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♫♪ The 2016 Jeff Awards: World Class Mentors! ♫♪ (Part 2)

12-16-2016 | By Jeff Day |

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, I’ve been reflecting back on my time in the audio hobby lately, and thinking about what a tremendously satisfying hobby it has been on so many levels.

A lot of what is wonderful about this hobby are those individuals that I’ve met over the years, like Ron Barbee, Frederik Carøe, Jonathan Halpern, mentioned in Part 1, and others, who together have had such a dramatic influence on my enjoyment and understanding of the musical and audio arts. It takes a village to raise an audio nut!

I sincerely want to thank all of you, I truly appreciate you, and your positive influence on my life, my music, and my audio adventures! You’re the best!

I have four more fine individuals that I’d like to express my appreciation to in 2016 with a Jeff Award for their extraordinary mentoring.

As I proceed in alphabetical order, let me introduce to you Stephæn Harrell, Pete Riggle, Jim Smith, and Shirokazu Yazaki:

Stephaen Harrell, Six Moons

Stephæn Harrell has been perhaps the most influential person in my audio life.

Stephæn didn't show me how to build crossovers, or how to modify amplifier or preamplifier circuits, or anything like that.

Rather, way back in 2002, Stephæn encouraged me to start writing about audio for a fledgling audio web site called Six Moons, which kicked off a series of audio & musical adventures that lead up to the present day.

Stephæn (left) presenting an Anvil Award to Harry, and now it's Stephæn's turn for a Jeff Award in recognition of his mentoring skills!

Stephæn's influence & encouragement is what got me writing about hi-fi about 15 years ago now, and I must say it's been a true joy writing about audio adventures for you ever since then!

I want to thank Stephaen for his wonderful influence in my life, for by mentoring me to pursue audio writing as a hobby he was the catalyst that has brought about so many fine audio & musical adventures that I've been able to tell you about!

Please join me in recognizing Stephæn, he's been one heck of a mentor in writing about audio!

Pete Riggle, Pete Riggle Audio Engineering


Pete Riggle lives in rural Eastern Washington State, part of a historically significant area of the USA known as the 'Tri-Cities', which is nearby to a once-secret World War II government research & development installation encompassing 586 square miles (about half the size of the US state of Rhode Island), that was under the guidance of physicist Robert Oppenheimer as part of the Manhattan Project.

Pete Riggle visiting Jeff's Place.

While that complex no longer exists, like the mythical phoenix, out of its ashes arose a vast research community of many thousands of scientists and engineers, that have traveled there from nearly every country on Planet Earth to pursue answers to the most pressing scientific questions of today, in a concerted effort to expand the horizons of knowledge in order to make the world a better place to live.

Today the area is home to quite a number of notable tech efforts, including the National Science Foundation's LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) that recently announced the detection of gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of ten of the DOE Office of Science's world-class research laboratories, often referred to as the “crown jewels” of the US's research infrastructure, and which notably have a list of 115 Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, physics, physiology, and medicine, associated with them.

Why do I mention this? It turns out that there's a significant amount of technical folks around there who balance out their left-brain day jobs with the right-brain stimulation of musical hobbies, either as musicians, or those that are into good hi-fi tech, like Pete Riggle.

The 12.5-inch Woody SPU tonearm from Pete Riggle Audio Engineering.

The kindly Pete Riggle is now retired, and he's got a fascinating history as an engineer, which I described in part in my Positive Feedback article about his remarkable 12.5-inch Woody SPU tonearm.

Pete's background includes specialist engineering projects for Boeing (and others), his own loudspeaker company, and with his passion for music & audio burning brighter than ever, Pete enjoys developing and providing his bespoke audio creations to a select few through Pete Riggle Audio Engineering.

Pete Riggle showing Jeff how to lay out a breadboard crossover from schematics.

Back in 2013 when Frederik Carøe and I started the Duelund Coherent Audio project to build a no-holds-barred set of external crossovers for my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers (1, 2) using the hand-crafted and state-of-art Duelund CAST components, Pete Riggle sat down with me, and showed me the basics of how to lay out a crossover circuit on a breadboard from a crossover schematic diagram.

The Duelund CAST crossover for the Westminster Royal SE loudspeaker.

That afternoon of instruction from Pete allowed me to complete the breadboard crossovers, go on to build the final versions of the crossovers (above), and now has enabled me to take what I learned and build breadboard crossovers for my Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers project.

Vintage Altec Lansing A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers.

Pete also explained the how & why of adding a pair of 16 Ohm L-pads into the high-frequency circuits of the Hiraga-inspired crossovers I built, and Pete's advice has really helped me to get them dialed in so that the high-frequency & low-frequency horns are well-balanced and blending together beautifully.

Pete Riggle was even so kind as to run some SPICE simulations of the combination of the L-pad and the notch filter's variable resistor (Yazaki-san's suggestion) for various values, and even drew the frequency response plots and labeled them by hand! I must admit I was awed, and it was an incredible learning experience!

Pete continues to mentor me in building and voicing crossovers, which I deeply appreciate, and I am doing my best to be a good student!

There's more good news, as Pete has expressed a desire to help me build the final versions of the Altec A5's crossovers, and then mentor me in the development of custom crossovers for my Stokowski A7 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers!

It is really wonderful of Pete to offer his wisdom & guidance for these projects, and I appreciate him being willing to invest his time in mentoring me on how to proceed. It not only will be a lot of fun, but my intent is that the end result will cumulate in a feature article for Positive Feedback that I hope will become a standard reference for years to come for those wishing to adapt their Altec A5's & A7's to home listening with superb sounding crossovers.

Please join me in congratulating and thanking Pete Riggle with me, as I honor him with a 2016 Jeff Award for his outstanding mentoring!

Thank you, Pete!

Jim Smith, Get Better Sound

I've known Jim Smith perhaps longer than anyone else on the audio beat, and he's a great guy!

It must have been around 1998 when I bought a pair of Avantgarde Duos, which Jim imported to the USA from Germany at that time, and that's how I first got to know Jim, almost 20 years ago now.

I've always been impressed with Jim's skills and musical sensibilities with the Avantgarde systems he showed at the Consumer Electronics Shows over the years, as he was always able to coax extremely musical performances from them even in very intractable room environments. Jim also helped many other exhibitors get the best out of their show systems, and word spread about his considerable audio talents until Jim has become quite legendary!

If my memory is correct, Jim Smith has been in the audio business for over forty-five years now, and has helped literally tens of thousands of music & film enthusiasts get the maximum performance out of their home audio and video systems, and fortunately for all of us, Jim released a book and DVD set describing much of his hard-won setup knowledge in order to help us get the best out our home listening & video systems.

Jim Smith at home in his listening room.

I first reviewed Jim's Get Better Sound book way back in 2008 for Positive Feedback's Issue 40, and today Jim's portfolio spans a Get Better Sound book & DVD set, affordable personal StraightTalk sessions to advise you on your system setup over the phone, his custom RoomPlay sessions to help dial your system into your room with a personal visit, and his Quarter Notes newsletter, all of which I highly recommend to you to get the best out of your music listening experience.Something that I have been greatly anticipating is Jim's upcoming Through the Sound Barrier project, which builds on his Get Better Sound  with recent revelations on how to deliver a "far higher level of musical involvement" from your home listening, at a level of emotional impact that rivals a live concert.

Jim's working on that project now and will be offering a Through the Sound Barrier book, video set, and setup music CD, which I am really looking forward to!

I have learned so much from Jim over the years, talking with him on the phone, talking with him at Consumer Electronics Shows, reading and viewing his Get Better Sound setup guides, and implementing all of Jim's techniques in my own audio life. Until you've actually worked through and implemented all of Jim's setup regimen into your own system, honestly, you have no idea of how high the potential of your home music system really is.

Please join me in thanking Jim Smith, and recognizing him for being such a great mentor and sharing all his considerable knowledge and talents with us!

Thank you, Jim!

Shirokazu Yazaki, SPEC Corporation


Shirokazu Yazaki, who many of you know as "Yazaki-san" from my writing about him here at Jeff's Place, and for Positive Feedback (1, 2), has had an incredible influence on me by mentoring me about the pursuit of 'real sound' in home listening.

Yazaki-san (center) with friends in Tokyo.

Meeting Yazaki-san was a pivotal moment for me in my audio & musical life, and his mentoring has resulted in a wonderful serendipitous series of audio adventures that have forever changed the way I think about audio and experience music in home listening sessions.

SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier

Little did I know when I agreed to review the SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier that I would undergo such a transformative experience as a result of it.

Normally I would consider the SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier class-D amplifier to be outside of my usual audio beat of the vintage & vacuum tube electronics I am so fond of, but after talking with Yazaki-san and hearing about his truly remarkable life in audio, and recognizing him as a kindred spirit, I was quite intrigued.

It turned out that the SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier was a remarkable achievement by any standard, and I said about it in the review that:

"It does have the rich musicality and beautiful tone color of DH-SETs, but it easily outperforms most DH-SETs with its deep, tuneful, and articulate bass performance, and has even smoother, richer, and more natural high frequencies than all but a handful of the very best SET amplifiers. I think the truth is that the SPEC Real Sound Amplifier outperforms 99% of the vacuum tube amplifiers I've heard, and it is more powerful than many of them, so it's easier to match it up with a wide variety of loudspeakers and expect good results."

Stokowski A7's with SPEC Real Sound Amplifier.

The SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier is a truly remarkable integrated amplifier, and I have paired it with my custom Altec A7 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers that were built for Leopold Stokowski's home system half a century ago, and the result is 'real sound' magic!

In a moment of listening to that system, Pete Riggle went out and bought a pair of A7's of his own, so enchanted was he by their combined performance!

Spool of Western Electric WE16GA wire.

When Yazaki-san introduced me to his pursuit of 'Real Sound', one of the first things he told me about to help me understand what that meant by 'Real Sound' was the Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects, and vintage Western Electric WE16GA wire as speaker cables, that he used in his own system at home.

Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects.

It turned out the that the vintage tech Belden 8402 microphone cable & vintage WE16GA wire had something in common, tinned-copper conductors, which when I tried them in my vintage McIntosh electronics & Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers based system, resulted in a completely different and more 'real' way of experiencing music from that system.

WE16GA wiring & my vintage McIntosh MC30 'Real Sound' modified monaural amplifiers.

WRSE with WE16GA internal wiring.

I was deeply impressed with the musicality and emotional impact of the results, and I quickly adopted the vintage Western Electric WE16GA for use as speaker cables, then eventually rewired my Westminster Royal SE's internally with WE16GA, as well as my Duelund CAST external crossovers. The Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects became my interconnects of choice, and they also became the 'Real Sound' standard for use in my SPEC & Stokowski A7 system.

Decades of my perceptions of what speaker cables & interconnects should perform like were undone in a few short months, and at that point I still had little idea of the transformative ideas these vintage-style wires would spark in my life.

Vintage McIntosh MC30 monaural amplifiers.

Then came Yazaki-san's suggestions of some more 'Real Sound' adventures, which would involve modifying my vintage McIntosh electronics, first with the MC30 monaural amplifiers, and then with my MX110Z tuner-preamplifier.

Ron working on our Capacitor Adventure with the McIntosh MC30's.

My friend Ron Barbee volunteered his considerable knowledge and skills for implementing Yazaki-san's modification suggestions for these vintage McIntosh gems, and with Yazaki-san's & Ron-san's mentoring I began to understand about how capacitors and resistors worked in audio electronics circuits, and strategies for optimizing them in a 'Real Sound' approach, and then thanks to Ron's encouragement, even began to do some modifications on my own with my MX110Z.

Vintage McIntosh MX110Z Tuner-Preamplifier

I cannot even begin to describe how fun and satisfying these 'Real Sound Adventures' have been, and to hear the dramatic performance & voicing enhancements that are possible with a few well chosen 'hot-rod' modifications absolutely blew my mind.

This caused a major transformation in my view & appreciation of audio, and now, for the very first time, I was not dependent upon just changing audio components or vacuum tubes to voice my system, but I could work at the DNA-level of capacitors & resistors to bring about changes in tone color, timbral textures, dynamics, and overall levels of musicality that were completely unimaginable to me a few short months before.

Please join me in recognizing Yazaki-san with a 2016 Jeff Award for being such an incredible mentor.

Thank you Yazaki-san for being such an incredible mentor, your influence has changed my life!


Many thanks to these fine mentors for the tremendous influence they have had on me personally, and for their significant contributions to advancing the audio & musical arts!

My friends, may your Holidays be filled with love, family, friends, and wonderful music & audio adventures!

From my home to yours, may the tone be with you!

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