Monday, October 27, 2014

A modern interpretation of la Revue de l'Audiophile... Part 1 - Western Electric 755A

Jacques Ledauphin stereo six way active set-up...
I do remember quite well my first encounter with Jacques Ledauphin in February 2013. He is some kind of tutelar figure in the pantheon of French audiophilia. For those who do not know him, Jacques is a well known French audiophile who developed among other things horns, multi amp with analog and digital crossovers speakers and of course electronics. He also explained his personal building in La Revue de l'Audiophile. I could not believe that I would meet him in person and that I would listen to his incredible set-up using six active channels per speakers which has been reviewed Jean Hiraga with highest regards.


WE 755A with small horn

But... (there is always a caveat) when I first visited him in February 2013, his big set-up had not been working for a few years. In fact he had issues with the Western Electric 437A tube that was used in eight out of twelve of his power amps and in his preamp. After measuring and testing with a Metrix LX109A tube analyser over twenty NOS of these tubes coming from different batches : the Metrix revealed that there was major vacuum inconsistencies in  all of his tubes. For Jacques, more than vacuum issue, the WE 437A must have a polluted cathode induced by there long term storage. As these tubes are of small dimensions : the heating filament as alas not enough energy to unpollute the cathode. So he decided that he would go for some other tubes. Telefunken YL-1350 and Mullard / Philips/ RTC E55L valves for instance... (tubes for the American valves and valves for the English tubes...)

Jacques Ledauphin E55L SPUD amp
In the meantime... Something else had replaced the gigantic speaker set-up... Something quite the opposite :  Western Electric 755A speakers in bass-reflex wood enclosures designed and built by Jacques Ledauphin himself. These enclosures are made of thick marine plywood with no parallel sides and a vent on the bottom. Jacques also designed a an  exponential horn embryo to the WE 755A in order to cancel some frequency response issues in the lower mid.

This new speaker project was also a good way to work on the new amps of the big (or should I say HUGE) set-up... Jacques has been using SPUD amps for over 25 years now. SPUD amps are designed to work with only one tube on the signal path. No drivers, no splitters... just one tube. As said before, first iterations were using Western Electric 437A tubes and designed to have the incredible output power of 0.8W. In fact these amps were used only on eight of the twelve channels of the set-up. We will come back on this topic with the second part of these visits.

Inside the E55L SPUD amp. Notice that one of the capacitor
is not used anymore. In fact these amps were built using
the chassis from the previous WE 437A SPUD amp
In replacement of the faulty WE 437A tubes, Jacques designed a brand new SPUD amp around the E55L valves. As with all his power amps, Jacques prefer to use tubes at reasonable specs. In this case : the E55L has only 125V on its plates and thus produces a hefty 0.6W. The E55L is used in triode connected mode with fixed bias  and is :
- driven by a Lundhal 7902 (600 ohm / 10 ohm) transformer which increases the signal ratio by 1 : 4.
- feeds a Tamura F-5002 output transformer (amorphous core sadly not available anymore).
The heater filament power supply is two stages regulated, high tension power supply stabilized and fixed bias power supply (used on the cold spot/point of the secondary windings of the input transformer) is  a two   stages regulated split with a three Farad capacitor (!!!)...

Would this be enough to control the WE 755A ? 

E55L SPUD amp + WE 755A speaker
We started by listening to records on the Brinkmann Balance turntable with an Ikeda IT-407 gold tonearm, RS-1 headshell and REX cartridge. There was also a Micro Seiki step-up transformer and a lightly tweaked Counterpoint SA-9 as well as a home made preamp (we will talk about it later on in part 2...). 

First record? French music of course with Barbara chante Barbara. A few notes and Barbara starts singing. Imaging is pinpoint, laser cut in fact : she is there in front of us a tad behind the speakers and it leads me to immediate goose bumps syndrome. I think that I actually forgot to breathe for a few seconds. This is definitely one of the best vocal rendition I have ever listened to. We then listened to a record of Areski with Brigitte Fontaine on the Saravah label and here again the magic happens : the level of details, the precision of the rendition is astonishing and still this incredible soundstage.

So what about these impressive 0.6W power amps ? Was it sufficient to drive the WE 755A to realistic levels ? Yes and no. In fact these speakers were not designed to be played at high levels but to suit the specification of low power tubes amps and in this particular case the E55L is particularly well suited for this application. Was it able to produce the lower octave of music ? Yes and no : bass extension is rolled of at around 60Hz due to the nature of the transducer and the enclosure used. The exponential horn embryo reinforce the lower mid and thus allow a good rendition of the upper bass registers.

Brinkmann Balance with Ikea set-up...
After all : let us keep in mind that we are listening to an old 8" wide band speaker from the 50's. Nether the less this is quite a listening experience and it is not so much different from my 15A, 16A, 12A  or 22A Western Electric horn experiences. In fact the 755A (being designed for the subway trains of New York and by extension for smaller rooms) do share some common points with is bigger counterparts. One of them is that these are all designed to reproduce a large bandwidth with no or very little electrical crossovers. In a way we could say they perform " raw" sound, signal freshly cooked out from the amp with no spices and thus the TFK E55L SPUD amp is truly complementary to these and allows us to hear, to apprehend the sound of these rare equipments. With these kind of equipment : I am always astonished by the ease with which the music flows, fills the room. 
Ikeda's realm..

Some would speak of shear musicality, I would state more the quest for the owner/designer/dreamer, Jacques, of some kind of ataraxia, of Zen gestures which put back in main focus the musical content more than the inherent technical aspects that underly such a complicate set-up as a a six way active speaker.




None of the less : there was still something (slightly) hidden behind the Western Electric 755A speakers... And I knew that one day I would listen to these...

See you in part 2 !

The Western Electric 755A Jacques Ledauphin speakers hiding his usual set-up...













Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cartridge tasting ? Supex 900 Super retipped by Soundsmith with a Ruby Cantilever and Nude Contact Line Diamond

I just received this Supex 900 Super cartridge. It is an early Supex model designed and produced by Sugano San. The Supex box looks more like a box for a ring or a piece of jewelry. I must admit that I prefer the wooden box of Koetsu's but still this little blackish box is part of the Supex "attitude" : discret and a bit cheap looking but effective and musical.
It is well known that Supex 900 are supposed to be affordable Koetsu. In fact this is not the first Supex 900 I have ever experienced in my own set up. First one was a stock Supex 900 Super and I was quite disappointed as it was a very soft cartridge, with no dynamic and rather muddy. It could not compete at all against my Koetsu Black Musashino Lab from the early eighties. The second one was also a Supex 900 super but... retipped by Van den Hul with a boron cantilever and an unknown tip. I will talk about it later on as I still have this cartridge and I want to compare it with the Soundsmith Supex.
As with most cartridges of this period it is super rare to receive a sample with a perfect diamond tip. This one had to be retipped and the job was done by Soundsmith in the US. No doubt this company does great job in retipping cartridges. I have for instance fond memories of a Koetsu Onyx long body on which they had made a really great job, in fact it is one of my best Koetsu experience. The seller of the Supex advertised his cartridge with two years of use with less than one hour per day of listening (something between 600 to 1000 hours). Diamond tip under microscope showed very limited wear and the cantilever is still straight ! Hurrah : this modified cartridge seems to be a good sample for tests.
I set the Supex on the new Uwe bubinga headshell. Tuned it finely with a protractor and set the vertical tracking foce a tad under 2g on the 12" Schick tonearm with no anti-skating (yes there is now an anti-skating option available for the 12" Schick tonearms!). At 1.7g it sounded too bright. Listening set up was built quickly with the head amp and the phonostage of a Sanyo C-55 serie Plus preamp without the preamp that I fed into a 12B4A linestage, a PP of 6550 Luxman (MQ-3600) and heavily modified Altec 19 speakers. First listening impressions are positive. It is involving and warm sounding.
I first started playing the LP Chron from Arve Henriksen. It is a great record for testing resolution, dynamic and soundstage. Coming from the Denon 103 in a Uwe malachite stone body with a Thomas Schick retip with boron cantilever and Line Contact III retip the first noticeable thing is that the Supex as a much lower output. Impedance loading with the Sanyo head amp is of 100 ohms and seems to fit the Supex well (I did measured the coils of my sample at an identical 2.2 ohms, boy this low in comparison to the 40 ohms of the Denon 103). Background noises on playback are also more noticeable, but the Schick retip have always been praised for there dead background noises on playback. Treble seems to be a bit less extended than the modded 103 and soundstage is very flat as well as the dynamic which is very soft. But well you have to keep in mind that these are the first spin of this cartridge which just arrived this morning in my letter box. It surely needs a bit of warming up.

Next record is the Daphnis et Chloé suite n°2 of Ravel with Riccardo Muti. The orchestra has nice body and it is quite a "romantic" listening experience... as if I was having some kind of raw SPU cartridge sound experience in the lower mids with an unexpected delicacy and sweetness in the upper mids and trebble. Even though I cannot stand anymore the Boléro the never finishing crescendo with the percussions is a really good test and as I was in a good mood I decided that I would inflict myself this torture. The beginning of this piece is indeed cruel for the Supex as the background noisies are really much more noticeable than on the moded 103. As the piece evolves to louder volume of course this becomes irrelevant but it is still something that annoys me. By the end of the track/side the sound pressure is huge and still the coherence of the music is great and I do have the feeling of being looking at a realistic orchestra, I can even feel the ambiance of the room on top of it. Not bad at all !

Third record play is a Japanese pressing of Another Git Together  from Art Farmer and Benny Golson Jazztet. This is just a good jazz record. Funny, witty, groovy, energetic and with quite a few players playing (this is not a trio experience ;) ). It has also something about the timbre of instruments that I do really like, something that you only find in good old recording. For instance the double bass of Herb Lewis is as textured as Heavy Isley Pit whisky roaming through the back of your throat, and Benny Golson, Graham Moncur III and Art Farmer have quite a sound to... Still it is a difficult record to play as this Japanese version sounds a bit dry next to the original US pressing. The Supex plays here a really good job as it gives  just a tad of the missing meat on the bone lacking on this particular record.
In short this Supex is not the most neutral cartridge I have ever tasted but it is also not so much colored that every record sound the same. In fact it has a sonic signature that do really reminds me of the original/early Koetsu sound. Details are there even though the far end of the treble is not as extended as on modern cartridges (Lyra, Zyx, etc.). Soundstage is average and quite fine in width. It is more the depth of the soundstage which is limited. Dynamic is very natural and not as spectacular to what I am used to still it sounds very natural and easy (I do really like the rendering of Art Farmer's trumpet on the track Funny Valentine of his LP On the road). I would definitely listen to jazz music from before the eighties all day long with this cartridge if I just had the time to do it... ;)

A nice cartridge indeed.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What about a potentially 100% jazz record in vinyl ? Do not worry there is only one French guy on it.

just discovered this Kisckstarter project : Jérôme Sabbagh limited edition vinyl album of the Turn and I thought that I should share it with you. 


These are the opening words of Jérôme : 



"Last year, I recorded The Turn, my third album with my longtime jazz quartet featuringBen MonderJoe Martin and Ted Poor. Renowned engineer James Farber recorded us all in a room at Sear Sound in New York without headphones, live to two track analog tape, the way records used to be made. The record has just come out on Bee Jazz in Europe and on Sunnyside in the US, on CD and download. 





My goal is to get the album cut for vinyl by mastering legend Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab. Doug has already mastered the record for digital and has cut some of the best sounding LPs of the last forty years, so he would be the perfect person to handle the cutting. We will then press 500 copies at Quality Records Pressings, one of the very best plants for pressing records in the USA, and one that presses many of the very expensive audiophile reissue LPs. As much as I am proud of the way this record sounds on CD and download, I think it will sound even better on vinyl. Most importantly, it will also be affordable: $20, including domestic shipping."


The music is really good and it already sounds great on my Mac speakers, now how will it be sounding on a real set-up ? I'm quite sure it will be amazing ! 


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Work in progress, welcome to Felix !

I just wanted to share with you that Cala has teamed up with Felix which will be know working on the design of new upcoming Cala Mighty Sound  products...

Welcome aboard to Felix "Rupperthal" !


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Come On Die Young seems to be lasting longer than what the Young Team had in mind...

We all have some fond memories, some teenage dreams. Mine were partly Scottish : something about the monster of the Loch Ness mixed with heavy malted odors of brewery and distillery during school trips when we were only allowed to drink glasses of concentrated orange juice that would feel as bad in my stomach as drinking a bottle of whisky all at once. Of course we were constantly under water, traveling in hostile and foggy landscapes with midgeeeeees trying to indirectly scalp us by forcing us to scratch/tear our hair. Later on the meaning of these trips was literally unveiled by a label of, let's call it, Indie Po(o)p, Chemikal Records. I must admit I was more on the electronic side of music by this time than loud guitars playing slow core music at very high volume. And that is why I was an instantaneous fan of Arab Strap. 
The music they played was heavily loaded with drum machines on the merge of being broken, great melodic lines,  dirty, filthy and crude lyrics and it sounded real (and loud in me). For some the content of these songs were a pure prank of two (ugly Scottish unfucked) wankers, for others a testimony of the sexual and above all human misery of two guys living in the 30k peolple Flakirk city of Scotland burning out there time in alcohol/pub, dope and parties from which they left with either a black out and/or with an unknown and preferably ugly partenaire lying by there side in there bedroom by mama's home when they emerged from heavy loaded nights... 
But where were we ? Ah yes... Come On Die Young or CODY as this album is named by the Mogwai lambda fanatic. Mogwai first album Young Team has been reedited a few years a go. Nice boxset with extras but the vinyls where quite noisy and it left me a bit disappointed. Meanwhile there was also a deluxe boxset produced to re-edit the first two albums of Arab Strap. This was de-facto something else. Sound quality was awesome and there were some covers for every album and even the bonuses records (mainly singles + John Peel sessions) + Aidan and Malcolm words soothing the forever aching soul of the abandoned fanatic fans by a forever splitted Arab Strap group.

Young Team  has never been my favorite Mogwai album. It sounded (too) rough and had just an inch of the false ataraxia which would become the signature of the group with the CODY album. One other thing you should know is that... I hate football. And well you do have to realize that Mogwai's main focus is football. Of course I bought Young Team deluxe boxset when it came out and I kind of got to more appreciate this LP but still CODY was my favorite album with Happy Songs for Happy People (and made me forget a bit there football thing), but who would have guessed CODY would pop out in a Deluxe edition... six years after the Young Team  deluxe edition ? 

Part of my Mogwai madness...
Well it is there and readily available. Packaging is as usual awesome and content superb. One gatefold album for Cody, another gatefold album for the appendix of CODY and a DVD that contains every songs from the boxset in different digital formats if you do not want to wear the groove of these fabulous tracks.

CODY is now 16 years old and it has not aged. In fact it sounds even better than what I remembered. I played the original vinyl against the new test pressings and noticed that the new one sounded better. This feeling was confirmed by Andrew Savage who told me that "it is because it was cut by engineer Noel Sommerville who used to work at Metropolis. http://www.discogs.com/artist/335173-Noel-SummervilleHe actually cut the test pressings back in 2010 but the release has been put back until now as the band have been so busy with other projects. The vinyl for the 'Appendix' was cut by GZ Media from the Czech Republic."

Even if you are a not a hardcore fan of Mogwai these records will help you to to taste the lower octave, the dynamic and the definition of the treble on the hi-hat on your system. It is always a great pleasure to have both great musical content with great sounding records and this boxset is clearly one of the best sounding records I have played this year. Go and grab a copy before it's too late !



Playback was achieved via a Uwe green malachite stone-body prototype with a Denon DL-103 retipped by Thomas Schick with boron cantilever and Line Contact III tip (more infos here) and of course a 12" Schick tonearm !

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mark Kozelek, live at Arci Biko

Sometime you follow an artist for years and you kind of get used to what he makes on records. Then out of the blue, there is something new that just  pops out. The problem with Mark Kozelek is that there is definitely a few times that it did indeed "just popped out". Moving from the Red House Painters  to his new band, Sun Kil Moon, at the top end of the nineties was already a wild card. I still remember perfectly my encounter with the LP Ghost of the Great Highway. There was this way of playing the guitar, the lyrics. The absurd coming from well known songs being reinterpreted in rather odd ways.


Than there was the Jimmy Lavalle project, Perils from the sea that I did tend to play a lot to friends and shows. The impossible groove of Mark with the tight beats of Jimmy. I had to jump on the vinyl record when it popped out and was lucky to get a copy of the limited blue edition. Alas it did not sound as good as the cd and was above all clicking and cracking a lot*. And just after that ? Benji. This record is just pure auto-fiction or should I say auto-lyric, you know this kind of style most novels are now written in. And that is when I realized that Mark had succeeded in blending pop songs into literature.


I saw him in live a few time. Some were good, some were bad. Some were mesmerizing. This live at Arci Biko is just what you can expect from Mark Kozelek at his best. Raw and full of energy. Something quite unexpected from a now fat guy sitting on a chair with a classical guitar. Something that you can listen in your car and just forget that you have a long way to drive. The first live of Mark Kozelek that just makes you confortable (even when he is chatting with his audience). A live where a guy sitting in a couch is as close as it can get from the live experience. It is not the best live recording but the performance is just incredible and yes... it is in CD (you can listen to interesting thought on what Mark thinks of vinyl guys in this performance).

Now : just go and grab a copy At Caldo Verde Records .


























* But there are some incredible sounding records of Sun Kil Moon as April Lp.

Friday, June 6, 2014

New Uwe headshell in bubinga wood and Denon 102 body

In-between the Lenco Heaven Belgium meet and my trip to the German audio mafia. I did a stop by Uwe's place. And guess what... I had some surprises.

- Bubinga Uwe  headshell

First one is that a new wood for headshells is available : the Bubinga... Here are the first photos of it : 



 This new headshell have very close weight to the ebony headshell and from my first impression is a bit less "warm" sounding than the ebony one. It also looks absolutely stunning.

Of course these are available right now and... for the same price as the ebony Uwe headshell (retail price is 110€ including Paypal fees and worldwide shipping). The other Uwe headshells and Uwe and Midas Denon cartridge bodies (ebony, snakewood and panzerholz) are still available, and we still have a few Malachite stone-bodies still available. Get them until they last !

- Denon DL-102 prototype Uwe body

Uwe is also working on a new body for the famous mono cartridge Denon DL-102. Here are two pictures of the latest prototype. Do not hesitate to give us feedback about the look of it. Sound improvement is really impressive and I do really like the look of this body.


Retail prices with worldwide shipping and Paypal fees included for Uwe headshells or wood bodies are still :
- Ebony or bubinga : 110€
- Panzerholz or Snakewood : 135€

As you can see... it is a work in progress and there will be more stunning news soon!

View from a verrrrrrry famous tonearm maker window...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Uwe Malachite Stone body with the Schick touch...

As I was listening to my Malachite Uwe stone-body with a simple Denon 103, I was just amazed by the shear musicality of this cartridge on my Proac tablettes. I drive them with a Luxman MQ-3600 power amp. It is supposed to be a PP of NEC 8045 valves but as these are  really scarce, it was modified in a PP of 6550. 

I like the sound of the General Electric 6550A and this amp deserves them. Hopefully one day I will find  a few matched pair of NEC 8045 and listen to this amp in it's original valve condition and see how it behaves, but even now, just fitted with GE 6550A tubes it sounds absolutely gorgeous. 


But let's get back to our main topic... Thomas Schick sent me a few pictures of his latest retip achievement on a Denon 103 fitted in a Uwe Malachite stone-body.

As you can see from the photos : the retip was performed with a sapphire cantilever. Even though it is more difficult to see it directly from the photos : it has also a micro-ridge tip...

You might also notice that the cheap (looking) plastic tape that Denon uses to protect the coils and damper from dust has been removed and changed with something else. Thomas uses a Washi paper (à la Lyra) but with a subtle alteration. To maintain air flow : it is covered with spray glue that fixes the fibers of the Washi paper. 

How does it sound? Just find out by yourself and I will be happy to provide you with one of these stunning cartridges.















Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sweets or Expedits???????

I do not know if you heard the news but Ikea  as decided to part with the Expedit range of shelves.... This is terrible news as I have grown used to regularly buy new Expedit shelves to stock my records.

Sources ? Here and apparently german forums.

In the meantime here are a few sweets just to cheer us up...

This one is leaving today for Germany.


And these ones are staying home. Did I told you a new version of the Paul M tonearm is on it's way... Yes a tonearm designed for the use of the Clément cartridges !!









Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Schick plinth in blue...

Thomas - Ok. You asked for blue? (heavy german accent)

Me - Yes, Thomas. (à la French)

Thomas - Are you vertig? (very solemn)

Me - Yes Thomas... (getting seriously worried)

Thomas - Allez, les Bleus.

               Louis XIV - Le bras, c'est moi (Perfect german French accent... and nearly perfect quotation of the French king Louis XIV who said once : "le roi, c'est moi" and that Thomas changed into "the tonearm (bras), it's me").

You can guess that the combination of these last few words and the discovery of this new Schick plinth color got me in quite a state. I found both superb. Absolutely superb. I want one for my TD-124 ( King Thomas have you heard my request ?)










Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Photos of Schick Plinths for Garrard 301... Black or grey?

I had quite a few requests about Schick plinths designed for the Garrard 301. Here is one of the first plinths photos. It is designed for a 12" tonearm with, here, a Schick tonearm armboard. Armboards can be designed to fit nearly any tonearm fixation pattern. As you can see the plinth  is CNC cut to perfectly fit with your Garrard 301 and thus allow perfect combination.


Schick plinths are available in different shades of grey to black and apparently there should even be some... dark blue. I'm ready eager to see how this last shade will be!

Grey or black armboards?
But let's the photos talk for themselves...

Grey?





Or black ? 



Schick plinths are available through Cala Mighty Sound.

Retail prices  : 
- Plinth for 9" tonearm with air-feet and pump : 1900€
- Plinth for 12" tonearm with air-feet and pump : 2100€

Shipping fees on request.