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Owner: Robin W.
Analog: Brinkman LaGrange turntable, Brinkman 10.5 arm, London (Decca) Reference cartridge and Brinkman tube power supply
Digital: Harmonix Reimyo CD-777 player
Tuner: Magnum Dynalab FT101 modified by Don Scott
Preamp: AirTight ATE-2 phono stage, AirTight ATC-2 preamplifier
Amp: AirTight ATM-211 monoblocks
Speakers: Hørning Alkibiades
Cables: Stealth Indra interconnects throughout, Stealth Hybrid MLT Speaker cable, Stealth Dream power cables
Tweaks: Herbie's Audio Labs HAL-Os tube dampers, Herbie's Iso-Cup footers under preamps and turntable, Symposium Svelte shelves under turntable and CD player, Symposium Rollerblocks Series II under CD player, Bright Star Big Rock under turntable, Shakti stone on CD, VPI Bricks on amps, and Totem Acoustics Beak on Hørnings
Power: 2 x 20A lines from service panel to equipment
Room size: 16' x 23', long wall setup
Listener: Michael Lavorgna
Exit 3A: Robin's systems
Exit 3A finds us taking a slight detour. How so? In addition to being his home, Robin's digs in New Jersey also serve as the home dealer showroom for Robyatt Audio. Robin is a dealer for the Tektron line of amps and preamps from Italy; Artemis Labs; and RL Acoustics' Lamhorns. My initial interest in contacting Robin was related to the Lamhorns; I've never heard them and figured they may be too large for my listening room for a formal review (turns out I was wrong on that count - but that will be another story). I also didn't want to waste Robin's time going over to Robyatt Audio with no intentions of buying (I've heard this actually happens sometimes). A quick email to Srajan and he cooked up this new Road Trip route in no time flat: why not put dealers who carry some interesting esoterica on the map as well? If a formal review isn't possible for one reason or another, why not see if you can go over for a listen and write it up as an informal session? Minutes after Srajan's inspired email, mine went to Robin and a week later I find myself in his living room listening to the Hørning Alkibiades.
I heard the Hørning Perikles -- currently the smallest of the Hørning line standing at roughly 41 inches -- at this year's HE2005 and was favorably impressed. Our own John Potis owns a pair. Think of the mighty Alkibiades as their very big brother standing at nearly seven feet tall and 200 lbs a piece. A horn-loaded three-way speaker consisting of a modified Lowther DX-4, a Hørning-designed fabric dome tweeter and a pair of rear-firing Beyma 12" woofers per side, the Alkibiades are Hørning's 2nd from the top model. This is the same driver config as found on the Agathon Ultimates reviewed by Jules Coleman for 6moons. Obviously, the Alkibiades adds a lot of internal volume to that folded horn and raises those Beymas much higher off the floor than the Agathons. Only one crossover is employed in this 99dB design and that's on the tweeter at 6000Hz (at 6dB/octave) according to the Hørning website.
A modified Lowther DX4 is used in a number of other notable designs, including the Carfrae Little Big Horns along with a powered sub, the Carfare Big Horns, the Beauhorn Virtuoso and the 2nd Rethm. Tommy Hørning's modification is the only one in this group to include removing the Lowther's whizzer cone. Mr. Hørning also modifies the voice coil and treats the paper cone. Hørning is also the only manufacturer that I'm aware of who uses the Lowther DX4 in a three-way configuration.
On first pass, you might think a speaker this size would overwhelm anything but a monstrous listening room. While there's little doubt where you are or why you're there when staring down the fascia of these hefty wood-bedecked monoliths, Robin's room accommodates them just fine. I find them no more visually present than something like the Magnepan 3.6s. Besides, what do you do with the space between the top of your speakers and your ceiling? And if those 4-strong 12" Beyma woofers perched at the very top of this very tall rear-firing stack suggests some beastly bass that's hard to tame, I got news for ya. Casual listener hat aside, I heard no such ill-mannerism. Taut, tuneful and powerful would be more akin to what I heard. In terms of setup, Robin felt that the introduction of the Stealth Hybrid MLT Speaker cable was the final piece that made the Alkibiades gel. While we're on the subject of cable, that is all Stealth Indra interconnects and Dream power cords.
An audio legend of the first order, Miura-san of AirTight designs a beautifully made line of amps and preamps. As Marshall Nack pointed out in his recent review of the ATM-211s in PFO, there's scant information on the web about AirTight and this amplifier in particular. It is of interest to note that Miura-san's father was the head of the Luxman Corporation where he grew up in audio, so to speak, eventually heading this formidable firm. As the story goes (see the Tweak Shop for more), Miura-san left the comfy confines of Luxman to explore a purer, higher end aesthetic. The Tamura-endowed ATM-211 mono blocks are in part a celebration of AirTight's 15th Anniversary. They are also things of beauty. One could argue that AirTight puts a bit more effort into luxury finish than other well-known brethren. And you'd get no argument from me. The specific 211s lighting up the room at Robin's are NOS United, reputedly the cream of the 211 crop.
You know all about the first watt, right? Well, try adding another 21 of single-ended triode muscled magic into a 7-foot tall, 99dB horn-loaded speaker with a quad of 12" woofers. That'll shake all the fleas outa your head. The phono and line stage are point-to-point hand-wired affairs and speak to a luxury standard of days gone by.
Having just re-entered the vinyl world from the budget end myself, I may have dribbled more than words on the Brinkman LaGrange turntable. I'd point to Jules Coleman's Brinkman Balance review for those looking for more informed writing on this line. The LaGrange is one of two tables in the Brinkman lineup, the Balance being the costlier of the two. Accompanying the Brinkman 10.5 arm and London Reference cartridge is the upgraded tube-based power supply. The Brinkman employs heated oil in the bearing well for a smooth platter glide. When you opt for the tubed power upgrade, the included transistor power supply's sole job becomes heating that lubricant. There's a certain attraction to a hot-oiled cold steel mechanical device that goes about its business in absolute precise silence. The Brinkman aesthetic speaks to the minimal, black, sleek and smooth side of your psyche. Venus in furs anyone?
Again, let me point to Jules' review of the Harmonix Reimyo CDP-777 for a more in- depth look at what some have called the best digital to be had. Robin has an interesting way of explaining how the Reimyo changed his digital listening habits. "You know how you have car music? Those CDs you only play when you're driving?" As I have a whole set of car-only CDs, I know exactly what he means. "Well, I listen to my car CDs in here now." Fair enough and well put. "And those LPs that sound like crap, like Born in the USA, are actually fun to listen to on CD through the Reimyo." Now you can color me officially jaded in this environment but I have to say my eye and ear kept going back to that Brinkman. That's not the same as saying I'd throw the Reimyo out of the rack, mind you. As an owner of more CDs than I'd care to count -- and with tons of great music only available on RedBook CD -- having a musically satisfying RedBook player is a must for me. That said, what I am saying is each time we put on an LP, the level of musically rapturous energy went up a notch or two.
Robin ran a dedicated earth ground for this dedicated power. He pointed right out the window to where it's spiked into the ground. This was my first Road Trip déjà vu. Brian from Exit 1 too felt this to be the most effective power treatment beyond dedicated circuits. He even pointed out his window and I've taken note. Another common find are Herbie's Halo tube dampers. For us tube-owning masses, especially the more microphonic among us, we've now seen these little ringies in two fairly extreme systems put together by two extremely thorough guys serious about getting their sound right. Interesting coincidence? For an average price of about $10 and a 90-day no risk trial, I'll go out on an audiophile limb and suggest you try 'em if you haven't already. I own and use 'em on my preamps 6SN7s. And they work. Another déjà similarity were the Symposium Svelte shelves found under the turntable and CD player. Check. Also in heavy use are Herbie's Iso-Cup ebony footers beneath the preamps and turntable.
|With a capital F
And let's underline that word right now - flavor. Listening to music at Robin's is a blast. If you've ever read any of the show reports from the Robyatt rooms, the word you'll never read is boring. Here's Jim Bosha from HE2004: "And apart from the downright fun, boardwalk-style showmanship..." And Paul Candy: "Robin W. terrified not a few visitors when he swapped out various output tubes on the $1,779 Tektron 2A3/50SI integrated while the amp was under signal!" And Wes Phillips from OnHiFi: "Messrs. Vu and [Robin W.] & Co. were almost levitating with their love of hi-fi. [Robin] jumped from demo disc to demo disc with such enthusiasm that I expected to be knee-deep in discards before he was through. It seemed strangely familiar, until I recognized that it reminded me of me - only more fun."
While my guess is Robin stands at 6ft give or take, when he's spinning disks and LPs, the image that sticks is nearly impish. Devilishly fun. We spun through a whole head-full of great music including Satchmo Plays King Oliver, Peggy Lee's classic Fever, bluesman Greg Brown's Milk of the Moon, a Charlie Byrd direct to disc LP on Crystal Clear, and many others including a few tunes from Robin's Desert Island mix. Not to mention some inspired house-shaking rap and Roland Van Campenhout's stirring rendition of "That's Amore".
And now for something completely different: System 2
Analog: Vintage Garrard 401 in custom plinth, Loricraft P300 power supply, Souther T1 Linear Tracking arm and Empire 888VE cartridge. Vintage Presto Pirouette T-16 Turntable in custom plinth with Grace 707 arm and Empire 888VE Cartridge
Digital: Denon DVD-5910
Tuner: Vintage Sherwood AM/FM
Preamp: Fi Y, Hagerman Trumpet phono stage
Amp: Fi WE421A
Speakers: The Horn Shoppe Horn
Cables: Crystal Piccolo interconnects, Nordost Flatline speaker cable
Tweaks: Herbie's Audio Labs HAL-Os tube dampers, Herbie's Iso-Cup footers under turntable, Symposium Svelte shelf under amp and preamp, Totem Acoustics Beak and Totem Claw footer on The Horns.
Room size: 16' x 16'
Out in the enclosed sun room, there's a second system that's used even more than the first. This is the nighttime relaxing, reading and listening room. And the system housed here is all about the three Rs; relaxing, relaxing and music.
A pair of vintage turntables
A Garrard 401 in a custom-made plinth using a Souther arm and an Empire 888 cartridge and a NJ-made Presto T-16 also in a custom plinth currently share the LP duties in system 2. We did a mini A/B between the two turntables and my expert, carefully considered opinionated opinion was, cool, I like 'em both. Robin prefers the 401. Pssst. Wanna know a secret? Well, okay, not so secret since an older system of Robin's that included a custom-made pair of Hedlund horns sporting AER drivers appeared in the March/April 2002 issue of Listener Magazine as a Pride & Joy feature. Here's the subtle hint contained in this quote referring to an Empire 880 cartridge: "I sold a Koetsu Rosewood Sig and a top Lyra for that!"
Hold the phone. During the course of writing up this visit, Robin decided to sell the Presto. Next up on the refurbish and custom plinth list is a Technics SP10/Lustra 80. Stick around for more than 10 minutes and you'll realize there's always some kind of deal in the works; Robyatt Audio, eBay and Audiogon buying and selling, tubes, cartridges, amps, vintage tuners... you name it.
For those 6moons regular readers, notice anything familiar below? Two white elephants in the same pages in a matter of months is surely no coincidence. Yes, that is the exact same Fi WE421A that Srajan very favorably reviewed back in October. I must admit to being very interested in seeing and hearing this three-tube wonder. Using the rarely used indirectly heated double triode as the solo power tube, the WE421A is another Don Garber amp I can imagine owning. Super quiet operation and the Fi house sound (read musical), this replaced Robin's Fi X. And he couldn't be happier. Robin also swapped out the 6SN7 driver for a 6SL7 so I could hear the difference. Of course he did this mid-music and the tube angels wept. Don's Y preamp sitting next to the amp is built on the same chassis as the Yph phono stage, a recent addition to my own rig.
I haven't owned a motorcycle for many years but it used to be that when you passed another rider, you gave 'em the thumbs up - as if owning and riding auto entered you into some club where a certain bond exists that non-riders would never get. When I go to someone's house and see Fi, I usually nod my head and am very tempted to give the owner that thumbs-up.
|The Horn Shoppe
These are an early pair of the Horn Shoppe Horns using the Fostex FE108 Sigma drivers. Nary a whizzer to be found in Robin's house. Ed Schilling of the Horn Shoppe has modified the 108 by cutting out the dust cap and replacing it with a wooden plug. The Horns are little rear-loaded folded buggers at 30" x 11.5" x 6" (HxDxW) and an easy load on any partnering amp, with the 421A's 4 watts being more than enough power to produce some sweet music. These little Horns from Ed Schilling, reviewed by Srajan in September, in this room as driven by the Fi WE421A had some real where's-the-sub? bass. Add me to the list of people who have been fitfully impressed. As an interesting point of comparison, the living room rig asks the question where's the Marshall stacks or the symphony orchestra (feel free to add as many expletives as you wish to drive home the point that the Hørning/AirTight combo can impregnate).
A desert island
Robin likes to talk about what he'd take along to a desert island. I have a copy of his Desert Island CD mix and let me tell you, he's planning on having some company and a tiki bar in his desert. And out of the 17 amps, 12 pres and 5 turntables currently at Robyatt Audio, the Garrard/Fi/Horn Shoppe rig would be Robin's Island choice. Yup, the relaxed, musical and -- relatively speaking -- inexpensive gear. And I get the distinct impression this same system brings a little of that dreamy island breeze into Robin's household every night.
|By day, Robin is an FX guy. As in Forex, foreign exchange. A currency trader. In the time it takes me to answer the question "do you want more coffee?", FX guys have bought and sold sums. Up at 4, home by 4, timing and quick-witted resourcefulness are the tools of the trade along with an instinctual scent for the value of the deal at hand. In some ways, Robin interacts with his systems on an instinctual level as well. Sniffing out what may be holding back that last ounce of free-flowing good music and applying the right mix of Ebony footer and resonance enhancing cone, perhaps a 6SN7 instead of a 6SL7. With its ability to play 2A3s, 45s, 50s, VT-52s, 300Bs and others, the Tektron TK2A3/50S amplifier fits this music-loving restless nature to a T. Look for more on that amp in the coming months.
What I ended up hearing was a pair of systems with very different approaches to Hi-Fi. Different means, different ends, intimate and grand, a real yin-yang of audio under one roof. That's not to suggest there are only two successful flavors to be had in HiFi Far from it. The possibilities outnumber Baskin Robbins. And from my way of enjoying, there's no better way to relish your music than getting your hands, heart and head involved into the mix. In other words, the idea of buying your whole rig by the book, the list or the reviewer, is artificial HiFi insemination. I want to hear my musical DNA when I go home. Ideally in two flavors to match my mood. Or more?
What, there's more? Yup. Look for another installment in the Robin W. story when I hit the road to Robin's PA digs to hear his other two systems. Did someone say Tannoy wideband Churchills à la mode?