Innocent Bystander

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A very British isle


A scientist by profession and lifelong interest, my hobbies are:

Music (preferably live!): predominantly Prog rock & Heavy rock (far too many bands to list, suffice to say a huge glut of wonderful music at end 1960s and early 70s, making up probably 50% of my rock music collection, thereafter relatively speaking  a trickle over the years); Classical (mostly pre-20th Century) and Opera (predominently Puccinni & Verdi, and I find it easiest to get into opera by seeing live first).

I also love Theatre & Tragic Opera (latter only in original language with surtitles!)  Puccini converted me!!

Otherwise walking, snorkelling, skiing, indoor climbing, photography, astronomy, DIY (specialities kitchen & bathroom designn & installation, home improvements, all things electrical & electronic...). One day I hope to get around to making some music (have violin, cello, guitar, sax and keyboard, none of which I can play properly - first thing is to finish learning!  Oh for an extra 24 hours in a day!  


(Music reproduction biography)

Parents' wind-up  gramophone and modest collection of classical 78s, and their valve radio, provided my introduction. By the start of 'beatlemania' when everyone at school was singing "she loves you yeah yeah yeah" I was just old enough to be allowed to play the gramophone myself, and my favourite treat on arriving home from primary school was to play Beethoven's Egmont overture. I couldn't stand pop music, or at least the mainstream stuff that was all I heard on radios - and that with the new advent of portable, even pocket-sized, transistor radios, when music started to spring up everywhere.

 I started to like the Beatles mid 1960s ( though at first refused to admit it), and occasional other things on the radio, which I was to discover was the genesis of rock music. Then when I was about 13 or 14, my older brother got a 'Dansette' type record player, and I started listening to some of the music he was starting to collect, most notably Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets and Tchaikovsky's 1812 (but only when he was out, without his knowledge or permission - there was trouble when discovered, usually because I forgot to return the bass and treble boost controls back to where he liked them, as I always felt it sounded best with both on maximum!) The Beatles' Get Back single was the first record I ever bought, followed by Shades of Deep Purple LP, both with only my brother's record player to sneak playing on. 

Hankering after something I could play when I wanted, and better sounding than my brother's record player, and by then being an avid reader of HiFi and electronic publications, I read up all I could find then set about building my own system using birthday and Christmas money, reasoning that by DIY I could get something better than buying ready made. So my first system was born, costing £60 or so in ~1969: Garrard SP25/Shure M3D +Sinclair Project 60 bareboard modular amp in DIY plinth, plus DIY speakers. At the tender age of 15 or 16 my system was featured in a HiFi mag review of readers' systems, and praised for achievement on a tight budget, while also identifying weaknesses. 

Better gear then accumulated over time in a leapfrog manner as I could afford it: a good turntable first, circa 1971, long before "source first" philosophies were propounded: not Linn Sondek, but the Thorens TD150 was an almost identical design and well engineered, pre-dating Linn. When CD first appeared I was unimpressed, (where's the bass? Why is it so harsh?) But that changed on hearing the Cambridge CD2 in about 1989, then both lived side by side until I ripped all discs of both types a couple of years ago and now have neither, having decided that the future is streaming from HD. I miss the sleeves, of LPs in particular, but I don't miss the gradual deterioration of vinyl with heavy play, though some imperfect ones are now frozen in time until or unless I can find pristine digital versions... 

Speakers were an interesting process: being on a tight budget, the first step was to build better home-made ones than my originals, but I only got around to one, then a windfall gave me the chance of major investment, and in 1975 I went shopping with a whopping (for me) £300 budget (~ £2,000 - £2,500 in today's money I guess), at which fairly elevated price point I was amazed to find how every speaker sounded so completely different: not subtly, but mostly like chalk and cheese, though a few perhaps more like Comté and Brie. So having spent two solid days listening to a dozen different pairs - some for only half a track -  I ended up in a black cab traveling home with a pair of huge boxes containing IMF TLS50s, the one I kept finding myself returning to after others. Whereas many of the speakers I listened to were the top of the respective manufacturers' ranges -the best they could do - these were only halfway up the IMF range, yet they sounded so much better than all the others I heard: well balanced, while at the same time the only ones with clean, deep bass - I fell in love, and it was an affair that lasted for 15 or 16 years, though I had to replace the midrange cone surrounds that perished before then. Then I saw an advert for secondhand Ref Standard Prof Monitors, an older version of IMF's top of the range when I had bought the TLS50s, going for a good price, so went for a listen and couldn't help myself, jilting the TLS50s instantly, and have been supremely happy ever since (though having discovered they're even better outdoors, I yearn for a warm country and no neighbours so I can enjoy them even more!) - and I still hear my old love from time to time, still sounding great in another home if just not quite as great as their replacement.

Then an audition of a range of PMC speakers, recounted in a post in this forum, showed me that some (but by no means all) modern speakers can beat the IMFs, and I aspire to the PMC MB2, though a challenge to fit domestically and a bit pricey, but found the PMC EB1i to be an ideal balance of sound and practicality and at an affordable price, and which does everything the IMFs do, a bit better.

The turntable stayed for 40 years, though with various mods (Rega arm, modified plinth, various cartridges until (IIRC) AT-OC9, styli becoming an expensive consumable after changing to MC). CD players proved they had a fixed 10 year mechanical life, so after the last one became faulty I switched to HD storage and streaming, firstly with a Naim ND5XS, through adding a Chord Hugo DAC after a brief trial and rejection of the XP5XS power supply, then upgrading to Audirvana on a Mac Mini, still with a Chord Hugo DAC, using a Gustard U12 USB/SPDIF isolator/converter between. Sonically Audirvana is great, though I still find its library system irritating and frustrating to use, and long for the addition of a hierarchical option based on disc folders... but I put up with that in the interests of sound quality.

Then I heard the Chord Dave DAC. Wow! WOW! My musician son sitting next to me in the demo room uttered that just a few bars into the first piece, and he was right. Subsequent home demo cemented it, so final upgrade is clear.

Meanwhile a flirtation with Radford amplification gave way to Musical Fidelity pre and power ( P170), later upgrading the power amp by moving up the range, while preamp gave way to Tag McLaren after the MF moving coil input went into oscillation on one channel when playing 'Made in Japan' at max volume, resulting in a speaker cone extraction from the far wall... Fortunately replacement drivers were readily available! An oportunity to buy a Bryston amp at good price presented an opportunity to assess if that was an upgrade (reputedly excellent at keeping the IMF bass under control, and indeed it has proved to be, though not so much in the bass, leading me to conclude that the big MF was indeed doing what it should, but cleaner in the upper mid and treble.

Meanwhile for fun I've been involved in long-term project for a while now, playing at DIY again trying to make speakers to achieve in my listening room the absolutely stunning sound that my beloved IMFs delivered when I once played them in the garden: much experimenting with transmission lines, triamping with digital crossover, room corrections etc ... I've come to the conclusion that it is probably an impossible task, being limited by the room, so more realistically the question is now becoming can I match the sound of the PMC MB2s which I could not justify buying once I got the EB1is. With the ATC SM75-150 dome midrange driver, which I had already obtained for this project and which has the uncanny effect of bringing the singer into the room, right there in front of you, I know I can get the midrange as good as the MB2, but the challenge of course is getting the bass right, which is where all the design effort always goes. If I fail with the bass design there may be a halfway house, using the EB1s for bass, and replacing the midrange and tweeter drivers... 

My speaker project has led into a little play with tri-amping: designing good passive crossovers can be tricky, and an added complexity and cost when changes may be needed as the speaker design evolves. So, having kept my original Musical Fidelity P170 when I got the 270, a cheap purchase of another old P170 got me the amplification in the form of P270 on bass, and P170s mid and top, so all I needed was to add a Behringer DCX2496 active crossover (with a quality that belies its price) and I was in business. It is so easy with the Behringer to dial up different crossover parameters, helping the speaker fiddling. 

Of course things are never static, and I chanced upon an old ATC EC23 analog active crossover at a real bargain price, so I had that to compare that with the Behringer.

Meanwhile It did not take very long before I determined that the Bryston is better than the MF P270, So I kept an eye open and now have a 9Bst used as a quad monoblock (actually quin, with one redundant)  and the others provide mid and top end complementing the 4B on bass, the primary differences between them being that the 4B is capable of twice the power of the 9B amps.

Overall the ATC XO was better than the Begphringer, but much of what I read in criticism of the latter suggested it coxuld easily be improved, so I set about major modification/rebuilding, with completely new analogue board, new clock, and new voltage regulators in critical positions - despite being a DIY build the cost was quite a bit more than the original DCX itself (partly because of excess components needed for matching), and that is excluding the time it took to build. But upon completion the improvement was immediately evident (most obvious was the quiescent noise of te original, the upgrade reducing that close to nothing, and slightly better than the ATC. Add to that the DCX’s better flexibility through the DSP capability, enabling tailoring to specific room posityions. And it is a winner - so goodbye EC23. and decide which will stay, once the speaker decisions are made.

Otherwise the only thing I now have left to do is some room treatment, experimenting with different supports, and maybe different cables - the first two at least will be DIY jobs. As for upgrading, the only other things I might contemplate are moving up the Bryston amp range, and changing the Mac Mini/ Audirvana for a Melco - latter when the MM eventually dies, as one day it might.

 My aim with "hifi" is to experience music as if I it was live, apart from the lack of audience... And, at least when I'm home alone with no-one to disturb, that's what I achieve with good recordings! (Refore the PMCs the limitation was Tchaikovsky's 1812 in 24 bit, when the relatively limited power handling of the IMFs used to mean turning down the volume for fear of the speaker cones transmuting tnto cannonballs, as they very audibly hit their travel limits!)

 My system has developed via fairly infrequent upgrades, with some long periods of stability with changes only triggered by item failure. The last of those prompted several changes to source as I learnt about streaming, then a bequest provided unexpected funding, and I took the opportunity to review everything and make some changes, in particular focusing on the oldest equipment that might have a limited life - the result these two factors has been a complete change of system compared to three years earlier, sounding even better though very much retaining the same character that I love, and I now have a constant visual and aural reminder of my benefactor, fitting for the person who brought me up with a love of music. 

System Details

* Store/renderer: Mac Mini - late 2012: Core i5/2.5GHz/16GB RAM/2x1TB SSDs/El Capitan 10.11.6, Headless, running Audirvana v2.6.8 fully optimised (Direct Mode - Integer Mode 1, dedicated usb port, sysoptimised etc) * Audioquest USB Regen * Chord DAVE DAC * No preamp * Amplification and speakers alternating between the following as I try to determine the best long-term arrangement: 1. Bryston 4Bsst2 power amp into PMC EB1i speakers 2. Tri-amping with Heavily modified Behringer DCX2496 Active crossover (digital), into Bryston 4Bsst2/9Bst power amps, speakers comprising PMC EB1i bass only (passive crossover removed), Satellite atop the EB1 incorporating ATC SM75-150 dome mid + Scanspeak D3004/660000 tweeter. * Room ~7x7m oddly shaped, with optimum speaker and listening positions determined using REW. * All interconnects Mogami Neglex 2534 cable with Neutrik nc-xx XLRs (balanced).

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