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The current system and some reflections thereon

fiddlefye

Senior Member
I was about to post this in the thread about Harbeths, but really... a bit too much of a tangent, even for me!

As I type I'm sitting and listening to a live broadcast of the Jackson Symphony through my aforementioned Reference 3a speakers and reflecting on not only the speakers themselves, but what comes before them and the audio people in my life who brought it together.

The speakers just work for me. Even in my little 12 x 12 room I never "hear" them, only the huge, detailed, lush musical image they project. I have to stick my ear right up to either of them to hear them individually - a bit of sorcery to me.

Backing up from the speakers in the chain is the Heybrook P-2 SS power amp JohnVF gave me last year when he moved to Chicago (my thanks once more, John). John has mentioned this amp and the pleasure it gave him in a few threads recently. It is a Tim Paravicini design and very much in the general Brit amp mode in terms of character. It was clearly getting tired and long-in-the-tooth and went to my tech, Dennis for a refreshing. In the end it got a major makeover. Not only was it full of dying 30 year old caps (which were replaced with really good modern equivalents), but there were quite a few areas where production cost savings had been made which were rethought. Dennis has done this for a number of my pieces over the years - undoing the compromises introduced in the production design phase. In every instance it has reaped a major benefit. At the beginning of the circuit were a couple of op-amps that would have been cheap even in the mid-80s and these were replaced with excellent recent Burr-Brown equivalents. The block rectifier bridge was replaced with one built from four Schotty diodes which really made a huge impact on the speed of the amp and dynamics. The RCAs and binding posts were changed out to some really nice ones that Dennis had rescued from various pieces of dead high-end gear he had about. All of the internal wiring was stripped out and replaced with really good stuff. The end result is an amp that is really "transparent" and a huge and very deep soundstage to go with it. Bass is tight, goes incredibly deep and full. In the end I feel like I'm basically listening to everything further up the chain, only louder. My tube amp is feeling a bit neglected these days, poor thing.

The next piece back is another relatively unsung piece, the Anthem Pre-1 from Sonic Frontiers. It was from SF's "bargain" line, but has some serious design features including a huge separate tube-rectified power supply and a wonderful MM/MC phono stage with basically the same circuit as their stand-alone phono pre of the time. Ernie came over the the house a year and a half back with some tubes from his stash and we repopulated with really good things. Thanks again, Ernie! The sound signature is interesting as it retains the harmonic complexity of a tube pre, but has the balance and poise of a SS design. I've never been a big fan of a really "tubey" sound, why I was drawn to the Conrad Johnson PV-12, but the Pre-1 now completely trounces it as far as I'm concerned.

As far as sources go - you know my turntable and arms, there is the inboard phono stage and a Bottlehead Seduction (also from Ernie) and SUT (Redboy) to cover the second arm on the table. At the moment I'm listening to the Dynalab tuner (yet another Canadian product). Denon CDP as transport/CI DAC, Revox RTR deck.

So there is the gear, but also the wonderful people in my life who make it possible. My thanks...
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Sorry I didn’t see this earlier. I’m so happy that Heybrook amp is living it’s best life with you. As you know it wasn’t something I had just laying around, I loved that amp but without a place for it, and the Leben amp on second system duty, it wasn’t getting enough use. Knowing how much I liked it before the full rebuild, I can imagine that now it probably is up there with any remotely affordable solid state. And it will just be there chugging along in the most humble plain black boxes around - one of my favorite things about it. It’s just a black box with a button.

And I can think of no better speakers for it than your Ref 3As. I can’t wait until this whole virus mess passes and I can swing by to hear. Too bad I’m not just right across the border anymore. I miss our hangouts.
 
As I type I'm sitting and listening to a live broadcast of the Jackson Symphony through my aforementioned Reference 3a speakers . . . The speakers just work for me. Even in my little 12 x 12 room I never "hear" them, only the huge, detailed, lush musical image they project . . .
Thanks for writing about your system. I've got a pair of Ref 3a mm de capo i speakers and I agree that they're special. I'm currently driving them with a Slagle/Redboy TVC and a homebrew chip amp and they do throw a huge lush image. The preamp / amp combo is what I call my summer system, since it generates a lot less heat than using tube amps. But the best sound I ever got out of these speakers was driving it with a vintage Threshold FET 10 preamp and some single ended 2A3 amps built along the lines of the Baby Ongaku article in Sound Practices issue 9. If you ever get a chance, I suggest that you give a listen to your speakers with some low powered single ended amps. Ref 3a speakers have a certain synergy with single ended. We're experiencing what passes for winter in California right now, so it may be time to haul out my 2A3 amps and see if I like this pairing as much as I remember.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
Sorry I didn’t see this earlier. I’m so happy that Heybrook amp is living it’s best life with you. As you know it wasn’t something I had just laying around, I loved that amp but without a place for it, and the Leben amp on second system duty, it wasn’t getting enough use. Knowing how much I liked it before the full rebuild, I can imagine that now it probably is up there with any remotely affordable solid state. And it will just be there chugging along in the most humble plain black boxes around - one of my favorite things about it. It’s just a black box with a button.

And I can think of no better speakers for it than your Ref 3As. I can’t wait until this whole virus mess passes and I can swing by to hear. Too bad I’m not just right across the border anymore. I miss our hangouts.
I miss our hangouts, too. Looking forward to hitting Wineology again one day as it has been completely (and nicely) rebuilt after the fire they had early in the pandemic. The pandemic has messed up the social world entirely. I haven't been able to cross the Great Divide (aka Detroit River) since March which rather rules out not only social visits, but work and shopping as well. My life has been spread across the border for many decades now and having access cut feels very odd indeed.

The Heybrook really is surprising in what it does and does not do, just completely effortless. That unassuming black box is actually nicely made and of a very interesting design structure when one goes to open it. It sits there and runs all cool, calm and collected and now probably will do so for a very long time. Discussions with Dennis over the years about the design decisions made in various pieces he has modded for me have been really quite enlightening. We've almost never done any real alteration to a circuit, but have attempted rather to undo some of the compromises made in the name of production cost savings and ease of manufacture. The end results have always proved the validity of the approach.

I'm really quite pleased with how the system has evolved over time. Finding a combination that gives all of the character that makes music vibrant and exciting for me but also doesn't make recordings of less than stellar quality sound bad has been a sometimes challenging goal. I think it has been achieved.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
Thanks for writing about your system. I've got a pair of Ref 3a mm de capo i speakers and I agree that they're special. I'm currently driving them with a Slagle/Redboy TVC and a homebrew chip amp and they do throw a huge lush image. The preamp / amp combo is what I call my summer system, since it generates a lot less heat than using tube amps. But the best sound I ever got out of these speakers was driving it with a vintage Threshold FET 10 preamp and some single ended 2A3 amps built along the lines of the Baby Ongaku article in Sound Practices issue 9. If you ever get a chance, I suggest that you give a listen to your speakers with some low powered single ended amps. Ref 3a speakers have a certain synergy with single ended. We're experiencing what passes for winter in California right now, so it may be time to haul out my 2A3 amps and see if I like this pairing as much as I remember.
I dearly love my tube power amp, but living in a 110-year-old house without central air it turns my listening room into an Easy Bake Oven in summer so I've long had some sort of SS amp I switched in for the hot months. Still, it was always a pleasure to go back to the tubes when the weather cooled. Since I put in the Heybrook that situation has changed and I no longer feel the need at all. The Heybrook is just better in every sense without giving any audible clue (to my ears anyway) as to what sort of amp it is. My electricity bill is probably lower as well.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I dearly love my tube power amp, but living in a 110-year-old house without central air it turns my listening room into an Easy Bake Oven in summer so I've long had some sort of SS amp I switched in for the hot months. Still, it was always a pleasure to go back to the tubes when the weather cooled. Since I put in the Heybrook that situation has changed and I no longer feel the need at all. The Heybrook is just better in every sense without giving any audible clue (to my ears anyway) as to what sort of amp it is. My electricity bill is probably lower as well.
Interesting in that with my time with it the Heybrook was the solid state amp that would routinely take the place of a tube amp as well. It would rotate in my 2nd system with the Leben CS-300x and a modified and surprisingly wonderful sounding Dynaco Stereo 70 (that I sold in my moving panic and really regret). So even before its rebuild it was living in systems where I was used to the characteristics of a tube amp.

I've read the matching preamp isn't as good as the amp, and that its not a Paravicini design. I don't know, I've never seen one in person.

It lived for a long time with a pair of Celestion SL-6s, then moved to a pair of older larger Diatone speakers where it briefly fought it out, and won, against a Quad 606. It's powered my Quad 63s as well, replacing the ICEpower amp section of a modern receiver that didn't like them at all, and a few other random speakers here and there, never falling behind. The only solid state amp I had that really put it in its place was the T+A a1530r...but that was, of course, with its aging caps and outdated opamps, etc.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
Interesting in that with my time with it the Heybrook was the solid state amp that would routinely take the place of a tube amp as well. It would rotate in my 2nd system with the Leben CS-300x and a modified and surprisingly wonderful sounding Dynaco Stereo 70 (that I sold in my moving panic and really regret). So even before its rebuild it was living in systems where I was used to the characteristics of a tube amp.

I've read the matching preamp isn't as good as the amp, and that its not a Paravicini design. I don't know, I've never seen one in person.

It lived for a long time with a pair of Celestion SL-6s, then moved to a pair of older larger Diatone speakers where it briefly fought it out, and won, against a Quad 606. It's powered my Quad 63s as well, replacing the ICEpower amp section of a modern receiver that didn't like them at all, and a few other random speakers here and there, never falling behind. The only solid state amp I had that really put it in its place was the T+A a1530r...but that was, of course, with its aging caps and outdated opamps, etc.
I too had a few Quad SS amps come through in an effort to fill the role of a tube amp. The only one that came close was one of the "professional" series, the 520f. It was actually rather nice and if I hadn't been in a bit of financial straights at the time and hadn't been offered serious money for it I might have kept it much longer. The separate volume controls were a bit annoying... Still, the Heybrook is vastly better in every sense imaginable.

The ancient McIntosh MC-250 did good stand-in duty in the summers for many years. It doesn't have quite the sound stage of the CJ, but in other respects was surprisingly comparable. The difference with the Heybrook in the system is that I feel no desire to return to the tube power amp, unlike when I was running the Mac.

That T+A really impressed when I heard it - very relaxed about doing its job and just made music with amazing detail in conjuction with the TVA. I haven't heard your Luxman, but have a sneaking suspicion the signature is similar?
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
That T+A really impressed when I heard it - very relaxed about doing its job and just made music with amazing detail in conjuction with the TVA. I haven't heard your Luxman, but have a sneaking suspicion the signature is similar?
Yes, they sound similar. The T+A was more open, with the most open/wide/deep soundstage I've ever heard in my system. It kicked my big VAC tube amp all the way to who knows where (sold it on consignment). The Luxman is wonderful, though, I'm so happy with it. I think you'd like it, too. I would probably be on the side of the TVC/T+A in a head to head but the overall experience of using the Luxman, the ease of it, the looks of it, and the sound... I'm not sure I'll go back to my separates. We'll see. I have a thing for preamps so maybe someday.

When you find a solid state amp that pushes most or all of the tube amp buttons, its hard to go back. The only tube amp I have left here is the Leben, as its proven itself to be as painless as solid state. I love that little thing.
 
@fiddlefye

"Dennis" sounds like a great guy to have on your team.
Here at the bottom of the world, we pretty much have to figure-out how to do this stuff ourselves, or it doesn't get done.
With that in mind, I'm really interested in these modifications that you made to the Heybrook Power Amp.
Discussions with Dennis over the years about the design decisions made in various pieces he has modded for me have been really quite enlightening. We've almost never done any real alteration to a circuit, but have attempted rather to undo some of the compromises made in the name of production cost savings and ease of manufacture. The end results have always proved the validity of the approach.

Would you have the time and inclination to share your Heybrook power amp modifications - and the logic behind each decision - here on the Haven?
Certainly not looking to criticize the approach - just keen to understand the thought process; and learn.
 
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fiddlefye

Senior Member
@fiddlefye

"Dennis" sound like a great guy to have on your team.
Here at the bottom of the world, we pretty much have to figure-out how to do this stuff ourselves, or it doesn't get done.
With that in mind, I'm really interested in these modifications that you made to the Heybrook Power Amp.


Would you have the time and inclination to share your Heybrook power amp modifications - and the logic behind each decision - here on the Haven?
Certainly not looking to criticize the approach - just keen to understand the thought process; and learn.
Absolutely will do! I've a bit of Zoom teaching shortly, but I'll run through it later for sure. No credit to me really (apart from being open-minded abut it all). My incredibly experienced and skilled tech is where it all flows from.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
@fiddlefye

"Dennis" sound like a great guy to have on your team.
Here at the bottom of the world, we pretty much have to figure-out how to do this stuff ourselves, or it doesn't get done.
With that in mind, I'm really interested in these modifications that you made to the Heybrook Power Amp.


Would you have the time and inclination to share your Heybrook power amp modifications - and the logic behind each decision - here on the Haven?
Certainly not looking to criticize the approach - just keen to understand the thought process; and learn.
Dennis repaired my EMM Labs SACD player and did an excellent job, and was about to get a metric ton of my other gear but then I had to move all of a sudden. Just when you finally find a great tech....
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
@fiddlefye

"Dennis" sounds like a great guy to have on your team.
Here at the bottom of the world, we pretty much have to figure-out how to do this stuff ourselves, or it doesn't get done.
With that in mind, I'm really interested in these modifications that you made to the Heybrook Power Amp.


Would you have the time and inclination to share your Heybrook power amp modifications - and the logic behind each decision - here on the Haven?
Certainly not looking to criticize the approach - just keen to understand the thought process; and learn.
The first thing to think of in working with the P-2 is that it was designed by Tim Paravicini and so there aren't likely to be a whole lot of areas where the essential circuit could really be improved. He really knew his stuff.

Ok - so there were several aspects to deal with, as usual. The first was getting rid of components that were no longer in spec. Primary culprits there were the big Phillips electrolytic power supply caps which were deep into their death spiral. Any other electrolytics were also replaced, all with nice audio-grade polyprop of one sort or the other. Apart from capacitors all other components tested perfectly within spec. Dennis noted that the output transistors in one channel had already been changed at some point in the amp's history, but they all matched really well so no need to worry about it.

Next up was having a look at areas where things were compromised by either the materials available at the time (relative to today) or due to cost savings.

First up was the rectifier bridge which in the original was an inexpensive plug-in module. Dennis has always been in favour of changing to Schottky diodes whenever possible as they are much faster and quieter. So a bridge was fabricated from four Schottkys and installed. The cost of the four diodes was by far the biggest expense in the job, but worth every penny IMHO.

Next it was decided to replace the original op-amps at the beginning of the circuit. Apparently they weren't terribly good ones even for the mid-80s. In their place there are now recent design Burr-Browns and they have sockets so I can "roll" should I so desire.

The original RCAs were molded things that were on a little plastic intermediate board and were literally falling to pieces. They were replaced by some really high-end units salvaged from some unrepairable expensive piece that someone had abandoned on Dennis at some point. They were mounted directly into the back panel.

Any connecting wire used anywhere was replaced with first-rate quality modern stuff.

So, I think that's about the total of the work involved as far as I can recall.

A system is always more than just the sum out its parts and the way this one has worked out is interesting I think. The pre-amp is one of the least "tubey" designs ever and some complain of it being on the bright side of neutral, but in combination with the Heybrook and the de Capos it just comes out very naturally balanced with an overall nice lushness. Where present in a recording bass is really most impressive. Not overly warm, but with what are to me the best aspects of a tube presentation present. The Heybrook seems neither to add nor subtract in any aspect.
Dennis repaired my EMM Labs SACD player and did an excellent job, and was about to get a metric ton of my other gear but then I had to move all of a sudden. Just when you finally find a great tech....
The border won't be closed forever. Just another excuse to come over this way! Actually, people ship him stuff to work on from all over the place.
 
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