Rob Faucher

Just a guy doing a blog

May 232017
 

Wow!  It has  been a year since Melissa and I were married!  Seems like only yesterday I saw my beautiful bride walking up the aisle.  Time seems to fly by faster and faster as one gets older.

We celebrated our first anniversary in Victorian era town of Niagara-On-The- Lake, Ontario and toured local wineries.  Thanks to a generous gift card from Melissa’s brother, John and his wife Kelly, we enjoyed an evening at the posh Queen’s Landing Hotel and treated ourselves to a gourmet dinner and an excellent bottle of vintage Amarone.   

We came back home with a nice cachet of Ontario wines and a dozens of photos.  I also took a several videos with a GoPro and my Panasonic LX-100 that I will probably publish in another post. 

It was definitely a great weekend out of town.  I’d love to return to the area by motorcycle and spend more time taking photos.  

Rob’s Photos taken the Panasonic Lumix LX-100.  

 

Melissa’s Photos taken with the Panasonic Lumix G3.

May 072017
 

Well, since spring is taking its time to come to Southern Ontario, I’m cooped up indoors instead of riding.  So, I’ve been trolling through my collection of photos in Adobe Lightroom to find some old images that were never edited or posted. 

I found this cachet of photos taken last May, shortly after Melissa and I were married.  We had just returned from our honeymoon in Montreal and we took advantage of some vacation time to visit Niagara Falls.  The big attraction was seeing the amazing indoor aviary at the “Birds of the Lost Kingdom”.  We also did the cheesy stuff, like visit the wax museums, Ripley’s and that big-assed SkyWheel with the cheesy muzak.

Apr 092017
 

I took these photos back in October, 2015 when my work took me to a conference in Niagara Falls.  After dinner I grabbed my camera and a tripod to take some night photos.  Some were taken from my hotel room and others outside.  It was unusually cold and I was not quite dressed for it, but I managed to grab a few shots before walking back to my hotel.

I forgot to post these photos online upon my return home as I had far, far better things on my mind.  Once I returned home, I proposed to my beautiful wife, Melissa Faucher.  Yes, she said yes ūüôā

Nov 232016
 

On Nov 11 to 13, Melissa and I had a mini-vacation in Collingwood, Ontario.  We stayed gratis at the Blue Mountain Inn Ski-Resort thanks to a generous wedding gift from her brother.  Although, we were married back in May it is just now that we are taking advantage of his gift.  He also included a bottle of sparkling wine and a one hour massage for each of us.  As someone who spends a lot of time motorcycling across North America, in all weather, staying in budget motels and eating at local diners, this weekend was one of luxury and comfort.  So, it was different twist to be pampered and lazy.  This has never been my thing.  That said, I am still grateful for this weekend getaway.

Collingwood is a nice area and it is one of the few locations in Southern Ontario that is not flat as a board.  Well, mostly because of the Blue Mountains, which are just tall enough for winter sports.  As such it is a popular ski resort which features the aptly Blue Mountain Village.  This little quaint enclave is a tourist trap designed to quickly separate you from your money.  They charge Toronto prices for everything but the food quality, although decent, is not quite there.  The village is also peppered with various high end boutique clothiers and gift shops.  

The weekend was unexpectedly cold and we forgot our hats, so we had to buy new ones and there were plenty of clothiers carrying a number of boutique brands.   We each bought toques for top dollar, but they are much better quality that you’d get at Canadian Tire or Wal-Mart.  I also bought a nifty pair of thinsulate gloves with special fingertip pads to operate touch screens.  These are good gloves for operating a camera as well.

Blue Mountain Village is a corporate designed resort that tries to emulate a little Swiss town that one might find near a ski resort.  It seems to have been constructed in a short time and is bereft of a slow organic development — All fa√ßade, little substance or real history.  It is a fake as a Darth Vader costume on Halloween.  Although that’s not to say you can’t get a nice photo and the buildings have their own retro charm.  I’ll take this simulacra any day over uninspired rectangular edifices in the city.

20161111-0608-dmc-lx100-63

Firehall Pizza Co. Blue Mountain Village

Finding a decent restaurant for dinner proved to be a challenge.  The village was crowded and we had a frustrating time finding a restaurant that did not require reservations or was not full of loud drunk patrons and lulu-lemon wearing Torontonians on a yoga retreat. Our first attempt at dinner was the well-reviewed Cooper Blues restaurant and bar and it was packed solid.  Moreover, the only mantras being chanted here were those of inebriation.  We walked out of Copper Blues as the noise from other people was overwhelming.  Other places required reservations or were packed  to capacity.  Eventually, we settled for the Kaytoo Restaurant & Bar, mainly because there were open tables and one could actually carry on a conversation.  The food was good, but not great.  However, the serenity and pleasant service in rustic Canadian styled ambiance was priceless.  

On Saturday, we decided to explore downtown Collingwood,  which is quaint late 19th century style main street.   A popular spot for well-moneyed Toronto area residents on their weekend getaways.  Saturday parking is at a premium and we had to drive around a few times to get a spot.  We explored a few shops and it’s not much different than many other small towns in Southern Ontario.  One can get a similar ‚Äúold timey‚ÄĚ feeling downtown Cobourg, where there is ample free parking and far less pretense.

Faux Old-Timey Weathervane. Blue Mountain Village

Faux Old-Timey Weather Vane. Blue Mountain Village

For our last night, we decided to stay in the room, warm up near the fireplace, drink wine, watch movies and order a pizza.  Nice, simple, relaxing and fun.  We were also treated to a beautiful sunset.

20161112-1706-dmc-lx100-77

Sunset at the Blue Mountain Inn.

So all in all, a nice weekend and more so as our accommodations were a gift.  Would I go again and pay for a weekend stay?  Probably not as I am not a skier and that is the raison d’√™tre for Blue Mountain Village.  The nearby roads, mountain and countryside are perfect for a motorcycle ride so, I would definitely go back on a day trip.  Once one is about 25kms outside of Collingwood, the crowds are gone and there are budget roadside motels.   Just the sort of thing to entice this old biker for a weekend getaway.

Jul 172016
 

After Melissa and I were married last May, we took a brief trip to Montreal as part of our honeymoon.   It was her visit to this city I once called home.   As for myself, I always enjoy returning to my old stomping grounds, whether on business or pleasure.  It has an old world feel and a sense of history that is sorely lacking in Toronto.  Other than Quebec City, it is as close as one can to a European style experience in North America.

I wanted to find a hotel right in the heart of the city, however, this time of the year choices are limited unless one is prepared to pay top dollar.  I wanted to find a hotel that would come under $200 a night and avoid any bland and uninspired corporate accommodations such as Motel 6.  After a bit of online research, I found the reasonably well reviewed Hotel Quartier des Spectacles on St. Catherine St.  The price was right and there was only one room left, so I booked it. Before we arrived, Melissa did some research and discovered the hotel is situated right over a sex shop!  As you can see, the plywood is far seedier than the actual merchandise.  The sign says their business is growing (insert joke here).

The Sex Shop below our Hotel

The Sex Shop below Hotel Quartier des Spectacles

One could easily ignore the sex shop, however, one could not ignore the unseasonably cold weather or soul crushing gridlock and omnipresent road construction.  The weather felt more like March than the end of May.  No matter where you went, there were road closures, lane restrictions, no access to street parking and traffic congestion.  I am accustomed to a certain degree of traffic in Montreal, but this was out of the ordinary.  I soon learned there was a general strike of construction workers and engineers.  58 job sites were abandoned and the city was left in a state of disrepair.  Driving my car was an exercise in futility and frustration, so we relied on taxi cabs.

Our first night was spent in Old Montreal.  After a decadent steak dinner, we took a few hours to walk the cobblestone streets.  Melissa was smitten by the beauty and European flair of this old French settlement.  No matter how many times I return to Montreal, I cannot tear myself away from the original city to explore its narrow streets, restaurants, bars and shops.

Sunset in Old Montreal

Sunset in Old Montreal

The following day, I wanted to take Melissa to see some of Montreal’s most famous landmarks, such as Notre Dame Cathedral, St. Joseph’s Oratory, Jarry Park, Schwartz’s Deli, Olympic Stadium as well as¬†my Grandparent’s apartment in what used to be Little Italy. ¬†Gridlock made it difficult to get around, so¬†we settled for¬†Notre Dame Cathedral, the old Faucher homestead and Shwartz’s Deli.

My Grandparents home in what used to be Little Italy

9189 Esplanade Ave. – My Grandparent’s home in what used to be Little Italy

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s¬†Esplanade Ave. was predominantly Italian. ¬†I can still recall the pungent aroma of garlic when visiting Grandma Faucher. ¬†There were¬†old men playing Bocce ball in the park, women gossiping on¬†their porches and the street was¬†full of Italian kids at play. ¬†Those days are long gone. ¬†Now¬†it is tapestry of different ethnic groups, namely Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Chinese. ¬†The Bocce ball courts are crumbling away and life is eerily more silent as people remain indoors. ¬†What was one a tightly knit community bound by an old world heritage is now a loosely knit multicultural patchwork.

No visit to Montreal is complete without trying the best smoked meat in the world from Schwartz’s deli. ¬†I forewarned Melissa that one must be prepared to stand in line for at least 20 minutes, but patience will be rewarded. ¬†As luck would have it, we waited all but one minute and were promptly seated at the lunch counter. ¬†Melissa is now a convert and agrees it’s the best smoked meat anywhere.

If there is anything Catholicism has given to the world, it is spectacular cathedrals and breathtaking religious artwork. ¬†Perhaps the best representation of this tradition in North American is the Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica which is modelled on the larger and more fabled Cath√©drale Notre Dame de Paris. ¬† However, the beauty of Montreal’s version speaks for itself.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

After Notre Dame, went back to our hotel, rested a bit and then it was back to Old Montreal for dinner and another promenade.  What a nice way to end the day.

We¬†would love to visit Montreal again, but I am reticent to return until the city’s streets are repaired. ¬† I am hoping by summer 2017, the streets¬†will be in much better condition.

 

Apr 192016
 

This sort of odd pairing could only happen in a post cold war world.  I am talking about replacing tubes in a British made headphone amplifier with vacuum tubes originally designed for the former Soviet military and space programme.

Resurrecting an Old X-Cans Headphone Amplifier

I was curious to see if these Soviet-era tubes would tame some of the brightness and sibilance of my headphone amplifier.  I have an ageing Musical Fidelity X-Cans V1 headphone amplifier that has served me quite well over the years.   When it was released, back in the the mid-nineties, it was well regarded as an affordable dedicated headphone amplifier which offered better sound than headphone jacks built in to amplifiers and AV receivers.  Although X-Cans are not considered high-end, they are most certainly better than cheap headphone circuits built in to any integrated amp or AV receiver I have owned.

Musical Fidelity X-Cans. Class A tube headphone amplifier

Musical Fidelity X-Cans. Tube headphone amplifier, a bit old and still sounds good.

In the evenings, I now listen to music through headphones and back in 2015, I pulled the X-Cans out of a¬†storage bin and discovered the¬†original Phillips JAN 6922 tubes were kaput. ¬†There was a loud hum and barely¬†any audio signal going through. ¬†I ordered some common Electro-Harmonix 6922¬†tubes and got the X-Cans working again. ¬†The sound is decent and it is good enough for lower end and “laid back” headphones.

Taming Brightness Caused by Electro-Harmonix “Black Box” Tubes

Now comes the rub, with higher quality headphones, the X-Cans can sound bright and there seems to be some artificial colouring to the higher registers in music. ¬†Especially with my Grado 325Es, which are very revealing with a forward midrange and a big sound stage. ¬†Just like a pair of electrostatic speakers, the Grado’s will accentuate any¬†flaws in your system. ¬†When I plug the Grados into the headphone stage of my Asus Xonar STX soundcard, they sound more balanced. ¬†The Xonar has a really good headphone stage, but lacks the punch, power and sound stage¬†of the X-Cans. ¬†Grado headphones are known for a prominent¬†mid-range and some critics also find¬†them a tad bright. ¬†They really need the right headphone stage to sound their best, namely something warm and not too forward.

I figured the generic Electro-Harmonix 6922 tubes could be the culprit.  I seem to recall the X-Cans sounding less bright with the original Philips JAN 6922 tubes.  After some googling, I discovered a common complaint against  Electro-Harmonix tubes in hi-fi systems is the sound can be harsh and bright.  These tubes are better suited to guitar amplifiers.  Moreover, guitarists seeking a warmer sound are told to stay away from entry level Electro-Harmonix tubes.  No worries, they are inexpensive, so no great loss.

Time to roll some tubes.

Time to roll some tubes.  These Electro Harmonix tubes are too aggressive and bright.

Ideally, the best solution would be to dig deep into my pockets and get some vintage NOS tubes from Mullard or Telefunken.  People with tube based headphone amps or pre-amps often give them glowing reviews.  Alas, a set of those tubes would cost as much as buying a new and better headphone amp. It does not make sense to spend hundreds on rolling tubes for a budget component.

Vintage Soviet Era Tubes, An Affordable Solution

On some audio forums I was reading good reviews for¬†Soviet-Era¬†Voskhod “rocket label” 6922 tubes. ¬† Any available stock of those tubes¬†will be used or “new old stock” (NOS). ¬†On Ebay, I found a Ukrainian vendor who is selling matched pairs of NOS 6922¬†Voskhod Rocket tubes for under $25 CAD shipped. ¬†His feedback rating is 100% for over 2300 transactions, so, I know I’m getting the real deal.

Soviet-Era packaging. At least 20 years old. Notice the Rocket Logo?

Soviet-Era packaging. At least 30 years old. Notice the Rocket Logo?

It took just over a month for the tubes to arrive and look¬†decades old. ¬†I would fathom a guess these tubes were made any time between the late 1960’s and early 1980’s. ¬† They are military grade and for all I know, may be been designed for use in rockets or missiles. ¬†This means they should be immune to microphonic ringing caused by sound waves from speakers. ¬†Any space exploration geek knows that Voskhod rockets were used to send the first humans into orbit and deploy Zenit satellites. ¬†They flew from 1963 to 1976, so if the Soviet space programme ever used this series of vacuum tubes, that’s very¬†cool in my books.

So, in a bizarre twist of old cold war enemies, I went to work to rip out modern Russian vacuum tubes from a British headphone amplifier and replace them with good old-fashioned communist tubes from the former USSR.

6N1P-EV ~= E88CC ~= 6DJ8 ~= 6922 Matched Pair Voskhod Rocket

6N1P-EV ~= E88CC ~= 6DJ8 ~= 6922 Matched Pair Voskhod Rocket NOS

So, How Does it Sound

In short, they sound great!

Before evaluating new tubes, I keep them powered on for at least a day.  This gives them time to break in a bit and provide a good indication of how they will sound over time.  So after leaving the Voskhods on for 48 hours, it I decided to given them a listen and play a variety of music over a 3 hour period.

Gone is the harshness and exaggerated treble of the Electro-Harmonix tubes.¬† The Voskhods sound fuller, warmer, detailed and less fatiguing.¬†¬† Even after a prolonged listening session, my ears were not tired.¬† They have transformed the X-Cans into a better sounding headphone amplifier…one that I will be inclined to keep indefinitely.

The Voskhod tubes also tamed the brightness of the Grado 325E headphones.  I really like those headphones, not only are they very comfortable, the midrange is fantastic and they render sound in a very detailed and musical way.  The Grados allow me to hear sounds and music veiled by other headphones I own, such as the Focal Spirt One S and the Sennheiser HD-558.   That said, the Grados are not perfect, some find them too bright around 2 to 3 Khz range.   One solution is to modify or replace the pads and the other is to look for a warmer sounding headphone amp.  I opted to do both.  I wrapped the pads with electrical tape which took some edge off the high end and also added a bit more bass.   I reasoned that tube rolling could help warm up my headphone amplifier and with the Voskhods I struck gold on a budget.

Now, I love my Grado 325E’s more than ever.  The Voskhod tubes roll off the high end in a very pleasant way without sacrificing any soundstage or detail.   To my ears, they sound more neutral than the Electro-Harmonix tubes, whilst retaining the fullness and three dimensional sound stage one would expect from a good tube amplifier.

Highly Recommended!

Mar 152016
 
Excellent Analog Sound Has Set the Bar High

Thanks to a rediscovery of vinyl records, I have been listening to a lot more music.  Consequently, I upgraded my phono pre-amp to a Pro-Ject Tube Box S and purchased an audiophile quality phono cartridge, a Grado Statement Sonata 1.  Normally I would not consider such an expensive cartridge, but I was lucky enough to buy it for nearly half price from a high end hi-fi shop who is no longer a Grado dealer and is liquidating old stock.  This analog combination sounds fantastic and has taken my enjoyment of music to new heights.   It is warm, detailed, dynamic, clear, engaging and does not cause listener fatigue.

Grado Statement Sonata 1

Grado Statement Sonata 1 – Makes me prefer vinyl records over digital music even with a good DAC

Digital Audio Has Lost its Lustre

My turntable and phono cartridge combination have¬†caused a problem. ¬†When I listen to digital audio on my system, it lacks “something” compared to a well produced vinyl recording. ¬†As a first step to getting better digital audio, I purchased a good DAC, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus, which has earned many¬†positive professional reviews. ¬†Ken Rockwell, says it is one of the best DACs he has tested and I do not doubt that it surpasses the quality of some much costlier units. ¬†The DACMagic Plus is a definite upgrade¬†over the aging Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 sound card in my PC. ¬†It is a fine sounding piece of gear, but there is room for improvement.

Compared to listening to vinyl records on my system, the DAC’s sound stage is less three dimensional, there is a somewhat brittle and recessed sound signature that lets you know that you are listening to CD audio.¬†Namely some of detail, warmth and dynamics are missing and listener fatigue quickly sets in. ¬†The DacMagic Plus is doing its job very well and is revealing the shortcomings of CD audio.

Before audiophiles attack my statements, I believe that I am doing all the right things to maximize the quality of my digital source.  Most of my music files are ripped in lossless FLAC format from CD’s.  I also have a collection of MP3 files in 320 kbps, 24 bit/96 Khz re-mastered albums and a number of SACD albums on my server.  The latter two formats definitely sound better than CD audio or MP3.  I play the files through JRiver or Foobar2000 using the ASIO driver for the DacMagic Plus, so everything is output bit perfect output via asynchronous USB 2.0, which should be immune from jitter.  I am using a very good quality USB cable, so I know the DAC is performing optimally.

I am not going to get into a debate of whether CD’s or vinyl sounds better. ¬†That issue has been beaten to death on the internet. ¬†A well mastered¬†CD can sound great and is better than a poorly produced¬†record. ¬†Conversely, A well mastered¬†record on 180g vinyl will sound much better than a poorly mastered¬†CD. ¬†Also, I find with a good DAC, 24 bit/96 Khz audio sounds amazing, much better than CD audio. ¬†I think many of the perceived differences can be traced back to the quality of source equipment (ie: DACs,¬†turntables and cartridges).

Digital To Analog Converters are Not Acoustically Neutral

Converting the bits in digital music to an analog signal involves a considerable array of converging technologies, all of which can alter and shape the acoustical characteristics of the sound.  For example, the quality of the DAC chips, the on-board filtering and anti-aliasing algorithms, over sampling rates and perhaps most importantly, the final analog output stage, all play a role here.  Most DAC output stages use one or more op-amps that can have their own acoustical signatures.  Some DACs use tube output stages and that can also affect the sound.

Engineers have some leeway in how a DAC shape the final waveform via¬†digital output filters. ¬†The Cambridge DACMagic Plus allows one to select among three digital¬†filtering algorithms which make subtle changes to the sound. ¬†Turns out digital is not such a pure thing as one thinks. ¬†With DACs, just like turntables and phono cartridges, you tend to get what you pay for. ¬†For example, my Grado cartridge sounds a lot warmer and fuller than the “analytical” Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge it replaced. ¬†Just like analog sources, DACs can have their own signature sounds. ¬†Question is, which one do you like? ¬†That will depend on your taste in music, speakers, amplifiers, room acoustics, etc.

A Budget Solution to Better Digital Sound

Since I do not have thousands of dollars to spend on a high-end DAC, I was wondering if there is anything I can do to improve the sound of the modestly priced DacMagic Plus.  Perhaps, if one shapes and alters the analog output signal, it could make a positive improvement.

I happen to like the sound of vacuum tubes. ¬†My phono pre-amp uses tubes and it sounds fantastic. ¬†My headphone amps are tube based and I prefer their sound over solid state. ¬†In a perfect world, my pre-amp and power amplifier would all be tube driven, but I cannot afford it. ¬†A high¬†quality tube based amplification¬†system which¬†can drive my power thirsty Martin-Logan SL-3’s speakers under load would cost me well over $7000 (even if buy used). ¬†I have to find a budget solution, one that will cost me between $200 and $300. ¬†This is where tube buffers may come in handy.

About 20 years ago I owned¬†a Musical Fidelity X-10D vacuum tube buffer, which is a line level pre-amplifier¬†device that hooks up between a CD player and preamp. ¬†Back then, most CD players had mediocre output stages, the X-10D promised¬†to improve sound by buffering the analog¬†signal and¬†passing it through a vacuum tube¬†circuit. ¬†No gain is applied in the circuit, so input and output volume are the same. ¬†It made a noticeable¬†difference on cheap CD players, but its¬†benefits tended to vanish with a¬†good¬†CD player. ¬†When I got my first “audiophile” CD player, the X-10D was relegated to gathering dust. ¬†Eventually it died and I tossed it in the garbage, so the search was on for a new alternative.

Getting Some Vacuum Tube Goodness Into The DAC’s¬†Output

Tube buffer stages are still manufactured and two popular units are the Chinese Yaqin SD-CD2 and SD-CD3, which are typically sold on Ebay.  I opted to consider the SD-CD3 since it is the better of the two units. The Yaqin SD-CD3 has received some positive online reviews, so I ordered one from Ebay for $195 USD shipped.

I am not going to do a technical review here.  The specs for the SD-CD3 are found online.  I am more interested in how it will affect the sound of my stereo system.  It will be hooked up between the Cambridge Audio DACMagic Plus and a Marantz SR-6007 AV receiver, which serves as a pre-amp to an Emotiva XPA-2 Gen 2 power amplifier.  Some people connect tube buffers between their pre-amp and power amp, however, for now I will connect it to the DAC.  The online community consensus suggests that is the best solution.

All the way from Hong Kong

Only 10 days from Hong Kong to Canada

The Yaqin CD3 arrived in a large, generic looking box, about three times the size of the unit.  It is very well padded and can survive some abuse in transit.  Since Yaqin is a small company, they spend their money on technology, not translation services, as evidenced by the chinglish manual.  There is also a weird smell, like stale manufacturing oil, that tells you this is a budget component.  Right out of the box, this thing has some character.

Chinglish Manual

Yaqin CD3 Chinglish manual. ¬†I can’t wait for the electrolysis special.

Everything looked intact on the CD3 and for a $200 component, it is surprisingly well made.  It has a solid aluminum chassis, a hefty transformer and some funky looking metal shields around the 68NP tubes.

Out of the box

Yaqin SD-CD3 straight out of the box.  Ready for some tube rolling.

The SD-CD3 is shipped with a pair of generic Chinese¬†68NP vacuum tubes. ¬†I suppose they do a decent job, but I know there are better tubes out there. ¬†Ideally, the best upgrade would be pair of matched “new old stock” (NOS) tubes. ¬†NOS is¬†unused stock of vintage¬†tubes manufactured in the USA, Canada, Britain, Germany, Holland, Japan, Russia, etc. ¬†Although decades old, NOS¬†tubes, especially from Britain or the USA, command high prices due to their rarity and excellent sound. ¬† I am not going to spend hundreds on a pair¬†of tubes for a budget component. ¬†There are affordable alternatives.

Russian Tung-Sol

Russian Re-Issued Tung-Sol 6SN7

Before the Yaqin SD-CD3 arrived, I wanted to have better tubes on hand. ¬†I did a fair bit of online research and decided on a pair of matched Tung-Sol 6SN7s,¬†ordered from The Tube Store in Hamilton, Ontario. ¬†The quality of Russian made tubes has come a long way in the last decade. ¬†Tube connoisseurs will argue they are not as good as NOS, which they probably aren’t, but at 1/4 to 1/3 the price of premium¬†NOS tubes, they are still¬†superior to the tubes shipped with the SD-CD3.

Read for Testing

Yaqin SD-CD3 with Tung Sol 6SN7 – The lovely warm glow of tubes

First Impressions

Once the Tung-Sol tubes were in place, it was time to power up the Yaqin SD-CD3 and test it.  At first I was horrified, because there was a loud hum and thought it was a lemon!  Thankfully, the problem was the result of some defective RCA cables.  As soon as I replaced the cables, the hum vanished and the unit is completely silent.

I let the tubes burn in for an hour and tested music with and without the Yaqin CD-3 connected.  My first impression is generally positive.  The sound stage is wider, the instruments seem to be present in a 3d space, just like I am used to with good vinyl records.  The sound is a bit warmer and detail on acoustical instruments has been given a slight boost.  I found it counter-intuitive that the most apparent improvement seems to be with higher resolution music files, such as 24bit/96 Khz and SACD audio.  If anything, the differences it has made to the sound are subtle and good.  I think I will keep it.

This is by no means my final assessment of the Yaqin CD3.  Vacuum tubes require dozens of hours to break in and sound their best.  I am leaving it powered on for a week and then after several hours of listening, I will post my review on how it has changed the sound of my DAC.

Maybe I will start listening to digital music all over again and enjoy it as much as I do vinyl records.

Jan 132016
 

Vinyl records are experiencing 40% or so annual growth in sales, yet true record stores are still few and far between. Only two such stores are within a reasonable driving distance from my home: Star Records in Oshawa and Zap Records in Cobourg. Recently I published a post about my experience at Star Records who maintain a very strict adherence to old school principles.

My fiancé has family in Cobourg and I went along for the ride in order to check out Zap Records while she went shopping with her Mother.  Being a typical male, I only like shopping in motorcycle, cigar, camera, butchers and record stores. So, naturally, this was a fine way to spend an afternoon.   My first impression of Zap Records was very positive and I have no hesitation recommending them to any music lover or vinyl record collector.

Zap Records manifests the best aspects of a true record store, such as a non-corporate culture, a quirky, unique and relaxed atmosphere as well as being tailored for music geeks by a music geek. Unlike Star Records, Zap Records makes some concessions to the 21st century. Specifically, they run a website, a facebook page and accept credit and debit cards as payment.  Personally I like this balance and it creates a more convenient experience.

Zap Records

The location is for rent as they are moving to larger store in February 2016

Zap’s facebook page is very nicely done and contains a wealth of music information, trivia, history and nostalgia. It‚Äôs more than just marketing, it is the manifestation of someone who truly loves music.¬† It’s a great resource that I will check out from time to time.

The store is relatively small and contains a sprawling treasure trove of new and used records and some used CD’s.¬† They also have a good selection of counter culture t-shirts and assorted mementos.¬† Over a dozen customers filled the narrow aisles and they were a mixture of old, young and middle aged people.¬† I think it’s great to see several generations literally rub shoulders together as they shuffle around looking for their own musical nuggets.

In my brief time at Zap‚Äôs, I was impressed by the owner’s encyclopedic knowledge of various musical genres which became apparent as he talked with customers. He strikes me as the sort of person who establishes long term relationships and trust with his regular clientele. This is exactly the sort of experience completely absent from digital downloads, purchasing CD‚Äôs from a big box store (ugh!) or Amazon. I would rather get insight from an experienced human expert instead of some algorithm that makes suggestions based on one‚Äôs online purchases and web browsing habits. Pattern matching software has its benefits, but has absolutely no soul, understanding or intuition.¬† Another nice human touch was the owner’s beagle asleep near the cash register. Any business a proprietor or employee can bring their pet to work gets a big thumbs up from me.

Zap Records

Zap Records – My Kind of Place

Although millennials are driving up record sales, there must be countless retirees who have not embraced the digital age and still live in an analog world.¬† No doubt they would still see vinyl records as a familiar way to listen to music.¬† There was a distinguished British man, apparently in his early 70‚Äôs shopping around for classical music. His apparel and accent bespoke of a man who is cultured, educated and worldly. This was quite a contrast in style from the 20 something year olds looking for music from earlier generations — yet there is still some convergence. I overhead the British gentleman and the owner discussing music from the 1960‚Äôs. As turns out he was living in England during the height of the “British Invasion” and psychedelic scene. In his younger years, he had the privilege of seeing live performances by Jimmy Hendrix, the Beatles, The Kinks and more. This impressed the owner who also wanted to know if the gentleman had original rock and roll records from the 1960‚Äôs in good condition and offered to buy them at top dollar. Such recordings will fetch hundreds per album among well heeled collectors.

My budget is far more modest and I picked up some great used vinyl for my own eclectic collection.

  • The Stranglers ‚Äď Feline (1983)
  • The Edgar Winter Group ‚Äď They Only Come Out At Night (1972)
  • Los Lobos – By The Light Of The Moon (1987)
  • Leon Redbone ‚Äď Double Time (1977)
  • Les Paul and Mary Ford ‚Äď Lover‚Äôs Luau (1959)
  • The Ventures ‚Äď A Go Go (1965)
  • Buddy Rich ‚Äď Drummer’s Drummer (1979)
  • Fontanna And His Orchestra, Ren√© Duval ‚Äé‚Äď Cafe Continental (1965)