The main reason for yesterday’s trip to Reference Audio wasn’t to drool over turntables or rare Japanese statement loudspeakers. In truth I didn’t even drive out to Devonport to listen to Peter Hardie’s Oppo/Leak/Lightspeed/Spendor system.
I actually went to pick up a loom of the new Vitesse Audio Solid Air Matrix cable. I’ve had the prototype interconnects in my system before and was more than a little impressed, so I’ve been waiting to get my mitts on a full set including speaker cables. That system however is worth some discussion.
When faced with this sort of strange combination (and a modern Bluray player paired with a passive preamp, vintage low output valve power amps and old school speakers is definitely a little, shall we say, out there?) one is almost tempted to call for the men in white coats but audio bliss comes in many shapes and sizes.
The basic system is a NuForce edition Oppo Bluray player feeding a Lightspeed passive preamp, which is in turn hooked up to two old Leak valve power amps with a mighty 10w per side. The speakers are an old set of Spendor SP1 standmounts and the system uses a full loom of Vitesse Audio cables, including power cords. Prototype Vitesse Audio isolation feet and valve dampers are also in place.
Peter has made major changes to this system based on his experiences with damping and vibration control while developing the new cables. He’s tried to apply the same principles to other areas but the changes are mostly around controlling resonance rather than making fundamental alterations to the components.
For example, the racks have been tweaked with different types of filling materials and the spikes have special coupling systems that Peter has found to work well on the concrete floor. According to Peter, all vibration control systems seem to do some things very well but then miss out in other areas. The new isolation feet are apparently much more even in their characteristics, with less compromise than anything he’s previously tried (and he’s tried a lot based just on what’s on the shelves). The isolation feet use a similar material to the cables and strangely enough, they seem to offer a similar sonic signature.
Paying all this attention to the resonance feedback loop has paid dividends. Peter reckons that audiophiles often attribute negative sonic effects to things like component synergy, speaker positioning or cables but resonance control is fundamental to realizing the maximum potential of any system.
The most fascinating part of the system for me is the Lightspeed passive preamp; a single input purist unit that uses a light dependent resistor (LDR) to control the volume. The resistor is affected by the amount of light it sees, so the volume pot isn’t actually in the signal path, all it does is adjust the light levels. Genius! Despite this uncommonly simple design, damping and vibration control still makes a difference to the sound.
The Leak power amps use KT61 valves, which are hard to get. These amps have a reputation for being rolled off in the treble and somewhat loose in the bass but the equivalent new old stock (NOS) 6P25 valves sound vastly superior according to Peter and have removed any possible sonic issues. The valve dampers also change the sonic signature, and it seems apparent that much of a valve amp’s signature can be attributed to resonance and ringing.
The source is a NuForce edition Oppo BD player playing a combination of CD quality and high res files cut to DVD. Speakers are modified Spendor SP1 standmounts with revised internal damping, plus a flush mounted baffle and midrange driver but the crossovers and drivers have been left alone. The speakers are way out into the room, as in two thirds of the way into the room – much closer to the front wall than the back. The bass coupling in this position is just right and other more conventional positions just don’t work as well.