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Further thoughts on Concert Fidelity electronics...

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Steve Hoffman, Jun 9, 2006.

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  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Friends, for the last couple of months, and especially since the Stereophile show, I've had much more chance to listen to the ESP/Concert Fidelity system that is in my main listening room and I've decided to write down some more thoughts. I'm convinced that this system is perfect for the serious audiophile and music lover. The ESP Bodhran SE monitors and the Concert Fidelity 6BFG monoblock amplifiers and matching CF-040 tubed line stage are getting quite a workout at my place and constantly furnishing me with great sound. My thoughts on the ESP loudspeakers I will post in a separate thread. I want to elaborate on the Japanese Concert Fidelity electronics here. Allow me to gush for a few minutes.

    The system I’m using now is the first I’ve had that both allows me to master accurately AND makes me want to sit down and listen to music even after a long day of mastering. Even when I listen for relaxation, I expect to be able to hear all the details and nuances I’m so used to hearing on the master tape, but in a natural, organic, totally non-fatiguing sort of way. Most systems err either on the side of being overly analytic without naturalness and organic "wholeness", or on the side of rich and lush while missing the nuances I try to bring out in my mastering. My current system, even in a less-than-optimal setup (with a big old grand piano between and behind the speakers), is a true miracle of great sound. It’s so lifelike and yet so un-“hi-fi” that I’ve heard things on the mixes that I’ve never noticed before, and yet without ever sacrificing crucial musicality. With this system, I’ve come as close to the sound of the master tapes as I ever have before. Sinatra and Elvis were scarily close to being in the room with us the other night, and I don’t say that lightly.

    Concert Fidelity Electronics

    Some people like tube sound, some like solid state. But I feel the perfect electronics should combine the best of both worlds—the transient speed and transparency (and bass) of solid state without the grain; the timbral magic and dimensionality of tubes without mushy bass and rolled off highs and lack of focus. For example, pairing the Concert Fidelity original prototype electronics with the Venture CR-8 speakers in my mastering room, I’m now getting the best bass I’ve ever heard in that room in eight years of living here. Because of their incredible midrange magic, the Concert Fidelity electronics remind me of just why I’ve always loved tubes, but they also point out clearly how not all tube electronics are even close to being equal. The Concert Fidelity stuff has a clarity (presumably because of their highly simplified but wacky perfectionist circuitry) which allows me to hear much more of the microdynamic and harmonic nuances and transient speed that other tube electronics simply miss or gloss over or just choose to ignore, and this becomes addictive and necessary for testing my mastering work, as well as for listening. It’s the kind of magic that most people might not even know existed until they’ve once heard it, but once they have, they realize how much of the nuances are getting lost through other electronics. No going back after this for me. I'm too spoiled; it's friggin' addictive, mates.

    But first, one minor caveat: Those of you (anyone out there?) who heard the Concert Fidelity stuff at the Stereophile show on either Thursday or the first half of Friday missed the magic, because the line-stage was not hooked up properly (i.e., the 12AU7’s were not switched into the circuit). This kind of silly thing can happen when people are exhausted from doing all-nighters getting ready for a show and then setting up the show room… We all knew something was not right, but we were too blitzed to figure out what it was! After Friday around 1PM, the electronics were back to sounding the way they are supposed to. All it took was turning the second switch to "on", heh.

    This line-stage is, quite simply, the most transparent I’ve used, and I’ve had some great line-stages through here, some true Kings. Every time I do a comparison (and I wouldn’t waste my time comparing it with less-than-excellent line-stages—so far, I’ve put it up against a number of the very best, but please, don’t ask me for names!), the Concert Fidelity wins easily in terms of lifelike sound, dynamics, sound-staging, side-to-side imaging, tonality, and all-around pleasing vibe. It also has one other huge advantage. Because of its neat transparency, it is almost like a tube tester in the way it shows off the differences between 12AU7’s. This allows me to flavor the final sound by tube rolling, that final touch that means so much. I've spent silly time rating all of my 12AU7's. Couldn't do it without the C.F. line stage!

    And I hear it will soon get even better than this, although it’s almost hard to believe it could! Masataka Tsuda, the designer of the electronics, will soon be coming out with his ultimate statement line-stage, which incorporates four or five minor circuit changes in addition to remote control and digital volume readout, two things which the current minimalist line-stage is, unfortunately, lacking. I have been told by the importer that in order to sell off the remaining few current units, which ARE FULLY UPGRADEABLE to the ultimate line-stage, a price break is being offered. (Since the cost of the upgrade is expensive and there is no margin in it for dealers, the current inventory cannot be sent back for upgrades first and then resold to dealers at wholesale—it has to be sold to customers first.) If you are looking for a line stage that will please you for a life time. Consider this one, folks.

    So there ya have it. Steve's gushing. The Concert Fidelity electronics are expensive as hell, but there are more expensive products out there, especially from Japan, where most things are perfectionist and expensive. And every time I turn those Concert Fidelity amps on I wonder if we have come as far as we can in vacuum tube reproduction of recorded sound. They are that good. They remove the barrier between me and the music. As I said before, I doubt there would be a listener anywhere on the planet who would not love the sound of those gorgeous, monoblock amplifiers and that nifty magical line-stage. I can recommend them with total confidence to anyone who strives for the best sound possible. This is the kind of product that will make people stop agonizing about upgrades once and for all. If they have deep enough pockets to buy this stuff, they’ll be able to forget about “moving up” and will be able to listen to music under the best conditions possible for a very long time to come. Even though I'm assured of a long-term loan of this gear for my mastering projects, just the thought of losing it gets me all shivery. Not looking forward to that day; I'm spoiled, dudes!

    The Concert Fidelity stuff has only been available since last fall in its current cosmetic shape (with wonderful lacquered wood), and although the company may be obscure now, don’t expect it to be for much longer. Also, for those of you who just don’t want tubes, Masataka Tsuda’s new solid state creations, under the "Silicon Arts Design" brand, are now in prototype. Several very critical listeners who heard them during special after-hours auditions at the Stereophile show have already proclaimed them the best amps they’ve ever heard. And they are solid state! Might have to give those a serious listen. Given Tsuda-san’s profound design expertise and fanatically perfectionist tendencies, that doesn’t surprise me at all. (You've got be slightly wacky to design stuff anyway, and Tsuda-san is just as wacky as the American designers I've met; this is a good thing!)

    Although I’ve posted pictures before, it’s worth taking another look at several of the features of these electronics. In the line-stage, notice how SIMPLE the circuitry is, how well laid-out and clean looking it is, and how close much of it is to the input and output connectors, for shortest circuit paths. The new ultimate line-stage will extend this concept to its logical extreme, while having the 12AU7’s swappable on the back panel so the unit doesn’t have to be opened up.

    In the power amps, notice how the single 6SN7 for the driver and gain stages is BEHIND the transformers in order to shorten circuit paths and eliminate stray capacitance that leads to the dreaded dulled transients. Notice some other nice touches, such as an input level control for channel matching as tubes drift over time, and a digital output tube timer/counter so you’ll know how long you have been running the output tubes and when you should replace them. And those transformers are custom-spec’ed and very expensive, practically unobtanium, :) but contribute greatly, along with the circuitry and layout, to the sound which has the best aspects of tubes without the downsides. Oh, and Tsuda-san chose the CURRENT PRODUCTION Russian 6B4G, a very tuneful tube (sort of like the sound of an old 2A3) so there is no fear of running out of output tubes in the future. I must say that in both sets of my Concert Fidelity amps I've never had A SINGLE TUBE PROBLEM! Not a one.

    At any rate, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. If you can afford them, the Concert Fidelity electronics will satisfy you for many years. There will be no need to ever worry about "the search" for the best sounding gear again!


    First shot, one of the Concert Fidelity 6B4G monoblocks. That Japanese red lacquer finish rules the roost!

    Second shot, the inside of the CF-040 line-stage. I currently have two Telefunken 12AU7's in there; mids to kill for with my ESP speakers!

    Attached Files:

  2. Joe Nino-Hernes

    Joe Nino-Hernes Active Member

    Chicago, IL
    I heard these at the Stereophile show. They were very impressive. So were the Venture loudspeakers that they were powering. If I had the cash, these would be in my system!
  3. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC

    I got to sit in the sweet spot on Saturday and the Concert Fidelity gear sounded absolutely amazing with the Venture speakers. But, you could buy a house in some states for what that system costs. :D
  4. Scott Wheeler

    Scott Wheeler Forum Resident

    60 watts. Not enough for my speakers. Oh well......
  5. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Yeah, true. Fun to listen to though...
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