issues, as compared to the ATC’s and others.
If I were going to have that kind of money in a speaker and amp combo, I would go for the MBl 111e with two VAC PHI 300’s; you would be much closer to live music.
8. Martin Logan Summits: are the third best value after ATC’s and Quads. (But I must say QUADS ARE WAY BETTER THAN THESE.)
They should be matched to the finest electronics.
They deserve $30,000 to $40,000 in front of them not $8,000-$9,000 their price might suggest was balanced.
Like the Quads they excel at string tones and vocals, but they falter on wood tones. However, their biggest issue is image size and palpability. They are too transparent!!!!
9. Revel Salons :are a very balanced speaker. They are good at everything yet best in class at nothing. They are a very well designed speaker.
10. Avalon Diamonds: Sonics, remind me off Revel Ultimas. Which is not a bad thing. But these are way overpriced for their sonics, and their fit and finsh at their asking price is laughable.
11. Kharma 3.2 Fe At this price point $20,000 in my opinion you should get more bass.
But I can live with lack of bass, but they over image everything.
12. Maggie 20.1 Great tone, but images larger than life at “real world” listening distances.
But if you had a huge room and a far listeing distance they would be hard to beat, for acoustic music and classical.
13. Classic Audio Reproductions T1 (Horn Speakers).
The only speaker besides MBL’s that will put a drum set in your room.
They are explosive as hell. For rock and roll they are my favorite by a mile.
However, on chamber music they falter, and I listen to chamber music often, so they are not a good match for my music taste.
This is my separation point. I could not live with any of the below long term.
14. Vandersteen 5A. -To Dark and Boxy.
15. Wilson Chimera : Drivers do not blend well, which should be no surprise, given the configuration.
I found myself listening to one driver at a time.
16. B & W 802 D: To much like good HI-FI, not like good music.
They highlighted certain aspects of the music in an artificial, or enhanced manner and in doing so called attention to themselves.
To paint a visual, think TV’s at Best Buy.
They have them adjusted to make real life look more bright colored and vivid than it actually is. These speakers do the same to music.
17. Wilson 7.1’s: , and or Sophia’s (Explosive dynamics, very Average midrange tone. Great for home theater!!!But not for the music lover.
1. New Amp Favorite Comming Soon,
2. Convergant Audio
3 Vac Phi 300
4. Mcintosh MC 2000
5. Dartzeel 108
8. Linn Klimax
9. Lamm 1.2
All these are Poor Sounding amps by comparison.
10. Mcintosh 252 & 402
11. Krell 400 Cx
12. Classe Cam 350
13. Sonic Frontiers Power 3’s (Very Bad. I am comparing them to $2000 dollars amps, they cost $15,000 new.)
14. Vac Pa 80/80
15. Adcom 565
Pre Amps: Top 3 are worlds better than the rest. (3-5 are very good.
1. I have heard a new pre amp that I preferred to my Doshi, I will list it here if I can ever get a fair deal on one, but as of yet I have not been able too. I don’t want to mention it here for selfish reasons, because it appears I am going to have to wait for on to come up for sale on Audiogon.
It is however SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive, think new car.
2. Nich Doshi Pre Amp.
3. Dartzeel 18NS in battery mode on vinyl is Awesome. Do you like great tubes or great solid state?
5. Vac Renaissance, or Phi 2.0
(I must admit I have not heard the PHI 2.0 but being I love my Phi 300 amp, and loved the Vac Rennisance Pre II, I owned, I would wager the PHI 2.0 is World Class.) The Vac is a wonderful preamp, it is very neutral yet detailed at both ends of the spectrum. It is a very refined product.
It is very very similar sounding to the Doshi tonally, blackness of background, lack of micro phonics. I ultimately liked the Doshi better in my system due to its ease of presentation.
It was more of a “macro” decision, their are no glaring differences sonically between these two products. I just on the whole enjoyed the Doshi more it is just so right.
6. Supratek Grange and Convergent Audio Preamp.
As compared to the Doshi, the Grange and the CAT are not as natural sounding in the midrange, and are not as “human” on vocals.
The Grange is more extened in bass and treble, which in my system often sounded lean, analytical, and thin. The Grange sounded that way with both systems I had at the time, which were my current active ATC’s, and Martin Logan Summits, driven with a Mcintosh MC2000 (Tube Amp), two very diffent systems, similar result. The Doshi in my opinion has a more balanced sound from top to bottom.
The Doshi has a much blacker background. I think this is because the Grange uses to many tubes and has to much gain. This does make the Grange more dynamic, but the cost is increased noise. I will choose a happy medium any day.
7. Audio Research Ref 3
8. MBL- Their top model
NOTE: There is a large difference between the my top choices and the modles below.
9. Sony TAP9000es (As good as the Mac’s but much cheaper, so I put it above them.
10. Tact 2.2 Sounds very digital, but room correction does do wonders on bass.
11.Mcintosh C2200 (to lush)
12. Mcintosh C200 (Sounded like the Sony Tap, only 10 times the price!!)
13. Placette RVC.
Clearly each system is different but these are MY OPINIONS:
PHONO (Phono cables have the most impact of all cables, BY FAR!!! IMHO)
1. I did not want to name the winner eventhough I bought them, because I despise this company for their absurd prices.
However, I have received many emails from curious members about the winner which is Transparent Reference MM Phono. (They don’t make Opus Phono)
2. Shunyata Antares (Great sonics this is an under rated cable)
3. Jena Labs Phono 4 (Good Sonics, Best Value)
4. Nordost Valhalla (OK sonics, but lacks “body”)
5. Hovaland Music Grove 2 (Average performance)
6. Sterovox (Poor Sonics and Value)
Interconnects and Speaker:
1. I did not want to name the winner eventhough I bought the interconnects because I despise this company for their absurd prices. However, I have received many emails from curious members about the winner which is Transparent Opus.
2. Tara Labs Zero
Note the TOP TWO are 15% better than the Shunyata.
Antares, very under rated. Nice, highs without being etched, however, they are a little light in the bass. They are very oraganic sounding. They are the clear value leader. They sound alot like how people often describe Valhalla, but these are much much better.
4. Siltech Compass Lake:
Sonics, fairly balanced, but not quite neutral, you can not take the “silver sound” out of silver no matter what temprature you expose it to ; 0 ).
If your systems is a tad lush and you want a small nudge in the treble these will do it. Priced like Opus, but preform way below their asking price IMHO. (I have serious value issues with these and minor sonic complaints.)
5. Audioquest: Sky and Kilminjaro.
Sound: 95% of Siltech performance for 25% of the price.
6. Nordost Valhalla:
They are not birght in my system. However, I would never put them in a digital system. They are a little lean in the mid bass, that to me is their down fall.
Vibration Control: The Brinkmann Balance sits on a HRS M3 Platform, The Doshi sits on a Symposium Ulta Platform, with precision couplers.
Both rest on a custom made the limestone rack. It is constructed out of solid limestone weighing over 600 pounds, and it sits directly on the concrete basement floor. The base makes no contact with the sub-floor.
Electrical: 5 dedicated outlets.
The only things I will do over the next year or so is decorating the room up to the level of the componets. And purchase several RPG products.
The biggest help putting together this awesome system, has been a Larry Marcus who is the owner of a local dealer Paragon Sight and Sound in Ann Arbor, he is also an Audiogon Guild Member.
After 8 years going it alone on Audiogon, I decided to consult an expert. Larry, exposed me to quality vinyl, and helped me so much along the way, with his experience and passion for this hobby.
Without Paragon, I would have made many mistakes and be listening to CD’s. If you too have been putting together a system solely through Audiogon, you owe it to yourself to work with a GOOD dealer.
You will save money in the long run, and have great music sooner and a better end result.
FINALLY!!!! BACK TO JUST LISTENING TO MUSIC.