Aug 282011

I’ve been having a lot of fun listening to music this weekend while making a few blog posts and doing some review writing. My Hi-Fi rig is sounding really good right now, and I thought you might like to see what’s making it sound so good today. First up is my EMT TSD-15 MC cartridge that I bought from Jonathan at Tone Imports, which has been happily surfing the vinyl grooves on record after record, and sounding wonderfully mesmerizing doing it. It’s no wonder this cartridge has such a cult following, it really gets the music right!

I continue to be impressed with the musical and easy-going nature of my VPI 30th Anniversary Classic I turntable & JMW 10.5i arm combo that I bought from the Weisfields. It plays music really well, is totally unfussy to use, I love its classical good looks, and it is reliable as a rock! It’s no wonder the Classic has won a ton of awards and audio critics are falling all over themselves singing their praise for it – it deserves it! If you’ll look closely in the photo below you’ll see the Sablon Audio Panatela interconnects that I reviewed for PFO doing signal duties. Mark has been kind enough to let me keep listening to the Panatelas a while longer – thanks Mark!

I’ve been working on the review of the NVO SPA-II phono preamplifier from Cyprus. It is a wondrous sight to behold with twenty-something glowing vacuum tubes! It’s a really nicely designed phono stage, with separate power supply, both MC and MM stages, and a mono switch. I’ll have a lot more to tell you about the SPA-II soon.

I’m using the Leben RS100 (non-‘u’ version) for a preamplifier at the moment. Mr. Hyodo told me he thought the RS100 was his greatest achievement, and it really is terrific sounding, and a great match to the NVO SPA-II phono stage. A pair of Acoustic Revive Single Core interconnects the NVO to the Leben. All the front end components are using a mix of Sablon Audio Robusto and Gran Corona (in for review) power cords, plugged into an Acoustic Revive RPT-4 Ultimate Power Conditioner.

For amplification I’m running the Sophia Electric 91-01 300B mono amplifiers with SE Princess Mesh-Plate 300B tubes that I purchased after the review. My left 91-01 literally went up in smoke a couple of weekends ago when a coupling capacitor took a nosedive. When coupling caps let go it always scares me, and I leaped out of my listening chair to shut the amp down. The same thing happened with my Cary 805C amps years ago when a Cetron 300B tube let go, smoking the cap. When I pulled the amp apart I noticed that the TRW grid resistor had also failed, and I’m guessing that’s what took out the Panasonic coupling capacitor, as the 300B tube looks to be fine. Richard (Sophia Electric) sent me a couple of hard to come by Black Gate capacitors and a couple of equally hard to come by Allen Bradley resistors to replace the stock items in both amps. After soldering in the new parts I fired up the amps and let them warm up for a while to make sure all was well, then played a little music. The Black Gates bypass capacitors plus the Allen Bradley grid resistors resulted in a major sonic improvement to the 91-01s musical and sonic performance. Richard told me the Black Gates can make quite an improvement if used judiciously, but they have to be used judiciously or they will actually degrade the sound, making it sterile and solid-state like. In my case it was an enormous improvement that took the amplifiers to a new level. If you have 91-01 amplifiers it’s a simple upgrade that is really worthwhile.

Oh, before I forget: Last weekend I finished up my review of the Sophia Electric Royal Princess carbon-plate 300B tubes. They are stunning. The full review will be in the next issue of Positive Feedback Online that will be live shortly.

I’ve been using the Sablon Audio ‘The Robusto’ power cords to connect the SE 91-01 300B monos to the AC, plugged straight into the wall. Keith Aschenbrenner’s Auditorium 23 ‘Green’ speaker cables connect my SE 91-01 300B monos to my Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers. Now that I’ve made a switch to mono amps I did a little surgery on my A23 cables and chopped them in half, and re-terminated them so that I could bi-wire the Westminsters. The A23 cables are very complimentary to the 300B amplifiers and the Westminsters, it’s a really nice combination.

So that’s my ‘State of the System’ message for the moment, and it’s sounding wonderful, making it a joy to listen to music over the weekend.

Thanks for stopping by!

 Posted by at 3:13 pm

  19 Responses to “‘State of the System’ Message”

  1. Hi Jeff,

    How would you compare your EMT cartridge to a Miyabi Standard? I’m debating weather to have my Miyabi re-tiped or try something else. I know you reviewd the Miyabi in the past so you’re familiar with the sound of both. Thanks in advance.


  2. Jeff, I own a classic and have been thinking of using the EMT. I have fond memories of one (forgot the model) I used back in the 80’s, and from your review they seem worth considering. A couple of questions; 1. are you using the standard arm wand or the stainless steel version? 2. From the pictures, the wires coming out of the wand look quite long. Did you have to extend them in some way in order to attach to the cartridge? This seems to be a problem with some cartridges on the VPI.

    By the way, I love your site. Not only is the content great but the site design is unique and pleasing to the eye. Keep up the good work!

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it. 🙂 I love the EMT TSD-15. I’m using the standard arm wand and it’s nice. I haven’t tried the SS version (actually didn’t even know about it!). The wires are the stock length, and for the 3 cartridges I use (Denon 103, ClearAudio Virtuoso Wood, and the EMT) they work great. No problems whatsoever.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Kind regards,


  3. Jeff,

    You’re not the only that had their Sophia Electrics go up in smoke. After sitting down tonight to enjoy my new DeVore Orangutans, one of my SE 300B’s popped and then smoke quickly came emanating out from the bottom. I’ve since shut it down, unplugged it and have it off to the side, but need to get a hold of SE about this. I’ll update you on how they respond to my query.

    Bugger! I guess that means only mono discs for now…

    • Man, that’s a bummer, Jonathan. I’m sorry to hear it. 🙁 I just noticed your other post on cap values above so I’ll go to it for more of an answer.

  4. Jeff,

    Did you have the 47μF 100v cap (Panasonic) blow? That’s what blew on mine. SE recommended that I replace it with 47μF, 160v. So I’m waiting for replacements. Unfortunately, they did not have the Black Gate’s available. That said, what did you replace yours with? Were they the Black Gate 47μF, 160v VK caps or did you get some 100μF, 160v NH’s? I’ve found the 47μF, 160v VK’s and also standard issue 10μF, 160v. Just curious.


    • Hey Jonathan,

      The Panasonic cap was the one that blew in mine too. The Panasonic is considered by some to be a highly regarded NOS cap, but that’s the risk with using NOS I guess. My Black Gate caps were 47uF/100V like the Panny’s, and they really are a major upgrade. They are hard to find, so you might just want to go with the 160s per Richard’s suggestion. You’ll be impressed by the improvement in the sound. My amps have worked flawlessly since I swapped caps, so no need to worry too much about what happened other than the hassle of swapping the parts out, which was really pretty easy even though I don’t have much experience with that sort of thing.

      Be sure to let me know how things turn out after you swap the caps.

      Kind regards,


      • Wow – definitely interesting. Well, Richard sent some Nichilon 47μF, 160v (blue caps). And I’ve also found a set of the Black Gate’s as 47μF, 160v. So I’m holding off until the BG’s arrive (scheduled for delivery tomorrow).

        FWIW, an outline of the relevant BG versions is as follows:

        * VK and FK are the top model Black Gate polarized types for low noise applications .
        * Standard and ultra compact PK polarized provide Black Gate high performance at lower cost.
        * N, NX, NH are superb, ultra low noise non-polar caps for the most critical coupling & power supply applications.

        Rumor has it the non-polar’s were the holy grail.

        In any event, given the rating you referenced, I suspect the one you got was the standard variety, as I wasn’t able to find the 47μF, 100v in any other issue. In fact, the only other 47μF (at 100 or 160) is the 160v VK. Do you happen to know? Just curious.

        In any event, and also FWIW, Richard also shared that if the system needed more bass to look at the 100μF, which was manufactured in all 3 varieties, but all I can find is the standard issue. Regardless, I’m not sure what the differences would be between the internal versions, but I do find it interesting.

        For now, I’m sitting back enjoying mono… I have a TJ Full Music 300B SE tube in, in place of my standard Sophia Electric princess mesh. Once the caps are in I’ll get back to listening to the Devore’s and then will experiment with some tube variations for the rectifier and 62n7, per Richard. In fact, I’ve got a pair of Ken Rad JAN NOS 6sn7’s coming in soon… Should be fun.

        Finally, thanks for hosting this site! Merry Christmas, Jeff and ALL!

  5. Jeff,

    I was able to solder in the new caps. I made sure I tracked down electrical solder, too. I’ve got them warming up and will play some music later. Just curious what you thought the improvements were. Also, I’m curious about your resistors and which ones you changed there, too.



  6. Ok, I know it is early, but I have some initial thoughts about the Black Gate cap swap. First, the one thing that jumps out at me is some increase in separation and notable increase in detail. I’m also suspicious that the tonal accuracy has improved, as several albums into this I’ve heard enough cymbals to think to myself those are about as natural as I can ever recall.

    Still curious about your experience with the caps and resistors.

    Ciao, for now.


    • Hey Jonathan,

      My perceptions line up exactly with yours. I was startled at how much of a positive difference the Black Gate cap swap made in 91-01 amps performance across the board. It truly was a case of taking it to a whole new level sonically and musically. That’s pretty amazing considering that it’s just one pair of caps. Richard told me back when I did the swap that you have to be careful when using Black Gate caps, as a little goes a long way. Indiscriminately putting in too many BGs reportedly can make things sound ‘solid state’. Swapping out the bypass caps with Black Gates is something everyone should do that has the 91-01 amps, as the significant improvement.



  7. Hi Jeff, I am a regular visitor to your site & enjoy the treasure trove on Tannoy & the other adventures. Thank you for posting a wealth of information for the rest of us.I also greatly enjoyed your review on Sophia Electric 91-01 amps & could not resist to try one. Wow you were spot on about the amps & I am simply thrilled with them. My speakers are Canterbury SE & I am slowly making my way to building a music lovers system like yous.

    I am looking at a Shindo Aurieges or Monbrison pre. I am very interested to know if you ever considered Shindo & your thoughts in comparison to the Leben RS100 you currently use. I live in UAE & unfortunately have no dealers for either. I would really appreciate your thoughts on this as my goal is to build a system very similar to yours. My current pre is a Suoratek Chardonnay.

    Thank you & best wishes,

    • Hi Dilhan,

      I really like the Shindo equipment and I have considered using it in my system. I suspect the Shindo preamps would make a nice match for the Sophia Electric 91-01, and Shindo would definitely be one of the preamps I would be considering if I was looking for a preamp right now. One of the things I do like about the Shindo is that the phono stage is built in, which is a very sensible approach.

      I’ve also got something coming up that may prove to be quite interesting, but it will be a couple of months before I’ll be able to say anything about it (at least I hope I’ll be able to say something about it!).

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Kind regards,


  8. Hi Jeff, Thanks very much for your thoughts, appreciate it! One last question – at any point did you find the Shindo pre’s lacking in dynamics in anyway? If they sound anything like the Sophia’s I would love them! I am only concerned about euphonic sound. I wonder if it will be too much of a good thing with the Tannoys…

    Best/ Dilhan

    • Hi Dilhan,

      I did not think the Shindo lacked in dynamics, and I do suspect it would be a nice match to the Sophia 91-01 mono amps. I don’t think it would be euphonic in a negative sense, but rather I think it would be complimentary to the Sophias and Tannoys.

      Let me know how you like them together!

      Kind regards,


  9. Hello Jeff,

    To report back I upgraded my pre to a Shindo Aurieges. The results were fantastic. This component truly surpassed my expectations from a preamp change. I can now agree & understand when new Shindo users say they have not heard music this way before. I am very happy with the change & many thanks for your comments.

    Just a quick question on the Sophia amps, did you change all resistors to Allen Bradley’s or was this done selectively as with the Black Gate capacitors? Is too much a problem like the BG. Appreciate if you could shed some light.

    Best, Dilhan

    • Hi Dilhan,

      Congrats on the Shindo Aurieges, it looks like a fine piece of hi-fi gear.

      I only changed 1 resistor and 1 capacitor, and that made a nice difference. I would hesitate to do more than that as it might throw off the voicing.

      Kind regards,


  10. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for all your great reviews. Some time back you mentioned a “shorting issue” with your Leben RS-100U preamp. I was wondering if you have an follow-up information on that problem? Sorry if you already posted this but I couldn’t find any reference to it.

    Thanks much,

    • Hi Kurt,

      I sent the RS-100U in for repair, and if I remember correctly one of the transformers had shorted, which is a bit unusual. They took care of it.



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