I Too Had A Spectron
like John Ulrich. I liked what he was and still is trying to do. I bought one of the original Spectron 1 amplifiers when John was literally broke and tried very hard to make it work but a plethora of electronic troubles infected the amp from poorly made boards inwards from the very get go. John was honest and worked with me to get them fixed relatively inexpensively but shipping from northern Canada to southern California and back was wallet-breaking; as well as the time spent away from the music slowly wore me down. I sold it and have never looked back.
Venkmann's Rule 1: If it cannot be repaired in your region of the country or even your country, consider passing on it until its reliability is well-established in the marketplace
When It Worked It Was Exciting...
Spectron detail was exciting. It was a different sound to be sure but I am not altogether convinced it was a better sound - perhaps just a different sound? When I got accustomed to Spectron sound, the amount of detail was addictive but, alas, the Spectron 1 I had slowly lost that quality over time. When I later did the A/B with other amps at volumes matched to within 1-2 db using a passive volume ALPS volume controller, meters, RTA etc to get the room right, any difference between it and several other high-end amps I used at the time was fleeting at best. When doing A/B comparisons of any single component, match volume levels to 1 or 2 db WITH AN INSTRUMENT (not your ears) and you may find no difference at all. That was embarrassing to me after spending many thousands on a single component only to find when it was tested this way you could not honestly tell the difference. No one wants to stand out and say they've been silly with money -- or been 'had' by illusions they themselves created -- with the help of a few sellers or promoters. I did. I will stand and admit it now. I hope that some others will profit from this. Buy wisely and step-off the endless treadmill of expensive upgrades to nowhere.
Venkmann's Rule 2: Different sound abounds and different is not the same as better. Measure volumes first.
Spectron Has Improved...
I am sure John has gone to great lengths to improve the quality of his amps in virtually every respect and that is good as he is dedicated. I however, have had my fun funding what was essentially a 'bleeding edge' product at the time. I now realize in retirement, that I funded too may of these products over the last 40+ years of audiophilia to no avail. Companies went under and theories were felled by better ones and much of that money could have been better spent helping those in life without food - let alone stereos. I now listen to music with components that may not rate the front-page of audio magazines anymore, or excite the relative newcomers to audio-land with somewhat giddy but assuredly golden-ears. That is alright however and should be for anyone. Do not give into herd-instinct to rush from one new 'king' component to another -- all based on what someone says in print who has no authority whatever except that which they endow on themselves and each other. Most just have the gift of printed 'gab' and would sell cars or anything else with cache' very well indeed.
Venkmann's Rule 3: Do not buy based on either a) herd-movement or b) the need to be a 'pioneer' (pionear?) first. Personal ego is difficult to submerge but if you don't it is a most dangerous and uncritical master of your ears and wallet.
Have YOU improved?
This may sound silly or obvious. As a doctor I feel the first and best step towards spending money on audio equipment is to spend it on your ears. Most audiophiles have never undergone extensive hearing tests or they would turn beet red in shame at the claims they make to hearing certain frequencies and spatialities. Many have damaged their ears so badly during their teens with thousands of hours of exposure to ultra-loud earphones/buds and full-volume concerts where permanent distortion and destruction of sensitive ear mechanisms is a givent. I have had 15 year old's who could no longer hear 12khz in my office.
Venkmann's Rule 4: Get your ears tested. Spend some money on them. They are an irreplaceable component you cannot buy! Find out your ear's directional, spatial and frequency limitations so as to protect your ears and wallet from further excess. You may find that you no longer need to buy components with stratospheric price tags as you can no longer hear what you thought you could!
In closing, I think there are more than a few people out there with similar experiences to mine - perhaps not with Spectron but with other products that were or still are essentially R & D projects sold as reliable products. Sooner or later you will tire of the reasons and upgrades that continually keep you on the financial hook like a junkie. My advice is to assess each piece of equipment in terms of hours spent listening per dollar spent. That includes downtime, repair and shipping costs. That is the ultimate way to figure the cost effectiveness of a audiophile product. If it passes this test, good. I f not, cut it loose and take your losses early.
Dr. P. Venkmann
I have the Musician III for 5 months now, long enough to break in and evaluate the amp. I was hoping someone else would comment first so I can compare notes, but no luck. Nevertheless, I still like to share my two cents with those who might interest in this amp.
I’d owned the Musician I, II, and now III. After the Musician II was sold, the buyer asked me why I sell the amp and what do I think of its sound. I told him that I sell so I can upgrade; because the sound of Class D amp is like CD sound in that it takes time to improve and mature. As to its sound, I said: “you get good sound at a reasonable price. If you want the best, go for Lamm, Tenor, or Hacro”.
Sometime ago, a person with some authority in the audio industry told me that the Musician is the best. Of course, I believed him only half heart, until one day I saw him using the Musician II to drive his $60,000 speakers to spectacular sound. The fact that he could have any expensive amp but used the Musician says a lot about the amp.
After I got the Musician III, I upgraded in steps the digital cable, interconnect, speaker cable, and the DAC. Each time, the sound of the system improved and that keeps me upgrading because I could hear the subtle differences. This indicates that the amp is not the bottle-neck in my system and I am sure that the sound can still improve further with better components or clearer AC power that some have suggested; even though the sound is very life-like already.
I don’t have the Musician II any more so I can not compare the II and III directly; especially it is not fair with the upgrades. My sense is that the Musician III has better bass extension and definition; the overall sound is smoother and more natural. I do have the VTL Compact-100 and Joule VZN-100 for comparison. The Musician III sounds better than the VTL and as good as the VZN. As compared to VZN, the Musician has better bass, faster, more dynamic, and slightly wider soundstage; the VZN is slightly sweeter and three times more expensive. The sonic differences, however, are very small.
I know people with different taste and budget have different requirements; so they have to decide what is best for them. For me, however, the Musician III has come a long way from Digital I and is getting close to the best amps out there.
Spectron has announced the Musician 3 that should be shipping or will be shortly. There should be certain meaningful design changes that go well beyond the cosmetics, although the core analog > digital > analog gain circuits may be the same. That could potentially make the past reviews, this one included, obsolete.
A long coexistence with the Spectron line has taught me that digital amplification is in its early adolescence, somewhere on the learning curve where analog solid state was in the 1980s, in a manner of speaking. The Spectron requires a different approach to putting a system together. Power cords and other choices will not have the same effects that they do with traditioanl solid state. The Spectron relates to sonic information differently. You will have a far more intimate connection with the recording engineer's choices. Consequently, any comforting euphony or tonal padding you have been accustomed to won't be there. Previously disregarded frequency humps or RF contaminations, poorly cleaned contacts or questionable AC from an old receptacle will appear in the sound. After years of trying to figure out the Spectron, I still cannot believe how different recordings sound from one another. I never noticed this with other amplifiers.
Well, I hate to be one of the few to rain on the Spectron "love fest" here, but while the Musician II is certainly a very good amp - especially at this price point, it IS NOT the "giant killer" that many claim (including pro reviewers).
One can immediately see (or rather hear) how this amp quickly captivates a listener. It does indeed have speed, low noise floor, neutrality, etc. That said, after becoming "adjusted" to the character of this amp, (something that I couldn't put my finger on, for a long time)it became obvious that the reproduction lacks the 3-dimensional roundness, and that elusive sense of "realness" that a choice few other high-end amps serve up.
No, I'm not talking euphonic colorations either (regarding *other* amps) again, I'm simpy referring to a sterile, at times "dead" character to the Musician II, that once recognized, becomes hard to ignore.
Also, I had (2) other amps on hand at the time I also owned the Musician II, one a mono-block tube set, the other a hybrid SS stereo amp, rated at 200 watts per ch. and 400 watts per channel, respectively, BOTH of these other amps sounded much "stronger" and more at ease than the Spectron. The Musician II always sounded strained at higher volumes, and seemed ready to split apart at the seams, when called on to deliver complex passages at high volume.
I really wanted to fall in love with this amp, as it would have spared my funds for other areas of my system (or for more software!) but in the end, it just didn't pull together the complete musical package for me.
The other amps I also had on hand for during the 4 months I owned the Spectron, the ASL "Hurricanes" and Parasound JC-1's, simply sounded more "real", "organic", more effortless, and more like the real musical event than the Spectron. The Spectron WAS able to keep pace in the detail dept., allowing you to hear EVERYTHING on the recording, but again, at the expense of ultimately not sounding completely "musical".
Having said all that, I CAN say that if you have only around $2k to shell out for an amp (used), and can only own solid state, the Musician II IS one of the best I've heard, again, IN THIS PRICE RANGE.
Martin Logan Prodigy (current)
(Also had on hand for Musician II - VMPS RM40, Martin Logan ReQuest)
Audio Aero "Capitole 24/192 cd
PS Audio P300 "Power Plant"
Acoustic Zen "Tsunami" ac cords
Analysis Plus Oval 9/Silver Oval spk cable
Analysis Plus "Oval Crystal" intrc.
Shakti "Stones", "On Lines"
Quantum Power "Symphony" (2) & "Symphony Pro" conditioners
B.A.T. P5 tube phono stage
Well Tempered Labs "Classic V" t.t.
Dedicated listening room with dedicated AC lines, various room treatments
have lived with both the Digital 1 and the Musician 2 for years now. It is hard to understand why the Musician 2 hasn't been used as a performance benchmark when "breakthrough" designs like the Halcro receive widespread coverage. The Musician should be a standard reference point when other amplifiers are reviewed.
As listeners, we have longstanding biases about which character makes for a better amplifier, then when we hear an amp with no identifiable character to speak of, we mistakenly believe that something is missing. By contrast, many other designs make a system sound like the speakers are wrapped in a blanket. The best single ended designs will get the microdynamics right, at long last, but have no authority in the macro. Other ones, such as the solid state monstrosities, can be either dull or shrill in the micros while they hurl boulders of sound into the listening area.
The best quality of the Musician 2 is that so far I have not been able to make any distinction when it is doing microdynamics and when it is doing macrodynamics, so you get near perfect dynamic uniformity.