On Sure Things…

By Bryan Geyer

When it comes to creating or upgrading a modern audio system, these are my ten general “good sense guidelines.” I apply them with confident certainty, and I recommend them without reservation.

(1) That solid-state class A (and pseudo class A) high-bias power amplifier design is extremely inefficient, and that such amplifiers run w-a-y too hot to be tolerable. In addition, those amplifiers commonly weigh ~ 100 pounds, a mass that’s grossly inconsistent with home decor and display. Instead, stick with solid-state class A/B bias, or the best of the new class D power amp. designs. For admirable excellence at a practical price ($1,495 list), consider Parasound’s recently upgraded model Halo A23+, http://www.parasound.com/a23+.php. It’s a well designed type A/B powerhouse (160 watts per channel into 8Ω, both channels driven) in a package that’s 17 1/4” wide by 15 1/4” deep, and weighs 27 pounds. This product will fit nicely on a 16” deep wall-mounted shelf if you use a replacement power cord (AWG 14, type SJT, fully molded) with a 90˚ angled C13 socket (refer http://www.stayonline.com/molded-cord-configurator.aspx). Also use right-angled RCA adapters, available at https://www.parts-express.com/gold-rca-right-angle-adapter-long--091-184.

(2) That a vacuum tube power amplifier bears consideration only if you intend to recreate a 1950s-’60s vintage replica, and knowingly accept all of the penalties that ensue when compared to a solid-state equivalent. Expect elevated hum+noise, 15X-to-40X more THD, a 8X-to-10X increase in output impedance, grossly inefficient operation, lots of heat, incessant bias drift, infrequent but inevitable failures, and periodic high expense to replace matched sets of archaic output tubes that are produced solely by obscure sources in China, Russia, and Slovakia.

(3) That an active analog crossover network is technically superior to a conventional passive crossover network in every vital respect: Initial accuracy, slope accuracy, long term stability, response flexibility, and operating convenience. Further, an external active analog 4th order crossover is essential if you expect to use subwoofers in your setup (refer “Tech Talk”, sidebar). Consider the Marchand XM66 active crossover that I currently use; https://www.marchandelec.com/xm66.html.

(4) That fully-sealed self-powered subwoofers (minimum = 2, but more are welcome if your space and decor permit) will improve the acoustic performance of any system, in any listening room that’s smaller than a public auditorium, regardless of the quality of the main speakers in use. Of course, all subs need to be optimally adjusted with respect to input gain and phase delay, but that’s easy to accomplish—with full visual assurance (see “Tech Talk”)—if you utilize some basic instrumentation.

(5) That a fine audio system should be located in the primary living room. It’s likely the largest enclosed space available—probably has the least number of fully-paired parallel surfaces—and it might have a higher ceiling. Do recognize that displaying your power amplifiers as a “techno-heap” in the middle of one end of that room is messy, obsessive, and selfish. (Also entirely unnecessary unless you own monstrous 50-100 lb. power amps.) Instead, use sturdy wall-mounted shelves, such as those sold by https://www.containerstore.com/s/elfa/components/elfa-solid-shelving/123, or buy some attractive contemporary audio furniture to house your electronic baggage. A giant mound of hi-end tech may seem gorgeous to audiophiles, but it looks like pawned overstock to others.

(6) That acoustic excellence can be achieved without resorting to massive loudspeakers, and that enjoyable listening rooms should never look like the photo that’s on this page.

(7) That classical music will become a vital source of great personal pleasure if you start by acquiring these redbook CDs: http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=709279, plus a quality CD player. (I definitely recommend real CD discs rather than digital downloads. The latter process can vary; it’s not always as promised.) The Mozart piano concertos are forever fresh, and always good company. Given the benefit of regular exposure, even the junior members of the household will eventually concur, although realization might take 30 years.

(8) That Belden’s type 5000 loudspeaker wire, in AWG 10 or AWG 12, as sourced from Blue Jeans Cable (https://www.bluejeanscable.com/store/speaker/index.htm), will perform (and measure) every bit as good—or better—than anything else that you can buy, at any price, including the most exotic audiophile hi-end speaker cable from any source, anywhere. Science knows best.

(9) That you can be assured of top quality performance and long term zero-maintenance listening if you select compatible (has proper input/output impedance, correct stage gain) solid state components, and install your equipment in a stable and secure manner, in a logical layout, with adequate ventilation (no “stacking”). Assuming normal residential EMI environs and interconnect lengths that don’t exceed 1 meter (self-powered subwoofers excepted, and not an issue), good RCA style cordage will assure noise free performance that’s fully equivalent to what you’d get with an XLR hookup.

(10) That a good FM tuner (+ proper antenna) can still be a desirable input source if you have access to a reliable signal from a non-commercial public broadcast station that transmits classical music via the HD-FM process. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HD_Radio.) I live on the central coast of California, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, where we have a local low power repeater that relays the HD-FM signal from KUSC/Los Angeles, the last non-commercial public radio station in the U.S. that’s dedicated exclusively to classical music, 24/7. (No NPR, no PRI, no news, no jazz or folk music—it’s purely classical*.) KUSC does much of this with live in-studio program hosts, so the music is properly identified, and there’s a concurrent playlist on their website. KUSC’s transmission consumes the full 96 kbps bandwidth of their federally licensed HD-FM allocation (no HD subcarriers), so listeners can access the best possible HD-FM broadcast fidelity. If you tune in with a top quality FM-HD receiver that’s optimally aligned, the sound is totally free of noise, with wide frequency response and fine dynamic range. It’s a whole lot better sound from radio than you ever heard before!

*Well, their programmers seem to feel that movie themes (think Star Wars) are classical too. There’s a bit too much of such John Williams’ music for me, but that might be more welcome in other galaxies.

BG (August 2019)

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa