Visit to Marc C.'s (SpiritOfMusic's) House in England

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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I learnt a lot re my visit to Bill yesterday to hear his horns.

First, my Zus are not at their level.
DUH!!! No surprise...then again I never thought they would be.

Listening to horns that did nothing wrong, and most everything truly exceptional, my Zus are not gonna match on many parameters.

But, this is like a really good runner saying they're not as good as Usain Bolt, or a footballer not as good as Lionel Messi, or a tennis player not as good as Roger Federer.

Ie it's not the whole story, and for me now having a true reference for comparison shows me that my Zus are getting a lot of core things more right than wrong.

So, while I cannot compare on layered depth and ultimate transparency to Bill's horns, my room in particular, and subsequent optimisation of my system, is meaning that I'm getting way more of the magic of tonal density and timbral accuracy of great horns than I did back in London, and palpability/texture is really satisfying now.

Compare that to 5-6 years ago, when on returning from listening for the first time to Blue58's stellar Audio Aero cdp/45 tubes/AG Duos horns, I wanted to convert my Zus into firewood.

A good example is Miles Davis "Nefertiti". Anything good from this LP evaded detection years ago on my Zus...now my presentation, while not as magical as Bill's yesterday, has an awful lot going for it re intimacy, texture, accuracy of tone, and immersiveness.

What I cannot bridge the gap on, is busy classical music. Bach harpsichord and organ is fine on my Zus, Bartok string quartets shine, but orchestral/symphonic, remains a real challenge my Zus often fail at. However even here, I'm getting mixed results...Haydn symphonies a little grey, but Planets and Scheherazade are pretty engrossing.

Haydn symphonic was a revelation on Bill's system yesterday.
 

KeithR

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Marc kindly invited me to listen to his system in his wonderful Victoria Chapel. I enjoyed an afternoon of music punctuated with a pub lunch with Marc and Irana.

I personally find it really difficult to assess a system when played unfamiliar music and especially when that music is generally of a genre that I don't often listen to. Anyone who knows Marc's tastes can sympathise here :) Although I've added Keith Richard doing reggae to Marc's list of pet hates. Equally, when playing vinyl and I'm not aware of the quality of the pressings - I'm not sure if I'm listening to features of the system or possible limitations to the recording.

I've been attending a number of demos recently looking to build a system speakers first. Room size is modest and not dedicated hence my very deliberate audition selection. Speakers I have recently listened to include the Tannoy Kensington, Cheviot, Devore O/93, Wilson Sabrina, Wolf Von Langa SON, Cube Audio Nenuphar. I've also had fun listening to Blue58's Avantgarde Duo Omegas but they are just not going to fit my living room or marriage.

The Druid VI popped up on my radar as a sensitive speaker that may be room friendly and so Marc suggested I listen to his Definitions to get a feel for their 'house sound'. Marc and I have been chatting about my speaker search and corresponding amplifier matching for some time. He's been an extremely helpful sounding board and has thrown me a number of curve ball ideas which have been very useful.

I brought along a few CDs, I've mostly been using Tidal/Qobuz for all my auditions so I have a limited selection of music on CD.

Marc said he had recently tuned the bass on his Definition subs and I think this was immediately noticeable. On Fink's live recording of 'Trouble's what you're in', the bass of the guitar on some systems can sound loose and obscure the rest of the music, here it was tight and tuneful allowing the remainder of the frequency range to play its part. The treble was well extended when it needed to be - cymbals were nicely metallic with air. Again here Marc commented that he thought the super tweeters he had added played their part.

Since I was mostly playing CDs it was an obvious test of his Eeera CD player and I have to say I've listened to a lot of digital recently ranging from the dCS Rossini to a Mola Mola Tambaqui and I think it equipped itself really well. I'm not about to pass judgement and compare any of these because completely different systems and to be honest, I think I'm one of those listeners who has to listen to a component for a while and then switch to notice more subtle changes. However I really like the Eeera digital playback - it didn't sound cold or sterile, quite the opposite, a nice level of detail, rich timbre and tone.

Marc's NAT amps do something very special with vocals, they just seem to carve out a three-dimensional tactile vocal projection right there in front of you with the rich textures of the person's voice. I experienced this on recordings that frankly I wouldn't have expected - Marc's vinyl version of Peter Gabriel being one example. Most 80's 'pop' is normally so compressed and flat and whilst this won't be competing with Decca or ECM, Peter's vocal was just floating free, sculpted with more texture than I would have expected. Given the limitations of the recording, this was really enjoyable. Sometimes this is exactly what you want from a system, to allow you to enjoy music to the full.

Marc often talks about the Zu's ability to work well with Rock providing energy and pace to recordings. I played a track from Spoon, 'Everything hits at once' - again not a particularly well recorded. I've heard this sound pretty flat on some systems which made me feel a little unengaged. But not hear, propulsive, foot-tapping drive and thoroughly enjoyable, again the NATs sculpting the vocals combined with some nice texture on guitars.

I want to thank Marc for inviting me over to listen to his evolving decade (and more) labour of love. I very much enjoyed the listening session, the lamb and apple pie wasn't bad either. A big thanks for your counsel over the past few months in trying to narrow down my speaker/amp choices.

Sounds like a fun afternoon - how did the Zu compare to your Nenuphar experience?
 

dsyzling

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I didn't really have a great demo experience with Nenuphar - I heard elements of what I've seen discussed online, but there were issues on the day which were too distracting. The drivers being a point source seemed to draw attention to themselves too much which lead me to believe the setup wasn't quite right - either the height of the drivers or the speaker positioning. I also played a Led Zep track (Whole Lotta Love) and when the guitars kicked in they sounded absolutely awful - screechy, peaky, no weight, completely lacking in energy. On the day I chose to focus my attention on the SON.

The accompanying electronics should have been suitable - Pink Faun 2.16x streamer (I think there was a separate Roon server), Aries Cerat Helene dac, Aries Cerat Genus Amplifier - all music was sourced through Roon with Qobuz/Tidal. The characteristics that I've seen people discuss online didn't match what I heard on the day and I'm not willing to draw any firm conclusions because the contrast was so stark, I can only put this down to some kind of setup issue. I have sent a long email message to the dealer discussing what I heard with the SON and Nenuphar but as yet haven't had a response.
 
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spiritofmusic

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Darren, sounds kinda frustrating. You have one, maybe two chances max, to hear specialist/under the radar gear, especially in the UK. And the result is poor.

From what I gather, the Nephunar needs a particular choice of amp and the dealer complied with this. Other than that, the amp and source that day were top notch. And the WVL Sons sounded great to you when swapped for the Nephunars.

Additionally the dealer hasn't highlighted any system/synergy/room issues...otherwise they wouldn't have run the demo, surely.

Maybe you should trust your opinion.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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E. England
Had a pair of Bocchino IEC connectors upgraded Sablon Elite pwr cords installed for fourth consecutive day listening. On my Nat 70W 211 monos, to add to the one already on my Nat tube preamp.

This is proving one of the most fascinating upgrades. I have been aware of noise in my system, but getting a diagnostic let alone a practical solution, has proved nigh on impossible.

I had been getting somewhere with changes of preamp tubes, but only partial solutions.

So in go the Bocchinos, and I'm immediately struck by a quieter but more dynamic sound. In step with way greater mids solidity and musical bloom.

Haydn symphonies LP becoming so much more enjoyable, as instrumental lines open up, and bloom and palpability enhanced. In other words, more transparency into the recording, and more immersive tone density and timbral accuracy.

Timbral accuracy is the single biggest change in my system since the new acoustics here at the chapel have given me the blank canvas to optimise my system. In London, it was probably the last thing on my checklist. Here, its leapfrogged to give me a truly total reappraised enjoyment and understanding of classical and jazz.

I've just finished listening to Bill Frissell "Rambler" lp on ECM, and it's a whole new album. Previously always loved it's easy vibe and bubbling rhythm...the Zus have always been great at tonal density and rhythmic timing/propulsion.

But now I'm getting a whole new appreciation of air, layering, and critically, really authentic instrumental accuracy, with guitar and multiple wind instruments delineated nicely, as I would expect in live music.

I've listened to some fantastic systems recently, Audiophile Bill and Blue58, horn based, along with UK Paul's modded Martin Logans, and they remain my gold standards on what I consider great audio reproduction, and I'm content I'm emulating some of the magic of these, more and more with each change.

For now, I can honestly say I'm successfully addressing noisefloor issue with the Bocchinos and they've taken me a step closer.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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Another day, another change.
Despite being tempted by a couple of really interesting amps/spkrs changes, due to mid-Covid fallout, and after having spent big on this room and on optimising via ancilliaries, I've made a formal decision to carry on with my current path that's served me so well, especially in this room. And to get to grips with my most pressing issues ie trying to reduce system noise bottlenecks.

To this end, I'm hoping soon to receive a new plate amps solution for my slightly noisy Zu subs Hypex Class D modules. And I've just installed a quad of 6DJ8 NOS tubes from Brent Jessee on the advice of Bazelio and backed up by LL21...thanks guys.

Out went my Reflektor Silver Shields 6n23p tubes, in went two 60s matched 6922 Mazdas and two 70s matched 7308 Mullards. After a couple of teething issues, I've got things ticking over.

Tube rush/hash is down by at least 50% if not more. Noise floor down, bass and mids warmer, highs much silkier. Some torture CDs much more palatable.

Complementing the reduction in noise I've recently achieved with the install of Mark's Bocchinos upgrades taking my Sablon Elite pwr cords in preamp and now monos to Prince Sablon spec.

Noise is the enemy.
 

PeterA

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Marc, Congratulations on your continued success. As you reduce noise levels in your system, are you losing anything else, or are you only gaining more information from the recording? Would you say your backgrounds are getting "blacker" and images more stark with more "space" around them? What is happening specifically to your quality of the bass and the soundstage? Thanks.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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Peter, no I'm not talking about the audiophile checklist. When you run a rim drive tt and Zu spkrs, pinpoint imaging, blacker blacks, etc etc don't really apply.
For me, the move to a tube preamp in 2005, Zus in 2008, triodes in 2012, and rim drive in 2013, were all predicated on latching into tonal saturation and density as the thing which connected me most to the magic of music reproduction. And that's where I've gone in this journey.

However it's become apparent as I've optimised further, and critically as I've gone on to listen to way more live classical, that timbral accuracy was missing from my system, and in the last 12-18 months I've really started to nail that. This has been a huge gain for me.

What I can't easily replicate is the uber dynamic prowess and layered transparency of Bill's horns, or even Blue58's Duos horns. Thus my Zus still show their limitations with symphonic.

But on string quartets and smaller classical works, and especially jazz, the new timbral qualities of my system are ramping up the feeling of realism, and new found immersion into hundreds of my LPs and CDs.

What lower noise via Bocchino Sablon Elites pwr cords and quiter preamp tubes is giving me is just more music and message revealed. Nuances and lines that were hidden, low level detail that was obscured, musical motifs that were hazed over, are revealed in greater clarity.

And critically, not altering or diluting what I still feel Zus/triodes do so well within their impressive skillset.
 

PeterA

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Thanks Marc, and what about the bass and soundstage? How are those two specific areas changing with the new pwr cords and tubes as you reduce noise?
 

spiritofmusic

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Bass just feels organic and agile. One big lesson I've learnt, that was most impressed upon me when I sorted a major bass suck out, has been not to over egg bass. A function of this room and it's even response now, is that I've taken my Zu subs output right down. I'm relying much more on the full range output of the main drivers (specced to 40Hz) and augmenting with much more minor/subtle subs contribution.
This means my bass is way more nuanced and agile, not the smeary fuzzy mess I relied on in London.
Dropping noise floor via Bocchino Sablons and these NOS preamp tubes is revealing greater articulation and texture in lower mids and bass. I'm currently listening to Adrian Legg/Technopicker LP, solo acoustic guitar, and the resonances and harmonics are fully fleshed out and alive.
Sound staging is an area I never articulate particularly well. I know when I hear staging presented well, like Apogee Divas I auditioned, and Bill's horns, because the effects are so different to what I hear at home.
All I can say is that these solutions to noise more and more allow the music to have an organic feel, saturated, but more space to breathe. I cant compete with horns layered soundstage, but for me pinpoint imaging is something I dont hear live, and don't expect to hear it in my system.
 
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spiritofmusic

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One thing I've never expected to comment about my Zus sound, but the combination of noise floor lowering Bocchino Sablon Elites and quieter tonally saturated 6DJ8 preamp tubes are giving me, is greater sweetness, silkiness and liquidity.

This is apparent particularly on well-recorded acoustic guitar like Adrian Legg/Technopicker, Eduardo Gismonti/Dancos Das Cabecas and Danca Dos Escravos, Larry Coryell-John McLaughlin/Spaces...and with prog like Yes/The Yes Album and Fragile.

As I'd been working twds more transparency in my system, just a hint of uncompromising tonality had crept thru, especially as I turned my subs down thus relying on much more unadulterated output from my full range drivers.

Recently I had wondered if I'd reached an end point in Zu enjoyability, perhaps the drivers revealed as a little limited at frequency extremes, or not suited to high fidelity introspection.

What the new Bocchino Sablons and the preamp tubes have indicated to me is that further reduction in noise, and system tonal balance towards being sweeter for the first time is if anything making the Zus even more befitting of deriving deeper enjoyment from genres that easily foxed them in the past.

Sweetness, silkiness and liquidity. New vocabulary for the Zu experience, and totally welcome as I expand my collection of jazz, acoustic guitar, string quartets etc.
 
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spiritofmusic

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I am being surprised on a daily basis w these NOS tubes in my preamp. Since I'm not rolling my 211s, I've forgotten quite how dramatic a tubes change can be, the last time anything as major as this uptick was when I switched from Shugang 845s to Elrog 845s in my old Audion Black Shadow monos. In the limited time they didn't fail, the tone color and dynamics were off the scale.

Now I'm approaching something similar in advantage, magnified even more because my room is way better at registering the change, and the rest of my system is so much further optimised now than when I ran the Audions.

So, much lower tube hash was my only hope on purchasing these 6DJ8 tubes from Brent Jessee. And that I've achieved. What I had zero expectation of was the air and natural imaging that has been released, subtle micro dynamic cues, both of these hugely adding to the illusion of realism. And tonal color, saturated presentation, meaning timbral accuracy and appreciation is right up, and air and density in balance, meaning that music is palpable as you hear live, and critically I'm losing 99% of the smear and slur that I always thought was a factor of the Zu full range drivers/lack of crossovers/issues on integration with onboard subs.

The fact that the vast majority of what had been an ever present sonic thumbprint on music reproduction thru my Zus is gone, suggests the Zus are more even and transparent than I ever gave them credit for, these issues lay elsewhere.

Everything synergises with everything else, so my efforts on big room spend, sorting of major bass suck out, optimising analog and getting the tt out of harms way on Stacore, grid noise reduction to preserve tonal purity via balanced power/dedicated lines/Sablon cables, and critically developing a proper appreciation for real timbre and tone at live classical, has been coming together for 4 years now.

These preamp tubes feel like a massive final box has been ticked, I'm truly being immersed in a sound field that is so different from London (despite my core system being what it is today), every LP and CD having truly individual color, and my system feeling way less intrusive than ever.

I've heard four systems in the last 3 years that tick so many boxes for the same thing, despite being very different...Audiophile Bill's Bergmann/Red Sparrow-DaVa/Mayer/proprietary horns, Blue58's Extreme/Aqua/Java/proprietary 45s/AG Duos, UK Paul's Sony DD/SAEC507/Aidas Panzerholz/Allnic/Concert Fidelity/modded MLs, and User211's Lampi Big 7/AA 211s/modded Apogee Duettas.
From each system I've concluded a lot, particularly where my sound came up short, and where it maybe had the edge. And then worked at bridging the gap. While not losing what I feel Zus/Nats are very compelling at.

My new room-inspired environment first experienced 4 years ago is now coming full circle with these new preamp tubes. Some finetuning still possible, and the new Zu Definitions 6 is on my list, but I can truly say I have an extra special level of contentment this week.
 
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Blue58

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And just wait until you replace those 19 SR Black fuses with Orange ones and your mind will be blown to epiphanise until meltdown. :eek::eek:
 

spiritofmusic

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Hey, not gonna happen. In the past, maybe. No, other than remaining Bocchino upgrades to the Sablon Elites on my sources, LPS on my new tt motor, possibly some diffusers on my walls, Herbies Tube Dampers and HRS Damping Plates, that's it for peripherals.

Streaming beckons, oft delayed Zu Definitions VI, and possibility of Acme or Mayer Elrog 211s or 211 Molybdenum variants, my only projects.
 

spiritofmusic

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Well, three major levels of upgrades coming together fascinatingly. Second building on the first, and third on first two.

Bocchinos upgrades to Sablon Elites pwr cords, Prince Sablons, setting the scene with a dramatic reduction in noise/lowering noise floor on my Nat 211 SETs. Then the install of 60s and 70s NOS Mullards and Mazdas 6DJ8 tubes in my Nat Utopia pre. Major reduction in tubes hash, and banishing of grey, gritty sound for a truly tone color saturated sound.

And now the bedding in of new SOTA Condor Eclipse Roadrunner tt motor/speed controller/tach package.

This last change wasn't immediately slam dunk...indeed I didn't think it would be. But over the last 24 hrs it's really come into it's own. Whether or not I'm sensitive to pitch instability I'm not really sure. But this new tt motor is doing something magical with air, layering and imaging. My Zus have never presented music with much front to back depth, music resolutely stuck in the plane of the spkrs. But with the addition of the new motor, quite a few albums are now projecting fwds and back, and combined with way more air, the sound is way more relaxed and melifluous. This would mean nothing if the sound was unstable or diffuse, but the extra torque and speed stability is locking piano, bass and percussion in space, and this space is bigger.

I'm playing Pat Metheny/Q and A, Geffen Records, and with its toppy digital signature typical of the era it was recorded in, and dynamics-constricting extra-long playing time per side, it's always been a challenge to fully engage, sounding previously both harsh and subdued. Dave Holland's bass in particular sounded anaemic and listless.

Now it's an album reborn. Never gonna win on pure SQ, but it's hugely enjoyable for the first time. Pat Metheny's guitar is colourful and tone soulful, Roy Haynes' drumkit is explosive and articulate, and the aforementioned bass is back from being MIA, glueing the whole thing together.

All of this wouldn't be possible without the Bocchinos Sablons making audible previously buried information, the new preamp tubes bringing density and color to proceedings, and the new tt motor unlocking greater vinyl performance, in an area I was skeptical I'd truly benefit from.
 

PeterA

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Congratulations Marc. You should post a video or have Bonzo come over and make a recording so we can all get a glimpse into what you are talking about. It might be kind of fun.
 
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spiritofmusic

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No Peter, not my scene.
Oh, and didn't you know...I convinced Boris to run our second national lockdown to prohibit the chance of Ked visiting Lol.
 

PeterA

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No Peter, not my scene.
Oh, and didn't you know...I convinced Boris to run our second national lockdown to prohibit the chance of Ked visiting Lol.

No problem Marc. I am the only one in the Boston group who has any interest in videos. Not their scene either, I guess. It is a big risk because of judgments made about the sound of one’s system. I understand.
 
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spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
12,112
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E. England
I can't deny that's the case. I love visits to share my sound with others, and for the wider community just share my views.

What's fascinating Peter, is that this speed accurate/torquier motor upgrade is clearly becoming apparent as the single biggest positive for classical LP replay of all the changes I've made to my system. This is such a bonus and worth the price of admission in itself.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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Farad Super3 24V/2.2A LPS plus Sablon DC cbl just ordered for my SOTA Eclipse tt motor.

This is pretty much gonna be my last purchase on gear as I set aside saving over 2021 towards a streamer/dac package.

I have some ideas on what to look at, three possible combinations.

Innuos Zenith/Holo May.
Aqua LinQ/Aqua La Scala.
432 Evo Aeon/Merason Dac1.

The latter combination I have an immediate chance to hear post-Covid lockdown.
 

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