Positive Feedback ISSUE 61
may/june 2012

 

 

The following submissions are for the 'Readers Who Want to be Writers' Contest. The authors are not Staff members of Positive Feedback.

Observations from Listenerland - the Jadis JP200 and JA200
by Darryl G. Lindberg

 

A couple of years ago I replaced the Cello electronics that I had since 1993 (Audio Suite with MC P101, CD P201, P301; Performance II amps, Audio Palette, and Cello Strings cables) with the Jadis JP200 MC preamp and JA200 amps. Now that the gear has settled in, I thought I'd share my impressions. Why "impressions?" Well, I'm not a reviewer; I'm just a guy who wants to create as authentic a musical experience as possible in his home. So I'm not worried about delivery schedules, when loaners are due to be returned, how new equipment on review will interact with other equipment on review, et al. It's the nature of the beast that reviewers typically don't own some or all of the equipment that makes up whatever "reference system" they're using. And I'm not complaining because a reviewer's equipment must turn over if one is to be a reviewer. On the other hand, I'm a typical audio hobbyist in that I actually shell out my own hard-earned filthy lucre in the pursuit of the liberation provided by well-reproduced great music. My equipment must be able to stand the test of time because I buy it with the intention of keeping it for the long haul.

Why do I do it? I've always told my wife that an excellent sound system is just like being there—only more expensive. Let's face it, I could probably provide several nights of employment for an orchestra for what I've shelled out for my system and (especially) software. But that's not the point; even with a live source, I couldn't, for example, conjure up Richter or Ella Fitzgerald. And although I get a good deal of exposure to live music via my season subscriptions to the opera, orchestral, and chamber music groups here in Santa Fe, a great sound system is the only vehicle I know of that will take me as close as I'll ever get—at least in my current temporal existence—to many artists and their performances.

My approach to audio: Biases, System Context, etc.

My approach to the pursuit of great sound is founded on two straightforward considerations: economics and convenience. Sounds straightforward, right? But let me explain what those two words mean in the context of my audio requirements. In terms of economics, although I'm willing to spend a considerable amount on my stuff, I'm neither willing nor am I sufficiently financially well-off to make those outlays on a continual basis. And that's where convenience comes in: all I want to do is listen to music. If I'm always changing gear, the degree to which I can seriously listen to music decreases—maybe even exponentially decreases—and that's inconvenient, in my book. So I'm willing to put in time upfront in order to occupy myself with enjoying music long term. I guess you might say that my interest is listening to music versus listening to equipment.

And because I don't change equipment often, I really get to know the sound of the stuff I use. As I said upfront, the Jadis gear replaced equipment that had been happily ensconced in my system for about sixteen years. My Avalon Eidolons, which I bought thirteen years ago, replaced a much-loved pair of Sound-Lab A3s that had been in my system for twelve years. Similarly, the Rockport II Sirius LE turntable has been spectacularly spinning vinyl since 1995. Anyway, you get the idea... (see associated equipment).

While I'm definitely not one of those high end masochists/tweakophiles whose system only performs at a specific ambient temperature, during the first quarter of the moon, or only if mounted on the pelt of a male wombat, I can put up with a little inconvenience; but I'm not willing to waste the time that could be spent listening to music in the pursuit of the latest tweak. So my "listening to tweaking ratio" is definitely skewed to listening. There's a certain point where obsession obscures the primary function of good sound—enjoyment.

Regarding my listening habits, I'd say that 99% of my time is spent listening to vinyl, mostly classical and jazz (at reasonable rather than ridiculous volumes). I have an LP collection of 10,000+ records, so I've got a pretty wide choice! My CD collection is about 600 discs.

As you might guess, given my proclivities, I made this change in electronics because I believed it could substantially improve my system. Time had marched on and Cello itself—at least the Cello that manufactured my gear—had long ceased to exist. The Cello gear was originally purchased because it sounded great, could drive the A-3s (or any speaker), and was totally rugged. Just as importantly, it was non-fussy and easily adaptable to any place in the world that my work happened to take me. Even though I certainly enjoyed the sound of a good tube setup, the supply of tubes in many countries was uncertain in those days, which was another reason I opted for solid state. I frankly didn't want down-time to compromise the limited time I had to listen to music in those days.

Things changed, though: tubed equipment made a major comeback, tubes became more reliable and far easier to secure, and I'd retired from international moves. And all of that meant that I didn't have the same constraints I had back in the ‘90s. Most importantly, I'd heard other gear that sounded great even in non-ideal (e.g., show) environments, so I began seriously searching in earnest. To make a long and most enjoyable search epic short, I ended up buying the JP200 MC and JA200s.

A brief description...

Both the JP200 MC preamp and the JA200 amplifier are monophonic to the last degree, sporting separate amplification sections and power supplies for each channel. The power supplies are connected to the preamp/amps by sturdy umbilical cords and heavy duty multi-pin connectors. Outwardly, the gear is very well finished: the chasses are made of mirror-finished "surgical stainless steel"—just in case you need to use it to perform an appendectomy—with gold accents. I guess the "Jadis look" has been around the audio scene for so long that it's kind of hard to be objective. It's what's inside that counts, though, and the internal cosmetics are as breathtaking as they are legendary: point-to-point wiring, connections via solid copper bars, etc. Now one would hope that form follows function. However, to call a semi-quaver a semi-quaver, I can't say with any certainty the degree to which this amazing craftsmanship bears on the sound. At minimum it reflects the thoughtfulness and pride that goes into the design and realization of these products.

The JP200 MC preamp is what's now known as "full function" in that it has a built-in phono section, with separate inputs for moving coil and moving magnet cartridges (selected via a front panel switch). The tube complement for each channel is a 6922 and three 12AX7s in the phono section and three 12AX7s in the line section; each power supply sports an EF84 and an EF86. According to the specifications, the moving coil section has >75dB of gain, so low-output coils shouldn't be a problem (I found it had no trouble with the Ikeda 9's puny .17mV output). In addition to the phono inputs, there are five other line-level inputs; all the inputs are single-ended. I'm not being facetious when I say that the JP200 is probably best described as an all-out phono preamp with additional line level inputs. That's not to say that the line section is chopped liver; it's just that if you only need a line section, then the JP200 probably has more functionality than you're looking for.

My version of the preamp incorporates some upgrades, viz. special silver foil capacitors and silver wiring; other than that, everything is "stock." The fact is that the standard JP200 is already loaded with top drawer components, so the upgrades might be considered overkill. But where would high-end be without a little overkill?

The JA200 monoblocs generate 160 watts of push-pull class A power via ten Electro Harmonix 6CA7s (according to the instruction booklet, you can also use KT34s, KT88s, 6650s, or KT90s). The input tube is a 12AU7 followed by a 12AX7 driver tube. The output tubes are self-biasing and individually fused; each tube fuse is accompanied by a red LED to indicate when a tube needs to be replaced. The output impedance is set internally, but the various choices are fairly broad (my amps are set at 4-8 ohms). Output is via two sets of WBT output posts for bi-wiring. Like the preamp, the JA200 is single-ended only. By the way, I chose the 6CA7 alignment based on the advice of Patrick Calmette of Jadis. I originally had KT88s in mind, but Patrick said that the Gold Lions he preferred were just not sufficiently reliable performers in the JA200 (things may have changed by now, though).

The Sound

So, does the form of the Jadis gear indeed follow purported function? There's no reason to let you dangle: luckily, in this case, the function—music (and musical) reproduction—is supremely realized. The combination of the JP200 and JA200 with the rest of my system generated a quantum leap in performance—and my system sounded pretty darn good before the conversion. And it's not just a subtle, positive change here and there; it's an across-the-board improvement.

I'll start with some global observations and then move on into specifics, with the standard caveat that everything I'm saying is based on what I hear from the Jadis preamp/amps in the context of my system. Anyway, the most important and obvious characteristic of this equipment is the sensation that more information is coming through from the source to my ears. And when I say "more information," I mean significantly more information, whether we're talking top-to-bottom frequency response, transient response, dynamics, image width/depth, low-level information retrieval, whatever. In addition to more information, it seems to me that I'm hearing better information in terms of its neutrality, transparency, timbre, instrumental color, etc. An important point here is that I never get the feeling that the Jadis gear is passing too much information.

And there's one more aspect of the Jadis' ability to pass on more information. The only way I can describe this quality is that the gear makes what I'm listening to relevant. By "relevant" I mean that any information passed contributes to the entire experience (as it should), not just "did you hear that?" sonic trivia. Result? A listening experience that demands your attention: more than just an "involving" experience. You always hear audiophiles talk about "just like being there," but in my experience there are very few components that can actually make sounds that you literally can't ignore. Just as in a live performance, the sound transferred through the Jadis gear holds your attention. And maybe, because it's more difficult to wander off, that yields a deeper appreciation of what's playing.

Finally, there's that difficult to describe but easy to identify quality of providing musically convincing reproduction. While I would have to guess that this quality is a function of passing more recorded information, I think that there's more to it: it's the thoroughly seamless and organic way the information is presented that separates the Jadis gear from the pack. I don't know about you, but I've heard other gear that checks all the appropriate "audiophile boxes" and yet still leaves me with the impression that something's missing—or something's added.

On to some specifics...

I've always found that one of the qualities of exceptional gear is the ability to realistically reproduce the subtleties of just a few or single instruments. Non-audiophiles usually assume that this task is not particularly taxing, but in my experience it's most telling because shortcomings in the size, timbre, attack, etc. of instruments are easily identified. I happen to have pretty good recording of Paganini's Terzetto Concertante in D, for guitar, viola, and, cello, featuring Siegfried Behrend, Stefano Passagio, and Georg Donderer (Deutsche Grammophon SLPM 139 370, tulip label). The viola and cello are positioned left and right, respectively, with the guitar in the center. Paganini writes some of passages with the viola and cello playing in unison and, with the Jadis gear, it's always clear which one's which and not only from the tonal difference and positioning. It's uncanny, but for the first time I could distinguish the horizontal-ness of the strings and body of the viola versus the vertical-ness of the strings and body of the cello, and this phenomenon is especially evident when they're playing in unison. Now I could be imagining this effect, but I've listened to this record enough that one would think I would have noticed it before now.

Of course, really outstanding recordings are reproduced in breathtaking fashion. Piano is a notoriously challenging instrument to reproduce—and record. But with the "Jadis touch" well recorded piano music is an absolute joy. The two Reference Recordings discs of Minoru Nojima (Liszt: RR-25; Ravel: RR-35) have a presence, a "there-ness" that's thrilling and, in a way, uncanny. It's almost as if I'm Nojima's page-turner—without the anxiety.

Moving on to larger musical forces, my Lyrita recording of Constant Lambert's Romeo and Juliet Ballet Suite (SRCS.110, Nimbus pressing) showcases exactly why this label is so revered. In particular, there are quite subtle glockenspiel strikes during some rather busy and loud orchestral passages. Although these strikes were evident before Jadis, it's now more like a live performance in that they sing, correctly proportioned, through the other instruments. And this effect is not one of the glockenspiel's being unduly highlighted; it's the Jadis gear resolving the entire sound picture—and in its proper proportion.

The Testament LP reissue of Andre Cluytens' Ravel orchestral music is literally an eye-opener. I've not heard the Columbia SAX originals (I only have a couple of the Classics-for-Pleasure versions), so I'll just say that these LPs are a testament (ha!) to the necessity of reissues. Ravel is one of those composers whose music is truly complemented by great sound and boy does Testament do a wonderful job. Just spin any disc in the set and prepare yourself for sonic and performance wonders. Sticking with French music for the moment, Pierre Dervaux's survey of Roussel's Symphony #2 and Concert pour petit orchestre (French EMI 2C 069-73096) is another wonderful recording of interesting music that allows one to literally reach out and touch the performers. I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable musically to tell you whether Dervaux's performance is great or not; however, the totality of the experience provided by Jadis envelops you in a sound feast. Not in the audiophile sense, but in the realistic sense.

Jumping across the pond to Merry Olde England, listen to the final movement of Vaughan Williams' 6th Symphony (EMI ASD 3127). Even though my record isn't particularly quiet, the softest sounds are brought to life, not because they're artificially emphasized, but because more information is transmitted to my speakers. It's what might be termed "sonic integrity" in that however soft or loud the music the complete harmonic structure is maintained.

One of most intriguing—and unexpected—improvements that the Jadis gear has wrought is that my system has deeper and far better bass response, authority, localization, and articulation. For example, bass on the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields' recording of the Rossini String Sonatas (Argo ZRG 506) is clearer and has better transient attack with the Jadis gear. Similarly, the bass fiddle the in L'Éléphant section of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals (French EMI 2C 069-10973) is startlingly real. Now I'm not saying startling in an artificial sense that the instrument is well-reproduced at the expense of everything else; I'm talking about how a solo bass viol sounds in its appropriate place in the orchestra and in its appropriate space in a concert hall.

Speaking of bass... Prior to the arrival of the Jadis gear, I'd always been a bit disappointed with my system's rendering of the low end of organ recordings. This aspect of performance I chalked up to the Eidolons, whose bass, while reasonable, isn't of the stygian variety. Imagine my surprise when I spun Pierre Bardon's performance of Couperin's Messe à l'usage des Couvents (LP Pierre Verany PV-1801/2). He's playing the historic organ at Saint-Maximin en Provence. Not only was the fullness of the organ communicated—that extended bass—but also there was a sense that it was a real space, a real performance. Mind you, there's only so much bass impact of which the Eidolons are capable, so I don't want to deceive you. On a great recording of organ with orchestra such as the Langlais' 2nd Organ Concerto (Proprius PROP 7784), there's never a sense of "homogenizing" and low frequency restriction that bedevils some equipment.

Every now and then I get the urge to get in touch with my (mostly) Swedish roots and spin something, shall we say, northern. And I don't think I have a better sounding recording than Sixten Ehrling leading the London Symphony Orchestra in a program of Lidholm, Rosenberg, and Blomdahl (Decca SXL 6180). It's a Kenneth Wilkinson recording—in Kingsway Hall, no less—so you can bet that it's a treat. The music is modern and very interesting, even if it may not be the most distinguished. Lidholm's Rites (a ballet more than strongly reminiscent of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Pretemps) literally explodes—the speakers and the listening room walls simply cease to exist. I've used this disc as a test record at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest over the years and everyone who's heard it has loved the sound (if not necessarily the content!). It's been spun on some set ups far pricier than mine (and let's be fair, under "show" conditions), but I've yet to hear this LP sound as realistic as it does in my home

All of the preceding is not to say that the Jadis gear will turn sonic base metal into gold. In fact, it's like a tunneling electron microscope when it comes to revealing a recording's flaws. Again, I believe that's because more information is getting through. That means a so-so recording remains a so-so recording, albeit a recording presented with more of its information intact. Bartok's Wooden Prince (Hungaroton LPX 11403) sounded distant before I switched equipment; it still sounds distant—just a little more so. My Vanguard record of Vivaldi's op.8 Violin Concerti (VSD 71723)—which is really not a bad recording—is more fleshed out, but it hasn't suddenly become startlingly real. The Japanese EMI pressing of Ricardo Muti's take on Schumann's Symphony #1 and Mendelssohn's Symphony #5 (EAC-90074) is quiet and clean, yet the Jadis gear underscores the fact that this disc is clearly inferior to the original (EMI ASD 3781) in terms of sheer realness. And if I take a real sonic (and performance) stinker like Ormandy's pathetically anemic rendition of Saint-Saëns 3rd Symphony on Telarc, well it's only clearer to me that I've wasted precious time that I'll never recover. So while the Jadis gear makes these and other less-than-great recordings somewhat more interesting, it's also true that the "more" information that is retrieved is not necessarily enjoyable.

If you've read this far, you're probably asking yourself: "sure the Jadis gear—and the JP200 MC preamp in particular—may sound great with vinyl, but what about CDs?" After all, I did say about 99% of my listening was vinyl. Well I'll hazard that it's reasonable to assume that a great phono stage can only really shine when it's connected to a great line stage. Or at least I think that's a reasonable assumption. Anyway, everything the Jadis gear does for my records it does for CDs. Take Philippe Hereweghe leading the Collegium Vocale in Heinrich Schütz's Geistlische Chormusik (French Harmonia Mundi HMC 901534). All the voices are startlingly—if that's not a contradiction in terms when speaking of CD reproduction—natural. When I say "startling" I mean it in that my expectations are, even after years of listening to top tier gear of my own and others, that I won't hear such realism.

Now I admit that my CD rig is a little long in the tooth (as is its owner), so my comments about CD playback may be taken accordingly. But a good friend of mine who's possessed of quite a high end CD only setup (MBL 1621/1611, Kharma Midi-Exquisites, ASR Emitter II Exclusive, lashed together with Kharma's top-of-the-line cables) and quite familiar with my former Cello gear was literally bowled over when he listened to familiar CDs played back via Jadis. He said that this was CD reproduction that sounded closer to analog than he thought possible. And that may be the case, but to my ears what the Jadis gear makes abundantly clear is that there's still a significant performance gap between CD sound reproduction (note that I'm talking about Red Book CDs) and that produced by LP (at least in the context of my system). The fact is that I'm not an anti-digital fanatic; it's just that given the choice I generally find I just enjoy listening to vinyl more than I do listening to CDs. And the Jadis provides significant impetus the listen to more LPs!

Technical Conjecture

Can I give you a reason—a technical reason, that is—why the Jadis gear sounds so good in my system? The best I can do is to give you a list of the "usual suspects," to wit: massive power supplies used in both the amps and preamp; class A circuitry in the JA200's; the hyper-refinement over many years of an innovative yet straightforward design and the outstanding attention to detail in the execution of that design; legendary output transformers on the JA200s; absolute "dual mono-ness;" or just inset your favorite techno-rationale here. But I believe it's the totality of all of these technical attributes that make the Jadis gear so appealing. The fact is that there are other products out there that are just as well made and just as refined; yet they don't have the life of this Jadis stuff. All I can say is that folks at Jadis must spend a great deal of time listening to their creations.

What about that oft-bandied term "synergy?" Could it be the JA200's synergy with my Eidolons? I wouldn't rule it out. After all, the Eidolons' speed, accuracy, and ability to reproduce instrumental color certainly correspond with qualities which are possessed by Jadis in spades. However, according to reviews I've read the JA200's drive other speakers, very different speakers (e.g., Wilsons) to frenzied greatness, so I can't be certain. Perhaps my primary cartridge (Allaerts ) provides an ideal match for the phono stage. But then again my very low output Ikeda 9 (.17mV) and old but virtually unused Lyra Clavis DC (.25 mV) also sounded better than they ever did through the Cello Audio Suite/P101MC. Clearly, there's synergy between the JP200 MC and the JA200. What about synergy with my own listening biases? Certainly, that's a big "yes." Hey, I wouldn't have bought this stuff if I didn't expect it to deliver music the way I think it should be delivered. In the end, your guess is as good as mine; I honestly don't know.

Okay, is there a big but(t)?

I'm not oblivious to the downsides that are generally inherent in owning tube gear and those specific to Jadis. The most obvious downside is that this stuff is expensive; you sure get you money's worth, but it's a big bite in the assets, nonetheless. Then there's the waiting time. Even though the JP200 and JA200 are definitely not "off-the shelf" items, the time it took to get this stuff was rather disconcerting: the originally estimated six to eight weeks turned into a bit over five months. Now this wait could be a function of Jadis' previous North American distributor. This guy, while knowledgeable and seemingly well-intentioned, was, to put it politely, a less than ideal example of customer responsiveness.

If you're used to a remote control or looking for any concession to convenience, forget it! The preamp's user interface is as basic as it gets: there is no remote and, since it's dual mono, you have two volume controls and two input selector controls with which to contend. Not a big deal as far as I'm concerned, but it's not one of the ergonomic wonders of the electronics age. The JA200 amps are similar: just a mains switch and a standby/high voltage switch.

Although not quite as bulky as some high-end gear, the JP200 and JA200 each take up a considerable amount of real estate—especially when you take into account the fact that this tube equipment needs room to breathe. And time to breathe, as the amp and preamp take about an hour of warm up to really shine. Once warmed up, even though the Jadis gear is very quiet, it's not as quiet as the best solid state, but given the sound, that's a trade off I'm willing to make.

A couple more nits... The supplied power cords do not seem to be remotely up to the standard of the gear (but the cords were the equal of a pricey power cord I demo-ed). Finally, the packing was adequate for its intended purpose, no more. Since my equipment arrived strapped to a pallet, it wasn't an issue. However, I'm not sure that the individual cartons would hold up to shipping more than twice. By contrast, the cartons for my Cello gear survived many domestic and international moves and are still going strong. But I must say that you know that your money went into the craft and materials of the Jadis equipment rather than ostentatious "road cases" that some manufacturers seem to feel necessary to justify the prices they charge.

A final thought...

So here's the question: are the JP200 and the JA200 worth it? My answer is an unequivocal "yes, absolutely." Sure there are some trade-offs, but I'm obviously willing to live with them. For me—and your tastes and needs are surely different from mine—it was a no-brainer. But it's not just that I got what I wanted with the Jadis gear; I got far more than I thought was possible in the realm of reproduced music. Here's the best part: every time I fire this stuff up, I'm not only satisfied, I'm surprised. And I believe that the feeling of expectation and excitement is a function of the Jadis gear's ability to extract more music—and literally more life—from every source. Isn't that what audio is all about?

Associated Equipment

Turntables: Rockport II Sirius LE, VPI HW-19 Mk.IV (various upgrades)

Arms: Rockport (integrated with turntable), SME V, Pierre Lurne Unipivot

Cartridges: Allaerts MC-1B Mk.II, Ikeda 9, Lyra Clavis D.C.

CD Transport: Mark Levinson 31.5

Digital Processor: Mark Levinson 30.6

Interconnects (all single ended)

Preamp-amps: Purist Audio Dominus (Praesto revision)

Turntable-preamp: Custom, one-off MIT (Rockport); Kimber KC-TG (VPI)

DAC-Preamp: Acoustic Zen Silver Reference

Equipment rack: Ginko Platforma (Cloud 10 platforms for preamps)

Amp stands: Target

Room: dedicated, purpose-built golden ratio proportioned listening room (LxWxH: 26.18'x16.18'x10') with four dedicated 20 amp lines. In addition, the room is double studded and the walls and ceiling are filled with Cocoon cellulose insulation. The floor is limestone over concrete, covered with large area rugs.

 

 

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