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Owner: Wayne B.
Analog: Merrill-Scillia Audio M21 turntable, TriPlanar tonearm, Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua Cartridge [analog rig on demo]
Digital: Harmonix Reimyo CDP-777
Tuner: Sansui TU-9900
Preamp: ModWright SWL 9.0SE with GoldPoint attenuator and power supply mods, E.A.R. 324 Phono Stage [on demo]
Amplifier: Yamamoto A08S
Integrated amplifier: Tektron TK2A3/50S-I
Speakers: Lamhorn 1.8, Carolina Audio JTM
Rack: 2 x Gingko Audio Platformula racks with integral vibration-control platforms
Cables: Auditorium 23 Speaker Cable, Audience AU24 speaker cable and Interconnects, Harmonix HS-101 GP, Furutech Ref III, Jena Labs Symphony and Shindo
Power cables: Harmonix Studio Master X-DC, Silent Source, Audience, Signal Cable
Power conditioner: Walker Audio Velocitor S
Room size: 24.5' long, 17.5' wide, ceiling rising from 8' to 13' then dropping back to 8.5' at about 8' from the back wall
Listener: Michael Lavorgna

Today's system is a (re)introduction, a coming-out party of sorts and most importantly, included a crew of fun-loving, living, breathing hifi friends. A few exits down the Garden State brought me to the lovely Art-filled home of Wayne and Mindy B. and their recently minted SET/single-driver system. There are a few interesting threads weaving through Wayne's system that lead us back to 6moons but it's in the mixing and mingling where things get interesting.

When I first arrived, there was some cool Jazz playing and dogs barking. Wayne's Australian Shepherds need to give you the olfactory once-over to make sure you pass muster. While I got by on remnants of our Bernese Heidi's scent, this test isn't concerned with pedigree or breed. Dogs are not connoisseurs of scent yet they are expert sniffers.

Merrill-Scillia MS21 turntable
Luckily for me, my Road Tour intersected with another tour of sorts; Anthony Scillia of Merrill Audio braved a torrential NJ thunderstorm and was on the road and on-hand with their new MS21 turntable. First a bit of history - George Merrill is considered by some to be a genuine US audio legend. The first Merrill Turntable was introduced 25 years ago. There were a few iterations including the Merrill Heirloom which are still sought after by vinyl lovers. According to the Merrill website, the original Merrill turntable included many firsts which are still employed in turntables today, including the use of an acrylic platter, fluid-damped motor and a periphery clamping ring. Prior to the Merrill turntable, Mr. Merrill made a name for himself in the vinyl world through his mods for the AR XA and ES turntables. Mr. Merrill retired from the turntable business but was gently coaxed back into production for the new MS21. Here's a quote by George Merrill from an interview on the Vinyl Nirvana website:

"Let me start by saying physics hasn't changed. What makes a good turntable hasn't changed fundamentally. What has changed are the materials, the way they are manufactured and their availability. The new turntable has no acrylic whatsoever except for the dust cover. It's been replaced by polymers that are the "deadest" out there. These new materials excel at dissipating energy. Likewise, the base is no longer wood, it too is a polymer material. The bearing well is about the only thing to remain a constant, except that contemporary machining techniques have made it possible to achieve tighter tolerances."

A symphony of resonance-damping ter- and co-polymers with an oil-damped motor, cast two-piece aluminum resin compound platter, lead record mat and sprung suspension, the matte black MS21 seems to absorb light and any extraneous sounds. The MS21 incorporates an external regulated power supply with push-button speed control between 33 and 45.

The 21 in the name refers to the 21st century materials employed. There are too many technical details to include here but anyone interested in the ABCs of the MS21 should visit the Merrill Audio website for a very thorough rundown. Think Stealth technology in the service of your LPs. If you look at the resumes of the people involved in bringing the MS21 to life, you'll understand what I mean. The MS21 will make its official debut at CES 2007.

Combak Reimyo CDP-777
I've run into the Reimyo on Road Tour before, namely in the home of Robin W. Turns out we've run into our first Road Tour intersection. Wayne bought his Lamhorns and Tektron amp from Robin. The Reimyo is definitely one smooth operator and this quality has traveled with it to the various systems I've heard it in. We were able to spend some quality time focused on the digital-only system since we'd planned for me to arrive a few hours before the vinyl-toting gang.

ModWright SWL 9.0SE
This was my first experience with the Blue Moon-endowed ModWright SWL 9.0SE. Since this system and room were new to me, I'd be hard-pressed to form a thorough opinion of any particular component. That said, any glaring sonic foibles might signal a weak link in the chain. And I am happy to report that none came to my ears. While doing some research on the ModWright, I came across this user comment from their website: "...One of my favorite classical recordings is Stravinski's Firebird. I have a Telarc CD of it that I know quite well. I listened to it last night (after about 16 hrs of break in) and I would have believed it if someone told me it was a different recording. I heard nuances that I haven't heard before. Notes that I thought were the same are actually different - revealing subtle melodies that I wasn't formerly aware of. The inner detail is amazing. The highs are definitely more extended, images more palpable, bass is tighter and deeper. It is better in every way. The unit far exceeds my expectations. I couldn't be more pleased. I'm building a small statue of you in the backyard..." - Wayne B.

Yamamoto A08S
Okay, I'll admit it - I've pined over the Yamamoto. Everything I've read including Jeff Day's and Srajan's reviews suggested the 45-driven Yamamoto was something that would fit right up my – er, sonic alley. And everything I heard suggested it would. And while you may be able to delight in close-ups of the various materials, you really have to drink the whole Yamamoto in one visual in-person gulp to get the vibe. Turns out the Yamamoto is a camera-shy beauty. And everything about the Yammy breaths balance. Visually and sonically.

I had the Lamhorns in-house for review and I threw every tube amp I owned or had on review at them. This included my Fi 45 which hails from the same triode tribe. And I use the EML solid-plate 45s which Wayne had on hand. When I first arrived here, an NOS pair of ST National Unions was holding court. After a while, it was out with the old and in with the new production EMLs and I went, hmmm. My expectations which were based on many hours of listening time in my system had me thinking I was in for a step up on the sonic scale. Turned out, the EMLs tipped the scales too far forward and things got a bit tizzy. In terms of overall balance, the EMLs seemed to highlight the leading edges compared to the NOS National Unions.

So we switched back and sure enough, there was more body and balance. So I'd suggest, ever so gently, that even tube choice is dependent on circuit design and overall system synergy. The EMLs are the cat's meow in a few different applications I've heard but here in Wayne's rig, NOS NUs ruled.

Lamhorn 1.8
Yes, it's the Lamhorns. Turns out Wayne bought the actual pair I reviewed. As I found in my house, the Lamhorns like space and Wayne has got space in spades. Vaults, arches and angles galore as well as a large opening to other large spaces allowed the Lamhorns to breath without restraint. In terms of looks, I think the Lamhorns' understated and minimal design fit nicely into Wayne's more modern digs. And designer Robert Lamarre's near-countless hours spent tweaking that cabinet for that AER driver is evident in the listening. At 100dB, they're an easy load and the Yamamoto had no issues filling all that air at Wayne's place with wonderful music.

Gingko Audio
Some in attendance suggested the most important aspect of today's listening success was the custom clear acrylic dust cover from Gingko Audio perched atop the Merrill MS21 while it sat idle. While this may be debated by the thorniest of skeptics, I'll remain neutral since you never know where a dust cover may lead. One thing is for certain - Wayne's rig has its fair share of balls. Sitting on every shelf of his handsome twin Platformula racks are Cloud 10 platforms keeping stray resonance and vibration at bay.

Cables and Power
Wayne is going through some cable tweaking with his new system. He just picked up a pair of the Auditorium 23 speaker cables which I know from personal experience to be an excellent match for the Lamhorns and SETs. Wayne's system bore this out. On the interconnect front, we'd had some email exchanges before my visit and I offered to bring a pair of my PHY interconnects for a test run. The resident pair of Audience AU24s was replaced after some listening time with the PHY between the Reimyo and ModWright. I withheld any comments until we both had time to drink in the changes.

And we agreed. The PHY imparted more body, more weight to the music. The Audience seemed to highlight the shimmer coming off a cymbal where the PHY gave you more of the cymbal itself. Bass was more fully fleshed out. A few of Wayne's recent purchases like the Jena Labs and Shindo arrived after my visit so I'll be looking for a report down the road. Power conditioning was handled by the Blue Moon-endowed Walker Velocitor S. Power cables included the Harmonix Studio Master X-DC, Silent Source, Audience and Signal Cable.

Crowds and Power
Filling out the audio tribe for today was Jens Walle, friend and inventor, Jack Yeh friend, audiophile and owner of a serious MBL/Kharma/Kuzma rig, and Norm Ginsburg, friend and Gingko Audio's Marketing Director. [We've just been informed that Vinh Vu of Gingko has been appointed the sales and marketing director for the Merrill turntable - Ed.]

The Scent of Music
Wayne and Mindy's house is filled with Art. Sculpture greets you outside and inside along with paintings throughout their home. And a few of these works are by Wayne's hands. A patent attorney by day, it turns out Wayne -- or as I was to later discover "Handsome Wayne" according to the very genial Vinh Vu -- has been painting for a few years. He picked up some brushes and started making marks and within a few months had some awards to show for it.

I spent a number of years in Art school talking about other student's art and they talked about mine. After college when living on the way-upper West side of Manhattan, I spent nearly every Sunday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Sunday ritual can be a hard thing to break. One thing I learned from both experiences is that in Art, there's no right or wrong. There's no best or greatest. There's only Art. And if you want to see Art and learn something from it, you can't impose your own necessarily limited views. Otherwise you'll never see anything new.

When we put together our hifis, we're assembling a collection of gear in the service of the music we love. It's a very personal choice. Maybe that's one reason some get overly anxious at the thought of a visit. Putting yourself out, baring your preferences for all to hear and criticize. It can be a daunting proposition especially if you have best sniffers in the mix. Hifi connoisseurs. The kind of listener that listens to make sure what they know and own is still the 'best'. At Wayne's, there was a very refreshing air of openness. This continued when the rest of the gang arrived as well. Nothing uptight, not a touch of arrogance. No one vying for the sweet spot, no implied pecking order. Just a relaxed, completely enjoyable time.

We listened to mainly Jazz with some classical and world music thrown in. Since our get together also had another purpose -- namely lending the new Merrill table a slightly critical ear -- we spent some time not only listening but comparing. And the poor Reimyo was once again put into what I hear as the very unenviable and moot position of being A/B'd against vinyl. Without
picking the bones of 0s and 1s too thoroughly, I found the musical presentation of the Merrill table to be much more convincing. Much more engrossing. The gap admittedly varied with the recording but never disappeared. Judging from the crowd's reaction and Wayne's solitary exclamation of "Damn" before the end of track 1 on the Merrill, we were in agreement.

But these Road Tours are not meant to form opinions or offer critical judgment. In spite of time restraints and unfamiliarity with room and gear, I think of them as learning experiences. Just like walking through the Met and being captured by Vermeer one
week and De Kooning the next, you'll get more De Kooning the more you get Vermeer so to speak. Building your visual vocabulary expands your experience of the thing at hand. The canine olfactory test functions along similar acritical lines. So I take real pleasure in breathing in the full sonic picture of my generous hosts' systems regardless of pedigree or breed. The more open and experienced our ears and minds becomee, the more there is to hear in the musical moment.

Merrill Audio's website
Combak's website
ModWright's website
Yamamoto US distributor's website
Lamhorn's website
Gingko Audio's website