I'm finally here?

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
(Warning, this is LONG-WINDED. I'm writing to avoid taking down the Christmas tree.)

The beginning:

I started down this rabbit hole in 2007 after collecting records, but not gear, for 15 years. I got this sound in my head then. Not a sound I'd heard anywhere... but this idea of a sound. Pieced together from live performances, playing a few instruments myself, and the few decent hi-fi systems I'd heard up to that point.

This morning, I finally saw the exit sign and pulled off the audio expressway. Stopped the car. Got out, looked at the sunrise... and sat down in front of that sound.

Rewind about 6 months.

Completely burnt out I unplug all the vinyl stuff from my stereo. My Sony TTS-8000 turntable has just been dropped off at Fed Ex to travel for repair right after I'd got it dialed in. Old gear. I just wanted to rent one of those big dumpster containers that they drop off in your driveway and dump it all in. Thousands of hours and thousands and thousands of dollars and I wasn't even happy. In fact, I was LESS happy than I was in 2007.

Fast forward: November.

A month-long cold, bored on the couch with laryngitis. Couldn't even talk on the phone because I sounded like a demon and scared people. To distract myself I started looking at local audio listings and there's this Merrill/AR ES-1 turntable with all the Merrill mods (and more) that I'd intended for this AR EB-101 I'd had. I'd sold that to a friend, too burned out at that point to go through the mods.

But the money. So sick of spending money.

I looked at my stash, found my biggest frustration, my biggest example of chasing other peoples' tastes instead of my own (rhymes with TD-124) and I threw it out there as a trade. Mostly to remove its mocking smirk, its knowing of my inability to get out of it what others get out of it.

And so...the Merrill/AR ES-1 ended up here! And I made another local audio buddy in the process.

New audio buddy seemed like a kid in a candy store looking at my huge stash of gear...gear that was dead to me. I was OVER it. The clutter, the expense, the wrong turns, the failed-retail-therapy. But this gentleman...he was into it. And his excitement was... contagious.

I visited his place (hopefully not infecting him with the laryngitis) and he had super cool gear. Different from my gear. Big Tannoys in beautiful homemade cabinets. Really pretty McIntosh tube stuff. A big PTP Lenco build in a beautiful homemade plinth (that could make fun of all those ugly boxy Jean Nantais plinths). And lots of wood. Mmmm, beautiful oiled wood record cabinets. You could smell the teak oil.

I got to be the kid in the candy store.

Forward to the near-present.

The new turntable? It had a sound that reminded me of THAT sound. The sound in my head that got me into this mess for in the first place. It wasn't -quite- there, but I could smell it. A dim light in the distance. Is that.... is that my exit?

Out of audio-breath (and actual breath, still sick) but with audio-energy coming back I started doing little tweaky things. Played with my speaker positioning for several hours. Moved cables around. Dug around in the basement for little metal cups to place under the spikes on the speaker stands to give them a firmer footing. Got some white-tac and fastened the Harbeths to their stands (finally). Swapped carts in and out, found two of them to be close but no cigar. Posted here about wanting a top-shelf cart, and Sound Dragon sold me his Ortofon Cadenza Bronze (turned Black with a new cantilever/stylus).

That's when I knew it really was the exit sign ahead. End in sight.

The last 48-hours:

I got the protractor(s) out. The digital scale. All of the hex keys (or are they Allen wrenches? Who's Allen?). I dug through the abyss to find the Fozgometer, that oh-so-audiophile thing that tells you that azimuth is perfectly set. This cart was going on and staying on.

Last night I took my tube phono-stage off the storage shelves. It was taken out 2 years ago because it picked up massive amounts of RF from my ex-neighbor's pot-growing or meth-cooking side-gig (my guess, as it stopped the day his sketchy, no furniture, people-visiting-for-10-minutes-at-a-time-then-leaving ass moved away taking his RF-spewing cheap-Chinese grow lights with him.)

Sorry, little bitter about all that.

The tubed stage really gave it that last polish of realism. I lowered the suspension on the table a bit...that got it even more sorted. It was all just a wee bit too dark for my taste.

Time for bed and the fresh-look that morning-ears can give.

This morning, I replaced a Mullard 12ax7 in the phono stage with a Telefunken. The darkness went away, 3 Mullards being too many Mullards...and everything sounded natural and neutral. To my ears, at least. (Ya'll and your SET gear might think it all sounds like a fax machine:) )

Joni Mitchell floated in the room. I wish I had a river, too, Joni. And I wish this album had always sounded this emotionally intact, this heartbreakingly tangible.

Then I sat down.

Took a breath.

And smiled.

There it was, right in my living room. That sound in my head from 2007.








(Now let's wait and see what breaks first :) )
 
Last edited:
Great story John! It’s too bad that you were burned out for a while (not to mention sick) but it’s good news that things are now back on track. I think we all experience frustration from time to time and for some burn out, but that’s really just a reminder that we need to keep all things in life in proper balance. Now, if I can just remember that....
 

airdronian

Radar Member
Nice post ! What phono stage are you referring to ? I don't recall seeing that here. (foggy slightly hungover mind is a bit slow atm)
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Nice post ! What phono stage are you referring to ? I don't recall seeing that here. (foggy slightly hungover mind is a bit slow atm)
Its a Juicy Music Tercel II. I really love how it sounds though in an all-tube setup like I occasionally ran it can all add up to too much of a good gooey thing, which is where the similarly voiced but less, um, tubey, solid-state Primare R32 came in. The Primare also rejected interference to a better degree. I'm running it (and the R32 when it was in) with one of Nate's SUTs, this one with Microtran transformers.

0-39.jpg
 

Thermionics

Post Whore In Training
Its a Juicy Music Tercel II. I really love how it sounds though in an all-tube setup like I occasionally ran it can all add up to too much of a good gooey thing, which is where the similarly voiced but less, um, tubey, solid-state Primare R32 came in. The Primare also rejected interference to a better degree. I'm running it (and the R32 when it was in) with one of Nate's SUTs, this one with Microtran transformers.

View attachment 19250
Those Microtrans step-ups that Nate built are the shit aren't they? I love how well mine works with my system (quite a bit different than yours, but bringing the same amount of joy to me that yours does to you, I hope).

Also, that Juicy Music II sure is pretty...<drool>
 

Thermionics

Post Whore In Training
It's really good. And I just noticed that I have Raytheon 12at7s in it instead of Mullards, which means my too much Mullard comment is just lies, full of lies!

Also stumbled across one out of a pair of 5751s I need to send back to a member here. My memory is so shoddy anymore.
Were those the ones I lent you? :)
 
I do love that console (and lamp). That Nelson guy knew a thing or two.

Here's to satisfaction and finding it, even piecemeal.

I hope this isn't too much of a sidestep, but in your first post, you write about assembling an idea of a sound that you wanted your stereo to reproduce/approximate, and I think that's something that many people who are enthusiastic about hi-fi can identify with: a memory or a moment or something that shows you what you're after. (Parenthetically, I'll add that it's been interesting, reading forums and other stereo publications for awhile now, to note the variety of things that seem to drive or to guide people. And maybe there's no one thing, but rather a collection of them, which is maybe why your phrase "idea of a sound" leads me to write this.) Anyway, I'm curious to know more about what this is for you, if you're willing to share it. And how do you keep it in mind enough to know where your system stands in relation to it?
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
All back together. I need to build a wood enclosure for the turntable's speed-controller box. That thing is homely.

Bluesound Node 2 and Topping DAC above the phono pre with the turntable accessories.

Not sure why I'm sharing all this, but it's doing a really good job of delaying taking down the Christmas Tree :)


0-41.jpg

0-42.jpg
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I do love that console (and lamp). That Nelson guy knew a thing or two.

Here's to satisfaction and finding it, even piecemeal.

I hope this isn't too much of a sidestep, but in your first post, you write about assembling an idea of a sound that you wanted your stereo to reproduce/approximate, and I think that's something that many people who are enthusiastic about hi-fi can identify with: a memory or a moment or something that shows you what you're after. (Parenthetically, I'll add that it's been interesting, reading forums and other stereo publications for awhile now, to note the variety of things that seem to drive or to guide people. And maybe there's no one thing, but rather a collection of them, which is maybe why your phrase "idea of a sound" leads me to write this.) Anyway, I'm curious to know more about what this is for you, if you're willing to share it. And how do you keep it in mind enough to know where your system stands in relation to it?
As you can probably guess, that sound in my head was/is more vague than it is specific. I used to go see live music all the time and I play a few instruments (poorly). And, there's a sound to things live and in person that all stereos struggle with. Most stereos sound like a stereo. They sound like themselves, the thing making the sound, as much as they sound like the music they're playing. This was especially true of turntables, for me, for years. My own Linn Axis back then sounded very obviously like a turntable and not in a good way. Most of my turntable collection today still sounds like the workings of a turntable as much as the music. Only the Sony TTS-8000 and this Merrill, in my opinion, escape it enough to not be readily identified as a turntable making the sound.

And the sound in my head was music hanging in the air of the room, detached from the stereo, just THERE, feeling like I'm just there with the recording and not hearing the gear at all. As much of a gear freak as I am I cannot stand gear that calls attention to itself. You and I started in a similar place and I think went down a lot of similar paths, I think.

Some big moments for me were when Joe Corona at Saturday Audio Exchange introduced me to speakers that could convey a real image/soundstage (newer, at the time, Spendor stand mounts). My first cheap tube line stage that was competent enough to convince me that pretty much everything gets totally screwed at the preamp stage. The big VPI Classic was the first turntable I had that didn't sound overtly like a turntable. Those Sony SS-m7 speakers that were the first really coherent speakers I had, that disappeared, that didn't really color things, that imaged far out beyond their placement and back behind themselves (there was no wall behind them in my loft). The Harbeths that were so good at sounding real that other speakers just started to sound like, well...speakers. (You still have yours, right?) And finally Nate's hand-me-down Slagleformer passive. The first 'preamp' that sounded like absolutely nothing, while still having gain and all the tonal color! guess this explains my gear preference. Gear that isn't there.

I'm not here saying my setup now is something of a revelation to anybody, its just what I was after. I think it really nails timbre, sounds real, floats things in the room, makes the room disappear. Its really good at fooling me and letting me forget its a stereo. And that's really what I was after.

I don't want to hear my stereo, I just want to hear the recording, with volume control over it.

Best as I can explain it... I think you and I have been looking for similar things over the years?
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Which model Harbeth are those?
They're SHL-5s. The non-plus ones. I've heard the SHL-5 plus but not at length so can't compare. They've been with me a long time and just kind of do what they do. They sound great if everything ahead of them is sorted, or they sound pretty crappy if everything ahead of them is out of whack. They've been a constant. Love 'em.
 
Top