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 NAD 3020
Links to other PeAK Audio Pages
Audio has always been my first love. It started when I was 12 years old when my brother began to shop around for stereo equipment. By the time, he was onto his second stereo, many a store had been visited and Toronto had been blessed with many good ones. One in particular called "Ring Audio" stood out. These guys claimed they could hear differences in turntables (i.e.record players for non Ring types), and amplifiers in spite of the low distortion numbers and wow/flutter numbers. I followed their notion and eventually bought my first stereo in 1984 and still use it today. The NAD 3020 was a landmark design with good sonics at a reasonable price but it was, I think, much overrated in its standard form. A more recent review was recently made by TNT-audio comparing it to the current status quo. I began modifying the phono section of amplifier (RIAA time constants) for a school project. While I was at it I replaced ceramic caps with polystyrene film types in the signal path. The worst caps ( or here for full PDF files at Walt's pages) are electrolytic caps in terms of their memory effects (dielectric absorption). Invariably, these were to be found in sections of the amplifier topology that were popular selling features: loudness controls, tone controls to name a few. Ultimately, removing the electrolytics and adding a wire was the best solution. This sometimes required that the circuit topology be changed so that the DC component be eliminated. The NAD 3020 today has no tone controls, no balance control, no loudness button, and no LED volume indicators... it eventually sounded better. Audio is one of those things where if you improve one part of the chain...the overall result might sound worse to the untrained ear. It is one of those two wrongs making a sort of right. Things got simpler towards the 90's as better caps and better "wire" removed more of the fundamental flaws. I found that making A/B comparisons to be of little use. The ear seems to "fuse" two like sounds together so that difference...unless really obvious...are hard to detect. The best way to gauge a "mod" is to pick a well recorded and simply miked piece of music and to play it through before the modification and to then play it through after the modification. If your gut says it is better...then it is better. This works amazingly well because I think you tend to be more relaxed when comparing things in this manner. You tend to focus on important things such as pace, rhythm, and space. Try it ! Its been a decade of audio mods for me...I'll sum up the ones that make the most difference:
2 NAD 3020 Modifiications I began working on documenting my changes to the NAD 3020 due to a e-mail request from Par (of Sweden). Despite misplacing rough notes of what I did 12 years ago, a "naked" NAD 3020 circuit board allowed me to reverse engineer and confirm the engineering details of what I did over a decade ago. Would I do anything different today ? I have newer cables and better caps available to me today compared to what I had then so these will be the first mods dealing with internal wiring. A beefier toroidal transformer update is in the works. Depending on the external requests, I will publish updated RIAA equalization time constant component values in the future and update the Polyester film caps in the Phono stage with Polypropylene equivalents and report back. Get ready to sit back and flip on your soldering station. It time to MOD!!!
The 3020 modifications started in 1984 soon after the purchase of the NAD amplfiier...the reason...I had a good friend of mine with some very good system and I just wanted to better his system. Back then, the source of music were 12"" vinyl LP albums. A good PHONO stage was one that meshed well with a variety of moving magnet cartridges. It did not interact with the varying inductive input impedances and followed the RIAA equalization curves 40dB gain variation (100x) with low noise. Needless to say, the sound/sales of a "popular" amplifier hinged on experienced "golden eared" reviewers giving good reviews to what the PHONO electronics did for their personal collection of LP favourites. NAD belleived at the time that practical PHONO stages and the preamp and power amplifier stages be rolled off at subsonic frequencies to prevent subsonic wow and flutter from Turntables and supersonic frequencies (EMI/RF/Radio) signals from getting into the system in the first place. Their notion was that if your ears cannot physically hear it, then why amplify it. For the PURIST, there were a set of LAB IN amplifier inputs with more extended response called "LAB IN" inputs
The Danish have had quite a repuration in the world of driver design(Vifa/Seas/DynaAudio/Scanspeak) and it is only fitting that a thread such as this one come from them. Evardsen was Swedish (I think) and their are strong ties and similarities between their languages.
Below is a schematic of the hi level signal section fo the NAD 3020 amplifier. A set of better schematics can be found here.
Click on the links below to look at the schematic of:
(click to enlarge image ) A rough compress JPEG image can be found to the left showing the parts placement. A higher quality scan can be seen by clicking on this image below
2.1 Low level Phono Section In 1984, the major source of music were 12" LP albums. As mentioned earlier, a good phono section with a good review by a "golden ear" reviewer went a long way to guaranteeing sales popularity. The PHONO input stage had some ideas that were liscenced from Advent/APT designer Tomlimson Holman (now of THX fame) who devised "aptly" the HOLMAN circuit. This circuit minimize the pre-amp response variations caused by the varying output impedance of the cartridge and one more source of system intteraction...this usually manifest itself as a rising high frequency falsetto. This is where I spent/waste a fair amount of time replacing caps, listening, replacing caps, listening...and so on. I took some ideas from Stanley Lipshitz from the Universtiy of Waterloo regarding better RIAA equalization and implemented them. I wrote a program in Apple BASIC which would calculate the updated filter component values based upon inputting the low frequency gain setting resistor component values. I probably imagined more improvement than I actually got...ah! the days before the internet filled with audio and stamp collecting :). With the introduction of the CD player, it would seem more useful to work on the PREAMP section instead. I will cover this section though at some point as I know many of you still listen to records.
2.2 Hi level Control Section Most of the modifications for the NAD will centre around this section containing the switching, balance, tone controls and muting. To get a sense of the potential of your system, route a cable between REC jacks to the pre-in to bypass the tone, volume, mute electronics. It would be best to do this with a CD player with variable volume (has its own set of compromises) or to take a CD recorded at low average level. A scanned in image of the gain stage schematic can be seen by clicking on the box below:
(click on image to enlarge) You will see two identical channels with PREOUT corresponding the preamp outputs. The top path of the pair is the left channel and it contains biasing levels for critical active elments. The bottom path is identical but contains the value of components. The dark lines signify the main signal path. In the main signal path you will encounter various DC blocking capacitors necessary to block DC from passing into potentiometers(variable resistors for tone,volume and balance knobs).
I will say this once, some of the things that can be done border on crafstmanship (These have to do with updating the wiring with something like Kimber cable, going solder joints in the signal path with silver solder (Wonder Solder), updating shield low level internal cables with known good interconnect cables.) and may not really make much of a difference initially. Why then start with these things ? Well, they give you practice on soldering and a chance to add components (like cables) that you already have experience with. If something goes wrong, it has to do with the incorrect re-connection as you should not be changing the toplogy with these changes. The above view has since been modified as I now think that wire direction can have a significant influence when a systems becomes higher resolution.
One of my problems is that I have two sets of schematics. One being the unmarked original (which I scanned) and the other being the working schematic over which I track my changes made over the years. I have misplaced the latter but being the packrat that I am, I'm certain that it exists. The following is a rough set of recommended first changes for someone interested in removing some of the hash from this section of the ampllifer. The thing one should know is that the shortest path to the Volume control is the TAPE-IN input and it should be the cleanest and has the fewest number of switches. This path should be used for you to auditon your changes. Pick a simple piece of well miked, nautral music (Mary Chapin Carpenter's song ->Come On Come On, Rossane Cash's->10 Song Demo, Bonnie Raitt's->All at once) and let the whole song play through and see what your gut tells you. Take a look at my recent speaker review
Figure 2 Pre-mod 3020 (click to enlarge)
Figure 3 Post-mod 3020 (click to enlarge)
NOTE: In figure 2, the MUTING ON and OFF labels are swapped. In Figure 3, the 3.9K should go to -25.6V and not "ground" shown in above figure. Thanks Chris.
Step 1 [a] Upgrade C517/C518: These two caps AC couple the output of this amplifier Replace with HF caps from Panasonic and add in parallel a smaller 0.1uF film unit.
(Update March 29, 2002: The 1.0K and gain of three should be thought of as the default. The 2.2K and 1.0K have been calculated to also preserve the biasing of of Q501/Q502. Someone who actually implemented the changes used only the 2.2K resistor ...it worked for them but no promises from me on what you will finally arrive at. Some of what I say below with regard to output offset will be altered without the 1.0K resistor in the circuit).
Step 2 Direct Wire Connnection to Preamp-out:
Messy implementation for muting circuit and the balance control results
in two pairs of points marked H and I
for the right channel. (Corresponding points for left channel are G
and J, respectively). Without wires H, the muting
circuit input resistor R542 (common with components C520, C524, R534,
and R538) would not be connected to the preamp output node to the right
of C518. This output node shares a connection to the left hand side of
SW6 and will be denoted by SW6(left). Wire H unites
this into the one single electrical node that we see in the schematic.
Since both muting resistor (R544) are away from the muting switch
SW6(Centre) node, the wire I is needed to connect
these two different locations into the one common node seen in the
schematic. Attach a good quality wire such as CARDAS between the node
to the right of C518 directly to the LAB-IN input. You should no longer
need the U jumpers. You can power up your amplifier to see if it is
I need to sort out the details, but in summary, the best implementation is to remove the remove the four wires (H,I,G,J) thus disconnecting the balance control VR4 and the muting circuitry (R542 and R544) from the output and connecting a short wire to the RCA PREAMP-OUT jacks through a good quality wire by soldering one end to the node on the right of C518 and the other end directly to the PREAMP-OUT jacks. Wire I/J unite two different points on the circuit board to form the node to which common to C518, C520, R534, R538, and SW6 on the schematic. With wire I removed , one node consists of a node common to C518 and SW6(Center) and other is common to C520, R534 and R538.
(Update March 29 : In reading these notes, somehow the SW6(centre) is tied to C518...but I do not see how this is possible ???...should be SW6(left) as drawn in these figures. Just keep note of this as I seem to be consistent on this in re-reading this post. Could be the centre in my diagram does not correspond to the physcial center on the switch)
Step 3 Replace Components with Better Units: The high level preamp section will now have its open loop gain decreased from 6 to about 3. Use 1% metal film resistors for
[ii] Replace resistors in the signal path with 1% metal film units by any reputable manuffacturer. This means R516, R518(now a 2.2K unit), R524, R522 and C518(now a 330 ohm resistor) The two new resistor mounted on the back of the circuit board are the
[iii] Thats it for now
2.3 Power Amplifier Mods
Due to the lower impedance levels in this section, larger capacitors need to be used to maintain low frequency response.. I have made no topology changes as the circuit is essentially DC coupled except for the AC coupling cap C606 found at the input. Instead of relying on the U jumpers to connect the LAB-IN input to PREAMP OUT. Again I used Panasonic Polypropylene [Click here and type in Keywords: panasonic capacitor 0.1 poly] for the film units and Panasonic HF electrolytics [Click here and type: HF 47 capacitor] for updates. All electrolytics were bypassed on the underside by a 0.1uf film unit as well. Replace all resistors in the signal path with metal film. Remember the signal path is the dark line in the schematic.
2.4 Regulator Card
A total of eight electrolytic caps should be updated to HF units. This also means bypass caps of 0.1 uF across all of them as well. Replace all supply voltage wires going to the main board with KIMBER strands. This is a simple mod of substition by like value and should be one of the first things you try. Watch the polarity carefully.
2.5 Volume Control
Replace with a good quality ALPS unit. I replace the 20K with a 50K unit and things are fine. This can be done later.
I have listened to many speakers over the years (Angstroms, Tangents, Paradigm, PSB, Paradigms, Apogees, Polk Audio, NHT, Cambers, Boston Acoustics, B&W and Mission). Today, I listened to any Tiny speaker with limited bass but extremely pure mids and highs in the form of the LX-5 speaker. In comparison, my former speakers, Camber 3.5, have a resonance that colours the voice and the middle highs. This is especially appararent at the output levels. My dream speaker in the future will be the Newform 630 described below.
Bought a pair of Radio Shack LX-5 speakers with the much raved about "Linaem" tweeter just before going to a dinner engagement last night. It was worst than waiting for a Santa Claus to come down the chimney. I fired them up this morning and the upper-mid to treble region is about as good as I have heard. The problem is that the critical midrage is a bit off. A quick look at the crossover and it seems to be of good build (film capacitors and air core inductors) so simple mods are probably not needed and will not get you up another grade. The prior generation units (LX-4...now discontinued :( ) got rave reviews but they also had a Kevlar bass unit which is now replaced by a less expensive unit that does not quite match the tweeter. More later. They are on sale until the end of October for $80, Canadian, each. Not bad but I hear that the PSB Alphas go for about $50 more for the pair. They beat the Minimus 7's that I bought over a decade ago hands down.
After having played through all my relevant CD music, I'm going to keep these little babies. I could live with them for the next 3 months without touching them but I'm getting itching just reading what others have to say and have done to these LX-5 units:
Update: Nov 27/2005
I have made some simple adjustments costing about $2.00 that have cleaned up the sound of the Radio Shack Optimus LX-5 speakers. Take two straws and cut them into four 1.5" sections and place them in the smaller right hand port and flush with the baffle. This seems to clean up the lower midrage and tighten the bass. Lepage's now sells something called FUN-TAK which is a cross between plasticene and glue. Cut off four 1/2 inch squares and place on the bottom corners of the speaker to attach it to a stool/speaker stand. This seems to get rid of any interface resonance. The result is greater dynamics and cleaner sound at higher volume levels. I put on Loreena McKennit's "Arnachie Gordon" cut from her "Parallel Dreams" album and there were shivers everywhere. The speakers do need to be run in and seem to become sweeter as I play them more and more. Still no low bass but what is left now very coherent and interesting to listen to. Amazing !
The best sounding speakers per dollar in the world with response down to about 30 Hz and the most amazing mid-range and high-end would have to come from nowhere else but in Canada with a world reputation for speakers that listen well with the likes of PSB, Energy, Mirage, Totem, Camber, Angstrom and Paradigm can now add a company based in a small Northern Ontario city of Midland called Newform Research. I hope to have a pair soon in the form of the discontinued Newform 630 (R630v3). The true test is the goose bumps it will generate when my wife puts on the "Why Worry" cut from the Dire Strait's Money for Nothing CD. High end beyong imagination. Thanks to John Meyer of Newform. For some independent reviews from some owners of this speaker, click here and also for a review on the technology by Soundstage when they reviewed the R830. Ooops, yet another review by Andrew Marshall of "Audio Ideas" fame.
The best demo I have heard was at a friends house where ProAc Tablettes were playing through some custom Tube equipment made by an ex-Jadis technichian. The problem is that these speakers required a really good speaker stand to do them justice and these set you back about $700. I was at Bay-Bloor Radio in Toronto to hear a presentation from founder Vince Bruzzese to hear Totem for the very first time. Driven by some British Electronics (Myrad), the newly introduced "Hawk" speakers were something special to listen to. I have heard many good things about entry level "Arro" speakers and had a listen to them last day at Great Americand Sound, located in Markham, courtesy of Enzo working past closing time on a Friday night. With a less that optimal placement of these speakers in near proximity to 10 other pairs, the special imaging and depth defying properties were in full evidence.
Think of high quality affordable speaker design and the Canadian name PSB, Engergy, and Totem come to mind. There are higher priced Canadian speakers from Totem which use high quality posts (WBT from Germany), tweeters (Seas of Denmark), and woofers (Dynaudio from Euroupe somwhere). The first three names are unique is that the woofer and tweeter driver designs are done internally. This allows for greater differentiation between competing manufacturers who use the same tweeter.
A name not commonly heard is Axiom Acoustics is not receiving notice. The pictures on the right can be clicked on for a more detailed look at these well finished speakers. Speaker design is more than just the sum of exotic parts but a merging of metal, wood and plastic to achieve overall balance that when successful is similar/indistinguishable from live sound given good enough recordings and electronics. Just as the dimutive LS3/5a has set the world on its ear 25 years ago for monitor sound accuracy, Axiom's M3Ti has done so the same using modern materials in the form of Neodymum Titanium for the tweeter and Aluminum for the woofer. Reviwers such as Douglas Scheider of SoundStage can have his pick of any speaker and has heard a lot. He is amazed at the integration of mid-range purity (rare) and high frequency detail without harshness than designer Ian Colquhoun manage to coax out of his landmark woofer and tweeter designs (5" and 6.5") that are interspersed through his whole lineup. Here are the reviews:
It looks like someone has figured out how to integrate metal into the drivers without the "tinny" canned sound. Kudos to you Ian.
The following review can be found at the "audioreview" site and is reproduced below is taken from my impression of the speaker based upon four CDs that I took to the store to give the speaker a quick listen. I ended up buying the speakers :)
3.4.1 My Journey Finding Axiom:
Over the last two years, I have been looking (http://gnu.295.ca/~peak/audio.html) ind a speaker that combines the virtues of my last two speakers (Rega Camber with good bass and the LX5 mid/high end). I went to the 2001 Toronto Home Entertainment Show in search of my next speaker on Oct 19, 2001. I carried around one CD by Rosanne Cash called "10 Song Demo" that was made direct to two track. Of note are 3 cuts on the Album titled "Temptation", "Child of Steel", and "Mid-Air" that feature will miked Vocals, Piano and Guitar. The first cut is just piano and soaring voice that is very telling of the dynamic capability and tuning of a speaker. The one speaker that I liked was the Kinima Hi G2 speakers featuring dual alloy midbass units and silk tweeter wired with Cardas cable. I soldered many a interconnect cable over the last decade and settled in with a thin dusty light blue Cardas cable composed of various diameters of enamelled copper for the midband and sweet highs. The designer Graham Day-Myron voiced his speaker with Cardas. I put on "Jazz at the Pawnshop" and liked what I heard...could it be those "alloy" drivers ?
I know some high end friends that have Tablettes (amazing little speakers with great swing and rythym), Tangent RS4 (like the LS3/5a but with bass), and have heard the Totem Arro in a store after read Soundstage's Todd Warnke's positive review. Destiny seem to dictate a mini-monitor with some level of bass extension. The Arros just didn't seem to be dynamic enough. At the show, I saw a lot of narrow floorstanding speakers with dual midbass units...the promise of midrange and fast/more bass. The surprising thing was that after playing Rossane Cash's "Temptation" cut...nothing I heard at the show approached the smooth but detailed sound of the LX5. More bass? yes...but at a price. More extended listening to the Kinima showed them to be a fine speaker but at over $2K...they should be. The Cardas cables needed a breaking-in period of several tens of hours. I saw a salesman go ga-ga over a supposed Totem Model 1 slayer in the form of the Opera Loudspeaker's Super Pavrarotti. The "Temptation" was never so shrill! I'm getting way off topic but my forty something ears made their way over to "Replay Electronics" where a down to earth guy name George let me compare the M40Ti and the M22Ti over the course of 1/2 hour. We moved speakers away from walls, onto stands, and played cuts 7 and 9 from Windham Hill Records Guitar Sampler, 1,7 and 11 from Rosanne's 10 Song Demo, Mile's Davis Flamenco Sketches (alternate take on re-issue of "Kind of Blue"), and Mary Chapin Carpenter's cut number 8 called "Come on Come on". The speaker had great voice, tempo, mids, and sweet..sweet highs. The sax sung, the piano sounded like piano, and my simply miked standards showed me this to be a classy speaker. The electronics driving the whole show were a pair of Cambridge Audio Integrated amplifier and matched CD player...not too shabby. Each was about $600 dollars. These are not the last word on deep bass but are basically minimonitors with decent real bass and not the bass hump. For this, these should act as great satellites for the sub-woofer addition to round out the low end due to their polite and decent bass that will lend well to integration.
After the purchase, I had to help my sister move a table and living in a 3 level flat with tenants made for a quick low volume home audition (tough test) which neverless showed them to be very promising replacements for the modified LX5 speakers. The look of Aluminum alloy midbass units, ribbed port, solid cabinet feel, and the exquisite veneer finish on tapered cabinet just oozes high-end sound. I'll get back to a rating when I have more time. For the time being, I'm giving them a 5/5 to keep the status quo of this thread. My units may be factory seconds with slight cosmetic faults but they are audibly perfect. As the Axiom box says...it is "Excellence by Design". Doug...I see why your excitement over these speakers is contagious. I'll be back in two weeks time for a more detailed review.
This is the followup review I posted on Dec 14, 2001. (Price quoted is translated into equivalent US dollars although they were bought in Canada.) What follows is long and verbose but hopefully educational for those who think the holy grail for moving from mid-fi to hi-fi...sometimes one step forward sounds like two steps backwards.
I saw the recent terse unhappy reviews from "Pete/Oz" and think I can see why...case of two wrongs (bad JVC electronics/cable and twenty something questionable speakers) working OK together but ruthlessly exposed by clean updated speaker. I've been through this treadmill in my early years with bad cable...nowadays it is much easier with good cables such as Kimber and Cardas around. These speakers are also very good at showing you the correct "absolute phase"...get it wrong and everything sounds really muddled. Revealing speakers are like that. I have a cut from Joan Armitrading which demonstrates the importance of this in a night and day way...listen to eithe "Down to Zero" or "Love and Affection". It sounds awesome with the + of the amplifier connected to the red speaker terminal (and - to black) but horrific...the other way. Every amplifier is different and some sound best with the amplifier "+" connected to the speaker "black" terminal. The speaker is but one part of three or four componets that are the key to hi-fi versus mid-fi. The best way to get there is to beg/borrow a friend who has access to real hi-fi. The other thing to try is reverse the AC power plug polarity using a cheater plug modified so that the wider male slot is thinned using metal cutters. The above two tweaks took me five years to discover (at a time prior to internet tweak pages) but are worth their weight in sound that just sucks you in...I have rescued many a system by doing just these two things.
Well I have these exactly a month, now. As mini-monitors that are supposed to reveal what the actual recording is like, the M22Ti's have instead turned out to be a monitor on the state of my overall playback system. My reference for sound is a friend's system consisting of ProAc Tablettes wired with Kimber 8TC to a modified Jadis clone Tube amplifier(Soundtech) via a passive attenuator to a MSB DAC to a Pioneer Transport and two years of near constant tweaking with RF shields, noise killer sprays, physical isolation techniques, fishing line, sandbags, and crystal oscillator dampening. His ears, system and repeated cancelled audio auditioning invitations (and resultant visit )eventually ended up with my speakers powered at his house in lieu of the Tablettes. The result was very similar sound to what he had with a touch more bass reach. I was floored to hear how a double run of Kimber 8TC improved the tightness and slam of the M22Ti bass when powered by a tube amplifier. Listen/See the Eagles reunited on DVD doing the "Hotel California" number. My modest system is a twenty something heavily modified/simplified NAD 3020, homemade Cardas 2x24 Twin-Ax(sourced raw cable from Part's Connection site http://www.partsconnection.on.ca/pdf/wires.pdf) connected to stock cheapy APEX DVD player. My speaker wires are 4ft runs of Monster Powerline 2 (10 years old and not used for last 2 years), Signet OFC Musicline bought from surplus, and last a homemade "Chris Venhaus" designed DIY braided Kimber-clone via CAT 5e ethernet cable.
I think we are now ready to comment about the M22Ti. I think the main thing is that I find myself sucked into listening to them more and more music as time goes on and I gnerally am relaxed afterwards. The DIY speaker cables are the most revealing of detail but my ear is sort of hooked on the euphonic ring/twang from regular 14 gauge zip cord and found to lesser degrees in the Musicline and Powerline 2 speaker cables. This results in a slightly lean sound that goes lower and higher but has an iron type grip on the mid-bass hump pioneered on the LS3/5a...recording engineers were on to a good thing for mini-monitors missing the last octave and a bit of bass. I found the recent additions of the M22Ti and DIY speaker cable to provide me a true sense of the "Decade" album of Neil Young. This album just sounds awful on mid-fi systems and mis-tuned hi-end systems (see AC plug phase and speaker absolute phase above) in the un-naturalness of Youngs' voice and a untuneful bass. Get it right and the cuts of "Harvest", "Heart of Gold", "Star of Bethlehem", "Deep Forbidden Lake", "Love is a Rose" and "Long may your Run" on Disc 2 just play like a perfect blend classic folk with beautiful vocalization on Young's part, blooming midrange and extended highs that allow the guitar's sound and soul to be all that is needed. Coupled with the rythmic driving bass...it is magic. It is a great album to do subtle fine tweaking to a stereo system. For me in a 12'x15' room, the bass in more than adequate. My main problem is that I discovered that Nirvana can be short lived...excellence in one listening session did not always continue into the next day...even if no changes were made to the system. Gradually, all my recent extended listening found that the variable AC power coming in which was optimal after about 10 P.M. on a weekday night.
So what more can I say ? I like my M22Ti and would purchase them again. The DIY cables and the speakers are good enough with no burn-in and fresh out of the speaker packaging but I do detect things getting better with time due to the burn-in of drive units and wire. In search of a better time slot to play "music", I am finally open to the concept that AC power cables can make a difference in the overall sound by bypassing/shunting some of the RF noise. This is picked up along house power wiring and cannot wait to see what aspect of sound the M22Ti will bring forth when I remove this noise component. I almost feel sorry for the reviews that Oz and Pete put up below because I can tell you that they only reflect their "holy grail" expectation and subsequent unfair letdown. I will write to the organizers of this site to modify their ranking schemes to minimize the impact of deviant reviews that do not reflect the mean using standard deviation concepts. I probably would give the speakers a 4.5 based upon the sound of my overll system with them in. A 5.0 is in order due to the bludgeoning of Oz/Pete...too bad we could not see what else they have posted to see their experience level. We'll I'll do my little part and make it a 5.0 to partly correct the errors of their ways...I have some suspicions about their true identities but I've rambled on enough... Go Leafs Go!
This is the 3rd installment of a set of reviews by me. The submission of reviews on this site have slowed significantly since the rebuild of this site...bad ergonomics ? I have had the M22ti for almost 4 months and I continue to like them. My system has change significantly as a result of the transparency of these speakers. I now have an outboard DAC called the Art DI/O which is sweet and dynamic sounding. I have upgraded the diode bridges (both low level preamp and poweramp) on my NAD 3020 to fast diodes with slow recovery characteristics (Onsemi UG4D) with good results readily heard via the Axiom speakers. Last the DI/O didoe bridges were upgraded to Schottky diodes 1N5819. Last is the use of an AC line filter based on Jon Risch's design. The results of all this is an sound that seems to have the smooth sweetness of analog vinyl playback with the detail, bass and slam of a CD bass/Solid state electronics...no digital nasties to speak of. The critical component to all of this has been the addition of the Axiom M22ti speakers. Friends of mine have been so impressed that one bought the M80ti, another the M40ti, and I'm thinking of picking up a pair of M3ti for my sister's upcoming BD.
Transparency of midrange and nicely balanced high end. A microscope on the system but yet it does it in a way that does not overemphasize shortcomings so that you can evolve gracefully...???
Most people, including myself, have commented on the lack of bass. I think that what is there is really good and often extends subjectively very low and clean. I have no real complaints unless you are into organ music.
My system has changed considerably from the above one. An updated amp (Art SLA-1) came in about a year ago as a gift to update my twenty year 3020. I knew I was picky and selective about the CDP but I figure the technology curve of DVD/Video playback would play into better Redbook and it did in the form of the Toshiba 3950. With each of these, I could hear a steady improvement. The last things that rocked the boat where the Home Depot HD-14 speaker cable, JR twisted co-axial cord interconnects and the Roller Block isolation units under the CDP The last things that rocked the boat where the Home Depot HD-14 speaker cable, JR twisted co-axial cord interconnects and the DIY Roller Block isolation units under the CDP. Through all of this, the M22ti has served as the one stable element in my system. The conclusions I reached about my system after the addition of the SLA-1 amp with regards to authorative bass, congestion, midragen forwardness, integration, and ordinary highs have now been removed. For a more updated view as of May 2004, see this Section 1.1.4 in my SLA-1 amplifier pages within the context of all these system changes.
I have had my own Hi-Fi since the fall of 1978 when I bumped into a fellow engineering student named Tom with similar interests. That is twenty four years ago of continuous improvement (mostly) with a few lateral and backward moves. But it was not until a week ago (January 24, 2002), that I had a sound that bordered upon the best that I had heard anywhere. The enabling purchase for me was the "Axiom M22Ti" speakers that I purchased over Xmas 2001. These speakers have ended up serving up the dual role of "system monitor" and a channel to the enjoyment of music. The quandry/dual edge sword here is that unlike some revealing speakers which sound only good when the upstream electronic are fine, the Axioms tend to reward you on their own merits while also be patient enough to tell you of improvements to these components as your system changes.
My system changed last week for a week courtesy of a friend (Danny) lending me the following components:
The sound was detailed, full, and dynamic and yet it had that unmistakable "hashless" analog quality of long decay tails and a background noise level that seem to dissapear. Once heard, it made me realize that it took twenty four years of two channel listening to get a glimpse of the Holy Grail of sound. It also made me realize that the ear is a most amazing instrument. I listened repeatedly to songs from the "Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Session" album. Prior to the all of the changes, the album sounded acceptable. With the changes, the "Blue Moon" and "Sweet Jane" just became very ambient and full body. Margo Timmin's voice and pacing became sweet. Instruments on less played cuts such as "To Love is to Bury " and again, "Blue Moon" took on a more natural timbre. The DIY CAT5 cable that was lean in the midrange was now more that acceptable. The other standards that rounded up my listening were "Mining for Gold" and "Misguied Angel". I spend the rest of the night and the next morning reading about the recording of this Album on the Cowboy Junkies website.
THX's driving force is a man named Tomlinson Holman. In the 70's he contributed a phono preamp design which dealt with the varying output impedance of phono cartridges causing high end stridency in the sound. This found its way into the "Advent Receiver" and into the NAD 3020 integrated amplifier. Today, the marketing coup of THX in the theartre first has followed its way into the average hi-fi receiver in the form of 5 channel sound (THX has a very demanding requirement on power from all five channels to garner the THX designation). Question: Does this gurantee better sound ? I already stated that the Toronto Home Entertainment Show had very little good 2 channel sound going on. we have to go to stabilize and realize the potential of two channel sound and not splinter the audio community by resurrecting the "more is better" quadraphonic debacle with THX and five channel sound. THX has its place for home video but the reproduction of music is a different beast and I fear that focussing on the "more" issue will result in the average individual taking a 1/3 of a century to discover the "decay trails" of HI-FI sound. Keep it simple and when deciding on which 5-channel amplifier/receiver to buy, do it on the basis of good two channel sound reproduction, first.
The best way to understand what the difference between these two regions is to experience it first hand. I actually experienced it over ten years ago in a store playing a John lee Hooker Album called the healer. In an all Linn system, the dynamics and twang was infectous. I ran next door to buy the album and then ran home to play it on my NAD/CAMBER/Thorens TD 160 based system....big dissapointment. And so began a decade of amplifer capacitor modifications, wire upgrades, speaker cap modifications. Things got better but only incrementally. The major jump toward "Hi-FI" was my friend Danny knowing the son of an ex-Jadis technician who also custom made tube amplifiers. This person still swore by the LS3/5A speaker as the truth and quickly bootstrapped Danny into the the "Hi End" with a demo of his Soundtech Tube Amplifier. Danny went around to all the high end stores and was blown away that their tube offerings could not match the sweet offer he had in the form of a $3K tube amp. The purchase of the amp led to the ProAc Tablettes, several speaker cable upgrades (Kimber 8TC in the end), sliver interconnects, passive pre-amp, outboard MSB DAC and a Monarchy Audio SPDIF resynchronizer circuit. Now the internet also bought a wealth of hobbyist tips/tweaks (mu-metal cable/component shielding, foam tweeter circumferential rings, blu-tak held speakers/stands, noise dampening sprays) to contain a high frequency harshness. Now imagining these collectively tweaked components ending in my apartment for a week's loan....result was HI-FI. I now know what people mean by "analog" sound with velvetly qqiet background noise levels that reveal the timbre and decay of notes that just seem to linger around forever. Once heard...it is a sound to live for. Unitl you have gotten there, you will not understand written descriptions of components described by "knowing" writers/reviewers such as those found in SoundStage.
Amongst those in the "knowing" fray are Doug Blackburn of Soundstage. His monthly essays/columns can now be appreciated by me...he is very,very, very knowlegeable. It seems as if the major weakness with CD sound is the sensitivity of the CD transport to mechanical vibration...sort this out, first, and let the Hi-Fi cable and power cord improvements follow. The recommended articles to start with are bolded
As much as I respect the above reviewers/writers for the their openess to "ideas", I am cut from the fabric of the doubting engineer/physicists who place "science" well ahead of jump before you look. There is a well respected fella in Minnesota who put out a fine line of amplifiers since the 80s named Frank Van Alstine. He has a good ear and knows how to achieve quality in a no nonsense way and price. Excellent Reading are his Audio Basics newsletter. A complete index to these articles is available. Frank is a great spotter/debunker of flavour of the day mods. His articles debunking "wonder" caps is entertaining...as always the truth is somewhere in the middle. He is of the school that all speaker wires sound the same...on his amps at least.
The recent TAS recommendation of "black/organge" extension (extention) cord as speaker cabling has taken a life of its own with many die-in-the-wool audiophiles giving it a try and staying the course. Paul Seydor's position is somewhat legitimize by recording engineer Tony Faulkner's use of these cables to demonstrate Quad's 50'th anniversary at the recent Heathrow Audio Show. Take a look at the posts, below:
I got this idea from my "true blue" audiophile friend. To get your digital playback up to the next level, make yourself some low cost DIY Roller Blocks that can give you taste of the real thing! Not the first DIY unit but probably the first one that does not require buying and hacking large spoons, applying epoxy and waiting for it to cure. Secondly, the build can be reproduced by all. Check out the following links and discussion:
5 A Brief History of the State of the "Art" DI/O DAC
6 "Volks_DI/O" Standard
7 Ack!-Industries dAck!
dAck - DI/O Worthy Transports
Here is the link that discusses ways to address the performance limitations of transports via modifications in the DI/O spirit.