Blog Roddus

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Uncle Roddus's Adventures in Hi-fi.


Buying a new system.


Almarro A318B single ended class A tube amp.

As some readers will remember, earlier in the year I purchased a Yarland FV-34C 12W push-pull class A tube amplifier, speakers and turntable for Mrs. Roddus to play her modest collection of records on. The set up was a modest affair but quite classy and the little Yarland amp impressed me so much that I had to rethink my next big stereo upgrade and became certain that I would like to go with tube amplification and sooner rather than later.  Some funds were accumulating and after booking our Rarotongan holiday I approached Mrs. Roddus tentatively about the probability of buying a new system. She reluctantly conceded to my arguments and I set about investigating the possibilities at my favorite Hi-fi emporium. 
 My original intention(wish) was to upgrade to a Sugden based system some day, after being very impressed with them at a Hi-fi show here several years ago. But that changed a bit after the Yarland and after several investigations and conversations with the aforementioned Hi-fi emporium, I started to get my heart set on the Alamrro A318B  Class A SET tube amp, which was the most expensive and best tube amp they sold and was within my modest budget. The Class A SET's are usually fairly low powered, some between 5-12 Watts per channel and from what I was reading online, were very warm and detailed amps, more so than the Push-pull amps. I all sounded wonderful and I couldn't wait to hear one.
 Just before our trip to Rarotonga, I popped in to the Hi-fi shop one Saturday morning when I had some chores in the city and asked if I could have an impromptu listen to their Yarland PRO-845W  SET , as I was so impressed with my little Yarland push-pull and could they pair it up with the Jean Marie Raynaud Euturpe Speakers(which I had also heard at the aforementioned Hi-fi show) and the Sugden Fusion 21 CD player. They said give them about an hour to connect it and get it warmed up and I could have a go.
 I spent about an hour and with this set up, then we put on the Sugden A21SE amp and did a comparison. The Sugden gear is highly rated but it was confirmed to me that I did prefer the sound of the tube amp over the solid state amp. So although I was very impressed with the Yarland and the JMR speakers I didn't feel as if I had listened to something that I could live with for my everyday listening and i left the room a bit underwhelmed. I spoke with the sales man as I was leaving and said I was still very keen to listen to the Almarro and the Sugden Masterclass CD player and what other speakers he had in the price range of the JMR's that he thought might be better. Without hesitation he pointed me to the recently arrived Focal Aria 926's. I said I would be in touch after my vacation to arrange a listen. In the mean time I caught up with a fellow tramper from my club who had a pair of Focal 826's and I got to have a listen to them before I went away, they were impressive.

Jean Marie Raynaud Euturpe Speakers



Focal Aria 926.



It was a long 3 weeks waiting for the opportunity to get my ears into that listening room with the gear that I hoped would bring me years of listening bliss. In the wait time I spent a lot of my spare time reading reviews and dreaming of the system I would soon own. I had been reading a hi-fi book that a friend had put me onto as well as the reviews and it was dawning on me that it could be quite tricky matching a speaker to the Almarro SET, as the SET's are low powered(the Almarro is only 18wpc) and to get good volumes, high sensitivity speakers are required. Most of the speakers available locally were up to about 93dB with the Focals at 91.5dB. I asked if they still had some Living voice speakers, which had a 94dB sensitivity and that said they could get their hands on some. I also decided to review the speakers first with my Cyrus 7 Cd player in case I had to spent more on the speakers that I had hoped and would be left temporarily short of funds for a new Cd player. Mrs. Roddus dropped off the Cyrus a couple of days before my appointment so they could set the system up and run it in for a couple of days. Ultimately, I had my heart set on the Sudgen Masterclass PDT-4F CD Player, which is the best player they have on the floor.




Sudgen Masterclass PDT-4F CD player.

So my expectation was to match a set of speakers up to the Almarro and worry about the CD player later if my current budget allowed. The shop did also have another recently arrived tube amp, the Chinese Doge Prima Donna 88, a 30wpc class A push-pull amp, but I was determined to check out the Almarro and very keen on the Focals.
  The fateful day arrived and Mr Ed, who had also enjoyed the Yarland experience at my place some time back,  came along for moral support and also because he was also keen to hear the Focals. We duly entered the listening room, had a chat with the sales man checked over the gear and the wiring before settling down to some critical listening. 
  I started off with some popular music that although sounds ok, isn't exactly of audiophile quality, that track being Outcast's "Hay Ya", a great song and sounded respectable coming through the Focals, although we didn't yet have it wound up much. We went through a couple of more numbers, increasing the volume as we went until I played the first three tracks off Pink Floyd's "The Wall", which although sounded very good, didn't blow our minds. After "Another Brick In The Wall Pt 1" The sales man suggested we try that track again with the Sugden Masterclass CD player that he had wired in on standby. This was a vast improvement over the Cyrus, as expected(not to say the Cyrus isn't a good CD transport, it has served me well for over 10 years). But after hearing the Masterclass, we turned off the Cyrus and unplugged it out of the set up. All that being said though after several more tracks tried through the Almarro/Focal combination we went for lunch not totally impressed with the combination. Sure the sound was great, the sound was warm and detailed and the bass was pretty good for a tube amp. Well recorded music sounded wonderful but not superlative. I was quite disappointed. I said that I would like to listen to the Living Voice speakers after lunch as it appears that the Alamrro wasn't really pushing the Focals that hard and I needed more volume from my system.
   So after going out for lunch we settled back down to listen to the Living Voice Speakers. These were considerably more expensive than the Focals and I was prepared to forgo the Masterclass CD player for the time being if I had to spend the extra mulah on these highly sensitive speakers to get the sounds I wanted.
 Considering that I had read on the 6Moons review site that the Living voice speakers were designed with tube amps in mind the resulting combination of the Living Voice and the Almarro was extremely disappointing, the music was quite flat and quiet and very under whelming. They only lasted a couple of tracks before I stopped. this wasn't going to plan.
  I asked if they still had a the pair of JMR Euturpe speakers that I had listened to several weeks earlier with the Yarland and we quickly lugged them in and wired them up. First I threw at them some Bettye Lavette from her "Thoughtful and Thankful" album and this was a revelation compared to the Focals. The JMR's really worked well with the Almarro with stunning clarity and warmth with Bettye's voice like I have never heard it before. The volume level was up as well even though the JMR's were only 90dB, they did have only 4ohm impedance as compared to the Focals 8 and this made a very noticeable difference. So we chucked some other vocal music at it and some piano Jazz trio the Mr Ed had brought as well as some live Masada and even some Dubstep to test the bass response and it all worked very very well. Next I put on the magnificently well recorded Steely Dan track "do It Again" to hear that fabulous guitar refrain that kicks off the song so well. But again the whole thing fell flat the normally in your face guitar intro sounded so subdued and the whole track overall sounded almost muffled. I tried another more modern rock track from A perfect Circle that usually sounds pretty good on the Cyrus but this too totally failed to impress. I was perplexed, I loved the sounds that the Almarro/JMR combination was presenting us with all the other music we played but I do listen to a very wide array of musics and knew that if I went with this system I would be very disappointed when I wanted rock out, especially at volume. If I just listened to Jazz or acoustic blues or super well recorded world music(which I do a lot), then the Almarro/JMR combo would have been fantastic and it was capable of more volume as we never gave it it's all. But I needed a bit more and if I could find and afford a pair of super sensitive loud speakers then maybe the Almarro might have worked.





Doge Prima Donna 88 Class A push-pull tune amp.


The Sales Rep had the Doge Prima Donna tube amp I mentioned above sitting ready to go and had wired the Focals to it and turned it on to warm up earlier in the piece. He now suggested we have a listen to this set up and duly plugged the Masterclass CD player into it and away we went. This amp, as I have said, is pure class A, push-pull, 30wpc but it also has the technology to change its bias current and voltage settings to the tubes to allow operation in Class AB at 50 wpc and 88 wpc. We kicked it off again with Bettye Lavette and the difference of the extra power for the Focals was amazing, they lept into life like we hadn't heard them all day, Mr Ed's piano Jazz Trio sounded fabulous and a revisit to a couple of the Pink Floyd tracks also impressed very much. Volume levels were excellent in class A and after playing the magnificent version of The Stones "Satisfaction" by Devo, we played the same track in AB1 mode and cranked it some more with little loss in sonic quality. The Focals were lapping it up. Back into class A for some more tracks to get the feel for the amp and as time started running out I asked the sales man to put it into AB2 mode and let it rip with Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" from the new remastered CD. I cranked it right up and the Focals just loved it, and although it was quite boomy in the bass on this track(thats the way it was recorded) Robert Plant's Vocals and Jimmy Pages guitar solos just leaped out of the speakers at us. Mr Ed, who isn't really into Led Zep, reconed it was the best he had ever heard that song.
 The Doge amp is going to give me the best of both worlds, 30 watts of pure class A tube amplification for those finer recordings, and 50 or 88 wpc for rocking out and annoying the neighbors, all blasting through the excellent Focal speakers and fueled by the wonderful Sudgen Masterclass CD player. The money I saved on the cheaper amp allowed me to spend up a little more on interconnects ans speaker cable and so for those interested, I bought Tchernov Classic Speaker cables and ETI Q-100 interconnects and it is all winging it's way to me as I type.

2 comments:

Tim Schuler said...

Nice bit of writing, I miss it.
I have ALL of those components including cable in stock, I'll put them all together when I get a minute and see (hear) for myself.
You have a good ear, not blinded (deafened) by hype, well done.
Tim Schuler
soundhausnz.com

Roddus said...

Well after several weeks of running the system in I am getting more Impressed with the set up as I pull out lots of music i haven't listened too for some time. The Doge is a very loud amp for it's size and I am finding that I am getting very satisfactory volume levels even in class A at 30w, I think it is a little less warm and detailed than the Almarro SET and can be a bit bright at high volume with some musics and I feel that it sounds a bit more solid state sounding than the Almarro, but this sacrifice I had to make for my long term listening satisfaction.

Would like to hear your impressions of the set up once you have heard it. I am now going to look at all the small tweaks I can do with the system, like power supplies, anit vibration spikes etc...