Visit to Boston to Hear the Sublime Sound of PeterA

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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With Tinka away on a business trip I took the opportunity to visit PeterA, with whom I have developed over the last three years a close friendship via WBF posts, telephone calls and emails. Peter lives in a small, seaside town about one hour north of Boston. I’ve never been to the Boston area before so this was all new to me.

This town is a beautiful New England town right on the water, with bays and marinas and boats easily visible from many locations. The town originally was a serious fishing town, and many of its inhabitants continue that cherished heritage with a love of the sea and boating and locally-caught seafood. The United States Navy can trace in its origins back to this town.

Peter and his beautiful wife, Anne, live in a charming house built in 1792, and which literally is only steps from the harbor. Peter is a member of one of the local yacht clubs, and the dock where Peter ties his shuttle boat, which he uses to reach the mooring of his sailboat, is a two minute walk from his house. For someone who loves boating and the sea Peter’s house and marina and boat set-up could not be easier or more ideal.



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Peter and I have always communicated easily and, while we have always assumed that we do not have exactly the same taste in sound, we have always understood clearly where each other is coming from. I have never, personally, enjoyed the sound of Magico speakers driven by solid-state electronics (especially Soulution, Alon!), so I was assuming that I would find Peter’s system to sound bright or analytical or fatiguing in some way. Peter believed that I would not, and I wanted to believe Peter, but it just wasn’t clear to me a priori how solid-state on Magico was going to sound natural to me.

After several listening sessions over the course of a week, both with and without alcohol, I heard no trace of brightness or edginess or harshness or sterility in Peter’s system. That is your humble reporter’s considered judgment.

Peter has spent a very long time learning about the components in his system and understanding how they relate to each other in his system. Since replacing his Magico Mini IIs with Magico Q3s Peter has spent months experimenting with and fine-tuning the location if his speakers in the room and and the toe-in of the speakers. This dedication and painstaking attention to details has achieved a sound that I find very natural. I think Peter has achieved a sound from his system which justifies the system being called a reference system.




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I think Peter’s system is revealing and consistent and is a stable base to which the sound of other systems can be understandably compared. I can describe the sound of Peter’s system and compare it confidently to the sound I hear from other systems. After spending a week with Peter I think I have in my head, presently anyway, an accurate understanding of what his system does and how it sounds.

One way to put it is that the sound from Peter’s system is a sound I felt very familiar with. If I closed my eyes and you told me I was listening to my prior long-term system in the smaller room of my house in which I set it up I would have thought I was listening to my system. The sound is what I was used to hearing from my own system in terms of tonality and dynamics and detail.

We played all of my test tracks multiple times. There are many little cues and moments across my various test tracks which I listen for when evaluating systems and which, in Peter’s system, sounded to me the way they used to sound in my long-time prior stereo system.

Peter’s room is not a dedicated listening room, and it is not big, but he manages to achieve real depth. On my test tracks I heard reference level (for dynamic driver loudspeakers) transparency. I heard full-deflection dynamics. I heard a natural tone. Jennifer Warnes’ voice and Thelma Houston’s voice and Jeff Buckley’s voice and Neil Young’s voice and Stevie Nicks’ voice sounded like I think they should sound on a stereo system, and how I was accustomed to hearing them sound on my prior stereo.




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1) I have never heard Pass Labs amplifiers before, but, in Peter’s system, they have a warm-ish, kind of tube-ish sound. I heard no attenuation of detail or smoothing of edge transients or any absence of dynamics. I also heard no fatiguing sound or edginess or leading edge artifacts. I would say Peter’s XA-160.5s sounded like what I am used to hearing from tubes. (I assume without knowing that I am hearing slightly greater dynamics and detail retrieval and a shade dryer-sound from the Pass Labs amps than I believe I would hear from tube amplifiers.)

2) The Pass Labs equipment is beautifully machined and built. The build quality and metal machining is equal to anything I’ve seen in the high end.




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3) Peter told me that the SME 30/12 turntable is considered by some people to be a little bit life-less or a little bit dead-sounding. I heard no evidence of that whatsoever.

4) My broadest conclusion of general applicability is that we spend way too much time switching components in and out of our systems hoping to achieve a certain sound without taking the time and effort to optimize each individual component in the system. I believe that Peter’s system sounds as good as it does, and shatters certain prejudices or assumptions about Magico loudspeakers and SME turntables and solid-state electronics, because he has spent a very long time sweating every detail in the system — from speaker positioning to acoustic room treatment to cartridge adjustment — and then living with it for a long time and then sweating all of those
details all over again. If we spent as much time tweaking and optimizing a particular component in our system as we spend reading about components and rapidly swapping them in and out of our systems due to dissatisfaction we might achieve a straighter-line path to sonic happiness.

It is now plausible to me that people who find Magico speakers bright or analytical have never heard them in systems which have been lovingly adjusted and tuned carefully over a long period of time.

5) The coherence of Peter’s system counts for me as a another data point in favor of employing one brand of electronics across the entire system. I would have loved to have had some tube component to swap into Peter’s system, and I have to assume that if I had substituted one of the Pass Labs components for a tube component I would have heard an increase in liquidity which I would have liked. But would I have achieved that increase in liquidity at some cost to dynamics or detail retrieval or transparency? I don’t know.

6) Peter proved to me repeatedly the important changes in sound resulting from small adjustments in tonearm height. I still do not want to be determining a particular tonearm height for each record, and then adjust the height of the tonearm every time I play that particular record, but there is no doubt that Peter is correct that slight changes in VTA can result in big differences in the quality of the sound coming off that LP.

I will repeat this paragraph and continue this discussion on Peter’s system thread, “Sublime Sound.”

7) I also took away from this visit a renewed appreciation for the importance of matching your speaker to your room. I think one reason Peter is getting great sound is because he has thought carefully about the size of his room and what size speaker is best matched with it.

I told Peter that he literally would not want the M6 because I think it would overwhelm the room and he would be manufacturing a bass problem.
 

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Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
Fabulous review Ron

It's always fun to read how this hobby brings people together from all around this blue marble upon which we live.

I have to get out there as there are some great guys and systems .

Kudos to you and Peter
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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Thanks to Peter for an absolutely amazing week! I am grateful for his friendship.

I appreciate that Peter shuttled me around and introduced me to other members of the Boston Audio Club. If my house ever is repaired and my new system ever is working I look forward to reciprocating Peter’s hospitality in Los Angeles!
 
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Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
And me too Ron

Peter I am fascinated by the fact that your beautiful home was built in 1792. Can you trace the ownership of your house all the way back through public records. I'm sure that there have been countless changes but in the picture is that the original house as it looks huge and it is right on the water. I don't even want to tell you the value of such property oceanside here in southern California. The stories over more than 225 years must be spectacular
 

ack

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A great report Ron! Indeed, Magico has some incredible speakers, solid state can be extra-ordinary, and sometimes I wonder, who needs tubes anymore.
 

DaveyF

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Aug 1, 2010
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A great report Ron! Indeed, Magico has some incredible speakers, solid state can be extra-ordinary, and sometimes I wonder, who needs tubes anymore.

That’s an interesting question. I was recently very impressed with the new Bryston phono stage with separate power supply. All ss. Compared to my tube CAT phono stage, the Bryston was quieter(always a good thing, imo) and allowed slightly more bass punch to come through. However, what it couldn’t quite match, which really wasn’t a surprise , was the overall tone and musicality of the tube phono stage.
This is one area where tubes still reign, IME.

BTW, nice looking set up and system,Peter. Living by the water is a treat, unfortunately, like Steve stated, here in Scalif, that is a very pricey ticket.
 

bazelio

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Sep 27, 2016
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Fabulous review Ron

It's always fun to read how this hobby brings people together from all around this blue marble upon which we live.

I have to get out there as there are some great guys and systems .

Kudos to you and Peter


Absolutely. It's perhaps the best aspect of this hobby, and it's great to see.

I've also said it before, PeterA, but what an amazing historic home in an absolutely beautiful part of the country. Fantastic photos, Ron.

On the system, it sounds like Ron had some incoming biases busted! ;-) The .5 Pass amps are certainly do a lot really well. I've also found the 30.12 to be a great deck with the right cartridge. I've not experienced it sounding dead, myself.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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Thank you Ron for your thoughtful comments. I really enjoyed your visit and our many activities. It was a real pleasure to meet you in person and to show you around. I enjoyed sharing my system and hearing the LPs you brought with you. I also commend you for finally convincing me that analog tape can sound fantastic. I have little experience with it and usually found vinyl to sound as good in direct comparisons, but our visit to Madfloyd's house where we directly compared your tape to my record of Solar Energy, convinced me of tapes true potential. Thank you for that.

I look forward to you one day showing me around SoCal and hearing what should be a fantastic system.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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And me too Ron

Peter I am fascinated by the fact that your beautiful home was built in 1792. Can you trace the ownership of your house all the way back through public records. I'm sure that there have been countless changes but in the picture is that the original house as it looks huge and it is right on the water. I don't even want to tell you the value of such property oceanside here in southern California. The stories over more than 225 years must be spectacular

Steve, thanks for your comments. I can trace my house back to the 1790s. The section on the right in the photo is newer, from 1826. That is the kitchen area. The house is not as large as it appears in the photo and the ceilings are quite low. It is actually a quite modest building and one row of houses back from the water, hence our ability to afford it. The location is extremely convenient. We usually just park the car on Fridays and not drive again until Monday morning. We live in the Historic District, so there can be no changes to the exterior of the house, though the commission has no jurisdiction over color. There are therefore very few garages which are like gold around here. Sadly we don't have one. The interior of the house now has plumbing and electricity (and audio). I wanted to install double thick, insulated windows in at least the listening/living room but it was not allowed for historic reasons. I was able to install thicker laminated glass in the single-pane true divided historic windows. This helped quite a bit with sound transmission and keeping out the street noise.

We bought this house just before our wedding 22 years ago and spend considerable effort restoring it. We may well just retire hear and never move again.
 
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PeterA

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Uncover that wonderful fireplace !!! ;)

Funny. I do when guests come for dinner. In listening mode, the blanket goes up. It usually stays up until we have company again. My wife is a saint. It makes a big difference as I had very little soundstage depth before because the fireplace comes so far into the small room. I have successfully tuned it so that when I play something like a large choir, the singers are arranged far back and evenly positioned along the virtual stage. This was not possible just a couple of years ago. That furniture blanket represents big sonic progress, sadly.
 

DaveyF

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Aug 1, 2010
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Funny. I do when guests come for dinner. In listening mode, the blanket goes up. It usually stays up until we have company again. My wife is a saint. It makes a big difference as I had very little soundstage depth before because the fireplace comes so far into the small room. I have successfully tuned it so that when I play something like a large choir, the singers are arranged far back and evenly positioned along the virtual stage. This was not possible just a couple of years ago. That furniture blanket represents big sonic progress, sadly.


Peter, this makes absolute and perfect sense. I can’t tell you how many systems I have listened to with a huge big screen TV or a large fireplace stuck between the speakers...and the whole system jammed up against the wall. No depth, no imaging specificity, no virtual stage etc., and yet when I have brought up the issues of the day, well it usually doesn’t go well. Oddly many dealers even display their systems in this manner...and get real testy when I occasionally point out why this is far from optimal.
 

PeterA

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Yes Davey. I have found that almost everything in the room can have an affect on the final sound one hears. I have learned that room acoustics and speaker/listener position can have far greater influence on the overall sound of one's system than the components themselves. At a certain level, most gear is quite good. To hear that gear at its potential, one must work on set up and the room. The blanket basically lessons the effect of the fireplace so that I can more clearly hear the information on the recording. I also removed or covered all of the glass in the room. If the musicians are further back or more up front on the stage, I can now hear those differences more clearly. Without the blanket, there was too much reflection and the center image was scattered and more diffuse. It is now more intelligible, solid, and present.

Each room is different and depending on the distance of the speakers to the various walls, reflections have different degrees of impact. It took me years to understand these effects and I learned a lot from Jim Smith and others, including my Boston audio friends, who discuss these issues.

Finally, I should add that we can only work within the restrictions of our room and what we can practically do. All rooms are different, and some, perhaps MikeL's, Al M.'s, and others, are near ideal to allow the system to reach its potential. We just have to be willing to explore and search for that potential.
 

PeterA

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Ron, could you talk a bit more about your impressions of the Pass electronics? I know you are a tube guy and were a bit concerned about the Pass/Magico combination sounding analytical or sterile. Did you leave with the impression that my Pass gear has a tube-like sound, or a SS-like sound, or do such categories even make sense anymore? Can we even generalize about typology now or is it increasingly system context dependent? What in your opinion, if anything, do tube electronics bring to a presentation, and might it be at the expense of something else that you think SS components bring?
 

Al M.

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Ron, great report on Peter's system! Now you know why I like it so much. I am not surprised that you appreciated the Pass amps and found they have tube-like characteristics in the best sense, i.e. not adding euphonic colorations but allowing for natural tonality, dynamics, and transient speed -- fast, but not over-etched. I hear similar from Spectral amps in Ack's system. And like you, ordinarily I am a tube guy who cannot stand a sterile, etched and dry sound.

Over the years I have witnessed Peter's meticulous and detailed efforts to address each parameter that can effect the sound, and I have learned from them. I agree, many audiophiles are too fast switching components without optimizing what they have.

As I had expected, you heard the same, often very significant, effects of individual VTA settings as I do when listening to Peter's system. Good observation of matching speaker size to the room; yes, a larger speaker probably would not work as well in Peter's room, but this one does perfectly.
 

RogerD

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Great job Ron and Congrats Peter on a beautiful system.
 

marty

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Great job Ron and Congrats Peter on a beautiful system.

+1 That was one of the most enjoyable and informative reports I've read on WBF in quite a while. Congrats to Ron and to Peter, whose attention to little details that make big differences can't be overstated.
 

twitch

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Jun 17, 2010
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Ron, could you talk a bit more about your impressions of the Pass electronics?

Peter, first off beautiful home and some great kit !

As for Ron's remark of not having heard Pass , shame on him and he's the founder of WBF !! You and those of us in the know are more than well aware of Nelson's Class A topology and it's ability to capture 'tube magic'

Ron, I'm just bustin' your chops a wee bit, all is good !!
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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Ron, could you talk a bit more about your impressions of the Pass electronics? I know you are a tube guy and were a bit concerned about the Pass/Magico combination sounding analytical or sterile. Did you leave with the impression that my Pass gear has a tube-like sound, or a SS-like sound, or do such categories even make sense anymore? Can we even generalize about typology now or is it increasingly system context dependent? What in your opinion, if anything, do tube electronics bring to a presentation, and might it be at the expense of something else that you think SS components bring?

I definitely think your Pass Labs gear has a sound which is not what I think of as a typical solid-state sound, namely bright or analytical or unnaturally detailed or edgy or fatiguing. As I mentioned when we were together I would have loved to have some piece of tube gear –– any piece of tube gear –– to replace one of the components in your system just to hear the difference. I wonder what I would have heard differently if we surgically inserted some tubes into your chain. If would have been a lot easier to evaluate if the Pass has a tube-like sound if we had had on hand a tube-sound-maker to compare it to!

If I would have enjoyed the overall sound more with a tube component in the signal chain then that would have suggested to me that I was missing some liquidity from tubes, but that the Pass Labs gear is so natural for solid-state that I detected no obvious sin of omission (lack of warmth or liquidity) or sin of commission (a sense of a dry, transistor sound) except in direct comparison to a tube component.

If you ask me -- and you are -- I likely would have enjoyed "girl with a guitar" music more with some tubes in the picture. I just like the sound of tubes. I totally agree with the view about having tubes "somewhere" in the system. For this proposition I cite David Wilson and KeithR.

You know I like the sound of tubes from the fact that I tolerate a relatively high noise all-tube phono stage. Obviously I feel that higher noise level (whatever that noise level is it is going to be higher than a solid-state phono stage) is worth the trade for the warmth and natural bloom and dimensionality I hear from the Io. But on complex classical music would we have sacrificed any dynamics or energy for that slightly warmer/softer/smoother tube presentation on vocals? (Our darTZeel versus cj GAT II comparison at Ian's house suggests "yes.")

I have already come pretty far from 100% tubes. The power amps went from 100% tube to solid-state below 200Hz (Gryphon bass tower amplifiers) and the line stage went from 100% tube to mostly transistors (hybrid VTL 7.5 Series III). So already the 100% tube Io is feeling lonely.

I always go back to Michael Fremer's review of the darTZeel 458 amplifiers. In that review Michael compares the 458s to the VTL Siegfried IIs, finding that the VTL is just on the slightly warmer, more liquid side of the dead neutral line and the darTZeel is just on the slightly less warm, less liquid side of the dead neutral line.

I think distinguishing the tube topology in general from the transistor topology in general still makes sense. OTL tube amplifiers cut across that spectrum slightly differently (unmatched crystalline transparency, with a leaner than typical transformer-coupled tube tonal balance).

I think transistor designs will continue to have an advantage in dynamics and rise time and tube designs will continue to have an advantage in warmth and smoothness and emotional connection. My evidence for this is the amplifier comparison at MikeL's house. At the end of the day if we could keep only one amplifier Mike chose the 458s and I would have chosen the VAC 450s. But I certainly could have lived happily with the 458s.

Now CAT JL-7s versus XA160.5s would be another very interesting comparison. I have always considered (assumed) that CAT amplifiers are the least tube-y-sounding of all of the transformer-coupled big tube amplifiers. Might your XA160.5s sound warmer than the CATs?
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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6,214
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Peter, first off beautiful home and some great kit !

As for Ron's remark of not having heard Pass , shame on him and he's the founder of WBF !! You and those of us in the know are more than well aware of Nelson's Class A topology and it's ability to capture 'tube magic'

Ron, I'm just bustin' your chops a wee bit, all is good !!

:) That Pass Labs is good stuff. I would love to get to the bottom of this by comparing directly a Pass Labs amplifier to a Vitus or Gryphon amplifier, and by comparing a Pass Labs amplifier directly to a VTL or VAC or ARC amplifier. Kedar would come over for this comparison.

Oh, and Steve is the Founder. I was merely an interloper.

I think Peter's system is a great laboratory (pun intended) for this comparison. Actually, seriously, we have Spectral and ARC at Goodwins's; Peter would just have to bring over his XA160.5s. (But I am more interested in Vitus versus Pass than I am in Spectral versus Pass.)
 

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