Times really flies, I have been an avid user of this world class tonearm for several years now and have always been more than satisfied with its superb performance. The recent acquisition of the Miyajima Kansui MC cartridge made this easily the best-sounding combo I have ever heard in my not-so-short hi-fi encounter.
Let’s digress a wee bit fm here, last month, I had a wonderful & much-needed short break from work and went with the AE duo to Munich to attend the annual high-end show, the many exotic equipments on display under different rooms made me feel rather apprehensive whether I could discern the sound quality of each room objectively and accurately. I needn’t worry, my hearing somehow has gotten better these days and more sensitive in last 12 months, so every nuance in sound can be easily discerned , every minor adjustment or adjustments made in AE’s showroom and PT’s home system can also be also detected on recent visits – PT can testify this claim. The point I want to stress is there is nothing wrong in my hearing and in fact it is becoming better these days.
A quick test to those who frequent concert halls, normally, the concert usually starts with the orchestra playing a fairly short piece of music for warming up, the sound (in hi-fi terms) is not at its best in the first 5-10 minutes of its performance. Furthermore, if you go to concert where a violin concerto is performed, the violin does not sound at its best in the first 5 minutes of playing, afterwards, the sound is more natural and richer.
Last week, I attended a concert where a young and very talented Korean pianist performed the world famous Tchaikowsky Piano concerto in B flat minor, everyone knows the pianist really hammers the piano when playing the thrashing chord at the very beginning, I was sitting in the middle and 12 feet in front of the grand piano, the sound was mighty loud but the thrashing chord sounded slightly out of tune (like minor mistracking of the cartridge), I said to myself, shit, how come the Steinway sounds like this, my worry soon faded after 5 minutes of playing, the glorious rich tonal colour of the piano returned and I could continue to enjoy the brilliant performance of this talented artist. In summary, if you can not discern the not-so-subtle difference in sound of an orchestra/instrument which has not been warmed up, then you need to practice your listening so that you can tune the sound of your hi-fi system correctly as well as being able to discern whether any change/adjustment in your system is for the better or for worse.
Back to last month’s MOC in Munich, most of the rooms did not sound good due to problems with the room acoustic problems and the associated equipments being used. Of all the 3 full days I spent there, only a very small handful of rooms where I could really sit down for 15-30 minutes to hear the sound of the system. I went to the Thales room and saw their new turntable and the original Thales toearm but with a different finish, the new Simplicity arm mounted on the simple but elegant looking turntable. These arms were mounted with the EMT standard and gold cartridges, both of which I had owned for a short time Although I was familiar with the sound, everyone should know from my previous write-ups the Thales/EMT, in my opinion is not a good match. Thales, because of its ultra neutral characteristics, needs a rich sound cartridge (because many amps are also not rich sounding), analytically sounding transducers such a Clearaudio etc should be avoided at all cost if you do not want to end up with a “glassy” sound. The latest finish of the tonearm impressed me immediately, I could discern certain qualities of this new looking arm (I call it Mark 2 version) but I was not 100% certain as rest of equipments were not quite something to be desired of.
Last Sunday, the latest Thales Mark 2 tonarm finally arrived. The different finish of this arm looked exquisite, in addition, the arm now comes with a pair of very thin interconnects, in its original version, you’ll need an extra pair of interconnects (this can be good for perfect matching but can be costly).
Now, I am faced with a rather difficult task of describing the performance of this arm with a new finish (hence different sound quality). As mentioned above, the original arm partnered with the Kansui is the best sounding combo I have heard (this statement is also concurred by Master Wei who helped me to install both arms plus many other Thales arms and many other different arm/cartridge) combos.
Initially, I had to isolate the additional variable (the new connecting wires which comes with the arm) plus the minor hum problem (this problem was more or less alleviated in the original arm). First impression was the sound of this new tonearm clearly sounding better than the original version, it gave an overall 15-20% improvement in the overall sound. The arm portrayed a quieter background to enable you to hear more details, the bass was cleaner and faster, the soundstage had a slightly more 3 dimension with better separation and more depth, the tonality remained unchanged. So far so good, however, upon further listening, I found the sound had slightly less body, resulting in a slight softening of bass slam, anyway, these were enough for one day (Sunday).
Several days had gone passed and with more breaking in (the arm, the wiring inside the arm plus the stocked interconnects) and some minor tweakings, the overall sound got better, the minor hum problem was solved and today, I made the final adjustments to achieve/restore the rich and dynamic sound of the previous combo which was slightly lacking in the latest combo, the easiest/quickest way was to push one of the horn speakers 2 to 3 mm closer to the adjacent speaker, bingo, I got the slightly richer sound together with slightly more bass slam.
Today (Sat.), I have been listening as well as making numerous minutes adjustments from 9am to now (7:00pm) to this arm/cartridge, I am making a pledge I will not change either the arm or Kansui for the next 2 years as I can’t believe vinyl playback can reach this far, I have finally reached beyond uncharted territory (not the type PT described to me earlier – sorry).
Allow me to elaborate on what I mean to qualify the above claims. I must confess I am not much of lover of piano music, however, I have been to many concerts listening to piano concertos to help me understand the tonality and overall sound of a Steinway so that I can tune it when I play piano music at home. I vividly remember the sound and characteristics of the Steinway when my other half & I attended the concert last Sat. After playing repeatedly Kissin/Karajan Tschaikowsky piano concerto no. 1 (recorded live) this week, I am finally satisfied with current playback, the tonality and ambiance are fairly close to the real thing.
Master Wei who came to my home twice in last few days commented my system (vinyl) sounded very real, to coin the phrase, it gave him the feeling of “living presence” that he had never had the pleasure of such an experience. Just now, I am playing the difficult Horowitz Plays Mozart (piano concerto no. 23 with Orchestra Del Teatro Alla Scala conducted by Carlo Giulini – try the reverse phase), it is very interesting to read what Horowitz said in the inner sleeve “One of the most important facts that comes to light is Mozart’s emphasis on feeling and expression in music-making.”
In the last several months, I have been making an endless endeavour to create (or rather recreate) the tonality and life of the recorded music from my system. The Thales/Kansui and Zanden phono (plus any good and reasonably-sized turntable, excluding ALL the “large” metallic ones – yes, you know what I mean without naming names as they sounded fXXXing terrible at the Munich show) have now brought me the closest I have ever treaded into the realm of live music at home !
The Thales tonearm when partnered with Kansui, reproduce the soul in music, you can hear the vital extra details in the LPs that you hitherto are not aware that are there. The presentation of the overall sound is so real, just like the real thing, without a trace of harshness and with the speed and transient of real music that almost have you fooled that you may be listening to the real thing. The sound it produces is free of compression as well as free of any noticeable colouration together with excellent trackability, I have never heard so much harmonics and continuity except in live performance, vocals (i.e Belafonte) sound absolutely palpable and violins have their wooden tone, guitars have their speed and attack, I can go on…
Honestly speaking, I am really thrilled by the vinyl sound I am now hearing, it has given me another dose of musical tonic that I badly need to continue my endless but getting-too -tiring journey to hi-fi nirvana. I would give my unreserved recommendation to those, if money is not an issue, to own the Thales tonarm and partner it with the Kansui, these 2 products are a perfect match made in heaven. Yes, I know I will continue to bring better performance from my present vinyl system but current setup is the best I have ever heard and this will satisfy me and others too in the many weeks ahead. Kudos to Micha Huber, you are one of the youngest and the best tonearm designer I have the pleasure of knowing, last time was in 1977-1978 when I became friends with Scott Strachan, the designer of Syrinx tonearm which beat the famed Grace 707 arm but not the Breuer).
I am so excited by the current vinyl, to those who have placed an order with AE to purchase the Thales tonarm or are seriously thinking about getting one, they are welcomed to have a first hand experience to hear the Thales/Kansui in my home just to prove there is nothing wrong in my hearing and to prove what I have said above is true. I promise you will be shocked as well as thrilled that vinyl playback can be this good, it literally trounces ALL digital playbacks in whatever formats you care to mention, period, because nothing can beat real music and the Thales/Kansui/Zanden vinyl combination brings me closest to live music. Vinyl rules and thank god I have returned to become a vinyl junkie once again!