One Amigo Visits Utah To Hear 5 Reference Turntables-My Step Beyond

One of the things I have always loved about this hobby is how it has always not only allowed me to meet wonderful people over the years who also share the same passion for this hobby. Being retired has also provided that extra time to allow me to travel to places I would normally never get to. Such was the case over these past 5 days when I traveled to Cedar City, Utah to visit WBF member ddk (David). Those of us here who have been following David's blog know that he has a museum of vintage equipment that no other mortal I have ever met possesses. I have followed David's blog here and found myself drawn both to not only seeing these turntables but also to hear the legendary Siemens Bionfor speakers he has. For this not aware of these behemoth speakers i can only say that not only are they a sight to behold but let me cut to the chase really quick here. Succinctly put this system transcended anything I have ever heretofore heard in over 50 years in this hobby. It was a sound so perfect that it almost impossible to put into words but hopefully I can capture in writing just what my aural perceptions were. The fact that David is also retired made things quite easy for us to do nothing except listen to music almost non stop---well I digress because for some brief interludes we also managed to buy excellent seats for the production of Amadeus one day and on the next we traveled out to Zion National Park as well as Bryce Canyon National Park for some almost unearthly sites of beauty.

David is a most gracious host and nothing went lacking or unwanted. The fun part to the trip was the getting there. I live in southern California and certainly one way to get there was to drive the almost8 hours and 400+ miles through the desert past Las Vegas, though the north west tip of Arizona and then on into Utah where Cedar City is perhaps 50 miles from the southern part of the state. This was certainly an option as another way was to fly out of Los Angeles through Salt Lake City and then take a puddle jumper south for the 275 mile flight to Cedar City which, with the stop over in Salt Lake City brought the travel to also 7-8 hours. David suggested another method which was the one upon which I decided. That was to fly out of John Wayne Airport here in Orange County to Las Vegas where there is a shuttle which will transport passengers from the airport to St George Utah where David would meet me and then drive me to his home another 45 miles further north.

Well the "die was cast" several weeks ago when my wife wanted to visit our daughter for a girls' few days together in Denver. She suggested I go to Cedar City. The game was on.

I got up early Thursday morning to catch my flight at 1050 AM and arrived in Las Vegas at 1145 and then had to wait almost 2 1/2 hours at McCarran Airport for the shuttle which I boarded at 2:30 for the 2 1/4 hour drive through the desert. Utah time is an hour ahead of California time which with the drive got me to St George at 5:30 where I met a bubbly and smiling David, anxious to get the festivities going. Over the next 40 minute drive to his house we got to know one another and there was an instant friendship and bond started between the two of us.

David lives in a magnificent huge home where TBH the entire lower level occupies the huge downstairs "great room" which is slightly irregularly shape from that of a rectangle but practically speaking measured about 22'W x almost 40'L with a tall 10 foot ceiling. But I digress. I was greeted at the door by David's beautiful wife and gorgeous 2 young daughters. Dinner was served and shortly afterwards the fun began.

David took me downstairs and gave me a synopsis of his room. Within the room and each on their own beautiful stands were those amazing turntables
The American Sound
EMT 927
Goldmund Reference
TechDas AF One
Micro Seiki SZ-1t, SX-8000II & SX-8000
EMT 927 (a second one on the floor from his own)
EMT 950
EMT 948

Each unit was eye candy to behold and virtually perfect and new in every respect. The only one I did not hear was the Goldmund Reference as the arm was not fully set up. Also the 2 Micro Seiki turntable were in a second sound room and these also did not get a turn as even 5 days of listening proved to be all too short

Let me cut to the chase hear for those that are interested, as I can say with great certainty which table, arm and cartridge won the show. Let me just say that it wasn't the Tech DasAF1. In fact it wasn't even close because IMO the American Sound TT blew everything out of the water. In fact it wasn't even close.

David has so many tone arms that I gave up counting. He uses only the SME 3012 for every one of his turntables even if they could accommodate four arms as The American Sound. The big variable were the cartridges he used. David I have discovered is a collector of all things related to analog reproduction and he had almost 50 different cartridges many of which were countless Ortofon iterations . The cartridge and arm however which when played with the table that was the most magical was the American Sound turntable with the SME 3012 loaded with a very old Neumann DST cartridge from the 60's or 70's. I was taken back by the beauty, fullness, richness of the sound which lacked nothing in detail. To my ears it was perfect. In fact after listening to all of David's tables I can honestly say that my least favorite (but that did not make the sound bad) was the Tech Das AF1 and David whole heartedly agreed.In fact I discovered that the Tech Das AF1 is art the bottom of David's list as a go to table. Having said that the Tech das was spectacular. It just did not convey to my ears what The American Sound did. All in all both of us agreed that this very old Neumann DST cartridge which probably sold 40 years ago for $60 now had a street value of close to $15K. It really was that good

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Many thanks for the great report. Would be interested to know what DAC David uses/finds 'enjoyable' given the level of vinyl replay systems he has?
Thank you Steve, my friend, I'm humbled and looking forward to our next get together :)! That CD is arriving this afternoon so you know what we'll be doing tonight...;)

To confirm what Steve kindly wrote above, I strive for a balanced sound when building systems. It's not too difficult to have a system with impressive abilities but I always found that when not balanced and masked those outstanding qualities that initially impress tend to get in the way of the music and natural musical reproduction. IMO, at its best a high end system and the associated listening environment should fade away and not compete with the music.

To clarify, the Neumann DST cartridges on the AF1 & the AS table are the same quality, just slightly different in overall tonal balance that comes from sample to sample difference of handmade products. I find the AF one is a very fine turntable, maybe even the finest made today but with a different set of priorities than those of the other tables.

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Thank you for the report, Steve. It must have been an amazing journey of music and sound! It is interesting that you have a whole new reference.
Next in line favorite was the EMT 927 and then the Thorens before the TechDas although I would say that the Thorens and Tech Das were very close.

I was asked yesterday to discuss the cables that David used in the system so that members could get an idea of the sound. Well here's the rub. David does not believe in any brand name power cords, interconects or speaker cables as he makes his own cables from---are you ready---roll cable" which he buys in China for $300 for 50 meters. So for those trying to get an idea i can say that there is no idea to get. David's favorite interconnects before he started with roll wire was good old Radio Shack wire. He loved it as it was "natural sounding"

I need to pint out that David's mantra in the hobby is that "the sound must be natural'. If not, it is colored and he cannot listen to it. I heard the word "natural" mentioned too many times to count over the course of the 5 days. Indeed natural it was.

In fairness to the Tech Das AF1 David did try a Neumann DST cartridge with it but the cartridge just wasn't of the same calibre as that on the American Sound TT.

What can I say about the speakers other than they were better than anything I have ever heard. The Siemens Bionor are huge at 8'W 6'H. There is an amazing compression driver at the top which IIRC plays from 80Hz-15K Hz and 15 ohms and the bottom 2 woofers playing from 50-500 Hz. David also uses 2 very large JBL subs with large 18" drivers that he uses for very slight fill to create some additional ambience. You couldn't even tell they were on. The speakers FWIW are 110 Db efficient. As to David's electronics , what fascinated me to hear his system is that he uses the same amp, preamp (and phono stage I don't have) that I use....the Lamm Signature series ML3/LL1/LP1. As a result I felt that I knew what I was about to hear. I was not disappointed. Whereas when I play the Lamm gear on my speakers I was playing with the preamp volume at the 12th detente position. In David's room he was playing at the 3rd or 4th position. Let me tell you that this system is "natural". It wasn't bright, dark cold warm. There was no boo in the sound. These speakers reproduced everything from a woman's voice to a giant orchestral in ways thatI have never before heard. There was no fatigue. I was in the jazz club when Ella sang or the Town Hall with Carlos Montoya to the very largest of orchestral. I was in the sweet spot the entire 5 days but I can honestly say that sitting anywhere in the room produced superb sound. We listened to many mono records both with a stereo cartridge as well as mono cartridges. Some we listened to using a multitude of different SUT's. David also had another huge collection of vintage SUR's one of which from the 60's was valued at $15K. The were no MM carts used. Only MC.

Some members have been asking what are the room measurements yada yada yada

Well as I said yesterday in another thread.The entire weekend was not comprised of using $60K measuring equipment or an arsenal of measuring devices.I went there to listen to music. That is what I love and like David, I could give a rat's ass how things measured because literally all we did was spin vinyl (and a few CD's) and didn't budge.

Unlike visiting so many rooms at the audio shows as well as other peoples' systems where single tracks are played from complete albums and the listener is directed to listen for the bass or to listen to the top end or whatever, I can say that it is virtually impossible to analyze and to break down in one's mind this system. Why/ Simply put, it is perfect in everything I heard. There was nothing lacking. We listened to entire albums from start to finish. The sound stage was perfect and changed easily depending on the type of music thrown at it.I had told David that I was anxious to hear his system because I had never heard a horn speaker of which I was truly enamored, The Siemens Bionor changed that thought completely and irrevocably. These speakers were built back in the 60's-70's and were meant for movie theater playing to 600-800 peop,e where they sat behind the screen so one can get the enormity of these speakers. To hear David's story as to how he found these speakers in Hiroshima and how he spent 4 days at the doorstep of the shop owner until he finally sold him the speakers. As far as David knows there are only two other pairs in existence . David does have spare parts for these and needless to say they are treated with kid's gloves because once they go there are problems. David has even previously hired wood workers to fabricate a second set of baffles for the speakers made form many different types of woods and glues from all over the world but he has not been able to reproduce the sound as it is heard now.
The beauty of the system is that not only were we drawn in but throughout the system we were transported to the jazz cub or to the concert or to the symphony and each time "we were there". We all strive for the absolute sound knowing that the only way to achieve it is through the live event. I can say that these past 5 days created that audio epiphany for me as I WAS there. I have never been able to say that before with my system or anyone else's.

There were no isolated tracks from albums to listen to the bass or listen to this part or to be directed to listen to whatever. All we did was listen to entire albums one after another Being forced to do that at shows or at people's homes I find turn the session into something analytic and I turn off listening to music and then only hear what I am directed to hear. This takes the enjoyment out of the session as then all I this k about is what can I do to make the sound better.

I didn't have to do any of that as quite honestly the sound was perfect. The bass was exact and not booming (although it certainly could be made to do such). The mid range was to die for and the top end was perfect with the old compression driver. I was smitten.

Listening was 95% vinyl and the rest of the time was CD on David's CEC transport.As good as the digital was, it just wasn't vinyl. However as the weekend wore down and after we listened to a Carlos Montoya album from the 60's I asked David if I could spin a CD which was also Spanish guitar . He agreed. I put on Rodrigo and Gabriella Live in Japan 2008. It was so good that David's wife soon found here way downstairs We were mesmerized as this disk was the highlight of the vist as it gave David's system a true workout. As we were playing it David was online and ordered the disk from Amazon. It captured the moment and lit pour ears to the point where we were transported to that venue in Japan. It was electrifying

David took me through his rooms of countless supplies and I think there were another 10-12 turntables and speakers through the house. Everything is vintage and yes according to David everything sounds "natural"

David also uses a total of 3 central grounding copper rods outside the house that are buried 10 feet under the ground so he has no grounding issues. He also uses a regenerator for his turntables as he has found the precise voltage each turntable requires in order to maintain exact platter rotation. It is truly remarkable to behold.

I have taken many photos of David's room and will add to this thread during the rest of the day. Suffice it to say these past 5 days for me were truly the epitome of my audiophile years. Measurements were the furthest thing from our minds. Our $60K listening tools were those things stuck to the sides of our heads and our ears didn't fail us. So for all of you who say, "WTF, no measurements", my reply is simply must hear David's system. IMO there is nothing so well done or so well conceived as his system. It leaves nothing to the imagination. It is perfect in every way. His system has become my new reference.David is a wonderful host and is one of the most educated audiophiles that I have ever met. So for those wanting to hear these reference turntables and to understand what he means when he says " a step beyond", all I can say is that the step is rather a huge leap. If you are in Utah you must visit. If you are i Las Vegas, contact him as you can hop on the shuttle to hear this system. You will not be disappointed.

I will have more to say later but for my ears this was the experience of a life time because as David says " it must sound natural" He has pulled it off and for that David I give you what my friend Frantz calls "congrats, congrats"

Indeed you have pulled it off David and rest assured that I will be back for more. For those who don't like horns as well as those who have horn speakers, I suggest you contact David (Franz included) as your listening world will be forever changed

It is a Giant step beyond.

Pictures to follow

here are but a few but definitely memorable albums we played from start to finish




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Below is The American Sound turntable with the 4 arms and the Neumann DST in the foreground with the white head shell. The table is a 550 lb hunk of milled solid steel




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