Optimized or blasphemous?

Earlier today I had a terrifically interesting conversation with the founder of an audio cable company.  A few of the company’s products have been reviewed elsewhere, but I learned today that they are preparing some new introductions.  I think I’m putting it mildly that the products this individual shared really got me excited.  I was offered the opportunity to demo a few items to get a better feel for them, and will be given that chance next month!

Of particular interest are their new interconnects, an upgrade over the prior version, and a power cord that has been “optimized” for Shindo products.  If you know anything about Shindo products, you know that their little grey power cords are the preferred electric utility transfer and life support.  Recommendations for their specific use come from many sources, including dealers, importers, reviewers, and various knuckleheads out there like me…

So I’m not sure what exactly “optimized” means, or how someone on the outside of the Shindo Kingdom figured this out.  Which is why this little revelation was and is both exciting and alarming. Imagine, the possibilities with the introduction of improvements to the PC for those lovely little green boxes.  But is it blasphemous for someone to try and improve upon the Master Shindo San’s creation or for me to even consider using something other than the Shindo cord?

Only time will tell, and for now, I’m keeping the manufacturer’s name under wraps, as I don’t believe this little incursion into the Shindo Kingdom with this sacrilegious power cord is yet properly publicized.  I’ll plan to update you next month after I’ve had the opportunity to use them.

March 1, 2012 | The shipment is on its way, hopefully in time for some weekend experimenting.  And it looks like Jeff Day went live with info about this company’s products and Shindo optimization in his recent review over at Positive Feedback.

October 21, 2012 | While I certainly love these power cords, I’ve not heard anything further about a “Shindo optimized” version, and never had the chance to demo the SOV.

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AcousticPlan’s Digimaster, is it really a “master”…?

I recently acquired the Acoustic Plan Digimaster (APD). I’m still just getting to know it, and I’m sort of hindered with that because I have to currently run it through an entry level HT Pre-Pro, as I’m without the reference pre-amp for now. So my initial thoughts are that I’m warming to it… It’s been a pleasant surprise performer, and something that I continue to enjoy. I’m really looking forward to my pre-amp so that the real analysis can begin. But to wet your appetite, here’s my thought on it running through a simple pre-amp while listening to Frank Sinatra Wee Small Hours (UK CD) through my Macbook Pro via the USB (Wireworld Starlight standard – 1M). I used Channel D’s PureMusic for initial testing. FWIW, this is one of my all time favorite albums. I have a nice VG+ 2nd issue, grey label mono version (circa 1955) that I have listened to frequently. The APD did a fine job with the UK CD version, when comparing the two. It’s one of the few, if not only, digital versions of Wee Small Hours that does not introduce reverb, and is a nice product to compare to my album. Overall, I loved it. Frank’s voice sounded very natural and even carried with it a bit of grit, that I’ve not heard before on the digital retransmission. I really liked it, a lot!

More to follow-up in the next few months, as I really need to get the reference pre-amp in first before offering any insight and commentary.

Ciao for now!

Is it a righteous 300B???

A year ago, or so, I purchased a pair of Sophia Electric mono block 300B amps.  These replaced a Pass Labs XA *.5 product.  These were my first foray into tubed amps.

So are they righteous sounding?  Stay tuned, as I will be working to review them during the next month, or so.

A rumble in the jungle

An Orangutan


Manufacturer:               Devore Fidelity

Ownership interest:        I own these.

Time spent with:           I’ve had these speakers now for 2+ months.

System (as tested):        Leben RS100u (pre-amp) | Sophia Electric 300B (amp) | Leben RS-30eq (phono stage) | Auditorium SUT (Denon compatible style) | Rega P9 (turntable) | Koetsu Urishi Vermillion (cartridge) | Oppo BDP-95 | Auditorium A23 and Shindo (interconnects).

Dealer:                       Matthew Rotunda at Pitch Perfect Audio.

Prior similar products:     Meadowlark Audio’s Kestrel Hot Rods; Zu Audio’s essence

Why review:                    I thought it appropriate to provide this review because there is simply too little info out there on this fabulous speaker!

Short version:                 If you can afford these speakers you owe it to yourself to track them down and listen to them.


Summary

I absolutely love these speakers. I can’t speak highly enough about them! My only caveat to recommending them is that I’ve only heard a handful of speakers in my life in an active listening context. Similarly, I’ve only tried 3 other speaker types in my home. Therefore, while I’m certainly ecstatic about these speakers, I believe it only fair to put my view in context. Still, I think they sound awesome! And if that opinion isn’t satisfactory, I should share that a good friend, who is a musician and masters music, came over to hear them with his Shindo gear and loved them so much that he ordered a pair!

Visuals

Up close

I find the Orangutans visually stunning. They’re even more incredible to look at in person. The lace walnut used as the veneer fronting is simultaneously
interesting and subtle enough to disappear in our room décor. This was important to me as I very much wanted to increase the W.A.F. (Wife Acceptance Factor). My last speakers, the Zu Essence, stood in our room like monoliths from Space Odyssey. To say they didn’t score high on the W.A.F. would be an understatement.

DeVore does a nice job finishing the speakers. Their polish is solid and enhances the visual cues in the wood. Given my love of tubes, I actually think they fit nicely in the retro vibe I most dig! Not ornate, nor modern. Ultimately, I found their style simple and elegant.

Shipping & unpacking

I ordered the speakers at the end of October. They shipped right after Thanksgiving, and arrived the first week of December. They were shipped in 3 boxes. Each speaker was packaged in a plywood crate, and the speaker stands were shipped in a cardboard box. Opening the crates was a little more involved than a simple box cutter or tie snap. There were easily 12-18 screws in each crate that had to be unscrewed. So if you order these get your drill charged.

Interestingly, in the speaker stand box were 2 strips of putty. This is conveniently cut into 4 evenly sized squares. I’m told that the putty acts as a bond between the stand and the speaker. It is rolled up and placed on the corners of the stands.

The speakers are easy to move around and use some simple wood guides on the underside to properly sit in the stands. Having a second person to help place them on the stands is a bonus!

Connections

The binding posts are located on the underside and accept both spade and banana. Candidly, while I have speaker cables terminated with banana posts, I would actually prefer spades for these speakers, given the positioning of the posts. It has been a frustration for me to have the cables sometimes knocked out when we sweep around the speaker. It’s a minor nuisance, but one that is easily resolved with a spade termination, instead of a banana.

Positioning

The O96s have been a little trickier to position than my prior speakers. I suspect it has to do with their dual port design on the back. This has, IMHO, resulted in greater interaction with the walls than my last speakers, the Zu Essence, which ported to the floor. As a result, I’ve had more fun trying different positions. And, depending on the source material, I’ve found myself favoring about 3 or 4 different locations. I’ve since marked these with some painter’s tape, and continue to experiment with where I like them best. However, I recently traded in my Leben equipment for a new Shindo Pre-amp (Vosne Romanee), and as a result, further “testing” is now on hold.

Position me carefully, I have opinions

That said, I have these speakers placed on the short wall of a large rectangular room (estimated at 18’ x 42’). The listening area is in the first 30-40% of the room. I like this arrangement as I find that the longer room configuration helps mitigate any noticeable distortion from bounce off the rear wall. So using a combination of DeVore’s instructions included in the speaker manual on speaker placement and positioning with Jim Smith’s How to Get Better Sound advice, I’ve worked on a balanced triangle layout.

The result is that in my room, with my “air,” and a slightly vaulted ceiling, I find that the O96s like to sit further off the wall and away from the corners than other speakers that I’ve had in my house. And while I am still tweaking where these will ultimately be positioned, I can say that they appear to be most satisfied at about 4’ from the back wall and roughly 6’ diagonally from the corners. Also, my listening area is roughly 10 feet from the center point between the speakers. However, this may all change once I get the Shindo pre-amp in the mix next month.

The initial siren call

These speakers sounded great right out of the box. It was surreal just how beautiful they sounded! These speakers easily bested my prior ones (Zu Essence), and immediately called me into a new musical experience!

For convenience, the first thing I cued up was Chris Botti’s concert in Boston Blu-ray. This disc really provides an incredible variety of musical styles to challenge any speaker. It is also one of the few source materials that I have that I listened to with any regularity in every system I’ve owned during the past 3 years of major systems overhaulin’. So it works as a great reference point for me, as it has been a part of my journey from Class D => Class A/B (SS) => Class A (SS) => Class A (Tube – 300B SET).

The first thing I noticed listening to this concert on these speakers was how everything perceptually sounded an octave lower. It was what I would call darker, and that is how I would define that term. There were no shrilly high’s nor was there any edginess. It was simply natural sounding, comfortable, and engaging.

As I sat there digesting it all I was really caught off guard by the layers of detail that I had not heard before. It was stunningly beautiful, and while I enjoyed the music, I must confess I became fascinated by the new sounds. I was so interested by this that I took some time to repeatedly listen to a few of my favorite tracks in order to fully digest what was suddenly there.

I’m not talking about soundstage, depth of the music, or the seat in the hall here. Rather, I’m referring to new details that were not previously revealed in any of my prior speakers. I’m also referring to the way each instrument came to life. But then it was all in the way this all came together. What was previously a blurred 2 dimensional image now was a tack sharp, 3 dimensional, auditory ear-blowing experience where the music enveloped me.

Break-in…

While these speakers sounded amazing right out of the crate, I actually believe they’ve gotten better over time.  So whether there is truth to speaker break-in or not; or if this is all a simple mind game, I believe there was an improvement over the past 7 weeks!

A growing affair

I’ve enjoyed these Orangutans since I first plugged them into my 300B amps on December 2, 2012.  That enjoyment has only grown since.  I’ve tossed a lot at these monkeys.  As noted above, I started with Chris Botti, and after that moved into my vinyl collection and have listened to a wide variety of artist, including:

·      Sinatra (old school, grey label mono-capitol lp’s),
·      Nina Simone,
·      Various Pablo records – Dizzie, Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass
·      Ella Fitzgerald,
·      Louis Armstrong,
·      Nat King Cole,
·      Marvin Gaye,
·      Led Zep,
·      Neil Young,
·      Chopin;
·      Bach’s cello concertos’ by Janos Starker,
·      the Beatles (blue box),
·      Norah Jones,
·      Ray Lamontagne,
·      Jeff Buckley, and
·      Many others!

For me, each album becomes a new experience.  It’s like seeing an old friend in person, as opposed to using Skype.

As part of that journey, I invited a good friend over one evening to run the primates through a few albums and to also enjoy a nice bottle of wine (Saxum 2007 James Berry).  On this occasion, we spun several albums, including the Beatles’ Revolver.  Revolver has always been one of my favorite albums.  But, candidly, I’ve never been moved by the version I have (Blue Box edition).  As far as I can tell, the 2 boxes that I have are not tube cut.  And I’ve often thought they sounded flat and light on the bottom end.  But they were better than the recent CD’s that were issued, and so I have lived with it until I felt I wanted to track down a proper pressing of the few Beatles albums that I would be willing to shell out serious cash for.

But that plan has since changed.  When we cued Revolver up for the first time with the O96’s as the conduit to our ears we were both immediately blown away by the sound quality.  This album finally had dimensional depth – from one end of the auditory spectrum to the other.  There was bass, and lots of it.  In fact, what was amazing to me was just how many layers there were in the bass.  This, btw, is a recurring observation no matter what I listen to with the O’s.  And it wasn’t (nor isn’t) the classic boom and thud, like I might expect at a movie theater, but I finally heard Paul and or George really jamin’ on the bass guitar on various tracks.  In fact, there was a type of reverb present on one song that my friend, who also happens to have played bass and masters music as a hobby, pointed out that bassists often strive to achieve.  Neither he nor I had ever heard it before in that or any LP.  In some ways, it was at that moment that I began to understand just how much lower-end detail had been missing in my prior encounters with the playback of this (and every other) album.  It was freaky cool!

After Revolver we moved on to Jeff Buckley’s Grace.  More specifically, we focused in on Lilac Wine.  It’s an incredible song with great, moving solitary moments, as well as some nice upswings.  This, too, was an incredible experience.  The O’s ability to go from a dead stop to Buckley’s vocals was eerily real and live-like.  And the way the strings or cymbals decayed was not only effortless, but seemingly endless.  The pitch and tone of the music was spot on, and powerfully moving.  Once again, bass notes were detailed and clear.  I enjoyed it so much that I now have added this song to a list of songs that I use to demonstrate the speaker’s prowess.  It really was moving!

On that night and since, I’ve listened to many others, but 2 artists’ work really needs to be discussed.  They are Steve Hoffman’s remastered LP’s of Nat King Cole and Janos Starker’s 6 cello suites of Bach.

For me, both sounded great with my last speakers, and I suspect they’d sound great on most every system.  These LP’s are some of my favorite reference LP’s, and I routinely use them to when I want to show off what good sound can be like.  But, candidly, they never rose to the point where I felt like if I closed my eyes I could truly be transported to the moment and enjoy it live with my prior speakers.  But HG Wells Time Machine has come to life for me with the Orangutans!

Now listening to Nat is way too spooky real!  You hear his voice in a way where you can easily visualize how he moved around the mic during the recording.  You hear the elements of the orchestra individually, but seamlessly unified.  His voice and that orchestra fill my listening room like nothing else has or does.  It really is freaky just how the subtleties come alive and are there for your enjoyment.  Candidly, I’ve been toying with ordering the SACD’s, not because they will sound better, but I simply don’t want to be interrupted while Nat is there, in the room signing.  I want to stay lost in that moment as long as I can!

But as amazing as Nat has sounded, the Speaker’s Corner reissue of Janos Starker’s rendition of the 6 solo cello suits of Bach (3LP’s) on the Orangutans is the most real-like recorded music I’ve heard yet!  If you’re not familiar with it or Starker, then you need to get a copy!  These suites were recorded from 1963 to 1965, and feature Starker within nothing else but his cello.  These recordings have always sounded amazing to me, but through the Orangutans the room came alive.  You could hear the air and the interaction of the cello with its surroundings.  Every subtle detail was present, but not in the audiophile obsessive context.  It was as though you sat a few feet from him and heard everything.  You heard his hands moving on the strings and the fingerboard.  And the decay of that sound came out in such a way that causes me to get goose-bumps.  I really do love these Starker recordings, and the way they transport me into the room with Starker 45 years ago!

So what’s it like living with some monkeys!

I had a great holiday this past year, and this was due, in part, to my monkeys moving in.  I really can’t imagine or fathom what else might be out there, or how DeVore may take the O96’s to another level, as this speaker is supposed to be in the middle of a 3 Orangutan lineup.  I realize it’s likely possible, but for me, making this move has proved incredibly pleasing, and really brought me to a point where I’m getting lost in my music more and more!

What really blows me away is the way these speakers produce sound with such cohesive separation.  For me, this means that every instrument is there, every note comes out and is alive, and every subtle undulation of one’s voice is shared, but not in a distracting way.  Rather, it is all as it should be – working together to produce music.  But there are layers and layers that are now being reproduced so that I can enjoy.  It is the type of music I find myself getting lost in and that allows me to go on a journey with whoever is playing.

I can offer no better recommendation than what I have laid out here, except to say I plan to enjoy these little primates for a long, long time!

So what was the most wonderful development?

One slightly unexpected benefit to having acquired these O’s is that they have allowed me to enjoy the differences in equipment in a more meaningful way. It was shocking how much more the speakers brought-out in equipment changes. Really good equipment really sounded good, as opposed to nicer! It has been fun and opened my experience in a way that improving the components in the system has finally yielded the hoped for improvements.

For me that is cool!

But can you drive them????

As far as I can tell, this is one easy speaker to drive. I previously had a similar efficiency speaker (Zu Essence – 97db). So comparing the 2 in this regard is quite easy.

One thing I noticed about the Zu’s over time that is not an issue for me with the Os is that while the Zu’s were efficient, they really didn’t open up into their full glory until you cranked them up to about 12 Noon on my Leben pre-amp in order to get them to open. This was true with with my current 300B (~8-9w) and a prior SS Pass Labs XA amp. The Zu’s just needed more before they opened. That’s not to say that they sounded awful. But it was clear that they didn’t sing until noon. And, FWIW, I kept these speakers for 2 years.

In the case of the Os, however, I quickly found that they are more easily driven, and not at all yearning for more power in order to hear them sing! In fact, the Os immediately feel open. This, in turn, has allowed me to more routinely listen and enjoy the full experience of any record I’ve tossed on my table yet at levels in the 8-10 o’clock ranges.

So I will conclude, perhaps unscientifically, that the Orangutans by DeVore are quite easily driven with my 300B monos.

PS – Rocking the theater

My arrangement does double duty as my audio and home theater system.  Suffice it to say, the Os really know how to rock it out with movies!  It’s

Who says an Orangutan can’t do movies…

really been fun enjoying movies in the same way that I’ve enjoyed each album in a new, more complete way.  Soundtracks decoded by my pre-pro have been nothing short of spectacular.  And like the music I described above, these speakers reveal elements in the soundtrack that were never known by me to exist before!