Listening #134

Domestic audio is based on two simple processes: transforming movement into electricity and electricity back into movement. Easy peasy.

Audio engineers have been doing those things for ages. Have they improved their craft to the same extent as the people who, over the same period of time, earned their livings making, say, automobiles and pharmaceuticals? I don't know. But if it were possible to spend an entire day driving a new car from 50 years ago, treating diabetes and erectile dysfunction with the treatments that were available 50 years ago, and listening to 50-year-old records on 50-year-old playback gear, the answer might seem more clear.

Actually, I was just kidding about the answer not being clear in the first place: Compared to the advancements achieved by their colleagues in other fields, audio engineers might as well have spent the past 50 years stripping the leaves off branches and dipping them into termite hills.

Certain new developments have been worthwhile. Hats off to everyone who makes low-friction tonearm bearings, transformers that resist saturation, and other marvels that eluded our elders. Modern capacitors work wonders in some applications, as do modern resistors. Silicon diodes, rectifiers, and regulators are useful. The KT120 is a nice tube. Modern plastics and adhesives have made possible some excellent panel-type loudspeakers. Through the miracle of science, we can now safely and effectively wash 80 years' worth of records.

But it seems the majority of engineers in today's audio industry put their greatest efforts behind the least worthy ideas. Complex cables and their integral "correction" systems. Systems that propagate soundwaves from behind and around the listener. Wireless this, remote that, gold-plated this, carbon-fiber that. Products in all categories that can scarcely be moved, let alone lifted, let alone afforded, simply because sheer bulk is the only way their inventors could imagine to make the things better. And, of course, ever-more-powerful amplifiers, as would be required to drive the industry's ever-less-drivable loudspeakers. God help us.

Remarkably, there remains, in the mainstream of perfectionist audio, a sticky film of reverence for Quad ESL speakers and Garrard 301 turntables that could nauseate at 20 paces—like hearing the members of Styx or Queensryche declare their love of Johnny Burnette and Gene Vincent. This seems especially true of the amplifier makers: "Marantz 8B? Greatest amp ever, and a profound influence on our work." Sure. That explains the Mercedes S-class prices, the ridiculously thick laser-cut faceplates, the complex, heavily regulated circuitry, and the output-power ratings that reach into the hundreds of watts and beyond.

That last one is especially hard for me to swallow.

The sounding board
For 18 years I've reported on that strange corner of the world where people insist on playing records through low-power amplifiers and high-efficiency loudspeakers—which, of course, is how the thing was done at the dawn of domestic audio. Ever the aspiring John Reed, I became a convert to the cause I covered: Thus I've not only spent a cat's age writing about scores of flea-watt amps and sensitive speakers, I've bought—and occasionally built—a goodly number of the things for myself.

Over time, I've become more unshakably convinced that this is the best approach for a record lover such as I, who values tone, touch, and musical flow over all else. (There are a lot of other all elses, from which you and every other listener are free to choose.) That conviction led to my purchase, last year, of a crazy, hulking pair of Altec 846A Valencia loudspeakers. Before their arrival, I had never enjoyed such a high and wild level of system responsiveness in my home.

This choice of words is not casual, but rather is inspired by my visit last year, while preparing an article for The Fretboard Journal, to the shop of renowned luthier Dana Bourgeois. He is among the handful of luthiers who spurred the return, to the steel-string guitar industry, of the voicing techniques once popular in factories before the 1940s and '50s: techniques that were abandoned in an effort to streamline production and to produce guitars that were more durable.

Bourgeois begins by considering the manner in which the instrument will be used—the player's touch and picking style, the gauge of strings that he or she prefers, the desired degree of loudness, and so forth—and selects for the top a pair of spruce boards of the precise degree of required stiffness. Bourgeois and his co-workers then brace the top; tap it at various different nodal points, listening for a particular tone; slightly thin the braces; then re-tap, re-listen, and re-thin until the desired tones are achieved. After the top is attached to the body but before its binding is attached, the luthier flexes the top and, if the desired flexibility is not observed, he or she gradually thins its periphery. Finally, after the top has been trimmed, a luthier trained in the procedure taps the bridge to ensure that the top is pushing back to just the right extent.

This method of matching the instrument—which is, of course, an acoustical source, amplifier, and loudspeaker all in one—to the player is so natural, so reliably right, that one wonders why it should be done any other way.

At roughly the time when the larger guitar companies abandoned the notion of voicing their instruments, the leaders of the domestic audio industry decided that, in their quest for flatter frequency response, greater frequency extension, and more "precise" stereo imaging, they would be better off designing their loudspeakers to be unresponsive—that is, to perform less efficiently at transforming electricity into movement, which is the single most important thing a loudspeaker does.

How then, you might wonder, would the consumer drive such an unresponsive loudspeaker? By buying a much more powerful amplifier, of course—because, thanks to Our Friend the Transistor, power is cheap. Besides, all competently designed amps sound the same. Right?

Parallel
Last October, on the day before the last leaves fell from the trees behind my house, a pair of Shindo Laboratory's newest mono amplifier, the D'Yquem ($24,995/pair), arrived at my house for a brief visit (footnote 1). The D'Yquem is named for Chateau d'Yquem, which produces the most expensive and universally well-regarded of sauternes. Novelist Thomas Harris had his star antagonist, Hannibal Lecter, buy a 1961 d'Yquem as a birthday present for protagonist Clarice Starling (it was never delivered), and Julia Child, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Jefferson were among the wine's most notable admirers.

Each D'Yquem amplifier produces up to 18W from a parallel pair of 300B directly heated triode tubes, operated in single-ended mode (and thus in pure class-A). Shindo Laboratory claims for the amp a signal/noise ratio of 110dB, an input impedance of 120k ohms, and harmonic distortion of 0.01%. Although an output-impedance specification is not offered, I assume that the D'Yquem's single secondary Lundahl output transformer is, in typical Shindo fashion, optimized for loads of 8 ohms and (especially) higher.

224listen.amp2.jpg

A glimpse inside reveals some interesting variations on the design and construction details I've seen in Shindo's other amplifiers during the eight years I've followed the brand. Like most amps in Shindo's current lineup, the D'Yquem doesn't use tube rectification, and while every semiconductor-rectified Shindo amp has an internally mounted EY88 diode tube between the AC transformer's high-voltage secondaries and ground—it slowly ramps up the rail voltage to help prolong the life of other parts—the D'Yquem has two EY88s, wired in parallel. Strange! Another unusual doubling-up is seen in the bias supply of this fixed-bias amplifier, where the two output triodes are served by no fewer than four potentiometers. The 300Bs are themselves a different sort for designer Ken Shindo: contemporary Russian-made tubes bearing the oft-traded Genelex label, instead of the Western Electric or Cetron tubes I've seen in all of Shindo's other 300B models.

As he has with all of his amps and preamps, Ken Shindo voiced the D'Yquem with a mixture of vintage parts from his reportedly vast stock of same—Sprague Vitamin Q and Black Beauty signal capacitors, a lovely old Mallory electrolytic cap for the bias supply, NOS Philips 6AW8A dual-triode/pentode tubes for input gain and buffering—and other parts that are decidedly modern. The latter include a smattering of French polypropylene-film capacitors from Solen, an uncharacteristically large (for Shindo) dry-electrolytic reservoir cap for the main power supply, a new type of Japanese ceramic-substrate resistor for select applications in the signal path, and the Swedish Lundahl transformers that Shindo has come to prefer for most of his products.



Footnote 1: Shindo Laboratory, Japan, Web: www.shindo-laboratory.co.jp. US distributor: Tone Imports LLC, New York, NY. Web: www.toneimports.com.
ARTICLE CONTENTS
Share | |
COMMENTS
tnargs's picture

What a deluded and generally insane opening few paragraphs. Clearly you are no philosopher, Mr [Dudley] (puerile insult deleted by John Atkinson].

 

It's got nothing to do with audio engineers that today's audio is where you say it is. It has more to do with people like YOU, Mr [Dudley].

 

I know car enthusiasts who drive 1950's and 60's Alfa Romeo's around, proclaiming how much more soul they have than modern vehicles, and how they hate to drive modern vehicles. They wail about no progress in auto engineering, or progress in the wrong areas. These people are YOUR soulmates, Mr [Dudley]. I bet they look across at our hobby and clearly see the wonderful progress in audio engineering, and and they look back to their beloved cars and philosophically ask why cars didn't start flying 30 years ago, like we did with digital audio. Meet your mirror, Mr [Dudley].

 

When you write about what "the majority of engineers in today's audio industry put their greatest efforts behind ", I realise that you have probably never met a real audio engineer, nor have a clue what they do or what they are working on. You seem to be so disconnected from everything audio (apart from the retro-luddite arm, and the products of marketing psychology applied to the high end market) that you think backwards is forwards, up is down, and the sky is never blue. This article, and it is not alone in your output, is a litany of lies, proclaimed as truth, as absolute truth in fact. Your articles resemble nothing as much as they resemble a TV evangelist, loved and adored by his fans, derided and ridiculed by everyone else.

 

This magazine is a case in point. I remember about 20 to 25 years ago, Stereophile magazine was reporting on multichannel audio, led by articles by erstwhile visionaries like Holt. Then suddenly that disappeared from the pages and we were back in the 40's: it had to be 2 channels only. Was this change driven by a realisation that multi channel audio is worse or no better? Not a chance: magazine content is driven by advertisers and commercial business boards. Then about 10 to 15 years ago, Stereophile was reporting on room and speaker correction (was it Greene?), then poof! Gone! Because it doesn't work? Not a chance: magazine content is driven by advertisers and commercial business boards. Instead, the magazine brought in columnists like Fremer and Dudley. I rest my case!

Doctor Fine's picture

Goodness knows I have on occasion myself questioned any claim by Mr. Dudley as to the philosophical certitude he ascribes to his own peculiar attitude toward our hobby.  The man is unapoligetically infatuated with all things arcane, obscure and most importantly---antique.  And he sometimes in the distant past would annoy me with his condescending sense of superiority---when I knew all the time it was I who was superior!

Be that as it may,  Artie is unflinchingly dedicated to QUALITY and for that quest alone he shall find me defending his right to writ as he shall see fit.  A few years ago this was driven home when I found myself taking his advice on how to use his arcane knowledge concerning phono cartridge step up transformers. 

I was wrestling with the totally modern incarnation of a modified and hot rodded Technics 1200 direct drive turntable which did everything right except SOUND good.  Art was at that point recommending phono transformers as a lost art deserving of inclusion in the quest for tone.  And he was spot on.

And who but Art to come to the rescue when I was in search of add-on high frequency super tweeters to extend my playback into bat range (50,000 cycles per second in fact)?  The man is nothing if not a source of all things necessary to a MODERN audio user.  Even as he dwells several decades behind what is fashionable.

There must be room in our hobby for specialist knowledge and the arcane or we shall all simply buy Wilson Sophias, solid state moose amps and be done with it. 

I say all in favor of Art stand with me as I pour a steep drink of aged Scotch whiskey and proclaim---THIS is the year of the ART!

John Atkinson's picture

tnargs wrote:
I remember about 20 to 25 years ago, Stereophile magazine was reporting on multichannel audio, led by articles by erstwhile visionaries like Holt. Then suddenly that disappeared from the pages and we were back in the 40's: it had to be 2 channels only.

You must be thinking of a different magazine. Yes, Gordon Holt was a very strong advocate for multichannel audio and one of the reasons he left Stereophile in 1999 was my refusal to eliminate the magazine's coverage of 2-channel audio components and recordings. After he left, Kalman Rubinson took over our coverage of of multichannel audio and does so to this day in his bimonthly "Music in the Round" column.

tnargs wrote:
Was this change driven by a realisation that multi channel audio is worse or no better? Not a chance: magazine content is driven by advertisers and commercial business boards.

As there was no change, your point is moot. And please note that Stereophile's editorial content and policies are not decided by advertisers or by "commercial business boards" (whatever they might be) but by me. While multichannel audio has a strong following, the reality is that the majority of the magazine's readers listen to two-channel systems.

tnargs wrote:
Then about 10 to 15 years ago, Stereophile was reporting on room and speaker correction (was it Greene?), then poof! Gone!

Again, you appear to be confusing Stereophile with another magazine, most likely The Absolute Sound, for which Robert E. Greene writes. Again, Kalman Rubinson continues to cover room correction technology for this magazine. I have no idea why you are not aware of that fact, unless you don't actually read the magazine you criticize.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Regadude's picture

[insult deleted] Mixing up Stereophile with The absolute sound...

That's just as bad as mixing up Playboy with Hustler! Shame on you!

John Atkinson's picture

Regadude wrote:
Mixing up Stereophile with The Absolute Sound...

The more I think on it, the more I believe the poster was indeed confusing the two magazines.

After Gordon Holt left Stereophile, he signed up with The Absolute Sound to contribute a  column on multichannel audio to that magazine. That column ran irregularly in TAS but ended when Gordon was let go. As far as I can tell, TAS has not covered multichannel in any systematic way since Gordon left, which correlates  with the original poster's statement.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

tnargs's picture

Dear JA, when you say "puerile insult deleted" (which in my defence readers should know was nothing more than an abbreviation of AD's surname, and hence anyone should realise is purely in fun, and to do so in my Great Southern Land is a common means of mocking endearment -- maybe such is not in the American lexicon?), when you say "puerile insult", you should consider this one that you let AD get away with and is surely ten times worse: "Compared to the advancements achieved by their colleagues in other fields, audio engineers might as well have spent the past 50 years stripping the leaves off branches and dipping them into termite hills."

If you think that is anyting less than an insult, then I say you aren't qualified to assess insults competently.

John Atkinson's picture

tnargs wrote:

when you say "puerile insult deleted" (which in my defence readers should know was nothing more than an abbreviation of AD's surname, and hence anyone should realise is purely in fun...)

Except that you repeated the abbreviation and used it to mock Art Dudley. Didn't seem like "fun" to these eyes.

And given that you have neither acknowledged nor addressed my response to your orginal point, I suspect it will soon be time to reach for my can of "Troll-B-Gone" :-) 

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

tnargs's picture

If you treat me as a troll, then you are treating as a troll a person who evidently has greater respect for the field of audio engineering than do your own columnists. I have been an enthusiastic audiophile for thirty-something years, and I try to be both passionate and balanced in my opinions. I look at audio engineering and I see a lot of things that were not in service of better sound quality, but I also see a lot of serious advancement in the pursuit of sound quality. I take a rather dim view of claims that no such advancements have occurred, and that the best audio engineers of the past 50 years may as well have stayed in the trees they descended from to pick up a degree in audio engineering and then evidently use it only as toilet paper.

Regarding my response to your response, I was actually waiting to see if Art Dudley had anything further to say, and hopefully unlike you if he would be so kind as to comment on the main assertion of my post, not to over-emphasise that I made an ill-advised illustrative case in point. On the matter of the content of Stereophile coverage over the years, I defer to your greater knowledge of course. I am a subcriber, although I think it may be due for renewal. I am aware of Kal's articles, although I tire of too much proportion of limited space being spent on pre-pro reviews, and not enough on the superiority of multichannel and how best to realise it at home. I also see a specific absence of Kal's product type from the full review section of the magazine, unlike Art's product type.

Like I keep emphasising, my original comment was not primarily on Stereophile content.

John Atkinson's picture

tnargs wrote:
I remember about 20 to 25 years ago, Stereophile magazine was reporting on multichannel audio. . . Then suddenly that disappeared from the pages . . .i t had to be 2 channels only.

tnargs wrote:
I am aware of Kal's articles...

Do you really not see that these two statements of yours in successive postings are contradictory?

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

tnargs's picture

In reply to "Do you really not see that these two statements of yours in successive postings are contradictory?" :--

Not really. My second posting refers to a later time, hence the use of present tense. I *am* aware of Kal's articles. In fact I posted a comment on #61 last month. I am *not* aware of every one of them, of how long they have been running, or whether they flowed on seamlessly from the departure of Holt such that there was no cessation of multichannel coverage in Stereophile. That would be one for you to answer.

Hence no self-contradiction by me myself I.

Meanwhile, audio engineers of the world await, with bated breath, any clarification on their mass incompetence, irrelevance and non-achievement over the last 50 years. (Not really. I doubt that they look to Stereophile for competent assessment of their craft.)

kafo's picture

I'm sure this is a fine amplifier, but the price seems to be quite high. Lundahl transformers, Solen caps and electrolytics are OK, but anyone who knows the prices of these parts must wonder where the very high price comes from.

Metalhead's picture

I listened to a 300b SET and former Klispch turned into a super type speaker with TAD driver with wooden horn and some exotic super tweeter with special crossover and it was magnificent. I also got to hear a 55 w push pull in triple monoblock pairs in the same system and although dynamics and authority increased it could not match that magic (best term I can think for my reaction) of a 300b.  

As a former owner of big ass JBL's (and still friggin love em and miss em). I GET where Art is coming from.  I had to send my wonderful cj 12's out for some work after a 300b made them sound (Almost God forbid solid state sounding).

Plus Art is smart enough to live in Upstate NY, one of the most beautiful places on earth and all I can say is preach on brother Dudley.

Peace Out

Regadude's picture

25 000$ big ones for this!?!? Seriously? You can buy 5 Naim Supernait 2s for that amount! You could have a Supernait in each room of your house! 

Hey, but its got tubes....

jimtavegia's picture

Knowing that the silence of thousands huddles around you and enjoy your writings should bring you some comfort. We may never own the things of which you write and that it brings us closer to knowing what ownership might mean, that is enough for the day.  

Knowing that I spin my 2 turntables while the 3rd awaits a new replacement tonearm due to my desire to upgrade its performance, friends talk about "getting back into audio" and marvel at how much vinyl I listen to, and yet weeks go  by as they "still consider the investment". They still dream of  something other than internet radio and streams and listening in their cars. I don't bother them weekly about "what they have done" to enjoy music more, even when enjoying music is more affordable than ever. They can spend a lot or a little. 

I also don't begrudge what others buy or what they enjoy. I just hope that others can either make music or enjoy listening to it in the best possible way. Yet, they go on endlessly about their next cruise and have planned their next two for the year. You can always tell what people are into by what they spend their money on and either a love of music moves you to purchase gear, concert tickets, or both.  Otherwise it is empty rhetoric.  

At one time I did carry in my pocket some round wood 1" coins that had that spelled "TUIT" on both sides. I  would give them out when someone said they would do something when they got a "round TUIT".  Most would laugh, but they got my point. So much great music and so little time. 

Regadude's picture

Good post Jim (I like your posts on Analog planet as well). I agree with you on many things. My point was not that it was foolish to spend a lot of money on audio equipment; but rather, is this the best way to spend 25 000$ on audio equipment. 

Obviously, I don't think so. Others will disagree. Since I am one of those with a fixed income, I do tons of research before buying something, and I want to get my money's worth, or more. I would rather pay for a 1000$ amp that competes with 1500$ amps, than own a 25000$ amp, that is equalled by 15000$ amps. Yes, I look for the best I can afford, but I also want value and not overpay.

That is why I used the 5 Supernait 2s as an example. For most people (me included) a Supernait 2, Rega P9 with a decent cartridge, Naim CD5X and Paradigm or PRoac speakers, with cables and accessories, would cost no more than 25000$. It would be a complete system, and an excellent one at that. 

Then again, some people buy Nordost Odin speaker cables at 40 000$ a pair!!! My dealer sold a pair recently. I guess different people (with different incomes) have different perspectives. 

volvic's picture

As someone who is rapidly approaching the big 50, "So much great music and so little time" rings truer with each passing day.....the rest is noise.  

stereodesk's picture

How much energy is wasted defending or attacking approaches to music reproduction. There are any number of reviewers who assume different tacks.  Shindo-san wisely chose wine as descriptors for his works of art.  One can easily think of hifi in that fashion.  If you know you're a Bordeaux guy (Parker), don't frustrate yourself by reading a Burgundy guy (Coates).  The truth is that among the great stylists, music wins...

I once had the pleasure of demoing a system for Art at the Capital Audio Fest.  He knew, (as did I after reading him for a decade and change), that it wasn't his kind of system.  The beauty was that during his ample stay, his feet pumped and his hands were drumming.  In short, he was loving the music.  Would he have rather heard that music on our other system (Type 50 Triode SET and 100db efficient monitors)...damn straight he would have, but for me it was a win.  There's room for all kinds of artists and engineers in this wide and wondrous realm...reviewers too.

I'm so happy that you were able to hear these amps.  (even if you didn't buy them)

In 1855, when the First Growths of Bordeaux were established d'Yquem was given the designation of Premier Cru Supérieur...or First Growth Superior.  It is the only wine designated as such.  Throughout the long and incredible history of that Chateau, they've never felt compelled to make note of it or put it on one of their labels.  I feel like Shindo-San had a similar feeling about his accomplishments.  He did what he did.  It was his singular expression, and he couldn't have done it any other way.  Those who heard his work in a proper system,(hopefully all Shindo) whether transistor acolytes or birthed under the soft glow of a tube, will likely remember it.  I certainly will.  

Our condolances and deep thanks go out to the Shindo family, friends and colleagues.

Fred Crane

 

 

X
Enter your Stereophile.com username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading