Sunday, 2 June 2019

Audio Meet - Owston 1st June 2019

Another year has passed since the last Owston meet, and my last blog. I'm not sure a post a year is really a blog...

Anyway, it was great to meet up again with lots of old friends and some new ones. The weather was fortunately dry (on Saturday at least) and warm if a little humid. Outside was a pleasant relief from the room inside which later on started to feel like a sauna with so many bodies, and so many kW being drawn out of the wall.

After lots of setting up and chat our "host" and organiser Steve welcomed all and got us underway.

This year there were a couple of dedications to Richard Dunn of NVA who had recently passed away. First Dave MCRU...

...then Lindsey who had attended Richard's funeral two days before.

I only met Richard once, the previous year when he attended Owston for the first time and I picked him up and dropped him off at the train station. He was an interesting man, and very different in person than his internet persona.

First away today was Ed with a system he explained was where he was 10 years ago. The 811 amp he had dragged out of the loft especially for the day, which he used with his own design VoFo speakers. The amp outputs less than 3W and as the VoFos aren't hugely efficient the audience listened in well observed silence. Source was a netbook with small USB DAC I think.

Steve C was next with his well regarded 13E1 OTL and Fane single driver speakers. The OTL makes less than 1W, but the Fanes are efficient enough to enable a decent volume in the room. I've heard this system in Steve's house a few times and it's truly wonderful, though I found the bass a bit light for my taste. But in this large room the bass was a very pleasant surprise, deeper and more extended. The combination makes really nice music.

Did I say I like valves that glow? They're beauties :-)

Then Ant, Steve's son, demoed his turntable with Steve's amp and speakers. This is one of the earliest of Ant's Lenco customisations, possibly his first, where he cuts down the top plate to resemble something along the lines of a PTP.

This time Ant also had a new unipivot arm he'd recently built from scratch, turning the pieces on his lathe. Sounded really very nice. Unfortunately I don't have any closeups of it - the room is tricky for photography, and much darker than it appears in the photos. The camera autofocus often struggles, and manual focus is tricky as it's so dark. Oh well.

And then it was me. When I've brought stuff before it's sounded somewhere between okay and horrible, so it was with much trepidation I tried again. It might have been a little unwise but the whole system I brought was being used together for the first time. What could possibly go wrong???

Well, it worked, as in it made a sound, and I thought it was okay, but was a bit too concerned with trying to get the bass balance right to really listen. I was pretty relieved as when I'd brought the Quasar speakers previously they had sounded dreadful as the bass wasn't attenuated enough at the much higher levels in the large room than at home. An important lesson was learnt that day.

But there weren't really many comments about how it sounded, apart from Dave's "can't polish a turd" (which was hopefully tongue in cheek!) so I guess there's more work to be done.

There are a few blogs that need writing about this kit, but the turntable is one of Ant's Lenco GL75 modifications with a Linn Ekos and Ortofon Kontrapunkt B. Neither would have been my first choice companions but I had them lying in a cupboard so it was a zero further cost option. The phonostage is a Salas' simplistic folded NJFET.

Then it gets a bit more interesting. The GM70 amp using coppers is directly coupled to the wideband Fostex 208ESigmas, with a simple first order filter to the Fostex T90A supertweeters. Although I roll the bass off via the GM70 cathode bypass caps so it's not stressing the OPTs I'm largely using the natural roll off of the 208 on the baffle at around 150Hz.

Below the 208s are Supravox 285GMFs in H baffles which are directly coupled to two cheap ebay 3116 class D subwoofer amps with a built-in lowpass filter at 180Hz. Not ideal but dead easy and dead cheap.

And a significant increase in clarity when I initially removed the Quasar series crossover to try this arrangement. These baffles were knocked up recently so are a work in progress, but I prefer them to the original Quasar.

Then came Stephen aka izzy wizzy, with a rather large van full of gear. An excellent effort for his first time visit :-). Hopefully it won't be his last.

It's tricky to know where to start with this setup. Speakers are Tannoy 15" Gold in the original 1950s corner cabinets. They're quite big! And rather magnificent. The turntable is a DIY job (from a group buy???) with Stephen's long term evolution phonostage. There may be a pre amp in there, or was it a headphone amp, or both, and then his 813 PP Nemesis amp. PP isn't my thing but I think this is the best one I've heard. Tremendous grip but with the subtlety and detail that thoriated filaments can give.

Stephen had specially made some sides to the amps as a safety feature. They rather reminded me of the art deco architecture of Napier in Steven's home country.

The blue glow is of course from a mercury vapour rectifier. All the amps used them :-).

Just a small box of valves...

And safety first of course...

Next was Chris. Following the big sound of the Tannoys wouldn't be easy, and the small Fostex speakers really didn't look up to it. But of course Chris had a trick or two up his sleeve, and paired with a small sub, a large solid state PA amp and some digital tricks I don't understand filled the room.

Chris has "adapted" the Fostex with a crossover. Astonishing performance really.

After lunch it was Colin's turn at the top of the room with his latest version of Eddingdale speakers with high quality drivers. Powered by Nick's original P6 solid state monoblocks and Njoe Tjoeb CD player. Personally I prefer baffles and efficient paper drivers but these are probably the best box loudspeakers I've heard.

And then it was Steve's turn. Steve was having a bit of a bad day as his PX25 amp had decided to have a strop and not work properly. Steve thought it might have been a dead rectifier, but fortunately had brought his little NVA amp as back up, so used that instead.

Next was Mike, who drives up on his motorbike and sidecar so travels light. Source is his phone, via Bluetooth I think, into his PCL86 spud amp using SMPS PS. He had brought small ex-music centre speakers but pressed Colin's Monacor coaxial driver speakers in to service. Sounded really nice.

Then we had a triumvirate of Dave, Nick and Gary, with Steve's speakers.

The turntable is a prototype that Nick has been working on with a company from York. They've fabricated the turntable, Nick has been working on the software control side.

Nick explained how he'd started with speed control, but ended up with phase control too, and remarked how he'd ended up at pretty much SP10 territory.

The phonostage is one of Nick's, and Gary's PS Audio preamp was used as some gain was required to drive Nick's 211 amp.

And then Thomas, who'd spent a fair bit of the morning assembling and then fettling the latest "Tower of Power" incarnation, now sporting GK71s. Unfortunately the DC heater supply had blown so some running repairs were required.

Thomas also brought his new Quasar baffles made from old wardrobes with Lowther PM6C and Eminence Beta 15 bass helpers.

Thomas seemed a little unhappy with how the system sounded, particularly the bass but I thought it was alright. I was a little surprised how well behaved the treble was, no Sidcup screech that I could hear.

There had, however, been a lot of unnecessary and frankly infantile comments about his Lowthers. I'm really not sure why...

So, next we were treated to JohnG's Quad ESL 57s, with the same turntable/ phonostage/ pre/ poweramp the Dave, Nick and Gary used. Apparently these had been refurbished reasonably recently, and though I haven't heard many electrostatics those that are familiar with them thought these to be very good.

If I lived in a world of Ella and Frank all the time these might just be perfect. But I don't and they don't have enough bass for me. But if I could have a pair in a room for just those moments that would be very nice indeed :-).

Then Ed demonstrated his second system with lateral FET amp and Ariel speakers (the piano black ones right back at the beginning). I've heard Aerials sound a little underwhelming but was impressed with these that Ed built.

I was starting to get a little jaded by now and spent some time outside. But I very briefly caught Les of Avondale Audio's amp with Colin's Eddingdale speakers, but didn't hear enough to be able to really form an opinion.

Then we heard Gary's PS Audio pre and DAC with Ali's 300B OTLs through Steve's Fane speakers. Very nice I thought.

And then we were treated to Mark's one treble horn. This was hardcore stuff for the purist and involved one channel of castanets amongst other things.

By this time I was struggling from all the different sounds we'd heard and it was time to pack all my stuff back in to the car. I did get chance to hear Ali's NCore 400 monoblocks and they were really very good. Food for thought.

And that concluded another great day. Everything sounded really very good, and there was lots of good chat. Roll on next year.