Dear fellow AE readers,
Although I' not sure everyone here wants to go to heaven, I'm almost certain those who regularly browse the many articles in this forum would like a find a way to reach hi-fi nirvana.
Let's cut to the chase, I have spent several months in tweaking my large system in order to give me constant elusion of sitting in the middle of the 5th row in the concert hall and to appreciate the living presence and soundstage of an orchestra as well as the ability to follow the performance and tonality of the instrument of the soloist. A little less than 2 weeks ago Friday, designer of Cessaro horns and the AE duo paid a visit to my hi-fi abode and PT commented he was surprised to hear a system could sound this good, when JLam arrived, he made the similar remark. In the ensuing 2 days listening to other systems in very different environment, I felt my system has its merits and also room for improvement, therefore, it's better to consider oneself as an ardent student of hi-fi reproduction instead of a hi-fi guru like many of those fat and middle aged hi-fi reviewers (you are welcome to name a few !).
Having been absent for some time from this forum and contrary to popular belief, my passion in hi-fi has not diminished in any way, in fact, it has grown in certain areas which I consider critical, however, for simplicity sake, I will share my experience with fellow readers in the following order : 1) Source, 2) System and 3) Room acoustics.
Allow me to move back in time to cover my experience at the AE 2 first plus my subsequent visits to 2 different but very good sounding places which music lovers should pay homage to.
So much has been raved about by fellow AE customers on the superb sounding AE 2 in the past few months but I never had the chance to experience this very compact studio until I was invited by PT to hear the latest Zanden 6000 integrated amp driving the new Cessaro Chopin speakers with a pair of custom-made subwoofers. I arrived on Sat. morning (week b4 last) when Ralph (designer of Cessaro) had just finished fine-tuning his speakers & subwoofer setting. After listening to PT's classical CD which I was not familiar with and it did not impress me, I brought out my test disc, Aaron Neville's Warm Your Heart. I quickly (after several seconds) noticed the left channel had been connected to the right hand side and the bass was easily 4-5 db too much for this small studio.
After PT confirmed he had connected the cable the other way round and Ralph turned down the subwoofer output from around 12 o'clock to 9 o'clock (so I was told), the sound was clean, fast and coherent, the difference was huge and PT & Ralph were happy. We then proceeded to serious listening on the many CDs I had brought with me plus the house CDs.
I was aptly impressed by the new Zanden integrated amp, it had the Zanden DNA, tonality was its immediate forte, voice and instruments sounded organic and real - one must give 'full credit' to the Chopin for reproducing recorded sound faithfully. The amp was able to reproduce dynamic and micro-dynamic contrast very well, obviously, to all users of medium-sized speakers, the system would be the one to aspire to own or in my words, to die for, however, since I am using the Beta system, the dynamic headroom is simply greater but one must evaluate any system based on its merits and its physical limits. The Zanden 6000 which I was told, took Yamada-san 2 years to develop, I am certain he will have better things to offer to the high-end community later this year based on this new design. I also think the superb resolution of the Zanden/Cessaro system was attributed to it being fully wired by you-know-what interconnects, speaker cables plus the grounding.
In summary, musicality and excitement were the descriptions I can give to this system in AE 2, I am sure after nearly 2 more weeks of breaking in, the system should sound better by now. I reckon it can give PT a certain yardstick to aim for in fine tuning the maga-buck system in AE 1 as it was not really singing as good as when I last heard it several months ago.
After the audition at AE 2, we had a quick lunch before paying a visit to the record shop of 直師父 (AE ANALOG SCIENCE 總顧問). Master 直 owns a vinyl record shop which has almost most of the best sounding LPs you can find and want to own but alas at a price and he only accepts cash. At the far end of the shop, one can see another pair of Chopin driven by a full Zanden system consisting of Zanden pre-amp, the legendary phono stage, 300B-power amp with Da Vinci turntable. The sound from this system was simply the best I had ever heard in a commercial environment, it had one of the best tonality and musicality by any standard, one of reasons I think was because of the room, long and fairly narrow, this allowed bass to travel with weight and extension.
After playing the LP version of Aaron, I was rather surprised to find it was recorded in reverse phase (CD was in normal phase I hasten to add) and the equalization was cut in EMI curve (the damn A&M recording was made in 1991). Upon further listening, I noticed although the system was immensely musical with pretty good details, it lacked the complete transparency of the top-notched system. I later looked at the wiring of the system which did not appear to be those I am currently using or AE is offering, I hazard a guess a complete change to you-know-what cables would transform this system into a top-notched system in no time.
In the evening, AE threw a dinner party in the honour of Ralph Krebs of Cessaro so that he can meet his desciples. To the very nice gentleman sitting next to me who was happily using an old pair of Flemish loudspeakers partnered by a pair of muscle-amp from Deutschland, I am sure he will be in audio ecstasy if one day he changes to Cessaro speakers driven by Zanden (PT, pls inform me if this day does come, I will bring a bottle of champagne to celebrate this special occasion).
The sound of Redemption.....
Sunday, the following day, we went to Danny So's place. I had been there in numerous occasions and was sad to find why the Cessaro speakers reproduced such unfamiliar sound, in short, the tonal signature of the large bronze looking Japanese amps simply masked all the details of every recording he played and tonality was the same on every record.
On this visit, Danny finally saw the light by changing to a complete Da Vinci pre and power amps, Zanden phono stage plus Da Vinci turntable. The sound we heard was a major transformation in every positive aspect, tonality was real, image was palpable with a very impressive dynamic headroom. Danny had finally redeemed himself for choosing these superb amps with all the lovely characteristics of the best tube amps I have heard. The weekend ended with a lovely note as we all enjoyed the sound from these different systems that had inspired me to further fine tune my own later on.
Well AE readers, that's all for now and I am now charged with excitement to share with you in the upcoming write-ups on how to improve your hi-fi system at 'zero cost' to achieve 10-15% improvement in sound but this will require hearing/listening skill which needs constant practice because there is no free lunch in this world, okay.
Until then, happy listening !