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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cerwin Vega AT-10 repair

I've been super busy working with the editor on the sequel to Chermpf and have not had too much time to play with stereo.  I hope everyone in the US had a very nice Thanksgiving.  Over the holiday weekend, my wife was at her sister's house and it turns out that they got new furniture and no longer had room for these:

A pair of Cerwin Vega AT-10 of unknown origin.  Interestingly, I had a pair of Cerwin Vega AT-8 while in college.  They were given to me as a gift from a super nice amazing awesome person who shall remain anonymous, and I am pretty sure that they were purchased at the now defunct electronics store known as Silo in Western New York.  The AT-8s were great speakers, they played crazy loud on 25 or 30 watts of power and they were nigh on indestructible.  I wouldn't call them the last word in transparency, but they were great for Led Zeppelin.  This particular pair of AT-10 have suffered from foam surround rot due to the ravages of time, but other than that are in pretty nice shape.  A couple of dings and the mesh on the midranges is dented but that's what it's there for- to protect the cones.  So I decided to order a repair kit from Simply Speakers on Ebay.  under $25 and super fast shipping.

You can see that the kit came with two nice replacement surrounds in the Cerwin Vega hot pink that we all know and love.  Next, I set about removing and cleaning up the woofers by purging them of all the rotted foam and old glue.  The only hitch was that the negative speaker lead required some wrangling to remove.

It's messy work and labor intensive.  It took about two hours to clean up one woofer.  Junior was kind enough to help:

I finished the first one this afternoon.  It was challenging to get the speaker aligned properly so that there was no rubbing in the back of the cone near the voice coil, and I'm still not sure i got it right.  The folks at Simply Speakers recommend doing the adjustment by hand, but I could not get a good grip on the dome at the center of the cone, which might have made the job easier.  Nonetheless, I tested repair number one on the NAD/Sony 605ESD this evening and all went well.  I'll tackle the second one sometime during the week,

The question is, what the heck will I do with them once they are fixed?


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Yamaha A-S2000 Integrated Amplifier and Dynaudio Focus 220

A few weeks ago, I was at D.'s house listening to his Marantz CD player and Wharfedale bookshelves.  We also listened to the Dynaudio Excite 14s, all through the refurbished NAD C326BEE I picked up from Spearit for a song.  Unfortunately, I did a terrible job of note taking, and the pictures weren't very good either.  In fact, it may be time for a new cell phone just to upgrade my camera.  Overall I think the sound was very good, but we certainly did not get the Excite 14s dialed in properly.  In fairness to the Excites I keep expecting to hear Focus 110 or Focus 140 sound out of them because they are all roughly the same size, but there is really no comparison- the Focus series was a far superior speaker, both in bass output and quality, along with the greater smoothness of the midrange.  The Excites are less expensive, and you get a lot of the Dynaudio sound with them, so they are still an excellent buy, especially if you can find them on sale.  All that being said, I will need to set up another get together and organize myself better to make sure I get useful information to write about.  Sometimes one gets wrapped up just listening.

  More recently however, I spent some quality time with my primary setup, which is comprised of a Yamaha A-S2000 integrated amplifier, a Yamaha CD-S2000 SACD player and Dynaudio Focus 220 (first version) using a variety of Audio Quest and Kimber interconnects and speaker cable.  Thoughts about selling the amp triggered the listening session.

I bought the amp as B-stock five years ago (that approaches a record for holding an amp that long for me), at a very good price, $1,099.  There seems to be some confusion about B-stock items, but equipment with that label can be returns, refurbs or scratch and dent from my experience.  In the case of my A-S2000, there was not a mark on the unit, but the aluminum face of the remote has a scratch.  Given the abuse that remotes take, this is a non-issue for me.  By contrast, the CD-S2000 I bought also B-stock for $695 has a mark on the face plate.  It's hard to notice, and I would still prefer it not be there, but at such a deep discount I can live with it.  More about the SACD player in a future post.  The only indicator that the amp is a B-stock unit, is a small sticker on the rear panel and the inclusion of B-stock warranty information in the box.  I have never compared it to another A-S2000, so I can't say if mine is out of the ordinary in any other way.

As you can see, I tend to use either a PS Audio or an Audioquest power cord with the amp, as they look very nice.  I have never conducted a listening comparison with replacement power cords, maybe I will in the future.  Please drop me a line if you have any insight about them. Also shown is the remote for the CD-S2000.

The A-S2000 manual opens with a brief overview of Yamaha's history in Hi-Fi since 1920 (complete with picture of piano), and mentions such iconic products such as the NS-20, NS-1000M and NS-10M monitor speakers, A-1 integrated amplifier and MX-10000 and CX-10000 separates, all great stuff.  The first thing that the manual tells you about the A-S2000 is that it is a "full floating balanced circuit design . . .  that achieves complete symmetry and permits full balanced transmission (amplification) from the input jack to just before the speaker jack" and continues on to tell us that the A-S2000 is " . . . the world's first integrated amplifier to offer full stage balanced transmission, combining high power output with good sound texture and outstanding S/N performance."

Sound texture?  Hm.  Well, here is what they are going on about:

I am not an engineer, so regarding the impact of this circuit design on performance, permit me to quote from Steve Holdings' test/review for Australian Hi-Fi magazine (a copy of which came with my amp):

"Yamaha's use of balanced circuitry seems to have paid off when you look at the signal-to-noise results, because the IHF A-weighted figure came in at 98dB referenced to just one watt, which is exceptional for an integrated amplifier.  Likewise, the unweighted S/N ratio referenced to rated output broke the three digit barrier, coming in at 101dB . . . I also suspect the balanced circuit helped with the excellent channel separation figures: 94dB at 1KHz is a terrific result . . . "

From a listening perspective, these words translate into an "A+" for the turn the volume up with nothing playing and listen for noise test, and contributes to the way music with sudden, forte beginnings simply explodes out of the speakers and can shock the casual listener.  This is a very quiet amplifier.

The Dynaudio Focus 220 is a floor stander, and in the world of speakers it is probably on the medium or medium small size.  Nonetheless in a 12 by 20 room, they can easily be overpowering, and they are provided with foam plugs to help tune the bass port.  With a Marantz AVR or with the Marantz 8801 and 7055 pre/pro multi channel amp combo, the bass of these speakers can be a little boomy, and I have to be careful with room placement.  I do not find that to be the case at all with the Yamaha.  The bass is always strong and tightly controlled, appearing only when it is called for.  A fan of more bass-heavy music might even find the Yamaha/Dynaudio combo too polite.  I find it wonderful for energetic piano music, and live and small set percussion.  I wish I had the expertise to comment in more detail on this design choice by Yamaha, but alas I do not.  I can say that the entire unit is massively over built, a thick front panel, large, high quality speaker binding posts, aluminum switches, etc.  perfect for an eighties Sony ES junkie.  What I believe is that the attention to detail and the excess in design are not merely cosmetic but plays out within the circuit design as well.

The front panel is almost spartan, black with the trademark Yamaha font in white (it looked identical on my vintage R300, which was far from a flagship).  The headphone jack has its' own trim control, which is great, and right next door is the speaker selector knob.  The A+B is also labelled for bi-wiring, which Dynaudios do not permit, but I might try with an older pair of B&Ws at some point.

The Bass, treble and balance switches are old school Yamaha.  they are out of the circuit when set at twelve o'clock, and when you turn them, there is an audible click before you hear their effects (which are quite subtle in the case of bass and treble). The input selector is treated to a tiny, tiny array of amber lights indicating you have selected phono, tuner, CD, CD balanced, line 1, line 2 or main direct.  Below is the audio mute switch (providing 20dB of attenuation), and the cartridge selector switch.  I use an Ortofon Red MM on my Rega, so that switch doesn't get much use. 

And now we get to the one point where I have a quibble with this amp, and I am afraid that for me it is a major one.  For some readers it may seem silly.  the Volume knob is large and aluminum,  and it moves smoothly by motor in response to the remote.  There is no indicator as to its position other than a small notch in the black surface that is virtually impossible to see.  I wish Yamaha had used one of those tiny amber lights to indicate the volume position.  Unfortunately not, so adjustments made in low light are mostly guesswork.  Since my listening room does not have overhead lighting and only one window, it is low light most of the time.  It's a shame, and I see it hasn't been changed with the newer, metered models of the amplifier.  

The A-S2000 has fantastic wood side panels, but one may wish to consider a silver model, which makes the wood more prominent.  If you don't care for the wood look, go with black as in most conditions you hardly know they are there. There is also a neat trick in the feet.  There is a magnetized spike that fits into a recess on the bottom of each foot, so you can choose to mount the amplifier spiked to your stand or flat, simply by flipping the spike over in its recess.  Get help doing so however, as the amplifier is very heavy, over 50 lbs. I have managed not to ding mine moving it around, but I do not undertake the task casually.  

The rear panel has a full complement of very high quality connections.  Cables connect with authority, and I don't worry about breaking a connection when I switch.  I have a short .5 meter run of Kimber XLRs (The A-S2000 is 2:hot/left, 1:ground/right) connecting the CD-S2000 (or Sony SCD-XA5400 ES when it is in rotation), and I do not worry about cats pulling them out.  If you have cats you know this problem.  If you have cats and use equipment needing HDMI cable connectionss (which have inherently crappy connections) there is a hotline you can call.  The speaker binding posts are brass, and they do oxidize, so they need to be cleaned (which reminds me to do that).  They are large enough to grab without looking directly at them and they have no sharp edges.  All good things.

The remote is just fine.  It is perfectly functional, and does not feel particularly cheap, but at the same time there is nothing exciting about it either functionally or in a tactile sense.  I would feel a bit more underwhelmed by it if I were writing about it in the context of a $7000 A-S3000, that's for sure.

The A-S2000 starts up very quickly, no prolonged wait time, such as I experience with my Marantz amplifiers.  I have been told that the Yamaha draws a lot of juice even at idle, so if you have green considerations you may wish to investigate this further.  The amp is rated to produce 90 watts into 8 ohms from 20Hz to 20KHz at 0.02% THD, increasing to 150 watts with a 4 ohm load.  The manual indicates it has 0,67dB of dynamic headroom and a maximum output power of 160 watts ( 4 ohms, 1KHz, 0,7% THD).  The damping factor at 1kHz 0.02% THD is claimed to be 160, which is also reminiscent of some of my favorite Sony ES super amps from the eighties.  I have to look up what the TA-F555 ES was when I get a chance. 

So with the wife away for the weekend, I poured a shot and a half of bourbon into a glass with just the right amount of ice, and sat down to listen.  I knew all of the above stuff, as I've had the amp as my primary for five years, and I have listened to it countless times.  But I was looking for some key audio/literary experiences to pass on to you what I think this amp sounds like in this set up.  So compared to the other things I have in the house, the A-S2000 does not sound like the NAD C326BEE, nor does it sound like the Marantz AV set up I mentioned above.  Nor does it sound like the Sony STR-GX90ES, although it is closer to that one.  I think above all, the amp is really adding so much less to the signal than I am used to hearing in lesser gear, that I would have to say the operative word to use is "clean."  For example, I told myself that I have heard Led Zeppelin III or Houses of the Holy sound better on these speakers, but that is only true only because I was using an amp that wasn't as good at the time so I probably had a bit more to drink in order to get past some of the more unfortunate aspects of those recordings and got to that magical boozed-up point where I didn't care about all the added noise.  Not so with the A-S2000.  I got really drawn into the recording of "Since I've Been Loving You" because of the emptiness that surrounded each individual aspect of the recording.  And on other tracks, that same lack of grunge coming from post-recording electronics helped me to appreciate the way Bonham and Plant played against and with one another so well.  Switching to Marcus Roberts "Deep in the Shed," a go to test disc for me, the Yamaha reproduced the dynamics of the percussion just effortlessly, and I don't recall having the same feeling when we last listened to that disc at D.'s house.  Different set up of course, and different room, but that is how most of us experience stereo- in various manifestations.  The A-S2000 is clean, natural and effortless.  It is to my ears, completely without gimmicks.  

So bottom line, since I am not confident that I can get a pair of Sony TA-N77 ES amps in immaculate condition and maintain them for any realistic price, which also rules out Accuphase and Esoteric, I think I am in the right place with the A-S2000.  I think that for someone with my tastes (notice I have not mentioned McIntosh, marantz integrated or Denon, not that they are bad, just not for me), it is a wonderful thing that Yamaha has taken the time to bring these amps to life.  I believe that the A-S2000 is no longer being made and has been replaced by the A-S2100 and 3100, which are metered, which is very cool, but more expensive which is not.  I think they also use toroidal power supplies, which is different from the original A-S2000.  So am I selling mine?  No, at least not yet.  At $1,099 I'm unlikely to find something better, so the answer is probably not, even though the lack of an indicator on the volume knob makes me nuts.  I might just start saving my pennies for a 3100 though! 



Monday, August 15, 2016

Yamaha A-S2000 integrated amplifier

Earlier this summer, we had a get together at D.'s place and listened to his Wharfdale's, and my Dynaudio Excite 14s through the NAD 326BEE.  Foolishly I did not take notes, and the pictures I took were kinda weak.  So, we are hoping to get together again this weekend and see how things go.  We will be at my place this time, so we will also run the Yamaha A-S2000 integrated through its paces.  The Yamaha is NOT easily transportable, so D. has not yet heard it in any extended listening.  I have had the amp a few years now, and I plan after this listening session to do a more complete write up.  Why?  Because I said I would, and because I like the amp so much I am considering selling it . . . 

At any rate, I will do something akin to what I wrote for the NAD 3125 regardless if I decide to sell it or keep it.  I'm going to check out the Parasound Halo integrated as I have heard good things, and it has a few features that I would certainly make use of.  Attached are some pictures from a previous set up.  Stay tuned.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Akai HX-1 and Sony TC-WE605S tape decks

I may have mentioned that my Sony TC-RX606ES has died (Motor.), and have been hunting for a replacement.  Why do I need another cassette deck?  If you are asking then you may wish to re-evaluate your reading this post in the first place.  I came across this thing for $5 at a thrift store, and . . . it works!  I got some decent rock play back although the wow and flutter is noticeable on quieter stuff.

Short term solution, though as it certainly does not look as though it has been serviced.  It shall live in my office where numerous students will ask what it is (is that a VCR?  No, seriously, it got asked).   More seriously, I bought a great Sony TC-WE605ES refurb for very little money from a very nice fellow named Stephen Goss on EBay:

Which short of having back lit cassette wells is pretty much exactly what I needed.  The question now is whether or not to repair the 606 (Mr. Goss does just such work- check him out on EBay).  I was looking at some other decks and maybe even a Nakamichi . Althoguh there have been quite a few Sony 850s on EBay as of late.  In other news, I spent some time listening to a Hsu subwoofer (whoa), but forgot to take pictures.  As awesome as the sub was, it's not for me.  The music i listen to just wouldn't benefit enough to devote the listening room real estate.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer audio stuff

I've been so busy working on Meepcha and the Lost One Hundred which is the sequel to Chermpf, if you haven't had a chance to check it out:


that I haven't had a chance to write about some summer audio happenings, namely adventures with a Hsu research subwoofer, a pair of Dahlquist DQ-20 speakers, and (yet another) refurbished cassette deck.  I will get to these soon!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Stereo Review equipment reviews PDF . . .

If I have done this correctly, you should be able to follow the link below to an 11 page PDF of equipment reviews by month for Stereo Review 1982, most of 1985 and 1986, and 1987-1992.  The December 1980 issue of High Fidelity and the August 1989 issue of Audio in there as well.  The PDF shows the month, manufacturer, model number, type of gear and MSRP, along with notes if necessary.  let me know if you find this useful, and I will add some things from the seventies when I can.


I think it works.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

SPARS code follow up on "A Steadily Collapsing medium"

E. was kind enough to provide the following information regarding the all-digital vs. analog recording of cds:

"The debate on the source material or SPARS codes really was dependent on several factors. DDD was a recording produced using a digital multi-track recorder, mixed to a digital 2 track and mastered digitally. Easily the best pop recording of this genre was Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly" with its hit track IGY from 1982. His engineer Roger Nichols was a master of sound, digital or analog. Runner-up was Billy Joel "Songs In the Attic". This was a live album done on the 3M 32 track digital system. Fagen's disc was used all the time at Square Deal as a demo.
ADD was an analog multi-track master mixed and mastered digitally. Some of these recordings were abominations. Mainly because the "hit" analog mix of a particular album was well known and often the artistic intention was changed, as well as the audio. I had a CD of Elton John songs that were remixed in this fashion. Digital or not, the mixes were inferior to the hit versions done on analog.
In the Classical world the Mercury Living Presence series ADD remixes were clearly superior to the originals. The 3 track tapes were mixed by the original producer, Wilma Cozart Fine on the original analog playback equipment from 1st generation source materials. Spectacular. Listen to virtually any of these recordings. I liked Romeo and Juliet and the Frederick Finnell band recordings.

AAD was analog master, analog mix, digital mastering. Quality depended here on the source material used and the analog playback equipment used. One of the worst examples was Fleetwood Mac Rumors CD. Made from a 4th generation tape copy, it was awful.  So was all the original CD issues of Simon and Garfunkel's music. The original tapes had "disappeared" and 3rd gen copies used for the CD. Most of these were improved in later issues. Many AAD discs were masterpieces. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis in the CBS Master Sound version was a favorite. Crazy but Bert Kampfert's early stuff like Swinging Safari or the Beach Boys early albums with stereo mixes were outstanding examples."

I own some Steely Dan, but none of Fagen's solo stuff.  It won't be very expensive to add "The Nightfly" to my collection though:


Looks like the DVD-A version is still available from some sources, but it'll cost you around $79!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Steadily Collapsing Medium

As my summer project of creating a spreadsheet listing all of the equipment reviews in my various audio magazines continues apace, (entered 1987 Stereo Review today, including such gems as the NAD 6300 cassette deck, Nakamichi OMS-2A cd player and Polk Audio SDA-1c loudspeaker), I came across an interesting article in the November 1986 of Stereo Review issue entitled: "Analog to Digital: It's the Music That Counts When You're Choosing Compact Discs," by Gerald Seligman. The article addresses a matter that was being hotly debated in the early years after compact discs were released; are all digital "DDD" discs the only ones worth buying?  For the MP3 crowd, DDD, ADD, AAD were/are labels applied to cd packaging (not universally, mind you) to describe the recording technology used to create a particular cd.  From the inside of my 1991 London cd of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing Copland's El salon Mexico, Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Dance Symphony and Fanfare for the Common Man; Dorati conducting:

DDD-Digital tape recorder used during session recording, mixing and/or editing, and mastering (transcription)

ADD- Analogue (sic) tape recorder used during session recording, digital tape recorder used during subsequent mixing and/or editing and during mastering (transcription)

AAD- Analogue (sic) tape recorder used during session recording and subsequent mixing and/or editing, digital tape recorder used during mastering (transcription)

This particular disc is part of London's "DDD Jubilee" series, which is emblazoned prominently on the disc cover, and that should be indicative of how valuable the "all digital" moniker could be for certain buyers and record execs as a marketing tool.  Not for me necessarily, as I believe I got this disc at deeeeep discount at Tower Records during their last days, probably the Huntington, Long Island store.

Seligman makes a convincing argument that you should pick a disc for its' musical content, not for the recording method.  He even includes a list of recommended analog remasters on CD with the article.  This seems obvious to me.  Something bad recorded completely in the digital realm is still bad (enter your least favorite type of music here.  I pretty much stick with rap as noise I will not buy regardless of how fantastic the recording, feel free to disagree although arguing with me about it is a waste of your valuable time).  I do understand why there was confusion that filled the letters columns at Stereo Review regarding cd recording technology.  it was new, and magical and kinda scary.  Would I get blinded if I looked in when the disc loading drawer opened?  I felt the same befuddlement without the fear of personal injury when MP3 came out, and I still do.  I have embraced the technology for use in the car however, although it still sounds pretty weak in my two channel rig and I have no desire to pursue it there.  Both technologies however, whether cd or MP3 might as well be magic as far as I am concerned, and I think many people felt the same way about cd when it first came out.

Moving on though, perhaps the REALLY interesting part of Seligman's article (IMHO), is the section with the heading: "The LP: A Steadily Collapsing Medium."  Although the reference could relate to LP sales at the time of the article's writing, the author cleverly meant something quite different, and here I shall quote:

"Even with great advances in LP cutting techniques such as Direct Metal Mastering, there are still excursions a cutter can't make and a stylus can't follow.  As a record progresses from its first bands toward its last, the speed may remain a constant 33 1/3 rpm but the stylus is covering significantly less ground . . .  the grove undulations for those extreme frequencies become so small that the very diameter of the stylus becomes too thick to follow them.  Accordingly, a cutting engineer will eliminate some of the highs simply to make the groove inscribable . . . low frequencies can be equally troublesome . . . Computerized cutting vastly improved upon this situation . . .  and although an LP can theoretically offer a greater frequency response than a cd, 10 to 25,000 Hz compared with 20 to 20,000 Hz, again, the question is at what level?"

Seligman provides information from MCA's Steve Hoffman later in the piece, and I for one would like to have a chat with someone at MCA regarding the hideous quality of the first Who cd releases.  That being said, I found the article very interesting in light of the current vinyl renaissance.  I am more than reasonably certain that most of the resurgence is due to image and less to a genuine appreciation of difference in sound, but I don't begrudge anyone the tactile pleasure of using a record player.  Watching the glass platter go around on my Rega is fun, especially in a darkened room with a light shining through it.  But I was always skeptical of the "vinyl sounds better" crowd, especially when they had to rely on the "your rig isn't good enough to appreciate the difference" argument.  Interesting reading, please feel free to let me know if you need more specifics.  In other (very good) news, I may actually get some listening time this weekend, as rain is predicted and yard work will be postponed.  Long overdue are words about the XA-5400ES vs. the CD-S2000, and the TC-K700ES.  We shall see!        


Sunday, May 8, 2016

1986 Stereo Review equipment reviews

Just a quick update- I now have the entries for 1982, 1985 and 1986 Stereo Review equipment reviews entered.  Some great gear available during those years, including the Yamaha R-8, Polk RTA 12B, Dual CS-5000 and the Carver Amazing Loudspeaker.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Square Deal

Busy, busy.  Still, found time to add the 1982 year of Stereo Review equipment reports to my excel sheet, while listening to new prog-rock- Haken's "Affinity."  Includes such cool items as the Boston Acoustics A40 loudspeaker, Yamaha M-50 power amplifier and the Hafler DH-110 preamplifier.  Again, please let me know if you are looking for info from a particular year.

As has been mentioned, if I were to have a super power, it would be related to semi-vintage stereo and related topics.  The $10 pair of B&W DM 600i and the $7 Rotel DVD player are among my top finds.  On a related note, I had the most incredible stroke of luck recently to meet a gentleman who is a virtual treasure-trove of information for a novice audio historian like myself.

 Long Island, New York audio fans will no doubt be familiar with the unfortunately long-defunct retailer known as "Square Deal."  Originally located on Main street in Patchogue, they eventually moved to larger digs on Waverly avenue, north of Sunrise highway (long before it became the four lane monstrosity it now is).    The main street location was well before my time, and I became aware of the store through my maternal uncles, all of whom (luckily for me) have impeccable taste in good stereo.  One of my favorite birthday gifts was a pair of TDK chrome tape dubs with Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery" and Chuck Mangione's "Feel So Good" on them.  I was probably 10 years old at the time.  My uncles did a lot of shopping at Square Deal before they closed  their doors in 1994.  Some AR turntables and A/D/S/ speakers were bought there, and I eventually bought my first NAD CD player there in 1992.

So, it was as I mentioned a remarkable stroke of luck that at an event at a local community college I met a gentleman with a terrific history working in the audio industry that included being at Square Deal and later at Harman.  I only barely resisted the urge to bombard E. (as he shall be known on this humble blog) with about a bazillion questions, but I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed to continue an e-mail correspondence and answer some inquiries should time permit.  I was planning to limit my questions to what the nature of the audio business was like prior to home theater and what Square Deal was like in particular, but of course I've gotten ahead of myself and already asked about Infinity Kappa series speakers (" . . . Harman Manufacturing did not produce the high end EMIT tweeters. They were done by a company called Capital in Connecticut. This vendor was tied in to Madrigal Audio which became Harman Specialty and now Harman Luxury audio division . . .")  and Sony ES cassette decks.  At any rate, welcome E., thank you so much for indulging my instability and for sharing your knowledge of audio history.  I certainly find it fascinating and no doubt a couple of readers here will as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Fun with Excel

Whereas I am reasonably certain various versions exist on the web already, today I started my long awaited project of cataloging the equipment review I have from back issues of Stereo Review, High Fidelity and Audio.  I am starting a simple list of Brand/Model/Type and MSRP for now, but will expand it to include more detailed information in the future.  I did the ten issues I have for Stereo Review from 1985, plus an issue of High Fidelity from 1980 so far.  For example:

This should make for a quick reference.  Please let me know if you are looking for a particular piece of gear, and I will let you know if I have it.  I intend to do Stereo Review 1986 next.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

NAD refurbished at Spearit Sound

I had a really great experience this past week buying a refurbished NAD C326BEE integrated amplifier online from Spearit Sound.  I took the opportunity to ask some questions about NAD refurb in general, and Mr. Dick Moulding, who is the General Manager, got back to me promptly with some answers.  My questions:

 1.) What’s with the cocoon foam packing in the box?  Is it sprayed in by NAD after the factory completes its quality testing? This may seem like a dumb question but I have a few other factory refurbished items from other companies and never saw the likes of it.

2.) Spearit has a good selection of refurbished equipment, which for the nascent or cheap buyer is something of a Godsend.  For example, in this case I was looking for a smaller, inexpensive but high quality amp to take with me to the listening rooms of friends, with the intention of writing about their rooms and setups for Bad Audio Reviews.  I wanted a piece that would be consistent in all settings, and a more expensive amp didn’t make sense.  NAD was a perfect choice.  What makes you as the retailer choose to offer a particular product or line as a refurbished product?  Must you also carry “A-stock” of the brand?

3.) I own an NAD 3125 that is probably 30 years old and it works flawlessly.  There seems to have been a period where NAD went through some difficulties with quality control.  Would you be able to comment on that?  Does the company seem to be past this problem?  I have heard similar things about Cambridge Audio (I would understand if you chose not to comment here).

4.) What generally is the availability of refurbished products, especially for NAD?  Should I be encouraging friends to order now before things run out?

And here were his answers:

1.)     The foam-in-place packing is done by NAD after they have finished refurbishing the unit.  The advantage of this type of packing is that it conforms to the unit no matter what the size or shape.  It also protects from all angles.

2.)     Our relation with NAD goes back to the very beginnings of the company.  We are honored to be NAD’s exclusive seller of refurbished products and one of their top authorized Internet sellers of A-stock as well.

3.)     Parts quality and build quality of current NAD’s is highest it has ever been.  If you take the cover off your 3125 and compare it side-by-side to the C 326BEE you just purchased I think you will be very impressed.  In the past, people loved NAD’s because the design and the performance was so insanely ahead of the pack for a given price that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t all that extravagantly built.  Now that performance comes with a rather nice build.

4.)     Availability depends on the time of year and the model.  It’s always worth a look at the Spearit Sound website to see what we have.

Thank you Mr. Moulding, for taking the time to respond.  As I said in an earlier post, I got the C326BEE for $379 shipped, and I had it in two days.  I haven't had the time to do a full listen and write up, but we plan to use it as the travelling amplifier, so we will get to know it well.  Definitely check out Spearit of you're looking for NAD gear.  

here are some quick pictures in the Am light of the C326BEE.  You may see that there are some very slight marks on the top apron for the front face plate, and the top edge is slightly rough in a few spots, perhaps where the tech had to wrangle it off or on during the refurbishment process.  The face plate is all plastic, as are the various control knobs, so I would imagine that it would be easy to damage them if one were not careful.  Regardless, at $379 the marks are very, very minor and I did not notice them until I got the camera close.  I think the C326BEE retails new for around $550, so I'd have to look at its competition at that level to see how it does build-quality wise.  The interior looks very well laid out and uses quality parts, and with NAD that has always been most important.  I would like to compare it to the Yamaha A-S500 integrated and see how it stands up, or the Onkyo 9010A.  I have the NAD hooked up to the Dynaudio Focus 220s today and we shall see how it does with them.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Refurbished NAD C326BEE from Spearit Sound

The weather in the NY metroish area hardly cooperated with rain and high winds today, but the good folks at Spearit Sound got my new amplifier to me in record time.  If you'll recall, I ordered it last Thursday, no shipping charge.  Total cost: $379 (!) And when I got home from work (late of course) it was on the doorstep, box just slightly damp.  And what a box (actually there were 2) it was:

This is the inside box.  There was one nearly twice this size on the outside.  Interestingly, the box is stamped factory refurbished.  Imagine my surprise when i opened it and found that the foam packing was literally encasing the amp and its accessories:

It must be something they do at the factory.  I hope to get some info from the folks at Spearit about the refurb process.  The packing certainly makes the delivery rather bullet proof.  Not too useful for re-using though.  We'll have to see about that.  The amp is spartan in that NAD way:

 . . . and overall I like the look.  Not thrilled with the plastic knobs and front plate but what do I want for the money?  It is much prettier on the inside, and that is what counts.  Remember, no phono preamp and only one set of speaker binding posts.  It does have an MP3 input on the front (although I would probably want to run that through a decent DAC first) and a nice tape loop.  It also has preamp outs which is very useful.  So, I pulled the Sony STR-GX90ES out of its spot, and here is a terrible picture (I promise better over the weekend):

I had an extra Pangea power cord out so i used that, although I think I have an Audio Quest around to try as well.  very little listening was done tonight, just a couple of soundtracks through the Dynaudio Excite 14s.  I will also try the NAD with the Focus 220s, but I believe that will be pushing things a bit.  My initial impressions are good, more to come.  Bottom line, take a look at Spearit, they have some very interesting stuff and some seriously good prices.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

None of the above!

Or below, for that matter.  I ordered a refurbished NAD C326BEE and it should be here tomorrow.  Initial deciding factors; preamp outs and option to use a power cord of choice.  I'll do some unboxing photos, etc., and provide info on the place I purchased it from tomorrow also, if all goes well. I made 2 (!) tapes today, both on the Sony TC-K700 ES.  One was a TDK SA-90, and the other a Sony ES II.  I am gathering some more info regarding the TC-K700 ES for a more comprehensive post.  it makes great tapes, despite my incompetence.

Always hard to sleep the night before new stereo arrives! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

An inexpensive integrated amp or stereo receiver for summer craziness

A question:  if you were to buy an inexpensive (under $450) integrated amplifier or stereo receiver that you planned to lug around to friends' houses to try out in their listening rooms with their speakers and their adult beverages, would any of these be on your list:

NAD C 316 Bee
Onkyo 9050
Yamaha R-S700

It's not like you can carry a Yamaha A-S2000 around.  Do any of the list above seem like good choices?  If so, why?  If not, why not?  Would you take your money and buy something used, or vintage and not care about the dangers of travel?  let's pretend that your criteria have to include a remote control and the ability to drive a pair of Dynaudio Excite 14 speakers to a reasonable level playing a variety of music.  Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sony TC-K700 ES and Denon Sport quick pic

I wanted to upload the only two pictures that are sort of view-able from last weekend's tape recording session.  A shot of the Denon Sport 100 minute tape I used to make one of what will certainly be many Yes mix tapes:

Interestingly, when I had the deck refurbished (that adventure is what I am writing about next), i learned that there is no "bulb" per se behind the light in the cassette well.  Interesting.  And, here is a shot of the copper-clad rear of the STR-GX90ES:

Which we learned has a problem with one channel of its phono output, which is a shame.  If anyone can recommend a good repair outfit in the NY, CT, NJ area please let me know.  I don't think Wayne at In House Repair is still open.  If I am wrong about that, someone please let me know, as I need to make an appointment to bring this receiver in!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


I'll post some pictures later in the week, but while making a tape of Sibelius Symphonies and a mix of Yes songs, I discovered that the Phono section of the Sony STR-GX90ES is malfunctioning.  Only one channel is outputting a signal.  I don't listen to a ton of records, but enough that this will be a nuisance, especially since I had planned to leave an all Sony ES set up in place for a few months.  I can open the hood but given my lack of skills there is very little i can do on my own unless there is an obvious problem.  At this point I'll be it would be cheaper to take an electronics class than it would be to ship the machine and have the problem repaired . . . any suggestions?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Spring cleaning and the Sony STR-GX90ES Stereo receiver

Yesterday it was over 50 degrees Fahrenheit here in New York, so windows got opened and some much needed spring cleaning got started. This of course meant that a change in set up happened in the listening room.  The Yamaha A-S2000 integrated and CD-S2000 disc player had been running the show for a long time (over a year) and I was ready for something different.  I had ordered a pair of casters from Audio Advisor for the Salamander rack that holds the gear that is out of current rotation, so everything had to come off to install them anyway.  Here is the mess when it was in progress:

My only real complaint with the Yamaha A-S2000 integrated amplifier is that in my room it is impossible to determine where the volume indicator is, especially in low light.  This may not seem like a big deal, but when you are trying to make comparisons, having the volume consistent is useful.  I decided to set up a Sony STR-GX90ES stereo receiver I got for a song on EBay some years back as the heart of the system for now.  A green indicator is built into the Sony's volume knob, so that would be one matter resolved.  Here is what I would up with after some futzing around:

It's an all ES system, with the Sony SCD-X5400ES as the disc player and my TC-K700ES tape deck in the "loop."  (Heh.)  For the earlier part of the afternoon, I had the Dynaudio Excite 14s making nice noises.  

I was once the proud owner of a Sony STR-GX9ES stereo receiver that despite the best efforts of the talented folks at In House Repair (I hope Wayne is still out there) gave up the ghost.  You can read about that here. I loved the way the GX9 and its more elite sibling the GX10 looked.  The GX90 is a bit more streamlined, unfortunately, and all of the nifty buttons are hidden behind a drop down panel.   Not everyone appreciates it, but I grew up with the clutter of buttons on black boxes from the eighties, and I miss them.

I don't have the shipping container for this machine, and I am currently hunting for an original remote (I have another that works well, but I'd like to get the full set, of course).  My manual (which it shares with the GX80ES although they do not have the same feature set and performance, GX80ES omitted here for brevity, let me know if you need the information) provides the following info:

Sony STR-GX90ES FM-AM Stereo Receiver  

Power output and total harmonic distortion:

With 8 ohm load, both channels driven, from 20-20,000 Hz, rated 120 watts per channel minimum RMS power, with no more than 0.008% total harmonic distortion from 250 milliwatts to rated output.

With 4 ohm load, both channels driven, from 20-20,000 Hz, rated 120 watts per channel minimum RMS power, with no more than 0.015% total harmonic distortion from 250 milliwatts to rated output.

Amplifier Section
Dynamic power output

160 watts + 160 watts (8 ohms at 1kHz IHF)
220 watts + 220 watts (4 ohms at 1kHz IHF)
350 watts + 350 watts (2 ohms at 1kHz IHF)

Harmonic distortion less than 0.008% at rated output

Frequency response

PHONO: RIAA equalization curve +/- 0.3dB
CD, DAT, TAPE, VIDEO 1,2,3 (AUDIO), ADAPTOR: 20-20kHz  +/- 0.3dB

Damping factor 60 (8 ohms, 1 kHz)

Sensitivity: 2.5mV
Impedance: 50 kilohms
S/N (weighting network, input level): 90dB, 80dB (A, 5mV)

Sensitivity: 0.17mV
Impedance: 100 ohms
S/N (weighting network, input level): 73dB, 84dB (A, 5mV)

Sensitivity: 150mV
Impedance: 50 kilohms
S/N (weighting network, input level): 98dB, 85dB (A, 5mV)

Sensitivity: 1.1 V
Impedance: 50 kilohms
S/N (weighting network, input level): 120 dB (A, 5mV)

The STR-GX90 has a set of three tone controls which allow for fine-tuning with the use of selectable turnover levels.  The manual states:

Response +/- 10dB at 100 Hz Turnover frequency: 400 Hz
Response +/- 7.5dB at 100 Hz Turnover frequency: 200 Hz

Response +/- 6dB at 100 Hz Turnover frequency: -----------

Response +/- 10dB at 10 kHz Turnover frequency: 3 kHz
Response +/-   6dB at 10 kHz Turnover frequency: 6 kHz

Overall I find the tone controls to be pretty subtle unless they are maxed out.  There is an impedance selector switch on the rear panel that I must check as I switch speakers. 


w 18 5/8 x h 6 3/8 x d 17 1/4 inches

Weight: 32 lbs (which is a little over two pounds heavier than the GX80ES, interestingly)

Some other details from the manual:

The STR-GX90ES is equipped with a copper-plate rear panel for reducing distortion in high frequencies.

Optical Legato Linear A system allows the receiver to operate automatically as a class A amplifier when the level is low and as a class B amplifier when the level is high without disturbing the signal.  This minimizes total harmonic distortion at every sound stage.  These receivers have a spontaneous twin drive power circuit.  Condensers having large capacity are used independently for the voltage amplification drive stage of the class A and power output stage of class B.  Thus, a stable output and high quality sound are obtained, resulting in exclusion from power interferences.  The class A stage realizes a stable operation free from interference of the power stage even when an instantaneous or strong output is received.  

And they silk-screened that in Sony Gold right on the front:

Here is a so-so picture of the top.  It's very nice, but does not compare with the Yamaha A-S2000 in terms of interior eye candy:

I don't have the exact info on the MSRP of the GX90ES yet, but the previous Sony ES stereo receiver flagship, the STR GX10ES retailed for $1,200 in 1990 (which is roughly $2,175 today- that's an 80 percent inflation rate, approximately). 

How did an afternoon of listening go?  Great.  Keep in mind that I have not had the GX90 serviced, which it definitely deserves.  I do not know how close to operating spec it is functioning (I need a crash course to make this blog better . . .  any volunteers?)  but it certainly sounded different to my ear.  I am very used to a super clean and effortless sound from the Yamaha.  The Sony sounds somehow . . .  rounder, if that makes sense.  But let's not forget that I ALSO switched out disc players, going from the CD-S2000 SACD player to the SCD-XA5400 ES.  Despite owning them for some time, I still haven't done a comparison between those two.  Furthermore, the GX90ES does not accept balanced inputs, so I went from Kimber XLR to Audioquest  Golden Gates.  To some, these changes are meaningless.  To others,  well, they are a big deal.  At any rate, this is the intended set up for a while.  I think the next post will be about the TC-K700ES tape deck and its adventure in Alamogordo, New Mexico.  Stay tuned. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

The NAD 3125 integrated amplifier, a Sony CDP-X55ES CD player and the Buffalo News

The A/D/S/ R1 stuff was so much fun to write about that it prompted me to get out my NAD 3125, as it is my all-time favorite amp (so far) and it was the first piece of 'high end" gear I ever owned.  I guess it's high end, I'm not sure how one goes about defining that.  The pictured example is my second.  When I bought my first one in college in 1987 or so (have to check on that date) no one in the dorm had ever heard of NAD, and there were some big Kenwood and Pioneer fans on my floor, so people had been to Crazy Eddie's and thought they knew a thing or two about stereo. In this case high-end certainly can't be based on price, as the 3125 is a killer amp that sold for very little money, even when new.  For a short time over the weekend I had it paired up with a Sony CDP-X55ES thusly:

I still had the A/D/S/ L470 out, so I was running those.  Short review: if you find one, buy it.  I would certainly think nothing of paying $200 USD for another one if it were in nice shape, especially if it had manual and box.  Here is Junior grooving to a Jean Sibelius symphony (or was it a Tone poem?):

My sophomore year as an undergraduate at Niagara University I had a very nice Technics/Cerwin Vega system that fared well in the dorm stereo wars, but I always knew it was sort of goofy sounding.  I even dragged the system down to the Rathskeller to DJ some parties, and it had a lot of cool lights and could play loud.  I don't know how many drunk women asked for me to play Brown Eyed Girl on it.  But it sucked for Chopin.  By this time I had discovered The Absolute Sound, and I think Stereophile as well, so I was itching to get something better.  I was aware of NAD and A/D/S/ for example from my Uncle's system, and I cobbled together something like $800 to upgrade (a pretty good amount for the mid eighties and my beer proclivities).  Not knowing how blessed we were, back then most cities had two or three hifi shops within reasonable driving distance, and my good friend JP gave me a lift out to the Speaker Shop to get an idea for what I could afford.  The Speaker Shop was (and still is thank goodness) located near the downtown State University of New York at Buffalo campus.  Here is their homepage:


Please visit.  They were very nice to poor college students.  They let JP and I listen to Audio Research and Magnepans.  I was too poor though, to do what I wanted to do: separates.  I was starting from the ground up after selling the Technics set up, and for a little while I thought about dumping the whole $800 on a pair of headphones and a disc player, which probably would have provided greater fidelity.  But no,  I was still somewhat social then (Not now.  Everyone can go straight to blazes now.  Do not pass "Go,"  do not collect $200. I really cannot stand people), and figured I would want to play tunes for someone else (girls maybe, probably, who knows, I don't even) so headphones wouldn't cut it. I did wind up buying an $80 pair of Nakamichis anyway based on JP's recommendation, and they were great.  I wonder where they are.

To make the budget work, I would need to go with an integrated amplifier (no McIntosh separates for me) and I would have to buy at least some of the gear used.  Certainly the cables.  Recall dear reader that this was 1987 or 1988 or both, and the interwebs only really existed then for academics to use message boards on usenet, no pretty graphics of Kate Upton in ZERO FREAKING GRAVITY, no Angry Birds.  No EBay, no Craig's List (what did the Nigerian Scammers do for fun back then?  Oh, right, stuff like this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2617590). To find used stereo gear I had to use the classifieds in the back of the -gasp- Buffalo News.  I recall getting newsprint on my fingers.  Can you imagine what treasures people were selling used in 1987?  I wish I had kept those want ads.  I later also used the Buffalo News want ads to buy a Dual CS-5000 from a guy who was an industrial designer working for McCormack, but that is another story (a very cool one).  I wound up contacting a fellow selling an NAD 3125 integrated amplifier for the princely sum of $125.  JP being the trooper that he was and is, not to mention with what must have been a morbid sense of curiosity, accompanied me to some stranger's home somewhere in Western New York one evening to see the amp.  I barely recall the event now, but I do know that the amp was not hooked up.  It was not plugged in.  It had no documentation.  It did come with a .5 meter pair of Audioquest cables.  So of course I promptly bought it for the fully advertised $125, and as we walked back to the truck, JP commented that I "had big brass ones," which was a very polite way of saying that I was an idiot.  Well played, no arguments there.  Luckily, that amp worked.  Well.  

Later that week (if I recall correctly) we returned to The Speaker Shop where I dropped the remainder on a Sony CDP-208ES (yes, that's where THAT obsession started) and a pair of oak-finish Klipsch KG2 speakers, which just happened to be the perfect match for a 25 watt NAD amplifier.  That's right, 25 wpc.  Here are the details, per the manual:

Date of Manufacture from January 1985


Phono input
input impedence (R and C)                                     47 kilo ohms/ 100 picofarads
input sensitivity, 1kHz                                            2.5 mV  ref. 25W
Signal/Noise ratio (A-weighted with cartridge connceted)  75dB ref. 5 mV
RIAA response accuracy (20Hz to 20kHz)             +/- 3dB

Line level inputs
Input sensitivity (ref 25w)                                       150mV
Signal/Noise ratio (A -weighted ref 1W)                  86dB
Frequency response (20Hz- 20kHz)                         +/-0.5dB
Infrasonic filter                                                         -3dB at 15Hz, 12dB/octave

Tone controls
Treble                                                                        +/- 7dB at 10kHz
Bass                                                                           +/- 10dB at 50Hz

Continuous output power into 8ohms*                     25W (14dBW)
*minimum power per channel, 20Hz to 20kHz, both channels driven with no more than rated distortion
Rated distortion                                                         0.03%
Clipping power (maximum continuous power per channel) >35W
IHF Dynamic headroom at 8 ohms                                       >3dB
IHF dynamic power (maximum short term power per channel)  8ohms  50W
                                                                                                      4ohms  55W
                                                                                                      2ohms  75W
Damping factor (ref 8ohms, 50Hz)                             >50

Dimensions (W x H x D)                                            420 x 83 x 288mm
Weight                                                                         4.7 kg 

How would a puny 25 watt amp survive dorm life?  Would the girls in the next dorm over even hear  the opening lyrics of Black Dog blaring from the speakers hanging out of the windows at 8AM on Sunday mornings?  Why yes, yes they would, if those speakers dangling dangerously from the window sill by Monster Cable XP have a 90dB sensitivity rating and that little amplifier has 3dB of dynamic headroom. 

As you can see from the pictures above, the NAD 3125 is small.  It's even smaller than a Rotel DVD player:

In fact, it was dwarfed by every receiver in that building, but it easily blew them away.  It conquered not because it was loud, which when paired with the Klipsch's it was, but because it could play loudly and cleanly, with musicality.  Its' tone controls stayed flat, its' loudness button never got used.  it was accurate and just played music, and what noise it did add did not detract from the listening experience.  I used to love pointing out that the CD player was NOT the amp, and all the noise was coming from the little guy on top of the disc player.  Some of the more savvy accused me of using it as a preamplifier and hiding the amp elsewhere.  Not so.  The NAD 3125 is just super cool in a sleeper kinda way.  Plus it had really, really excellent external heat sinks (a sure sign of being high end, right?  Careful though, they are sharp):

As you can see from this picture, the current example I have has a coveted "Ontario Hydro Electrical" sticker, in the official orange (!).  This example I bought a few years ago complete with box, packing and manual (anyone need a PDF?).  The original one was unfortunately replaced by another, older and bigger NAD after I graduated, a 3150 I think.  I have owned a few other NADs since (not as many as one would think, given my issues), and I have a 3130 stereo receiver in my office whose only source is a Sony TC-K606ES tape deck.  I just had to have another 3125, though, and the one I have now is a forever piece.  I may request that it be buried with me.  They can use it to blast Bullet the Blue Sky during the wake.  Now THAT is a late eighties, early nineties Catholic University Student reference for you.  

This story can go in a bunch of directions from here, such as how the NAD paired with the X55ES, what happened to the KG2s (JP got them and recently sold them- shoulda called me first . . . ) or how the 3125 compares with more modern NAD amplifiers.  If anyone has any preferences, let me know.  For now I will warp this up by repeating- you probably want to get one of these, before they disappear forever.  It is a five-star piece of kit, in my not so humble opinion.