Job225 – A Stepping Stone to Great Sound

Job225

This is not normally the way I would like to write my listening impressions but with the Job225 I felt this was fitting. The Job225 can be considered a solid foundation for people who are serious about traditional 2 channel hifi. It will provide the understanding of what can be achieved by spending more. It isn’t going to take you to the top but it will give you glimpses of what a great system can achieve. If you imagine that while climbing up Mount Everest you come to one of the base camps on the lower slopes showing a great vista, this is the Job225. Some will choose to stop here and be completely content. Others will push forth for glory or death. In hifi terms it will be for greater sound or to lose faith that better exists.

Just as in Architecture and Interior Design the high end of hifi can struggle to show its value. In most cases the average man will see the price tag, shake their head and keep walking on by.

In Australia, and I guess in many other parts of the world, the explosion of renovation TV shows pitting people interested in renovating (either by profession or passion) against each other, gave many people a stepping stone to appreciate what good design can achieve. It showed the value without the cost. Once people got to the stage of understanding the costs involved, generally a commitment had already been made and people go ahead with the full blown vision or a reduced version of the original. By the end the budgets have been smashed and people either love what they have achieved (which should be the end result of any good design) or will be burnt out and biter about the experience. I rarely meet anyone in between.

Hifi can be the same, once we push beyond a point, diminishing returns kick in and the cost of entry gets very steep indeed. We can end up spending far too much for far too little in return.

For most the Job225 won’t ever be considered entry level. So more for the serious music lover than the newbie. Which is a good thing, because you need to know the constraints of this amplifier.

First off unless you purchase the matching preamp the danger of using the incorrect preamp is high. If you have a tube pre, good chance you will strike issues. Tube noise or transformer hum due to the very high gain of the amplifier is one. Two up for the DC leakage of the pre. Due to the lack of safety mechanisms within the Job225 any large amounts of DC from the output of the preamp and speaker oscillation and / or destruction is on the cards. If there was anything I would suggest it would be to have these two issues addressed, however I suspect that there is a sonic reason for both of them. The DC leakage is of major concern for me. As a user it is best for you to get these right before proceeding.

Ok so we’ve got past these issues. So how does the Job225 sound? If I had to say it in one word it would be clean. Two words exceptionally clean.

Driver control is excellent, with excellent dampening factor, control on most speakers isn’t going to be an issue. If you go through the list of everything in the audiophile subjective check list there is a tick against each trait. Fast – Check. Neutral – Check. Clean and Concise – Check. Honest – Check. Controlled – Check. Musical without being too dry – Check.

Job225-2

Great, here is a mind blowing amp that has a great reputation online and many people singing the glories of what Goldmund have achieved with this simple amplifier. A giant killer in the eyes of many. There are enough online reviews of this amplifier for me to not have to repeat everything they have already done and said.

So what’s the point in writing more. Well here is where a point has to be made. Remember at the start I stated that the Job225 is a great stepping stone. Well it is. Because as good as this amplifier is it also opens the door for people to get a glimpse of greater things. This is merely the bass camp remember. If you were to have ownership of this amplifier it should be in its duty to go head to head with any challenger pitted against it. I would say the next step up in greater performance is between $5,000 to $8,000. For solid state think Crayon Audio. For tubes there is Weston Acoustics (sold directly) or Trafomatic Audio amoungst others. The Job225 is $1,699 and to be on the safe side good chance you will need the Job Pre at another $1,699. So we’ve now hit $3,398. The jump to $5,000 isn’t as big as first thought.

Job225-3

Without great risk, there can be no great reward. To venture forth will be fraught with indecision and let downs. To upgrade from here will require you to know what you want. To seek it out with research and speaking with knowledgeable people. For me to go forward required tubes. To push my own personal on buttons requires an air of presence and life that the Job225 just can’t do. Vocals in particular had an air of metallic sheen with the Job. The body of the artist had somehow been removed and didn’t allow me to relax in the way very good tube amps allow. Due to the high gain of the Job I also found that some of the subtle cues in music especially in jazz music couldn’t be heard. For example The Dave Brubeck Quartet 1959 classic Take Five has a section of jolting drums with the combined use of floor tom, snare and kick drum. It is through this section that the subtle change in bass texture and volume is missing in the Job. With my current Trafomatic Kaivalya Tube amps the presence of effort in the kick drum is there. You feel the effort involved in driving the impact of the kick stand against the drum. These small subtleties will be what separate the Job225 from a true reference amplifier. For all I know this is what the higher priced Goldmund amplifiers achieve. Possibly Job themselves will develop something to push to this point. At the end of the day it will come with greater cost. One I’m willing to pay. For others the stepping stones will be just too far apart. The fact remains that the Job225 will be for many, the base camp to greater sound.


Boenicke W8 – A review

Boenicke W8-1

Years ago when I was a single driver (full range driver, wide bander) speaker tragic I had this check list written down of a speaker I would like to hear.  At the time the system I had used 8” single drivers complimented by two powered sub woofers.  It was one of those systems that had plenty of technical faults and yet when music was playing it became a highly addictive, very musical system.  I would never tire of the music and even after an extended listening session I still wanted to listen to just “one more” song.  My wife got pretty sick of just “one more” song when it was hitting the early hours of the morning.  I used to think of it as musical cocaine.  Highly addictive.

That system gave so much insight into music that many things afterwards have been somewhat pale in comparison.  However it wasn’t without fault.  Hence my personal ultimate speaker recipe was written.

Boenicke W8-2

So the recipe would capture the midrange insight that I enjoyed but extend on every other level.  Better integration with the bass.  Proper treble.  No frequency break up.  I wanted a speaker that still had a single driver in the mix.  Even if it meant some sort of first order crossover to make things behave.  A highly refined tweeter and some sort of passive driven bass driver.  It also needed to fit into standard size living areas and homes.  It needed an element of style that wasn’t offensive to the eye and the ability to pass the test of time.

The problem was a lot of this wish list started involving complex crossover networks that unless done exceptionally well killed the music.  It also involved some sort of active module to drive the bass.  I have found that texturally this hasn’t worked terribly well for me.  The kicker for crossovers was what you gained with refinement you lost in musical flow.  I always envision it as the music had become a prisoner withheld.  Sometimes seeing the light of day, held back behind steel bars and fences.  Never knowing what true freedom is.

I ended up spending large sums of money on an active WLM system that took me to great heights but at very high costs.  Not just for the system but also for the required ancillaries.  One preamplifier, three stereo amplifiers, endless metres of cabling.  Space to have such a set up.  It achieved a lot.  It showed me what was achievable and it allowed for me to enjoy music at a very high level.  However  I also lost the simplicity I was looking for.

So back to the idea of a simple (on the outside at least) speaker which captured my early days of single driver speakers was germinating.  However it was germinating in the mind of someone on the other side of the globe.  Someone who had the technical graft to make it a reality.

I became aware of Sven Boenicke many years ago.  I had bought a few of his B:There recordings and kept a close eye on what he was doing.  Here was a man unwilling to compromise on workmanship or style.  Unfortunately it also came at a cost.  What got me really interested was the design he carried out for Orpheus.  A behemoth of a speaker that retails for more than what I dare think about.  The part that caught my eye was the way Sven had designed the two mid speakers to run completely open.  No crossover to interfere.  Allowing the drivers to breathe.  In my eyes this gave me great insight into his thinking as a designer.  A willingness to push the design boundaries.

With the launch of the W8 speaker I noticed very few crossover components involved, that the two mid range drivers were doing something quite unique.  The 4” paper cone has a first order low pass filter, however with no other filter the driver is allowed to run free for the rest of its operating range.  The 3” wide bander has a similar first order high pass filter and likewise is able to run free through its remaining range.  The 6.5” bass driver runs completely crossover-less.  To complete the upper register, a rear facing tweeter with excellent radiation characteristics provides the speaker with exceptional ambiance recovery.  This was the speaker that finally made a lot of sense to me.  If the drivers are chosen very carefully there is a reliance for the natural roll off of the individual drivers to integrate with each other.  This needs very careful driver selection as well as tuning the driver in the speaker cabinet.  If you have a look at the cross section of the W8 these carved out cavities have a critical roll to play.

W8 Internal

So the price was right, the speaker design made sense to me and it had serious designer cred.  These won’t dominate the décor.  My wife and I had the ideal location within our living room for these.  They didn’t make it there.  I had them locked and loaded in my dedicated music room to run them in.  They haven’t moved since.

These little gems have displaced every speaker before them.  A speaker that integrates exceptionally well into my room.  They have given me hope that great musical systems are achievable at reasonable costs.  Not “giant killing” cheap prices but if you’re the average working man and you put your mind and savings into it, they are achievable.

Detour – Solid timber for the household.  Once every year the local council allows home owners the chance to clear out large unused household items.  We put items out on the kerb and a week later whatever is left, after the scavengers, gets picked up to be crushed and made into landfill.  When I walk the local streets during this time I see more heavily processed timber board (MDF and particle board) than possibly anything else.  Never have I seen a solid piece of timber in any of this furniture.  People regard the solid timber as a collectable.  Possibly of heirloom quality.  Something that will last the ages and be handed down to future generations.  George-NakashimaWhen asked about the use of veneered board, the late George Nakashima had the following to say:  A primary decision in the making of wood pieces is the question of solids versus veneers. They both have advantages and disadvantages. Basically, veneers are dimensionally more stable than solids and lend themselves to almost exact bookmatching. A whole room can be veneered with several inches of lumber. Veneers can be cut from the thickness of a thin board to such a thickness that light can pass through the pores of the wood. Solid wood is a challenge. It is continually “alive” and “moves”, depending on weather conditions, moisture content of the air and temperature. Each board of each species is individual and must be understood, the good characteristics exploited. It is not a “dead” object like veneer trussed to a core, which is often not even wood, but particles of wood embedded in plastic.

People are often indoctrinated with the fragility of wood. This is true of veneers where the actual surface is only 1/28 to 1/40 of an inch thick sometimes thinner. Unless they are treated with care, their surface will be destroyed. Because of this fragility, a thick, heavy, “protective” coating, usually polished to an unnatural degree, must be applied. No weathering or improvement with age is possible. If this surface begins to deteriorate, it must be refinished. Good solid wood, with a penetrating oil finish, on the other hand, is a very different material—it is an actual surface, and not merely a protective skin.  The philosophy of solid wood is usage. Naturally, wood can be destroyed, especially if it is pressed beyond what it is meant to do; but in a sense, the harder a piece is used, the better the surface becomes. Furniture should be lived with and not considered something overly precious. 

Nakashima Studio

I’m not sure if Sven Boenicke feels the same way as George Nakashima.  Perhaps it was purely for sonic reasons to build speakers from solid timber.  To talk with Sven I get the impression that it is much more than this.  There is a passion to offer more to the end user.  Something that will last beyond the owners’ lifespan.  For me solid timber, whether it is in the form of a single board or multiple segments such as the W8 offers far greater pride in ownership than what a cheaply sourced MDF board can ever offer. – End of detour.

Boenicke W8-3

By positioning these speakers correctly, (trust me this will take time), the W8 integrates exceptionally well into most living spaces.  Being able to get these speakers to be less than 3dB of deviation (from 25hz to 20khz) in my listening room without any room correction was a very pleasant surprise.  I put this down to the bass driver orientation, the rear facing tweeter and the wooden body of the cabinet.  By choosing the type of amplification you like these speakers can go from highly neutral and accurate to what I consider to be in the vein of a musical instrument.  When I say musical instrument, I’m not meaning a thin-bodied resonate instrument that some solid wood cabinets are made from, but rather a completely open, expansive, musical presentation that allows me to relax completely into.  It is rare for a speaker to allow me to plumb to these depths.  In fact the only time I reach them consistently is when I go to a live performance.  I can only describe it as a trance like state where I become completely enveloped by the music.  The only time I break out of it is at the end of the performance.  My wife thinks I have fallen asleep sometimes but when I come out of it I am completely in tune with the performers.  There are no distractions.

With the right ancillaries these are the type of speakers that provide enough of everything.  Bass may not have the punch in the face effect that hard rock fans would be looking for, however what is there is full of tone, body and communicates all of the subtleties of the musical performance.  The rear facing tweeter allows for a performance where you can focus in on each performer within the soundstage.  To say that the W8 captures the ambiance of the recording would be an understatement.  Each fine brush on a cymbal, the bottle slide on a guitar string.  These are the subtle reminders that no detail is lost but at the same time they aren’t pushed forward into your face to become a hyper detailed, over emphasized feature.  As the tweeter faces backwards there is no beaming to be concerned with.  The midrange is open and transparent in the same vein as the best of what a single driver can offer.  Combined together this is simply a speaker that performs on a level where you can say that no more is required.

These are speakers that will be very dependent on what you feed them.  For tuning purposes Sven uses a very neutral class D amplifier.  For personal enjoyment both Sven and I use high quality at reasonable cost tube amplifiers.  This combination of high quality tubes and such a transparent and yet tone full speaker have brought me to personal contentment that I never expected.  If this is what can be achieved in such a small stature then large boxes will have no requirement in my home.  The days of having a shrine to the over bloated hi-fi gods where speaker cabinets overpower the room both visually and audibly are possibly over.

There are many speaker manufacturers out there.  More than I dare even think about.  Some will push the measured performance of the speaker to the limits of technology.  Yet when I sit and listen on a superficial basis I can say that yes I believe they sound true to the source.  This doesn’t mean that I can actually feel it in the same way as being at the live event.  It is one thing to hear it, it’s a completely different story to feel it.  If you visit the Boenicke website you may read a quote from Sven that reads “Perhaps I have spent more time in concert halls recording live music than most other loudspeaker manufacturers.   Wherever I go, the tone of real instruments is with me.  In my memory, in my body – and I promise you can hear it in our products.”

Maybe in some subconscious way Sven Boenicke goes beyond just hearing the live event.  Maybe he has found a way to replicate the way a live event feels.  The Boenicke W8 not only sound true to the live event, they feel it.

 

W8 Standard 2

 

Technical Specs

Sensitivity: 87 dB / watt / m

Nom. impedance: 4 ohms

  •  6.5″ long throw bass driver, tuned to 28 Hz, running without crossover.
  •  4″ paper cone bass-midrange driver, 1st order low pass filter, no high pass filter, apple tree phase plug, maple wood cone mounted to magnet.
  •  3″ widebander, 1st order high pass filter, unique electromechanical parallel resonator installed.
  •  Internal wiring orientation-optimised silk-wrapped high-frequency stranded litz.
  •  WBT NextGen binding posts.
  •  Rear ambient tweeter with a 1st order filter
  • Cabinet CNC machined from laminated solid timber segmented board.  By using segmented board over single section boards allows for great dimensional stability while still retaining the living attributes of solid wood.

Optional extra Swing Base shown in all photos.  All listening impressions taken with the swing base in place.

Setup and suitable amplifiers.

Please keep in mind the set up guide is applicable to my room only.  This is a guide only.  Physical positioning of these speakers can be a challenge but ultimately very rewarding.  Due to the rear facing tweeter I found having the tweeter directly facing the back wall caused harshness in the treble region.  Most likely caused by a direct reflection off the back wall.  Having enough toe in with the speaker allowed the tweeter to angle towards the side wall and completely alleviated this issue.  To achieve excellent sound stage depth the W8 like to be out from the back wall by one metre as a minimum.  I preferred the bass driver to be facing towards the outside walls.  With the toe in this allowed the bass driver to be angled forwards.  This created excellent in room response.  Tone was spot on, imaging and soundstaging is as good as can ever be achieved and ambient recovery is expansive.

Amplifier types.

My personal preference with these speakers are good quality tube amps.  I highly rate the Trafomatic Kaivalya or EOS.EOS  Weston Acoustics Topaz KT120 and Cary CAD-120S would also be good starting points.  Tone colour and fleshed out vocals come to the fore with tubes.  For fans of solid state look at Crayon Audio, higher powered Bakoon, ME or similar.  High quality Class A will push all of the right buttons.  I didn’t particularly enjoy amplifiers that push the soundstage too far forward or felt in general that things were being pushed too hard.  I suspect that due to the very high gain the Job225 didn’t allow for the subtle nuances that the Boenicke W8 is capable of producing.  High quality with refined taste will reward you long after you forget about the wallet pain.


Bakoon AMP-11R

I would like to mention this from the start.  I don’t officially review products as these are items that I sell.  Therefore this is more about me providing my impressions of a product.  Of course I am biased and it would be foolish of me to claim otherwise.  However I would also like to highlight that if it didn’t pass what I consider to be very strict requirements I wouldn’t be selling it in the first place.  If you have any questions about this Bakoon Amplifier we would love to hear from you.  So sit back, read and I hope you enjoy what I have written.

Sometimes an audio product comes along that changes the way you think about music so deeply that it asks a lot of questions about the shear fabric that music is constructed from.

One of these products were the WLM Gran Viola MKIII.  In my conclusion of listening notes for the Gran Violas I had written “At the end of the day, speakers and the associated electronics are electro-mechanical devices that we use to reproduce sound in the comfort of our home.  It is simply too much to expect them to sound exactly like the live event.  Afterall our room has too much influence, however I can’t help but find the GV MKIII to go beyond the simple origins that the components suggest and take me into a world where they are breaking the logical side of my thinking.  It has occurred to me to think of this in the same way a Zen student contemplates the origin of their being.  These are answers that can not be given out or written down but merely experienced.  I think I have to settle on the fact that the GV MKIII have dug up more questions about music, love, life and my own very emotional being than they do in providing answers.”

The Bakoon AMP-11R has now entered this rarefied realm.  From the first touch you enter a paradox that the Bakoon and the Gran Violas share but for different reasons.

For the Bakoon it begins with the cold steel exterior when you unpack the amplifier.  The included isolation rack to house the unit is manufactured from machined aluminium plates that has been bead blasted and very well anodized to a dark grey colour.  The casing of the amplifier and power supply is also machined from a solid block of aluminium and bead blast however you have the choice of a natural aluminium finish or a black anodized finish.  For its compact size it certainly has some heft about it that will catch you off guard.  From this mere presentation you start to paint a picture in your mind about how this amplifier is going to sound.  Cold, hard, steely and lacking in human emotion perhaps?

The industrial designer of this amplifier appears to have taken notes from Apple and kept the exterior minimalist to the core.  However what I found out when I discussed this with Soo In Chae from Bakoon was in fact quite surprising.  Bakoon had designed this shape back in 2009 before the Apple Mac Mini was released.  While finalising the design the Mac Mini came out with a difference in width and depth of just one millimeter.  It just goes to show that good design is all about getting proportions right.  Without any known external influence Soo In had chosen a size ratio that was simple and elegant and timeless.  It appears that the designers at Apple had the same idea at the same time separated by 10,000 kilometers.

From the minimalist design they have used subtle finish choices that catch you by surprise.  Both the rack and the amplifier itself has been glass bead blast so to touch, it is slightly courser than I first expected.  You certainly can’t run your hand over it like a highly polished finish would allow.  I can understand how people will question the finish at first however over time I have come to realise that it allows the product to be understated and content.  It isn’t trying to be something it isn’t.  There is nothing I dislike more than showy, over the top finishes on hifi equipment.  So from this exterior you get the chance to switch on the Bakoon with the small polished toggle on the left hand side.

After a couple of minutes of warm up it is time to turn up the volume through the unique horizontal volume wheel.  From the first notes I could tell there was something very special going on.  Not for cheap audiophile tricks or brash look at me sonics but for the complete top to bottom balance and shear transparency that begins to emerge.  The designer of the Bakoon circuit – Akira Nagai has somehow found a way to produce a piece of electronics where by he hasn’t fallen into the trap of pushing his own ego or agenda on how something should sound.  In fact one of the early disconcerting things is that the Bakoon AMP-11R seems to have no particular sonic signature that it could call its own.  How do you possibly describe the sound of nothing?

So the paradox that presents itself is that the cold steel exterior has very little in common with the sound of the amplifier.  It doesn’t sound cold or clinical, it is wonderfully refreshing, like a clear, pure mountain stream where the water is simply that.  It doesn’t try to be something it isn’t.

What it does achieve is exceptionally unique.  There is an illumination to the complete spectrum of sound that allows me to see the whole sound scape.  Every detail, every nuance can be heard.  But only if you zoom in and want to hear them.  It isn’t pronounced or over blown.  It is simply that everything that has been recorded is reproduced in the comfort of your home.  It especially makes itself apparent at low volumes when you expect to lose details due to the noise floor of the amplifier.  However with such an incredibly low noise amplifier the background in as black as a moonless night.  The silence between the notes now carries greater impact and anticipation.  This is a sound that is both impacting / exciting and relaxed / neutral / natural.

Most amplifiers I have experienced in the past, and especially tube amplifiers that I have most experience with, tend to spay the music out from the speakers.  It can be exciting and thrilling and allows the listener to sit back, relax and enjoy the performance without any effort.  The Bakoon AMP-11R has a more subtle hand to play.  It entices you in, it asks you to move forward and meet it in the performance.  So you gently push forward within your mind and the performance becomes deeper, voices hold greater impact and everything becomes very emotionally involving.  The sound stage has great depth, body and shape are of the correct proportion and imaging is exceptional.  Combined with the WLM Gran Violas performers are three dimensional and convincing.  By making a very subtle shift in effort to take a step into the performance, I am experiencing music in a more focused and enjoyable way.  It doesn’t just sound accurate and true, it allows me to feel the way I do when I experience live music.

As an outsider of Japanese and Korean culture, however having studied Zen Buddhism for the last ten years, I have come to recognize the discipline and respect that has been deeply ingrained into their traditional way of life.  I think the Bakoon shows this same respect and discipline.  Discipline by playing music so clean, so pure, so completely transparent.  Respect by putting the music first.  Not getting in the way or trying to show some sort of sound signature ideal that sounds great at times but wears on you over time to the point you move on.  It strikes me as an outstanding achievement that a circuit designer gets to the point where he has the clarity to not only produce a circuit that is very unique but to then develop it over the span of two decades without getting his ego involved with the sound signature.

And this is when it strikes me that the logo for Bakoon “For ears and years” can be interpreted in a different way.  Yes the build quality is exceptionally good so I can see it lasting a very long time.  However I also see it that this little amplifier built by some humble gentleman (circuit designer Akira Nagai but also the very humble Soo In Chae involved with production, development and sales) is a long term keeper.  It provides a sound that I never tire from.  Every recording has it’s own personality. If you want something different don’t change amplifiers, change albums.

This is the first solid state amplifier and one of very very few amplifiers ever to strike the ideal balance between transparency, timing, speed and emotional connection.  An amazing balance set just right.  Well done to the team at Bakoon, you have set a new reference for the future.


WLM Diva – Two Models, Two Perspectives

For our article about the WLM Diva’s, I asked our Melbourne representative to share his thoughts on the WLM Diva Monitors and I would then add my input about the WLM Diva Floorstanders. There are only a couple of reviews in English about these great speakers so we really wanted to share our thoughts on what we think is a very under appreciated speaker. Read the rest of this entry »


The Trafomatic Aries

It started innocently enough… there I was reading the review by 6moons about the new Trafomatic Audio Kaivalya tube amps when Srajan wrote that people should really talk to amp designers to build something specifically for them. Well that idea wouldn’t leave me alone. Read the rest of this entry »


The Principles of WLM La Scalas

Sometimes a product comes along and positions itself as a no compromise solution between solid engineering principles, old world craftsmanship and a balance on the right end of the money scales. This is what the WLM La Scala’shave presented themselves to be for me. Read the rest of this entry »


Trafomatic Experience Two, 300B Integrated Amplifier

Ah… the 300B tube. Most revered by tube loving audiophiles where the use of words such as magical and mesmerising get thrown around so often you wonder if this type of amp is some sort of be all and end all in the holy grail of audio amplifiers for those seeking the magic touch of liveliness in their music. Read the rest of this entry »


Harry Manx Live

I thought I would share something different in this blog entry.  In fact, in a lot of ways this is the part I have been looking forward to putting together the most.  Read the rest of this entry »