One room at the 1999 CES in Las Vegas that knocked me for a loop was the Avalon/Classé installation mentioned in my April show report. Classé had just debuted the Omega preamp, the companion piece to the Omega amplifier I reviewed in March. It proved a very suave, musical, and high-performance marriage.
Now that we've gained a basic understanding of speaker setup, cable dressing and hygiene, and electrical theory, it's time to consider where and how to site your equipment. I've seen all sorts of weird, jerry-rigged shelves and poor component placement, some of the worst in pricey systems whose owners really should have known better. But you can achieve a stunning level of improvement from a haphazardly set-up system---even an entry-level one---when it's rearranged so as to let the components breathe.
Just what is the absolute sound, and how do you get there from here? What the heck are we looking for as we endure the mirth of others while purposefully setting up our high-end systems? Is it, indeed, the sanctified sound of acoustic instruments in real space? Can we ever really achieve that? Or is it the accurate realization of the signal on the master tape? Or—as was recently suggested at the New York Noise single-ended lovefest, covered in this issue's "Industry Update"—are some of us looking for the emotion and the artist's intent?
Pass Laboratories' X amplifier series represents the efforts of designer Nelson Pass to prove that simple linear amplifier topologies can be scaled to provide high-quality audio performance at very high power levels. The handsome X1000 monoblock under scrutiny here, the largest and most powerful amp in the Pass stable, makes 1000W into 8 ohms and a mighty 2000W into 4 ohms. The amplifier has no global negative feedback, and only two gain stages: the front-end provides all the voltage gain and feeds a high-current follower stage.
A.J. van den Hul calls the Black Beauty a phono cartridge "just for friends." In a way, this Black Beauty was made specially for me—it's been tweaked for an undamped linear-tracking arm. Says so right here on the box: "Forsell Version." But before you explode, know that Mr. van den Hul will be pleased to do the same for you. He'll adjust the suspension of any Black Beauty– or Grasshopper-series cartridge for your arm and 'table. Or, should you specify, for "the preamp and load impedance, a particular brand of records to be played, the type of music generally played (jazz being more dynamic and classical more spacious and detailed), and other personal/sound preferences."
Sometimes you have to sweat the details, sometimes they just fall in your lap. Take Victor Tiscareno. Victor's company, AudioPrism, has been making electronics, accessories, and power-conditioning products for quite some time. While he was visiting and installing a pair of his Mana Reference tube amplifiers for an upcoming review, Victor and I got to talking about power---the kind that comes out of the wall. Victor studied electrical engineering and is very au courant in such matters. During these ruminations he shared with me a recipe for what he calls The Poor Man's Dedicated Line.
Nagra's VPA amplification system consists of two slim, handsome monoblock amplifiers intended for vertical placement. They look good adjacent to the speakers. However, two 845 tubes put out a lot of heat, so the amplifier should be at least a foot away from your speakers...unless you're looking for a nice crackle finish.
Last month (click here for previous Fine Tunes) I tipped you on how to check the AC plug orientation for transformer current leakage—the best sound is often found at the lowest voltmeter reading. Roger Skoff of XLO suggests another technique that's worth passing on to you, if only because the imagery is so . . . piquant: Leave the speaker cables hooked up and pull the interconnects from the power amplifier. Turn it on and "stick your head in the speaker," as Roger puts it, checking for the level of hum. (Imagine a pair of bony audiophile legs waving crazily out of the bell of an Avantgarde Acoustics horn speaker.)