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Sunday, January 31, 2016

a/d/s/ R1 receiver and L470 series one speakers

Sorry to mislead anyone.  I had mentioned that I was going to listen to the B&W DM610i speakers this weekend, but I wound up doing something entirely different.  In fact I only got to spend about an hour in the listening room anyway, but it was time well spent.  There is a ton of great gear from the eighties, but I have always been a huge fan of a/d/s/ (which stands for Analog and Digital Systems) speakers.  My uncle still owns a pair of L/1590s and I think they are every bit as good as my Dynaudio Focus 220, if not better.  The 1590s are much bigger and are an acoustic suspension design, but both the 1590 and the Focus 220 have soft dome tweeters with extended high frequency responses that (at least where I have heard them) are clean, airy and never strident.  I had heard the 1590s with Hafler and NAD Monitor series amps, and it was not until recently that I spent any time listening to a/d/s/ amplification.  Well, that has changed, so if you're interested, stick with me!

 I have a copy of the December 1987 issue of Stereo Review that contains a special test report by Julian Hirsch of the a/d/s/ R4 .  I remember reading it originally in the local library, probably over winter break from school (As a very poor college student I wasn't a subscriber.  You can buy a lot of Ramen Noodles for the $1.95 cover price.  Although back then it was Kraft Mac and Cheese not Ramen, which reminds me of a Kids In the Hall skit . . . ).  It's a five page review with a really nice full color photo of the unit.  Hirsch concluded the review by writing: " . . . it is easily the most sophisticated product of its type currently on the market, and it is audibly superior, especially under less than ideal conditions, to any other receiver we have used."  I think that is very high praise indeed for Stereo Review.  They were especially impressed with the machine's "engineering excellence," which I can only appreciate in stereo components from a non-engineering point of view.  Nonetheless, I hoped in 1987 to hear the R4, if not own it some day.  Fast forward many years, and still no R4, but I have managed to acquire two of the R1 stereo receivers, one of which resides with my brother.  The second lives with me, and is the object of our current post.

When I find neat vintage gear at a thrift store (an increasingly rare occasion) I accept that it may be rough around the edges, and certainly will lack a manual and maybe the remote if one was originally provided.  Boxes and packing material are usually non-existent at the thrifts.  If I buy something on EBay however (also an increasingly rare occasion, for many reasons) I am a lot more picky.  I always try to get the complete package if possible, but as you are no doubt aware, that can be pretty tough.  "Mint" rarely means mint, and prices can be ridiculous.  Such is the world of the collector. Every now and then I break down and buy something that isn't quite perfect.  The first R1 I bought had no box, and no manual, but was in nice shape and under $100.  The second I bought was a little pricier and still had no manual or packing, but it did come with the hinged rear cover that this series of a/d/s/ components included:

The cover (unfortunately scratched) is labeled: "Atelier R1."  My trusty 1986 Equipment Buying Guide in the February 1986 issue of Stereo Review (written by W. Burton with R. Krueger and W. Schaub) provides the following info:

ADS Atelier R1 35-watt Receiver

5 AM/FM station presets, manual flywheel tuning and amplifier clipping indicators.  Features connections for two tape decks and two sets of speakers; LED digital display.  FM usable sens mono 1.0 microvolts (11.2 dBf); 50-dB quieting sens mono 1.8 microvolts (16.5 dBf), stereo 21 microvolts (37.7 dBf); THD mono less than 0.15%, stereo less than 0.25%; S/N mono greater than 70 dB, stereo greater than 67 dB; channel separation greater than 40 dB at 1,000 Hz; capture ratio 1.8 dB; Frequency response 15-14,000 Hz +0.5, -1dB.  Amplifier section: 35 watts per channel continuous average power output into 8 ohms from 20-20,000 Hz with 0.1% THD; 40 w/c into 4 ohm load.  FR tape, 10-75,000 Hz +0, -1.5dB, phono conforms to RIAA EQ +/- 0.5 dB from 40-20,000 Hz; input sens tape 50 microvolts into 200k ohms, phono 400 microvolts at 1,000 Hz into 47k ohms; S/N tape greater than 83 dB, phono greater than 73 dB; 17.52" W x 2.76" H x 14.84" D; 17.4 lbs, $500.00.

Whereas the R1 is not a remotely controlled unit (the R4 has a system remote which included quite a few programming features), it nonetheless shares some interesting features with its more modern cousin.  They are styled in a similar fashion, which means very compactly and with clean lines, in a kind of gray-green not that different from the NAD gear of that era.  

As you can see in the pictures above, the R1 has connections for two sets of speakers, and as the diagram on the fold down door shows, the spring-clip left and right speaker terminals for each set of speakers are stacked on top of one another.  There are a series of round push buttons on the face of the R1, and they are made of a smooth, shiny black plastic.  To the left of the radio presets is a button marked "key," except that it isn't a button at all, it is indeed a key or peg that pulls out from the R1 and is inserted in the hole under each preset when favorite stations are being assigned.  I would imagine that this key will be missing from quite a few surviving examples, even though it fits quite snugly and does not fall out when the R1 is shifted in the equipment rack.  

An interesting and quirky (I think) feature is the "Linear" button, which I believe operates as a sort of loudness or bass boost feature.  It is defeated by pressing the button, as opposed to being activated when pressing the button.  When I hooked the R1 up to my a/d/s/ L470 speakers it was obvious that there was a boost in the bass region, and I discovered that by engaging the Linear button the bass sounded more natural, to me at least.  The 30Hz button may provide more boost but I did not play with that one this time around as it was getting late.  In fact, I am seeing that this post is getting a bit long, and as it is nearly 23:00 Eastern Standard Time, this will have to be a part 1 post.  feel free to drop me a line if you are familiar with this machine or have specific questions.  And if you are an a/d/s/ expert, definitely let me know!  I'll leave you with a picture, and more on this topic tomorrow!



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

B&W DM 610i and Maze Audio

At the aforementioned blowout sale I picked up a second pair of B&W DM 610i along with the Dtnaudio Excite 14s.  These are very nice vintage speakers with a full sound that belies their size.  They have dual binding posts for bi wiring and the jumpers were missing, so I replaced them with a nice set from Maze Audio with spades.  Very high quality for a very low price.  Check them out on Ebay.  They are set up in the listening room so hopefully this weekend I'll get time to play with them properly!

Monday, January 18, 2016

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone: Dynaudio Focus 140

In the Spring of 2008, I had a whole house of B&W speakers, all 600S3 series, in black ash.  They had been acquired new in 2006, and I was very pleased with them.  603S3 mains, 600 surrounds, a center, and even a B&W sub.    I was coming along to home theater very late, and had even picked up a few DVD-A discs (ELP and Yes, which I still have), and we were setting up a basement theater.  The first pair of new speakers that I ever bought myself that fit in what I would call the "high end" category was a pair of B&W DM 602S2 bookshelves (I had Klipsch KG2s in college but I was drunk most of the times I heard them, so it's tough to know about those- they were great to rock out to).  These had gone when a pair of used a/d/s/ L1290s came along, but I had always held a soft spot for the 602s.  As a result, B&W was an obvious choice when we did the new set up.  The set up sounded great, but amazingly, I have very few pictures of it.  These are from after we sold the house and the system came out of the basement theater.

We had an grossly over-priced Arcam AVR running them until that crapped out (which was in a very short period of time), followed by a less exciting but considerably more reliable Denon.  A mistake was made however, the day I bought the B&W 603S3 mains.  On a lark, I listened to a pair of Dynaudio bookshelves that were in the same room, I think while they were retrieving the B&W speakers on which I had just pulled the trigger.  For the life of me, I cannot remember what model they were, although I would not be shocked to discover they were small Contours, or maybe Focus 110s.  If they were Contours, they were an older model as they had none of the science fiction front plates later and current  models of the Contour series are sporting.  I recall asking neither what they were nor the cost.  I just remember thinking: "Wow, that's a small speaker to sound that big."  But then they wheeled the boxes for our B&Ws to the counter, and my wife was looking at her watch and away we went. 

You see where I went wrong, don't you?

I thought about those little Dynaudios quite often, even when listening to our fancy (and very good) B&W set up.  So, fast forward again to the Spring of '08, and I found myself in the listening room again, this time to hear Dynaudio speakers.  Not knowing what I had listened to before, I spent a bit of time listening to the Focus 110, which was a very impressive speaker for its size.  But when we switched to the 140, which is the next model up, I was really just blown away.  I had never heard a two-way bookshelf speaker carry a room like that.  The Focus 140 has a 1 inch Esotec + tweeter, and a 6.5 inch woofer, ported in the back and weighs about 19 lbs.  On the shelf in the store's listening room, this little speaker was KILLING my B&W 603S3.  I distinctly remember listening to a number of Peter Gabriel tracks, and the 140s handled all of his high-intensity use of percussion and bass with no trouble PLUS they had no hint of treble harshness whatsoever.  There was a visceral quality to the low end that many towers do not reproduce except at awful levels, much less bookshelves.  (or monitors, I recognize that there is a difference between the two).  They threw a wide sound stage that I really believed could be even better with proper set up.  So, without giving thought to the craziness that would ensue, I ponied up an (even for me) insane amount of $1600 and bought them in Rosewood.  

My pictures do not do the veneer finish any justice.

and here they are next to a pair of B&W DM602S2 that we acquired in the pouring rain in NYC one afternoon (which is another story altogether):

Everything was wonderful.  I didn't even really experience the tortuous break-in period I was warned about.  The 140s definitely got better with age but they never, never sounded bad.  I figured that somewhere in the collection of Sony ES gear I would find an amp that suited them ( TA-F444 ES, TA-F630 ESD, TA-F80 and 77ESD combo, STR-GX9 ES) or maybe an old NAD . . .  but what was the worst that could happen, I'd buy a new amp at some point, right?  But through no fault of their own, I wound up replacing them with a pair of Focus 220 series 1 2-way towers.  This was definitely a case of being lured in by price- $1995, new in box, shipped, thank you, Dan at Dedicated Audio.  I thought if the 140s are great, how much greater must the 220s be?  And the 220s are great. Really, really great.  They move an incredible amount of air on orchestral works and big progressive rock stuff, and they can be delicate.  They never really "disappear" though, which is something I miss in a stand mount.  Nonetheless I have had the 220s since 2010, which for me, says a lot.  And frankly, I have not really heard anything short of some Wilson Audio speakers recently that would make me give them up.  The Wilson's cost $13,000 or something ridiculous like that, mind you.

But there is something about small, stand mount speakers that I really, really dig, which is why no one should be surprised that the Excite 14s came to live here two weeks ago (see below, and more to come on this killer little guy).  As of today, I have not heard the Dynaudio Focus 160, the speaker that replaced the Focus 140.  I am telling myself that I don't like the way it looks.  

We shall see how long that lasts.  Any bets?  


Friday, January 8, 2016

Dynaudio Excite 14 and Marantz HomeTheater

The Excite 14 bookshelves are a new acquisition in our house, coming to join us after the big Audio Den clearance sale (please see below).

They are in a really beautiful walnut finish with a typically Dynaudio super high-quality cabinet.  They are beveled at the front edge in a fashion similar to the Focus series, but not tapered to the rear, like the Focus.

For new year's they were on short stands in our listening room, being run by the Yamaha A-S2000 and CD-S2000 combo. They threw a huge sound stage with clear highs and surprising bass for a speaker with a very small woofer (14 cm or about 5 1/2 inches). I typically listen to Dynaudio Focus 220 (series one) in the stereo set up, and whereas the Excites can't compete in the bass (they are not meant to) they easily equaled the treble clarity.  Plus they did that cool thing small monitors do- they "disappeared" into the sound stage while listening.  In my room, the 220s are just too big to avoid notice.  The speaker stands belong to the surrounds in our home theater though, so after the holiday, the Excites left that set up and went into the closet for a few days. Yesterday though i had an itching to hear them again, so i brought them out to our living room where they could occupy some space with our home theater, which incidentally is also made up of Dynaudio Focus series speakers.  (there is a story behind this set up, which I will share at a later date).

I do not intend to use the Excites as home theater speakers.  Frankly, I hate home theater for music.  Case in point it took me a few minutes to remember that I had to go into the Oppo BDP 93 menu and change the default SACD setting from multi to stereo before I could listen to the Excites without the rest of the set up.  Valuable listening time wasted.  At any rate, the Excites were set on small rubber feet from my old B&Ws, plopped down roughly equidistant on the cabinet and hooked up via Audioquest speaker cable to our Marantz AV 8801 pre/pro and Marantz M7055 multi channel amp.  
Interestingly, the speaker binding posts are mounted very deeply in the Excite 14 cabinet:

The upside is that the posts are very easy to access and the recess gives you something to grab when you are moving them around.  Not that that is a big problem, as these are very small speakers.  Our Focus center channel dwarfed them. I only had time to listen to tracks from four discs, which were the new Allman Brothers Idlewild South Blu-ray, the Rush Moving Pictures Blu-ray, something by Norah Jones the title of which i can't remember but can easily be found on the demo disc shelf at every Stereo store in the FREAKING UNIVERSE and the Yes Fragile DVD-A.  

Cutting to the chase, these speakers belong on ear-height stands, 12-24 inches away from the back wall, and in a room roughly 20 by 12.  Our living room afforded them none of these criteria and it showed.  they still sounded very, very good, but they were no better than our Dynaudio DM 2/7 in this arrangement.  I think that there were reflections from the cabinet that prevented the Excites from performing that magical disappearing act, especially on the Norah Jones disc and during Steve Howe's solo acoustic from Fragile.  The larger room also overwhelmed the small woofer, just not enough air could be moved on Moving Pictures.  That being said, the percussion on Midnight Rambler on Idlewild South still sounded very realistic if somewhat distant, and the treble effects in YYZ on Moving Pictures were phenomenal.  

I did not buy these speakers to use in a big home theater system, however.  I bought them (because I am clearly ill) to play great 2 channel music in our dedicated listening room, and there they sound the best. The night we bought them I played the first 3 or 4 tracks from another Yes album, the more recent "Fly From Here."  I like this disc a lot even though Jon Anderson does not provide the vocals.  It is very reminiscent of Drama, another album minus Jon Anderson (in fact I had heard that Fly From here was originally written to be a second disc on Drama.  Anyone know about this?).  Fly From Here is a very nicely recorded progressive rock album and the vocals are ideally suited to small monitors like the Excites.  The great thing is that in the smaller room you get the vocal magic plus the impact of Alan White and Chris Squire- the Excites can really rock in reasonable surroundings.  More to come.            

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Yamaha R300 Stereo Receiver revisited

My post from a few years ago on the Yamaha R300 had over 5000 views, and was by far the most popular.  I gave the R300 away but maybe a follow up post is called for.  In the meantime I will be listening to the new Dynaudio Excite 14 bookshelves hooked up to our home theater set up, a Marantz AV8801 preamp and MM 7055 multi channel amplifier with an Oppo BDP_93 spinning the discs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A SUPER SALE, and a new pair of Dynaudio Excite 14

. . . and  now we are back again.  Just stepped out to the restroom.  No, seriously, wrote a book (Chermpf) and stuff, started a new job, learned that I cannot drink beer without becoming ill, blah, blah, blah.  But a number of interesting stereo things happened since 2015, er, make that 2014.  So now is as good a time as any as to write poorly about any and all of it.  Where to start?  Well, just before Christmas, I received one of these in the mail:

Once in a lifetime?  How could I pass it up?  So, on a rainy Monday, my wife was kind enough to accompany me on a trip to the SUPER SALES EVENT.  Which it kinda was.  It seems that Audio Den is planning a renovation and a ton of old gear was hauled out of closets, basements, sub-cellars and small pockets of alternate realities that protrude unexpectedly and somewhat suggestively into our universe (this latter category included only old Pioneer Elite Laser Disc machines, and one non-functional portable plasma focus) in order to make room for the planned changes.  My wife picked out a pair of Paradigm Cinema series surround speakers to replace the Polk Mini Monitors I had stolen from her upstairs TV set up for my office system (more on the Polks later- they were a Goodwill find pretty much NIB), But despite all of the goodies, nothing stuck my fancy until I saw that these had been deeply marked down:

Yes, a pair of Dynaudio Excite 14 monitors in walnut finish, and as the astute reader can tell from the photo, I bought them and they now live in my listening room.  I did not get rid of the Dynaudio Focus 220s, they have just moved to the closet briefly while I have an affair with a pair of small, ultra-high quality 2-way bookshelves again.  I will be selling my DM 2/7s however:

 . . . as there is no room for them.  They are very good, but they are not really in the same league as the Excite 14s.  They neither image as well nor have as natural bass.  That being said, they were phenomenal teamed up with a DM Center in our home theater.  They're on eBay as I type, and I hope they will find a good home.  In a different house, I would keep them. I am loving the Excite 14s though.  Spooky good imaging, and terrific bass output for such a small cabinet.  Quite a bit of the Allman Brother's Idlewild South re-master (which I had just gotten for Christmas) was played loudly on New Years Eve through these very small speakers and no one complained.  They are very reminiscent of the Focus 110, which I listened to extensively before I bought the Focus 140s.  Ah, the 140s.  GREAT speaker.  Why didn't I keep them?  I need speaker stands however, as I swiped the one pair I own from the home theater the first couple of days I owned the Excite 14s, and the stands have to go back.  Speaker stands are expensive and generally unattractive, and I would like to find something that does these speakers justice both in sound and in looks.  Any suggestions?