Listening #139 Page 2

In an unusually good-sounding Russian recording of excerpts from Prokofiev's Cinderella (LP, Melodiya C 01381-2, with Gennadi Rozhdestvensky conducting the Moscow Radio Large Symphony Orchestra) every pizzicato was a burst of intensity, every note in the harps and double basses a deep, colorful thrum—and every melody an object of fascination. And in "Still There'll Be More," from Procol Harum's Home (LP, Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1014), Chris Copping's unusually resonant electric bass and the ever-inventive drumming of the late B.J. Wilson seemed locked together, temporally and dynamically, as never before.

In other words, near the beginning of my listening, I thought it would probably be silly for anyone to buy two of these amplifiers—especially someone who owns a pair of loudspeakers as efficient and as potentially tactile and emotive as my Altec Valencias. Now, near the end of that listening, I think it would be silly not to: The monoblock experience seems to be the way the Miyajima 2010 was meant to be heard—and I loved it.


A brief addendum: On the 2010's rear panel, next to the Stereo/Mono toggle, is a similar-looking switch that allows the user to select between 0 and 2dB of negative feedback. According to Noriyuki Miyajima, the addition of feedback "improves data"—but he strongly recommends not using it, suggesting that, without feedback, the amp sounds better. I used the zero-feedback setting for all of my listening—and the one time I tried 2dB of feedback, with a single 2010 switched to stereo mode, a mild hum ensued. He wasn't kidding about the sounds-better thing.

During their time in my system, singly and as a monoblock pair, the Miyajima 2010s were among the most reliable products I've used. (Forgive me when I admit that, when powering up a strange amp for the first time, I sometimes operate the switch with my foot, so I can keep both hands close to both ears. That applies, especially, to handmade amps, OTLs, and handmade OTLs—and yet the 2010s produced not a single untoward noise.) I also admire their styling—the protective tube cages detract somewhat, but they're easily removed—and I thoroughly enjoy them as well-made things. More to the point, the Miyajima 2010s are among the best-sounding, most musically involving amplifiers I've enjoyed in my home: Living with them has been a delight. I feel of twinge of envy for anyone who can afford to add them to their system.

Dog and Pono
As I write this, the Internet is abuzz with debate over Pono, the music-playback format conceived and promoted by Neil Young (footnote 2). That we're debating it at all is a healthy thing—given, especially, how our community has suffered in the past from the knee-jerk acceptance of some formats and the similarly jerky rejection of others. On the other hand, if Neil Young and his colleagues have their way, Pono will reach so far beyond the audiophile community that the matter of our acceptance or rejection would be of very little consequence. Better to speak up now.


I'm a passionate, longtime fan of Neil Young's music. I bought his first, eponymous solo album when I was 16: an age when the $3.35 price of the average stereo LP did not come easy, and during an era when pop-music albums of staggering importance were released at a rate of something like 10 per week. Moreover, I have passed on only a few of Young's records since then (and returned for a refund only one: Re*ac*tor).

Thus it pains me to consider two things that trouble me about Pono—which is, otherwise, a freshly opened window in a stagnant house.

One: I was moved by the promotional film on the Pono website. Sure, I think Sting is a horse's ass, and I continue to be astonished by the ability of Don Was to write himself into the script of every pop-music scene of the past 40 years. But I love Stephen Stills and Beck and the Foo Fighters and Gillian Welch, and all of their comments were heartening—especially Welch's. But I'm astonished that these people are trying to convince everyone in the industry that their new music-playback system will revolutionize the world—and they're demonstrating it in a car.

Really: Are they kidding? Is this some semi-unconscious, passive-aggressive way of maintaining an aura of cool while dabbling in commerce—by insulting the people who Pono'd up $6.2 million for the format's Kickstarter campaign? I can't think of any other explanation, because throughout the promotional film, whenever someone exits Neil Young's demonstration car, there is always a building nearby—and those things tend to contain actual rooms.

It's like announcing your intention to build a new hotel, then inviting all the investors to a sleepover in a tent in your back yard: It just doesn't make sense. Car stereos sound like shit. The environment is noisy. The power supply is junk. The playback gear itself is reliably substandard. The only good thing that can come from demonstrating a music system in a car is that the experience might trigger a pleasant, subliminal association with marijuana or fellatio. Otherwise, as ideas go, this one lacks merit.

Two: I'm disappointed that Neil Young—a lifelong supporter of the American automobile industry, a collector of American guitars, a co-founder of Farm Aid, a 2001 honoree of People for the American Way, onetime co-owner of American electric-train manufacturer Lionel LLC (and co-holder of seven patents associated with the company's products), and writer of countless songs celebrating America and its people—couldn't arrange to have his music player manufactured in the US, or at least Canada, for God's sake. (The players are being made in Shenzhen, China, by PCH International.) Were Neil Young to put his name—or the names of James Taylor, Tom Petty, or any of the other Pono endorsers whose autographs are engraved on limited-edition, premium-price Pono players—on a signature-edition guitar, you can bet it would be made in North America. Why should electronics be any different?

The answer is sadly apparent. From late-20th-century product reviews that falsely proclaimed the achievement of "perfect" sound, thus leaving to consumers little more than the ability to choose convenience features and cosmetics—I'm looking at you, Stereo Review and Consumer Reports—to contemporary marketing assaults that strive only to bolster the tyranny of the new, electronic goods have been devalued in the minds of consumers, who now view such products as both unfathomable and disposable.

Neil Young and his talented team are not obliged, in their own commercial efforts, to counter that trend. But I wonder how much long-term good can really be done by becoming a part of it.

And having said that, I do hope Pono will succeed—and I am somewhat inclined to think that it will. The more people talk about better-quality music playback, the better for all of us.

Footnote 2: See and

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

The salesman at the hi-end salon where I bought my tubed gear said something that I should have heeded. He said, "Tubes will never sound the same," meaning that from the moment you first turn them on, they start degrading, as opposed to solid state, which is stable and always sounds the same. I love the sound of tubes, but if I could do it over again, I would have made the compromise and purchased solid state.

Buyer beware. Tubed gear requires maintenance, at the very least regular replacement of power output tubes (an expensive proposition when you get into hand-matched pairs and their rarity). Due to the high heat, the gear is not as durable and is more prone to breakdown. Are you willing, buyer, to put up with all this? Are you that committed? Or do you want the peace of mind of being able to turn on your equipment for years without worrying about it not working or sounding the same?

Tubes haven't been manufactured by any large electronics corporation, like Phillips or GE, for decades. The heart of your equipment will rely on tubes either manufactured in a foreign country, like Russia or China, or by small, boutique outfits. Are you ready to live with this? Are you ready to trust these products? Are you ready for the expense?

Just a warning that the romance and allure of tubes doesn't last.

BB's picture

"18 new-old-stock Black Cat capacitors". Harumph! I have rebuilt many vintage tube amplifiers for my friends and for myself. These old-style caps have a notoriously high failure rate. They inevitably become leaky, upsetting tube operating points and creating distortion. I replace them with modern polypropylene or polystyrene caps (Teflon for upscale projects), even if they test OK for now, because they are time bombs. Being NOS, these have still aged and have absorbed atmospheric moisture sitting in a box. They might test OK today, but think of them as being in capacitor hospice. They also add third harmonic distortion, especially the paper-dielectric types, even when fresh. Maybe that's what's desired by Miyajima, but it's not for me. I think the fad of using these old caps is misguided. Many Asian (and American) audiophiles have a reverence for vintage American audio, which has a valid basis, but they sometimes take such a religious stance too far, IMO.

Joseph Reader's picture

I have just read your insightful comments, and would be interested in your opinion regarding the best tube (power) amps currently available. By "best" I mean best-sounding, but I also value things that are reliable and trouble-free.

I love my Conrad-Johnson Premier 11A, my only complaint being that it doesn't sound genuinely GREAT till it is fully warm--i.e., till it has been playing for at least six hours (and preferably about eight hours). I very often don't have time to wait for it.

I'll be grateful for the benefit of your experience. Thanks.

(Of course, the same invitation and request is extended to others here as well.)

revbond's picture

Did you ever solve the hum resulting from the feedback switch?