Audio High Sponsors Beethoven Series

Robert SilvermanStarting this September 9, high end audio dealer Audio High in Mountain View, California has teamed up with pianist Robert Silverman to present an eight concert series of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas. Audio High owner, Michael Silver said that the entire series of performances will be recorded and distributed as CD’s and high resolution digital files. All proceeds from the concerts (and recordings) will be donated to the Stanford Children’s Hospital.

You can learn more about this charitable event and the concert schedule here.

Fantastic Value From Clearaudio:

full tabelIf you pose the question, “What turntable should I buy for $1,500?” on an internet forum, have your hazmat suit on and be prepared to be bombarded with insults and advice. You’ll get suggestions from all over the audio spectrum; new, used, and modded this or that. Of course, everyone knows what’s best for you and God forbid that you question any of the self-proclaimed experts should you choose not to take their advice.

All spirited debate aside, two of the top choices seem to be the Rega P5 and the VPI Scout. While I must admit my bias goes more towards the Rega than the Scout (I’ve never been a VPI fan, though I’ve owned a few), I’ve even tried the highly modded Technics SL-1200 with good results and currently have a vintage Denon direct-drive table sitting on top of one of my equipment racks that’s spinning records rather nicely, so I’d like to think I’m not too closed minded.

However, the $1,500 price point is probably the hottest part of the turntable spectrum, because it represents a healthy jump up from a strictly budget turntable; by the time you add a decent phono cartridge in the $500 – $1,500 range and a similarly priced phono preamplifier, you’ve invested a substantial amount of change to support your vinyl habit. But you will get a huge jump in performance from the budget LP spinners as well. For many, this is the sweet spot where many will stay and for good reason.

I submit a new guest to the party – the Clearaudio Concept. Priced at $1,400 without cartridge, the Concept brings a lot of Clearaudio’s engineering excellence to the table at a price that most audiophiles can afford. To sweeten the pot, Clearaudio dealers are offering a package price when you purchase the table with the Concept MM cartridge for an additional $100, or step up to the Concept MC for $2,000. These are the only two cartridges that ship from the factory preinstalled, however your friendly neighborhood Clearaudio dealer is offering a 20% discount on any Clearaudio cartridge purchased with the table.

As the Clearaudio Maestro Wood MM cartridge was already in my reference fleet of cartridges, it made perfect sense to investigate here rather than with the bottom of Clearaudio’s cartridge range. For those unfamiliar, the Maestro Wood is Clearaudio’s top moving magnet cartridge that has an MSRP of $1,000. Definitely at the top of the price range for an MM cartridge, but remember, you won’t need to have a Moving Coil preamplifier or other step-up device, so the Maestro is indeed a bargain.

Speed is easily switched between 33, 45 and 78 r.p.m. with the selector switch on the left side of the table. While you will probably want a different cartridge to accommodate your 78 collection, the Concept could easily be pressed into service as a “78 only” table at minimal cost, if you have a large collection. Definitely another plus.

Top shelf construction

The Concept is a belt drive table, featuring a DC motor that is powered by a wall wart power supply. The platter is made of the same “POM” material that is used on their Innovation tables, albeit not as thick as the Innovation platter. The tonearm looks stunningly familiar to the Schroeder arms that also use a magnetic bearing in the place of a traditional bearing. This is the debut for a new series of magnetic bearing tonearms that will begin to be featured on some of their other turntables in 2011. If this is the entry level model, I can’t wait to listen to the models further up the range.

cartIf you buy the Concept with one of the cartridge options, it will arrive with the cartridge installed and optimized at the factory, so all you will need to do is install the counterweight and set the tracking force. Be sure to hold the tonearm with one hand while installing the threaded counterweight, as it fits very snugly and could damage the arm otherwise.

The factory VTA and anti-skate settings worked perfectly for the Maestro, and setting tracking force was a snap with the Clearaudio Weight Watcher scale. A quick check of the speed with Clearaudio’s Speed Light confirmed that everything was perfect. This is another table, like the Rega’s that will have you spinning records in about 10 minutes.

The sound

The Concept has a very neutral overall sound, with a weight and openness that I’ve yet to experience at this price point. I’ve used the Maestro Wood on a number of different tables at various price points and it is one of my favorite MM carts, offering a high level of detail and punch, without being harsh.

Listening to Madeleine Peyroux’ latest release, Bare Bones on MoFi, you’ll notice that this record, like her others have somewhat of a loose, natural, whumpy, almost underdamped sound in the lower registers. Where the Scout tends to overdamp the bass and the P3 doesn’t have quite as much bass there, the Concept comes through with enough weight to reproduce this accurately. I was as impressed with the quantity as well as the quality and definition of bass that this table was able to extract from the grooves.

It’s rare that a table at this price point has enough low-level detail to really define the hall characteristics of the recording, but again the Concept passed with flying colors. Extended listening to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall on Classic Records, or Cream’s 2005 Royal Albert Hall performance opened up a level of three-dimensional sound that I didn’t expect.

Close up 2During a moment of temporary madness, the Maestro was swapped out for Clearaudio’s $5,500 DaVinci MC cartridge, a master of detail retrieval. Granted, the small but mighty Concept did not offer as big a presentation as it did when mounted to the Clearaudio Innovation we reviewed a while back, but it wasn’t bad. If you are a real vinyl fanatic, I don’t think this table would be out of it’s league with your favorite cartridge in the $1,000 – $2,000 range if you care to take it that far, so this is definitely a component you won’t easily outgrow.

Extra credit

For those of you in the audience that can’t resist the urge to tweak your gear, here’s an easy upgrade for the Concept, take it off the grid! After the first peek at that inexpensive wall wart, I suspected that there was room for improvement with this table. A quick trip to Radio Shack confirmed my findings; making a custom cable for my Red Wine Audio Black Lightning power supply and running the Concept on pure DC made a marked upgrade to the sound.

Not quite convinced to drop another $700? Grab a pair of MN-918 6V lantern batteries from Batteries Plus ( and wire them in series for 12VDC. The middle post of the plug going to the table should be positive, which you can easily verify with a voltmeter. If you don’t have a voltmeter, you’ll know it’s wrong if the table spins backwards, so don’t put a stylus down on the record until you confirm the direction.

The first track played for comparison was “Day Dream” from Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi. Immediately after switching from AC to battery, the music comes alive with more texture and low-level resolution. Toussaint’s’ piano went from being constrained inside the space of the speakers to being about two feet beyond the speaker boundaries, with the other instruments having a better delineated space. I had similar luck with solo vocals and any other recordings having a lot of low level, airy passages. If you find yourself wanting to take the Concept to 11, this is an easy, no fuss upgrade. While you’re at it, pick up Clearaudio’s Concept clamp; this too wrings a bit more performance out of the table, especially with slightly warped records and is only an additional $100.


Whether you power the Clearaudio Concept with the standard issue power supply or take it a step forward with pure DC power, I feel this table is the new benchmark in its price class. It combines simple setup with stunning good looks and performance to match. We are happy to award the Clearaudio Concept one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2010.

ExValue Award09
Manufacturer’s Information (US distribution)


Preamplifier: McIntosh C500
Power Amplifier: McIntosh MC1.2kw monoblocks
Speakers: B&W 805D with JLAudio Gotham subwoofer
Cable: Cardas Clear

Sonus Faber’s New Flagship: Fenice

Sonus faberIf you are a lover of mega-speakers, be sure to read Ken Kessler’s article about his visit to luxury speaker manufacturer Sonus Faber in issue 31.  These beauties have a $150k price tag and only 30 lucky people will be able to purchase a pair!  As is typical with SF, they are an object of beauty…

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips

As witty and fun in person as he is on record, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne is full of big ideas. With his band having just released Embryonic and an updated version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, he reflected on the process of putting out two records in such a short time and how the group decided to take on such a classic recording.

While available as an iTunes download since December, the album will be available on LP this Saturday in honor of Record Store Day, for $24.

TONE: How long was the Dark Side project in the making?

WC: As we were finishing Embryonic, the iTunes management wanted some exclusive bonus tracks for the iTunes store, and quite frankly, we didn’t have any. I posed the question of us doing Dark Side of the Moon because I knew my nephew’s band (the White Dwarfs) was very familiar with it and I knew it could be really fun. Ten minutes later, the Apple guys were happy with the idea and we were off.

TONE: Were there any snags in the production? Did you hit a point where you felt that perhaps you had too much of a mountain to climb?

WC: When we got together in the studio, it all fell together relatively quickly and was pretty painless. It was the same thing with Peaches; she raps a lot but she’s a crazy singer. Her vocal to “Great Gig in the Sky” was fantastic – that’s a tough one for anyone to pull off.

TONE: Who decided to have Henry Rollins do the voiceovers? Are you guys big Rollins fans, or did you just decide at lunch that he was the man?

WC: We already knew Henry and we all agreed he would be perfect if his schedule would permit. When we ran it past him, he responded almost instantly. It was all done remotely. We sent him the music and he sent back the tracks we needed, along with plenty of alternates to choose from. Henry is a great guy to work with.

TONE: It was very cool that you took such a creative perspective on Dark Side by making it such a different piece of music. It’s good to see that you just didn’t go Dream Theater on it.

WC: (laughs) Well, we wanted to make sure it had our stamp on it.

TONE: Having recently finished Embryonic, was it grueling to put out another record two months later? Was it tough to keep two very different streams of creativity straight in your brain?

WC: Actually, Embryonic was released in a relatively short time for us—only about three-to-four months. By the end of the record, we had been going in a certain direction with the things we learned from the Embryonic sessions, so the new direction with Dark Side was a fairly easy transition.

TONE: The current tour shows dates from March to June here in the US. Are you guys taking some time off now?

WC: We have more things to announce, but we can’t chat about that right now. When I talked to someone about the idea of doing Bonaroo this year, it was on the Internet in 30 minutes and pretty much all around the world instantly. So we are definitely on the roster, but I’m hesitant to let anything out right now, as I know it will be on Facebook in about 8 minutes.

TONE: Will the Lips play Dark Side anywhere else besides at Bonaroo? Speaking of that fest, Steve Martin is going to be playing banjo there. Will you guys invite him up onstage to collaborate? That would be trippy!

WC: Now that’s a great idea. Let’s formally announce right here that we will try to get Steve Martin to perform a song with us at Bonaroo. And we will be performing DSOM in its entirety at Bonaroo. If you get a chance, listen to Steve Martin’s autobiography, which he narrates on iTunes. It’s very interesting and lends a lot of depth to his personality. We listened to it on a long road trip recently and it was much more engaging than Obama’s autobiography.

TONE: How has Dark Side been received? Has it added to or distracted from the material on Embryonic, seeing that both records were released so closely together?

WC: Good question. So far, our fans seem to be enjoying both records equally. It’s always our hope that you can enjoy the spectrum of what we do. I’m glad people still love and talk about Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but I always hope they will enjoy the latest work as well.

TONE: Was Steven Colbert a pretty cool cat when you recently played his show? Is he a big Flaming Lips fan?

WC: Playing the “Colbert Report” was great. Steven is an outstanding host and a really hard-working guy. He’s there before you are, making sure everything is in its place, etc. A lot of the guys on his staff are big fans too, so it was a great experience.

TONE: Do you get tired of people referring to you as a psychedelic band? I always like to think of the Flaming Lips as a highly complex band.

WC: I look at the psychedelic label as just the ability to be a little more creative with what we do, not sticking to a particular song structure or music structure. I’m 49 years old, so my interpretation of psych is perhaps a little different than some of our fans in their 20s who don’t have the same perspective on the Grateful Dead or punk rock. But it’s still more of a creative way to look at things.

TONE: You made a comment a while back, saying, “Hovering above complete failure gives you a lot of creative freedom.” I’d hope you guys are doing a bit better than that these days.

WC: In order for us to live our dream of making music, touring, and the like, you have to have a certain level of organization and discipline to make it all work. We have to keep everyone fed, so they can keep making music.

Photo, courtesy J.Michelle Martin-Coyne

The Clearaudio Concept Turntable

While known for their megabucks, state of the art turntables that can run into the six figure range, Clearaudio has produced a winner for the audiophile that doesn’t have a fortune to spend with their new Concept turntable.  Priced at $1,400, it is a belt drive table that features a tonearm that I’d expect to pay $1,400 for alone, utilizing a magnetic bearing with outstanding build quality.

Clearaudio dealers have been offering a package price on select Clearaudio cartridges bundled with the table.  As I just happened to have a Clearaudio Maestro Wood moving magnet cartridge sitting on the shelf, it was the perfect match for the table. (I believe you can buy the two as a set for $2,200)

The full review will be up on the Gear section of our website shortly, but I think the Concept is the new heavyweight champ in the $1,500 turntable range.  Stay tuned for more info…

Marco Benevento Trio Live

After reviewing his latest album Between The Needles And Nightfall a few issues back, I was certainly up for seeing Benevento’s trio live at the best sounding venue in the Northwest; like the record, I came away impressed with the performance and the sound. Benevento’s recent albums showcase his ability to create magic, sonic landscapes, but the live show is a different story.  This jazz trio is really a jam band in disguise.  Benevento uses a series of effects pedals at the feet of his baby grand piano, and just like a guitarist, uses them to great effect.  At times, his sound went straight to the PA system, and others, he routed them through an ancient vacuum tube practice guitar amp with a great result.

This performance kept the strong melodic backbone of the recordings, but the way the drummer and bassist kept their lockstep rhythmic foundation was reminiscent of  a precision fusion band more than a traditional jazz trio.  Whether they were performing some of the original  material off the latest album or covering Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”, the band held the audiences rapt attention.  They stretched out quite a bit but never let go of the tension created between the melody and the attack. The crescendos  “The Two Of You” and a few others felt like a sonic wave crashing off the walls of the club.  As a relief from that tension, Benevento played a few tunes on his toy piano, replete with comical stage antics while still being pummeled by the rhythm section.

Marco Benevento is a joy to see live.  He has an amazing ability to compose songs that have memorable melodies that translate well to a forceful, if slightly unorthodox fashion on stage.

MiniWatt’s Latest: The N3!

n3_silver_frontFor those of us that have relatively large power amplifiers, one watt probably wouldn’t make much if any difference at all, but when you’re in the low watt (i.e. under 10 watts per channel) camp, every bit counts, and quality is everything. In case you missed all the buzz about the MiniWatt S1, we were very enthusiastic about it when it was reviewed about a year ago.  Click here to read our past review.  The original MiniWatt S1, barely tipped the scales at $229, and the new N3 is still a killer bargain at $378.

The new N3 not only has 3.5 watts per channel, as opposed to the 2.5 watts per channel of the S1, it uses a very different circuit.  Now, it features a more classic tube lineup, using a 12AX7 as a driver and a matched pair of Sovtek EL84’s as output tubes.  The single volume control remains on the front panel, but turning the amplifier around back, you will notice that there are now 4, 6 and 8 ohm taps for speaker outputs.  This is very handy to optimize the amplifier to your speakers.  Again, with 3.5 watts per channel, you don’t want to lose power on speaker mismatch.  If you are a budding audiophile and aren’t familiar with this concept, try all three taps to see which one provides the most effortless sound with your speakers, that’s the one to go with.

Currently, the only place in the US to purchase the MiniWatt N3 is from ALO Audio, (  which just happens to be in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.  Non US shoppers can purchase directly from MiniWatt’s online shop. ( After some initial listening, Ken and I discussed the merits of the new amplifier over a couple of most excellent chili dogs at Zach’s Shack, which is right across the street from his storefront.  If you are anywhere near Portland, I highly suggest a short drive to pick one up in person and grab lunch at Zach’s while you are at it.  There’s a lot of great record stores here in Portland…


The N3, like it’s predecessor is a snap to set up.  As long as matched output tubes are used, the bias does not need to be futzed with, though the manual does not specify how to adjust bias if you have an unmatched set of tubes. For now, I suggest just buying a matched pair when the time comes.  MiniWatt claims up to five years on the output tubes and up to ten years on the driver.  You’ll probably make a change in your system before that!

Most of the review took place with my Zu Essence speakers that feature a sensitivity of 98db. While the N3 will drive less efficient speakers, I’d really make a high sensitivity speaker my first choice with a few watts per channel if you want serious volume.  With a speaker like the Zu’s or perhaps a pair of vintage Klipsch speakers, you can really rock out with 3.5 watts per channel.

Fortunately, the N3 does not use an external power supply, but features an internal switching power supply that can be reset to any voltage in the world.  This is good for two reasons:  you won’t lose or confuse yet another wall wart and you can use a real power cord (which is not included with the N3).  I used a Shunyata Venom ($125) with excellent results and felt it kept within the budget ethos of the amplifier.   The rest of the reference system was rounded out with Zu Libtec speaker cables, and a Rega Apollo CD player.

Big Sound

n3_silver_rearWhile I’d like to rave about the extra watt, the N3 is really more about quality.  Comparing the two amplifiers side by side, you immediately notice the extra body and three dimensionality of the Mini Watt’s latest offering.  The easiest comparison will be your favorite solo vocals;  listening to some of my favorites from Johnny Cash and Anya Garbarek, the new amplifier sounds as if I moved my speakers a few more feet apart instantly.  Once the amplifier had about 100 hours on the clock, it improved a bit, with acoustic instruments having slightly more body.

Small tube amplifiers lend themselves to acoustic instruments and the N3 is no exception. Digging out some Michael Hedges tracks, this amplifier does a great job at capturing Hedges plucky, dynamic style and while having enough headroom with the Zu’s to make the presentation convincing.

Probably the only area that the N3 falls down somewhat is deep bass.  This is probably due to the compact power supply more than anything, because the circuit design is sound. If you’re thinking that a 3.5 watt amp can’t have bass grunt, the 2 watt per channel Decware Zen has it in abundance, but is almost $800.  Horsepower costs money.  For most people the N3 will be fantastic.  When playing some of my favorite club tracks or heavy rock favorites, I noticed that the Zu’s didn’t quite lock into the room as much as they have with other amplifiers, but 95% of the time I didn’t notice.

If you don’t have a pair of Zu’s or some other single driver high efficiency speaker, the N3 excels at being part of a great desktop system.  Used in conjunction with the iMac on my desktop and a pair of their N2 full range speakers ($799), the MiniWatt system offered up a huge share of fun.  Thanks to it’s single driver design, the N2 doesn’t waste any precious power in a crossover network and allows the maximum amount of midrange detail to come through.


MiniWatt has hit another home run with the N3.  They still make the S1 for those on a super tight budget, but if you’ve got the extra $150 in your wallet, I highly suggest stepping up to the N3.  If there’s a better sounding tube amplifier on the market at this price point, I haven’t heard it yet!

Watch Gene Simmons Sunday on A&E’s Private Sessions

Just had a fantastic time chatting with the host of A&E’s Private Sessions, Lynn Hoffman this afternoon.

Every bit as warm and friendly in person as she appears on VH-1 Classics or Private Sessions, Lynn shared quite a few insights on her career, handling rock stars and what she’s listening to today.  Watch for the full interview in issue #31, due out around August 17.

In the meantime, check out her show on A&E this Sunday morning (9 a.m. EST./8 Central), when she hosts Gene Simmons from KISS and Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels.  Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what’s in store:

TONEAudio Magazine Issue 30


The Big Four: Metal Giants Together at last
By Bob Gendron

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: They Got Mojo Risin
By Ben Fong-Torres

Budget Gear: Mordaunt Short Aviano 6
By Mark Marcantonio

Old School The JBL-L100 Century
By Jeff Dorgay

Behind the Scenes With Metal Photographer Mark Latham
By Bob Gendron

Tone Style

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7

Mighty Light and Mighty Light HD

The ZDock for your iPod

Skooba Design’s Cable Stable DLX

The Magna Cart Flatform Truck

Altec Lansing IMT 320

KISS Picture discs


Live Music: The TONE Staff Covers Tom Petty, Jeff Beck, Crash Test Dummies and more…

Current Releases:
Fresh Releases in the Pop/Rock World
By the TONE Staff

Audiophile Pressings
New Releases from MoFi and Music Matters Jazz
By Jeff Dorgay and Richard Colburn

Alternative Divas
Give Patricia Barber a rest!
By Jeff Dorgay

Time Flies…1994…2009
The Oasis box set
By Bob Gendron

Sony’s Legacy Setlist Series
By Bob Gendron

Some new high res files from Reprise and HD Tracks
By Jeff Dorgay


NuVision Lucidium Television

ARC’s REF Phono 2


Headphone Planet: Decware Headphone Amp and New Phones From Phiaton
By Jerold O’Brien

First Review! The Magnepan 1.7
By  Steve Guttenberg

The AudioQuest LeoPard Tonearm Cable
By Jeff Dorgay

PS Audio’s Perfect Wave Transport and DAC
By Lawrence Devoe

The EAT KT-88 Vacuum Tubes
By Jeff Dorgay

The Verity Finn Speakers
By Jeff Dorgay

The Keith Monks Ruby Record Cleaning Machine
By Jeff Dorgay

Sex Pistols

jeff beck

Here’s a few extra shots of Jeff Beck from the current tour…

Full review in TONEAudio #30, out shortly!

WEB-Jeff Beck_2

Definitely a master of focus.

WEB-Jeff Beck_3

Three songs into the set, the master is starting to have a great time…

WEB-Jeff Beck_4

tom petty at Milwaukee’s Summerfest

There was no mistaking it for Bummerfest this evening…

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers exploded onto the Marcus Ampitheather’s main stage and had the crowd up in arms.  Music Editor Bob Gendron covers the show fully in issue 30 of TONEAudio, but here are a few extra photos for you.  After a brief reschedule, the Heartbreakers’ tour is in full force for the rest of the year, so if you are a fan, grab some tickets, you won’t be disappointed.

TP-web 2

Both Petty and Mike Campbell had a great time changing guitars frequently….

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And, what rock show would be complete without the double neck?

TP-web 5

Getting on the download bandwagon

I have to say, I’ve been having a great time downloading high resolution digital files from Naim, and others over the last few weeks.  In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve added a new section for downloads right next to our audiophile pressings section in the magazine.  With so much more music becoming available this way, it’s exciting to keep on top of it.

We’ll continue to expand this section going forward.  Any suggestions, just drop us an email…