Positive Feedback Logo

Jeff checking in ... high-performance "affordable" hifi, Sophia Electric vacuum tubes, Triode Lab 45 EVO, Audio Note (UK), Pass Labs, First Watt, and more!

03-05-2021 | By Jeff Day |

I'm starting to get back into the hifi swing of things after going through a rough time in the December through January timeframe. It feels good to have life going in a good direction again. 

Will life regain a more normal tempo in a semi post-coronavirus stasis by this summer? I sure hope so! 

I really want to attend the Pacific Audio Fest to be held in Seattle that is planned for July 30th through August 1st (HERE), and it will take eased coronavirus restrictions here in Washington State for that to happen. 

Understandably, people have been playing it safe during the coronavirus pandemic, so social activities and group gatherings have taken a hit for most people.

It is possible for cautious and responsible get-togethers to start taking place again, which sure is nice.

After a near year-long absence during the pandemic, it has been great seeing friends again here at Jeff's Place. We've been playing it safe and being responsible by wearing masks and maintaining adequate social distance.

Up until now its been solo visits from friends David, Santos, and Doc Leo. Now with vaccines being rolled out I'm looking forward to having more than one visitor at a time. Although the plan is still to keep it to a maximum of three people being present at any given time for a while longer, as the coronavirus tide continues to recede.

Duelund-Westminster Project loudspeakers with Pass Labs electronics. 

Remarkably, it has been two years since I've listened to my Duelund-Westminster Project Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers, as the last two years I have been occupied with the Duelund-Altec Project vintage "Stokowski" loudspeakers.

They are both amazing loudspeakers, but totally different from each other in voicing, which for me is a good thing, as it enables me to hear how audio components respond to different voicings in loudspeakers.

For example, all of my loudspeakers, the Westminsters, the vintage Altec 832A Coronas, the vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatres, and the vintage "Stokowski" Altecs all have different voicings, which gives me a great opportunity to hear how flexible audio components are that visit Jeff's Place in interfacing with systems that present differing styles of "soundscapes". 

As I've been rotating equipment in and out of systems for Positive Feedback articles lately, my friend and superb jazz guitarist, David Gitlen, got his first chance to hear the Westminster loudspeakers in the system. 

David likes the Westminsters' presentation better than the vintage "Stokowski" Altecs, as they are more transparent, and go lower in the lows and higher in the highs.

"Stokowski" Altec loudspeakers with Audio Note (UK) equipment.

I like both sets of loudspeakers for different reasons, as they're both examples of incredibly good loudspeakers from different eras in audio.

You know what? It's ok to like what you like, as that leads to greater diversity in audio equipment, a topic leads me to something being talked a lot about lately among audio insiders and enthusiasts alike.

As an audio writer I get to hear a lot of "insider" opinions about the state of the audio industry that probably most of you don't get to hear. 

A fair number of audio companies have been concerned about the rise in amusicality in enthusiast audio equipment that has occurred over the last couple of decades.

Some are worried that the trend of amusicality could ultimately destroy the enthusiast audio sector if it continues. 

Few want to go on record on this topic because it is such a volatile one. Industry insiders differ a little in opinions on this topic, but tend to attribute the rise in amusicality to audio writers and audiophiles specifically.

Some brave souls - like Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note (UK), for example - have gone public on this topic, but most haven't, and are still afraid that fessing up publicly might hurt business. 

Here's the crux of it: We audio writers started referring to visuospatial performance like it was an important topic way back when. The novelty of it caught on due to its presence in some of the most well-recorded albums during the magnetic era of recording. So visuospatial performance became a thing. 

In fact, visuospatial performance was and is pretty far down the list of important attributes in the reproduction of music, given that it doesn't really have anything to do with the quality of the musical performance itself, and that it is only present in probably less than 1% of our recorded musical canon.

However, when we in the audio press started oohing and ahhing about visuospatial performance, audio enthusiasts wanted to buy the products we writers praised.

Quite a few enthusiast audio companies started voicing their products with those "best" recordings from the magnetic era of recording, and "goosing" certain frequency bands to accentuate the visuospatial attributes of imaging, soundstaging, etc., so that their kit would get good reviews from audio writers, and ultimately sell more audio equipment.  

The result was audio equipment that sounded good on the less than 1% of our recorded music canon, but sounded like crap on pretty much everything else.

If you don't believe that just think back on the more recent audio shows in your memory. Most systems at shows sounded like crap and couldn't play real music to save their lives, didn't they? Yep. It wasn't just the fault of the rooms either, like it is commonly attributed to. 

That focus on visuospatial performance combined with the disappearance of tone controls, adjustable crossovers, equalizers, etc., from enthusiast audio products, meant that you couldn't offset the amusical voicing of audio equipment that had become popular with the audio writers and audiophiles who tended to listen primarily to that small fraction of the best recordings.

I know, I know, simplicity is a good thing in the signal path, well ... until it isn't. Sometimes a little more complexity is a good thing for getting better musicality and sound quality from an audio system. You can do both, as incompatible as that sounds. 

Essentially those two factors meant that enthusiasts who primarily got into the hobby to listen to all their favorite music were screwed. Amusicality in audio had become the dominant trend in enthusiast audio. 

If you are an audio writer or audiophile I've found you have to put on your thick skin with regards to this topic, as a lot of audio insiders think we're idiots for driving performance in that direction, and in some regards I think they are kind of right. 

There is some blame to go around though, as quite a few audio companies did participate in the trend as well. In order to makes sales. And they didn't call us audio writers out on the topic like they probably should have. 

I think it is time to move things back towards more balanced performance in audio components that favors listening to all of our recorded music canon, and to provide enthusiasts with adjustable crossovers, tone controls, etc., so they have the ability to do some equalization once again.

I believe that will open up the hobby to a broader cross section of enthusiasts who want to buy audio equipment that better fits their listening needs. 

That also increases the diversity of the types of audio component voicings available, which is a good thing. 

If you are an audiophile who wants an emphasis on visuospatial performance in your audio systems, that's ok - go for it.

If you are a person who wants to listen to the wide variety of music in our recorded music canon and have it sound good in a high-fidelity way, that's ok too - go for it.

This brings up a second point, that of how good some of the entry level kit is these days, and while still expensive in real-world working-person terms, is trending towards "affordable" in enthusiast audio terms.

Duelund-Westminster Project loudspeakers with Pass Labs electronics.

I'll give you two sets of examples: That of the entry level Pass Labs separates, the Pass Labs XA25 stereo amp, the XP-12 line preamplifier, and the XP-17 phono equalizer.

And that of 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.

Duelund-ized Tannoy Westminster Royal Special Edition loudspeakers with Audio Note (UK) components.

Both of these examples can sound musically natural on a wide variety of recorded music from the different recording eras, and still do a more than respectable job on visuospatial attributes when they are present in recordings. 

What I'm hearing from both of these examples is extremely impressive, both in terms of overall musicality and visuospatial prowess. 

Even as a spoiled audio writer who gets to listen to exotic equipment all the time, I could easily live with either of these for the rest of my days. They are just that good. And they don't break the bank.

Here's the deal: companies who can provide well-balanced audio performance at affordable prices have order books that are full. Others not so much. The tide is turning. But just barely.

When I sat down to write this post I thought I'd just give you a quick status on what's coming up here at Jeff's Place, but the dialog of current topics in the audio arts sort of took over, but at least now you are up to speed on the kind of dialog going on among enthusiasts and those within the industry.

It's a good thing that people are talking about this topic, and bodes well for the future of enthusiast audio.

Now back to what's coming up. Exciting things! 

Triode Lab 45 EVO SET integrated amplifier with Sophia Electric Aqua 274B rectifier.

My next Positive Feedback article in the review queue is the beautiful 2 watt per channel Triode Lab 45 EVO SET integrated amplifier. 

Sophia Electric 45 Mesh Plate power tubes (left pair), and Sophia Electric Aqua 274B rectifier (right).

Also, along with that will be comparisons of some exotic rectifiers and 45 tubes. I'll compare the Sophia Electric bottles to the Emission Labs 45 mesh plate power tubes and Psvane Acme 274B rectifier that Frankie at Triode Labs sent along with the 45 EVO as his preferred vacuum tube complement.

Vintage inspired AV system with Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers.

I've been listening to the Triode Lab 45 EVO SET in my audio-visual system and have been impressed with its performance. There's abundant evidence of that SET magic on display with the EVO.

Triode Lab 45 EVO SET integrated amplifier with Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers.

I was planning on moving the "Stokowski" Altecs back into my main music system this weekend to prepare for the Positive Feedback article about the EVO, but I injured my back (don't ask), so I'm going to hold off on that for a week or two until the back feels better.

In the meantime I thought I do some preliminary impressions for Jeff's Place about the Sophia Electric 45 mesh plate power tubes, the Sophia Electric Aqua 274B rectifier, the Emission Labs 45 mesh plate power tubes, and Psvane Acme 274B rectifier.

These are all great tubes. I'm looking forward to telling you more about their musical and sound quality personalities. Stay tuned. 

Audio Note (UK) Io I moving-coil phonograph cartridge.

Next in my review queue for Positive Feedback is the Audio Note (UK) Io I moving-coil phonograph cartridge, the Audio Note (UK) AN-S4 step-up transformer (SUT) ...

Audio Note (UK) AN-S4 step-up transformer (SUT).

... the Audio Note (UK) AN-SPe silver loudspeaker cables, and the Audio Note (UK) AN-V silver interconnects. 

Audio Note (UK) AN-SPe silver loudspeaker cables.

I'm looking forward to telling you all about these Audio Note (UK) products in their Positive Feedback review, and no doubt I'll be offering you more glimpses into their performance here at Jeff's Place before then.

Audio Note (UK) AN-V silver interconnects.

After that the First Watt F8 stereo amplifier from Nelson Pass will be up for review at Positive Feedback.

The new First Watt F8 stereo amplifier from Nelson Pass.

That's what's going on here at Jeff's Place right now.

I hope life is getting back to a more normal tempo for all of you, and that I'll be able to see you at the upcoming Pacific Audio Fest! 

Until then, stay safe and well, my friends, and enjoy your music and hifi kit!

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Jeff's Categories

More Articles by Jeff

Get our Newsletter


Recent Discussions