The beer in my hand was cold, and delicious. I sipped it gratefully after a long week of putting in time at my day job, and I was desperate for the relaxing wave it was trying to wash over me.
But, there was a problem coming between me and my precious lager.
The problem was my good friend Don had just picked me up from the train station after a 40-minute trip to the nether regions of Surrey, far outside Vancouver, B.C., so I could stay with him. It was the night before we were set to drive six-plus hours to visit Jeff Day, and Don had put me to work swapping fuses in his Audio Note UK Meishu Silver integrated amplifier as soon as I walked in his door (he did shove the beer in my hand first)… not the best situation for holding a cold beverage in one hand while popping two-amp fuses with the other, but I persevered and managed to help him sort out the lack of a right channel in his system. This was a very good thing because I had been looking forward to hearing his all AN UK system which was now sporting a brand-new TT-2 DeLuxe ‘table (you can still smell the new on it). Finally, after a great dinner, and several more drinks, we released the beast and got the amp to let its hair down.
The next day dawned early, a bit too early, and Don’s little buddy Finnegan, was doing his best to claw his way through the bedroom door at 7:30 a.m.
Don was a little green around the edges, and I was desperate for coffee, but overall we weren’t too badly compromised from the previous evening’s festivities, and managed to get out the door without stumbling too badly.
With the border long behind us we stopped for lunch about four hours into the drive. Don has a killer ride, and the Audi S4 purred along the highways and mountain passes as the miles spun away under our wheels. I admit, my foot got a bit heavy at times when it was my turn behind the wheel.
After rocketing through the rural backcountry of ‘merca for several hours, we finally found ourselves face-to-face with Jeff as we peeled ourselves out of the Audi, and gathered our bags. Never ones to arrive empty handed, I had stocked up on several British Columbia craft beers, and Don did likewise with wines. Little did we know Jeff, and his crew had done the same thing in anticipation of our arrival.
As soon as we walked in you could feel the great vibes from everybody there. We were warmly welcomed into Jeff’s Place by Jeff, and his core group of audiophile brothers; Dr. Leo, Ron-san the solder master, and Pete Riggle, tonearm designer. The truth is, between these four gentleman, there’s more schooling, and smarts than most small countries can lay claim to. With wine, and beer flowing, and a few appetizers washed down with said beverages, we didn’t waste much time not listening to music on Jeff’s main system, which is dominated by a pair of Tannoy Royal Westminster SEs with modified outboard Duelund crossovers, a pair of hot-rodded, and restored McIntosh MC 30 mono blocks from Vintage Vacuum Audio, a heavily-modified McIntosh M110x pre-amplifier, and reams of delicious vintage Western Electric cabling and Belden interconnects. The heart of the system is its vinyl source though, a Classic Garrard 301 Standard turntable, finished in Hammertone with an upgraded CNC brass platter, and bearing assembly, along with a host of major improvements. It features an Artisan Fidelity Garrard 301 Statement Plinth, and Thomas Schick tonearms with a pair of Ortofon SPUs in stereo, and mono to round things out. Step-up (SUT) duties are handled by a pair of dual-mono Intact Audio SUTs.
We enjoyed some musical time travel the first evening, with a procession through the years starting with mono recordings of the ’50s, and ’60s (what a huge difference playing back a mono recording through a mono cartridge makes, and the Ortofon mono SPU is a formidable cart to say the least) and working our way through some amazing stereo LPs of the ’70s, and well into the ’90s if memory serves correct (I recall a Counting Crows album being passed around… there was a lot of wine, and beer OK?), with plenty of laughs, and great music until late into the night.
I got to sleep in the room featuring a second system with a pair of ultra-rare Stokowski VOTTs, and having those massive horns tower over me as I drifted off to sleep was very comforting, I must admit.
The next morning I got up early, and Jeff, Pete, and I drank several coffees while swapping stories of our misspent youth, and adventures. Pete won the story contest hands-down with his extremely colorful tale of one evening spent with a delightful young woman, that involved costume play, but since I’m a gentleman, I’ll leave that there.
Looking back on these images I made, apparently it was quite sunny, and beautiful out that day (not that I’d really know, I didn’t leave the house the entire day except to open the door to grab the pizza from a very judgmental delivery boy, who I think was kinda looking down his nose at me having my drink on so early in the afternoon), but we weren’t interested in sunshine, we were interested in music.
I originally wanted to title this post “The sound and the fury of genteel British monsters tamed by the articulate Americans,” but knew the ubiquitous search engine probably wouldn’t guide anyone here because who’s going to search that out?
This system is impressive. Deeply impressive. I cannot emphasize enough the big Tannoy’s ability to evenly pressurize a room – even one as large as Jeff’s listening room – to the level that instrument and vocal point source is 3D-staged so realistically that it starts to make the hair on your arms stand up because it becomes physically present.
The Westminsters throw the biggest sound stage I’ve ever heard in a two-channel rig up to this point. I’ve heard a lot of big rigs in the last year (the Martin Logan Neoliths driven by Mark Levison mono blocks come to mind for big in-your-face concert-level sound, and the Acapella Violons, and Acapella Atlas speakers with their ion tweeters and horn-loaded mid-range were incredibly tactile in their bigger-than-thou presentations), but this was quite a different beast indeed. Far more organic, and emotionally palpable in it’s presentation to my ears. A very unique mix of vintage, and very modern technology. This is a sound that Malachi Kenney referred to as “Big fat Cadillac sound…” I concur.
We spent Saturday listening to, and comparing some resistor modifications that Jeff, and Ron had performed on Jeff’s McIntosh MX110 tuner-preampflier, which made for a delightful day, an extended listening session that really attuned our hearing to the subtleties of Jeff’s system. Jeff writes about the adventure HERE.
As Jeff writes in that linked post, Pete’s Woody SPU tonearm was one of the highlights of the day. Swapping out the Thomas Schick tonearm for Pete’s produced a defining moment in the listening session as the synergy between the big Ortofon, and Pete’s tonearm was impossible to miss.
Perhaps it was Saturday night’s playing of Rickie Lee Jones singing Show Biz Kids off the never-to-be-named LP test pressing that Leo brought over that was the best example of the tactile, human touch this system has.
The sound was downright spooky at times, with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard and Clark Terry looming over me as they belted out The Alternate Blues (Alternate One) off the same test pressing (never to be named) with so much raw power that I kept looking over, and making crazy faces at Jeff because the imaging, timbre, attack, and decay on notes was having such a visceral impact on my listening experience that I felt the need for reassurance from him that I was indeed hearing what I thought I was (for the record, every time I looked over at him, Jeff looked right back, and nodded very seriously, so I knew I wasn’t just loaded or crazy, or both).
The room was suffused, awash, almost drowning in sonic emotional heft as the notes broke free from the final vestige of their electronic confines, and exploded into the darkened space around us.
We finally packed it in ’round midnight, and the next morning we hit the highway early to have breakfast at Pete’s, which included his wife Gloria, and daughter Kelly. I don’t think I’ve laughed quite so hard before noon in many years, so a big thanks to the Riggle’s for hosting us that morning, it was delicious. All fueled up, we headed to Pete’s workshop/studio lovingly referred to as The Garden of Earthly Delights. Which it certainly is.
Pete’s running three big speakers powered by various amps, and getting fed a mix of digital, and vinyl from a number of different sources.
We heard his recently acquired Altec Voice of the Theatre A7-500-8 speakers first, which I must say produce a sound unlike any other speakers I’ve heard, including Jeff’s Stokowski VOTTs (which sounded like the largest pair of Planar headphones I’ve ever heard because – as I mentioned earlier – he’s got them stuffed into a tiny spare room at his place, where you’d never think a speaker of that size would ever work, but crazily it does, and it sounds amazing paired with a SPEC RSA-M3 EX Real Sound Amplifier).
Pete’s VOTTs were incredibly open, and ethereal in their presentation, and while Pete had two different crossovers running the A7s (I believe he referred to the pair as a work in progress), it was an eye-opening experience, and gave me pause to consider why so many audiophiles become smitten with that classic VOTT sound (Jeff included, but we didn’t get a chance to hear his restored pair of A5s as they weren’t ready for prime time yet, hopefully on the next visit). Pete then cued up an oil-bearing Thorens TD-124 which he’s modified, it was running his 12.2″ Woody Universal Tonearm with a Denon DL-103, and he pumped some sweet sounds through a pair of massive Beveridge Model 2SW electrostat speakers being fed by a Jolida JD9 phono stage, and a Wright Sound Products line stage.
With the Beveridge speakers we also heard the 29-foot long, homemade mono-horn subwoofer, which has a 9.5′ wide by 6′ high mouth, and grunts down to 20 Hz.
Sadly, Don and, I were running short on time. We still had more than six hours of driving ahead of us, and with a big storm headed for the mountain passes we had to cross, we were hoping to beat the weather, and make it back to Canada before nightfall, so Pete’s giant custom horns couldn’t be heard this trip, next time!
Six hours is a long time to travel by any means, but it was worth it to share time with this crew, and experience some truly world-class sound systems.
I can’t thank our host Jeff Day enough, or the kindness, and incredible hospitality that Leo, Pete, and Ron showed us on our road trip.