Author Topic: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)  (Read 4490 times)

Offline Kent Kassler

The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« on: July 06, 2013, 11:37:45 PM »
I can think of many awesome ways to burn a cool R390,000Ö Not that it is that much money by the standards todayís economic world has succumbed to. 390K after-all now only buys one or two models up from the entry level ones offered by the established German car manufacturers. At least with the Audio Research Reference 10 preamp discussed here aspiring purchasers can rest assured knowing this really is it. There is no model up from this. The REF10 is the ultimate Audio Research reference preamp bar nothing else past or present.

Iíve been coming along some way with this now familiar family of preamplifiers and I can state beyond a shadow of a doubt that they all offer real value for money despite having been six figure sums for more than a decade now. A few years back my first introduction to real high-end sound could not be mistaken for anything but the best Iíve then yet heard in my own setup. The Reference 3 blew my mind right open and shaped my perceptive capabilities for a realm of performance only the very lucky ones get to live with in a lifetime. After I replaced my subsequent REF5 with its successor the REF5SE I posted a brief description of my findings with regard to what was the ultimate preamp back then.

To celebrate its 40th year of existence the Audio Research Corporation released a preamplifier in 2010 called the 40th Anniversary Reference. It was a two box design complete with dual mono power supplies one for each channel. This product signalled a departure for Audio Research from their somewhat established house sound. The liquidity within the midrange of this super model was unquestionable. I loved the sound the 40th made and before the arrival of my own REF5SE which carried over trickled down technology from the 40th Anniversary, I recall many a nights of listening to my own system longing for the beauty of the anniversary model.

The arrival of the REF5SE however satisfied most of my desires and perhaps aspirations to own and aim for the top model. So close was the transparency and musicality of the 5SE to that of the 40th Anniversary that I can very well understand the need for a new ultimate reference within the line-up departing from conformity as substantial as the 40th did in 2010. For those individuals only happy with the very best and most exclusive to aspire to a new target was needed. The bar was begging for a raise once more and true to established Audio Research form the REF10 was born to do just that.

Since the days of the renowned SP10, all ultimate Audio Research preamplifiers were of two box designs whereby the power supply is housed separate from the delicate low level signal paths. As expected then, the REF10 is again a two box design very similar in fact to that of the 40th Anniversary. The dual mono power supplies complete with valve regulation is there once more and so is the quad 6H30PI zero feedback triode output stages one complete set of four tubes for each channel! Looking inside this design never seizes to amaze me. The simplicity adds to the mystique of its unassuming yet wholesomely complete accomplishment.

I however really shot myself in the foot this time. I could (and perhaps should) have declined the offer of taking the REF10 home and around to my most well-heeled clients for private auditioning. On the other hand a privilege such as the one that we were presented with here should not be turned down if it is our job to guide others into the often confusing world of high-end audio. To a large extent it is my duty to explore the limits and gather the valuable knowledge the territory brings.

The REF10 leaves me wanting in a big way once more as did the 40th Anniversary when the non-SE version of the REF5 was the only alternative then. The REF10 has no discernible short comings other than having exposed my much loved REF5SE as having a few of its own. Despite being a reference in its own right it is difficult to become aware of anything amiss in the REF5SE if not compared directly to the new REF10. Once compared however, it is game-over for the 5SE.

What does the REF10 sound like then? Well, in short it sounds like nothing! It has so little character of its own that one could not easily pin its sound down to anything defined by descriptive nature. The REF10 just produces more music in a similar way the REF5SE makes any system sound substantially less like Hi-Fi and much more like real music being played in real time. The REF10 however moves this valued aspect up a good few notches. How it does it so effortlessly is beyond me. The music-making with the REF10 in my system is absolutely intoxicating. Once I sit down to listen I donít get up for hours.

I value the perception of music sounding live above all audiophile waffle and a great deal of genuine live realism weíve learnt comes from unprecedented separation as a vital component of true transparency. Many systems sound transparent enough as does the oneís with REF5SEís, but few do it with this uncanny combination of this two very much related elements.

Never before have I enjoyed Steve Tyrellís duet with Jane Monheit called ďBaby its cold out thereĒ from his album Standard Time (CD ripped and played via Naim HDX) as I instantly did through the REF10. Every word of both singerís lyrics were put on display as if the artists appeared for the very 1st time as two physical human beings on a real stage right there in front of me in my own living room. Before theyíve always sounded as if somewhat interrupted by one another the lyrics of both often obscuring ever so slightly what the other was singing. With the REF10 stuff just sounds a whole lot more open and a whole lot more real with better distance between sounds projected from even darker canvas on otherwise often crowded sound stages. Considering where Iím coming from and what it is Iím using as established long term references, this achievement is quite something.

Having been fortunate enough to recently see Abdullah Ibrahim and his full American band with African name ďEkayaĒ perform live in the Baxter theatre in Cape Town provided me with an unexpected yet inspiring benchmark to measure the true qualities of the best music reproduction systems. Ibrahim and Ekaya performed the entire set list from their latest album ďSotho BlueĒ which is a sonic triumph in its own right. I however went into the concert with no preconceived ideas. I didnít know the music beforehand because I only acquired the album afterwards and so my first introduction to this music was the actual live event performed with minimal artificial reinforcement. For me the experience proved another cemented landmark in my career as music enthusiast. The musicianship on the night and the level of sheer accomplishment was near unbelievable as was the sound of live jazz in an acoustically optimized environment.

Through the REF10 preamplifier the Abdullah Ibrahim album (CD ripped and played via Naim HDX) comes alive in a way Iíve longed for ever since the recording has become the only way for me to hear the band play those songs again. Dynamically the recording is slightly compromised compared to the brilliance of the live event and yet despite my feelings of the mastering engineer having applied a little too much compression on a slightly hot palette for jazz, the REF10 reproduces the album almost as if expanding the dynamic contrast by unpacking the music in a way that more easily transports me back to the Baxter on that night. The liquidity of the midrange through the REF10 is unmistakably superior to even that of the mighty 40th Anniversary where it combines even more elements of superiority than heard before.

Part and parcel of the REF10 experience is its rhythmic capabilities that present itself throughout the frequency range. Often good rhythmic ability is awarded a system when the bass defines elements of good rhythm. In reality superior rhythm presents itself on all levels of instrumental interplay and at all frequencies. Natural flow is as much a part of good rhythm as it is a product of the entire frequency spectrum being produced coherently. The REF10 is king at combining flow and rhythm to reveal its elevated take on converting a reproduction into reality.

Hearing this thing in a well-appointed system that has been setup with the correct amount of attention to detail is a life changing event. It is as much a departure as the Anniversary model once was in 2010. To these ears it represents the closest thing to experiencing the live event and should satisfy the most discerning audiophiles and music lovers alike. It is as much an audiophile delight as it is the true music loverís ticket to reality outside the concert hall.

Considering offerings from some other brands with telephone number price tags, the Audio Research Reference 10 Line Stage despite being the most expensive preamp theyíve ever released and costing a whopping R390,000 in South-Africa, offers real value for money in musical terms. It represents an unprecedented investment into quality of life should the individual value music at the top of his or her luxury list. This time Iím simply going to have to find a way to own one myself. No more compromise!
« Last Edit: July 06, 2013, 11:40:53 PM by Kent Kassler »
Audiophile Sound Sommelier Extraordinaire....aka Manic Depressive Temporary Void Filler Deluxe.

Offline Kent Kassler

Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2013, 11:47:52 PM »
....this one will have Evan quivering....

Funny how music evenings usually end with the stuff we liked playing when we were kids. To me this reflects the essence of what the enjoyment of good Hi-Fi and music is all about. High-end Hi-Fi is about the music and the memories we associate with that music. How do you put a value to the spontaneous way these songs can transport us back to a time and place where its experiences anchored a date-stamp into the time lines of our souls?

Def Leppardís Hysteria does this for me and a whole bunch of my friends with whom we experienced this landmark album when we were back in high-school. The riffs are captivating, the beats explosive and the lyrics reflective of a teenage mindís wildest fantasies. Nearly twenty-five years on, Hysteria still makes the heart beat faster and never fails to rewind the clock during precious moments of indulgence.

On the original UK-pressed vinyl LP, Hysteria springs to life in an unadulterated wave of excitement as every detail so pristinely engineered into the albumís production projects in 3D realism onto a canvas of make-believe stretching the entire width of the 9,5m wall behind my speakers. With the vinylís enhanced ĎHDí detail and expanded soundstage, its like hearing Hysteria for the 1st time and pulls into stark contrast the cropped facsimile the CD version was.

Hysteriaís vinyl release will make believers of the most die-hard of the digital brigade. It is one of those prime examples that clearly shows up what CD can never get right, no matter how hard they keep trying. CD is after-all a data-compressed/reduced medium with considerably less information than originally captured in the studio. That compression shows in the way vinylís larger than life wall of sound seems to shrink to insignificance on the CD.

If you ever wondered what it is that is fueling the vinyl revival, you only need to hear on a good turntable and system this and other similar landmark albums of its time. Youíll be converted and you wonít be sorry!

....
Audiophile Sound Sommelier Extraordinaire....aka Manic Depressive Temporary Void Filler Deluxe.

Offline Kent Kassler

Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2013, 11:54:38 PM »
AR 18's...the recommended partners to the Reference 10 maybe?

I originally wrote this review as entry to a competition on www.gearslutz.com , but felt since I now have the blog site Iíve always wanted, it will find a more appropriate place here:

Back in 1982 Edgar Villchur, founder of the original Acoustic Research Company already knew stuff about acoustic engineering and loudspeaker design many modern day designers have only come to know in recent years. One such aspect is the minimalist cross-over network, that when implemented in conjunction with custom designed drive units, bring about unparalleled transparency from the transducer system.

The subject of this review is probably ARís most famous loudspeaker, the AR18s, and back in 1982 already featured modern-day buzz words like custom in-house designed and manufactured drive units, minimalist cross-overs and ferro-fluid cooling. In fact, in those days if a designer wanted to succeed at making a note worthy product of any kind, the in-house route proved the only way.

In my time as audiophile, music lover and field related businessman, Iíve had the privilege of spending extended time with many highly regarded loudspeakers and monitors. Some of these speaker systems were of such lofty cost that the sale of the family vehicle or two would not have freed up enough cash to make them possessions. For most of us this will probably always be the case, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and this time it is not the obvious freight carrier speeding to shatter a most aspiring dream.

You see, a good used set of AR18sí could be acquired for far less than a mere $50. Here at the most southern tip of Africa Iíve acquired my last three sets of AR18s for less than R150 a set! All were bought from the obvious 2nd hand exchange stores and none of them needed more work than replacement of the foam woofer surrounds.

I love the AR18s. It is one of those timeless designs that seemingly yet constantly increase itís capabilities as technology from the opposite end of the listening system improves. Over the years, whenever I found myself in a place of not having an expensive set of speakers to audition, I fell back onto my trusty ARs. With every welcome reintroduction they mirrored closely the best of what I have tasted in my listening room.

To this day I find myself amazed at their sheer competence across the range of musical attributes I value most. Usually when a new preamplifier, power amplifier, cartridge or DAC comes along, I hook up my old 18sís as my longest dependable constant. They allow me to make very accurate judgments about the ancillaries in my system/s by allowing me to keep at least one important variable constant.

What they are not, is the last word in neutrality especially within the upper mid-band where they can be a little forward in the cross-over region (2kHz). Some see this as a drawback, others like my father find the extra energy in the presence band a welcome benefit. In the treble department they suffer from earlier roll-off than others and this range could have been cleaner. The 1,25″ cone tweeter has always been known for being a little spitty. Bass is tight and fast as can be expected from the small sealed enclosure. As much as bass speed and definition is an advantage of the sealed box, it also suffers from the typical downfall of limited extension. I however favor the tighter balance of speed where a good subwoofer can fill in the lower parts that fade early. These are small criticisms considering the overall musically satisfying performance and brilliant midrange the ARs are capable of, so it shouldnít be taken too seriously.

There is something very special about a fully fleshed out midrange. Everything just sounds more lifelike and proportionate in scale. It allows the sound to cross a dividing barrier from being well reproduced high fidelity to something akin to real performers playing real instruments. Much like the wonderful flesh-on-the-bones midrange valve amplifiers are known for.

The AR18s is capable of such performance and I am very sure it has something to do with using, instead of the typical 6/7″ woofer-driver mostly seen these days, a comparably larger 8″ unit. It is as if the 8″ coneís surface area more easily and more truthfully portrays midrange substance. Note worthy in relation to the type of mid/woofer used, is the fact that in the case of the AR18s, the mid/woofer is direct coupled to the rear connection terminals. There are no passive components in between the mid/woofer and amplifier providing the signal. The signal thus passes with the least impairment possible. The trick is in the design of the driver where a natural mechanical roll-off was purposefully engineered into them to avoid the need for a passive cross-over network. Quite an achievement back in the day!

The AR18s is a two way stand mount loudspeaker (bookshelf design in old school) using an in house designed and manufactured 8″ mid/woofer and a 1.25″ cone type tweeter both made of good old paper. The box is of acoustic suspension (sealed box) design (a proprietary Edgar Villchur development) and is of good proportions to promote rigidity. And yes, all speakers prior to the AR model One from the mid nineteen fifties were other than sealed enclosure designs!

I much prefer the old sealed box. Most never suffered the bloated upper bass artifacts that came as a byproduct of earlier ported designs where designers were increasingly challenged by modern day trends to extract more bass from ever diminutive speaker boxes and bass drivers. Remember the old Morduant-Short MS10?

The AR18s has a fantastically neutral and engaging upper bass / lower midrange spectrum. Pitch definition is never questioned with these speakers. Bass lines are driven forth with speed, tightness and accuracy despite being a little lean when moved away from the wall. Although an owners manual found on the internet confirmed boundary loading (positioned hard up against the back wall) for optimum bass response, I found more experimentation yielding great returns along the lines of imaging and I am happy to trade a little bass for image specificity.

In this regard a decent set of spiked stands are mandatory. I keep a pair of Acoustic Energy Reference stands from the model AE-1 handy. On the AE stands the ARís bass response can be tailored to personal tastes simply by moving them forwards and backwards in relation to the wall behind them. In my current room I ended up leaving them about 800mm from the rear wall on the AE-1 Reference stands filled with lead shot and spiked to the floor.

Mounted like this with three meters between them, a small amount of toe-in and tilting the stands backwards just a little, the ARs image incredibly well. I experience palpable image projection a good deal beyond speaker boundaries with excellent center fill and focus. My preference is having a wider side to side image placement with good focus to a more tightly squeezed, but deeper soundstage. The ARs are champs at painting a broad lifelike picture of the music. I simply get a wall of sound from them, but they need to be kept in good company and they donít tolerate halfhearted setup!

Donít think youíll get the reference quality perspectives I describe here simply by hooking them up with lamp wire to the old Technics integrated on the attic. No, they will show you how horrible your amplifier is. Ipod, 1st or 2nd generation CD-player as source? Forget it! They will pierce your eardrums with the violence that besot thirty years of digital! The ARs are unforgiving. They do not polish or wax sheen over inferior material or ancillaries. What you put in, you will get out and this aspect I value most in any piece of equipment.

Remember the AR18s and all speakers from the golden years, were developed using analogue sources, be it tape or records. In actual fact what we hear when we donít like what is coming from the ARs is the deviancy in the digital format and playback material to the analogue ideal. The good news is, modern digital is getting better and better by the day. Which is why I made earlier mention of the ARís seemingly getting better with the tide. What they are actually doing is showing how better digitally recorded material and players are getting closer and closer to the analogue ideal.

Driven by a high-end vacuum tube amplifier and a decent record player as source, these speakers leave me longing for very little. To round the package off though, I recommend a decent subwoofer like the B&W ASW608 and if you feel like splashing out on your magical find (and you have the means to!), add a set of Townsend Audio Maximum Super Tweeters. By adding these devices the mild frequency extreme limitations are effectively delt with and will boast maximum capitalization on the ARís delicious midrange. To get a considerably better speaker system than this combination, many will face no alternative than to sell the family vehicles after all. Good speakers cost a lot of money these days!

If you know where to find a good condition set of these old gems, keep very quiet and just go get them!

Tested with in recent times:

Linn Sondek
Linn Axis
Dynavector DV10x5
Dynavector DV20xL
Grado Gold
Denon DL103 / DL110
Linn Asaka
Van den Hul Colibri
Manley Steelhead
Audio Research Reference 3/5/5SE
EAR 834L / 834P / 868
NAD 3020/A/B/3120
Dynaco MkIII
Aragon 4004mk2
Naim NAP250 / NAC72 / Hi-Cap
Naim Nait 1 & 5
Audio Research VS115 KT120
Audio Research HD220
Wadia 8/12
NAD M55 / C565BEE
Naim CD5i
Audio Research DAC3mk2
Audio Research CD2mk2
Audio Research Reference CD7
Audiophile Sound Sommelier Extraordinaire....aka Manic Depressive Temporary Void Filler Deluxe.

Offline Kent Kassler

Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2013, 12:14:58 AM »
"one important variable constant".... :giggle:
Audiophile Sound Sommelier Extraordinaire....aka Manic Depressive Temporary Void Filler Deluxe.

Offline Rotten Johnny

Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2013, 12:34:25 AM »
Which is your favorite track on Hysteria?
I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things -- Tom Waits

Free your mind...and your ass will follow.

Offline Kent Kassler

Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2013, 12:41:57 AM »
Haven't heard it in years....but maybe Animal or Pour some sugar on me.
Audiophile Sound Sommelier Extraordinaire....aka Manic Depressive Temporary Void Filler Deluxe.

Offline chrisc

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Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2013, 09:08:39 AM »
One might get the impression that audio has made no progress in the past 30 years.  Having said that, many SACD firms are re-issuing RCA recordings made in the early 1960's, so there is a modicum of truth in that.

While the article waxes on about how good sound was in the past, I think the most important criteria it to match the equipment together correctly.  If you hook up components that are top heavy, you will get a shrill sound and so on.  Of course choosing this equipment is often trial and error and can often only be achieved by a dealer who has lots of choice when it comes to different components.

The same applies to computers.  Dell have this matching philosophy to a T.  They sell what appear to be under-powered laptops for a reasonable price.  But switch it on and use it and you will find that it out-performs many machines costing 2 or 3 times as much
Even duct tape canít fix stupidÖ but it can muffle the sound

Offline Kent Kassler

Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2013, 08:28:46 AM »
Mickey Newbury Ė Heaven Help the Child (Album Review) Written by Leander on June 17, 2012 in Must-have Music - No comments


I have a strong emotional connection with Mickey Newburyís music. There are several reasons for and each contribute in its own unique way. My father plays this LP (and other Mickey Newbury albums) a lot. It is one of his favorites not only for the beauty of the music, but also for the accomplished sound quality.

Heaven Help the Child was recorded in a fairly humble, yet legendary garage studio called Cinderella Sound Studios in Nashville (see: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct11/articles/cinderella-sound.htm) back in 1972/3. Probably the most famous of recordings that emerged from the same studios at about that time is Bob Dylanís ĎBlonde on Blondeí mono album from 1969.

Mickey Newburyís similarly world class production highlights the unpretentious truthfulness his music envelopes listeners with. It is this pure and honest side of Newburyís music shining through in especially his Cinderella recordings that initially grabbed my fatherís attention.

Back in the day of course, recordings such as these were made using what by todayís standards appear to be elementary mixing consoles with limited electronic enhancements or external processors. The signal path was simplistic and pure, mostly direct to tape and I firmly believe this aspect to be one of the Newbury recordingsí secrets.

Every level of additional processing lengthens the signal path. With it comes increased veiling of inner detail that eventually robbs the music of its emotional expressiveness. Needless to say, these recordings were made on analogue tape in itself the greatest medium to capture musicís emotional content.

My original American Elektra pressing of Heaven Help the Child was bought in a bundle of three Newbury records what turned out to be a golden stroke of luck through eBay for a mere two or three dollars a piece. The condition is superb allowing Mickeyís music to come to life spectacularly on the reference quality record players we have today.

The music itself is difficult to characterize, being a unique mixture of country, rock, blues and sometimes gospel. Mickeyís smokey voice suits the overall setting perfectly and it has to be said his vocal control is exemplary on all counts. Accomplished musicians accompany him on this and all of his early seventies records, the most famous being Chet Atkins on guitar.

Mickeyís songs speak of a man with a deep soul. From what must have been the beauty of Park Avenue, New-York in 1912 before WW1, Paris in the twenties with the promises life held after the war and of course there is a taste of war itself. Trains, love and life the everyday way feature regularly in all of Newburyís music. All these truthful accounts are easy to identify with and there is something to sympathize with any mood.

The day my wife and I brought our baby boy home for the 1st time we were feeling particularly nostalgic. On the way home we played a CD on the car stereo with a collection of songs my father recorded for us from his favorite LPs. When we pulled up in front of the house in the small almost rural town we then lived in, our baby boy was fast asleep in his cradle. I picked up the video camera and started filming as family and friends on the street came to see him. Mickey Newburyís Heaven Help the Child was playing softly during those memorable moments.

A touching mood set by this song later prompted me to produce a complete film with music, stills and footage we shot at the hospital prior to and after my sonís birth. It became his movie and it all started with the title track from this particular Mickey Newbury album. In a way Heaven Help the Childís chorus reflected our deepest hopes, dreams and prayers for our newly born.

In my book, the only way to appreciate Mickey Newburyís music is on the original Elektra LP releases reflecting the closest version to the original master tapes made during the recording sessions all those years ago. The atmosphere on the LP is simply striking, but to appreciate the artistís great talents, later CD releases will also do. Just try to steer clear of the MP3 versions. Extreme data reduction renders them no good for anything meaningful.

About the Author

Audio Engineer, Critic & Retailer twenty years in the making.
Audiophile Sound Sommelier Extraordinaire....aka Manic Depressive Temporary Void Filler Deluxe.

Offline Kent Kassler

Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2013, 08:30:19 AM »
^^^group buy Evan?...i don't know the artist but if he can turn me into a schmaltzy romantic then i'm willing to try.....your thoughts please Evan....
« Last Edit: July 16, 2013, 08:34:29 AM by Kent Kassler »
Audiophile Sound Sommelier Extraordinaire....aka Manic Depressive Temporary Void Filler Deluxe.

Offline palaughton

Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2015, 01:57:10 PM »
Sometimes it is better being not being exposed to the such high end equipment, helps you to enjoy the mid fi stuff (not knowing what you may be missing).

Offline Rupert

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Re: The Best Reviews in the WORLD are here!....(whistler:)
« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2015, 11:44:43 PM »
I enjoyed this recent article about the villains and heroes of audio journalism. Well worth it: http://www.stereophile.com/content/access-journalism-vs-accountability-journalism