Well, it’s been a nice past week of music listening and Hi-Fi Tom-foolery here at Jeff’s Place: vintage vinyl, new remastered vinyl, playing with Acoustic Revive accessories, listening to the prototype Sablon Audio Panatella interconnects, listening again to the Leben CS660P amplifier and Leben RS-100 (not the ‘U’) preamplifier, listening to a variety of 300B vacuum tubes (JJ, Sophia Mesh Plate, Sophia Royal Princess), listening to the Sablon Audio Gran Corona & Robusto power cords, listening briefly to the Audion 300B stereo amplifier from France, and a visit by the super cool and truly golden-eared 6Moons reviewer, Stephaen, as well as a visit by the important government dude, musician, appreciator of rock & roll, fine audio, and fine beers, the esteemed Mr. Chad.
I pretty much love all of the Unplugged albums derived from the MTV shows, with the Curt Cobain, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton Unplugged albums being my favorites of the bunch – don’t miss the excellent 2 LP Eric Clapton Unplugged remaster that came out a while back on the Reprise label – it’s wonderful. Please, please, Analogue Productions, remaster all of the Unplugged albums on 45RPM LPs – please!
Chad brought over a bunch of vintage vinyl from his collection to listen to, including an original 1968 Columbia pressing of the Super Session featuring Steven Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash), Al Kooper (yes, that Al Kooper), and Mike Bloomfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band). You think you know what Kooper, Stills, and Bloomfield are about? You won’t after you listen to this album, because none of their signature musical styles come through, but rather something new, something fresh, and altogether bluesy, rock & roll primeval, and altogether inspiring & amazing. In fact I was so amazed and inspired I ordered a copy of the Speakers Corner reissue from Acoustic Sounds before the album ended. I’ll report back whether or not the Speakers Corner version has the same mojo as the original – stay tuned.
I am more and more impressed each time I listen to the Sablon Audio prototype Panatella interconnect designed by Mark Coles, it’s really something special.
I spent Sunday morning goofing around with Acoustic Revive products and applying them to my Auditorium 23 step-up transformer and the Panatella. I put the AR TB-38 Quartz Under-Board under the A23 tranny for a base, then put two smokey quartz AR discs under the A23, one smokey quartz disc on top, and propped up the Panatella and AR Single Core interconnects with AR RCI-3 cable insulators.
The Panatella is drop-dead amazing by itself, but when tweaked with all the AR products the sound was even more delicious. You have to hand it to Mr. Ken Ishiguro, who designs the Acoustic Revive products, as he has impeccable taste when it comes to knowing what will enhance the musicality and sonics of a Hi-Fi system.
I’ve been missing my Leben CS-660P power amplifier a lot lately, and decided it was time to get it back in the system for a little listening session (shown above with the excellent Russian NOS 6n3ce vacuum tubes that I purchased from Jim McShane, which are still my favorite tubes in the Leben).
Also, many thanks to the gracious Paul Burgess who has offered to loan me a pair of his prized old stock CEC KT66 vacuum tubes to try in my CS-660P. Paul told me he was blown away with the synergy the CEC KT66 tubes have in his CS660P and wanted me to hear that synergy for myself, so that’s an exciting development.
I’m a bit bogged down on the review front at the moment, but as soon as that clears up a bit I’ll report on the CEC vacuum tubes – should be fun!
Thanks for the offer Paul – I’ll look forward to it!
My Leben RS-100U preamplifier developed a strange shorting issue related to the volume pot and mute switch, so I had to take it out of the system for repairs. I’m not sure what is going on there, it’s a bit of a bummer, and is the first time I’ve had any kind of reliability issue with a Leben product.
It’s all worked to the good though, for while that’s getting resolved I used the opportunity to put the Leben RS-100 (non-’U’) back into the system for a little listening. Mr. Taku Hyodo, who designs the Leben electronics, included a hand-written note with the Leben RS-100 when he first sent it to me for review, saying it was his greatest preamplifier design achievement to date.
I’ll tell you what, the RS-100 preamplifier, when paired with the CS660P power amplifier, RS-30EQ phone stage, Panatella & Single Core interconnects, A23 step-up transformer, and the EMT TSD-15 moving coil phono cartridge, is a very, very, musically engaging combination for music listening. The way the rhythm, melody, harmonies, dynamics, timbre, tempo, etc. – all the musically important stuff – is really impressive in the way it pulls you into the music.
The non-musically important, but geeky good-fun old-fashioned style of audiophile sonics (i.e. the recording artifacts) are pretty mesmerizing too: soundstaging, transparency, soundspace (sense of space), imaging, detail recovery, etc., are all very nicely balanced to give you a dose of geeky fun without distracting the listener from the musically important information, which is the bane of most audiophile style gear that shouts ‘recording artifacts’ at you.
I really like the artful blend of music and sonics that Mr. Hyodo has achieved in the RS-100, and a lot of designers would do well to give it a listen for a reality check.
Sitting down and listening with the Leben CS660P amplifier in the system was wonderful, like sitting down with an old friend and catching up on the good times. The music-making through the CS660P is so accessible, so comfortable. Depending on the album it makes you feel like you’re sitting back in a smokey old jazz club, or jumping up out of your seat on a rock album to play a little air guitar while singing along to the lyrics as loud as you can – you know, actually enjoying and having fun with the music listening experience!
Golden-eared 6Moons reviewer, Stephaen Harrell, an all-around cool guy, brought over his Audion 300B review unit for a little afternoon listening session. We had fun swapping around 300B tubes and power cords to see what the sonic & musical effects were, and more or less did an impromptu comparison between the Sophia Electric 91-01 mono 300B amps.
We both thought that the little Audion 20th Anniversary 300B stereo amplifier was a nice bit of kit, suspecting that proud new owners would be deliriously happy with it, but diverged on our specific impressions beyond that. We both thought the Sophia Royal Princess 300B vacuum tubes killed the JJ and Sophia Mesh plate 300B tubes – it wasn’t even close – but boy-oh-boy do you pay for that prowess at $1200 per pair of tubes! Stephaen liked the JJ better than the Meshies, and I had the opposite opinion.
Comparing the more expensive Audion ($5495 USD) to the Sophia 91-01 monos, I preferred the Sophia monos presentation, with its greater transparency, more realistic dynamics, more saturated tonal colors, more evident melody lines, and more discernible textures. Stephaen liked the Audion better because it was darker and smoother while still maintaining a spacious sound. Of course, my opinion was the more valid one (just kidding), which brings to mind a cautionary note: when someone professes there is an absolute best regarding audio gear, independent of personal preferences, you should make a run for the door in the same way you would if some old codger televangelist told you the world was going to end at a certain time & date, and that you should sell all your possessions and donate the money to his ministry.
Hi-Fi evaluations are highly-informed opinions based on personal preferences related to sonics (recording artifacts) and musical presentation, and brother Stephaen’s opinions are every bit as valid as mine. A teaser: you can buy the Sophia monos with the killer Royal Princess tubes for less than the Audion costs with the JJ tubes. Just to be clear though, I really liked the Audion, it’s a sweet piece of kit, as are the Sophia monos – you couldn’t go wrong with either one, and if space is a consideration the Audion is a space-saver being on one chassis. Personally though, if I were in space-saver mode, I’d be going for the Leben CS-600 integrated amp, which pretty much trumps everything in the value department of music provided for dollar spent.
For power cords, Stephaen liked the Sablon Audio Robusto the best on the Sophia monos and the Audion, but I liked the Robusto best on the Sophia monos, and the new Sablon Audio Gran Corona on the Audion because it helped it out in the transparency department.
I am in the process of writing the article for Positive Feedback Online about the Sophia Electric Royal Princess 300B tube, and early indications are it will be a fun read. Then next up is the Sablon Audio Gran Corona. There’s also a surprise piece of kit traveling a long ways from home to pay us all a visit here at Jeff’s Place and PFO, so you’ll be getting a sneak peek about that before too long.
Well, that’s all for now. Many thanks for stopping by Jeff’s Place, and I wish you all could have joined in the audio fun & games here. Until next time, may all your listening be happy.