Soundstage! - Workin' Man Audio


April 1996

480 Eleventh St., SE
Bandon, Oregon 97411
503-347-2301 (fax)

Cardas Crosslink

Suggested list price $5.98 per foot
Factory termination $36.00 per pair

Cable King George Cardas has introduced a new line of speaker cables and I was fortunate enough to have been asked to help test the prototypes. The Crosslink is similar to his Quadlink-Five C cables, using golden section tubular construction and a unique non-conductive lubricant on the strands. Factory terminations are by Kip Dobler and the Silent Terminators, and are in my opinion, works of art. Both the single run and biwired cables that I auditioned showed solid craftsmanship and attention to detail.

I couldn't resist the temptation to just hook 'em up and let 'em fly right out of the box. But as to be expected, they were a tad harsh and unfocused. Burn-in is critical with cables, as it is with other components. Since I'm weak willed when it comes to audio I took another little listen to them after three hours on the burn-in track from the "Best of Chesky Classics and Jazz, and Audiophile Test Disc Volume Three" (Chesky JDC111). Much to my surprise a change in focus was already detected. Time to get serious, so another 17 hours of burn-in was run before any further listening.

The AudioQuest Indigo that I had been running in my system is a similarly priced cable at $5.00 per foot, so I thought it would make for a good comparison. I normally run two pair of the Indigo to each speaker (external bi-wire), but that in essence makes it a $10.00 per foot deal. So I took a run out of each channel and ran as a single bi-wire to make it a fair fight.

The key difference in the sound between the bi-wire (internal bi-wire) and the single Crosslink cables was a matter of openess and transparency in favor of the bi-wire. I've noticed a similar improvement when bi-wiring other cables, so what we're talking about here is the actual process of bi-wiring as being the main difference between the two Cardas cables. All the characteristics such as timbre, pace, and dynamics remained the same. That being said, the remainder of this review will be regarding the bi- wire set.

The hearing process is a funny thing. We have a tendency to get used to a particular set of colorations; only when we start comparing differences between products, do we really spot weaknesses. This was the case with the Indigo. The Crosslink is a very smooth, natural sounding cable that made the Indigo appear etched and grainy sounding in the upper mid and treble regions. Sibilance was also less prominent with the Crosslink. In particular, vocals were more pleasing and natural sounding. "Spanish Harlem," by Rebecca Pigeon on "The Ultimate Demonstration Disc" (Chesky UD95), was like I had never heard it before. The beauty of her voice came through with the Crosslink with less of an edge than was heard through the Indigo. The pluck of the string bass was rounder and I could now hear the resonance of the wood body of the instrument.

Subtle details coming to life was the reward of the Crosslink. While listening to "The Blues and the Abstract Truth" (Impulse IMPD-154) by Oliver Nelson, I noticed that the snare drum had a "whack" sound with the Cardas cables, while there was more of a "thud" with the AudioQuest. Brass still had a slight "over the top" quality to it, so I knew things were better, but I could tell there were still gains to be made.

George waited till after my evaluation was over to tell me the Crosslink would retail at $5.98 per foot, plus termination. I was blown away! I thought for sure we were looking at the $10.00-15.00 per foot range.

The improvement brought by the Crosslink inspired me to explore the Cardas world a little deeper, so I rounded up a digital cable and two sets of interconnects to complete the package......

Cardas High Speed Digital/Video Cable

Suggested list price $58.00 1/2 meter

I inserted the High Speed Digital/Video cable between the Rotel RCD955-AX CD player and the Audio Alchemy DTI (with PS4 power supply), in place of the Audio Alchemy Clearlink. While I had used the Clearlink for a couple of years, this audition demonstrated that part of the grain I had been hearing previously was partially due to this digital cable. These two links are similar in price, so I feel comfortable in saying the Cardas cable is the better buy, at least in my system. A further smoothing of the rough edges, not at the price of resolution loss, and a sense of ease were evident with the Cardas digital cable.

Here is where the Workin' Man jumps ship. While not exactly what I'd call budget cables, although they are less expensive than the Hexlink Golden Five C and the Golden Cross lines, the Cross interconnects took the sound to another plateau....

Cardas Cross Interconnect

Suggested list price $398.00 (1 meter pair), $498.00 (1-1/2 meter pair)

Now with the entire package installed, I heard a level of musicality that I had no idea was waiting to be unleashed from my system. Forget about edge and grain and welcome a dramatic increase to the dimensionality of the soundstage. The midrange richness that had improved with the Crosslink and the High Speed Digital/Video cables was now in full bloom. The palpability of vocals, and the truth of timbre to instruments such as sax, trumpet, and piano was stunning! With full "Cardasizing" in force, I was now enjoying music like I had never done before.

I've listened to a lot of systems, granted the bulk of them have been under show or store conditions. But after having these cables in my system for several months now, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I've only heard from a handful of other systems - many being much more expensive. I had no choice but exile the AudioQuest Quartz interconnects (a real bargain at around $165.00/1 meter) to the video side of the system.

Digital has taken a lot of big strides in the last couple of years, but you must always remember the system as a whole. There is still much room for improvement with digital (gotta get my hands on a DTI-PRO.32, and there's DVD on the horizon), but taking care of the basics of good cabling has now been proven to me to be essential to achieving the best sound possible from my system. Wire isn't just wire, when it comes to audio. Materials, geometry, and construction make all the difference in the world. George and the folks at Cardas Audio seem to clearly understand what it takes to let all of the music through.

I heartily reccommend all of these products, but if the price tag on the Cross interconnects scares you a bit, be sure to try the Crosslink speaker cables and the High Speed Digital/Video link. These two items are both major bang for the bucks. If you want to hear your other components sound their best, dig deeper and check out the Cross interconnects. T'aint no turning back for me - I've been to the mountain!

See Ya....Dave Duvall, the Workin' Man


March 1996

$199.95 suggested list price

31133 Via Los Colinas #111
Westlake Village, CA. 91362
(818-707-8504) FAX (818-707-2610)

Frequency Response: DC-100 kH
Signal Response: >100db
THD + Noise: .004%
Max. Input Voltage: 3.7 Volts
Max. Output Voltage: 6.5 Volts
Gain (volume at max.): 8.8 db
Power Output: 1500 mW (8 ohm load)

Ol' Workin' Man got himself a nice little surprise in the mail the other day. Seems like Mark Schifter at Audio Alchemy decided to let my golden ears (sha, right!) toy around with their their new little headphone amplifier. It's a cute little thing, measuring 5-3/8" wide x 1-1/2" high x 4" deep, and fits in the palm of your hand. I don't suggest that's where you keep it, as it does run quite warm!

The front panel is very simple, sporting a volume knob, a 1/4" headphone jack, and the "process" button. This button engages (or disengages) the patented circuitry, licensed from and created by Tyll Herstens of Headroom fame. The Alchemy guys made a smart move by getting with Headroom on this. Tyll's "process" takes a little bit of one channels information, and blends it with the opposite channel to create a sound more like what we hear from our speakers, and less like "two cans over your ears." There's some EQ and time delay stuff going on also, but the bottom line is the "process" button is there to make headphone listening more pleasurable. It didn't take Workin' Dude long to really hear the benefits of the "process". The difference is that you hear music across the span of your head, as opposed to the left ear, mid brain peak, right ear thang that you get without it. The longer you listen to the "process," the more you'll appreciate the difference.

The back panel contains a DC input jack (for the seperate power supply), input and output jacks. The input jacks are to connect to an output of your preamp, outboard DAC, CD player, tape player, or phono preamp. Audio Alchemy recommends that you use the tape output from your preamp, as it doesn't vary its output with the volume knob. The line output does vary, and if not careful, you could overload the HPAv1.0 input with more than the maximum 3.7 volts it can handle. Not by coincidence, I'd bet, 3.7 Volts matches the highest (adjustable) output from their outstanding V3.0 D/A converter. There is a pair of output jacks, so you can stick this baby between the preamp and tape deck, via the tape loop. This comes in real handy if you're short on outputs on your preamp. I used the second set of main outputs on my Audible Illusions L-1 preamp, as I use my tape loop for the Fosgate 5 surround processor. Mind you, I could've put the HPAv1.0 between the preamp and the Fosgate, because of the HPAV1.0 having input and output jacks.

Being careful not to turn up the preamp volume knob too far, I began my listening tests. I'm not a major fan of headphone listening, but when it's late at night, or early in the morning, my family appreciates it when I slap on the Grado SR80's and let them sleep. Right off I noticed that these headphones are not very comfortable. I found an old set guitar amplified headphones and ripped the ear cushions off them. I sandwiched them between the Grado's and my head, and the world is once again A-OK. They turn the headphones into a full ear surround setup. Being that they are shaped like an oval doughnut, they don't place anything between the ear canal and the headphone speaker.

First listening comparisons were between the HPAv1.0 (sans process) and the headphone amp in my Audible Illusions L-1. The L-1 is plenty listenable, but the HPAv1.0 is more refined. The HPAv1.0 has a smoother overall presentation, and a tad more bass. On the convenience side, it's cool to to run a long interconnect from the preamp to the HPAv1.0, and place it by your easy chair. VOILA! (French lessons courtesy of the worldly Jonathan Scull.) Volume knob at your fingertips! Even if you have a remote on your preamp (or other connected component), this is still a good way of being sure you don't overload the HPAv1.0; keep the remote controlled components volume down, and utilize the volume knob on the HPAv1.0. Again, using the tape out on your preamp is the best bet.

I couldn't find any reason not to leave the "process" button engaged. You will notice the effect more readily with larger scale music than you will with small or solo works. While solo work does sound to have more air around the event with the "process," it's when you hear the full, rich, all around your head soundstaging of, say, a symphony, that you get the real deal of the "process". Listening to Holst's "The Planets" (Deutsch Gramophone 439011-2) by the Berliner Philharmoniker, the presentation is dimensional and instruments are placed in your head at all locations from the left to right. On the wonderful new blues disc "Puttin' it Down" by Terry Evans ( AudioQuest AQ-CD1038; mastered using an AA DTI-PRO, by the way), there is a fullness to the sound, that you do not get with standard headphone listening. The bass also sounds more prominent with the "process" goin' on; this is somewhat reminiscent of the loudness button effect on some components.

I couldn't resist the temptation of inserting it between my V3.0 DAC and amplifier, therefore becoming a preamp. While not earthshattering by any means, I've heard a few solid state preamps that sounded worse. The little volume knob played plenty loud at 12:00, without any horrible distortions. The soundstage was less expansive and had less depth, but there was still accurate timbre to instruments and voice. The "process" button will make things sound a little unfocused when played back through your speakers. Trust me, you don't need to introduce interaural crosstalk with non-headphone listening, it's already there aplenty (unless you've set up in an Ambiophonic listening arrangement. For more on Ambiophonics call Ralph Glascal 800-526-9261, and order his book on the subject). If my preamp had to go to the shop for a while, this might be a short term substitution. But let's get real-it was designed as a headphone amp, and up close and personal with your head, it really does shine.

So there it is. Lay down a few bucks, the workin' persons kind, and enjoy music and quality sound in the comfort and privacy of your own head!

See Ya....
Dave Duvall - Workin' Man

DAS adds his 2 cents....

I knew that Workin' Man had this headphone amp for review and liked it a bunch. So when I came across the Audio Alchemy display at the Montreal Hi-Fi Show '96 I purposely spent most of my time there playing around with this cute little bugger. He's right, it fits snug in the palm of your hand and blows off enough heat to keep you toasty warm in your listening chair. Anyone who is used to plugging their 'phones in a headphone jack on their preamp, integrated amp, walkman, VCR, or whatever, really owe it to themselves to try one of these. Headphone listening becomes a new experience - suddenly they rock. Dynamics, volume, and clarity like you've never heard. Tyll Hersten's turned me on to headphone listening as a cheap alternative to a home theatre rig (headphone amp attached to your VCR output). Infinitely better than what your TV or even what some low-end theatre does.

The HPAv1.0 looks like another winner from Audio Alchemy. Thanks a bunch Mark!


March 1996

$1495.00 List

Audible Illusions
P.O. Box 8
Pleasanton, Ca. 94566
(510) 463-2380

If you're working on a fairly tight budget, there are some preamplifier options that are available at a fairly inexpensive price tag. Units from Audio Alchemy, Denon, and Rotel come to mind. Remember, as the price gets lower it usually means more compromise in design and sonic quality.

At $1,495.00 list price (shop for those discounts!), the L-1 may not fall into some peoples idea of "budget gear", but I feel the preamp is a critical component and worthy of a fair amount of your audio budget.

The L-1 is a line level (no phono stage) preamplifier, with its gain stage handled by two E88CC/6922 tubes. If you are doing vinyl you need to purchase an outboard phone stage, which you can hookup via the EXT.PHONO jacks. The rear panel also has inputs for CD, DAT, TUNER, VIDEO, and AUXILIARY, and TAPE OUT. The outputs are TAPE IN, MAIN #1, and MAIN #2. Workin' Man uses the tape loop for his Fosgate 5 surround processor; selecting "tape" for video and "source" for unprocessed music listening. Note the two main outputs. MAIN #1 is the "purer" of the two, as MAIN #2 is the same, but includes a 470 ohm resistor in series with the output. You may find MAIN #2 to help out with the "glare" of some brands of tubes, (I find it not needed with The matched Sovtek 6922's supplied) and the manual recommends to use MAIN #1 for interconnect runs over 15'. You could also use MAIN #2 for a self powered subwoofer and not have your main speakers run through the subs' crossover. One word of caution: the main outputs are inverting (but not the TAPE OUT) so you have to reverse your speaker cables at the speakers. If using a seperate self powered sub you may have trouble getting the polarity matched with your main speakers, unless you hook the sub up at speaker level as opposed to line level.

One other neat trick I've found to be pleasing is to try the AUX. input for your CD listening. The CD input has a resistor dividing network in it that helps to cut the input gain of many DAC's. These resistors also are said to impart a slight high frequency rolloff. Credit to Art Ferris, of Audible Illusions, in the February 1996 Stereophile Manufacturers' Comments for this suggestion. In my system, I find the AUX. input to be the more accurate.

The front panel offers source selection, left and right seperate level, as well as master volume. Set the right and left levels equal with an SPL mater and some pink noise, then control overall volume with the master volume knob. The unit is rack mountable, should you desire. Other features are Source/Tape selection, a headphone in/out switch (for a nice sounding headphone section), mute and power buttons. The faceplate is lettered in gold cursive writing. My unit is in black, but I believe a white faceplate is available (best check with Audible Illusions on that one). Between the lettering, and the LARGE knobs, this is one sexy looking preamp!

The top can easily be removed (need I remind you to disconnect all power first?) by unscrewing the zillion allen screws. Keep your eyes on these babies when you remove them! With the lid off, you'll notice a very organized, unclutterd layout. It's obvious, even to a non-techie like myself, that build quality was important to the designer. One reason for the lack of "let's cram all we can inna box" appearance, is that the power supply is a separate, hardwired, outboard unit. The AC power cord to the main chassis can be removed, should you desire to insert your fave cable of choice. Another nice little ditty, we've been given to fine tune the sound to our other gear, is the opportunity to engage or disengage a series of capacitors in the line stage. There are four smallish dip switches that can be set one way or the other, with a pen or screwdriver. I prefer them out of the circuit, as I get a smoother, less edgy sound when they are not engaged. There is plenty of treble and detail with the caps out.

Operation of the L-1 requires a minor amount of getting used to. You need to be sure the mute/standby switch is engaged, before you push the power button. After about a minute, the power LED will change from red to green, and you may then power up your amps and sources. After doing so, disengage the mute/standby switch, and start your listening. Shutdown is the opposite procedure, ensuring that the mute/standby switch is again engaged before shutting down your other gear. T'aint no big thing, once you get used to it.

Everything else in my system is still the same as listed in my other reviews, so I won't bore you with those details again. This is my sneaky way of making sure you go back and read the PSB Stratus Gold, and Audio Alchemy V3.0/PS3 reviews!

I'd love to lay down tons of adjectives on the sound of this preamp, but to be honest, it imparts very little sound of it's own on the signal. That's what you want in a preamp. Yes, there's the warmth that a tube design will give you, compared to a solid state design, but I'm here to tell you that the tube preamp makes a perfect compliment for My Rotel 990BX solid state power amp. With other less expensive solid state preamps, I've noticed a edgy, grainy texture to the sound. With the L-1, what I enjoy is is a smooth, velvety, non-fatiguing presentation. Though I have not heard any tube amps used with this preamp, and since I am a gambling man (Poker anyone?), I'd say the solid state amp might be the better bet. The Stratus Golds do like the bass control of a solid state amp, and tubes here, in conjunction with the L-1, might be just too much of a good thing. Tube amp manufacturers prove me wrong! Send me something to audition! Note the begging tone being used.

I've been using this preamp for about a year now. Prior to this, I was using the preamp section of my Fosgate 5 surround processor. What an awakening it was when I found out what a good preamp DOESN'T do to your music. Give the Audible Illusions L-1 (or the M3A if you need a phono section) a whirl in your system. If the synergy is there, you'll be treated to a lucious, vivid soundstage that will get the hell out of the way of the music - with the least amount of additive signature.

Any questions? E-mail me. Till next time-

See Ya.....Workin' Man

[Audio Odyssey]
Authorized Audio Alchemy Dealer

Audio Alchemy DDEv3.0 with HDCD

January 1996

HDCD is the latest wave to hit the Audio scene. Yes, DVD is in the birthing process; but until it emerges from the womb and is proven to be superior, HDCD provides us another step to digital competency. Pacific Microsonics has licensed the technology to many manufacturers, and the Workin' Man has latched onto to it via the Audio Alchemy V3.0 Digital to Analog converter. At a list price of $799.00 (with standard PS4 power supply), Audio Alchemy has once again let the consumer know, you don't have to be rich to enjoy quality reproduced music.

As a former owner of the Adcom GDA600 D/A converter, this was the budget converter to beat. The Adcom unit did a lot of things right, but I believe the V3.0 has taken its place at the top of the hill. Adcom has introduced the GDA700, which also has the Pacific Microsonics HDCD chip, but this ol'boy ain't heard it. The GDA700 has received a positive review by one of my fave audio rags, but wasn't necessarily deemed superior overall to the V3.0.

The V3.0 is typical in appearance to most of the Audio Alchemy line. It's smallish (8-1/2" wide, 6" deep, and 2" tall) silhouette confirms my theory that AA offers value in sonics at an affordable price, by sacrificing the "pretty boy" cosmetics of much higher priced components. When you open this baby up, you wonder how in the hell they manage to stuff so much in such a small box. It's fairly obvious that the designer, Peter Madnick, knew exactly where to compromise build, without sacrificing sound quality. Let's face reality; you can't expect it all for $799.00, can you?

The V3.0 is sent to you with a PS4 power supply, but Big Time here is gonna reccommend spending $259.00 on the optional PS3 power supply, as I've found an increase in dynamics and perceived resolution with this upgrade. AA also provides, for an additional $149.00, an optional remote control and plug in chip, to turn the V3.0 into a digital attenuation, remote controlled, line level preamp/converter. Granted I'm not recommending the deletion of a quality preamp in your system, because digital attenuation = loss of resolution. There are those who say the remote microprocessor actually betters the sound of the already sweet V3.0, but I've also heard from those who can't tell any difference. Workin' Man ain't sprung for the remote, but the PS3 was a must have. Search around for a deal on the V3.0/PS3 combo - they're out there to be had.

So what do you do with the PS4, now that you opted for the PS3? You could trash it, or put it in that box in the attic, but here's a better idea. If you happen to own an original DTI, you can upgrade from it's wall wart to The PS4. This was a night and day improvement for the old DTI, providing more slam and better focus to the imaging. I ain't gonna tell you how to do the upgrade, cause someone is gonna foul it all up and blame me. You'll need to contact Audio Alchemy with your inquiries, but with the right cable and home made adaptor, t'aint to hard. Don't ask - I won't tell.

The front panel of the V3.0 is the typical red and green Christmas tree LED configuration, that we've come to expect. I'd prefer light blue LED's, but who asked me? The controls and LED's offer mute/volume (for use with the optional remote), input selection, phase, emphasis, digital lock, and HDCD signal detection. The rear has inputs for coax, Toslink (yuck!), and I2S (I squared s), a DC input jack, analog (RCA) and digital outputs.

The I2S bus is a feature that allows you to skip putting the signal into the S/PDIF format, if you have the DDS-PRO transport; or converting from S/PDIF to I2S before the DAC. S/PDIF is a far from perfect method of digital transmission, and is conducive to adding jitter to the signal. I2S does not combine the word and bit clocks, as well as the left and right channel signals, and supply it as such to the DAC. S/PDIF combines all these on one line, and requires the hardware to re-establish the clock from the combined signal. Timing variations are inherent in this fashion. Gotta tell you, once you've heard I2S, you'll forget all about coax. To utilize this, you're gonna need a DTI, DTI V2.0, DTI-PRO, or DTI-PRO.32 to convert from coax out of the transport, to I2S between the jitter box and V3.0.

AA is currently in the process of creating an I2S output transport, the DDS-PRO, as well as a coax to I2S digital cable. Are these guys good to us, or what? Only the DTI- PRO.32 has an I2S input, for use with the DDS-PRO transport. With this transport you could eliminate any of the jitter boxes mentioned, at the sacrifice of the resolution enhancement provided by the DTI-PRO and PRO.32. I'm told the V3.0 has a jitter reduction receiver internally, that is similar to the one in the original DTI, but remember that the DTI can still offer you the coax to I2S conversion. The DTI V2.0 offers jitter reduction similar to the DTI-PRO, and I2S output; but lacks the resolution enhancement (read: interpolation) of the PRO and PRO.32. Man, is this option city, or what?

This audio monger is a signed, sealed, and delivered advocate of the I2S format. With I2S I find imaging to be much more precise, and soundstaging to be more expansive. I'll never go back to coax, after hearing I2S, and would really love to test a full blown DDS-PRO transport, to DTI-PRO.32, to V3.0 I2S setup! For now I'll have to settle for my Rotel RCD-955AX CD player/Audio Alchemy Clearlink/DTI/I2S/V3.0 combo. This system is very pleasing, so "settle" may be a poor choice of words. Other gear used in this review include an Audible Illusions L-1 preamp, Audioquest Quartz interconnects, Audioquest Indigo speaker cable, PSB Stratus Gold speakers, and a Rotel RB-990BX 200w/pc solid state amplifier.

Another clever little trick AA offers with the V3.0, is a user adjustable output level. Factory supplied, the output is 3.6 volts, but can be reduced in -10 db levels down to 40 millivolts. This allows you to tailor the V3.0 output so as to not overload your particular preamp input. The L-1 preamp can handle the full 3.6 volts, but I currently run my V3.0 at -10db (1.4) volts. There appears to be an improvement in low level detail with the output reduction, and I mentally feel better about getting to actually use the volume knob on my preamp!

The V3.0 is a multi-bit, ladder DAC. It employs a pair of Analog Devices AD1862 D/A converters and a Crystal CS8412 input receiver. Use of the I2S bus negates the need for the input receiver. Workin' Dude has a preference to multi-bit designs; the single bit DAC's I've heard mostly sound a little too forward, for my tastes. Take that as a generalization, as the end result for the designer, is usually a matter of how it's implemented, as opposed to just the single bit/multi-bit thing.

I've had the V3.0 in my system for about 5 months now, and my long term still matches my initial impressions. YOOOWEEEEEEEE!. Things got nothing but better as the unit burned in. This D/A is a bargain compared to the sound you get! The GDA600 was known for it's bass slam. The V3.0 gives you slam, but it's a tighter bass; more well defined. The Adcom tended to push everything into one large layer of sound; the V3.0 presents a multi-layered soundstage, with a greater sense of depth. The GDA600 sounded veiled in comparison to the clarity of the V3.0. The edges of images are sharper than were given by the Adcom unit. This in particular I attribute to the I2S connection, as my opinion changes with coax. The word on the street, is that the HDCD chip actually makes non HDCD recordings, sound better. I could be easily swayed to buy this, but probably need to hear some kind of direct comparison, to confirm.

What's up with this HDCD thing, anyway? Is it really all that? You betcha sweet !*&% it is! I heard HDCD for the first time at the Stereophile '95 show in LA. Nowhere did I hear a demonstration of HDCD that left me impressed. Lo and behold, it turns out that crowed rooms and show conditions took care of hearing HDCD properly presented! It was not until I brought the V3.0 into my home, did I realize the full potential of HDCD. While I figure the increased storage and higher sampling rates of DVD may blow away anything we're hearing on digital these days; until then HDCD takes the ribbon. With such discs as the Reference Recording Samplers, and EmmyLou Harris' "Wrecking Ball", I recognize similarities between them that almost identify them as the "HDCD sound". Layering is more prominent, differences in amplitude of individual events are better discerned, and there appears to be an "air" around instruments and voices. Dynamics are more aggressive; don't let cymbal and bass drum crashes catch you off guard! These enhancements provide a believability beyond that of standard, non-encoded sources. It's improvements like these, that keep me from spending my time fighting vertical tracking alignment, and all those other wonderful chores of vinyl playback.

HDCD is handled very well by the V3.0 converter. Workin' Man probably ain't gonna ever have any of those high priced Spectral, Muse, or Theta units in Casa-de-cheapness, although I've heard them all under store and show conditions. You'll have to count on someone else to tell you if HDCD or standard 16/20 bit can sound better than the V3.0 can provide. What I can tell you is that if you're willing to spend the time and effort to insure the synergy of your other components with the V3.0; you're going to find yourself immersed in countless hours of audio excellence.

A crowning achievement for Mark Schifter, Peter Madnick, and all the folks at Audio Alchemy, and a very high reccommendation from this audio buff/average income kinda individual. Give this one a listen!

See Ya.....Workin' Man

Audio Alchemy has a site up on the net, check out our link lists section for the address to get there!


December 1995

If you want to get the most dramatic change in the sound of your system, it's pretty much common knowledge you replace the speakers. Speakers, however, can represent a major change in your wallet, unless you're one of those who'll spend kilobucks on the source end, and chince out by sending the signal downstream to a $100.00 pair of bookshelf speakers.

So as a "Workin' Man", it isn't going to be the easiest thing to find outstanding speakers in the budget category. Enter the PSB STRATUS GOLD, manufactured by Lenbrook Industries Limited. (633 Pickering Court- Pickering, Ontario, Canada-L1W 3K1. 1-800-263-4641).

For a retail price of $2,100, you get an entry level high end speaker that isn't dreaming of being high end, but actually qualifies. I hesitate to call them "entry level," because these speakers will do plenty of justice to electronics that are in a class way above them. Are they the end-all to all end-alls? No. What they are, is a brute force beast with a sweet side.

Let's take a quick look at this pair-o-boxes from the ground up. The frequency range is stated at 36 Hz. to 20,000 khz. The speakers measure approx. 44-1/2" high, 13-3/4" wide, and 15-1/8" deep. They are a floor standing speaker that can be easily "walked" around on carpet, but a bear to carry up the stairs. (Get help!)

Removing the well constructed grill frames reveals a 10" low frequency driver, a 1" metal dome tweeter, 6" midrange cone, and a 3" front firing port. The tweeter is located between the bass and midrange drivers. All drivers are set flush with the face of the baffle, and the baffle edges are angled back in an effort to reduce diffraction. PSB utilizes allen screws to secure the drivers; a touch I prefer over phillips head screws.

The rear of the speaker shows two pairs of five-way binding posts, with gold plated nuts (no brass you-know-what jokes, please). The speakers can be bi-wired or bi-amped, as well as used with single cable via the supplied jumpers. For my listening, I prefer to bi-wire. Remember, the "Workin' man" ain't gonna spring for more amps, just to bi- amp!

I'm told (don't ask by who, this is the amateur hour, you know), the older versions of the Stratus Golds' had the binding posts located on the underside of the cabinets. I can imagine the headaches that would cause. The latest edition places them a foot up on the backside. Note that you will need large spades to fit the posts. I am using bare wire AudioQuest Indigo; a multi-wire, solid core that is easy to twist, and fits neatly through the holes in the posts. The current Gold is also said to have improved internal bracing system. Rigid bracing is a must with this speaker, important with the bass this baby can put out. The cabinet vibrates ever so slightly, doing the finger tip touch test, although I don't think anywhere near enough to create a sonic problem.

My pair are finished in black oak, and are also available in quite a stylish looking, natural oak. They come with a wood surround base. I highly reccommend cones (not supplied), as they help tighten up the bass properly.

The system used for reference in this review, consists of the following: Rotel RCD-955AX CD player (used as a transport), Audio Alchemy Clearlink digital cable, original Audio Alchemy DTI, connected via the I2S (I squared S) output to the Audio Alchemy V3.0 HDCD D/A converter. Output interconnects are AudioQuest Quartz coax to an Audible Illusions L-1 line stage preamplifier. Signal feed out of the preamp, is handled by AudioQuest Ruby coax, to a 200w per channel Rotel RB990-BX solid state amplifier. Speaker cables are the aforementioned AudioQuest Indigo.

So much for the preliminaries; how's dem boxes sound? These babies will boogie when-ya-wanna, yet be full of life with solo violin or harpsichord!

The bass is quite profound. Warning! Placing these speakers too close to boundaries can result in flabby, overbloated bass. They just plain don't need any reinforcement (your mileage/room may vary). I find that 10 feet into the room, and five feet away from either side wall, to be good positioning to keep the bass tight and throw a good soundstage. My room is 18' x 28'; a good size room for these big boys. A smaller room could present a problem for the Golds, minimonitors may be more appropriate. I haven't heard any tube amps with these speakers, but I venture to say, that power and control of a good solid state amp, is the better ticket here. Sensitivity is listed at 88db 1w/1m. The spec's say the bass extends to 36 hz; just a few herz short of the 32 hz lowest note on an electric bass guitar. 36 hz is the -3db point, not a brick wall. There isn't a whole lot, music wise, that you'll miss below 36 hz. Such bass terror discs as Stanley Clarkes' "East River Drive," Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo," and Jean Guillos' "Pictures at an Exhibition," all perform admirably. Plenty of oomph, heft, and male anatomy nether regions. Ported speakers often offer you bass extension, sometimes at the cost of control. That's not a problem with the Golds', as long as you follow my tips of positioning and using cones. With the above you get tight, fast bass; without you get fast mush.

The midrange is a highlight of this speaker's design. Male and female vocal both have a naturalness that I've heard matched in speakers many times the cost of the Stratus Golds'. Mick Jaggers' voice on the new Stones "Stripped" comes through with remarkable accuracy. This a voice I've listened to, including live, for 25 years. Keith Richards' backing vocals, are sharp and absolutely discernible as a separate entity from Jaggers'. Van Morrissons' duo with John Lee Hooker on "Wasted Years" from "Too Long in Exile," has an uncanny realness too.

This is a good time to bring up burn-in. Until these behemoths are burned in (40-50 hours), you're not gonna really hear these things. The burn in period loosens up all those factory stiff components, allowing the drivers to integrate well, and reveal their true characters. The bottom line with the midrange is; don't feed garbage in, such as with a poor production, and they won't spit garbage out.

The upper registers can be deceiving. Most overly bright speakers, jump out at you immediately with a tilted up frequency response. The Golds' are a speaker that don't throw the treble tizz at you for wow factor. Rather, they present the high frequencies in a well blended, clear fashion. Cymbals sound real, not like a white noise test tone. Listening with the grilles off, allows for more prominence of the treble, although the speaker sounds as if it was certainly designed to be listened with the grill on. Either way, the top end is sweet, airy, and will not throw you into the land of listener fatigue.

Overall tonal balance is very good. In my system, I'd say they lend themselves to more of the british, darker sounding variety. I want to emphasize that even though I say a darker sound, do not think I mean veiled. If you like a forward presentation, with a bright sound, this speaker may not be for you. However, if you take the time to set them up properly, and work with the synergy of the components, you will have obtain detailed, highly palpable sound.

Soundstaging is as wide as the recording will allow. Roger Waters' "Amused to Death" Q-sound tricks, are thrown 10' left or right of the speakers, in a long wall setup. Depth is very good; the Gold's will show you clearly the differences in amplitude of instruments, as they are placed further away from the microphone. I position mine 8 feet apart (center to center), with the listening position approximately 7-6 feet back from the speaker plane. This positioning allows the center image to lock in tight and lets the speakers disappear. I would characterize the sound to be laid back, as opposed to forward. Images will present themselves at the speaker face, but for the most part, the soundstage starts back about two feet. I can't say that I've ever heard a center image at the speaker plane. This could be a product of my room acoustics, but I wouldn't bet on it. Imaging is precise, but I attribute that mostly to the wonderful Audio Alchemy V3.0 D/A converter and the I2S bus connection. The Gold's merely don't get in the way of letting the V3.0 do its thing. More on the V3.0 at a later date.

For $2,100 (not including possibly a discount from your favorite dealer), and a bit of time to set them up well, I think you'll find the PSB Stratus Gold to be an impressive achievement. For me, they offer a great taste of the high end, for my limited budget. I believe they'll live through quite a few upstream upgrades. They've certainly found a home at Casa de Good Tunes.

See ya......Workin' Man