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Thread: My minimonitor/subwoofer system

  1. #1
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    My minimonitor/subwoofer system

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    Whole system

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    Electronics

    _______

    Room dimensions are 24 x 12 (small bay window next to the left speaker 13.5) x 8.5.

    Older components, more than 20 years old, with exception of the subwoofer (15 years old):

    1. Ensemble Reference mini monitors, internally modified with large crossover caps and better cabling.
    2. Single REL Storm III subwoofer
    3. Audio Innovations Second Audio parallel push-pull triode 2A3 amps (2 x 15 W), heavily modified to great effect over the years by a specialist in Connecticut (Steve Marsh, reviewer at 6moons).
    4. Cables: Monster Sigma 2000 interconnects and speaker cables
    5. Power conditioning: Tice Power Block II and Tice power chords

    More recently purchased components:

    6. CD front end: Simaudio Moon 260 DT transport, MIT Proline digital interlink, Berkeley Alpha DAC 2
    7. BorderPatrol MB external power supplies for the amps
    8. Pangea AC-9 power chords for the power supplies
    9. Shunyata Dark Field v2 cable elevators
    10. Room treatment: 6 tube traps, 11 Tri-panels, sub trap, window plug (ASC)

    ***

    After having switched from a Stax headphone system, I have only ever owned one pair of audiophile speakers, my Ensemble Reference minimonitors. I have been attracted to them by their vividness of sound and lack of coloration, while providing great body in the low midrange (a feature also highlighted in the Stereophile review). After 24 years I still love them dearly; their internal cabling and the crossover caps were modified and they were augmented 15 years ago by a REL subwoofer which integrates seamlessly. Their resolution has effortlessly grown, beyond all expectations, with the resolution of my entire system. I guess they will be my last speakers as well, they can go easily another 24 years or more. Future upgrade plans for my system are Shunyata power conditioning (Triton v2, perhaps with Typhon), a better audio rack (HRS) and a Berkeley Reference DAC. The speakers are here to stay; I am confident that they will continue to reflect the future increases in resolution. They are also a match made in heaven with my triode monoblock amps (parallel push-pull) which I have had for 24 years as well -- these were heavily modified though over the years and a year ago supplemented with BorderPatrol external power supplies, a very substantial upgrade which not only made the amps play much more effortlessly but also produced a big leap forward in resolution (dramatic reduction of electronic noise). I have written a review of these power supplies on WBF.

    I had the mid-woofers of my speakers refoamed 10 years ago (while the tweeters were replaced as well), and will have that procedure repeated when necessary.

    In the past few years I have come to appreciate the importance of acoustic room treatment. A currently ongoing upgrade are ASC window plugs. You can see the first one installed in the back window, but eventually they will also cover all the windows next to my left speaker, as well as the cabinet with glass doors in the right hand corner behind the speakers (the window plugs also provide much-wanted noise insulation). All other room treatment is ASC as well.

    Music that I listen to:
    Classical, contemporary 'classical' avantgarde, jazz, rock. My top three composers of all time that I most admire: Bach, Beethoven, Stockhausen. But there are so many more whose music I love and listen to a lot.

    Peter A. has posted some impressions of my system last year on WBF:

    http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showth...Sound-of-Music

    In the meantime the system has undergone some minor changes that nonetheless had a substantial effect. These include changes in speaker positioning, switching the support of the speaker stands from the wobbly wood tiles to concrete ones (upon Peter's suggestion), installation of a wool carpet in the area of and behind the speakers instead of a carpet from synthetic fiber, and the addition of one ASC window plug.

    ___________________________


    EDIT 05-23-16:

    July 2015: Addition of ASC window plugs, see thread page 2

    April 2016: New speakers, Reference 3A MM de Capo BE monitors, see thread page 5 (forget what I said above regarding my Ensemble Reference speakers being 'here to stay' )

    May 2016:
    New equipment rack, Solidsteel HW-2L, see page 5
    Last edited by Al M.; 05-23-2016 at 03:26 PM. Reason: Update

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    Speaker with room treatment (Tri-panels over glass door at first reflection point were suggested by Peter A., remove 'ringing' at ca. 2 kHz); subwoofer on sub trap

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    Inside of one of the BorderPatrol external power supplies for my amps, with rectifier tube

  3. #3
    Addicted to Best! DaveyF's Avatar
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    I bet that sounds good.

  4. #4
    Addicted to Best! PeterA's Avatar
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    Al, I'm glad you posted a thread about your system. I just reread the comments I wrote after the first time I heard it, and will just add that it is a very impressive, effortless, and natural sound that you have. I look forward to hearing it again with the addition of your carpet and the window plug. The photos give a very nice representation of the system and room. Perhaps you could add one showing the listening area and back of the room for scale and listening seat perspective.

    I know fellow member MadFloyd also heard your system recently and really liked it. As the owner of an all-analog system, it pains me to admit how good your digital only system sounds. Very well done. Congratulations.
    My system link on WBF: http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showth...-Sublime-Sound
    Analog: SME 30/12, SME V-12, My Sonic Labs Signature Gold, AirTight Supreme, VDH Colibri Platinum, MINT LP protractor
    Electronics: Pass Labs XA160.5 amp, XP-20 preamp, XP-25 phono, Cables: Transparent REF XL MM2,
    Speakers: Magico Mini II, Essentials: Jim Smith RoomPlay, 3 Vibraplanes, Dedicated circuits

  5. #5
    Member Sponsor Addicted to Best! MadFloyd's Avatar
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    I heard Al's system for the first time a couple Saturday's ago. It made a huge impression on me.

    Al picked the music and set the volume for each track he played. I was introduced to the jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie - who is not your typical trumpeter and I loved the music as much as the sonics. Al's system transports me to the 'club', whether it be jazz or rock. How he gets the sound he does I do not know, but let me tell that it has holographic imaging to die for and an abundance of presence and dynamics. It has FAST bass, with no overhang and transients that floored me. I was mesmerized by the drums on the jazz tracks. Not only could I pinpoint the exact location of every drum, but the cymbals and high-hats had such a meaty sound with accurate timbre.

    Al's soundstage is high as it is wide and vocalists appeared at the right height. At one point he played Green Day and there was such a wall-of-sound that belied the size of his speakers (which only have 4" midrange drivers!). I don't know when I've last heard a sub mated so well with monitors - it was tight articulate, linear and punchy. I think Al was amused because I kept shaking my head and smiling - his system & room does so much right that it was very inspiring. I can see why Al has no intention of changing his speakers.

    If you ever get an invitation to hear his system, accept it!
    Speakers: Magico M-Project w/MPods Amplification: CAT JL7s, CAT Legend, CH Precision P1
    Analog: Kronos Pro Limited Edition / SCPS-1 / Black Beauty tonearm / Zyx Universe Premium, Ortofon A95
    Digital: Roon / dCS Vivaldi DAC/Upsampler
    Cables/Power: Kubala Sosna cables / Shunyata Denali 6000T, Sigma Zitron PC's / Furutech outlets
    Misc: Steve Blinn Designs rack & amp stands

  6. #6
    Addicted to Best! PeterA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MadFloyd View Post
    I heard Al's system for the first time a couple Saturday's ago. It made a huge impression on me.

    Al picked the music and set the volume for each track he played. I was introduced to the jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie - who is not your typical trumpeter and I loved the music as much as the sonics. Al's system transports me to the 'club', whether it be jazz or rock. How he gets the sound he does I do not know, but let me tell that it has holographic imaging to die for and an abundance of presence and dynamics. It has FAST bass, with no overhang and transients that floored me. I was mesmerized by the drums on the jazz tracks. Not only could I pinpoint the exact location of every drum, but the cymbals and high-hats had such a meaty sound with accurate timbre.

    Al's soundstage is high as it is wide and vocalists appeared at the right height. At one point he played Green Day and there was such a wall-of-sound that belied the size of his speakers (which only have 4" midrange drivers!). I don't know when I've last heard a sub mated so well with monitors - it was tight articulate, linear and punchy. I think Al was amused because I kept shaking my head and smiling - his system & room does so much right that it was very inspiring. I can see why Al has no intention of changing his speakers.

    If you ever get an invitation to hear his system, accept it!
    Ian, you touch on the subject that actually prompted me to reach out and contact Al. Namely, the portrayal of scale. He kindly invited me over to hear his system and he heard mine. Al and I seem in agreement about the subject of some large speaker systems having difficulty presenting smaller music at the appropriate scale with palpable presence and in a convincing manner. I started a thread on this subject and described Al's system.

    http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showth...Sound-of-Music

    One of his system's real strengths is its ability to play both large and small scale content convincingly. And I agree with you that his system has an abundance of presence and dynamics.

    Al and I have listened together to two live performances in small, intimate settings. A photo of one is below. I think these experiences help to inform him about the way actual music sounds and he adjusts his system accordingly. He has a very good ear.

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    My system link on WBF: http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showth...-Sublime-Sound
    Analog: SME 30/12, SME V-12, My Sonic Labs Signature Gold, AirTight Supreme, VDH Colibri Platinum, MINT LP protractor
    Electronics: Pass Labs XA160.5 amp, XP-20 preamp, XP-25 phono, Cables: Transparent REF XL MM2,
    Speakers: Magico Mini II, Essentials: Jim Smith RoomPlay, 3 Vibraplanes, Dedicated circuits

  7. #7
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    Thanks, Peter and Ian, for your impressions and I am glad you both enjoy my system so much!

    Ian, I thought you'd like the bass performance, and you also affirmed that you did not hear any lack of mid-bass power, a point of concern to many when it comes to minimonitor-based systems. The passive radiator at the back of the speakers plays a good part in the mid-bass performance of my system in spite of the small mid-woofer (I'll post pictures hopefully tomorrow, together with the listening area and back of the room that Peter suggested).

    As for the holographic imaging, this came fully to fruition only after the acquisition of the external power supplies for the amps that removed a lot of electronic noise from the amps' output to the speakers (previously, the internal power supplies apparently had generated some noise that degraded the audio signal). Apart from that, great tube amps are known for holographic imaging, and this characteristic in the speakers themselves is also highlighted in the Stereophile review. Also, the speaker positioning is crucial, and in that respect I learned a thing or two from Peter (thanks!). Of course, the holographic imaging would not be possible without an adequate source, and the Berkeley DAC is quite famed for its spatial presentation (and isn't it amazing how far the CD medium has come over the decades?).

    Dynamics have always been a strong point of my system and have been a main reason why I have been attracted to this amp/speaker combination. Yet the dynamic effortlessness has taken a large step forward with the addition of the external power supplies for the amps. The rock-solid supply of high-voltage DC, undisturbed by the power demands of the music, makes the tubes always operate under the conditions they were intended to. This also helps the bass and the high-frequency output (Ian, you mentioned the realistic portrayal of cymbals and hi-hats on the jazz recordings).

    I am aware that my system is not the last word in terms of resolution, and certainly also not my speakers. For that you would have to go to SOTA speakers like your M-Projects, Ian, or others of similar performance. Yet I do not think that at this point either the speakers or the amps are the main bottleneck for resolution of my system, but rather the source. I know that the CD medium itself may be limited as well, but in some future I intend to get the best out of it with a Berkeley Reference DAC, which appears to be SOTA for CD playback or at least close to it. Since in my experience digital is very sensitive to power conditioning, the DAC would have to be fed with the cleanest possible power; while my Tice is very good (and 25 years ago it was the best you could buy), I think that a Shunyata unit (Triton v2, perhaps with Typhon) should certainly be a step above it. Having said all that, I am amazed by the resolution that I currently have, and I hadn't even thought that it was possible from the CD medium. Yet listening to your great system with its fantastic turntable, Peter, has raised my interest in more resolution, for sure.

    In terms of portrayal of scale, I largely agree with you, Peter. Yet while my system can portray smaller scale convincingly and can produce a surprisingly large soundstage as well, as also Ian mentioned, it is obviously no match for large speakers when it comes to the portrayal of the scale of full orchestra. Also when it comes to the sheer energy of sound in some circumstances, a system like mine has its limitations. Yes, my system can sound powerful (Green Day on my system is no slouch), and I was quite surprised that my system could rather convincingly replicate the great immediacy and impact of musical energy, as well as the scale, of an ensemble of about 20 players listened to from row 3 or 4 in the mid-sized Payne Hall in Cambridge, MA (at an avantgarde concert by the ensemble Sound Icon). Yet full orchestra in a large hall close-up is a different story. Interesting in that context also that you mentioned (with photo), Peter, the concert in the small 'living room' setting that we both attended. The incredible energy of sound from just these two instruments, cello and piano, under these circumstances was astounding, and my system simply cannot reproduce it. Yet you said that Ian's M-Project speakers can, and I really look forward to hearing your system, Ian, in about two weeks!

    Even with all that, I feel comfortable with the compromises that I have consciously made with my system from the start. Yet at the beginning I could not remotely have imagined what I would be able to get out of it so far. Let the journey continue.

  8. #8
    Addicted to Best! DaveyF's Avatar
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    I am beginning to believe that the issue of 'scale' is one of the things that delineates the good systems from the great systems. IME, it seems to take large floor standers located in a BIG room to portray somewhat realistic 'scale'. However, even IF the speaker is large and the room is too, then all might not be right IF there are any mismatches upstream.
    OTOH, a system that can do 'scale' and yet cannot portray intimacy is also lacking...and as a lot of us know, the portrayal of intimacy in a BIG room and with BIG speakers is no easy task. Hmmm, lots of issues here....which is why this hobby has so many facets to consider and overcome.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveyF View Post
    Hmmm, lots of issues here....which is why this hobby has so many facets to consider and overcome.
    And that is why this hobby is so personal, with very individual system preferences.

    ***

    (I'll try to upload the pictures that I promised soon. I brought the wrong cable for my camera to my work place today, and I can only upload from there due to PC/Apple compatibility issues.)

  10. #10
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    When it comes to holographic imaging, I failed to mention the important contribution of the ASC acoustic room treatment.

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