Sunday, January 31, 2010

Testing the New Phono Amp

Congratulations! Burning the midnight oil in preparation for T.H.E. Show (The Home Entertainment Show, Las Vegas 2010) has certainly paid off for you. I've never before heard recorded music sound better than it would in most seats of a concert hall.

 As both a classical musician and budding audiophile, I was very surprised. (The difference, of course, comes from how sound waves move in each individual acoustic space, and how close you are to the sweet spot. I recently missed a lot of the nuance of a Bartok piano concerto because I was sitting too close to the stage and at that proximity the grand piano overpowered everything but the violin section, which was right in front of me. It sounded like the pianist was banging away a' la Rachmaninoff at a college-level competition, which he wasn't.)

 I do wish we'd listened to more than high-quality classical recordings, as amazing as they were (thank you very much for introducing me to Gary Karr's Adagio d'Albinoni, a purely analog-to-vinyl recording using restored vintage equipment).

When we test the amp again I'd like to expand our listening selections - the purity of Kerr's base and the clarity of the strings on Guaneri del Jesu (with Paganini's original violin!) both argue for a high fidelity to any original live sound. (Was it the Albinoni that we could tell was recorded in a studio and not a concert hall? So much fun to be able to hear the actual acoustics of the original "performance" space!) I'm thinking I want to hear some middle eastern folk, Indian classical or a Piazzolla tango. This is, of course, pure personal greed - this is the most detailed and live sounding audio set-up I've encountered, and I want to hear some of MY favorite music played like that.

12AX7 Tube-Rolling Notes

Last night, while hosting a big blind listening test, we decided to compare a few 12AX7 tubes.

We'd started our evening with old-stock 60's black plate RCA and Raytheon pair. Just for fun I put in a pair of Sylvania Gold Label, Gold Pin tubes with low noise testing from the manufacturer. These tubes are really not available from any dealer, anywhere -they are ultra rare, I just happen to have a few quads. (The lettering is real gold leaf! I think they may have originally been made for Amperex.)  Anyway, we put in the pair and oh my, oh my!! I put on a record of J. Heiftz and Brooks Smith doing a recital at the Dorthy Chandler pavilion and you would swear that the Steinway Grand was sitting in your living room! Wow!

The Mullard 12AX7 long plates have long been my favorite for phono stage, but these Sylvania Gold were definitely their equal.

For phono stages, the GE 5751 receives high recommends as well. It is a sleeper tube equal to the Mullard, but often at a better price.