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A Journey - Rediscovering that what is old is
just as new; Scott and Bozak
I started thinking about a system for a great listening room well before I knew I was going to buy a home with a great room. My wife and I love to entertain, and I love audio and music, but our previous home couldn't accommodate both. Along with my huge LP collection (rapidly passing 10,000—I can't stop buying those things!), the audio gear took up a lot of space, so people sat on each other's laps if we had any group larger than the immediate family over for dinner. Going from a poorly set up 1100 square feet to a well designed 3400 (including the basement rooms) was quite a step.
The story of my new system began when I went to California for my father's funeral. (Two and a half packs of Camels a day, and he lived to the age of 91!) We were sitting in Dad's living room, and I decided to take a look at a pair of speakers he'd been given years ago. My knowledge of audio was limited back then, and I had figured that the speakers were nothing to bother with—pieces of plywood with holes cut for the drivers and pretty cloth covering the front of the cabinets, or so I thought. Looking at them twenty-five years later, the first thing I noticed was that the plywood looked like mahogany. Then I noticed that the back was shaped like a wooden instrument—a guitar or violin. That was when I realized that there might be something special about these speakers. Peering inside the cutout, past the acoustically transparent grille cloth, I saw what looked like a plastic sheet with wires running through it. "It's a planar!" I screamed. My sister and my wife had no idea what I was talking about. I should have known that they were more than junk speakers, as the man who gave them to my father was named Bozak. I knew the name back then, but not well enough to be impressed. Written on a piece of paper glued to the rear were the words:
I called an AudioAsylum buddy (thanks, psgary!) and he came to the house with a receiver and an inexpensive CD player. We listened to the speakers for a short time and were impressed by their smooth sound, but had neither the time nor the equipment to evaluate them properly. I had them packed and shipped back to Pennsylvania, as I had decided that they would be the living room speakers in our new home. I also started looking for an amp and preamp to use with them. I bought a second Anthem Pre1, the line-stage-only iteration. My Pre1P (the version with phono stage) had had a small mishap, so I got the second preamp knowing I'd need it for the new home, and got a Creek phono stage to carry me through while the electronics doctor performed the minor surgery my original preamp needed.
I was impressed by the Anthem/Creek combo. It was not as warm as the Pre1P, which was a definite move toward the drier and more analytical sound some folks think I should be hearing when I review gear. I can now see why many reviewers liked the line stage version of the Pre1. It definitely sounds better than the Pre1P, at least until you change the tube in the Pre1P’s power supply from the stock Sovtek GZ34 to a Mullard 5AR4. The line stage version does not have the outboard, tubed power supply of the Pre1P, but it is a great little preamp, and the Creek matches it well. The combo has a reasonably wide and deep soundstage, very quick transient response, and pretty good bass.
What amp did I buy after spending the money on the second Anthem preamp? An integrated amp! (Oh well, a friend is building some oak bookshelves for the new house and bartering is a great way to get nice things.) Another friend at AA (thanks to YOU, someyounguy!) suggested that I look at the modified Scott tube amps that Pierre Sprey offers on the Mapleshade website. I was intrigued by reading the description, but after talking with Pierre, I was convinced. Talking with manufacturers is NOT healthy for one's wallet! Audio manufacturers are among the most fanatic of all hi-fi enthusiasts. That fanaticism comes across every time I speak with one, and my money rolls away with the tidal forces of their enthusiasm. Pierre told me that there was a four- to six-week waiting period, which was fine with me, as that was when we expected to move to the new house. We spoke on a Saturday, and the amp was delivered on the following Monday!
I hadn't hooked up the speakers in the old residence, but I did hook up the amp to see what it sounded like in a listening room I'd had for twenty years. I used Mapleshade's $85 speaker cable, as none of the cable I normally use was long enough. I wished I could compare it to the DIY wire, or the MITs, or perhaps the Goertz, or maybe the Audioquests (I gotta stop buying speaker cable!), but I couldn’t, and besides, I can't imagine that any of it would sound better than those skinny little green and gold wires from Mapleshade. No more garden hoses in our living room! The sound coming out of my Infinity loudspeakers with the modded Scott amp was gorgeous. The amp wasn't even broken in, but its full, rich sound was mesmerizing.
I loved how CDs sounded through this thing! Playing Van Morrison's No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (Mercury CD 830 077-2), I was surprised at the fullness of the sound, especially from the bottom end through the midbass. On Realtime's 24-karat gold disc reissue of For Duke and Fatha, the bass gets very heavy at times. With the Mapleshade Scott amp, it was awesome. Listening to Dave Douglas' Songs for Wandering Souls (Winter & Winter CD 910 042-2), I really, really fell in love with the Scott, as I could hear the subtleties it was able to deliver. Even with the CD reissue of the Beethoven Quartets by the Budapest String Quartet (Columbia Masterworks MP2K 52531), the Scott was able to extract the shimmer and sheen of the various stringed instruments. (This is definitely not a reference recording, only a reference performance.)
This amp made me want to play CDs, and I really liked that! I put on disc after disc after disc, but as good as CDs sounded, vinyl was… well… luxurious! I would use the word "lush," but some use it as a criticism. Nevertheless, that was the word that came to mind whenever I listened to LPs. The music was lush, full, and enveloping, the way it sounds when you are lucky enough to hear it live in a good room. Female vocals, drums, you name it—the modded Scott delivered what I expect from a fine amp. I didn't get to listen to too many LPs, as the move was imminent and time was limited.
I have now set up the Mapleshade-modded Scott and the Planex speakers in our great new room. The Audio Alchemy ACD Pro is doing a marvelous job of delivering musical signals to the Scott, and those Mapleshade wires are doing a great job, too! The sound is smooth and beautiful. After listening to a few Blue Note CDs, I realized that it was a good thing we couldn't get this sound from CDs in the early digital era. I would have sold all my LPs!
The bass with the Bozaks isn't as deep as that of the Infinity P-FRs with the Scott amp. I'm guessing around 45Hz is as low as the panels can go, but what IS there is solid and very satisfying, and supports the musical whole quite well. Those Tina Brooks CDs sound really good through this system. I'm not saying that they are great recordings, but they sound damned good! Relistening to that Dave Douglas CD confirmed that the Scott/Bozak combo is as good as peanut butter and jelly, or hotdogs, chili and cheese, or bagels and cream cheese, or red beans and rice. Excuse me, I gotta go eat something.
Words fail to describe the beautiful sound of this combo. It may not be the be-all and end-all of high fidelity, but it serves the music like a five-star Michelin-rated meal. (There I go again with the food references!) The set up is not "hi-fi." The speakers are along the long wall, in front of the picture window and its curtains, with a Sony high-def TV sitting between them. The amp is inside the TV stand, which is a nice looking piece, but is not of audiophile quality. In fact, I have to keep the doors open so the amp won't turn the inside of the cabinet into an oven. It’s hardly audiophile stuff, but I tell you, the sound is mesmerizing. The soundstage is very wide. Imaging is a bit weak, but I blame the setup, not the equipment. There is some layering within the stage, but tonal color and instrumental detail is where the system sings! Attacks are lifelike, quick, and dynamic. I hear the individual players in the orchestra in the Telarc CD of Holst's Planets. The French horn's sonorous tones, and even the kettledrums, sound very lifelike, even with speakers that don't capture the bottom octave.
In future, I'll tell you about my basement listening room, and the way the Scott amp sounds there. The room is nearing completion, but there are still a lot of things that must be done to make it great. I will tell you what has been done so far. The Monarchy amps each have their own 25-amp breakers and receptacles. Each subwoofer for the Infinity P-FRs has a 20-amp breaker and receptacles. The power strip for the turntable, preamp, and CD player—made by that company that wishes to usurp the word that means extremely large—has its own 20-amp circuit and receptacle.
The wall that separates the listening room from the rest of the basement has two layers of drywall, one of which is hung horizontally. The room is approximately 15 feet 8 inches by 23 feet. The ceiling is 8 feet, a rarity in these parts! We had three days of constant rain that caused flooding throughout our area and standing water in the yard next door, but there was no moisture in our basement. Waterproof paint has nevertheless been applied to all exterior walls.
I am worried about taming the sound with one side drywall and the other concrete block. I'll get all of the walls framed if I win the lottery, but they will be covered with the best wall treatment in the world—LPs! If I could get good sound in a room that had acoustic tile glued to the ceiling, horsehair plaster walls, and three doorways, etc., etc., surely I can get that basement room to sound good!