Day One for Herb Reichert

Jason Victor Serinus, Sasha Matson, and myself spent crazy time before the show started talking, scheming and dividing up RMAF rooms. But, in the end, after hours of planning, I finally declared, "You two cover the audio rock stars, I'll go find the rooms of the lesser known, still unknown, or up-and-coming, exhibitors that may have not made show-report headlines in the past.

One such newcomer was Dennis Fraker, of Serious Stereo ("We Build What It Takes") who, besides trafficking in alliteration, made Rosanne Cash's "She's Got Your Picture" sound sad, sexy and real. He was driving his racecar smooth Serious Stereo Speakers (Altec 604s by Great Plains Audio—$13,750/pair) with single-ended triode monoblocks ($16,750/pair). For those of you who have never experienced what 44 lbs of pure Alnico magnet can do driving a +100dB-sensitive, coaxial paper-cone speaker with a horn-loaded tweeter—it is time for you to get "Serious" about audio and check out Mr. Fraker's sound. I thought Mr. Fraker had exactly the gear it takes to make a great show listening experience.

It was Albert Grossman Day in the Sakura Systems room.

I was a hippie once—well actually that's a lie, I was a gearhead greaser who loved hippie music. Albert Grossman was the legendary rock promoter who managed both Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Sakura Systems' Yoshi Sagoshi had original pressings of both artists. I spotted them the minute I entered the room. He also had the new Fuuga MC phono cartridge recently reviewed by Michael Fremer. Mikey has a way of making me "want" things and his report on the new $8950 Fuuga was still fresh in my head when Sakura Systems proprietor, Yoshi Sagoshi lowered the arm on the exotic Koma turntable/tonearm system ($14,500/$2250).

How good was the Fuuga? Well, the answer was "Blowing in the Wind" as Yoshi played me both the nasal-voiced Zimmy/Dylan version and the gentler more feminine, Peter, Paul, and Mary version. Listening through the new Sakura Systems En-Kuu speaker system ($15,000/pair), 47 Laboratory "Kaname" control preamp ($12,000), and "Fudou" power amplifier ($10,000), I had to ask myself, how many great cartridges (and hi-fi systems) must one man have before he can hear people sing? The answer is surely: not too many. After listening, I'd have to say the Fuuga will let the white doves fly and let any weary audiophile rest assured he made a good choice. Both of these iconic LPs sounded just like the inside of my expanded old mind always hoped they would. Thank you Yoshi.

I reviewed the new and completely innovative Vinnie Rossi LIO modular "integrated" hi-fi system in the September issue and I thought it was amazing in every way except, at only 25Wpc, it could get a little used-up by a demanding loudspeaker. When I said that to Vinnie, he grinned and winked, "Just wait until RMAF." He assured me a standalone 120Wpc stereo (250W bridged-mono) power amplifier was cooking in his lab.

Today I saw Vinnie's new ultracapacitor-powered VR120 amplifier. I touched it, I photographed it (above), and I listened to it play Thom Yorke in the most effortless, grainless, natural, detailed, visceral, musically exciting way.

The VR120 was driving the Harbeth Monitor 40.2 loudspeakers, which were making their US debut at the show. To date, I have not found anything not to love about Vinnie's amps driving Harbeths.

This "What could be better?" combo was being sourced by a the sweet German-made authority of an Acoustic Signature Challenger Mk.III turntable with TA1000 tonearm ($6995) and a jumping Dynavector XX-2 cartridge ($1950). I apologize if my praise sounds too much like advertorial, but this gear fits my own personal taste: it plays music in a way I could live with for a long long time. But don't take my word for its quality, go listen and see what you think.

I am currently reviewing the new Technics SB C700 loudspeaker ($1700/pair) and have been listening every day for month to the SB C700s driven by the SU C700 45Wpc (8 ohms) SU C700 integrated amp ($1600). So, after getting very used to how this equipment sounds in my room, it was a wild, educating adventure to hear it in the bright and shiny Technics room at RMAF. I never could have imagined how the exact SB C700 traits I discovered at home (ie, fast, lively, clean, supremely balanced, and incomparably neutral) would jump right out at me and instantly validate my tentative findings.

Now, I will go home and finish my investigations; armed with even more confidence that I am perceiving this design as a serious breakthrough in the small monitor-type speakers. If you are an old funny-duddy with some weird prejudice against big Japanese audio, I am telling you now: get over it and check out this extraordinary new competition for my beloved KEF LS50 and Falcon LS3/5a loudspeakers.

When JA forbad me from entering RMAF's CanJam room, which would be heavily featured on our sister site, I stuck out my lower lip and pouted heavily. I understood their fear of losing me and having to put my picture on a milk carton, but Jeeze Louise, we all know the real and biggest high-end listening adventures are happening on and between our ears. Current advances in headphone and headphone amp design are way more elegant, beautiful and exciting than anything happening with massive, floor-standing woodpiles and cool-running, class-D, aluminum monoblocks. But guess what? I fooled my superior!

I didn't have to sneak into CanJam to sample some of the best new headphones on the planet. Stax Electrostatic Audio Products (one of the true pioneers in electrostatic floor and earspeakers) had a room in the Marriott Atrium, which was right down the hall from my sleeping room. I couldn't help myself. The room featured a long table with Stax phones arranged in ascending order of price—all playing the same music. So I could grasp the full scope of their new lineup, Tats Yamanashi (Yama's Enterprises Inc.) set me in the first chair and played the Boston Symphony Orchestra's 1962 rendition of Saint Saëns Organ Symphony in C minor conducted by Charles Munch via Stax's classic entry-level SR-307 headphones ($425) and SRM-323S driver amp ($875). The sound was smooth, open and extremely articulate.

I was done, I could have stopped there and lived happily ever after but Yamanashi-san insisted I also experience the highly regarded SR-009 ($4450) and SRM-727II amp ($1950). Okay, I love these even way more. You can stop now. I am going home to cry and pine for these supremely vivid and naturally detailed transducers.

But now that the super Stax sound hook was completely set in my mind, Mr. Yamanashi grinned and told me it was my lucky day. I asked why and he explained that all the way at the far end of the table was the first and only example of Stax's new flagship models: the SR-L700 and SR-L500 ($TBA)—the first, complete re-design of their products in 36 years! He said they incorporated stator technology from the SR-009 and that many fans may consider the SR-L700 a "Baby 009. . ." I considered the sound Class A+. Folks, if you haven't experienced one of Todd Garfinkle's M•A Recordings CDs via a pair of Stax SR-009 earspeakers, you can not (yet) fully understand what high-end audio has to offer.

2_channel_ears's picture

Serious Stereo - I know this farmer. Saw him and a compatriot hawking those speakers and an amp at a DYI show in Portland. Great shit-kickin' sound.

tlathrop1's picture

The speakers in the Vinnie Rossi/Harbeth room were the new Harbeth Monitor 40.2, not the Super HL5 Plus. The system did indeed sound superb.

tonykaz's picture

Hav'ta agree about Stax, a superb Sound System that fits in a Lunchbox! .

It has the capability of triggering Dopamine release just like the big Box stuff, with a best gear (price range) under $10,000!
Because it's so portable, it's even more addictive.

Tony in Michigan

ps. JA was right trying to keep you away, you might jump ship to where a $8 Billion Dollar Market awaits with a Global Readership growing rapidly. He needs you to stay right there with him in the stogy world of vinyl twiddlers, supporting the high margins that 33 is supposed to have.

dalethorn's picture

Vinyl is still growing, new things are being discovered and developed, too early to jump any ships.

tonykaz's picture

Nice hearing from y'all.
Ink Fountain Pens is still growing too, as are Rolex mechanical Watches and Weber Carburetors for sports cars ( if you can believe the Corvette Owners Groups ).
I just traveled 17 Countries, saw thousands of people ( about 50% seem to have Ear Buds of some sort, none I talked to knew of anyone still playing Vinyl ( not that I asked everyone, mind you) .
Yes, there are folks that still own Record Collections ( including me ) and there are zillions of unloved Records still out there that were never thrown-out. Grandchildren sell them at Garage Sales.
And, yes Vinyl is Profitable for Manufacturers and Sellers ( can't internet download or share a 33, can you? )
But, it isn't better, it's just a different flavor ( a very inconvenient & expensive flavor ).
It's Old-School too, like 35mm Film Camera's.
Of course, if I had 12,000 33 Vinyls I'd be say'n stuff like "Vinyl ain't dead, not in the slightest, but I'd be lying to myself and everyone else.
Well, god-bless the hangers-on; all those folks I sold Conrad-Johnson & VPI & Koetsu to, they devoted their entire hobby love to Vinyl.
I am cautioning folks against "investing" in any Vinyl purchase, it's sad to see the Glossy Mag people still supporting it, especially now that so much advancement is taking place.

Tony in Michigan

Venere 2's picture

This is the worst time to get into vinyl. The bubble will burst sooner rather than later. I sold all my vinyl gear and records early in the year. I got great value for it.

Some people will get stuck with analog gear that cost them many thousands, but will have no resale value. Fancy paperweights they will become...

dalethorn's picture

It's one thing to be on the wrong track and not understand what vinyl playback is really about, but then to repeat all of the known canards about digital superiority and convenience at length is just too much protest.

Here is one tiny analogy that may possibly spring you loose from the rut you're in: Ken Rockwell, one of the most technically compent measurement gurus on planet Earth says that in order to capture everything that's on a good 35 mm slide would require 175 mp in a digital exposure. Typical full-frame digital cameras today have 24-35 mp, so they're way behind analog in some ways.

Now to vinyl records - the fact that a phono pickup is the only playback system that generates its own current might not interest you, but it's a real phenomenon that ordinary people where I live and hang out appreciate.

tonykaz's picture

I own a Print Company, we realized back round 2000 that the Canon D1 could outperform our Hasselblad. Everyone else realized too. Still, there are some Film lovers but not in the Industry, just folks with the old love affair.
Mr. Rockwell can make his assertions but it's just more nostalgic silliness for the Old-School folks.
Yes, the Phono Pick-up is a tiny generator, a mechanical transducer, we loved them, I especially loved my Koetsu Collections which I thought were the finest. Microphones also generate voltage. The issue is more to the point of Data Storage, Repeatability, Integrity and transferability.
In short; Digital has enhanced utility along with being infinitely replicatable.

I loved Vinyl, I made Vinyl & Analog my Business ( the 1980s ) but that Era is gone. I was sad about it then, I'm well past it now.

I see these young lads taking up Vinyl thinking they've been conn'ed by some unscrupulous Consumer Audio folks.

I'm disappointed with the Audio Press that I spent so many Advertising Dollars supporting.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

I hope that you're not a school teacher, professor, minister, or counsellor. I would hate to think that a child of mine would be educated and influenced to believe that utility invariably trumps truth and beauty.

tonykaz's picture

Form follows Function not the other way round.

Still, I don't mind folks holding onto their Vinyl. We wouldn't create a new version of Vinyl today or CDs for that matter, the physical Storage medium simply isn't efficient enough.

All the new folks seeing a Record Playback System, for the first time, have in their pockets a Phone that is a Music System.

Vinyl People are now becoming Museum Curators, god bless em.

To be honest, that "Truth & Beauty" ain't all that truthful or beautiful.

A few "Faithful" still go to that Church, Sunday's High Mass is getting pretty thin in attendance, a few come to look but they never return. Sermon today is "Vinyl has Risen"!


Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

Here's what I read in your rebuttal: 1) "Vinyl is not efficient enough, not convenient enough." After reading, repeat step 1) again and again. Tony, repeating this mantra without even beginning to address the actual issues I mentioned, accomplishes nothing.

tonykaz's picture

and you're right , this is accomplishing nothing.

We're sitting here on the Dock arguing as the Ship is already far out to Sea.

Vinyl was nice, back in the day.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

We're not arguing, Tony. I'm presenting an argument, and you're ignoring it in favor of some nostalgia problem you have. Now please, if you have any comment on the technical issues I noted, please do.

rogeronimo's picture

How about vinyl's pitch instability, frequency distortion, amplitude distortion, compressed dynamic range, marginal signal to noise ratio, playback mechanical noise and coloration, sensitivity to acoustic feedback, irreversible degradation of media with every use, fragility to handling and dust damage ?

You don't get all that with digital. Just sayin'...

dalethorn's picture

That's all true, which is why I abandoned vinyl by 1990. But, there are reasons to pursue the technology, for those who have the time and inclination to do the research, because in the end we're dealing with acoustic sound that's transformed into analog electronic waves by microphones before being transformed (sampled) into digital data. Same thing on the playback end - first you decode the digital data to analong waves, then transform the analog waveforms into acoustic sound with speakers and headphones. For me, analog research (for lack of a better term) is something free that I don't have to pay for, that will continue to push high fidelity higher. When we get to the point that we're convinced our digital sampling is perfect, that's the day we look back on years hence and say "Oh, how could we have been so stupid to think that we knew everything!"

Ornello's picture

Obviously, once you try shellac, you'll never go back...LOL

The LP is obsolete, grossly inferior in every way to the CD.

Ornello's picture

Interesting that you quote Ken Rockwell, who is the laughing stock of photographers world-wide. What a moron!

dalethorn's picture

Ken Rockwell, despite his quirks and nods to advertisers, is far more knowledgeable than anyone you know. His measurements and his gear are world class. The fact that he doesn't present himself as an elitist isn't a bad thing. I've learned to read between the lines and avoid people who use disinformation techniques such as name-calling.

Ornello's picture

Rockwell is a self-taught photographer. He knows little about the physics or chemistry of photography, and as I said he is a laughing-stock among photographers. I have forgotten more than he'll ever know about photography. His statement about the resolution of film is false (I use film and love it, but he doesn't know what he is talking about). Like many 'pro' photographers, his knowledge of photography is superficial and unscientific. I have communicated with him directly in the past, and can confirm this.

dalethorn's picture

I'm a self-taught computer programmer (no degree), but I've worked for 26 years as a "Senior Software Engineer" making six figures, and I've done pioneering work in file management as well as telemetry for JPL, etc. etc. I've done photography and photo development for Army intel as well as my own pursuits for decades, and I know more about photography than you do. I'll take Ken Rockwell over you and 100 other wannabes any day.

GO TROLL ELSEWHERE, or the editors will have to reprimand you.

Ornello's picture

LOL. You cannot be serious.

dalethorn's picture

If you have a published book, or a website with those photos of yours, I'm sure someone here would like to look through them.

Ornello's picture

It's amazing what people will believe. CDs are greatly superior to LPs, no matter what you play the LPs on, all else being equal.

tonykaz's picture

are we going back to 2015 on this discussion of CD vs. Vinyl?

Tony in Michigan

Ornello's picture

I have read many comments about why people like LPs, and there are some characters who buy old LPs at Half Price Books where I frequently go to buy used CDs. Sometimes we talk. There is no basis for the argument that LPs 'sound better' than CDs, though many early CDs were made from badly worn tapes, because the record companies wanted to start with big sellers (Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, Dire Straits, Doors, Foreigner, Genesis, etc.). Those CDs did in some cases sound poor, but that has nothing to do with any limitations of CD technology. It had to do with worn and deteriorated tapes, and in some cases poor mastering. Listen to any recent Paul Simon album on CD, and you will be astonished!

tonykaz's picture

I'm a RedBook man.

Vinyl's appeal is to Collectors, they need to "justify" their considerable investment.

I suspect that there'll be vinyl collectors active for the next 50 years or so. I will no longer engage them in debate, they are "True Believers" that can't be reasoned with. I'll let them spend their $38 for a Vinyl and $20,000 to maintain a playback system.

I've moved on to the 21st Century.

Tony in Michigan

Senecacato's picture

You wrote many words but that doesnt mean that vinyl is dead. Nowadays so sells vinyl 70% of the music in Sweden and CD have only at most 30 %. But I think its less because of mp3 and services as Tidal and Spotify. Analog music have much better sound than CD:s and mp3:s. In the 90`s people sold their vinylrecords now they are selling their CD:s. I know a lot of kids who is buyingOf course I am useing ear buds too but I`m rather listening to my vinyl with the better sound. And it is very easy to make a cd from a vinyl. And that CD is much better than the one I have bought. I know a lot of kids who buying vinyl. So perhaps is it you who live in a forgotten world with the T-Rex.

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for writing, hmm, I've been waiting 5 years for this letter to arrive, haven't I ? What took so long?

33.3 Vinyl now has it's appointed place : Jazz Collectors with their Museums of Curated 1940s to lately recorded obscure Black Jazz Artists and their unique Record Labels. The Vast range of Jazz Artists can be found and played but only on 33.3 Vinyl.

Jazz Shepherd on YouTube might be the most Verbose and accessible Authority on all things 33.3 Jazz. Stereophile's Mr.Micallef & the New Editor Mr.Austin both seem to be Jazz Historians and Collector Authorities.

For my part, I live with a traveling High-End music system based on RedBook Digital. My synapses are lately tuned to digital sound qualities. Conversely, my previous Format ( 33.3 ) seems to have a "High Voltage in the Air" sort of excitement that tries to electrify the tranquil condition to establish an "edgy" anticipation where a Nirvana like environment is hoped for .

Besides, 33.3 isn't at all portable, rather it's fragile, expensive, short Half-lived , Living-Space -- Square footage demanding, requiring constant sourcing for fresh content from Used Record Stores ( even travel to NY for buying trips ).

33.3 is it's own Hobby! ( as is Gear Collecting, Wire, Tube-rolling, loudspeaker collecting, teflon Capacitor upgrading, Class A and triode Amplification systems ).

My Audio Hobby is the low level dopamine high from having Music as a Drug. My lovely Music is my life long friend and companion: it's like a Morphine Drip, it's a Music Drip!

Tony in 2020 Venice

tonykaz's picture

In the Auto Industry we're looking at about 2020 for our first driverless Cars. Then about 10 years for the entire Nation's fleet of private ownership of driverless to mature into a 100% market penetration.
Conversely, Vinyl died back in the early 1980s yet the Glossy Press still "clings-on" Promoting this "Vintage" & unpopular format. Go figure! And this despite the widely recognized success of the Digital Format.
It's kinda like Car & Driver Magazine featuring Bicycles on their Front Covers and Promoting them with their Editorial Staff all being Bicycle commuters .

Tony in Michigan

ps. It all seems like Ancestor Worship

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Seems like there's no point in messing about with further amp/speaker upgrades now that I've acquired a Stax SR-407 headphone / SRM-006tS tube amp combo.

Suddenly, there-quarters of the gear reviewed in these publications is of no further interest. The only thing I now read about now are sources. ITM, a $25 thrift store Sony PS One does nicely for CD's.

If actual listening to music - which sounds like it did when it was created on stage or in the studio - is your thing, then Stax delivers at an extraordinary price/value ratio.

Tre's picture

I'm not sure Dennis is using the AlNiCo GPA 604E Series II speaker.

Even if he is the total magnet weight is 5.6lbs (4.4lbs for the woofer) not 44lbs.

The total magnet weight for the ferret magnet GPA 604-8H-III is 8.1lbs.