To Garrett Hongo,
Thank you for your expertise! I really enjoy your stuff out there online! You have a great following because we can tell you are passionate about what you do!
I have absolutely fallen for the Shindo sound and will be purchasing a Shindo Masseto preamp. What I loved about the Shindo Masseto was how wide and live the soundstage became. There was such air and space around the instruments. I could feel and discern individual strings being plucked on the cello! I could sense more space around choir voices and separate the singers.
Any experience with the Air Tight ATM-3 mono amp at 110W (55W in triode) using six EL34s? This has a real cult following for the newer Quads, being mentioned by Jonathan Valin in TAS as a "perfect match." In researching this mono amp, it seems to be tremendously respected and one of the classic amps out there.
From the talk out there on the forums, this seems to be a tremendous amp. My only concern is that one owner felt that with his speakers (not Quads) the ATM-3 was "not as transparent" as the newer class-A amps that are out there. What do you think?
Finally, one dealer who I have worked with swears by the VAC Phi 200 stereo amp at $11,000. He also represents EAR and would take the VAC over the 890 "in a heartbeat," which kind of gave me second thoughts on purchasing the EAR 890. Any experience with the VAC piece or from your readers, CES, etc.?
I really appreciate your time on this. I must admit I'm a little excited at the possibility of the Air Tight ATM-3 purchase, but want to be sure that with the new technology and new tube designs out there my system wouldn't be lacking in transparency, soundstage, etc.
Thanks for the appreciation. I'm glad you think my passion for audio comes through in the reviews.
I've some experience, having heard the Air Tight ATM-3 mono amps at CES. I once owned the Air Tight ATM-2 (KT88) stereo amp and ran it for years (with a Thor TA-1000 line stage) as my reference. Later, the ATM-3 was highly recommended to me by Tom Tutay, the warranty tech for Air Tight, who repairs and modifies all Air Tight electronics. I strongly considered the ATM-3 before purchasing my deHavilland KE50A monoblocks (45W). Finally, I know an owner of a reputable cable company who uses ATM-3s with Wilson Sophias for a good result.
I agree with your dealer and Jonathan Valin about the Air Tight ATM-3 mono amps being excellent, but I would also suggest that you take into consideration the sonic signature of the Shindo Masseto. I think it's more in keeping with the EAR 890 sound (that you asked about in a previous letter) than the Air Tight ATM-3, which I think would work better with the Air Tight ATC-2 (tube-rectified) preamp. As for "transparency," I think the Air Tight amps have the best potential to achieve that quality with the ATC-2 as the line stage. My strongest regret in my own audio evolution is that I never bought an ATC-2 to use with my ATM-2. It is an excellent line stage and a perfect match for the ATM-3 monos, as well as other Air Tight amps. I'd characterize its sound as extended, particularly resolving and airy in the treble and upper mids, rich and liquidinous in the midrange. That said, you could get the ATM-3s and certainly try the Masseto with them. But I would also try to audition an ATC-2 down the line. In general, as far as electronics are concerned, I believe in matching amps and preamps from the same manufacturer.
I have reviewed the VAC Phi 200 for Ultra Audio. The Phi 200 and Masseto could be an interesting combination -- but I've never heard it. I have heard the Phi 200 with two VAC preamps -- the Renaissance Mk.3 and Signature IIa (reviewed for another publication) -- and those combos were excellent. With the Ren Mk.3, the emphasis was on drive, punch, and bass quality. With the Sig IIa, the combo had clarity and extension at the extremes, bass punch too (a characteristic of the Phi 200), but also a lot more finesse and nuance, and an openness and detail in the upper midrange that was exceptional.
Finally, if you love the Shindo sound, why not consider speakers other than the Quads? That way you could use any number of Shindo amps your Masseto was designed to work with optimally. You might then look at speakers built by DeVore, Auditorium 23, Audio Note (UK), Trenner & Friedl, Coincident, Hørning, Cessaro, and perhaps Shindo itself. If you're working with a Shindo dealer, he would know what's most suitable and within your budget. . . . Garrett Hongo