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05-01-2009, 10:16 AM
The resurrection of an old killer system

About 13 years ago when I was building my audio system, I noticed a large pair of speakers sitting on a glassed in porch of my neighbor across the street. Not knowing what he had (and doubting he did have good gear) I joked to my wife about his new Sony Rack System and big useless speakers.

At a later time, during a neighborhood 4th of July picnic, I had the opportunity to go inside his house to use the facilities. While walking through his porch, I noticed that the speakers were indeed something of quality and ones I had never seen nor heard of. Odd shaped trapezoidal and over 4feet tall. A little label at the bottom said Clearfield. As I continued my journey, I passed the equipment rack which absolutely stunned me. Sitting there was a VAC CLA-1 MKII, a Counterpoint NPS-400, a CAL CD Player all hooked up with Kimber cables.

After some discussion, a listening session was arranged and we threw back a few brews and played some tunes. Unfortunately, his listening location was an enclosed porch all closed in with floor to ceiling glass and it was small. The system sounded fabulous anyway but lacked bass for three reasons. A- room size, B- Glassed in room, and C- cabling.

Shortly thereafter, he replaced all the cables with Synergistic Research cables. I was there when he flipped the switch. Wow, night and day difference with just cables. Bass tightened up, detail was much better, overall just a great improvement. We had many a fun night listening to tunes after that. As he was 20 years older than I, our musical tastes were not even similar and over time we just stopped getting together for many reasons.

About 6 months ago, he approached me and asked about the value of the gear and if I could help him sell it. His wife could not stand the big sound and was constantly *****ing about it. Also, something was ailing with the Amp and sound was dropping out of one side. All the gear had been piled in his garage for over a year before he talked to me. I did some research online and several emails to original MFGs as well as a call to David Lewis Audio where all the equipment came from. I was able to find out original pricing but no real current values. The VAC went for $6500.00 new, the Counterpoint was $4500, Clearfield Continentals by Counterpoint (really early Von Schwiekert) speakers were $3500 and the cables were about $350 for each pair of ICs and the 14' speaker cables cost him $1200.

I attempted to sell the gear several ways and places but got no real interest due to age and perceived unreliability. I honestly did not know what worked and what didn't at the time. After 3 months of trying to sell the gear, I told him the situation. That coupled with our failing economy, proved that this is a bad time to try and sell anything. I made him an offer to take the gear off his hands with the intent on tinkering with it. All I really wanted at the time were the cables.

Some time went by and winter came. We had our first snowfall and I get a phone call. "I need to get to my snow blower; do you still want this equipment?" I said yes for the offer I had made to him. He wheeled all the gear over in the cart attached to his riding mower and I put it all inside, wrote him a check, and did the Snoopy Dance as he went back home.

That day I swapped out my Tara Labs cables for the Synergistic Research and was well on my way to nirvana. I saw just as much of an improvement as he did when replacing his Kimber. I opened up the pre to find that the 12au7s were blown and had 12ax7s in place along with the 2 correct ax7s. The pinout is the same and the unit will work like that but with voltage, gain, and volume issues. I put 4 old stock Sovtek 12ax7s in and powered it up. Quite a big improvement over my current Sound Valves 101i tubed pre. I decided to order all new tubes and from Parts Express I ordered Electro Harmonix tubes of each variety. When they came, I dropped them in and got horrible noise, more so with the au7s than the ax7s. I rolled my old Sovteks back in and the noise went away. I decided to leave it this way in fear of getting more bad tubes. (Later when getting the Amp quoted I was sent to Quest For Sound where I picked up a pair of JJ Tesla 12au7s which did the trick. I also found out that Electro Harmonix had a bad run of tubes and I was not the only one to find out the hard way.)

Also on the day I got the gear, I plugged in the amp and it appeared to fire up and come out of standby. Cool, or so I thought. I opened it up and did some very gentle cleaning and brief inspection. After I plugged it back in and attempted to fire it up, one external fuse blew and it would not come out of standby. I swapped tubes, fuses and rectifiers from side to side to rule out the tubes. It appeared there was a more serious issue here. So I let it sit while I played with the rest of the gear for a spell.

Next I wheeled the Clearfields (literally with a hand truck) into the listening room and replaced my Dynaudio 82s. Wow! What I got was a great big sound stage, a nice refined sound but lacking lower end slam. I really liked this sound but for the lack of bass. (Note: Odyssey Stratus amp in place)

I kept trying to sell the speakers while trying to decide what to do about the Amp. A friend suggested RHB Sound Dezign, which was a mere 2 miles from my house. They do all custom mods for tube equipment. I called and talked with them, explained what I knew and they told me they would look at it and give me an estimate. I dropped it off there about 3 weeks ago and waited. Not hearing anything I called early this week and was told they would look at it this week. Yesterday, they called and said it was fixed. They were supposed to call with an estimate first. Luckily, it only needed minor repairs and two output tubes with a grand total of $200. My wife went to pick it up which must have made their day. How many times does an enthusiastic wife stop by to pick up an amp for her hubby and talk about the big listening session in store for the evening?

So after getting home from work and dealing with the tall grass, it was time. I unplugged the Stratos and started to remove it from the rack. OMG, I forgot this amp was heavier than the Counterpoint which weighs 56lbs. I slid the Counterpoint in, hooked up all the cables and turned it on. After a minute, it came out of standby and went into operate mode. I placed the first disk in the CDP and sat down.

Overall first impressions were that my Stratos was indeed a Giant Killer as it was advertised and reviewed when I purchased it. Second impression was that I lost the big soundstage that the Stratos was giving through the Clearfields. I continued to play several disks while reading the original Owners Manual for the Amp. By the way, someone with a real sense of humor wrote it. There were several comical statements in each section including one of my favorites in the precautions section. It warns you to "Never take the amp into the bathtub with you". As I chuckled and learned about the theory and construction of the amp, and it continued to warm up, I started to hear the things that the documentation claims.

The bass was much better. Each note was full, articulate and had the correct tone and timber. I noticed percussion never before heard. Each instrument and individual note was discernible from all the others and nothing interfered with or muffled another instrument. I'm still missing the bigger soundstage and impression that the band is live in the living room. I'll be spending some more time with the Clearfields tonight before wheeling the Danes back into play. I'm hoping to have a major positive change when I do.

Overall, I got a complete system for what equaled a garage sale price. It cost me a little time and less than $275 to repair and retube the amp and pre on top of original cost. So now in my room I have resurrected one hell of a 20 y/o system that can rival some of the best. Now it's time to decide what to keep and what to sell.


audio amateur
05-01-2009, 01:53 PM
Nice write up! This is the kind of stuff we love to hear, ain't it? :D
Congrats and happy listening!

05-01-2009, 04:19 PM
Yeah, no kidding....I like this bit about the Snoopy Dance!

JoeE SP9
05-01-2009, 04:31 PM
I guess you're happier than a bed bug in a mattress! Congrats!

05-01-2009, 04:41 PM
I swear to any deity of your choosing that may be the coolest thing I've ever read...congrats on the experience. Even as a Mac owner I covet VAC gear...

05-02-2009, 03:53 AM
The gear is all above my thrift store budget but a great story!
Maybe some pics sometime?????

05-02-2009, 04:36 AM
Duh, OH! Last week I had hooked up my sup with the Y cable and when I disconnected the sub, I didn't disconnect the Y from the pre which left it in a dual mono state and was stepping on itself.

Right now, Mike Stern is playing his Jigsaw album in my living room.

I will post some pics as requested.

05-03-2009, 06:58 AM
The gear is all above my thrift store budget but a great story!
Maybe some pics sometime?????

Pics as requested...