Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Listening Room - JE Labs

I started this blog in 2011 and overlooked the fact that I haven't posted details of my systems. Visitors who remember the defunct site will be familiar with most of the components apart from a change in venue.

Stereophonic Hi-Fi

Ortofon RMG309 + SPU GME
SME 3012 + Denon DL103S

SME 3012 + Denon DL103R
Audio Technica ATP12T + Denon DL 103

MC step-up transformers
Altec 4722 + Tamura TKS83

Sony DVP NS500V
Dyna FM3 MPX
Scott LT110B FM tuner is out of commission ;(

JEL SE300B monoblocks
Tamura F7002 OPTs

Tango NY15S OPTs

Radiotron SE2A3
Tango U808 OPTs

JEL Simple 45
Tamura F745 OPTs
Tango H5S OPTs

Altec 2-way
JEL/N1600C crossover

Open Baffle, Altec 755As, 755Cs and Altec 755Es are
currently in storage at an undisclosed high security facility ;)

Monophonic Hi-Fi

JEL Mono Playback

Rek O Kut B12H
Right - Velvet Touch Viscous Damped
Left - Pickering 190 + GE RPX 78rpm stylus
Back - Argonne AR600 + GE VRII Triple Play

GE RPX + Denon DL102

iPod Nano doing double duty as a digital music server and FM receiver
until I find time to fix my other Dyna FM3 tuner
that served in this system for the past 7 years

JEL Mono preamp with variable EQ
6SL7 phono + 6F8G line stage

Mono Amps
Hammond 125ESE OPT
JEL SE10dx
Tamura F7003 OPT
James 6123HS OPT

Altec 605B Duplex

Mondrian inspired OB + RCA 501S1

After almost 20 years, both systems have traveled half way across the globe with no significant changes apart from a couple of tweaks ;) 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Altec 32B horn redux

Three years ago I replaced the Altec 811 horns with Altec 32B horns in my 2-way speaker system. I think I now have an unscientific explanation as to why I've been enjoying the Altec 32B.

Upper Left: Altec 32B, Upper Right: RCF H3709
Bottom: Altec 811

Somewhere along the way I acquired a pair of RCF H3709 horns. I was rooting for these horns because they resemble the Altec 32B but with a straight throat. However, that was purely cosmetic. The RCF H3709 to a lesser degree, still exhibited congestion and harshness I found objectionable in the Altec 811. 

Top: Altec 811
Middle: RCF H3709
Bottom: Altec 32B

Based on the throat comparison picture above, I attribute the sonic superiority of the Altec 32B to its unconstricted and constant flare throat. But that's just my empirical observation ;)

Friday, January 29, 2016


After developing my negatives from our Tokyo trip, I noticed a thin band of overexposure on a few frames I shot over 1/125, as seen in the two pictures above. Eventually, I also lost speeds below 1/60. These were indications that the curtain drum and rollers where dirty, dry or both.

So I downloaded and studied the service manual. This manual is just a reverse engineering illustration of how the camera was built. There are no instructions on how to service the camera.

Even if I've had previous experience restoring a Leica II and a few Feds and Zorkis, I ruled out dismantling the shutter mechanism on this more complex camera. I didn't even consider adjusting the shutter tension. My main objective was to gain access to the curtain drum and rollers which were blocked by light baffles so I could flush them with Naptha and then re-lubricate. After this procedure, 1/125-1/1000  looked much better on the CRT screen shutter test. I loaded a test roll.

Test shots after DIY/CLA

@ 1/1000

@ 1/500
@ 1/250
@ 1/15
@ 1/500
@ 1/1000

Thursday, December 24, 2015

DIY Audio and Music in Tokyo

My fascination with Japanese culture was sparked by my passion for DIY Audio. As my hobbies expanded to photography and restoring an Austin Mini, I realized that my pursuits run parallel with Japanese aficionados. As soon as we landed in Tokyo, I searched for bookstores to browse the latest magazine issues related to these interests.

I've written about my collection of Japanese audio magazines and books which I used to order from Kinokuniya Books in NYC. 

I found the Kinokuniya main store in Shinjuku. But my enthusiasm was dampened when I found the selection of vintage and tube related audio magazines was rather sparse. However, I soon discovered that the audio department of... 

...BIC Camera

...Yodobashi Camera stock the latest, as well as more recent issues, of Stereo Sound Tube Kingdom, MJ and other Tube DIY-related publications.

Magazines and books are not light, so I had to choose carefully to comply with baggage allowance limits ;)


A trip to Tokyo for an audio DIY enthusiast is not complete without an Akihabara pilgrimage ;)

Furnished with valuable tips from audio buddies familiar with the area, first stop was Tokyo Radio Department Store.

I headed down to the basement and was greeted by this sight.

But I quickly turned left when I noticed this sign in real life. After more than twenty years of trying to decipher Noguchi Transformer Ads in MJ, I found myself at their store.

It was sad not to see traces of Tango/ISO which ceased operations in mid-2013. There were some Hashimoto and Tamura transformers but not the complete line. 

 I came here mainly for their house brand Noguchi Power Max iron, of which they had plenty in stock. The owner seems to comprehend but didn't speak much English. I knew what SE OPTs I was looking for and that kinda broke the ice. Still, I couldn't engage him in a conversation to get an idea on the local state of DIY/Tube audio.

SE 10 amp with Noguchi Power Max iron + more amps

Diatone PM610 reissue, Fostex, JBL, etc.

SE friendly Lowther +...

...Altec 604-8G(?) in an Onken box

I forgot to take a picture, but at the opposite end of the basement is a chassis store that can CNC project cases and enclosures to customer requirements.

Let's go up two and three flights...

TIP: prices are a bit cheaper as you go higher in the building, cheaper rent perhaps? ;)

Parts galore

The custom here is, get yourself a tray and pick all the parts you need.

Then the shopkeeper will tally up your purchase. Neat!

Vacuum Tubes

To someone used to tube pricing from 10 years ago at US Hamfests and Radio Shows, prices here were a bit steep ;)

One Stop Shop
Just about anything one needs to build a tube preamp or amplifier can be acquired at Tokyo Radio Department Store.

Japanese culture is very reserved. They are a very quiet people who minimize talking and maximize working - an ethic I truly admire. As long as you know what you need you'll enjoy shopping in spite of the language barrier.

The Shopping Bag

All within baggage allowance limit - just about ;0

Here's a pair of Noguchi PMF10WS and PMF15WS - roughly the equivalent of the entry-level Tango U808 and Hashimoto HC-203U + a pocket Sanwa DVM. I also got some Alps Blue Velvet 250K and other carbon track pots of different values + miscellaneous parts hard to source in Manila.

Across the street and right under the tracks of the Chuo-dori line is Akihabara Radio Center.

This place is even closer to the JR train station in Akihabara. It has lots of test equipment, electronic parts, tubes, etc. Pricing is similar to Tokyo Radio Department Store but more old school in atmosphere. I saw a stall that had transformers marked Toei which I've seen in vintage Japanese OEM tube equipment sold in the USA in the 50s and 60s. The second floor is a flea market of sorts where items are stored inside glass display cases, each leased by a different vendor. Buyers call on shopkeepers to look at items. I saw vintage speakers, audio equipment, well-made DIY amp projects and even vintage timepieces and cameras. Unfortunately, taking pictures in this building was not encouraged :(

A couple of blocks down and around the corner from Akihabara Radio Center is Kouizumi-Musen or Kouizumi Radio.


This store is well stocked with brand new raw drivers, horn and compression drivers, tweeters, crossover components from Fostex and other Japanese makers. They also carry Jensen reissues and Altec drivers, replacement cones and diaphragms from Great Plains Audio.

Speaker kits and cabinets

Tube amp kits and newly manufactured tubes, presumably from China

I was hoping to find a bonsai Altec Voice of the Theater kit which I used to see in MJ and Stereo Sound Ads ;(

LPs in Ochanomizu

Disk Union is a large chain store selling new and used LPs, CDs and other audio software.

They even had a shelf filled with old issues of Japanese audio and jazz magazines.

I picked up a few mono Jazz LPs, mostly Japanese pressings for $2-$4/each.

Due to time constraints, I didn't get a chance to see shops filled with Western Electric, Altec, JBL gear. But while strolling the mid century modern furniture shops in Meguro-dori, I saw this Garrard 401 with an SME 3009 + an interesting tonearm I've never encountered before. I also missed the experience of a Live Jazz bar or a Jazz Kissaten. Definitely next time!


The main highlight of our visit to Tokyo were two concerts.

An evening of chamber music at the National Arts Center Tokyo.

Four very fine young and accomplished Japanese musicians along with Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama, violist and music director/conductor of Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, treated the audience to an exquisite performance of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op.18 and String Quintet in C major, Op. 29.

Suntory Hall

Itzhak Perlman and Rohan de Silva gave a remarkable recital at Suntory Hall which was the conclusion of their Asian Tour to celebrate Perlman's 70th year.

At the Suntory Hall lobby with friends after Perlman's concert

The day after, I had a great time catching up and reminiscing about our student days at Juilliard with Rohan over dinner ;) 

Finally, this trip would not have been as memorable if my ever supportive muse wasn't by my side ;)

!!!Happy Holidays!!!