The Vintage Beat
Or with my restored vintage McIntosh kit like the MX110Z tuner-preamplifier, stereo MC240 amplifier, stereo MC225 amplifier, and MC30 monaural amplifiers:
Or the world of vintage loudspeakers like my vintage Altec-Lansing A7 Voice of the Theatre’s custom built for conductor Leopold Stokowski:
Gary Fischer, who restored my A5 VOTTs, told me this about my Stokowski A7 VOTTs:
“Your Stokowski A-7 pair came out of the Altec factory some time before 1964. The 803B woofers, 804A 16 ohm compression drivers, 511B horns, and N-500-D dividing network crossovers, are the same components as standard A-7’s, but obviously the cabinets are custom built by Altec. Altec changed the name of their 803B woofer to 416A sometime in 1964. This is exactly the same 16 ohm woofer as the 416A, but they changed the name because Altec also had an 803 horn (8 cells, 300Hz), and it was confusing to have two different components with the same number.”
There’s something that is incredibly satisfying about owning vintage gear like the Stokowski A7 VOTTs due to their place in audio history, the way they sound & play music, and the fact that they once graced the late Maestro’s home listening sessions. That’s just cool!
Or, speaking of Gary Fischer, and my Altec-Lansing A5 Voice of the Theatre project:
Or, for example, the vintage Western Electric WE16GA wire used as speaker cables & internal loudspeaker wiring, as recommended by the beloved and kindly Yazaki-san.
You can expect my vintage adventures to continue, as there’s lots of wonderful vintage hi-fi gear out there to report on. Vintage hi-fi provides a huge dose of owner satisfaction, as there’s just something special about owning a historic audio classic from the Golden Age of audio engineering. Not only that, but vintage audio gear is often much more affordable than new ‘high-end’ audio gear, holds its value much better, and I think that for many listeners its richer balance, adjustability, and overall brilliance of design provides a much more musically involving listening experience.
The Do It Yourself Experience
My do-it-yourself experiences are continuing to grow in scope and level of adventuresomeness, and my DIY journey has been wonderful and illuminating.
My first DIY project was the aforementioned vintage inspired Garrard Project I wrote about for Six Moons. It was an incredibly illuminating experience to take a vintage Garrard 301 and build something musical and enchanting.
I also enjoyed my foray into the DIY cable world when I made the White Lightening Moonshine interconnects & speaker cables that I wrote about for Six Moons back in 2007.
Then I did another DIY cable project that turned out really well, the Dark Matter interconnects.
Then came the astonishing DIY Tannoy Westminster Royal SE crossover project utilizing the Duelund CAST components, which completely rewrote the book for me on what’s possible with a DIY project.
It is my opinion that the Duelund Coherent Audio CAST capacitors, inductors, and resistors are the finest in the world by a large margin, and I felt immensely fortunate to be able to team with DCA founder Frederik Carøe on this project, which I described for the readers of Positive Feedback in Issue 70 and Issue 74.
Every single day that I look at the Duelund CAST crossovers on my Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers I marvel at the wonderful CAST capacitors, inductors, and resistors Frederik Carøe handcrafts in Denmark. They are the stuff dreams are made of!
Then I began to embark upon exciting DIY Adventures In Real Sound with Yazaki-san & Ron-san, where we modified the circuitry of my vintage McIntosh MC30 monaural amplifiers with fantastic results!
As part of our Adventure in Real Sound we also explored the nuevo-vintage Belden 8402 microphone cables as RCA interconnects, vintage Western Electric WE16GA wire as speaker cables, crossover wiring, and even internal loudspeaker wiring. We also tried some Western Electric WE24GA wire as headshell wires.
After our wildly successful MC30 Real Sound Adventure we boldly started a vintage McIntosh MX110Z tuner-preamplifier Real Sound Adventure using many of the same ideas & techniques & components.
The MX110Z threw us a curve ball though and didn’t respond in the way we had anticipated, and most of what we tried just didn’t work to improve its performance.
Eventually we ended going back to stock for nearly everything we tried, save for a pair of 56K Ohm Tepro RA resistors on phono input #1 on Leo’s MX110 for the sake of experimentation, and a pair of Arizona Capacitors on the first stage cathode follower of the high level input of each of the three MX110s (we replaced two key pairs of 0.1uF capacitors at C93 & C95 and C94 & C96 with a pair of 0.22 uF Arizona Capacitors).
While the MX110 Real Sound Adventure didn’t go as we planned, I learned about making simple circuit modifications at the DNA level of electronics, how to solder in & out capacitors & resistors and such, I got better at reading circuit diagrams, and I learned a lot about how those modifications affect the overall voicing of a component. From that standpoint this has been one of the most educational and illuminating audio DIY experiences I have ever embarked upon, so I want to thank Yazaki-san & Ron-san for all their teaching, mentoring, guiding, and advising as we navigated this adventure.
So the MX110 adventure is now officially concluded, and while I didn’t end up with enough material to write a feature article about it for Positive Feedback, I shall continue tinkering with my MX110 in the background and providing you occasional updates. I have some more ideas, and even some more resistors (and perhaps capacitors) coming to try, so who knows, maybe we’ll get there yet!
Now it’s time to move on to our next exciting DIY Real Sound Adventure with my Gary Fischer restored vintage Altec-Lansing A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers.
Somewhat in the spirit of the Duelund-WRSE crossover project, we’ll be constructing some Hiraga-san inspired and Yazaki-san modified external crossovers. I’ll be describing our crossover adventure in real time for you here at Jeff’s Place as we proceed, and eventually I’ll be writing it up as a feature article for Positive Feedback.
There’s no doubt about it, with the Duelund-WRSE project it was a cost-is-no-object sort of DIY project, and the results were amazing, but with A5 VOTT project we’re going to see how well we can do at a modest price, so more of you are able to join in the fun.
Altec-Lansing A5 & A7 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers are relatively affordable vintage super speakers, and our goal is to develop relatively affordable super crossovers for them.
Yazaki-san has sent a wonderful crossover kit to get us going, and I’ve got the six 6.6mH inductors we’ll need for the crossovers ordered from the good folks at Solen Electronique, so I’ll have inductors in-hand shortly. I’ve also got some plywood breadboards left over from the Duelund-WRSE crossover project to use for laying out the crossovers. After I get the crossovers laid out, we’ll figure out what to use for wiring, perhaps Western Electric, or possibly Duelund pure silver wire that uses silk and various oils for isolation. When I know how many I’ll need to mount everything, I’ll order up the McMaster-Carr setscrew lugs for all the connections. As we found in the Duelund-WRSE crossover project, the use of setscrew lugs from McMaster-Carr for mechanical connections of wires on the crossover boards not only sounded better than solder connections, they made it a breeze to swap out components, something we may be doing quite a bit of as we optimize the crossovers.
The World of Bespoke Audio
Sometimes your audio project or adventure is out of reach of your DIY skills, not to mention that not everyone wants to, or can do, DIY projects. Sometimes you need help in doing something custom to get the best personally-tailored performance for your project idea. Sometimes the very best work for your needs is done by the bespoke artisans of the audio world, with a level of performance that would be difficult or impossible to attain on your own as a DIY project.
So what does ‘bespoke’ mean? Simply it means to make an individual, personalized order of a custom-made product from an artisan having extreme levels of skill and knowledge. For example, if you want a custom silk dinner jacket that fits you perfectly, you order it from a bespoke tailor.
My first encounter with fine bespoke audio was when Mark Coles (Sablon Audio) provided bespoke internal cabling and speaker cables for the Duelund-WRSE project.
Mark’s design skills, along with Dr. Paul Mills’ (Tannoy) advice for best matching of the cabling to the Tannoy Dual Concentric driver of the Westminster, and my feedback on voicing from the field, resulted in bespoke cabling for the Duelund-WRSE project that was incredibly good.
I have been experimenting with and enjoying the vintage Western Electric wiring & Belden 8402 ICs that Yazaki-san has suggested, but that doesn’t mean I have changed my mind about Mark’s Sablon Audio power cords, interconnects, and speaker cables, which are simply the finest bespoke products of their kind I have encountered.
In fact my buddy Leo, who is also a big fan of Mark Coles’ bespoke work, has a full complement of Mark’s latest Sablon Audio products at home to listen to right now (below).
In the not too distant future, I’ll be traveling to England, and I’ll have an opportunity to visit with Mark, and I’ll talk to him about his latest thoughts on high-performance cabling, as well as discuss his latest power cord, interconnect, and loudspeaker cable creations.
It should be fun and illuminating!
Another example from the bespoke audio world is the Garrard Project 2015 that I wrote about in Positive Feedback Issue 79.
My vision for an ultimate Garrard 301 transcription turntable was a Garrard 301 updated with a 401 motor, with a new non-flexible chassis, an oversized & perfectly balanced platter, spinning on a precision spindle assembly uprated for the heavier platter, all of which would be improvements in the spirit of Mr. E. W. Mortimer’s upgrades when he attempted to improve the 301 by making the 401.
I have heard a lot of Garrards over the years, and that informed my vision for a plinth that best complements them. My favorite Garrard plinths have been those that are built up in wood layers and fit the Garrard like a glove, as I thought that provided the best balance of realistic timbral textures, deep tone colors, explosive drive, and rich musicality that I crave from the Garrard 301. I also wanted my plinth to accommodate two tonearms: one tonearm for a monaural cartridge, and one tonearm for a stereo cartridge.
I wanted my plinth to be veneered beautifully, with a finish that rivaled my Adirondack Spruce & Brazilian Rosewood Gibson Advanced Jumbo guitar, so that the Garrard Project 2015 would look more like the curvaceous, beautifully finished, musical instrument I wanted it to be, rather than the more rustic look of my first Garrard project.
Ray Clark made me a bespoke turntable at his Classic Turntable Company in the village of Midgley, West Yorkshire, that is his (and my) vision of the ultimate ‘hot-rodded’ Garrard turntable .
It included a very rigid custom CNC’d chassis with my favorite Hammertone finish, and a 401 motor.
It also included an oversized, massive, brass platter and an uprated spindle & bearing assembly.
Christopher Thornton created one of his stunning reference 2-tonearm plinths that was eye-poppingly gorgeous, with an even nicer finish than my Gibson Advanced Jumbo guitar!
The result has been spectacular to listen to music with, as well as a beautiful work of art in its own right!
My pal Leo liked my Garrard Project so much he bought one too, and he went for the even more deluxe version with the brass chassis, the latest precision spindle/bearing assembly, and the outboard power supply – it’s a beauty!
Dave Slagle of Intact Audio will make bespoke step-up transformers tailored to your phono cartridge needs. Dave offers bespoke step-up transformers (SUTs) out of copper or silver with delicious nickel cores that are tailored specifically to bring out the best in your phono cartridge, and while not cheap, they don’t cost an arm & a leg like some of the ‘name’ SUTs do. Dave recommended a dual mono SUT to me for my Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII phono cartridge, and I couldn’t be happier!
High-Performance Mainstream Audio
I’ve covered some eclectic audio realms so far, extolling the virtues and satisfaction associated with vintage gear, the excitement of pursuing DIY adventures, and the artistic & visionary world of bespoke audio.
Some of you, and certainly me at times, just want to go out and buy something that is musical & reliable to enjoy listening to music with, and be done with it.
There are high-performance audio products that you can go out and buy today that can fulfill your musical satisfaction endgame.
If you’ve got a smaller room for listening, Harbeth loudspeakers can be uncommonly musical.
In larger rooms Tannoy loudspeakers can be viscerally wonderful.
If you need superbly musical solid-state electronics with a lot of power my favorite is the ASR Emitter II Exclusive Version Blue amplifier.
If you’re looking for a truly inspiring turntable, you’d be hard pressed to find one more appealing than the SPEC GMP-8000 turntable. For me it was love at first listen when I heard the SPEC GMP-8000 turntable at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. If I could afford to purchase another turntable, the SPEC GMP-8000 would be it.
If you’re after an astonishingly musical solid state amplifier of lower power, then the SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier is my first choice.
For a low-powered vacuum tube integrated amplifier the Leben CS600 is my first choice. Combined with it’s partner Leben phono stage, the RS30EQ, it is a formidable duo that has impressed many with its show winning performances. The Leben combo has been one of my personal hi-fi treasures, and it has now been in my home longer than any other hi-fi gear I have.
A Little Help From My Friends
I need your help with recommendations.
One thing I want to look into this year is extremely musical ‘CD’ players. I want something that can play all kinds of discs, but most importantly, I want to start renewing my friendship with my 1000+ RedBook CD collection. I also want it to have an input so I can run my computer into it. It should be able to play any current hi-rez digital file format. It should be analog-like in its musicality. Let me know your thoughts for review ideas!
I also want to investigate single ended triode (SET) amplifiers that would be a good match for my A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers. It seems almost unimaginable, but I don’t have a single SET in the house any more. Review ideas?
It is my hope that I can continue to bring you exciting reports from the world of vintage gear, DIY projects, bespoke gems, and contemporary high-performance audio gear with an uncommonly musical heart.
Thanks for stopping by!