While my Levinson 390S was away for repairs, I had an Ayre CD player on loan, and once again tried a bunch of Marantzes. This time not just any Marantz though: after concluding that the CD80 was nice enough as a transport but not great as an integrated player and trying the ancient CD74 and CD84 players just for fun, I decided to give the famous CD12/DA12 a go. The CD12 transport was great – even more voluptuous and creamy than the CEC TL-1X, but also a little slow and rounded. Its CDM1 transport mechanism pretty much has eternal life so likely this particular sample’s electronics had gone a bit off spec.
Apart from the frequent digital source experiments, especially streaming audio devices both for review purposes and out of my own interest, the core of the setup hasn’t changed much since I moved into the new appartment late 2010. After the initial setup hurdles that are normal when moving to a new house, the system has been performing much to my satisfaction for over a year and I hadn’t felt the need to change its core components all that time. These include the Jeff Rowland pre- and power amps, Levinson 390S CD player and Magnepan MG3.6R speakers. Perhaps this was also partly due to all the reviews which also satisfies my craving for new discoveries. Indeed, it was in this setup that I have reviewed a lot of streaming audio equipment. As can be expected, when reviewing so many streaming audio equipment, gradually this has changed my perspective and it has driven me to start using various streaming solutions.
It wasn’t until I heard the PS Audio PWD (and later PWD MKII incarnation), Linn Klimax DS (and later DS/1 incarnation) and Meridian MD600/MS600 Sooloos equipment (and later the 808.3 and 818 reference components) that I can finally conclude that streaming audio has indeed reached the high end standard and can sound totally satisfying. Good streaming audio can now in fact finally replace a highend CD player. In my case the reference for this is the Levinson 390S. Sadly, just like in other aspect of sound reproduction, reaching perfection in streaming audio doesn’t come cheap. But then again: nor is the Levinson 390S.
The new appartment is much bigger than the old one, permitting me to finally being able to have dedicated rooms for audio and video. The video room (that I call cinema) may be small at 3x3m but it is neat and cozy and functions very well. Oh, and at 2,5 meter distance a 55 inch screen appears quite large! And as long as I use HD material, the image is also razor-sharp.
With the video components out of the way, the audio system can really breath and grow in all directions. So, once again I purchased some Spider racks.
Linn Klimax DS/0 versus DS/1: the DS/1 won hands down: better in all areas and taking up not one downside in return. But ouch that price… I consider the DS/1 to be the best in current streaming audio, together with the Meridian Sooloos MD600/818 combination.
Meridian MC200 on top of the MD600 and MS600. Even though it shouldn’t and couldn’t matter, the MC200 functioning in pure storage mode (server) sounds different from the MD600 when feeding the same source (endzone): the MD600 beats it on all accounts!
Then, after about a year of living in the new appartment, I started to get annoyed by the Magnepans’ bass performance. It was articultate and had good pace, and with the help of the two REL Strata III subs, the bass also went incredibly low. But there was always a lack of substance and power, something I never had when the B&W Nautilus 804s were still my main speakers. I had heard all models in the range and even had the 802D’s in my room at some stage. The latter were incredibly bass-strong, to a point that it wasn’t funny anymore. But these memories, combined with my dissatisfaction of the Maggie’s bass, triggered a newfound interest in B&W. I knew that 802D’s were bassy and laidback but had heard Nautilus 800’s once and was very impressed with their neutrality, especially their lack of bass thickness. The 802D’s (with the Diamond tweeter) however had incredible treble performance. This time I decided that I would go for the best of the best and search for second hand 800D’s.
My search led me to Germany and an immaculate pair of B&W 800D’s. The price was right and the deal was made. There was only one caveat: the good man lived in an appartment on the 3rd floor and only had… a winding staircase to go from 3rd to 2nd floor! Mind you: the 800D’s weigh 100KG per piece! Luckily the seller had anticipated this and had already invited 4 friends. Combined we were 6 people all pulling the 800D. I have to say: after five steps down that staircase I seriously thought that we were going to get stuck or that we would have to let go of that immense weight at some point. But almost magically we made it down to the second floor where our salvation awaited in the shape of an elevator. The second speaker went faster, and when we had finally loaded the pair up in the van, I was exhausted, but content that I had finally aquired the speakers I so craved. Luckily, my appartment complex has an elevator so the second half of the trip seemed like a piece of cake in comparison. All my muscles ached for days afterwards but it was worth it! Or was it?
After connecting the 800D’s I was mightily disappointed. You can read the entire review here, but suffice to say that the only area in which they really were better than the Magnepans, was in the bass. All the other areas were worse. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get them to sound to my satisfaction so after about a month I decided to sell them again. Luckily I succeeded in selling them with only a mild loss.
As can be seen in the pictures, I also aquired a pair of Synthese Floating 2 speakers, just for fun and not intended as replacements for the Maggies, they nevertheless turned out to sound very nice! Read the review here.
Safe in the knowledge that even 800D’s couldn’t better the Maggies in all areas but their bass, I had newfound spirit to try and tweak the maximum out of them. And I succeeded, by looking in each and every area of the chain. I know that they still don’t sound as good in the bass as dynamic “box” speakers, but considering the tradeoffs that I’d have to make in other areas, I was now pretty content.
That is, until the tropical heat set in, in 2012.
Above: setup June 2012
September 2012 – another simplification stage has started
Ever since the hot days set in, my system has been sounding a bit flabby in the bass. It lacks power and drive in the midbass. Last summer and the one before I did not experience this but still it must be related to the weather because I checked everyting and even swapped cables, speakers and amplifiers. Just to be sure, I went back to the old, original Magnapan crossovers instead of the big custom made ones that I have been using for a year now. Heck, I even bypassed my beloved Coherence II just to see if it was responsible for the bass reticency. Alas, or should I say luckily, no one component was found to be responsible. This triggered an overall tweaking of the system, including fastening all screws and bolts on equipment, Spider racks, speakers and subwoofers, repositioning the speakers, changing powercables, extensionblocks and the cable’s positions in the extensionblocks. I even took out the two imitation Spider racks that flanked the main one and removed all unneccesary cabling. It didn’t help but for cleaner looks. But salvation wasn’t far away.
Within two days after the usual Dutch weather (rain, wind, cold) had overtaken the exceptional summer warmth, my system started to sound crispy again. Bass tightened up, became more articulate. A few days later I think I can say that it is all back again. With a vengeance that is, because now of course the sound is tipping over into a little too accurate. Ah well, that’s audiophile life for you!
Above: setup september 2012
Next problem: finding a good spot for the Meridian Media Drive 600 after simplifying the system.
After not having used the Meridian and Marantz cd players for a long time, I’ve decided to get rid of the left and right “Spider” racks. But now need to find a spot for the Meridian MD600. Because this Sooloos disk storage unit emits strong resonances, is sensitive to placement and also responds badly to extra switches in the network path, I cannot simply install it in the consumer unit box or anywhere else. For best sound, it needs to be connected to the same switch as the streaming end point and because of its resonant character, placing it on a Spider rack makes for the most silent operation. So what to do now that I want to get rid of the left and right racks?
After some trial and error, finally a good place was found in a Target rack on a soft rubber mounted shelf, positioned against the wall behind the right speaker. There is an Extensive Review about the MD600 placement.