Building high-end 'tables cheap at Home Despot II

“For those who want the moon but can't afford it or those who can afford it but like to have fun and work with their hands, I'm willing to give out a recipe for a true high-end 'table which is easy to do, and fun to make as sky's the limit on design/creativity! The cost of materials, including 'table, is roughly $200 (depending, more or less), and add to that a Rega tonearm. The results are astonishing. I'll even tell/show you how to make chipboard look like marble and fool and impress all your friends. If there's interest I'll get on with this project, if not, I'll just continue making them in my basement. The next one I make will have a Corian top and have a zebra stripe pattern! Fun! Any takers?”

The Lead in “Da Thread” as posted by Johnnantais - 2-01-04

Let the saga continue. Sail on, oh ships of Lenco!
Hi Mike. I substituted some older 12AX7s (nothing exotic though) for the no-name ones that come with it and indeed did get an improvement. The bass deepened and the detail improved to the point where the EAR was now much closer to the CJ PV-7 which was in the circuit before. But - and there's always a but isn't there? - the magic which makes both vintage CJ preamps SO compelling was still absent, relative to the CJs of course. Don't get me wrong: the EAR IS euphonic, smooth, tube-like in all the best ways but more neutral than the Golden Age tube equipment of yore. The owner of such a unit could sit for hours without listener fatigue. But, all these qualities which give it a leg up on the current competition are heard by most without the context of certain older CJ preamps (PV-5, PV-6, PV-7 PV-8, PV-10) AND ARC preamps (the great star of magic being the rightly famed ARC SP-8, but also the SP-6 and of course SP-10). The EAR is euphonic, yes, but it isn't "magical" as these older preamps are. And the PV-7 also has no-name tubes; while the PV-8 has GE tubes for the line stage but Sovteks in the phono stage (which might explain the brightness, time for more tube-rolling tomorrow!!).

Both CJ preamps have a sense of propulsiveness, the music enhuberant and forceful, lacking in the EAR, and this apart from simple dynamics, which are also superior to the EAR. Allied to this is a sense of cohesiveness, of the music working together in incredible harmony, perfect timing, that together with the propulsiveness makes both CJ preamps very difficult to turn away from, even when there is something else to do. The EAR, on the other hand, lacks this as well, like an artist who is technically trained, but with no feeling. In reading certain high-end rags these days, one would think that these qualities -cohesiveness, propulsiveness, "continuousness" - are just now making their appearance in cost-no-object designs. But methinks certain writer/reviewers need to immerse themselves in some of these superb older units in order to establish context, aural history.

Today an acquaintance dropped by to pick up a spare laser assembly for a Pioneer CD player I sold off (I got myself a tubed Luxman CD player....GASP! I DO have a CD collection!!) and saw my Ultra Giant Lenco sitting high on a shelf, hooked up to the PV-7. I offer to demonstrate it, he agrees, and I played the new Wynton Marsalis/Willie Nelson collaboration on Blue Note (superb music AND recording/pressing!). He's a pure CD guy, but finds himself rooted to the spot, moving only to place himself in the exact centre of the soundfield. He stood there, not even sitting, immobile, through the entire side of the LP, and had it not been for the phone call from his wife (nagging ;-)), he would have made me play the entire four-side disc while simply frozen to the spot. I'm fairly certain that had the EAR been hooked up, he would have been impressed, but would have left after the first song. But maybe he would have loved it as much as the PV-7. But it's telling he reacted exactly the same way I did to the PV-7, as did also the musician next door who loves to come and sit for hours listening to my system. I could hear and identify the magic, he simply found himself mesmerized. He said one word: "Unbelievable".

Now we get into the same problem which faced us and STILL faces us with respect to idler-wheel drives and Lenco: the issue of exactly what is subjective/illusory and what is objective/real, and what is the "truth". Recall the Great Lenco vs SME 30 Debate. I believe in my body's reactions to the music, that it has some objective foundation, and also believe that this is fairly representative of the human race (who react to the same things I do, as did CD guy). I believe digital conversion of music will ALWAYS be audible to the human ear, which is far more sensitive than the scientists and engineers claim/believe, so that no matter how high the resolution they achieve, it will always leave the listener relatively unmoved (which is different from unimpressed, as in impressed by sound). Ah, the Great Sound vs Music debate. And, to throw this in, the human ear is far more sensitive to certain forms of speed imperfections (i.e. belt-drives, DDs) than to others. While idler speed stability may not be perfect (but is damned close, ESPECIALLY the Lenco), the human ear finds its imperfections - which are not related to groove modulations - far less intrusive (and the music thus much more enjoyable) than with systems which do react to groove modulations, or are referenced to intrusive sampling frequencies (i.e. quartz-locking), which are similar to digital chop-chop (but which can be GREATLY mitigated by Direct Coupling to a high tonally neutral mass). The fact that Lencos and other idlers have become SUCH a phenomenon since I started the first thread shows that other people DO hear what I hear, and ARE sensitive to/recognize what I feel, including you, Mike ;-), which shows there IS something objective beneath all this "frisson", "magic", "entrancement", musicality (as in poetic music, "music to soother the savage breast", "music to my ears"), in short, emotional/physical reaction. Anyway, the older CJ stuff (and certain ARC pres) does something the EAR doesn't, however similar in some ways the raw information is. In addition, I just tested all the tubes in my PV-7 and they are all sub-par and in need of replacement!!

So, when I first heard a crappy idler-wheel drive (a humble Garrard SP-25 record changer) I was gobsmacked, the musical POWER and dynamic explosiveness hit me between the eyes, and this energized me to track this particular prey for years, and spurred me finally to trying to start an Idler Wheel Revolution (first attempt a flop, second bull's-eye). THIS was magic, THIS was musical power. And reading the various reviews of Garrards in the audio press, I wasn't the only one to hear this quality (and overall stunning audiophile capabilities of the idler-wheel system). I poured money and time into it. The CJ strikes me similarly, and the buyer of one of my Lencos, a high-end tube amp manufacturer (the same fellow who did my Leak Stereo 20), has offered to turbocharge my CJs at a very good price (with serious premium parts, and basic repairs/adjustments and likely improvements). I'm going to take him up on it, as the caps anyway are likely getting tired. Personally, I'm not moved by the EAR, so I'll sell it on rather than pour time and energy into it, but keep an ear out for someone else's rebuilt/turbocharged unit, and then give it another go. For those wondering if I've abandoned vintage Sony, not at all!! In fact, CD guy also picked up my Sony 2000F preamp and is going to restore it to full functionality for me (it was quite noisy)!! These old Sony units also have that sense of cohesiveness and propulsiveness, though perhaps not to the same degree as the two CJs.

Anyway, the CJ PV-7 can be had for $400-$500 or so, and the PV-8 for about $600-$700. The PV-8 has so much gain it can handle low-output MCs too. Combined the Mighty Lenco (or other Mighty Idler) to a vintage CJ, and prepare to find yourselves melted like overheated wax and conquered.

When I moved out to the country, I had put my computer in mothballs, and my photos along with it. So, I post for the first time a photo of the Ultra Lenco I had planned and delivered to Cyprus for the non-review. And for contrast, a photo of one I had built at the same time: fun with colours!! My new workshop is nearly finished, I'm motivated, time to start having some fun with various 'tables and designs!! Keep us posted as to your new phono pre Mike, beautiful work on your latest plinth! Have fun all!!
Oh, and PS Mike: that Trans-Fi Terminator tonearm looks utterly cool, just saw one surfing (Enjoy the Music Awards), and it got my drool glands going, gonna have to get me one...;-)...
And again Mike, I've read that 5751s do wonders for the EAR, and that a shielded AC cable makes an difference too. Have you tried these simple things? Wouldn't you know it, my PV-8 has a pair of GE 5751's, and I'll resort to the Sovtek 12AX7 to brighten things up at the front ;-). I'll try things that require no actual modification of the circuitry, as I will want to sell it on at some point, and report on this: can't wait!! So, more experimentation ahead, since Tim de P. apparently borrowed the circuit from Marantz, then there's gotta be hope for some magic!! I'll play with cables, and my FR transformer too and see if I can't coax some magic out of it without redoing the guts. My Labour Day Weekend consists of setting up my new abode and workshop, the better to play with audio, though I tell my lady friend I'm doing it for her ;-).

On the agenda soon: MAS/AKG P8ES and Ittok/Clearaudio Concerto, let's see what Mr. Ito can do. Mr. Ito was famed for his bearings (and rightly so), and the MAS 282 is a killer low-mass tonearm (doesn't look like much, but it easily outperforms the Regas with one arm tied behind its back, and I LIKE the Regas!). The Ittok was named after him as well, and handling one - which I mocked in ignorance for years (sorry Mr. Ito) - is a joy and a pleasure: very substantial, with the usual incredible bearings. I will also have an Ultra-Giant Garrard 301 (Mass is Class), which is in my workshop right now, with bearing thrust-plate upgrade, and top-of-the-line Loricraft power supply to play with, I'll report on the results of this no-holds-barred approach, along with the cheap'n cheerful cherry tonearm being sold right here on Audiogon. Have fun all!
OK, the EAR 834P DOES do magic! I switched the V3 tube to a GE 5751, and the other two to Sovtek 12AX7s, and Bingo-Presto! tons of PRaT, gestalt, propulsion and excitement, all the good stuff an idler-wheel drive can dish out, putting the EAR in the same league as the good vintage CJ and other glorious tubed preamps of yore in this sense. I wouldn't have credited a tube change to affect the character of a piece so deeply (information, air, imaging, detail, yes), so a whole new area for me to obsess/get neurotic about, a whole new can 'o worms. Learn something new every day. So, count me among EAR 834P fans, though with the new price it is no longer the screaming deal it was. But, now I'm casting an experimental eye on the coupling caps, and also wondering how the Sovteks would do in my CJ PV-7's phono stage. Good news that a fix for the EAR is a cheap new tube, the Sovteks' brightness and clarity providing the counterbalance to the EAR's gentleness, seeming darkness and seeming (with stock tubes) lack of focus and musical energy (relative to superb vintage pieces like the CJs); and the 5751 providing that needed sense of focus (detail and bass tightness and control increased immensely). Though I'm not certain exactly which tubes did what, extrapolating from readings of reviews and forums. Replacing the stock tubes with mellow-sounding vintage tubes was like pouring honey on syrup to cut down the sweetness: it barely touched the overall sound quality/character, leading me to believe the sound could not be meaningfully changed. Now I'll shut up until I have some real new news to relate, the EAR is a Contender, and Sovteks have their uses!! Thanks for egging me on Mike. Have a good Labour Day weekend all, the rest of the weekend is tube-rolling, beer and enjoying a late summer bloom!!
Heh, heh, heh...

I have tried all sorts of tubes in the EAR. If I tried a 5751, I dont remember - but I settled on a compliment of tubes sorted from my big box if nos 12A-- types. I think I saw a 5751 on my desk the other day - I'll pop it in and see what it does.

BTW - I always wanted to try a PV7, it has the reputation of making everything sound good. Of course, in our perverse audiofool ways, this has to be wrong because we know that all records do NOT sound good, so away with euphonic components that FORCE us to enjoy the music! :)

IN any case, I have come to two conclusions about vintage gear: 1) Those old tube era engineers really knew what they were doing and did many seemingly simple things, circuit wise, that have profound sonic results and 2) The carbon comp resistors used in almost all pre-70's electronics (the little brown ones) have a humanizing sound that is integral to the pleasing sound of vintage gear. Call it a pleasant distortion if you like. They are not used much in highend gear these days because of their self noise and tendency to drift.