Apropos of nothing in particular, let’s change things up a bit: what do you know about analog tape?
The answer in my case is a solid “not much” – but I’m learning. Why? Well, mainly because United Home Audio’s Greg Beron has been beating me over the head the last few years, and quite frankly, the dude has just plain worn me down. My objection – that the albums are so hideously expensive – is, perhaps, a just turn of events in favor of the thing that actually brings most audiophiles to their listening chair in the first place: the music. Touché. Albums aside, from a fidelity perspective, I have to say that “analog tape” may well be best bargain in the ultra high-end. Think about it – with some turntable manufacturers pricing their latest assaults on par with the cost of a condo in Miami Beach, a “new” 15ips analog tape machine – which usually includes the cost of the preamp, a necessary extra cost for the vinyl nut – seems downright reasonable. Add to that the stunning sound quality that’s reserved for master tape – and the fact that you actually can finally listen to those usually-hidden-behind-locked-doors master tapes – and the case is fairly clear. Get ye to a demo, posthaste.
The best sound I heard at AXPONA came from one of Greg’s analog tape machines, a UHA Phase 11PB. Wired into a monster-pair of TAD Reference One loudspeakers by way of some Lamm M2.2 220wpc monoblocks ($23,790) and a Model L2 Reference preamp ($15,790), the Phase 11 played out a master tape recorded by Jonathan Horwich of International Phonograph (who was running the room), and I swear, a trumpet player stepped into the room. Not eerie, not freaky, just startlingly real. Ska-doosh.
TAD Reference One loudspeakers
The TAD Ref 1s are one of the great loudspeakers—and almost always impressive at shows. Here, playing back Jonathan Horwich’s 15ips, two-track tapes of Chicagoland jazz combos—they were awesome. Nothing else I've heard in the high end combines the sheer grip and wallop of these superb transducers.
...four exhibits struck me as exceptional: the TAD Reference 1s driven by Lamm electronics (and sourced by United Home Audio's UHA-HQ Phase 11 reel-to-reel tape deck),...
The Best Source of the show [was...] Greg Beron’s 15ips, two-track United Home Audio UHA-HQ Phase 11 tape deck—which was found in a surprising number of rooms at this show—simply cannot be touched by vinyl or digital sources, no matter how good or how self-proclaimedly “HD” they are.
On Saturday night, after hours, Robert got to experience what I’d already heard—a dub of the mastertape of Sgt Pepper, here played back via Beron’s masterpiece on mbl 101 E Mk II and MBL electronics. Folks, there are bound to be naysayers out there, who not having had this experience will think I’m just an old Luddite going nuts about a technology that time has long since passed by. But trust me (please): There is nothing more astonishing and satisfying and downright thrilling than hearing a great piece of music in a less-than-great recording transformed into a you-are-there-in-the-studio sonic experience of the very first order. This is what Beron’s tape machine (and other reel-to-reels) is capable of with Sgt Pepper (or any mastertape).
Those of you interested in seeing larger photographs of all of the products mentioned in this blog (and many, many others), go to http://jlvalin.zenfolio.com/p800121917.
Robert S. Youman
Jonathan Horwich (IPI) is another local Chicago native. He is quite the visionary and has some very interesting plans for bringing his products to market in the future. Jonathon has a considerable reserve of master tapes recorded over the last 40 years. Artists include Bobby Bradford, John Carter, Wayne March, Claire Fisher and many more.
IPI has one simple goal: to record and produce the greatest jazz with the highest quality audio equipment and reproduction possible. IPI accomplishes this goal by copying the original recordings to 1/4 inch two track 15ips IEC (CCIR) 10.5 inch analog tape reels. They also have an expert mastering facility specializing in producing masters for analog or CD replication.
I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but I could feel the passion and excitement when just entering this room. This is a unique company. IPI tapes and CDs are as good as it gets. I had a hard time getting out of my chair and moving on to the next suite. I could have stayed all day. A nice glass of 1961 Chateau Palmer Margaux would have persuaded me to do so - though none was on hand.
For this demonstration, the speakers used were the TAD Reference One. Amplifiers were the Lamm M2.2 monoblocks and Wells Audio Innamorato. The line level preamp and phono preamp were the Lamm L2 Reference and the Lamm LP2. The tape deck was the mighty United Audio Phase 11—check out the sexy picture below. The turntable was the Artesian Fidelity Achates Idler Drive fitted with a Reed 3P/12 arm and Pernambuco wand. The cartridge was a Van Den Hul Colibri XGM. Also on hand was a MSB Data CD IV player and a Meitner MA-1 DAC. All wire was Verastarr Grand Illusion. Master tapes were provided by IPI.
I love small jazz quartet recordings. When properly recorded and then properly reproduced, the system can disappear and you can approach the real thing. We have all heard the standard audiophile recordings that can make most systems sound great, but the musicians and music can sometimes underwhelm. IPI has taken it to another level of sound quality, but this time the music is timeless if not thrilling.
The sound in this room had me mesmerized. Reeds, horns and cymbals were life like. Speed, transparency and dynamics were some of the best I have ever heard at a show. All of this and also an immediate sense of musical purity and harmony. I can only wonder what this system might sound like in a reasonable room with reasonable acoustics.
A few things stood out for me that had me scratching my head and thinking about my recent reviews of some very expensive high end equipment.
The TAD Reference One is amazing. All the recent buzz for Magico and YG Acoustics speakers is well deserved. Finally, after years of slow but steady progress in the industry, we have speaker systems with dramatic and creative new designs that are producing music in ways that never seemed possible.
The TAD Reference One can compete with any of them. Again, we have a fantastic amount of razor sharp speed and transparency. The Reference Ones have an added dimension of warmth and musicality. Too much? What is correct? Only your ears and personal biases can lead you to what seems right. I would like to see some more reviews of these speakers as I think they are really one of the hidden gems available to the audiophile community.
The other product that got my attention was the Wells Audio Innamorata amplifier. 120 Watts push-pull magical musical bliss. It was fantastic when paired with the Reference One.
We rotated back and forth between the Innamorata and the Lamm M2.2 monoblocks. Both were outstanding but different. You can easily understand the price, popularity and respect for the Lamms. They seemed to have a sharper and more defined picture of the music. Imaging and sound stage were state of the art. Proper decay and reverberation provided a Technicolor look into the recording venue. There was also a sense of refinement that most amplifiers cannot deliver.
However, the Innamorato was something of a huge surprise. Plenty of inner speed and detail. Dynamic contrasts were delivered at levels very close to the best. Not as impressive as the Lamms on these measures, but again we have those subjective variables of warmth and musicality added in with the Innamorato. I reiterate, which is correct? Which is more appealing? Are we targeting neutrality or something else?
At $23,790 per pair retail, the Lamms do more than justify their price. At $6000 retail, the Innamorato might be considered a giant killer for those on a budget. From a price perspective this might seem like a mismatch, but for my ears, the Innamorato and Reference One combination should be at the top of your audition list if budget allows.
International Phonograph Inc. / Artisan Fidelity / Wells Audio / United Home Audio / TAD - Jonathan Horwich brought an open reel tape for me to play at one of the shows where I was exhibiting, and I have never forgotten how good it was. It was TERRIFIC. For those of you looking for an excellent source of Master Tape copies, Jonathan records up-and-coming local Chicago musicians, and not only is the music fantastic, but so are the sonics of the recordings. Playback of his stuff was done on Greg Beron's UHA Phase11S tape recorder; see the photos below.
Chris Thornton of Artisan Fidelity restores vintage turntables and in most cases redesigns and handcrafts new plinths for them. When he is done, they sound way better than new. Chris had two beautiful tables there and I drooled.
This room really had an involving sound. It was fun to hear great jazz played on both the United Home Audio tape machine and Artisan Fidelity turntable through the TADs while being driven by Wells Audio amplification. Very enjoyable.