OX Box #2: Bob Oxley Reflects on his Audio System

      Date posted: November 20, 2007

I know thousands of you out there have been expecting me to review the new phono section which has been introduced by Aurum Acoustics, and which is designed to be neatly installed in the body of the Integris CDP preamplifier/CD player. I sort of said I would, and I will, just not yet. I think it’s terrific, but my problem is that I don’t really have anything current with which to compare it. For many years my turntable was connected to a Dolan preamp which came from the era when all preamps, receivers, et al had a phono section that would accommodate a moving magnet cartridge and, at the higher end, like the Dolan, handle moving coil, too. Ottawa-made, it was a fine piece of equipment, still is, but the stuff in the AA Integris CDP is better by a long, long shot. Listening to LPs is fun again. Just let me say that if you have a vinyl collection and you have a CDP, get the phono section. It’s as simple as that. No word yet whether it will be made available as a standalone.

I want to tell you about my system. I have to, so that you will have some frame of reference as you read what I say in my “OxBoxes” about hardware, software, and listening to both. Let’s start with the weak link, my turntable. Please brace yourself: I spin my vinyl on an ancient Kenwood KD-500, a slotting, cogging, direct drive. All I can say is, it has survived a period when I thought I would never again listen to anything but CD (and heaped scorn on Stereophile’s Michael Fremer as he kept the vinyl flame alight), to the time when I came to realize there is gold in them thar grooves.

My arm is a high-mass Fidelity Research FR-64, beautifully crafted from stainless steel. If turntable and arm are from a bygone era, at least my cartridge is up to date, an Ortofon Kontrapunkt b, to which I was attracted initially because of its relatively low compliance, making it a mate with the high-mass arm. It is a fine example of Ortofon’s dedication to cartridge-making, and an example of value for money.

Speakers: I feel that if there were ever value for money the PSB Gold i speakers are a prime example. I’ve had my pair for about ten years. I admit that from time to time I wondered, as I read the intriguing reviews of yet another “great” transducer, but I could never justify spending two or three times as much in an attempt to do better. Thank God, because along the way they have faithfully reflected all the other improvements I have made. If you have PSB Golds, I urge you to spend your effort on making sure everything else in your system is top notch before you make a speaker change.

My amplifier is a Bryston 3B ST, which I have modified to the extent that I have replaced the stock fuses with Isoclean Gold fuses. There are two sets of fuses in the ST version by the way, one under the cover at the front and the other in the pop out fuse holder in the back. As with my speakers, I have wondered about the Bryston from time to time, and I know the SST is an improvement. For one thing, in it, fuses have been replaced with circuit breakers.

My Bryston is so solid and ultra reliable that I would say the same about it as I have about the speakers: every improvement in the front end has been faithfully transmitted by the amp. In fact I have come to the conclusion that if Bryston ST and SST amps have a problem, it is that they are so ruthlessly neutral. You have something bad going on ahead of them? You are going to hear it!

The rest of my system is the “big improvement”: the very high end Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP. I dealt with it at length in the OxBox 1, but, as noted, I now have the phono section.

Next, let’s deal with the scary part, boys and girls: cables and interconnects, cones and spikes, and the like. It took me a very long time to come to understand what a difference they make, and how essential they are to your final result. There is no doubt in my mind that interconnects, speaker and power cables, are components. Thinking of them this way helps rationalize paying for them what you should. I would say at least $1,000.00 a pair for interconnects and about $500.00 for a power cord and in the vicinity of those two for speaker cables.

Some people choose to pay as much to connect as they do for the rest of their system. I have found that as the rest of my system improved, I was able to hear bigger differences with this part of my system. Right now I have a pair of Cardas Golden Reference interconnects between my Integris CDP and the Bryston. The PSBs are bi-wired with Cardas on the bass, and a pair of the superb Kimber Select 3033 connecting the mid-range and tweeter. I have Black Diamond Racing Cones under my turntable and amp, and Golden Sound Ceramic Cones beneath the Integris CDP. And speaking of the power cable for the CDP, it’s an Aurum-modified Cardas Golden Reference, with Kimber Watt-a-Gate wall and IEC connectors.

Oh, and one more thing, a development that has been under wraps for some time, but which I think can be safely revealed. To couple the spikes on the bottom of the speakers and the hardwood floor I use hockey pucks, perhaps not ideal but good enough for me from the sound point of view, and perfect if you have to reposition your speakers from time to time. Plus, if anything is, they are VALUE FOR MONEY! That’s more than enough about me. Share your thoughts.
The Music: what are you listening to?

Me, a Proper Box (132) of mid fifties recordings by Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. Proper Boxes come from England and are re-issues of material that is out of copyright. They can be depended on for good sound and presentation, with notes that rival the best. The music is what hard bop is all about, with players such as Kenny Dorham, Horace Silver, Hank Mobley and Clifford Brown.

Lyle Lovett and his LARGE Band’s latest is It’s Not Big, It’s Large, and it is a return to form for Lovett. The songs I like best are without the large band, but then, there’s no accounting for taste.

Next time, something else I have resisted until just about a month ago, room treatment. Until then……

Box Oxley

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