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Positive Feedback ISSUE 65
The following submissions are for the 'Readers Who Want to be Writers' Contest. The authors are not Staff members of Positive Feedback.
Anything Else is Just 'Marketspeak'
Over the years, I've owned and experimented with a variety of amplifiers, pre-amps, CD players, DACs, turntables, and all forms of cable products, and every combination thereof. It's occurred to me that a lot of time, energy, and money was wasted by me in the pursuit of audio perfection, that, pursuit of the ubiquitous ideal, the absolute sound as defined by J. Gordon Holt and Harry Pearson. It was with this in mind during the last four months I had to face the fact that what I had been doing was lining the pockets of the large audio manufacturers and getting nada in return. In no particular order here are the events of the last four months
At Christmas While listening to how wonderful my H.H. Scott 299B was sounding, I reminisced about acquiring it. The story begins with my researching the 6BQ5 / EL84 vacuum tube variants on the net. I came across Mapleshade audio. My attention was drawn to the fact that their recording engineer used a modified Scott 222C for mastering their line of audiophile CD's and vinyl. When I read about Mapleshade, I recalled my collection of Vacuum Tube Valley and Sound Practices Magazines, and continued my research.
My interest in all things audio led me to a part-time job at a small audio repair shop here in Winnipeg, where out of the corner of eye I spotted something familiar sitting on a back room shelf. An old fossil, which ironically, was an H.H. Scott 299B. An integrated tube amp (circa 1960), very similar to the Scott 222c MapleShade uses. (serendipity? doo dah)
It was a paleo-audiophiles' dream come true. For an amp from the Jurassic period, it was in surprisingly good cosmetic condition despite the missing parts. The bottom chassis cover was missing, and only 3 lonely tubes of the original 11 tube complement remained. Once the layers of dust were removed, no rust was discovered. The champagne anodized faceplate was acceptable. There was some smudged lettering on the front, as well as some wear on the rear panel.
The literature on the vintage H.H. Scott page claims higher quality output transformers than in other 200 series amps. The magazine articles I found talked about the resurrection of old tube amps such as the Scott 200 series amps. Charlie Kittelson of Vacuum Tube Valley and Joe Roberts of Sound Practices agreed that the Scott 200 series amps were equal to or better than, some of the more recognized offerings from the likes of Dynaco, HeathKit, and Eico. The H.H. Scott and the other "Golden Age" amps referred to here are all viable alternatives to today's expensive pretenders to the high end throne.
The technicians I consulted both locally and through the net were all of the same opinion. All that was necessary to bring the amp up to snuff was replacing faulty parts. I don't agree with that assessment, "after all the amp is 54 years old. So for me only a total rebuild would do. It was difficult to find someone with the technical chops, as well as the desire, to do the job the way I wanted. Eventually I found William "Bill" Hardy of VINTAGE AMPLIFIER RESTORATION in Hattiesburg Mississippi who was willing to modernize Daniel Von Recklinghausen's brainchild.
The project was approached in two ways, first by replacing every resistor and capacitor with new updated premium parts (i.e. 1% metal film resistors, computer-grade caps in the power supply to replace the can type caps and 22 Auricaps. New RCA jacks and terminal blocks as well, and all internal wiring was replaced with premium product. Bill does some of the best point to point wiring I have ever seen.
The second approach was a modification of the amp. I was advised by the same technicians referred to earlier, that to drastically modify my amp would devalue it's market-ability. However I wanted to hear what the Scott circuit could do as in the hot rodded version from MaplseShade Audio, while at the same time being determined to hear what Charlie Kittelson and Joe Roberts were describing in their articles. The solution was a pre-amp bypass circuit, controlled by a front panel switch. By reconfiguring the tape out-puts on the rear panel to the power amp inputs, I was able to kill 2 "archaeopterix" with one stone.
The goal by flicking a switch, being able to bypass the pre-amp section.
Tape out converted to power amp input and summed center channel (both circled)
Magnavox meets Museatex
Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn Audio fame once said, "the most important part of any stereo is the source". I don't totally agree with that because right now the transport I currently use could hardly be called state of the art. The signal from the Magnavox transport goes into a "Museatex DCC" (A Meitner design from 1990), a DAC which features a volume control.
(A word about the Meitner. This dac/pre-amp radically transformed my listening experience. I've noticed with previous incarnations of my system, some of my older compact discs suffered from "digititis"; flat sounding with thin, etched highs, making them un-listenable. With the addition of the Museatex DAC, it's possible to enjoy them once more. It's hard to believe the Meitner is 20 year old technology.
Back to the Scott (back to the future?)
With the Scott in the system some familiar recordings were in order as test runs.
Sarah McLachlan "Surfacing"
Norah Jones "Come Away with Me"
Jeff Beck "Emotion and Commotion"
Enigma "MCMXC aD" and, "The screen behind the Mirror"
Enigma's fourth album released in 2000.
The presentation was spectacular. If you closed your eyes when "Enigma 4" played, the illusion of being in a huge space was created, like being immersed in the music. I guess perhaps that's one reason why they call the musical genre "ambient". Percussive cues seem to come at you from in front, beside and slightly behind you. I've heard these sonics before in other systems I've owned but never to this degree. For sound/staging this is the best I've heard my system sound. Music from Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Daniel Lanois and Roger Waters, were also in the mix.
I've heard that tubes project a sound stage better than solid state amps (Hmm, haven't we all). My 299B was almost sold because of how good my S.A.R. Labs Mos 300 is in the soundstaging department. Both amps throw a large sound stage but micro-dynamics and bass are a wee bit shy with the Scott compared to the Mos 300. The mid-range is equal on both amps to my ears. But, I'm really picking at nits here. I love them both for what they do.
But, on to more listening. Here are some jazz recordings I revisited Kenny Doorham "Quiet Kenny" (JVC xrcd)...
"Dizzy Gillispie's Big 4" (24 carat gold CD, Doug Sax remaster)
Miles Davis "Quintet/Sextet" feat. Milt Jackson (DCC 24 carat gold CD, Steve Hoffman remaster of a Rudy Van Gelder recording session)
Milt Jackson "In A New Setting" (Verve reissue)
Joe Sample "Old Faces Old Places", (Red Book CD) - Doug Sax Mastering, one of my favorite CD's.)
These jazz recordings seem to present themselves similarly. The sense of spatiality isn't there as with the other recordings, but there is a sense of a band playing in front of you. When I consider that these recordings were made at the primordial dawn of two-channel stereo maybe the lack of a holographic image makes sense. All these discs capture (Joe Pass' guitar excepted) the sound of un-amplified instruments so the piano and vibes sound remarkably realistic. The decay of the notes seems to go on past the count of ten.
There are many out there who would have us believe that vintage hi-fi can't compete with modern high-end offerings. I can't disagree more. The phrase "high-end" is just a marketing ploy. Originally, our hobby was "hi-fi", not "high end". (fidelity means faithfulness or adherence to a higher standard or concept) It should be possible with todays' high resolution recordings, to get the equivalent fidelity of master tape in playback. Master tape quality is, in my opinion, the closest that one can get to the fabled "absolute sound" in the home.
There is good news for those who don't believe they can afford a good stereo. It is possible to put together a high fidelity system with out having to re-mortgage your home. Joe Roberts and Charlie Kittelson have promoted the concept of hi-fi on a budget and have criticized the lofty price of so called "hi-end" audio equipment. I can't thank them enough for steering me to the system I have today. I highly recommend reading old issues of V.T.V. , Sound Practices and Listener. Many of Lynn Olson's similarly common sensed articles and reviews have appeared in Sound Practices, V.T.V. and Positive Feedback . Check out his website Nutshell Hifi (Welcome back Lynn).
Conclusion: Inner Space - the happy frontier
My audiophile life has come full circle. In the beginning it was all about the music, but without realizing it, my focus shifted the equipment to centre stage. At one stage I reached a burnout point and, thoroughly fed-up with hi-fi, sold all my equipment. But, If hindsight were foresight we'd all be Kings. In 1998, I began again. From then to now, I contrived 4 other systems, systems that any "normal" (i.e. un-afflicted with audiophilia neurosa) music-lover would have been happy with for life. I came to the stark realization that my dissatisfaction with the audio hobby was because I externalized it's enjoyment. I paid too much attention to others and to external stimuli as a means to a satisfactory end.Ultimately, personal satisfaction must come from within, however we achieve it.
My hi-fi experience since December 2012 has opened my eyes. I have no time for superfluous, debates such as 'tubes vs. solid state', the "great" cable debate or any other hi-fi related controversy for that matter. Time is far too fleeting for such non-sense. Canadian media visionary Marshal McLuhan posited that the medium is the message.
For me, the music is "the medium" anything else is just 'MarketSpeak'.
The parts replaced and upgraded on my H.H. Scott 299B are as follows:
1. Capacitors - computer grade electrolytics in the power supply.
2. Intermediate Value caps, 22 higher value capacitors were replaced with Auricaps
3. Silver mica low value caps
4. New ceramic gold plated tube sockets
5. Bias pots (j-pots)
6. 100 x 1% metal film resistors, 20x metal oxide except for 2x 20 Watt and one 10 watt wirewound resistors for power supply.
7. Wire - teflon coated copper plus choice of best quality shielded wire where required
8. Vacuum tubes: 2x 6BL8 n.o.s. Westinghouse, 4x 12AX7 Mullard, 4 matched EL-84 Mullard 1x 5AR4 Sovtek (plus a full set of spares)
9. Aluminum bottom cover
10. New gold-plated RCA jacks
*all resistors and caps updated for reliability concerns where required*
The total cost including shipping from Canada to Mississippi and back was ($2050us).
My current system lineup is:
S.A.R. LABS Mos 300 150wpc power amplifier
H.H. Scott 299B integrated amp. (refurbished/modified)
Museatex Melior DCC digital preamp
Museatex Bitstream Dac (John Wright mod)
Magnavox DVD transport
Merrill Heirloom Turntable w/ original 1st. generation Mission 774 tonearm
Speakers: Kenwood LS-770'S ( 10" co-ax w/ passive radiator from the 70's)
Tannoy 10" Super Red monitors (early 80's vintage)
Cable products: PS audio power cords, Kimber 8TC speaker wire
home made interconnects
Hospital Grade isolation transformers: 1x 900va and 2 x 500va