Jean-Michel Le Cleac'h's 
System
Date of "Visit":
25 November 1999

Re-Visit:
11 September 2001


the listening room


the system


Verdier turntable


cartridge with a DIY body


step-up transformer


passive line preamp


the 3 home build amps


left loudspeakers


TAD TD2001 compression driver


Onken tweeter


 

e-mail to:
Jean-Michel Le Cleac'h

 


For my 14th birthday, that was in April 1968 my uncle, the job of whom was to manage juke-boxes and flippers in bars, gave me a pair of tube amplifiers. They were push-pull of 6L6 with an EF40 pentode as input tube and an ECC40 double triode as driver. Those amplifiers were pretty good sounding and I still have them at home. At that time I could not even see the difference between a capacitor and a resistor. Experimenting on those amplifiers I learned some basics in electricity and electronics and I remember that 4 years later I repaired and modified a guitar SE amplifier (EL34) belonging to a friend. Eventually I could have become an electrical engineer but my first hobby , begun at the age of 8 was mineralogy and now, I teach mineralogy and supervise researches in that field for a living.

I saw my first WE300B around 1977 in a famous electronics shop of that time : Radio MJ, rue Claude Bernard here in Paris (now closed). I was impressed that such an heavy amplifier with those huge transformers (manufactured by Millerioux), chokes and large capacitors could only deliver 4 watts. There, I used to talk to a young seller, the name of which was William Walther (now manager of La Maison de l'Audiophile) and I met a Franco Japanese guy the name of which was Jean Hiraga. Some times latter La Maison de l'Audiophile opened and I was one of the very first client. As most French audionut I accompanied through time the evolution of La Maison de l'Audiophile and was a fan of the famous review " l'Audiophile " which inspired me to build the Hiraga 20 watts class A amplifier, the Kaneda RIAA preamplifier and the Hiraga MC preamplifier. Nearly 20 years later, I still use them, a bit modified, in my system. I was also one of the very first in Paris to use the compression driver TAD TD2001, at the time I was finishing my thesis and took a 2 years credit to pay them. I consider myself as a typical DIYer, building most parts of my system and only purchasing the components I cannot build by myself. That's why recently I bought a digital crossover that allows me also to time align the loudspeakers, but in the same time I build a passive preamplifier.

(Please click the pictures to enlarge and to read the detailed legend for each one)


List of CD excerpts used by J-M LE CLEAC'H to tune, test , optimize and perform a demonstration of a system.

For each excerpt information is given about :

tested characteristics ; artist name ; " excerpt title " 
CD title ; NÉ excerpt on the CD ; CD reference ; label 

Tuning 

1 general balance :
Nancy Wilson ; " The island "
I'll be a song ; No.2 ; 38C38-7061 ; DENON 

2 balance and dynamics :
Una Ramos ; " Reflets de soleil "
Una ramos ; No.13 ; LDX274842(CM211) ; Le Chant du Monde

3 dynamics, image :
Daniel Humair ; " Espace sonore NÉ1 "
Surrounded ; No.12 ; 239228 (MU760) ; INA Flat & Sharp 

4 balance and natural :
Toots Thielemans ; " Gymnopedie NÉ1 "
Footprints ; No.3 ; 846650-2 ; Emarcy

5 note attacks and decays on piano + dynamics:
Tsuyoshi Yamamoto trio ; " Misty "
The famous sound of Three Blind Mice, vol.1 ; No.10 ; TBM CD 9001 ; Three Blind Mice 

6 natural and presence on voice :
Nina Simone ; " I get along without you very well "
Jazz for absolute beginners ; No.5 ; PD89874 ; RCA Victor 
 

Tests, optimization 

1 overall balance
Art Farmer ; " The summer knows " 
The summer knows ; No.1 ; 32JD-10041 ; East Wind 

2 width and depth of image
The Count Basie Orchestra ; " Lil' Darlin' "
Denon Jazz sampler Volume 2 ; No.10 ; GES-9137 ; DENON 

3 presence and natural on male voice :
Jacques Brel ; " Les vieux "
Brel, quinze ans d'amour ; No.9 ; BA900 (816 833-2) ; Barclay

4 upper bass quality :
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Sam Jones ; " Yesterdays "
Double bass ; No.7 ; SCCD-31055 ; Steeple Chase 

5 presence on male voice :
Bob Telson ; " Calling you "
Bagdad cafe (movie soundtrack) ; No.7 ; 2109 -2 ; ADES 

6 concert hall ambiance, deep bass :
Sir Colin Davis, Caballe, Carreras, Wixell ; " Final Acte 1 "
Tosca ; No.14 ; 412 885-2 ; Philips Classic 

7 dynamics at very loud levels , lack of intermodulation;
Michael Jackson ; " Speed girl "
Bad ; No.3 ; EPC 450290 2 ; EPIC 
 

Demonstrations :

1 dynamics at loud level :
Mickey Hart ; " The Gates of Dafos "
Dafos ; No.7 ; RR - 12 CD ; Reference Recordings 

2 bass and infrabass register :
Victoria Williams & the Williams Brothers ; " Don't let it bring you down "
The bridge ( A tribute to Neil Young) ; No.2 ; CAR CD5 ; Caroline

3 balance and dynamics :
Chet Atkins ; " Laffin' at life "
Sails ; No.6 ; CBS 450504 2 ; CBS

4 balance and dynamics :
Robin Trower ; " Shame "
Guitar Speak 2 ; No.6 ; IRSD-82028 ; IRS No Speak 

5 acoustic bass dynamics :
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Sam Jones ; " Little train "
Double bass ; No.8 ; SCCD-31055 ; Steeple Chase 

6 presence and natural on voice :
Atahualpa Yupanqui ; " Soy libre! Soy bueno! "
30 ans de chansons ; 13LDX274750 (CM211) ; Le chant du monde

7 natural on acoustic bass:
Chet Baker, W. Lackersmith, featur. L. Coryell... ; " Here's that rainy day "
Backer Lackersmith ; No.5 ; Inak 857 CD ; Inoakustik

8 dynamics, image :
David Grisman quintet ; " Dawgmatism "
Acoustic Disc, 100% Handmade Music ; No.13; ACDS - 8 ; ACDS

9 natural and presence :
Enrique Coria ; " Sons de carrilhoes "
Acoustic Disc 100% Handmade Music; No.7 ; ACDS - 8 ; ACDS

10 presence on male voice :
Milt Buckner ; " Green onions "
Elipson (la perfection du son) ; No.8 ; 950552 (MU 750) ; Elipson

11 image, natural :
Chicago Pro Musica ; " The soldier's march "
L'histoire du soldat ; No.1 ; RR - 17CD ; Reference Recordings 

12 ambiance, deep bass :
Sir Colin Davis, Caballe, Carreras, Wixell ; " Act 3, Final "
Tosca ; No.17+ 18+ 19 ; 412 885-2 ; Philips Classic

13 lack of intermodulation :
Lou Reed ; " Walk on the Wild Side "
Lou Reed - Transformer ; No.5 ; ND83 806 ; RCA

14 image, natural
Chicago Pro Musica ; " The devil's dance "
L'histoire du soldat ; RR - 17CD ; Reference Recordings 


System's Components
 

Analog source:

Verdier turntable with Maxon motor
SME 3012R tonearm
Denon 103 MC cartridge with heavy alloy body (40 grams)
Denon AU300 MC transformer or Hiraga prepre
Isoda cable
Kaneda RIAA preamp (home made)
+ additional optional stage using Perez buffer (home made) + Pacific Audio transformer

Digital source:

Sony X77ES CD player (also a Philips CD723)
Philips CD765 CD recorder

Line preamp + control volume:

home made passive preamplifier using Pacific audio transformer 
input selector
phase 0/180 selector 
4 x 20 positions attenuator
uncoated silver wires

Digital crossover, equalizer and delay lines (for time alignment):

Brook Siren Song FDS388 (2 x 4 ways)
chosen parameters :
filter type : Butterworth
slope :18 dB/octave 
cut off frequencies
bass register : LP = 805 Hz
medium register : HP = 100 Hz LP = 8.050 Hz
upper register : HP = 10.000Hz

Power Amps:

all amplifiers are home made and stereos
 bass : Hiraga 25 watts class A (transistors)
 medium : " Shabda " = 20 watts SE amplifier using a screen driven emission tetrod reference 4Y75R
 treble : " Minor Swing " = 1 watt potato amplifier using a WE437 tube and an AudioNote or a Tamura OPT. Minor Swing is also used as an headphone amplifier for my Sony CDR3000 headphone.

Speakers:

bass : modified Cabasse 30BZ18 driver (diameter = 30cm =12 inches) in a home made Jensen-Onken type bass-reflex cabinet (Vb = 150 liters) ; efficiency = 95 dB/1watt/1m
medium : TAD TD2001 compression driver loaded by a 4 cells hypex horn (home made)
treble : Onken OS5000T compression tweeter .

Interconnects:

short lengths = Isoda or Eupen
long lengths = Gotham GAC3

Speaker cables:

bass = Monster Cable
medium = Isoda
treble = Culman

Headphone:

Sony CDR3000

Jean-Michel's comments about his System:

AA: "Jean-Michel, how would you describe your system's sound?"

JM: "The first quality of that system is that it respects music as it has been recorded, well or not. One characteristic, non often found on most systems, is the huge dynamics which one is very well distributed inside a very extended frequency range. Sound is very much involving , with a realistic presence of the singers and musical instruments. Micro details, note attacks and decays are not masked. When you close your eyes you forget the presence of the loudspeakers. The frequency range covered by the bass-reflex possess a very rare mix of qualities : speed, tightness, dynamics and depth. While the bass-reflex dynamics fits very well with the one of the TAD compression driver + horn used in the medium, the low mid range seems a bit hollow in comparison as it lacks some presence and natural compared to the other frequency ranges. Medium is very good but the home build horn is not so well designed and built. This can explain why on violin and choirs I prefer other horns to load the TAD TD2001. High mid and treble are just excellent, never harsh. High frequencies are not rolled off and upper harmonics are perfectly reproduced by the Onken tweeter ." 

AA: "Do you think there is room for improvement?"

JM: "I began to work on that system 20 years ago and it has been in constant evolution and improved through that time interval so I cannot imagine that this could stop now. IMHO, the difficult thing when setting up a complex system is to avoid compensation between components. If a carefully considered modification that should lead logically to some amelioration in the sound doesn't bring positive results, most probably there is some kind of compensation there. To progress, toward an excellent sound you must convince yourself that you have to locate the source of the compensation and cure it in place of refusing the modification. That's my philosophy and this is a difficult way, but I am very patient. Also because, with time, every listener becomes accustomed to his system's sound I try to attend as often as possible to listen to other systems and I take written notes of my feelings during those listening sessions. This helps me a lot to identify the existing weaknesses in my system and to consider modifications. At the moment, some tiny weaknesses in the low mid and in the medium, exist in my system." 

AA: "Have you got plans for upgrading?"

JM: "After having developed a new method to calculate horns, which one use several millions discrete elements,  I am currently designing new horns, calculated by that new method, to be used with the TAD TD2001.  I am also considering to add a  horn loaded 4th way to reproduce the low mid range in which are most of the fundamentals and first harmonics of the human voice. In a more distant future I'll probably also consider some bass horns that could be inserted in my small listening room."


the system


the electronics


Verdier turntable


DIY speaker


the new cement horn


Jean-Michel @
the hot seat


Yes, I was there too


the famous rue Mouffetard

 

Re-Visit Notes (11 September 2001)

This is NOT a virtual Re-Visit! I was in Paris for a few days before flying to London for the Hi-Fi 2001 Show. It was of course an excellent opportunity for meeting my virtual friend and auditioning his system. A real visit to a virtual friend is a great experience, it's not the first time that I do it: see also Bert Doppenberg, Jeremy Epstein pages.

Jean-Michel lives in one of the most historic streets of Paris (or more precisely: of the Quartier Latin). The street's name is Mouffetard and is partly pedestrian. It is said that Romans have used the same street as a passage way. All the buildings date from the 17th century. Jean-Michel told me that his apartment dated from 1680. His flat is on the top floor of this antique apartment. The botom picture shows part of the famous Mouffetard street as seen from Jean-Michel's window.

We spent the whole afternoon listening to a variety of music ranging from Brel, Barbara, Elvis to jazz and classical. I also listened to my own evaluation CD's.

Since the last visit notes, Jean-Michel had made some changes to his system. I asked Jean-Michel to describe the changes with his own words.

MC cartridge:

At the moment I use an Ortofon MC reference SPU Royal GM. This MC cartridge delivers an astounding presence on voices. The sound is very dynamical and well balanced with a very natural sounding medium and an excellent bass register, tight and extended down very low frequency. The response curve is slightly decreasing as I like it (this can be somewhat controlled by the settings of the SME tonearm and specially the VTA angle, this one being more easy to set than with my Denon 103). Cable between MC cartridge and set-up transformer is done by Gotham GAC3 cable directly soldered to the SME threads and to the set-up transformer pins.

Set-up transformer:

Between the MC cartridge and the RIAA preamplifier I am currently using a pair of UTC A11 transformers. The reflected impedance on the MC cartridge is 100 ohms, while Ortofon recommended more than 100 ohms to load the Royal GM. Those transformers were found in old movie projectors, they were used there to adapt the impedance of the photoelectronic cell reading the optic track on which the sound was recorded to the input of the amplifier. May be some further optimization of the settings could be done in order to enlarge the bandwith that seems lacking a bit the highest frequencies (over 12 kHz). Cable between set-up transformer and RIAA preamplifier is Gotham GAC3. The secondary of the set-up transformer is directly soldered to the cable, the end on the preamplifier side use a WBT RCA connector.

RIAA preamplifier:

I had the chance recently to found an excellent Audio Research SP14 preamplifier on the used market. This preamplifier and specially its RIAA preamplifier which is hybrid (Fets + Mosfets + Triodes) and similar to the one of the SP15 is since long time one of my favorite commercial preamplifiers. I will use it also to perform comparisons with the "RL only" RIAA preamplifiers I am currently designing. I am using only the RIAA stage of the SP14 (+46dB at 1000Hz). Output is taken on the fixed gain "record output". No controls are in the signal path. The volume control is set with my DIY passive preamplifier (transformer + absolute phase invertor + 20 positions fixed output impedance attenuator). Cabled between SP14 output and the passive preamplifier is Gotham GAC3. Neutrik RCA connectors are used on the SP14 output and XLR connectors on the passive preamplifier input.

Horns:

In June 2001, Marco Henry a friend of mine, build for me a nice pair of horns made of some special concrete having a nice light brick color. They are designed with my 16.000.000 discrete elements method, for which I developed a special calculation spreadsheet. expansion law is hypex (T = 0.707) and cut-off frequency 380Hz. They are used between 800Hz and 8000Hz. They improve deeply the ability of the system to deliver a 3D image. They don't exaggerate sibilance on voices, which ones sound very natural.

My impressions:
The sound was very much alive and had a very pleasant velvety texture. But such a texture was not exaggerated and was not at all a coloration. In fact I found the sound to be very natural on all acoustic instruments. Particularly mid frequencies had a good body and yet they were not thick. The other excellent character of the system was its seamless coherence. Usually due to the directional character of the horn speakers, the integration of different elements might present some difficulties but here such problems did not exist. All drivers played as if they were a single element full range speaker. I found that most horns usually sound "forward", but although Jean-Michel's hot seat is placed relatively close to the speakers I could not detect any disturbing forwardness or aggressiveness at all. The soundstage was formed between the speakers, (even slightly at the back) and had good focus. Maybe the bass was slightly on the dry side, but Jean-Michel explained to me that he had designed the bass cabinet on purpose to have such a dry bass, as this is how he likes the low frequencies. Such a dry bass has also an advantage: it interacts less with the room. To summarize, I think that the distinctly alive and velvety sound was very involving and unique. The unique taste of the wines of a particular "chateau" can be a good analogy (as we are in France). Similarly I found that it is very difficult (or should I say impossible) to match such an exquisite sonic character with commercial systems.

Unfortunately the same afternoon the well known tragic event had happened in the US. Was it a coincidence or something else, I don't know but my wife called me to inform about the attack while we were listening to Helen Merill and Ron Carter's "Duets" album (that one has a picture of the twin towers of the WTC on the cover). Then we turned the TV on and stayed there transfixed and speechless. Obviously the rest of the afternoon was spoiled but we both had a lot to be thankful for.

All in all an unforgettable visit in every respect!

 

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