Vintage Receiver Upgrade – Norwegian Wood

It’s an exciting day at Innerspace Labs! Our latest vintage amplifier upgrade provides clean and detailed sound and gorgeously complements our Denon DP-60L turntable as both units feature a rich rosewood finish, further mirrored by the liquid wood ear cups of our AudioQuest Nighthawk closed-back circumaural headphones and our pending order of ORA GrapheneQ wood ear cupped cans presently forecast for delivery later this year from Kickstarter.

Long-time readers may recall that our first receiver upgrade took place in 2009 when our beloved and trusty Yamaha CR-840 (1979-1981) Natural Sound Receiver was replaced with a McIntosh 4280.

Here is the Yamaha –

Yamaha CR-840 and Denon DP-60L Rosewood Turntable 04-09-19.JPG

And the MAC 4280 –

McIntosh MAC 4280 Front lg.jpg

Sadly, the amp had some issues and after 3 years of service attempts at McIntosh Labs headquarters it was declared dead.

In 2012 I was generously gifted a replacement MAC – a MAC C39 pre-amplifier paired with an Integra adm2.1 power amplifier. They made my Focal 814v Chorus series floor speakers sing beautifully.

McIntosh C39 Pre-Amplifier.JPG

Integra ADM2.1 Power Amp.jpg

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Eventually, that MAC was retired as well, and I returned to my beloved Yamaha which, with only a single transistor replacement around 2006 and a Deoxit cleaning in 2019, it has served me faithfully for nearly two decades, and has been kicking since it was built 38 years ago in 1981.

But Sunday evening it occurred to me that I had one more component I’d never tried with my system. This is the Tandberg TR-2060, manufactured in Norway, which debuted in late 1977 and was introduced to US markets until about 1981. It originally retailed for $700 in 1977 ($2,919.85 in today’s dollars.) Though fairly scarce, they are available on the used market at an affordable price and perform impressively well. I found it for a few dollars at a junk sale several years ago.

Tandberg TR 2060 Vintage Receiver 04-07-19 01.JPG

The amp has two sets of speaker outputs with a power output of 60 watts per channel into 8Ω (stereo). The only snag is that the inputs are DIN connectors. Thankfully, I remembered precisely where I’d stored a pair of DIN-to-RCA conversion cables which I’d ordered years back when I originally acquired the receiver.

Tandberg TR 2060 Vintage Receiver 04-07-19 05.JPG

I polished and connected it and was really pleased with its powerful sound. The classic Yamaha Natural Sound receivers of the same vintage are far more neutral, and there is really something to be said for the stunning rosewood cabinet of the Tandberg matching the finish of my Denon. (I am an unabashed fanatic for rosewood.)

Tandberg TR 2060 Vintage Receiver 04-07-19 10.JPG

It’s always a thrill to incorporate new vintage gear into my setup, and I’ll be curious to see what I think of the punchier, bolder sound this amp provides over the more transparent signature of the Yamaha, and to test various favorite recordings with both the speaker and headphone outputs. It will be a fun project for the spring!

Sports Headphones – A Diamond in the Rough

My latest entry prompted several headphone recommendation requests, and the first was resolved with great success so I will share it here for anyone interested in the same market.

A friend was interested in activewear headphones for use while exercising at the gym. Bluetooth was a key feature as they wished to pair the cans wirelessly with their iPod Touch. Her budget was $200. She wanted an on-ear style as IEMs inevitably fall out of her smaller-than-average ears.

I related to her my experience with Sennheiser behind-the-neck style on ear headphones and did some research to see what was available in Bluetooth in that format.

Sport behind the neck on-ear wireless headphones with Bluetooth technology is an incredibly tiny, tiny niche market. As such there is very little in the way of articles or features showcasing the best models. Matters are further complicated by the fact that behind-the-neck Bluetooth cans are not listed among all the other headphones on Amazon but instead are tucked away quietly under cell phone accessories.

But exploring that small category quickly revealed that there are very, very few models available with the behind-the-neck on-ear build and that most of those which qualify have only a handful of customer reviews on Amazon. The average cell phone accessory headphones are IEMs and have only 1-300 reviews, which did not instill any degree of confidence as to their quality.

Surprisingly, there was one single product which is the diamond in the rough of this otherwise quiet market. The Kinivo BTH240 headphones have a 4-star average review from over 5,100 buyers who each sing its praises in great detail. The 240 series was apparently a significant improvement over the previous Kinivo model in several categories, including improved battery life, a sleeker new design, increased number of pairings, and an added micro USB charging port.

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The model is incredibly lightweight at only 73g, is foldable, and comes with a velveteen storage pouch. It works with the iPod Touch and a variety of other devices, and the battery is good for ten hours of active use. Users with smaller than average heads and ears expressed that they wear them with incredible comfort and that after 45 minutes of intense running the headphones hadn’t budged an inch. They are also incredibly resistant to sweat and are fantastically durable.

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And the price? The MSRP is $49.99 but Amazon offers the BTH240s in a variety of colors for only $24.99. My only gripe with these headphones was not the product itself but that, curiously, all colors were priced the same except for pink, (the color my friend was excited to find), which was not 24.99, nor the MSRP of $49.99, but THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS. eBay reflected the same price, and the only two sellers Google returned with a lower price were red-flagged by uBlock Origin as being less than trustworthy merchants. The fact that “lady tax” is still an issue in 2017 is appalling, but my friend will settle for the standard black model.

So if any of you are interested in a quality Bluetooth sport headphone, give these a try.

Published in: on January 7, 2017 at 2:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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New Year – New Gear

My favorite headphones for the past 5 years have been the Sennheiser HD-380 Pro series. I thoroughly tested them against the ATH-M50 (their closest competitor) and preferred the Sennheiser model in every category of comparison from comfort, design aesthetic, durability, transparency of audio signature, and portability. (The HD-380 Pros ship with a wonderful semi-hard shell travel case.) You can check out my original comparative review from 2011 here.

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After 5 years, I’ve replaced the earpads once, but the replacements are third-party aftermarkets and have already separated from the frame after only a few months. I’m considering investing in a new pair and am exploring alternative models.

In April of last year, I picked up a pair of AudioQuest Nighthawks – the company’s flagship headphone. Aesthetically they are absolutely brilliant and precisely the style I’m after. They wed both vintage and contemporary design with their liquid wood finish, biometric diamond-cubic butterfly latticework grills, and retro-style dual headband. (Check out my featured images and more design details from this entry to Innerspace.) But of course, what matters most with headphones is their sound signature, and I quickly found that while the Nighthawks deliver a punchy and powerful sound for live and rock recordings, that they were somewhat lackluster in their delivery of classical, ambient, and electroacoustic works.

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The features I most desire in a headphone are supraaural closed-back leather earcups, detachable cables, passive noise cancellation, and studio-style sound signatures which focus on transparency rather than colorization. These will primarily be used in my listening room and in bed, which are both low ambient noise environments. Comfort is another key factor as I do not want fatigue to distract from first-listens to subtle and nuanced recordings like ambient, space, and drone works. I’m eyeing the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 cabled headphones as a potential upgrade.

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But before I jump into a new pair, I’m going to hold off until I pick up the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red USB DAC. Universally acclaimed as the finest portable DAC at its price point, the device has been sold out from all licensed distributors twice since November of 2016, so I am just awaiting the next replenishment. I am hopeful that the Dragonfly Red will correct the somewhat disappointing (but fully understandable) performance of my Android cell phone, Chromebook, and my desktop in playback of FLAC and 320CBR audio from my server.

Stay tuned!

AudioQuest Nighthawks

Today I took the next step in audiophilia and invested in a pair of AudioQuest’s flagship headphones – 2015 CES Best of Innovation Winner – The NightHawk.

Jude, an admin from Head-Fi.org offered some exciting details about the NightHawk when they premiered at the end of 2014:

The grills are 3D-printed using a process called selective laser sintering, and its biometric design mimicks the latticework in a butterfly’s wing. It’s designed to diffuse sound and to help defeat resonances.

The cups have substantial internal bracing, and have their interior surfaces coated with an elastomeric coating.

The driver uses a high-excursion 50mm biocellulose diaphragm – far superior to the Mylar diaphragms most drivers use. Compliant rubber surrounds improve the drivers’ pistonic behavior. The NightHawk driver’s magnet is very strong, rated at 1.2 tesla.

The earcup suspension mount system uses ultra-high-grade silicone bands that let them articulate with a lot of freedom, but while still providing nice tension and control. These are VERY comfortable to wear.

With the shock-mount-type suspension, the circular yokes, the Liquid Wood earcups, and the rod-type headband, the NightHawk looks somehow concurrently modern and vintage…

A perfect fit for yours truly!

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Published in: on April 7, 2016 at 9:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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