In search of my last great loudspeaker

marty

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Apr 20, 2010
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Wow Lloyd, I’m impressed that you would dig to find this. The best excuse I can muster for not providing any updates comes from a line a read recently in another magazine where one of their writers said that “his system is almost right. Almost”! That’s sort of where I’m at the moment having changed a few things that makes me inclined to say I haven’t fully wrapped my arms around them yet. But I’ll try and comply with some musings nonetheless.

Starting with some smaller incidentals, I’ve spent a good deal of time studying variants of electrical AC outlets and power cords, some of which I reported previously. But due to several recent system changes, I revisited some AC power cords. Initially I thought the Furutech DPS4 w all copper F11 connectors was excellent but after a month, the sound started to grate on me. It may be that their contacts required frequent cleaning as some have suggested, so I’m still playing around with their terminations in various metals. For the time being, I’m shocked to learn that the best AC cables I’ve come across on my line level gear are from the Great Karmeli. While David’s knowledge of things audio is certainly impressive, he may have pulled off one of his greatest feats by discovering the Ching Cheng power cords which cost, well, let’s just say you’ll probably spend more at McDonald’s. Seriously. According to David, this find was no accident as he has explored countless cords (as have many of us) before finding this one. But finding one that is unassailably uncolored and harmonically natural as this was really pulling a rabbit out of his ass. I’m sure there’s a story there if he wishes to tell it. For now, they are my defacto standard simply because they are so musically correct. One caveat is that I’m not sure they are good for amps that move a lot of current. I know they work well on David’s beloved Lamm ML3’s, but for monster monoblocs, I would probably look elsewhere. However, for my phono stage, preamp, transport and DAC, they’re pretty damn sweet. It’s not they are as good as cables that are more than 100x their cost…they’re better! Then again, I haven’t tried everything out there but honestly, I have bigger fish to fry so let’s move on.

Perhaps the biggest change in the system recently is the acquisition of new power amps. The Spectral 400 DMA are out. My intent was to replace them with the new DMA 500s but much to my surprise and disappointment, Goodwin’s refused to sell them to me unless I bought the commensurate DMC 30SV preamp. Don’t even get me started. My anger knows no bounds here but their policy, as poor as I think it is, was firm. Although I have great respect for Spectral, and in particular for their amps, I am just not enamored with an all Spectral battery tandem of preamp and amp. Too much solid state for me. I was just not willing to give up the VTL 7.5 III preamp to move to a combo that didn’t move me. So, with an open field in front of me, I sorted through the myriad options and budget constraints to see what might be possible. To be honest, my first choice would have been a used pair of CH M1’s. I’ve heard them on several occasions and still remember how impressed I was upon hearing them at Gianluigi’s system in Italy last year. But the odds of finding a used pair are lower than having both parties agree on an immigration bill, so, best to fuggetaboutit and move on.

I ended buying a pair of Soulution 511 monoblocs
https://soulution-audio.com/series5/soulution-511-stereo-amplifier/

I was unfamiliar with these until recently and like most audiophiles, was far more familiar with the their uber amps, the 701 monoblocs. The 511 is actually a newer amp design (about a year old) and hasn’t received much press, but in its Monobloc configuration puts out the same power as their big brother. (I think more than a megawatt per channel for my Wilson Alexandrias is adequate). These are the amps that Soulution was using at the Munich show this year.. The key is that they use the same power supply as the 701 and according to their web site are… “just a razor-thin fraction behind our reference designs of Series 7, this was the design goal we have set for the 511 stereo amplifier.” For a lot less than the 701s and fortunate to have acquired a pristine pair used, that works for me.

Although I think the Soulutions are astonishingly good, I really should take a moment to say that one of the biggest take ways for me is not how good they are, but how damn good the Spectral 400s are by comparison. The Spectral 400s do not do everything the Soulution 511’s do, but honestly, the 400’s do a few things the 511’s don’t do in return. The best assessment of the 511 can be gleaned from reading Valin’s review of the 701’s in TAS last year. There are plenty of reasons he called it the best solid state amp he has ever heard and now I understand why. But it was interesting that in comparing it to the CH M1’s he specifically mentioned that the Soulutions do not reproduce the sound stage with the precision of the M1’s. I found that remark very relevant in the context that I feel the same way about the Soulution 511 with respect to the Spectral 400s. The 400s do space and the sound stage as well as anything I’ve ever heard. No, with the 511’s you can’t tell if that fart you heard on a live recording is from the 4th violinist in the 1st violin section, or the 1st violin in the second violin section like you can with the 400’s. But what the Soulutions offer in return is exceptional tone color and instrument timbre, and musicality that is exceptional. Remember that the 701 as well as the subsequent 511s are a dramatic departure from the sound of the original 700s which were considered somewhat analytical by many. Not so at all in the 701/511, which use a new power supply in lieu of the traditional transformer based supply of the 700s. Although many of us have found Jon Valin’s reviews questionable in several instances, there is one thing I can’t deny which is that he is a gifted audio writer. He expresses himself and what he hears very well. So when he uses a term whereby he calls the Soulution amps “Sui generis” when it comes to bass performance, you can take that to the bank. I have yet to hear any amp that does bass like the Soulution 511 (I haven’t heard the 701). The often-used and abused term “has to be hard to be believed” comes to mind in this case. I’ve only had the amps about a month or so and am continuing to learn their strengths. But enjoying the music while doing so is pretty damn easy. They are superb instruments. Mated with the wonderful VTL 7.5 III, they make an enticing and highly musical pairing.

Because the bass performance of the 511s is truly exceptional, one might think it is easier to combine the Alexandrias with the JL Gotham subwoofers. In fact, paradoxically, its actually harder. I run the Wilsons full range, and the bottom end is certainly improved with the 511’s. So much so, that if they would only go down another 5 cycles or so, I would do away with the Gothams. But getting that last ounce of deep bass from the Gothams is not just hard, it’s essentially impossible without sacrificing something in return. I cross the Gothams over at 31 Hz using a 24 dB/octave slope. To make long story short I think it just may be unrealistic to think that one can combine a ported speaker with an acoustic suspension subwoofer and have the results be entirely coherent. Believe me, I’ve tried. Perhaps it’s my room or perhaps I just haven’t figured it out yet. Perhaps that the 511s are so good at the bottom that what the Wilsons output now is more precise and so I’m more sensitive to errors I’ve previously accepted sonically. But it’s a project that takes up way too much time and frankly is damn frustrating. I always have to remember “perfection is the enemy of good”!

Lastly, I should mention that I’ve incorporated some of the renown Masterbuilt cables into my system. My first foray was replacing my MIT 90.2 speaker wires with the Ultra speaker cables. That improvement was highly significant and beneficial (this was with my Spectral 400’s originally, now with the 511’s). There is no question they are truly superb. I then added an Ultra interconnect between the VTL preamp and the Spectral amps (now 511s of course) and also felt the improvement over my MIT MA-X 60 rev 2 was substantial. And no Dorothy, my Spectral amps did not blow up. (It’s hard to think they could since my tube preamp does not put out much above 100KHz which is far away from the megahertz frequencies that the Spectral pre-amp emits, hence the need for networked, filtered interconnects. But that’s another story I will not dwell on here.)

I’m currently exploring Ultra interconnects in lieu of my MIT SHDs for source components and can’t comment fully as break-in is not complete. But that’s the update for now. So is my system “almost right”? Well, if you believe that, I have good deal on the Brooklyn Bridge for you if you are interested.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
I think it just may be unrealistic to think that one can combine a ported speaker with an acoustic suspension subwoofer and have the results be entirely coherent. Believe me, I’ve tried.

after over 4 years of trying with my pair of Fathom F113's I came to the same conclusion and sold my subs and haven't looked back
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
Marty

with all of the exercises you and I did together on my system over those years in attempting to find that truly coherent integration between subs and speakers it became apparent to me that my system sounded better without the subs. I might miss those bottom few cycles but I am immensely happy that the subs are out of my system
 

andromedaaudio

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That so many expirienced audiophiles think so highly of jon valins opinions suprises me , but whatvever.
Surprising to me is that the solution gives the impression of more bass , the X 2 s arent a heavy load , may be the powersupply in the solution monos helps .
Monos usually have a bigger powersupply /wattage ratio .
Not many LS are full range despite the claims, i think you can count them all on 1 hand
 

marty

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Marty

with all of the exercises you and I did together on my system over those years in attempting to find that truly coherent integration between subs and speakers it became apparent to me that my system sounded better without the subs. I might miss those bottom few cycles but I am immensely happy that the subs are out of my system

Totally agree that in your system this is probably the most desired configuration, But with the room volume I have, and the the ability of the Gothams to breathe that is precluded by a smaller room, the trade-offs are not so easy to dismiss. I still think that the ideal speaker design is a single manufacturer who can integrate low frequency performance seamless to the rest of the frequency range. The exception is when you want to defer to a dsp-based approach but even then, although you can control frequency response a phase alignment, you often can't control things such as the radiation pattern of different drivers used by different manufacturers, or inherent driver efficiencies which can ruin the seamless integrity of dynamics if they are not aligned. Wish it were easy, but it ain't.
 
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marty

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That so many expirienced audiophiles think so highly of jon valins opinions suprises me , but whatvever.
Surprising to me is that the solution gives the impression of more bass , the X 2 s arent a heavy load , may be the powersupply in the solution monos helps .
Monos usually have a bigger powersupply /wattage ratio .
Not many LS are full range despite the claims, i think you can count them all on 1 hand

Yup, I concur about Valin. And it was so annoying to read of a new "greatest" every month for a very long time. Fortunately he has toned down his hyperbole and frequency. But as someone on the forum says (I forgot who), "even a blind squirrel gets the nut every once in a while". I found his review of the Soulution 701 learned and informative and his comparison to the CH1 descriptively insightful.
 

MadFloyd

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marty, very nice to read your update! Sounds like quite the adventure. I too would be angry with (what I assume is Spectral's policy, not Goodwins) that their amps need to be mated with their preamp. They certainly march to the beat of their own drummer and I guess with their loyal fan base they can continue to do that.

Soulutions with VTL are a very interesting combination; sometimes you never know what will work.

As for Valin, he is one of only a few reviewers who can describe how something actually sounds - he is gifted in that respect. And he constantly compares to other products so there one has a baseline. I don't care if he gets overly enthusiastic as long as he continues to articulate the sonics as well as he does. He's usually pretty spot on in my opinion.
 

Ron Resnick

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Marty, thank you very much for that interesting update!

It is interesting and encouraging to me that you find the VTL preamp to be kind of the “heart” of your system, and that you are finding the Masterbuilt Ultra interconnects to be a significant improvement.

PS: This is speculative, of course, and if I remember correctly you definitively do not like side-firing or rear-firing woofers (but no loudspeaker is perfect), but I suspect your bass response and speaker/subwoofer complexities would be solved by VSA Ultra 11 or used Rockport Arrakis speakers. Do people set up “Go Fund Me” pages for loudspeaker purchases?
 

marty

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...you definitively do not like side-firing or rear-firing woofers...
Do people set up “Go Fund Me” pages for loudspeaker purchases?

Regarding the first, its not that i dislike rear or side-firing woofers. Rather, I just don't understand how you can fire a rear woofer and have the wavefront arrive at the listener position that same time as the front firing driver that it needs to blend with. However, not understanding it doesn't mean I can't be swayed by listening. I haven't heard the VR 11's so I can't comment. But I heard the Arrakis at Andy Payor's in Maine and found some nebulousness to the imaging of low bass material which left me scratching my head. I know there are plenty of knowledgable audiophiles that think bass is "non-directional". Frankly, I think that's nonsense. Anyone who has been to a symphonic concert with good visualization of the stage knows this isn't the case. When you hear tympanis or low brass or a big bass drum, or an upright bass, you can point to exactly where those sounds come from. They are not "in the ether". They come from a specific locus. (Whether microphones can capture that in the recording process is another issue entirely.)

Re the second issue of public funding for loudspeaker purchase, now yer talkin'!
Man, I wish I knew how to get on that list!! Maybe you can convince Flemming to make that his retirement project? :)
 
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andromedaaudio

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One needs to see lighting to pinpoint the location of a thunderstorm , you cant tell from thunder ( low freq ) where the center of the storm is at .
Its not a black and white transition thing , but the higher the freq the more you can pinpoint the location .
I was afraid how it would work out in the beginning , but it can sound awesome , never intrusive/overloading just there when it needs to be there .
Front firing ones can sometimes sound more intrusive , I know a lot of factors come in to play but still


Plus do we yet totally understand why audiophile fuses , expensive cables and refrigiator size power supply units , plus multiple wooden boxes make a stereoset sound better , ... NO we don't lol
 
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microstrip

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Totally agree that in your system this is probably the most desired configuration, But with the room volume I have, and the the ability of the Gothams to breathe that is precluded by a smaller room, the trade-offs are not so easy to dismiss. I still think that the ideal speaker design is a single manufacturer who can integrate low frequency performance seamless to the rest of the frequency range. The exception is when you want to defer to a dsp-based approach but even then, although you can control frequency response a phase alignment, you often can't control things such as the radiation pattern of different drivers used by different manufacturers, or inherent driver efficiencies which can ruin the seamless integrity of dynamics if they are not aligned. Wish it were easy, but it ain't.

Nice to read about your latest adventures in audioland.

Unfortunately when I managed to integrate the JL113 mk2 with the XLF's , the XLFs were departing. But overall I found that the addition of the subs was quite positive - even more air and a larger soundstage, although with a very few recordings of simple percussive instruments the sound was less natural than without subs. My conclusion - XLF's would need the Thor's , probably the same for X2's ... :)
 

andromedaaudio

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Regarding subs. The thors hammer has also my blessing, since its passive, lol.
With only one caveat but a big one .
Thor s. Hammer has a specified efficiency of 89 db , so how Will that perfect ly match with a 95 db Alexandria ? Not optimal
It Will sound underwhelming still imo , IT Will match much better with a Maxx 3 /alexx
 

Mark Seaton

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Regarding subs. The thors hammer has also my blessing, since its passive, lol.
With only one caveat but a big one .
Thor s. Hammer has a specified efficiency of 89 db , so how Will that perfect ly match with a 95 db Alexandria ? Not optimal
It Will sound underwhelming still imo , IT Will match much better with a Maxx 3 /alexx

There has been this wonderful modern creation know as a line level volume adjustment for the amplifier powering it. It comes in many flavors these days. No need to make things so difficult. :rolleyes:
 

andromedaaudio

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Its not that easy , the Thor is meant to be driven by the same amps that drive the main speaker.
To get IT into a coherent system , you need your Line level adjustment/ potmeter. Between your amp and the main speakers , in other words you need to being the output down to the passive woofer output level
Im sure not even the most careless audiophile would even think about that
 

Leif S

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Its not that easy , the Thor is meant to be driven by the same amps that drive the main speaker.
To get IT into a coherent system , you need your Line level adjustment/ potmeter. Between your amp and the main speakers , in other words you need to being the output down to the passive woofer output level
Im sure not even the most careless audiophile would even think about that

Are you sure that the subs are supposed to be ran off the same amp as the mains???? I'm seeing an impedance nightmare lol

If the Subs are 4 ohm and the Wilson main speakers are notorious for dipping down close to 2 ohms, I'm seeing an impedance level here most amplifiers can't handle unless 1 ohm stable. I could be wrong but I thought you were supposed to have a separate amplifier just for the subs? Not to mention the HUGE efficiency difference between the subs vs Wilson's main towers. Wilson's website isn't clear on this or I just missed the information. I would love to hear more about how these subs are supposed to be integrated into the system though. I was told that you had to use processing on these and there is no internal crossover. I have no idea if that is accurate or not.

When I saw these at a show I thought I saw the subs had there own dedicated amp to power them and a processor/crossover.
 

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