Over the years I've run across the JoLida gear in one form or fashion on more occasions than I can count. Mike Allen, chief cook and bottle washer of JoLida, has always had a reputation of making affordable, decent sounding gear. As you troll through some of the online forums and look at some of the participants systems, quite a few guys out there are using Mike's gear.
It's kinda funny actually, when you talk to Mike, he doesn't buy into this whole high resolution two channel silliness that is currently going on. To a certain extent, I stand right beside him. Too many systems have become overly analytical. With this analytical sound comes a few different anomalies.
First, the sound has become very forward. Forward to the point that I can find it almost offensive to listen to at times. It seems that everybody out there is making 'front row' speakers. These things dig so deep into the recording and extract every bug fart in the background that they can make the recording a distraction rather than an enjoyable experience. While this is all well and good for some people, I personally find these type speakers very fatiguing. CD's make things even worse on these type systems. The harsh(er), forward nature of CD's when compared to vinyl makes me typically want to get up and walk out of the room where the music is being played.
Second and probably worst of all, the music has lost it's involvement (at least for me). These type systems seem to do best (for me) when played at low volumes. Trouble is, I like my music loud. I'd say I listen at between 95dB to 105dB on a regular basis. On these forward sounding systems I find myself reaching for the volume knob on a regular basis to turn it down and give my ears a break. I just can't handle any sustained listening at high volumes on an overly forward system.
For me, it's all about balance. Anymore, I tend to gravitate to systems that have a little more relaxed sound. Speakers (or systems) that put you somewhere near mid-hall or further back in the venue. That's where I usually buy my tickets when my lovely wife and I go to a live event. Don't get me wrong, I had my days where I was right down on top of the stage, and I loved it. I guess the sound I like most now comes with the tolerance of age. Maybe that's a misstatement to a certain extent. I wouldn't call it tolerance as much as it is intolerance of the other presentations. See, when you listen to as much music as I do reviewing gear, these forward sounding systems wear on you after a while.
This (slightly twisted) philosophy begs the next question, why do all of these manufacturers keep building this forward sounding gear? The answer is pretty simple actually, you guys keep buying it. Is that wrong on this or any plane of existence? ….. Nope, not at all. What ever floats your boat is best for you. If you like a forward sounding system, by all means, enjoy the heck out of it. Just know that at some time down the road, you may just feel the same way I do. You may just start searching for something a bit more relaxed sounding.
Lord knows that's exactly where I'm at right now. SET's, vinyl and Lowthers rule the roost in the 'ole Joe Audiophile kingdom. When it comes to high power stuff, the speakers I use have a crossover point at 4kHz (Odyssey Audio Epiphany's). If that doesn't add some warmth to a system, nothing will. They still have plenty of definition but this high crossover point lets me play harsher music (i.e. CD's and in yer face rock & roll) at really high SPL's without the premature onset of listener fatigue.
Somehow, all this brings me back to Mike's Jolida gear. Every time I've sat and listened to Mikes gear I've always thought (mainly) to myself, 'I really like the sound of this stuff'. It's always reminded me of the tube gear of yore that I grew up with. It always had that 'classic tube sound' of sorts. Slightly soft and euphonic. Not to say that it is rolled off because it isn't. In fact, Mikes transformer design and extended bandwidth are often envied across the industry. Mikes gear just isn't as forward sounding as all of the highly detailed gear that we see in today's market.
There's good reason for that too. Mike designs it that way... specifically. No engineering accidents here. Mike likes to use Celine Dion (one of his wife's fav's) as a good case in point. If you've ever tried to listen to one of her CD's on a 'high definition system', it can become almost unlistenable. Between overly bright recordings, compression and limiting, forward sounding speakers and exacting gear, CD's like hers make you want to get up and watch a movie.
Mikes answer to all of this 'detailed' gear is to produce an amp that tames many of these harsh recordings and forward sounding gear. Is there anything wrong with this approach? Not last time I checked with the Audio Police (Hi Art!).
So, not long ago I called Mike and asked him if he wanted to send me a piece or two. I ended up settling on the JD1000 and the JD300b. The JD300b will end up being a stand-alone review in the coming months. The JD1000 is the highest powered EL34 amp that Mike manufacturers. Here is a quick summary of his specifications:
Maximum Output Power: 150wpc at 8 ohms, 1KHz
The JD1000 has four selectable inputs. Sorry no phono stage on this unit. As expected, the RCA inputs are of the gold plated variety. The speaker binding posts are the usual bulked up, gold plated, five way jobbies.
As you can see from the picture, there is a volume knob on the front of the unit. Don't be misled by that picture, this unit is not a true integrated. What this volume knob does is attenuate the incoming signal. This allows you to directly connect a source to the amplifier. Not a bad option for those who either a) don't have room for a separate preamp b) don't want to spend the extra money for a preamp c) don't want the coloration often associated with a preamp. Oh, the pot for the gain control is an Alps.
I've spent a fair amount of time with units that sound somewhat similar to Mikes JD1000 and I have to say that I rather enjoy them. Units like this have the ability to make you forget about cables, interconnects and the latest carpet-bagger selling snake oil and fairy dust. Gear like this lets you finally enjoy your music collection. All of it, the good the bad and the ugly. Well, most of the ugly anyway. Mike likens the sound of his amp(s) to a fine paint job on an old house. The new paint covers up a multitude of sins. I have to agree with him on that.
Will this amplifier bring you closer to the 'musical truth' (whatever that is). Nope, not even close. Will this amp be the last word in resolution? Nope, that was never Mikes design intent. Will this amp give you pinpoint imaging down to the exact millimeter? Not hardly. Will this amp allow you to forget about the high-end idiocy that we all suffer from? Absolutely, if you buy into Mikes design theory.
As I sit here listening to all different kinds of music, I can't help but think to myself that the JD1000 paired with a pair of forward sounding speakers like the Dynaudio's or Ushers that I have here, makes the music sound pretty darned good. The amp doesn't lack bass or treble in the least. You realize that you are not getting every last drop of resolution possible but that's just fine providing this presentation is what you're looking for.
I spun all kinds of harshly recorded music during my tenure with the JD1000. Album after album, the JD1000 took the bite out of those rotten sounding recordings. Yes, it smoothed over some of the fine edges that lay within the tracks but it honestly made these overly harsh recordings sound better as a whole. When I played my typical reference recordings, I knew I wasn't going to get that see-though transparency that I get with my own gear. Did the recordings sound bad? No. They just didn't have quite the same presence that they normally do with more refined gear.
The JD1000 was able to maintain a decent timbre. The soundstage and placement were fairly nice. The images of the performers gained a little girth though. Karen Carpenter tended to look like Mama Cass. Again, that's just fine. As it is in audio, everything is a compromise. If you soften those sharp edges, you are going to loose some of that ultra-fine resolution.
So, do I have any major moans regarding this amp? Well, maybe one or two. The first is the styling. Is there anything really wrong with what we are all seeing? Not really. It's just that this unit is really plain looking. It's not something you would drag your audiophile friends over to and drool on. It's just kinda there. Second, and maybe this is just me but, you can't see the tubes. I don't know about any of the rest of you but I like being able to see my tubes (ok, no fat jokes). They tend to be the center of my focus when I'm listening (don't even go there). Granted, they are well hidden and protected from the tiny hands of kids and grandkids, plus a few big kids (you are sick). All in all, I suppose it's ok but I would rather see the tubes even if it were through a window in the faceplate (anybody got more quarters?). And last but not least, the power switch. This rates about a "4" on the eye candy scale. Granted, when it comes to proper switch design when you are handling 10+ amps of current, this is no doubt the right choice but... the thing is fugly compared to the nifty machined knobs on the selector switch and gain control.
So much for my moans. None of them affects the sound. They are all cosmetic. If you are interested in the sound, then pay me no attention at all. Sometimes I'm so shallow.
So, is this amplifier for you? First you have to come to grips with what you want out of your system and your music. If you are looking for a warmer, less forward presentation to your music, this amp may be just the thing you have been looking for. A word of caution is in order here. If you already have a warm sounding speaker (or source), adding this amp to your system things may get too warm (depending on your tastes). You may end up playing with different tubes to regain a good tonal balance.
Global Warming, Or Colling... Or Whatever
Each of their systems vary but there is one common theme that runs amok... tubes. Amplification varies from EL34's to KT88's to 45's. They all have different configurations. Some are push pull (like mine), some are pentodes run in triode mode and some are push pull SET's. They all have a somewhat similar effect. They all make you want to curl up in front of them with your special someone and just Enjoy the Music.
Now, those of you sandphiles that are reading this and thinking that "Here goes another damned tube convert that has a completely colored system spewing more nonsense about how tubes are superior to solid state...." Well, maybe so... but maybe not either.
Case in point. One of the younger guys in our local audio group has been suffering the ills we have all gone through. What turned him onto the high-end audio scene was listening to his brother-in-law's system. At the time, V had an entry level system bought from one of the Big Box stores. The speakers were little bookshelves that didn't produce much (if any) bass. He happened to get the opportunity to sit through a demonstration of high-end audio put on by his brother-in-law. One of the major contributors to V's conversion to high-end audio was the Infinity Kappa 9's that the music was played on.
Over the past two years, V has been spending loads of money on what he feels is going to do the best job at reproducing recorded music. He has gone through the Class A amp phase, the speaker wire phase, the interconnect phase and also the big multi-way in-yer-face speaker phase.
Recently, V came by the house and brought his latest purchase. It's a DK Design Group VS-1 hybrid, integrated amp. This amp gives 180wpc of extremely cool running Class A power. The DK is a true dual mono design housed in a single, armor plated housing. The input gain stage is handled by a pair of 6922 tubes. The front of this extremely cool looking amp has an LED panel that lights up to display the output power by channel. This panel has a graphic representation of a single, dual needle, VU meter (did that make sense?). This unit also comes with a heavy-duty machined aluminum remote control. All in all, an extremely cool looking and inexpensive piece of imported gear.
Anyway, back to tubes. V being a tube newbie brought the DK by so I could show him how to "roll" the tubes. We popped the top of the amp casing to reveal the driver tubes. They were surrounded by these fancy looking, multi-level fender washers that were supported by gold plated stand offs. They looked similar to those casings that surround the oh so cool Shanling tubed CD player. We pulled the spiffy decorations off (that can't be seen with the top on the amp BTW) and started playing with different tubes.
Using the Odyssey Epiphany's as the main speakers, we gave the stock Chinese 6922 tubes a listen. It sounded OK. Very sharp and crisp. Almost a little brittle. It reminded me of most "Class A" gear I've listened to in the past. After hearing that initial sound my first thought was to swap the Chinese driver tube for an NOS JAN Philips. Why? To warm this thing up.
See, most of the entire evening we had been listing to my version of an Audio Fireplace, the Big Fun System. It's 75 watts of push pull EL34 monoblocks, actively crossed over at 125Hz. The lower end is filled in by a bi-polar arc welder (Spectro Acoustics 250 wpc). My restored Spectro drives a pair of corner loaded 12" Shivas in 6.5 cu.ft. enclosures. This particular system is extremely warm and inviting. It has the ability to make you forget about everything and just Enjoy The Music (there's and echo in here).
By no means mistake the word warmth as a lack of detail. Those are two completely different issues. Warmth can be euphonic colorations that bring life and liquidity to the music we listen to. Lack of detail is just that, undefined and lacking what we all Enjoy about The Music (ooou, a confused echo).
Back to the tubes (sorry, I keep getting sidetracked). After rolling the JAN Philips into the amp we flipped the switch. I could see an immediate sense of satisfaction on V's face. This Class A monster just changed colors. From the cold and analytical, to the warmer euphonic presentation, V was one happy guy.
We decided to roll some different tubes into the DK. We tried a pair of Brimar's that sound amazingly close to my prized Siemens. After flipping the switch, I could see the discomfort all over V's body. Here we had another analytical sounding tube that didn't mate well in front of solid-state gear. I knew the Brimar's would sound that way but I was trying to demonstrate a couple of things.
I guess first and foremost, don't believe everything you see written on the forums in reviews (ooou, did I just write that?). As many of you have undoubtedly read on the forums and elsewhere, Brand X makes the 'best' sounding 6922 tubes. In the case of V's amp, the ultra-expensive NOS tubes didn't sound too nifty. It took a pair of crappy old JAN Philips tubes (at $9 each I might add) to make this beast of an amp sing. Although a cool old NOS tube like a Mullard or Telefunken might sound great in a fully tubed system, chances are it would sound colder and more analytical in V's amp. Remember, it's all about proper balance.
Second, euphoria isn't necessarily a bad thing in audio (regardless of what you read on the forums). V had made a statement that he is tired of upgraditus. He has been listening to tons of different gear (mostly solid state) trying to find that euphoric nature to the music that we locally turned him onto with our collective tubed systems. Needless to say he hasn't been able to find it in any of the solid-state gear he has listened to.
He also complained about the fatiguing nature of all this overly analytical gear. V stated clearly that this analytical sound made his ears hurt. All he has found is more and more detail and more and more forward sounding speakers. He has witnessed (first hand) the analytical death of music and couldn't be more distraught. That's a pretty amazing revelation for someone so new to our little (obsessive) hobby.
V isn't the only person locally that has come to this conclusion. One of the other guys recently stumbled across a pair of Altec Model 19's. He drug these home and hooked them up to his Bryston system. Needless to say, shortly thereafter his ears started bleeding. He sent out a cry for help to (us) the local audio exorcists. We all converged on B's house with ultra cool amplifiers like 45's, EL34's, 300B's and 2A3's. We all danced around singing chants and sprinkling in high DC voltages and by the end of the day, we had cast those demons into the abyssal and permanent exile. B's musical soul was saved. He has since gone on to by a Baby Sophia and a pair of 300B mono blocks.... Imagine that.
We have one lone sandphile holdout (locally). Every time he comes over he always says That officially qualifies as one kick ass system (speaking to my Big Fun system). Little does he realize, the sands of time are about to run out (get it?... sands of time... sand=solid state... oh never mind, I thought it was clever). Eventually he will be right where we are now. Sonic Euphoria and happy as a pig in scheisse.
Glad to see that we helped to turn another few lost souls to the Dark Side.
So what was the point of all this drivel about tubes? I guess as you look at the market and the people around you, one by one people are (re)discovering tubes. Hard core solid-state guys after a few listens to a quality setup find themselves seduced by the Dark Side. It's like the Sirens in Homers Odyssey. Once you hear them, you give your life willingly to pursue the beauty of their voices. Are tubes the most accurate sound out there? Some can be, some aren't. It really depends on the system synergies (G-d I hate that word).
After all, in audio just as it is in life, it's all about balance.
Kinda makes you think twice about that warm sounding Jolida JD1000, doesn't it?
Slowing Down In My (Not So) Old Age
At my real job, I listen to several different streaming music stations on the Internet. As you already know, some of these streams are pretty heavily compressed even at 128k. The quality of the sound is usually worse than MP3's. But that doesn't stop me from listening anyway. I happen to use the (no longer available) Monsoon Audio Planar 9's as my amplification and speakers. Without a doubt, this is the finest sound I've heard from a computer based, multi-media, off the shelf, sound system. It sounds amazingly clean and detailed for a piece of gear that retailed for about $125 when it was being produced.
I hate to say this but, I may have had something to do with the demise of Monsoon's home retail line. Going back a few years ago, I wrote a rather scathing review of their planar home speakers back at my old haunt. At the time, I was using the Planar MM700's for my computer at the house. I loved them and I thought, just maybe, their home audio line would sound just as good. Oh well, shit happens I guess. Shortly after publishing that review, Monsoon shut down production of the entire line. Maybe it was a coincidence, who knows, but I hope so.
Anyway, back to the music (it's amazing how easily I get sidetracked). As I sit at work listening to streaming music in the background, occasionally my ears perk up when something really different and interesting comes on. I usually listen to Radio IO Eclectic or one of the other eclectic music stations. They tend to play stuff that I can't get exposure to on the Evil Empire (Clear Channel).
Shortly before we went on holiday with my family, I picked up a couple of CD's from a group called Zero7. I happened to hear this at work on one of the streams. During our time away from the real world, I listened to these CD's more than a few times and absolutely fell in love with the feel of this music.
Anymore with these 'new'(ish) genre's, I have no idea how to categorize this music. I've seen it listed as Chillout, Drum and Bass and Acid Jazz. Honestly, I think it's straight up Downtempo but that's just semantics. Bottom line is I enjoy it, whatever the genre.
This style of music has a very melodic presentation. It doesn't have the drone beats of House or Trance that you expect to hear at some Rave Club. This has quality vocals and very melodic phrasing all wrapped up into a Downtempo beat. Think of it as (almost) make-out music. It plays extremely well in my Audio Fireplace.
After we came back from holiday I found myself up at Amazon sampling all kinds of music similar to the sound of Zero7. Needless to say, about three or four hours and a hundred (or so) bucks later I had a big-ass pile of music coming my way.
I don't know how often you guys use Amazon to buy music but I find it a great place to sample and buy. I use their "Customers who bought X also bought:" feature continuously. When you open up the Amazon music sampler (not Real Media or Windows Media players), across the bottom of the sampler are four or so related albums. After I listen to my main choice, I always click on the Listen button to sample these 'similar' releases. I have found tons good stuff using this feature. Not to mention, it's a great way to weed out those one hit wonders that continually deplete our music budgets.
Jeez, I got sidetracked again.
Of the music I picked up online, five of the albums were this 'Downtempo' genre. If you go up to Amazon and sample the Zero7 and like what you hear, let me make a few more recommendations. Here's a short list of some very cool new(er) music in the Downtempo genre.
Zero7 When it Falls
Zero7 Simple Things
Weekend Players Pursuit of Happiness
Morcheeba Big Calm
Hooverphonic A New Sterophonic Spectacular
Massive Attack Mezzanine
Goldfrapp Felt Mountain
Of all those, Zero7 When It Falls is probably my fave. It lands right in my sweet spot. Most all of these releases are very well recorded. Some of them are a little bass heavy as you would expect from an off chute the of Techno/Trance style of music. Some roll in some heavy sampling and computer generated and DJ type stuff. Pure acoustic music this is not. It's heavily laden with electronica. Don't let that scare you off. If you are in the right frame of mind, this music can be extremely hypnotic, musical and habit forming.
As you sample the stuff lower on the list, Massive Attack and Goldfrapp have a distinct feel to them. They are very dark. The beats and vocals have a brooding sense to them. Some of you may or may not like this but (again) if you are in the right mindset, this is extremely good music.
After all, music is our drug of choice. It enhances the particular mood we are in.
'til next time...