I consider myself unreasonably lucky. In 1999, I moved into my current home, which is one of a block of nine townhouses. The houses were built in 1986 as what’s known in Toronto as infill housing. The land was part of a farm in the late 1800s, and as Toronto spread outward, the land was sold off in parcels. Encircled by houses, ours was the last remaining undeveloped lot in the area, which is less than two miles from the city’s core.
So the lot was sold off to a developer, and he built the nine townhouses. It’s a spectacular location. We have plenty of parking, which is a rarity in this part of the city. Furthermore, our little enclave is shielded from the streets on both sides—we’ve got houses in front of us and houses behind. It’s quiet in here, and very private.
Neighbors have come and gone over the 24 years that I’ve lived here. They’ve been great, except for one total asshole who’s been infesting the house directly to the north. He just sold his house, and the closing date is December 31. All the other neighbors hate him as well, so we’re going to have a little parade as the moving van leaves. My daughter will fire off a confetti cannon as he pulls out for the last time.
The development is divided into two blocks, one with four townhouses, the other with five. Down at the end of the other block lives Ron, who’s retired. He has two separate audio systems, and can be reasonably described as an audiophile. Ron loves tubes and vinyl, so we’ve hit it off. Recently, he gave me a Tupperware container the size of a shoebox, full of assorted 6922 and 6DJ8 tubes that he no longer needs. They’re ideal for my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp. I found some really nice ones in there, including a few Amperex PQ 6DJ8s.
Two houses further down from Ron is Rob, a music lover and guitarist, who is audiophile curious. Rob is a general contractor, and he’s done a fair bit of work in our house, including the heated tile floor in my basement listening room and a complete master bathroom. During the time he’s spent at my house, we’ve discovered that we share an affinity for hard rock and Canadian whiskey. Rob’s got good ears, and often notes the changes in my system with perceptive observations.
Things have got a touch busier here with my assumption of the role of senior editor of SoundStage! Ultra. I’ve had to store some gear off-site. Far from being a problem, this has turned into something of an opportunity. Recently, I waddled over to Ron’s place carrying the Fezz Audio Lybra 300B amplifier (it’s a heavy, awkward lump) I reviewed on SoundStage! Ultra on October 1. I was still keen to hear the Lybra, but I had to move it out of my system to continue with other reviews. It seemed like an opportune time to hear the Lybra through Ron’s Tannoy Stirling Gold Reference speakers. Having it down at Ron’s place means that I can drop in for a quick listen, and also enjoy it vicariously through him.
Ron swapped the Lybra in for his Leben integrated amp, which—with two EL84s per channel—cranks out around the same power. That night, Ron told me that the Lybra sounded good, but he felt it could be improved. The stock Electro-Harmonix 6SN7 tubes are new production; so is the Sovtek 12AX7.
He unlocked his tube cellar and dug out a pair of military-surplus JAN 6SN7s. “I bought these during the great tube selloff in the 1980s, when the US military was clearing them out,” said Ron, with great satisfaction. He’s got a whole sleeve of those things down there.
“I also replaced the stock 12AX7 with a German Valvo. Sounds much better now.” We sat down for a listen and spun up a couple of LPs. I’m fairly familiar with the sound of Ron’s system, and I wasn’t expecting it to sound that different. He’d just replaced one 15Wpc tube amp with another, after all. But it sounded really good—dynamic, snappy, but with an additional textural depth that I recognized as a signature of the Lybra’s personality.
As I told you in October’s “For the Record” column on SoundStage! Ultra, I recently received a sample of the DS Audio DS W3 optical cartridge system for review. We’ll be publishing reviews of both the DS W3 optical cartridge and its matching DS W3 phono preamplifier in the coming months. In the meantime, I removed my DS 003 optical cartridge from my VPI Prime Signature turntable and, since I can only use one phono preamp at a time, handed Ron the cartridge and my Meitner Audio DS-EQ2 stage to audition.
Take note: After I finished that DS 003 cartridge review, I had purchased the cartridge for my own use. Lending out a phono cartridge isn’t something that’s done lightly. It’s like lending out a Fabergé egg or a pet hummingbird. Things can go sideways quickly with a phono cartridge—kids, cleaning personnel, cats. Heck, even just day-to-day use is fraught with peril, and that’s not even considering what can go wrong mounting and aligning the thing.
I ride a motorcycle, and have done so on a daily basis for 45 years. I ride mostly by myself, avoiding large groups of motorcyclists like the plague. When you’re on two wheels, you need to trust those around you with your life, so I never ride with more than one or two people at a time. I can quite literally count on one hand the number of other riders I’d trust to have close to me when I’m on two wheels. Those big packs of riders, all lumbering along on their obnoxiously loud cruisers? If you’re stupid enough to replace a perfectly fine exhaust system with one that’s offensively, deafeningly loud, there’s no way in hell you’re getting anywhere near me while I’m riding. As with mounting and using a phono cartridge, things can go wrong very quickly, and there’s no coming back from a mistake.
Ron doesn’t own a motorcycle, so we don’t ride together, but I do trust him implicitly with my DS 003 cartridge. He’s set it up on the SME V arm on his Michell Orbe turntable, and it sounds great. According to Ron, the snappy, dynamic nature of the DS 003 is in some ways similar to the up-front sound of the vintage rim-drive Thorens TD 124 MKII and SME 3012 combo that sits next to the Orbe. “The DS 003 is incredibly quiet in the groove,” said Ron. “Surface noise is vanishingly low. That alone makes this cartridge worth the money.”
As of right now, Ron’s finished auditioning the Fezz Audio amplifier, but he wants to continue evaluating the DS Audio cartridge and Meitner Audio phono stage. Ron used to converse regularly with Ed Meitner a number of years back, so he’s very keen to spend some more time with the DS-EQ2.
Now that Ron has spent some time with the Lybra, I’m going to lug it over to Rob’s place. He’s currently using my Aurelia Cerica XL speakers, and I’m eager to hear how they sound with the Fezz tube amp.
Senior Editor, SoundStage!