Rethm Bhaava – TNG – Episode Two

In Episode One, I had listened to the previous drivers in the Bhaava for two hours, then removed them and installed the new drivers. In the first two hours, many wonderful things were happening, but there was a nagging dry, papery coloration, only noticeable on female vocals. I let them rest over the weekend, pondering: is it the whizzer? Is it the transition from main cone to whizzer? Is it a reflection of the rear wave off the rear of the top of the labyrinth coming through the paper cone? Will it go away with break-in? I all but dreamed about it over the weekend.

Yesterday, returning to the same system as before, having neither touched nor moved anything, it was gone. Perhaps the drivers just needed a rest after flying halfway ’round the world. Jetlag? Who knows? But it was gone from the first minute.

As the Auqua HiFi La Scala MkII Optologic DAC, (hereafter referred to as the La Scala; I’m tired of typing all that), Shindo Monbrison and Shindo Cortese F2A warmed up, extraordinary things began to happen.

The musicians and instruments appeared across the front of the room, hanging in the air like holograms, but not as some translucent, anemic waifs from beyond, but rather fully kitted out with blood, breath, bones and sinew. Not typical of widebanders/FR. (Looking at you, Lowther, Fostex.)

I tend to sit on the couch, reading, writing, or fending off the dog, and music plays, but I’m not necessarily caught up in it, especially when I’m putting something through initial break-in as I am now. That’s not happening with the Bhaavas. Frank Sinatra, Diana Krall, Melody Gardot, SRV, all DEMAND my full attention. Not only are voices and instruments unique in timbre, dynamics, pitch accuracy, etc, differences in recording and mixing declare themselves with a clarity I don’t think I’ve experienced before, certainly not at this price level. Each album is unique in its approach and execution. Audio Note refers to this as comparison by contrast. Never mind comparing what you hear to some abstract absolute; that’s nonsense. The ability to communicate the differences in all aspects between recordings tells you a very great deal about what kind of a job a component, or system, is doing.

What I’m hearing from the Bhaavas, what I’m hearing from this system, tells me that its doing a truly exceptional job. I think this is what I’ll be using to evaluate the recording sessions with The Royal Boys, a local bluegrass/Americana/roots trio, next week.

In the meantime, I’ll just settle in, give the recordings I have on hand my full attention and ENJOY!

Rethm Bhaava, the Next Generation

1BC9AC9B-EFD5-4849-A499-61F2B65D7694

Today is going to be a very exciting day following the arrival yesterday of the new, proprietary 8″ wide band driver developed by Rethm in co-operation with the ex-chief designer of Peerless India — a gentleman by the name of Milind Patel.

The new driver is claimed to sound more open in the mid and treble, with more extended treble response. Apparently, in chasing that goal, Rethm also gained sensitivity, putting it around 97dB/w/m, up from the previous 94.

I think it’s important to note that, unless you attended Capital Audio Fest or the NY Audio Show this past November, you haven’t heard the Bhaava in its current form at a show yet. (At the LA Audio Show and AXPONA 2017 they had the original drivers.) You’ll have another chance to hear the new ones at AXPONA next month, where distributor Mark Sossa will again be demonstrating the new version. Likewise, any review you’ve read to date has been with the earlier, distinctly different wide band driver.

I’ll begin by thoroughly warming up my existing pair of Bhaavas, to establish a ‘before’ picture. The balance of the system consists of: Innuos Zenith MkII (std) server/streamer/player and Aqua La Scala MkII Optologic DAC, linked by a Wireworld Series 7 Platinum USB cable, feeding a Shindo Monbrison (latest) and Shindo Montille CV391 20 watt, push-pull, Class A stereo amp. Interconnects are Auditorium 23, as are the speaker cables.

First, listening to the Bhaava with the original drivers, I’m struck by how easy they are to set up. Positioning first with powered isobaric woofers off to find the greatest sense of openness, clarity and depth, it’s a 12” putt to fine tune the turnover point and level of each bass unit for appropriate weight vs speed and balance with a few different cuts.

is It 2pm yet? I’m eager to hear the new drivers . . .

10 minutes ago I fired up the new drivers. Right out of the gate, the slight cloudiness in the Bhaava’s original drivers’ mids and a noticeable but not objectionable lack of air on guitar strings, cymbals and similar has cleared up like the lunchtime atmosphere North of San Francisco.

Time to let it simmer for an hour or two . . .

 

File-based Epiphany

When was the last time you had an epiphany in your audio life? Something that put a rift in your paradigm shift? A real game changer, like ping pong to rugby? I had one just a couple weeks ago involving the Inuos Zenith MkII server and the Aqua La Scala MkII Optologic DAC.

Let me back up and get a running start at this. From around 1984 until 2002, I tolerated CDs. I didn’t do any serious listening with them EVER. Then, from ’02 until about ’15, I actually enjoyed CDs via Audio Note transports & DACs, but still leaned heavily toward vinyl for serious listening, (with the exception of one show in Milan when I found myself neutral between the two formats. It only took a $250,000 transport/DAC combo to get me to that point!)

Around 2015 I started trying to use computer files at shows so as to not appear outdated as buggy whips, but feeding my MacBook Pro through an SP/Dif->USB converter and on to the Red Book DACs was inconvenient as hell and seriously unsatisfying, uninvolving, all too easy to ignore in favor of either vinyl or CD.

For the last year or two, I’ve tried to get interested in music servers, but reading about server this, end point that, network bridges, power supplies, exotic Ethernet cable, etc, made my eyes glaze over, followed by pitching forward into my laptop. Now, I started with computers in the punch card and acoustic phone coupler modem period, serving as a teaching assistant in a grad level Computers in Communication course at BU, so it’s not like technology overwhelmed me; I just wasn’t interested in running a Higher Ed gauntlet for the privilege of playing music.

ZenMini

Then, in the last couple of months, several dominoes fell over in rapid succession. First, I bought an Innuos Zen Mini server to use at home. The promised ease of use was really my entire motivation. That part was well satisfied. Import a CD? Load it into the slot. The Mini will convert it to FLAC, scoop up metadata, note titles, etc, organize it into your onboard terabyte library and spit the disc back out when it’s done. Roon is an easily implemented option, (although Innuos’ proprietary library system is very good), TIDAL is at your fingertips, and you select your music via your smart phone or tablet and wifi from anywhere in the house. If it finds something weird about a disc during importation, the Mini puts it in quarantine where you can review and correct it later.

I was taking an absolute minimalist path at home: the Mini fed the internal DAC in my Cambridge Audio integrated, which then propelled signal along 30 year old zip cord under the carpet to a pair of ancient Snell Type K speakers sitting on the floor. Eek! Still, what I heard told me that the Mini was providing clean, clear punchy signal to the DAC/amp combo. The Mini beat out my MacBook Pro on musical points and thrashed it on ease of use. Two thumbs up, but for the Forge, I wanted more.

ZenithMkIIStd

So I bought the ZENith Mk 2. Goodbye switching, wall wart power supply; hello linear power supply with ultra low noise regulators, Nichicon MUSE caps and medical mains filter. Dual ethernet ports with isolation transformers. Fast, silent SSD storage. Quad core Intel CPU, 8GB RAM, 4GB in-memory playback. Ultra low noise USB output. Yum. Contemplating all this plus a purpose-designed OS, I begin to see why a tricked out, kludgy laptop might not be the best solution anymore.

While the ZENith sounded wonderful with various DACs feeding the Leben CS-600 integrated amp and DeVore Fidelity O/93 speakers, the penny – no make that a pound coin – really dropped when I received the Aqua La Scala MkII Optologic DAC.

scala_vista-DX

I bought it for its discrete RDR ladder converter, FPGA decoding, non-oversampling, no digital filter, fully discrete, valve-MOSFET, Class A, no negative feedback analog stage, et cetera. A big plus is its modular construction. The Optologic Conversion System, which first appeared in the flagship Formula DAC, was integrated into La Scala’s most recent upgrade and older units can be upgraded. (Take that, digital obselescence! I hereby resign my component of the month membership.)

But the reason it’s never leaving is the resulting sound and what it does for music. 50 hours in, this combination is hypnotic, immersive, compelling, detailed but not etched or edgy, punchy but liquid, PRATty, then languid by turns, swinging, swaying or marching as required by the music.

These 2 boxes contain a world of clever tech all slavishly devoted to music. Will they replace my analog sources? No. Am I spending a lot more time exploring on TIDAL, browsing and buying on HDTracks and enjoying it all on a deeper level than I ever expected? Yessir!

By the way, you are cordially invited to Old Forge Studio to hear what I’m struggling to describe!

ZenithLaScalaLebenDvFO93
“Kick back and let your ears roam free!”

Demonstration Scorecard – Part Trois

Currently on Demonstration:

  • Shindo Aurieges pre-amp
  • Shindo Montille CV391 push-pull stereo amplifier
  • Shindo interconnects
  • A23 Hommage 755 loudspeaker
  • A23 Hommage a Ken loudspeaker
  • A23 Hommage Cinema loudspeaker w/ Acoustic Plan solid state or Line Magnetic tungar tubed field coil power supplies
  • A23 Denon and EMT SUTs
  • A23 interconnects and speaker cables
  • Leben Audio CS-600 integrated amp
  • Leben Audio RS-30EQ phono stage
  • Sugden A21 SE integrated amp
  • Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a
  • DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 93
  • DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 96 loudspeaker
  • Acoustic Plan DigiMaster DAC
  • Acoustic Plan PowerMaster upgraded power supply
  • PTP Solid 12 + 9 turntable
  • Thomas Schick 12″ tone arm
  • EMT TSD75 mc cartridge
  • Box Furniture audio racks

 

Imminent Arrivals:

  • JC Verdier Platine Nouvelle turntable
  • EMT 997 tone arm
  • Acoustic Plan Drivemaster CD transport
  • Shindo Monbrison pre-amp (new version)
  • Shindo Cortese F2a single-ended stereo amp (new version)
  • Tonapparate rack
Older brick room view

Home Again

Back in March, my plan was to open a small recording studio, emphasizing old school tools and practices: ribbon microphones, tube electronics and half-inch tape. Not to mention setting levels and placement during rehearsal, then letting ‘er rip live, with the spark of spontaneity and live interaction in the moment retained and captured, like lightning in a bottle. No death by 1,000 edits in a  3-4 minute song, no auto-tune. With this in mind, I rented a 500 square foot space in the Velvet Mill – a very cool, freestanding forge building out in the middle of the mill’s parking lot.

fullsizeoutput_1afd

I expected to leave the world of two channel audio behind, having retired from Audio Note UK in June 2016. Then I made a terrible, terrible mistake. I borrowed a pair of Auditorium Hommage 755a from Jonathan Halpern, major domo at Tone Imports. I had always been curious about the WE and Altec 755 full-range driver, having heard and read wonderful things about them over the years. With Line Magnetics making painstaking replicas of the WE 755a version, and Keith Aschenbrenner of Auditorium 23 applying his experience, knowledge and insight into this new model, now was clearly the time. So I picked them up at his warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, swaddled them in moving blankets and carried them home to Connecticut’s Eastern shore.

15 minutes into first hearing these stone-cold, brandy-new loudspeakers, using lowest common denominator gear – a BluRay DVD player and an inexpensive integrated hooked up by zip cord running under the carpet, I knew – make that KNEW – they were never going back to Brooklyn.

Then I made another mistake: I borrowed a Shindo Aurieges pre-amplifier and Montille CV-391 power amplifier from Jonathan. Listening to this combination in the Forge with the 755a, fronted by my PTP Audio Solid 12 table, Thomas Schick 12″ arm and Denon/Midas 103 cart with the Auditorium 23 Denon step-up transformer, I quickly realized I was doomed, my fate sealed: I would be opening a hi-fi shop in tandem with the recording studio.

As I made further decisions on what lines to carry, never intending to be everything to everyone, but rather, an excellent source for those who hear and appreciate music the same way I do, and as the gear rolled in, it became abundantly clear: 500 sq ft couldn’t accommodate one of my purposes, much less two.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


As luck would have it, in September I found my new space – 1,500 square feet, about half of which has 12′ ceilings, great thick beams, exposed brick walls and abundant window light; the other half having plaster walls and a dropped 9′ ceiling. It had purple and green walls and a somewhat rumpled section of floor, (Barney’s secret lair?), and I had no idea what it would sound like but I knew this was it. I signed the lease and began moving audio gear from one location and recording gear from another – my converted carriage house ‘bachelor pad’ which I no longer had any use for, having married in June.

Gear is still arriving, and I’m still moving in, but in a week or two, i should be ready to receive visitors and potential clients. I can’t wait!

Scorecard Update – Part Deux

Authorized Brands:

  • Shindo Laboratory
  • Auditorium 23 (A23)
  • DeVore Fidelity
  • J.C. Verdier
  • Acoustic Plan
  • EMT
  • Sugden Audio
  • Leben Hi-Fi
  • Sugden
  • Box Furniture
  • Falcon Acoustics
  • Tonapparate Audio Furniture

 

Currently on Demonstration:

  • Shindo Aurieges pre-amp
  • Shindo Montille CV391 push-pull stereo amplifier
  • Shindo interconnects
  • A23 Hommage 755 loudspeaker
  • A23 Hommage Cinema loudspeaker
  • A23 Denon and EMT SUTs
  • A23 interconnects and speaker cables
  • Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a
  • DeVore Orangutan 93
  • DeVore Orangutan 96 loudspeaker
  • Acoustic Plan DigiMaster DAC
  • Acoustic Plan PowerMaster upgrade power supply
  • Leben Audio CS-600 integrated amp
  • Sugden A21 SE integrated amp
  • PTP Solid 12 + 9 turntable
  • Thomas Schick 12″ tone arm
  • EMT TSD75 mc cartridge

 

Imminent Arrivals:

  • JC Verdier Platine Nouvelle turntable
  • Auditorium 23 Hommage a Ken
  • Acoustic Plan Drivemaster CD transport
  • Box Furniture rack
  • Shindo Monbrison pre-amp (new version)
  • Shindo Cortese F2a single-ended stereo amp (new version)
  • Tonapparate rack

Updating the Scorecard

Things have been moving quickly here in the last couple of weeks, so I thought it would be a good time to update the Team Forge scorecard.

Authorized Brands:

  •  Shindo Laboratory
  • Auditorium 23 (A23)
  • DeVore Fidelity
  • Acoustic Plan
  • EMT
  • Sugden Audio
  • Leben Hi-Fi
  • Box Furniture
  • Falcon Acoustics

 

Currently on Demonstration:

  • Shindo Aurieges pre-amp
  • Shindo Montille CV391 push-pull stereo amplifier
  • Shindo interconnects
  • A23 Hommage 755 loudspeaker
  • A23 Hommage Cinema loudspeaker
  • A23 Denon and EMT SUTs
  • A23 interconnects and speaker cables
  • DeVore Orangutan 96 loudspeaker
  • Acoustic Plan DigiMaster DAC
  • Sugden A21 SE integrated amp
  • PTP Solid 12 + 9 turntable
  • Thomas Schick 12″ tone arm
  • EMT TSD75 mc cartridge

 

Imminent Arrivals:

  • Shindo Monbrison pre-amp (new version)
  • Shindo Cortese F2a single-ended stereo amp (new version)
  • A23 Hommage Ken
  • Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a
  • DeVore Orangutan 93
  • Acoustic Plan Drivemaster CD transport
  • Acoustic Plan PowerMaster upgrade power supply
  • Box Furniture rack
  • Leben CS600 integrated amp