B&K ST-140 power amplifier Sam Tellig and Lars 1989
Let me tell you about Lars.
Lars is a Swede, long resident in the US, who has recently become correspondent for the Stockholm-based magazine Audio/Video. We do a lot of listening together.
I often show up at Lars's lair bearing the latest recording of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. The "Battle on the Ice" takes on added excitement when heard on a system owned by a Swede.
"I'll bet you don't often hear this work performed in Stockholm," I say.
"I never did," says the good-natured Lars, as he pours me a beer.
Lars gets his revenge by writing about me in the Swedish mag. I know he's saying something because I recognize the words "Sam Tellig" and something that looks like "Lyood Snalyorpin." I think that's Swedish for "Audio Cheapskate."
First time I met Lars was when he showed up on my doorstep one Saturday afternoon, two years ago, clutching two runs of speaker wire. I invited him in, and Lars told me this improbable tale.
The pump on his well had conked out, and new wires had to be run from the house to the well. Lo and behold, the wires were solid-core. And there was quite a bit left over. This legendary wire became known as "Lars's well wire"—two separately sheathed leads of 18-gauge solid-core wire, which Lars had twisted one around the other at regular intervals.
"You have to try this," said Lars, breathlessly.
"How about right now?"
I can't recall the wire I was using at the time, but it was expensive. Not that I paid for it. Well, I hooked up the "well wire" between my Jadis JA-30 amps and Quad ESL-63s. The sound was terrific—clear, focused, clean. Even better than solid-core Romex.
Highs may have been slightly rolled off—not a bad thing, most of the time. And bass may have been lacking a little—hard to tell with the Jadis amps and the Quads. Fortunately Lars had enough well wire for us both.
But well wire wasn't good enough for Lars. It couldn't be any good. He hadn't paid anything for it. So, once upon a time, he bought some expensive cable, to run between his Jadis JA-30s and his ESB speakers. I call this wire "Three Bears" cable. You know, this is the "baby bear" conductor—it's for the highs. This is the "mamma bear" conductor—for the mids. And this is the "pappa bear" conductor—it's for the lows.
Expensive wire is hard to resist, because so many people tout it. Not only dealers, but also customers. If a friend buys some expensive cable, he's going to keep bugging you about how great it is—to validate his decision.
"I thought well wire was so great, Lars."
"This stuff is better," said Lars. But his face was an open book. I could tell he was not so sure.
"The Three Bears cable has had a chance to break in, so let's compare it with the well wire," I suggested mischievously. Lo and behold. The sound of the well wire was less smeared, more focused—more coherent. Midrange and treble were smoother, even if the frequency extremes were not so extended.
Soon after that, Lars read Dick Olsher's now-infamous cable survey (in Vol.11 No.7) and became the first kid on his block to own TARA Labs Space and Time Cable—made with "fresh Australian copper." Solid-core was the way to go, and this had to be better than the throw-away well wire.
"This TARA is really good," said Lars, seriously. "Olsher is right."
Olsher is right. The TARA Space and Time is good. But I am not so sure that well wire isn't equally good. I borrowed some TARA from Lars and compared it with twin runs of Radio Shack 18-gauge solid-core copper wire. No difference that I could hear. But what the hell do I know? It's more fun to praise the Radio Shack...or the well wire.
"What speaker cable are you using now?" Lars asks, when he calls.
"Oh, I've gone back to well wire," I answer with delight.
When I'm not tormenting Lars with his/my well wire, I pick on his ESB 7/06 speakers, which he bought partly owing to a favorable review by one J. Gordon Holt. Every time I visit Lars, the speakers—big, large boxes—are in a different place.
"I've really got the speakers to sound good now," says Lars. "I've moved them forward into the room and closer together. Have a listen."
Not that it makes much difference.
The ESBs—no longer imported—are not speakers I can love, although Lars says he likes their "tonality." But what they lack is delicacy and detail. I think they are sort of lifeless. Artificial-sounding—lacking in ambience.
My lack of enthusiasm for the ESBs must be getting to Lars because he is now contemplating the purchase of Vandersteen 4As.
"Vandersteens? Why not Thiels?" I ask.
"If I said Thiel, you'd say Vandersteen," Lars replies.
"Yes, you're probably right."
Until recently, Lars was driving the ESBs (which can use power) with the Jadis JA-30s—not enough muscle. For two years, I have been on Lars's case about this.
But what does Lars do? He doesn't dump the speakers. He dumps the amps. (Probably a smart move—because the JA-30s are underpowered for most applications, which is why I had earlier sold my JA-30s, too. Something bothered me about the JA-30s, and not just the lack of power. The amps were a little too glassy—tube glare. Also, the sound was too lean for my tastes. The JA-30s tended to make every symphony orchestra sound like an undernourished French orchestra. The amps were terrific on chamber music, though.)
Lars ordered a Krell KSA-80.
Now the fun began.
Before Lars had made up his mind, I was all for the Krell. Now I appeared to vacillate.
"I don't know. Maybe you should audition a Rowland again before you make up your mind."
This time, Lars saw through it all. "Last week, you were praising the Krell to the skies. Now you're rhapsodizing about the Rowland. What is this?"
"I hear good things about Levinson."
Lars would be without an amp for two weeks. He had sold the JA-30s but had not yet taken delivery of the Krell.
"I have a spare B&K ST-140 in the closet. Would you like to borrow it?"
Lars accepted. At the time, I had no mischief in mind—I just wanted my friend to have music.
Two days later Lars was on the phone. "That's a good little amp for $498. It's good that people can get such good sound for so little money."
Then nothing for several days, while Lars lets the B&K cook.
"Holy shit!" It's Lars on the phone. "This amplifier has been cooking for a week now and the sound is phenomenal. The tonality is right on. The amplifier has body that the JA-30s never had. And the dimensionality is astonishing—the soundstage stretches so wide and deep. I'm going to have to write this up for Stockholm."
The next night: "Better than ever. You have to drive over to hear it."