My minimonitor/subwoofer system

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#1
P1010118 cr.jpg

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/showthread.php?15892-Our-Systems-Scale-and-the-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


New addition November 2016:
Acoustic panel on front wall, see thread page 9

EDIT 12-22-17

New additions/changes to my system between February and October 2017 (see thread page 10 onward):

1. ZenWave Audio D4 interconnect, see:

http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showthread.php?22942-ZenWave-Audio-D4-Interconnect

2. Solidsteel HF-A amp stands:

http://solidsteel.it/my-product/hf-a/

3. Pass B1 passive preamp; my review at WBF:
Review: Pass B1 Buffered Preamplifier

4. Schiit Yggdrasil DAC, replacing a Berkeley Alpha 2 DAC, see:
Comparison: Schiit Yggdrasil DAC vs. Berkeley Alpha DAC 2

5. ZenWave Audio SMSG speaker cables

6. ZenWave Audio SMSG speaker jumpers

7. TrippLite 1000 HG isolation transformer
(bought at Jet.com)

Used as power conditioner for both Yggdrasil DAC and Simaudio Moon CD transport (digital front end). It is 'medical grade' rather than being an "audiophile" power conditioner, with the advantage of probably achieving the same for much less money. Removes EMI/RFI noise, utility switching transients, load-generated harmonics and ground loops (see link).

8.Herbie's Tenderfoot component isolation feet, for both Yggdrasil DAC and Simaudio Moon CD transport for both Yggdrasil DAC and Simaudio Moon CD transport
 
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Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
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Greater Boston
#2
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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
 

PeterA

Active Member
Dec 7, 2011
4,881
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North Shore of Boston
#4
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.
 

MadFloyd

Member Sponsor
May 31, 2010
2,391
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#5
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!
 

PeterA

Active Member
Dec 7, 2011
4,881
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North Shore of Boston
#6
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/showthread.php?15892-Our-Systems-Scale-and-the-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.

photo 3.JPG
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#7
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.
 

DaveyF

Active Member
Aug 1, 2010
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La Jolla, Calif USA
#8
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.
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#9
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.)
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
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Greater Boston
#11
Stereo_0415_1.jpg

Speaker with grille removed; rear of speaker with KEF passive radiator that boosts (mid-)bass performance


Stereo_0415_2.jpg

Left picture:
Impression of distance from listening seat (in bottom right hand corner of picture) to speaker; the camera skews the perspective to the speaker, but you get an idea from looking at the wood floor and the short distance from edge of carpet to speaker that the distance to the speaker is quite short. In fact, the listener's ears are located just ca. 8 feet from the mid point on the line between the speakers, and ca. 9 feet from each speaker.

Right picture:
Back of listening room, with listening seat in front; behind the seat is a table and behind that a couch. The distance from listening seat to back wall is about 2/5 of the length of the listening room, the distance from listening seat to front wall (behind speakers) is about 3/5 of the length of the room.
 
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Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#12
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System with new window plugs; overview.


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Window bay left side.



Glass door cabinet jpeg.jpg

Glass door cabinet in rear right hand corner.


***

Recently I got all of the window plugs that I ordered from Acoustic Sciences Corp. (ASC), after I had already installed one in the back window (see my opening post).

I bought the window plugs for two reasons:

a) soundproofing
b) acoustic improvement (discussed below)

The plugs are worthwhile just for the improvement of room acoustics, even if you don't need the soundproofing.

There is a felt gasket all around the plug. You push the plug into the window frame, and the felt holds it in place. You need to pull quite a bit to get the plug out again, so there is no chance that it can fall out on its own. While the window plugs are removable at will -- you can insert them just for listening -- for myself I decided to keep them in place all the time.

Here is the window plug flyer of ASC:

http://www.asc-soundproof.com/windowplug-flyer.pdf
 
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Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#13
The window plugs provide very efficient soundproofing; I do not have to worry about disturbing neighbors (my house is quite close to other ones) and I can blast music at full volume until late at night.

But quite apart from that, the ASC window plug project has been a complete success in terms of improving my room acoustics. Here are a few observations about the sound:

1. I had an acoustic problem with recessed imaging. While there were recordings that sounded very upfront, many recordings, especially of orchestral music, sounded too recessed. This problem, apparently due to too lively acoustics in the space behind the speakers, is gone. The bulk of imaging has moved more upfront, while I still have tremendous depth on recordings that demand it; the absolute depth of soundstage, which is very pronounced, did not diminish. I now seem to have a much better balance in imaging. In addition, the problem of subjective loss of acoustic energy is gone as well. Previously, on some recessed-sounding orchestral recordings the SPL meter was showing high readings on climaxes, while the music just did not seem that loud. Now the music actually sounds loud when it is loud.

2. The palpability of 3-D soundstaging has taken a big leap forward. While others previously had already praised the presence of sound from my system and the feeling that they were 'in the club', the quality of almost being able to 'reach out and touch' the performers and the impression of being 'in the venue' is uncanny on many recordings now that all the window plugs are in place. Within the same level of overall depth, the spatial layering of instruments is more differentiated. Low-level spatial clues are more clearly delivered. For example, in one orchestral recording I can hear the reflections ('echo') of isolated beats of the bass drum, which is on one side of the stage, on the opposite side of the hall. Those are not simply resonances of my room, it is clearly the reproduction of acoustics of a large concert hall.

3. Previously the mid-bass was good, and I certainly didn't miss anything. There were hardly any complaints from others who listened to my system either. Yet with the window plugs in place the mid-bass is considerably stronger than before; my mini-monitor/subwoofer system now produces mid-bass quite well in line with what I heard from a pair of large floorstanders lately. I noticed a significant improvement already upon insertion of the plug into the rear wall window (my mini-monitors have a back-firing passive radiator), but the cumulative effect of all the plugs is much stronger still. The bass overall is more defined; on some rock recordings, where bass guitar and drums had been somewhat blurring into one another (a vexing example was 'In the Light' by Led Zeppelin), these instruments are now clearly distinguishable entities. The authority of sound has taken a good step forward.

4. Timbral micro-resolution is considerably better; a prominent example where this is easily audible is solo violin with the vibrations of its strings. I had been very satisfied with my DAC overall, but I always found a shortcoming that I could not hear anything near the beautiful micro-resolution of solo violin timbre that I heard from the best analog sources in other systems. This frustration was perhaps the main reason that I wanted to upgrade to a Berkeley Reference DAC someday, while right now I simply cannot afford it. I listen to a lot of string quartets, and I just wanted them more realistic and timbrally alive (viola and cello fared much better, but their sonic vibrations are easier to reproduce than that of a violin). Yet now, while reproduction of solo violin may still not be quite on the level of the best analog I have heard, my CD-based system has narrowed the gap very significantly -- it was simply a matter of acoustics. String quartets are a sonic joy, as is music for solo violin and orchestra, or solo violin and piano.

How did resolution increase? ASC states in its window plug flyer that window resonances cause sonic blur and sound masking (and I do have a lot of windows). The removal of these artifacts apparently results in the increased timbral resolution that I am hearing. Few concert venues feature windows, for apparently obvious acoustic reasons, next to matters of ambiance and avoidance of visual distraction.

In any case, I am thrilled by the increased timbral resolution, and my itch for a better DAC is really gone for now, even though of course I know that it would improve things even further (I'd still like better saxophone sound, but that has less priority for me). It is amazing what kind of resolution I can get with my humble standard Berkeley Alpha DAC 2, which is not even in the range of what would be considered state-of-the-art nowadays. I continue to be impressed with the resolution of standard 16/44 Redbook CD which keeps exceeding my expectations even on my current DAC with every system/room improvement. Now I really have fallen in love with my terrific DAC all over again.

The increased timbral resolution also results in a greater distinction of individual timbres of instruments that play together with others in unison or in close polyphony. This adds perceived richness and nuance to orchestral sound.

***

I have learned to trust ASC with all my acoustic upgrades which started with tube traps and sound panels three years ago. They are an amazing company. They were pioneers and are still on the cutting edge. Who else, for example, provides window plugs that don't just yield sound proofing but are a substantial acoustic upgrade? The people at ASC are also incredibly pleasant to work with.

Over the last three years my upgrades have been about half each acoustic and electronic upgrades. I can confidently say that the acoustic upgrades have been at a minimum as important as the electronic ones, if not more so.
 
#14
Al,

I removed the installation handles on my ASC Window Plugs and I think they look much better. The holes where not very big and can only be seen up close.

Scott
 

MadFloyd

Member Sponsor
May 31, 2010
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#15
Can the panels be painted to match the wall color?
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
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38
Greater Boston
#16
Scott,

great to hear from another owner of these window plugs! Yes, the holes should be really small, but I actually like the look of the handles.

Ian,

upon request ASC will send you, as a free loaner, a booklet with actual samples (not just pictures) of fabric for the panels in all the rather wide variety of color that it comes in. I would imagine you could quite closely match the color of the fabric to that of your wall.
 

MadFloyd

Member Sponsor
May 31, 2010
2,391
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Mass
#17
Ian,

upon request ASC will send you, as a free loaner, a booklet with actual samples (not just pictures) of fabric for the panels in all the rather wide variety of color that it comes in. I would imagine you could quite closely match the color of the fabric to that of your wall.
Oh, it's fabric... of course that makes sense. Thanks, Al.
 
May 30, 2010
13,968
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Portugal
#19
Oh, it's fabric... of course that makes sense. Thanks, Al.
Ian,

As far as I remember the ASC Window Plugs outer surface is MDF and the fabric is mainly decorative - probably it can be removed and then the MDF could be painted. It is mainly a sound insulation device, that can also play as a high mass plate bass absorber.
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
3,889
14
38
Greater Boston
#20
Ian,

As far as I remember the ASC Window Plugs outer surface is MDF and the fabric is mainly decorative - probably it can be removed and then the MDF could be painted. It is mainly a sound insulation device, that can also play as a high mass plate bass absorber.
Probably you could also order it as just plain MDF surface to be painted, it's all custom product anyway. I do think the fabric may add a bit of diffusive properties though.
 

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