Letter of the Week – The Nutcracker and the Benefits of Big Speakers

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

I’ll have a couple of returns for you from recent orders:

Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker (Complete Ballet) / Ansermet (CS 6069)
Surprised to be returning this, but it just doesn’t do much on my system. Sounds like any old good discogs copy, not WHS for me. Cost wouldn’t have been a factor here for a copy that ’sang’ more.

He then bought some new, bigger speakers, because if you are going to play a work like The Nutcracker, you need big speakers!

  Hey Tom,   

The good news is with my new speakers + amp setup, the Nutcracker set I’d previously asked to return is sounding incredible. Previously it sounded little different to your average discogs copy, but I can hear now how much body I was missing with the smaller Harbeths. The drums are slammin’, the sweet treble notes are dropping like luminous honey, the field is deep and rich. My only beef is that this performance is a bit ‘fast’, in terms of tempo, but this is by-design. So, will hang on to this (which leaves $500 in your pocket).




We are glad to hear of your progress in audio. I’m guessing that a lot more of our records will meet with your approval now, and that most of your Heavy Vinyl pressings will sound even worse than before, or at least they will sound more second-rate than before, which is kind of the same thing.

We discuss the idea of Big Speakers in this boilerplate commentary all over the site:

Let’s face it, this is a BIG SPEAKER record. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at fairly loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It’s the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Stereo Systems driving Big Dynamic Speakers for as long as I can remember. You need a lot of piston area to bring this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so and I have never looked back.)

To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me. (more…)

Unsolicited Audio Advice – Small Speakers and Some Audio Lessons I Learned Over the Last 40+ Years

Do not believe a word you hear in this video. You probably shouldn’t even watch it.

Small speakers are incapable of providing lifelike musical reproduction in the home.

You will never feel you are in the presence of live musicians with a system like this. Real acoustic instruments move lots of air, that’s why we can hear them all the way at the back of the concert hall. Little speakers, unlike big speakers, do a very poor job of moving air. Screen speakers are not quite as bad as small speakers like the ones you see above, but they suffer from the same limitation: they can’t move much air.

I’ve never had speakers this small (or screens), but I’ve heard many systems with little speakers on stands, with and without subs, and all of them without exception left a great deal to be desired. When I find myself in a room with such systems I listen for a few moments for curiosity’s sake more than anything else just to hear what they might be doing better or worse, and then I get the hell out before I become to irritated.

If you get talked into buying a system like this — novice audiophiles constantly get talked into buying bad stereo systems in every audio salon in the world — you will have a hard time getting very far in audio, and will probably just end up stuck at this unacceptably low level. So don’t do it!

This system may represent a floor, a good entry point for the budding enthusiast, but it is also a ceiling in the sense that it will keep you from making any real progress in the hobby. Which would be a shame. I have dedicated more than 45 years of my life to audio and have no intention of abandoning it. On the contrary, I get better at it all the time.

Can you imagine hooking up a turntable to these little boxes? Why bother? Everything that’s good about analog would be inaudible on this system, and that right there is all the reason you should not go this route.

And to show you how clueless this set-up is, the two towers of record shelving behind and to the outside of the speakers are in the worst possible place you could ever put them. Nothing should go there (unless you have Hallographs). Keep the rear corners behind the speakers mostly empty unless you know what you are doing. This guy clearly does not.

Some of my old audio history:

I was duped into buying my first real audiophile speaker, Infinity Monitors, when the clever salesman played Sheffield’s S9 through them. I bought them on the spot. It was only later when I got home that none of my other records sounded as good, or even good for that matter. That was my first exposure to a Direct to Disc recording. To this day I can still picture the room the Infinity’s were playing in; it really was a watershed moment in my audiophile life.

And of course I couldn’t wait to get rid of them once I heard them in my own system with my own records. I quickly traded them in for a pair of RTR 280DR’s. Now that was a great speaker! 15 panel RTR Electrostatic unit for the highs; lots of woofers and mids and even a piezo tweeter for the rest. More than 5 feet tall and well over 100 pounds each, that speaker ROCKED. (more…)

The Four Seasons – Tubes Versus Transistors


In 2007 we did a shootout for this album and noted the following:

For those with better tube gear, the string tone on this record is sublime, with that rosin-on-the-bow quality that tubes seem to bring out in a way virtually nothing else can, at least in my experience.

Our experience since 2007 has changed our view concerning the magical power of tubes relative to transistors to bring out the rosiny texture of bowed stringed instruments. We have in fact changed our minds completely with respect to that common belief.

Our transistor equipment — and by ours we mean the mysterious low-powered ’70s integrated amp we use, mated with the EAR 324P phono, making no claims whatsoever for any other transistor equipment of any kind — is dramatically faster, more transparent, dynamic and resolving than any tube equipment we have ever heard.

The Truth As We See It

It is, simply put, much more TRUTHFUL.

It is precisely this quality that is hardest to find in all of audio. It is also the one quality of our system that, more than any other, allows us to do our job accurately and efficiently.

Our equipment lets us hear the sound of the record being played, uncolored and unadorned. It also has the added benefit of sounding to us more like live music.  (more…)

In the Market for New Speakers? – Will They Handle the Size and Energy of Take It Easy?


Take one of our killer Hot Stamper pressings with you when you go shopping for speakers. The speaker that gets the POWER and ENERGY of this music right is the one you want. This record will separate the men from the boys thirty seconds into Take It Easy. It will be obvious who’s got the piston power and who doesn’t.  

With big bass and huge scope, this may become your favorite disc for showing your friends just what analog is really capable of.

When the big chorus comes in on Take It Easy — one of the toughest tests for side one — you will be amazed by how energetic and downright GLORIOUS these boys can sound. Believe us when we tell you, it’s the rare copy that can pass that test. (more…)