[SoundStage!]Standout Systems
Back Issue Article
February 2000

The FAF System

One of the great things about being single is that you can buy whatever you want, place it wherever you want, and not lose one second of sleep worrying that someone is going to complain about it. Who else but a single guy could get away with a six-foot pair of speakers in his bedroom? Membership does have its privileges.

And everything in my life was moving along just dandy until I went out on a first date. After enjoying some fresh sushi and potent sake, my date and I went for a long walk and ended up back at my new apartment. I nervously fumbled with the lock and finally managed to get the door open. I took her coat and began apologizing almost immediately for the lack of furniture (which finally arrived three days later).

Much to my surprise, she laughed, walked straight through the living room into the bedroom (you should be ashamed of yourselves for thinking such dirty thoughts!) and stopped immediately in front of my MartinLogan Request speakers.

"There is no way that I could live with these things," she said.

"Do you even know what they are?" I shot back. I was getting a tad ticked off, as I don’t usually walk into people’s homes and begin acting like Martha Stewart.

"They are speakers, right?" she replied.

Granted, you don't have to be John Rocker to figure that one out. Still, I was impressed that she knew what they were, so I asked, "Would you be interested in listening to them?"

"Sure, but it still doesn’t mean that I’d let them remain in our bedroom," she said with an ever-so-slight grin on her face. "They are too large, and I think that they would look better in the living room."

Before Jim Saxon nominates me for the Male Wimp of the Year award, please let me just add that Martha Stewart, Jr. is a 29-year-old physician with an incredible intellect and FIVE HUNDRED MINT CONDITION RECORDS.

[Echo] "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

I asked my daunting opponent what she would enjoy listening to and she replied, "anything but Nirvana, Rush, Ricky Martin, or the Grateful Dead."

The belittlement of Rush was a little hard to swallow, but I promised myself an extended listening session with Moving Pictures and Grace Under Pressure after she was gone, to exorcise the demons.

I pulled out copies of Keith Jarrett’s The Melody At Night, With You [ECM 1675 CD], Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends [Mobile Fidelity UDCD 732], Buena Vista Social Club [Classic Records RTH-79478 LP] and Roxy Music’s Avalon [Virgin ROXYCDX9]. After 45 minutes, she turned to me and said, "They are great speakers, but I still think that you should be using the ones that you have in your living room [Meadowlark Hot Rod Shearwaters] in the bedroom."


It was getting quite late, and we decided that it was probably best that I drive her back to her hotel so that she could get some sleep. She insisted that I let her borrow the Roxy Music CD so that she could listen to it on her portable while she lay in bed. Ahh…Bryan Ferry still works after all this time.

After a few more dates, we both decided that we wanted to see a lot more of one another, and I let her keep my copy of Avalon for special occasions. And then one weekend while I was with her in Montreal, she popped the question: "Would you go with me to buy a stereo?" Call me a bumpkin, but I was really hoping that she was going to take me to a hockey game. I tried not to look too disappointed.

"Well, I could certainly do that, but I must warn you that I have really esoteric tastes and you might change your mind once you see the prices."

"Oh, I can afford about $15,000," she replied with a sickening I-make-more-money-than-you-do look on her face. "Besides, if we ever get married, you wouldn’t have to worry about me touching your system."

"Would you like the ring to be four carats or five?" I asked.

After dragging her through a number of high-end stores in Montreal and Toronto, I managed to come up with a system that she could afford and one that received a huge thumbs-up on the FAF -- female acceptance factor -- scale.

To begin the process, I explained the differences among solid-state, tube, push-pull and single-ended amps, and the various types of speakers. We settled on the following criteria:

  • integrated amplifier
  • CD player (she snickered when I tried to explain external D/A converters and transports)
  • turntable and phono stage
  • dynamic speakers (nothing too esoteric)
  • cables and stands

Vinyl was a priority for my sultry surgeon, so I had no problem suggesting to her that she buy a Rega Planar 3/RB300 turntable/tonearm combination. With so many different finishes available, it was an easy sell. After trying a number of different cartridges, she settled on a Benz-Micro MC Gold. She listens to a lot of classical and jazz, and she found the MC Gold fairly easy on her ears after about 20 minutes of really attentive listening. One thing that I did notice during our shopping trip (Montreal section) was that women are definitely more perceptive listeners than men. If something was bright-sounding, she hated it right away.

Shopping for a phono stage proved to be much more difficult. None of the integrated amps that we listened to impressed her when we listened to vinyl, so I had to come up with a number of different options. After listening to phono stages from Blue Circle, Lehmann, and Creek, we both agreed that the entry-level phono stage from French manufacturer Audiomat was killer for the dinero. It cost $1425 Canadian with both MC and MM cartridge capability, and it even came with an external wall-wart power supply.

While we were listening to the Audiomat phono stage, I started thinking about a suitable choice for an integrated amplifier, and I remembered that fellow SoundStager! Mike Masztal had practically drooled over the Audiomat Arpège during his review in 1999. I had previously heard the Arpège at Applause Audio in Toronto (big thanks to Rob Doughty for all of his patience), but I wasn’t sure that the good doctor would go for something that expensive, and there was always the fear that she would freak out and kill me with an ax if the tubes ever blew up on her.

It took her three hours to decide (sheesh, it takes the average audiophile male about ten seconds), but we both agreed that the Audiomat Arpège was superior to anything else that we had tried so far. Francine found it to be incredibly "sweet" sounding and she was somewhat startled by its ability to reproduce spatial information. The Arpège looks very sexy in the dark with its four EL34 tubes glowing behind the Plexiglas-type faceplate, and it's built like a tank. The only change that I suggested was replacing the Sovtek EL34s with some smoother-sounding EL34s from Svetlana. In my experience with the Copland CTA-501, I discovered that the Sovteks were a tad hard-sounding in the treble, and I really preferred the change of output tubes.

With only the CD player and speakers left, I figured we would come in way under budget. Stupid me. After listening to speakers from Vandersteen, Tannoy, ProAc, Meadowlark, and Acoustic Energy, I convinced her to buy a pair of used Spendor SP2/3s. At close to $1800 USD, the SP2/3 are a tad expensive here in the Great White North, so I suggested going online and looking for a pair.

The pair that we did find were $1200 USD (in a really sexy cherry finish) and in excellent condition. The SP2/3 are somewhat chunky, 21.5"H x 12.75"W x 10.75"D, and as a result need very sturdy stands. Fortunately, Sound Anchor offers a custom stand for these British bulldogs, and while not inexpensive, they come highly recommended by Spendor.

The SP2/3 are two-way monitors that use a Spendor-produced 8" polypropylene woofer and a 3/4" fabric-dome tweeter made specifically for Spendor by Scan-Speak. From my previous experience with Spendors, I knew that they were a relatively stable load, and I was convinced that the 30Wpc Arpège would have no problem driving them. The SP2/3 are a tad on the warm side, but they worked incredibly well with the Arpège, and we both agreed that the sound was very musical and highly involving.

While my princess could certainly afford to buy some rather expensive cables for her new system, I decided that she would call me an idiot if she knew what I had spent over the years on cables, so I enthusiastically recommended that she buy some affordable D.H. Labs Silver Sonic speaker cable and Silver Sonic BL-1 interconnect.

"Doesn’t this stuff come in the box with the amplifier?" she asked naively.

"Don’t I wish," I replied, adding up the cost of all of the cables that I have purchased over the years.

With only the CD player left to purchase, I figured that I was home free. As we walked around the showroom of a high-end store in Toronto, she paused in front of a CD player and called me over. "This is so cool-looking. I really want to hear this one," she exclaimed.

I flipped over the tag (having never seen this player before) and read the price. "Ahh, this one is a tad too expensive for you," I replied.

"How expensive is it?"

"Eight thousand dollars."

"Well, it can’t hurt if I listen to it, right?" she asked, batting her long eyelashes.

47 Laboratory might not be a name that instantly registers with most audiophiles, but once you see their stuff, you’ll never confuse it for anything else. All of their products are handmade in Japan, and they are without question some of the coolest-looking audio gear that I have ever seen. I’ve read all of the reviews regarding their Gaincard amplifier, but this was the first time that I had ever actually seen any of their products in the flesh.

Our accompanying picture of the Model 4713 Flatfish CD player/transport does not do the player justice; hell, it doesn’t even look exactly like the one that we tried. But it is one funky-looking piece of equipment. CDs spin on the exposed transport mechanism (locked down with a clamp) and you control the player either with the really small toggle switches or with the supplied remote. A trio of spiked legs supports the player, which connects to the Model 4799 Power Dumpty power supply via an umbilical cord that is permanently attached to the player. The Flatfish uses a 1-bit DAC and 4-times oversampling. Oh, were you expecting a lot more on technical side? Sorry, that’s all there is. Sometimes less truly is more.

After listening to it for about an hour, we both agreed that it was very good (actually, I thought that it was Toshiro Mifune, ass-kickin' great), but a tad too esoteric for her system. As we were leaving the store, I quietly arranged for an at-home audition as I really wanted to hear how this exceptional CD player would sound in my own system.

About five minutes after we left the store, she waited until I stopped at a light before sliding over and planting a huge kiss on my lips.

"That was for not letting me spend $8300 on a CD player," she answered before I could even ask the question. "Only an idiot would spend that much money on a CD player," she said.

"I agree with you, one hundred percent," I replied with a sheepish grin.

So her search for a CD player continues, but she has all the vinyl to keep her musical fires burning. While she was fixing her lipstick, I looked quickly into my rearview mirror and smiled at the little 47 Laboratory box sitting in the back of my Yukon.

Only an idiot.

...Ian White


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