Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mmmm, tubes.

n assignment in Singapore in late 2015, some colleagues discovered a cool bar near the hotel called LongPlay.  Beyond awesome cocktails and some amazing bar snacks, the venue was known for it's impressive vinyl collection and for local DJs coming in to spin some tracks.  While sipping my lovely whiskey, I was thoroughly impressed with the sound coming out of these records.  A co-worker, Aaron, got to talking to me about setting up his vinyl collection, turntables, etc.  I was hooked.

So when I got done moving around all over, I began to piece together my system.  After a lot of research I was hell bent on getting a vintage Micro Seiki turntable.  I wanted a belt drive one, but the prices for those were out of control, so I ended up with direct drive.  That turntable came first, and it drove me crazy because I had no amp or speakers to play it on.  To avoid being rushed, I then got a dedicated headphone amp (the WA-6) from Woo Audio and a dedicated phono preamp from Shannon Parks at Budgie.  Honestly, I had never ever heard such a beautiful, clean sound out of an amplifier.  It was that purchase that made me realize I should not rush on the amp and speakers, but rather think it through meticulously and choose wisely.

The final audio setup.
It was right around this time that I learned of the mistake in a previous post about Jolida, that the real brand was based in Maryland and not in China. So the JD801 amp that I had continuously admired from afar was actually a US made product with German, special-wound transformers (where the winding actually has a patent) and the legendary 6550 tubes.  The other aspect I loved was the absolutely simple interface.  Power button, Volume, Input Selector.  The Bypass switch was nearly too much....  I ordered the newer Fusion 801 from a guy in Indiana, and 53 pounds of glory arrived on my porch a few days later.

For speakers, I found that Klipsch was discontinuing it's top tier speakers (Palladium).  I wanted the towers, but I also recognized that I'll never have a room that warrants them.  So I got the "bookshelf" version (note: they will never fit in a bookshelf).  I bi-wired them with Canare 4S11 cables.

All plugged in and vibration issues sorted out (about a week to get that all fixed) and all was ready.  I played Caribou, Sigur Ros, Chinese Man, Underworld.  This was a new amp with new tubes, and new speakers that had not been broken in, and I couldn't stop smiling.  It was just damned amazing, and I felt like the guy from the Maxell ad circa 1979:

Jolida Fusion 801 amp + Klipsch Palladium Speakers + Budgie Phono Preamp + Micro Seiki Turntable...felt like this. 
For the first time, I could hear the difference between good and bad sound engineering.  Some artists are amazing, but if they had a hack put together their vinyl offering, the whole experience collapsed.

The amp itself was a pleasure to use.  It actually came with a remote that had all of four buttons and was housed in a solid aluminum case.  After being warmed up, the max volume (with nothing playing) yielded only the very, very faintest of hums and was likely entirely due to a lack of wire isolation.  (My audio table filled up quickly.)  There were times I wish it had just a bit more power, because running at 3/4 volume felt a bit like running a car at 6500 rpm for a sustained period.

A year after I bought it, I'm still amazing every time I play something.  London Grammar's first album "Truth is a Beautiful Thing" is still my favorite.  Like many things, technology hasn't always made things better, and music is one of them.  If you get the chance, listen to a vinyl record on a tube amp and see for yourself.  It's a breathtaking experience.