My serious listening is done over a horn-based, SET amplified system that is vinyl-only. It is by no means a ‘budget’ system but because my aim on this site is to focus on the music, and not on the gear, it is worth mentioning only to the extent it reveals my listening biases along with the particular strengths and weaknesses of what I am using as a “reference.” To that end, the midrange is always the key for me, and must be grainless, open and non-mechanical sounding. I was a devotee of the original Quad electrostat (aka the ’57) for decades (and still have two pairs, the original 57 and a pair of Crosby-modded 63’s). Despite its severe bandwidth and dynamic limitations, the original Quad speaker has an uncanny ability to deliver human voice and small scale instrumental groups with a verisimilitude that remains unmatched. In that regard, I can live with the sins of omission (and long did so).
The current horn-SET system has been in place, with some associated gear changes, since around 2006. It is able to convey a ‘un-reproduced’ quality similar to a good electrostat in the midrange, but adds an ‘in the room’ dimension that makes many of the audiophile attributes, like ‘imaging’ or ‘ ‘soundstage,’ pretty unimportant. At its best, I hear music in the room, conveyed with emotion, tone, richness, and the illusion of immediacy that breaks down the barriers between the source material, the reproducing system and the listening room. The illusion is by no means seamless, and is stronger and more complete on some recordings than others. The system also has some fundamental limitations, mainly in reproducing deep bass with the same conviction as the midrange and relatedly, in achieving cohesion between the midrange horn- which has no crossover- and the self-powered woofers. These issues are related because at the extreme, I am forced to choose between a somewhat deep-bass shy presentation that is coherent top to bottom or one which has more dramatic bass but sounds somewhat discontinuous between the low frequencies and the midrange. I have tuned the system in my room for a little less bass and more integration among the drivers. What follows is a thumbnail sketch from the front end to the back:
Kuzma XL/Airline/Airtight Supreme:
Allnic H3000 phono stage:
Veloce (Lithio) Line Stage:
Lamm ML2 SET amplifiers and Avantgarde Duo Loudspeaker:
Kubala-Sosna cabling; Grand Prix Monaco stands and Apex footers; HRS turntable platform, Stillpoints LP-1 Record Weight and Ultra SS footers.