Testimonial By Daniel (Hong Kong)
Instead of dropping you a note expressing how happy I am after buying your gears, I would like to give you details of how I acquire your products one after the other. I wish this can express my appreciation of your gears and to share my experience on system tuning after introducing Clones Audio amps.
I must emphasize that there is no voodoo or black magic in HiFi world. Everything is system and listener dependent! So, please read it with a grain of salt^_^
I’ve been using Wavac tube gears driving Tannoy Speakers for quite some years. This combo has served me very well after I’ve spent months to tame down the overwhelming playback. This is common when high power output gears meet speakers with over 90dB efficiency.
My Clones Audio journey started about half year ago, when one of my vintage RCA 805 power tube blew. As the original tube coming with the power amp was quite poor, comparatively, I literally don’t want to play music without acquiring another pair of vintage power tubes. Hours of eBay search led me nowhere, or to questionable sellers asking for crazy money! Wondering around the second hand market webpage of a local hifi forum, I found a pair of Clones Audio 55pm at reasonable price. I told myself, “why not give it a try, in case it can’t drive my Tannoy well, I can still use it for my ever developing bedroom system.” I gave myself another audiophile excuse that “it’s so small and cute; my wife will not notice its existence in the bedroom anyway.” ^_^
Enter the 55pm a few days later, being delivered by its owner. We had a short session sharing vinyl music while test driving the 55pm. We both have heard great potential on mating Clones Audio gears with Tannoy. Of course, the 55pm stayed, and its ex-owner was hooked by vinyl magic ever since!
AP1 & 55pm
We audiophile can always think of excuses to buy more HiFi stuffs, right?
Having the 55pm mated with my Wavac pre-amp for a few days, I reckoned the dilemma of impedance mismatch. I can only turn up the volume a few clicks for a reasonably loud music playback. High hissing noise was given, when I dial up the volume beyond 10 O’clock, even without signal input!
Coincidentally, local Clones Audio dealer Hercules was letting go the remaining stock of Clones Audio first pre-amp AP1 at irresistible price due to releasing of the new model, AP2. Without a second thought, I grab an AP1 home a week later.
Well, for sure they matched well. What a musical combo, which has given me months of stress free music joy. I don’t want to fool you by saying that “this is it, this is the system I can enjoy for my entire life!” Contrarily, I’ve found a number of limitations on this combo in my system.
To my ear, the music playback was quite balanced and musical, yet leaning a bit dark sounding. It can play solo, chamber, jazz and vocal music, or ensemble music very well, while shortfall shown for particular music gender. I think the analytical power of AP1 was way below my Wavac flagship preamp, since it was a little bit messy at certain complex large scale orchestral music playback at high volume. Frankly, I’ve been spoiled by Wavac preamp for years already. Not so many HiFi gears can easily satisfy my discriminated ears.
A second thought made me leaving the AP1 with my main system for months. It has no more impedance mismatching issue, yet, it was also a stress free playback which I don’t need to worry about tube life and potential danger of high voltage gears; especially I’ve a kid running around the dual function living / music room. By the way, my music liking tends toward chamber music and classic jazz which the Clones Audio can serve me very well. Okay, maybe I’ve been using tube gears for so long, audiophile bug signaled me to have some change now^_^
During this period, I found Clones Audio gears sensitive to cables. So, I had a lot of cable tweaking fun with all my cables in hand, until settled to my long idled spool of 47 Lab interconnect cables. In my cable stock, 47 Lab has elevated this already musical system to even higher musical level. However, 47 Lab cable working with AP1 didn’t do well on controlling the low frequency rendition. I also think that the system shall be spiced up a bit toward HiFish to my liking; i.e. HiFi elements such as, 3D imaging, large sound staging and airy playback can have more emphasis.
I always call myself a lazy music lover, instead of an audiophile. So, I stopped tweaking anything and couch potato myself to enjoy this musical system for many months.
Enter the AP2
It’s always fun to share music with HiFi buddies; yet, sometimes, it’s wallet unfriendly after such sharing session. You audiophiles know what I mean^_^
A few weeks ago, a HiFi buddy, who had listened to my Wavac system for a few times, wanted to check out the Clones Audio and my other turntable updates after our HiFi bluffing over Whatsapp. A few audiophile friends joined him for hours of music and HiFi fun at my place, while my wife had her own ladies’ gathering.
They all liked the cute little black boxes and amazed of their musical playback with my Tannoy. One frank feedback, after all those polite praising, was the bass sounded a little bit slow. Despite I deliberately didn’t play complex orchestral pieces at the time, they noticed the bass control issue. What golden ears they have, which I need days to realize!
After the session, I kept thinking on ways to tweak the system to surprise this bunch next time^_^
This led me to seek Hercules, Clones Audio local dealer, advices some time later, as I remember he once said AP1 was designed for their old mono blocks, while AP2 was designed to match with 55pm, the updated mono blocks which is the pair serving me currently.
Having discussed this matter with Hercules again I believe the AP2 could be a solution to my target tonal tweak. Let’s refresh that I was looking for better low frequency control and to spice things up to more HiFish. “Okay, it’s inexpensive anyway and it is also very small and cute…….” Long missing audiophile excuses (oh, is really long missing?) surfaced again in my mind made me bite the bullet within seconds^_^
A few days later, a brand new AP2, handmade by Funjoe, was up and running pushing my Tannoy. Riding with this momentum, I fabricated two more pairs of 47 Lab interconnect cables out of the remaining spool, making all gears connecting with this fabulous cable. I used iPad to run-in the system 24/7 for a week and the outcome was promising^_^
In short, despite I have an AP1 idling there, acquiring the AP2 was money well spent!
Oh yes, it grabbed the low frequency much better than the AP1. It gave better 3D images and higher transparency on music playback. In other word, it’s more airy and less dark sounding. It even came with a remote control! I also have no problem playback complex and large scale orchestral music now.
Can you audiophiles believe that an additional remote control can enhance a gear instead of deteriorating it? It sounds nonsensical in audiophile terms, but it is the result based on my own experience.
How About the Wavac?
Well, I’m sure I won’t let go my Wavac preamp in the near future but the Clones Audio combo is so musical and tonally balanced to my liking, so that I will settle with this combo for a stress free musical enjoyment for now. I’m just a lazy music lover after all^_^
How does it compare to the Wavac? I did a brief A/B test on the preamps and the result was cruel! Regardless of the impedance mismatching, my Wavac flagship preamp KO the Clones Audio in all aspects, except they were par on musicality. Yes, Wavac gave me sharper images, bigger soundstage, airier atmosphere and more micro-dynamic with better low frequency grip. In other word, while Wavac is highly musical, it gives you more HiFi elements with higher definition.
On the other hand, the Clones Audio AP2 has no lacking on musicality while having less intensity on HiFi elements. Can AP2 give you good 3D image? Yes, it can. Can AP2 give you big soundstage? Sure, it gives reasonably big soundstage. Can AP2 give you good micro-dynamic? Yes, no problem at all. Can it control the bass well? Of course, you bet.
Having said the above, Wavac is better, but performance of AP2 is well beyond its price tag when working with Tannoy. Most importantly AP2 has no lacking on musicality, which many clinical sounding overpriced HiFi gears lack of. I must emphasize that musicality is the essence of music playback. Sorry, if you don’t get me, you are simply a gears slave and not an audiophile!
By the way, I have forgotten to mention that the secondhand price of my Wavac T1 preamp is over 10 times the price tag of a brand new AP2!
Based on my experience on Clones Audio with Tannoy, IMHO they have synergy. Since most Tannoy speakers have reasonably high efficiency, as an ex-Canterbury (Prestige series, Tannoy) user, I do think Clones Audio will work even better with the Prestige series. All the rests are simply mix and match to your liking.
I’ve kept on thinking about how to squeeze the remaining juice out of my system recently. Each speaker of my Tannoy Kingdom 15 comes with a 15” woofer, a 12” concentric driver and a super-tweeter. Seems like the 55pm has a lot of workout to do, Hmm!
For this particular topic, I’ve talked to Hercules to learn the potential of bi-amping the AP2 in order to ease the workload of 55pm for an even more effortless playback. Apparently, AP2 cannot accommodate an additional pair of output for bi-amping or sub-woofer! However, Hercules has directed me to get a pair of cheapo RCA splitter for the sake of HiFi fun. I bought a pair of the splitter at HK$7 each and I will ask Hercules to loan his 55pm for a home trial later on, simply to verify whether bi-amping can benefit my system or not. Oh boys, I’m having high hope on this.
If it works out fine, I may acquire another pair of 55pm. “Okay, it’s inexpensive anyway and it is very small and cute, and I can also stick it into the corner so that no one will notice it…..” same ole audiophile excuses surfaced in my mind again. I have also day dreamt of fabricating a special pair of 47 Lab splitter cables to replace the cheapo splitter, if everything goes well^_^
One other thing worth to try is the Blackcat cables both Funjoe and Hercules have recommended. Since, 47 Lab interconnect cable has no shielding which is susceptible to interference. I’m now working on a minor hum hunting exercise. But, checking out the Blackcat cables will be last part of my system fine tuning; since changing all my cheapo cables to Blackcat will cost about the price of another pair of 55pm, me think!