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Jeff checking in: 4 systems, Audio Note (UK), DIY, First Watt & Pass Labs, Soundsmith, and much more!

05-01-2022 | By Jeff Day |

Greetings friends, I hope you are doing well.

It seems like my audio list of topics to write about just keeps growing, and at times I ponder how I'll be able to keep up with everything going on. Not necessarily a bad 'problem' to have for an audio nut. 

However, particularly - at least for now - as we are entering a period where Covid-19 is receding significantly where I live, Spring is here, and adventure and travel opportunities are opening up, and I really want to get out and about and do some exploring after having spent the last few years in a state of covid-19 near-isolation. 

Let's see, since the last time I checked in, I've been busy with normal domestic activities, household maintenance, practicing my guitar, getting out for a few motorbike rides, a bit of socializing, and oh yeah, writing about hifi. 

You'd think that being an old retired guy that I'd have more time on my hands than I'd know what to do with, but since retiring I've been busier than ever. I like to stay busy most of the time, so that's a good thing. Most of the time.

If you haven't read them yet, here's a list of articles I've published here at Jeff's Place and Positive Feedback since my last Jeff checking in article: 

Positive Feedback

The Triode Lab 2A3 P-SET RSR Monaural Amplifiers - Double the SET Fun! (HERE

Triode Lab 2A3 P-SET RSR monaural amplifiers.

The Triode Lab 2A3 RSR parallel single-ended-triode monaural amplifiers are Frank Ng's state-of-art approach to monaural amplifiers, and they were definitely impressive performers.

Frank's discussion about what goes into his state-of-art amplification was definitely illuminating, so check out what Frank had to say when you get a chance.

If you are like me, you'll learn some important things from Frank's excellent discussion.

Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player.

Next up for a feature review at Positive Feedback - I'm working on the article now - is the Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player (MSRP $14,331.00 USD).

The Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player is an impressive hifi digital source, and the build quality is superb.

Inside the CD 4.1x.

One thing that surprised me about the CD 4.1x is how 'analogue' it sounds - it thinks it's a turntable!

I suspect that even curmudgeony old vinyl guys (like me) will be impressed with the musicality and sound quality the CD 4.1x is able to extract from those silvery discs.

From what I'm hearing from the CD 4.1x, it's likely it will outperform quite a lot of turntables at their own game. Unless you have a top-shelf turntable and phono cartridge, you might be surprised at the outcome of a duel between the CD 4.1x playing CDs and a turntable playing LPs. 

I'm finding that one of the most important aspects of a quality CD player like the CD 4.1x, is that it opens up a world of music listening that is not readily available to most vinyl aficionados. 

One of the treats I've really been enjoying is listening to digital transfers of monaural albums from the acoustic, electric, and early magnetic eras of recording.

Caruso on Nimbus Records 'Prima Voce' series of albums.

We're in the midst of an 'early recorded music' renaissance, as there are now a fair number of music labels specializing in early monaural recordings, and to make life easy for us they have done all the hard work of restoring, equalizing (there were reportedly over 100 EQ curves used early on in the recording arts), and transferring the most pristine examples of those early recordings to digital, so you can listen to them in all their glory on Red Book CDs.

Josephine Baker, A Centenary Tribute (Sepia 1065)

Those early recordings are truly impressive, featuring some of the greatest musical performances in the history of the recording arts.

I suspect that many listeners will be surprised to find out that digital transfers from 78 records can be more emotionally engaging to listen to than recordings from the stereo period of the magnetic era, which are known for for their impressive sound quality.

Marston Records 78 transfers to CD.

It's a classic conundrum, while the 'sound quality' of those early monaural recordings tends to be lower than the best of magnetic era stereo recordings, the emotional intensity of the musical performances is often greater.

With many of the 78 transfers I've listened to, there's a sense of vividness, macro-dynamics, and emotional intensity to the presentation - with a good CD player - that few magnetic era stereo recordings can match.

Valeria Barsova, soprano, 78 transfer.

I suspect that vividness, macro-dynamics, and emotional intensity of 78 transfers is due to the short recording signal path of those original direct-to-disc recordings, and the higher speed at which they were recorded (78rpm). 

For music lovers interested in the great performances of music that reside in all the eras of the recording arts, the importance of having access to much of our historic music canon on Red Book CDs, and being able to play them back over fine sounding Red Book CD players like the Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II and 4.1x, cannot be overstated. 

Louis Armstrong 78 transfers.

Being able to easily access our 'Library of Alexandria' historic recorded music canon, and experience the worldwide music culture and the recording arts that created it, marks a truly significant point in time for audiophiles and music lovers.

The immense significance of the convergence of the easy accessibility of those historic recorded music performances on Red Book CDs, and the appearance of musically adept CD players to listen to them on, makes it a great time to be alive for people who love listening to music. 

We live in wonderful times for those who love and appreciate listening to the great musical performances recorded during the monaural periods of the recording arts. 

Jeff's Place

I've recently hit the milestone of publishing 1000+ articles here at Jeff's Place, which I celebrated in my Jeff checking in: 1000 articles milestone, Pacific Audio Fest, SETS, and other stuff! article (HERE). 

Paul James, author of Experiencing Gigli with Quality Audio (HERE), suggested to me that I should write a "... reflection piece on what’s it’s taken to do all those reviews and any thoughts arising from the overall journey." 

That was a great suggestion, so I've tried to summarize some of my experiences for you over the time I've been writing about audio. I've included some lessons learned, and practical advice for putting together a great sounding audio system, which you can read in the article below:

Musings on Audio: A retrospective ... all those reviews, the overall journey, and lessons learned. (HERE


Speaking of Paul James, I should mention the great books written by our fellow passionate audio enthusiasts, Paul and Garrett Hongo.

Experiencing Gigli with Quality Audio, by Paul James.

Paul's book is an ode to the historic music recordings of Beniamino Gigli, the great Italian tenor, and includes lots of insights about building an audio system to get the best out of all music. 

Highly recommended!

Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo, by Garrett Hongo

Garrett Hongo is one of the world's great writers. Garrett Hongo is a poet, university professor, an author, a Pulitzer finalist, a music and audio enthusiast, and a writer of extraordinary well-crafted verse.

My reading time has been limited of late, but even though I'm just getting started reading Garrett's latest book, it is obvious it is a great read. 

Both of these books represent important additions to the world of literature, audio, and music. I recommend you add both of these books to your library ASAP. You'll be glad you did.

You can find both books on Amazon. Paul's book is HERE. Garrett's book is HERE

Long Term Reports

I've also been adding to my 'long term reports' series.

Going back and revisiting components that have been left with me for a longer period, or that I've purchased for my own use, is helpful for providing new insights, and how I've fared with those products over the longer term.

The Audio Note (UK) Oto Phono Signature integrated amplifier.

Long term report: The Audio Note (UK) Oto Phono SE Signature integrated amplifier! (HERE).

Leben RS-30EQ phono equalizer.

Long term report: 13 happy years with the Leben Hi-Fi Stereo Company RS-30EQ phono stage! (HERE). 

The First Watt SIT-3 stereo power amplifier.

In the writing pipeline, I've got long term reports coming up about the First Watt (HERE and HERE) and Pass Labs electronics (HERE, HERE, and HERE) I've written about, and about the excellent Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phono cartridge (HERE), which I've just recently had rebuilt after an unfortunate cantilever accident 😞. 

The Soundsmith Carmen Mk II.

Stay tuned for additional thoughts about these exceptional audio components. 

4 Systems

I've been working on updates about the 4 audio systems that are cooking here at Jeff's Place right now, and I'll be parsing out updates as Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, as I get a chance to finish writing them up.

Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers based audio system.

The first one is Listening: 4 systems ... with components from Audio Note (UK), Pass Labs / First Watt, and Triode Lab! Part 1 (HERE), which is about my primary music listening system at the moment.

Vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers based audio-visual system.

Stay tuned for much more to come as I get more time to write.

Audio Note (UK)

I've got a lot of Audio Note (UK) audio components here right now, and I'll have a lot more to say about them in the near future, like the Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player I mentioned above.

Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player.

I'll be writing the feature review of the Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player for Positive Feedback in the context of my primary music listening system at the moment, as describe in the 4 systems ... with components from Audio Note (UK), Pass Labs / First Watt, and Triode Lab! Part 1 (HERE) article.

In the Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player feature review article for Positive Feedback I'll also offer my impressions on how the Level 3 CD 4.1x compares to the Level 2 Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II CD player (HERE), as well as to turntables and vinyl generally, and specifically to the fine analog source combination of the Audio Note (UK) Io I MC phono cartridge, AN-S4 SUT, and AN-V silver interconnects (HERE). 

Audio Note (UK) Meishu Phono Silver Tonmeister 300B SET integrated amplifier.

A feature review of the Audio Note (UK) Meishu Phono Silver Tonmeister 300B SET integrated amplifier for Positive Feedback will be coming in the not too distant future. 

At the moment I'm working on getting the Audio Note (UK) recommended 200 hours of run-in time on the Meishu, so its not quite ready to write about in the upcoming feature review of the Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player for Positive Feedback.

My vintage Altec A5s based audio-visual system.

I've been 'cooking' the Meishu in my vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers based audio-visual system.

The renowned classic combination of Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers and 300B amplification in small to mid-sized American movie theaters wowed movie goers for decades, starting around 1945.

The ultra-refined Audio Note (UK) Meishu Phono Silver Tonmeister 300B SET integrated amplifier in combination with my vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers in my audio-visual system takes that combination next level, and is superb.

You can read more about the Meishu's run-in progress in my Listening (and watching): Audio Note (UK) Meishu Phono Silver Tonmeister 300B SET Integrated Amplifier! article HERE

When the Meishu is done cooking, I'll start on writing its feature review for Positive Feedback. I'll be discussing the Meishu in the context of a full Level 3 Audio Note (UK) suite of electronics, with the Audio Note (UK) Io I MC phono cartridge, AN-S4 SUT, and AN-V silver interconnects serving as a vinyl source, and the Audio Note (UK) CD 4.1x CD player serving as the digital source.

My guitar practice room with an Audio Note (UK) Level 2 system.

I've installed the Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers (more HERE) in my guitar practice room, along with the Audio Note (UK) Oto Phono SE Signature integrated amplifier, and Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD player, for an upcoming feature review of the AN-K/SPe loudspeakers. 

At the moment the Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers are 'cooking' as I'm working towards their full 100 hour run-in period as recommended by Audio Note (UK). 

Normally, I don't review loudspeakers, as my collection of huge horn-loaded loudspeakers are too much of a chore to move into storage to make room for loudspeakers to review.

However, I had asked my audio pals on Facebook about their favorite book-shelf sized loudspeakers for a 'guitar practice system' I was thinking about putting together, and Peter Qvortrup responded and said I should try his book-shelf sized Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers, so that's how this 'guitar practice room' system got started.

Also, Herb Reichert, one of my all time favorite audio writers (Listener, Stereophile), chimed in and mentioned that the Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers were among his all-time favorite loudspeakers, which definitely piqued my interest. 

The idea behind putting together a 'guitar practice system' was that I thought it would help me become a better guitarist.

I'm trying to learn how to play 'by ear', and pick out the key, the chord sequences, solo lines, guitar techniques, etc., from songs on CDs, so that I can play along with them as I practice in hopes of becoming a better guitarist. 

Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers sitting atop the AN-J stands.

The Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers are extremely well built, and the veneer is gorgeous.

The owner's manual that came with AN-K's states, "While we fully expect your AN-K loudspeakers to produce beautiful music, they may not do so from the first moment out of the box. Don't be alarmed, this is perfectly normal. Dynamic loudspeakers have a running-in period, during which time the drive units "loosen up". During this period, the sound may be somewhat dry, bright and constricted. As the suspension and cone materials of both drive units "softens up", the fullness of the bass and the smoothness of the treble will start to emerge and the true sound of the AN-K will be revealed."

The Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers are here!

When the Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers first arrived, I briefly hooked them up in my primary music listening system in my living room in place of my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers, to check to make sure nothing was damaged during shipping.

The system at that time was what I used for the Positive Feedback feature review of the Triode Lab 2A3 P-SET RSR monaural amplifiers. I found that Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers had survived their long journey unscathed, and produced a warm, rich, and musically engaging sound with that complement of equipment. 

I moved the Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers into my guitar practice room, and set them up with the Audio Note (UK) Oto Phono SE Signature integrated amplifier, and the Audio Note (UK) CD 2.1x/II Level Two Red Book CD player, as a complete system. 

I also included the Audio Note (UK) AN-SPe silver loudspeaker cables, Belden 8402 tinned-copper microphone cable interconnects, and Sablon Audio power cords, as part of the system setup. 

In that room and context, like the owner's manual had warned, the sound quality was "... dry, bright and constricted ...", and the "... fullness of the bass ..." wasn't evident, which caught me by surprise given the warm, rich, and musical presentation I had heard from them in the previous system context. 

I then substituted the warmer Duelund DCA16GA tinned-copper speaker cables for the more neutral AN-SPe silver loudspeaker cables, and let the speakers continue to 'cook' for a while to get some run-in time on them. 

Now the Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers were beginning to sound more naturally warm, rich, very musical, and very spacious. It was an impressive transformation.

Left to right: Friends Doc Leo, Ron, and Santos at Jeff's Place.

I hosted a little 'audio social' at my place for my audio pals, and we took turns listening to the Level 2 Audio Note (UK) system.

The AN-K speakers were setup in room boundary positions - close to the front wall and near the room corners - as recommended in the manual, and the seating position was 'near field', in the same place that I sit when practicing my guitar.

We were all wowed by what we heard from the Level 2 Audio Note (UK) system, and someone made the comment - Ron I think - that it was impressive that this system could sound so good in what is essentially an 'unfriendly' for audio, rather small spare room, that I use as a combination office and guitar practice room. 

The fact that this system could sound so impressive in this room, with the room boundary positioning of the loudspeakers, bodes well for those who live in smaller spaces.

The Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers are not particularly far along in their running-in process, and I'll be interested hear how the bass develops as they continue to run-in. 

Much more to come about the Audio Note (UK) AN-K/SPe loudspeakers.


I have two DIY projects on my 'to do' list.

Duelund CAST crossover for Tannoy Westminster loudspeaker.

The first is to migrate the outboard Duelund CAST crossovers of my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers to inside the cabinets of the West's. 

Outboard crossovers sound great, but they take up a lot of additional floor space, and I want to reduce the clutter.

It's actually a fairly daunting project trying to figure out how to install the sizable Duelund CAST crossovers into the West's cabinets.

I also want to be able to use the stock front panel 'treble energy' and 'treble roll off' controls, so that means wiring the Duelund autoformers in to replace the stock units that are wired up to them.

Acoustic Revive Absolute Power Cable (left) and 600V Duelund DCA12GA power cable (right).

I also want to come up with an affordable 'recipe' for a power cable that will come close to the lofty performance level of the Acoustic Revive Absolute power cable (or the Sablon Audio Gran Corona).

Sablon Audio Quantum Gran Corona power cable.

Really good power cables like those from Sablon Audio and Acoustic Revive tend to be expensive, so I'd like to come up with a power cable that's knocking on the door of that 'super power cables' level of performance, but are relatively affordable. 

A power cable that is in the spirit of the high-performing, yet inexpensive, Duelund DCA16GA tinned-copper loudspeaker cables, and the Belden 8402 tinned-copper microphone cable interconnects, is what I'm after. 

I'll be starting my research phase in the not too distant future (I hope), so if you have come across any DIY power cable 'recipes' that have really impressed you be sure to let me know.

The Music

I've kind of dropped the ball on adding to my The Jazz Guitar Chronicles list of recommended albums.

Joe Pass, For Django, Blue Note Tone Poet series reissue LP.

I've actually added a ton of excellent jazz guitar albums to my collection, but just haven't found time to tell you about them yet. Hopefully, I'll get that ball rolling again.

The Record Collector magazine and 78 transfers to CD.

Ditto for my The 78 Experience - Feeling the Music series. There's so many great musical performances from the monaural eras of the recording arts being issued by specialists of that genre that I can't keep up.

One DVD/Blu-ray set from Naxos Historical that I've been particularly looking forward to, and waiting patiently for, is now on the way to me.

Belcanto, The Tenors of the 78 Era, was delayed for a couple of months due to supply chain issues, which are all too frequent these days. 

My vintage Altec A5s based audio-visual system is waiting ...

I'll be watching/listening to Belcanto with the immensely satisfying combination of my vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers, and the Audio Note (UK) Meishu Phono Silver Tonmeister 300B SET integrated amplifier that's in for review, for that classic horn-loudspeaker and 300B amplification combination. A perfect combination for vintage Belcanto performances!

Ok, that's all for now.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

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