Before I get to the substance of this article on my all out attempt to listen to vinyl in the most emotionally and musical involving way possible, let me list the components comprising this incredibly music playing system. The thing we seldom talk about is that you can’t really say how a preamp, a turntable, or even speakers sound. All you can really do is talk about how your system sounds with the addition of the component you are evaluating. Of course as a reviewer I often try a component in different systems or with different components.
Still listening to recorded music is always about how the complete system sounds. So here is the best system I have heard for listening to vinyl.
The Complete System
The Shindo 301 Vinyl Playback System, $25,000
Shindo Modified Garrard 301, Shindo 301 Plinth, Shindo Bearing Footers, Shindo Platter, Shindo Oil Bearing, Shindo Mersault RF-773 12 inch Tone-Arm, Shindo SPU
Auditorium 23 Homage T1 Transformer, $4,900
Shindo Giscours Preamp, $27,900
Wavac EC 300B with NOS Western Electrics, $29,000 (hard to say these days with what the WE tubes are going for)
Teresonic Ingenium XRs with Lowther’s DX 4 Silver Drivers, $14,500
Shindo Interconnects, $1,500
Teresonic Speaker Cables, $1,500
Audience aR6-T with Au24 powerChord, $6,300
Audience Au24 power Chord amp and preamp, $4,400
Box Furniture Company DS3 Rack, $3,700
Total List Price for Euphoria, $118,700
I know there is an ethical question here, and I can’t answer it for you. I can say if you can’t afford it as I couldn’t for the first 55 years of my life; don’t go in debt or become financially extended to buy it! By the way, by going into debt I also mean not being able to take care of your family, your future, and the ability to help the needy of the world. There are plenty of ways to achieve very enjoyable, fun, and involving music in your home for one tenth this price. A Mini Cooper convertible is where I draw the line for a fun car with a great, involving riding experience. I know from past experience that the Jaguar is better, but the Mini is enough driving fun for me. The same way a Shindo or Wavac Integrated, a pair of Teresonic Magus, or a pair of Harbeth Super HL-5s with a Well Tempered turntable will suit most. If I had to step down to that system I would have withdrawal, but I certainly would still enjoy music.
Let me take a moment to talk about the way these components work together. Let’s start with the Auditorium 23 Homage T1 Transformer. I had Audio Note’s superb $8,600 S8 step-up transformer in the system when the Homage T1 arrived, so I had a few days to compare them toe-to-toe. The Homage T1 is wound with high quality copper compared to the vast amount of silver used in the AN-S8. I said in the review of the S8 that this difference may sum up the differences I hear as well. The S8 is slightly lusher in the mid-bass and lower midrange. It also has more sparkle in the treble area, though whether this is a plus or minus will be system dependent; but what isn’t? The Homage is fuller, bolder sounding and significantly more exciting to listen to than the Audio Note, through my Teresonic Ingenium Silver speakers. While either of these could be best in different systems, in my system the Homage T1 simply moves the system a little more toward being musically believable.
The T1 works so beautifully with both the Shindo SPU Cartridge and their Giscours preamp, but I have already written much about these so I’ll move on to the Wavac EC 300B and how it contributes to the sound of my system. I have still not heard any amp at any price that I like better than this amp. It sounds nothing like the stereotypical 300B amp. It has an uncanny natural timbre combined with a purity that allows voices and instruments to come to life. Then there is the dynamics, the sheer speed of the Wavac that results in a fast nimble sound that gives the music an immediacy, and a rhythmic sound that brings performances to life. Most 300B amps are more like a Lexus or maybe a Rolls Royce while the Wavac EC300B is the Lamborghini of tube amplifiers.
Then there are the incredible Teresonic Ingenium XR speakers, with Lowther DX4 silver drivers. For a long time I have said these are the second best speakers I have ever heard; the $50,000 Shindo Latours being the best. Well, the Latours would never fit in my room, and thus I have never heard them with the Wavac EC300B. So I can’t say which is best, but I can clearly say that I have not heard a more musically involving system than mine with the Teresonic’s being the speakers that anchor the entire system. I don’t know if it’s the legendary break in time of the Lowther drivers or what, but these speakers just continue to get better and better as time goes by.
Last, I should mention the cabling in this system. I use Shindo Silver interconnects, which barely edged out the incredible Teresonic Clarison Gold interconnects. For speaker wire I use Teresonic’s Clarison speaker cables. This is the same wire used from the drivers to the connectors in the speakers. It’s a multi-wire, pure OFHC copper with different diameter conductors separately twisted. One of the main reasons I use them is that they are triple shielded using elastic ferromagnetic shield, carbon steel, and a PVC cover. This is really important where I live; if I use long runs of unshielded cables in my system I pick up intermittent electronic noises that come through the speakers. So I am thankful for such a superb wire that also solves that problem for me. They sound just as good though slightly less full bodied than the Auditorium 23 speaker cables. In my location the unshielded A23s just don’t quite work. Someday I do want to try a shorter run of the Shindo speaker cables, but haven’t had the chance yet. Still I have had some incredibly expensive speaker cables in and nothing thus far is better than the Teresonic Clarison or the Auditorium 23 cables. Which makes both of them really great bargains as well as being great cables.
When it comes to power cables and conditioning I have found nothing better than Audiences’ newest cables and conditioners. You can read my reviews of these, but let me say they complete the system.
Now, let’s get to the point of this article; what does the Shindo Vinyl playback system with their Giscours preamp do for the sound of my system? In my reviews of these two products I refused to break down the sound into parts, but after living with them for nearly nine months I think I can conformably and briefly do that for you.
Let’s Start with the Bass
Because this is what everyone talks about when they talk about Garrard 301 turntables I was expecting the bass to be better, I was expecting that the bass might be slightly better than my previous reference, the Clearaudio Anniversary Wood CMBturntable, but I have to admit I was shocked at just how much better. The Shindo 301 turntable brought about the drive and power in the bass just as promised. Truth is, what the Shindo 301 does for the bass makes it so much more lifelike that it’s hard to overstate how good the bass is.
The addition of the Shindo Giscours preamp brought about bass and mid-bass definition that I did not realize was possible from a stereo, regardless of price. Probably as a result of this definition the bass has more air and dimensionally then before. I’m always amazed how Shindo gear allows you to hear the air and warmth of bass instruments so richly, yet without even the slightest hint of boom, or hangover. This incredible sounding bass is carried all the way up into the upper mid-bass resulting quick fast attacks followed by beautiful full decay that lets you hear different layers of the timber of the instruments.
The key factors may be weight and scale without giving up speed. I am amazed when watching college football to see the incredible speed some of those big linebackers have. Well this system is like that, you have the lightening fast speed of the Lowther DX4 Silver drivers combined with the weight, power, and beauty of the Shindo gear.
Maybe the most interesting thing about my system is the way the bass changes from LP to LP. There are certain LPs where there just doesn’t seem to be any bass. There are a few LPs like those from Patricia Barber where the bass is obviously over done. On most LPs though the bass is just amazing; it’s fast, tight, powerful, deep, airy, and has such realistic weight and scale. As a side note, when you are used to bass like this it is really hard to go back to listening to most box speakers.
Let’s see, I think I can sum up the midrange in one word – believable. What makes it believable you ask? Well, how about utter transparency without any glare, how about micro-dynamics that startle you when something happens off stage or maybe even on stage. Somehow the combo brings to my system a sound that is so liquid and sweet that it shouts tubes at their best. Then at the same time it brings transparency, clarity, and speed that defies it being tubes, much less a 56-year-old turntable design.
Voices are so believable, they have immediacy, and just seem to be right in the room with you. This system doesn’t seem to have to work at all to get the sound out of the boxes and into the room. The overall experience is very emotionally involving and just pulls you right into the performance.
Another incredibly believable thing about this vinyl system is the way horns bite and blare without the system sounding strained, etched, or irritating. So many systems I have owned or listened to down through the years just never sounded right on “Big Band” music. They either didn’t have enough dynamics or things would just fall apart when the horns got really loud. This system never has those problems, of course unless the recording was overloaded when it was made.
The highest praise I can give to this system is I never think about it when listening. I should say by comparison that the treble might not be as airy or as silky as it was with Ikonoklast speakers in the system, but noticed this only when I ask myself to listen for it, not ever when I was enjoying the music. The system has real presence and great sparkle. Heck, the midrange has so much great air and space if it does lack any in the very top I can’t imagine this ever keeping the speakers from sounding like music.
The real amazing thing is that you can get this kind of treble from an 8-inch driver. Importantly, it doesn’t call attention to itself whereas with most systems I listen to, I’m usually thinking about how the tweeter integrates with the rest of the system, or wishing I could tone it down a little, or I’m blown away by its air and extension. I think part of the wonder of a single-driver speaker that is well executed is exactly that. The bass, midrange, treble, and everything in between all are cut from the same cloth, so you don’t notice the separate parts of the frequency spectrum, and you are free to just listen to the music.
Micro and Macro Dynamics
They are simply incredible and one of the main things that makes this system so believable. As I said earlier, this system has huge dynamic range. They are so quick even in soft passage they can startle you when the big passages come along. When listening to Muddy Waters sing the blues, I had never heard such micro-dynamics from any speakers, not electrostatic, not a ribbon, not any other speaker. Add to this, I have never heard his voice sound so articulate and natural at the same time. The Sound of Strings on this system will just make you cry with joy. They are so sweet, so extended; so beautiful, they just melt your soul. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a blues guitar, a standup bass in a jazz group, or a classical violin, they all sound so natural and so wonderful. You hear the leading edge, fast, quick and dynamic with never a sense of edginess. You then hear the decay with all the air that should be around it. It doesn’t matter whether the strings are plucked, bowed, or strung, they all sound natural and beautiful.
This system has what I feel is a correct soundstage, or what I often call a coherent soundstage. It never sounds flat or two dimensional not even on mono recordings. It is holographic and natural all at the same time. It has a very cohesive side-to-side and back-to-front soundstage, with an extremely lifelike up-and-down soundstage. It doesn’t overproduce depth and width, but when it’s there, it’s there in all its glory, but so natural and realistic. It never sounds like notes coming at you from way back there, or somewhere over there to the left or right of the speakers (though plenty of music does come from outside the speakers). No, you hear three-dimensional instruments coming from a believable three-dimensional space.
This is more important to me in a system than soundstage, and it’s here that this system may be the most accurate and sometimes the most disturbing. It truly lets you hear what is on the recording. It can sometimes seem small, other times it is huge, sometimes distant, and other times upfront. I tell you though, on well-recorded music the sizes of instruments come through so life-sized that you almost can see the instruments. The sense of scale on a great organ recording will simply amaze you, but then next you can play a solo guitar and it will be tight and a very correct size, if it is a good recording.
As I come to the end of this three part review on my all out attempt to play vinyl LPs so that I can truly enjoy the music; I’m sitting here listening to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash play and sing “North Country Fair.” This song brings me back to why I love music played on vinyl. Even on a $50,000 plus digital system I find Dylan’s “Nashville Skylines” irritating to listen to on a digital system, while I find it beautiful on my vinyl system. When it comes right down to it, what else is there to say? Long live vinyl and I hope you can find a system that brings you the same joy mine does to me.
- (Page 1 of 1)