Author Topic: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod  (Read 7431 times)

Offline wkhanna

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A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« on: April 26, 2011, 10:23:33 PM »
The Parable

The following epic is an account of my continuing search for audio nirvana and the result of the help I received from Tom at ‘Vintage HiFi of Pittsburgh’.


The Provenance

In 2006 I was visiting my best friend, Rod Nicholas, a retired luthier who in 1994 was responsible for infecting me with this horrid OC audio disease in the first place. While at his home, I was presented with a relict that had been banished in the closet of an upstairs bedroom. Rod had replaced his Carver C-19 years before with some trinket from an obscure company in Canada. Bryston I think is the trade name they go by.

Of course I was humbled and grateful to the point of speechlessness, along with now having a great story about the experience of transporting this unit as carry-on baggage during our return flight home from North Carolina.

This wonderful pre amp immediately transformed my system and I have been using it continuously ever since.


The Predicament

I have what I considered a decent system. My priority is vinyl. I also have a See Dee player, FM analog tuner, DVD/SACD player and an A/V Pre-Pro for 4.0 surround duties.

Over the years I have hosted a few get-togethers with local enthusiasts and have been to a few others, too. Between hearing other components demoed in my system, visiting audio shops and hearing what other people’s systems sound like, I have always felt mine was a bit on the bright, almost edgy side, and a bit anemic in the low end. Not good for someone who cherishes the ‘warmth’ that analog is supposed to have.

For the longest time I thought it was my room &/or my speakers that were the culprit. Regardless of the source, whether digital or analog, this characteristic never really changed. I tried some tube rolling in the C-19, and that helped a small amount, but no matter what tweaks I tried, (speaker placement, room treatments, phono cartridges, cables, etc.) I could never get my system to mellow out in the HF and tighten up in the LF. Though small incremental improvements were realized, the core issue never went away.

Meanwhile everyone kept saying my system sounded good. But I was beginning to have trouble enjoying my music. All the while I was being menaced by a little voice inside of my head saying, “You know this should sound better, don’t you?”


The Prescription

I had known Tom for about a year. It did not take long to realize not only his obsessive passion for good sound, but also the skill level he posses for repairing and modifying gear. Especially Carver gear. My confidence in Tom to do some work on my cherish C-19 finally overcame my fear of having someone actually take a soldering iron to this component that once belonged to the same person who has made instruments for the likes of Yo Yo Ma.

I figured if I were to ever have my system sorted out, I needed to know the C-19 was performing properly. I mean, heck, it is more than 25 years old. And aside from a few lonely years in his closet, it has been lovingly used, as it should, playing music almost daily since the day Rod bought it.

So I figured why not; just get a couple of pots cleaned, a few caps replaced here, a few resistors there…….can’t hurt. Right? No big deal. At the worst, at least I will know C-19 is working at its best, & I should look elsewhere for the solution to my dilemma.



The Proposal

I got the sense that the C-19 was one of Tom’s favorite pieces. By the time I was ready to bring to the unit into Tom, he had developed a list of improved components & modifications, relocation of this, upgrade for that, IEC power socket installation, conversion to sockets which allow OP amp rolling, new pots, different valves and…….well, you get the idea by know I’m sure. This will be the test mule for Tom’s soon to be standard offering of his “One-of-a-Kind’, Super Duper, Bob Carver Approved C-19 make over.”

“Ok” says I with naïve adulation. Let’s go for the ‘Whole Kahuna!”

So, ah…..Tom…….

…..about how long should this process take, du ya think?


The Patience

Look, when you’re lying on the operating room table it’s probably not a good idea to tell your neurosurgeon, “Hey! Can you hurry this up? I got a $25 voucher for Jerry’s Used Records that is about to expire today, and I’d like use it if you don’t mind!”

Tom is a craftsman, an artist, & in his own mind, an above average philosopher, too (but we won’t go there right now). The point is, you don’t rush the maestro. If you do, it’s at your own risk. These creative artisan types can get riled up by the slightest & most mundane things sometimes.

Still, I was forced to conspire …errr….aaah… I mean develop ways of kindly nudging Tom to carry forth with the project. One thing I found was that it never hurts to bring along a nice bottle of wine with two glasses when dropping by the shop.

…….. “Hey Tom. I just happened to find myself near by (every detail of the trip planned and scheduled 5 days earlier) and figured I pop in just to say ‘waz-sup’…... Ya Ya, SOL. How’s business and all.”

“Oh yeah? Remember that dirty old black box I dropped off a while ago?

Sooooo….how’s that little project coming along?”

And so it went. Minutes turned to hours, hours turned to days, days to months.
Some parts were hard to find, some couldn’t be found. And the shop was busier than ever. Tom was swamped with repair work and struggling to just to stay in the black.


The Product

Don’t get me wrong. It won’t take you a year to get your stuff back from Tom. Probably more like days. And now he has a fantastic new technician to help (Welcome to funny farm, Anders!). Mine was a special case in many ways. But now that all the Mods are vetted, the process for upgrading the C-19 is V straightforward. He will/does have all the components in inventory. I know cuz he showed me.


The Performance

Science says your short term audible memory is good for 3-4 seconds. This is the period of time you retain large amounts of auditory information. As soon as you hear something else after this short period, your ability to recall with great detail all the particulars or nuances of that sound are gone.

Funny thing though, when my sister calls from California every month or so, I know it’s her voice right away, even after not hearing it for over 30 days and on the ever so poor fidelity of a phone. Go figure? Bullocks or not?

Anyway, I had been using a nice loner, tube pre-amp Tom was kind enough to let me have while my baby was in the shop. As soon as I got home from dropping off the C-19, I hooked it up. Gee, this isn’t too bad. Ugh, wait. Hello, soundstage? Where did you go? Depth. I thought I had depth rich enough to allow me to walk 6’ through the wall behind the speakers? Shy, flabby underweight mid & low bass. And the top end was strikingly similar to what I hear when I bump the pot rack in the kitchen. The only problem with that is I was listening to music, not an episode of Julia Child’s French Chef. Cling, rattle, and clang. All the little nit-picking issues I had with the old C-19 were now far worse.

My golden eared audio buddy takes a listen and says, “Hope you get the C-19 back soon.”

That was 12 months ago, and since then I actually began to loose interest in listening to my music.

A week and a half ago the C-19 finally makes it home. I was up till 3:00 AM that night.
This doesn’t remotely sound like my system. If someone had given me $15k and said, “Here, go replace your pre-amp, your speakers & your turntable, & make sure you spend it all”, then maybe that can describe what I hear.

I’ve gained what has to be a good octave in deep low end. And it has all the punch, energy and quickness you would expect being backed by my 380 watt dual mono chassis Rotel RB-1090 amp. But this is not boom bass, this some of most musical, tonally correct bass I have ever heard.

The top end? Well, one of my favorite references is the very first track ‘Singing Winds, Crying Beasts’, from my Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 200 gram pressing of the original mastering off of Santana’s Abraxas LP. This is the one with the sparkling wind chimes. Actually, they only really sparkle when everything in your system and the universe are in perfect alignment. With the modified C-19, you don’t have to close your eyes to visualize a wind chime. In fact, it’s your eyes that you don’t believe because your brain is telling there must be and is a wind chime in the room. It is exactly eight feet in front of you, just off to the left by 19 inches, four feet five inches from the floor.

My eight month old shorthaired male Chihuahua ‘Not Cho Dawg’ often sits with me in my ‘sweet spot’. When he heard this playing he started growling, head cocked to the side and staring exactly where C-19 was placing the chimes. Poor guy is going think he’s schizophrenic before too long.

But as they say, ‘we live in the mids’. And the mids are alive, alright. The texture of bow on strings, fingers just coming in contact with wildly oscillating acoustic double bass strings. Horns caressed by the lips of angles.  But the true test is piano. Known for being extremely difficult just to record properly, it’s a complex instrument that has percussive qualities as the hammer slams to the string. Then stringed instrument qualities as they vibrate. Then the resonance quality like an acoustic guitar as all the sounds mingle and writhe then exit the body of the instrument. Then this all interacts with shape, size and textures of the room it is in. I have a few well-captured recordings of real piano in real rooms. Now I have a real piano in my room.

Soundstage. Meh. I personally put more value in depth and imaging. So the fact that my soundstage is now discernibly wider should be of little consequence. Well, you can’t miss what you never had, they say. But now I know what I was missing!

Concerning depth & imaging, we (plural because all of my observations have been confirmed & validated by my golden eared audio buddy, Dan) agree what was once one of my system’s greatest strengths is now in the range of true high end rigs. And just as Tom has promised, things are only getting better as all the new components burn in. Image focus & detail are getting tighter and even more precise.

And when you just sit back and stop analyzing every little detail, when you take in all of the parts as a whole, that’s just when all the details come through. The sum is greater than the total of parts. Pure music flows. All the players are watching the same conductor; everyone is in time, on the same page. Your toe is tapping before you even realize it. This must be thing they call PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing). Every once in a while you will hear a system that has it. All the components of the music come through together. The kick drum is simultaneous with the brass rhythm section, with the keyboard, the strings and on and on. These are the systems that make you want to get up on feet when you’re all comfy cozy, kicked back in you’re well broken in listening chair.

The results are the same regardless of the source. See Dee’s sound like vinyl, the FM radio sounds like vinyl. (When Dan dropped by for a listen I had the Magnum Dynalab FT-11 FM analog FM tuner on, he thought I was spinning black pie.) Even the vinyl sounds like vinyl. And Oh does it! The phono section is absolutely superb. I have the AT150MLX moving magnet cartridge. Some feel this cart is a bit on the bright, lean side. I used to be Some. Now I think Some should come here and listen to the AT cartridge. Bright and lean are adjectives not used in my home anymore.

Neither is noise. I live one block from WDUQ’s mega watt transmission tower. I could hear the station bleeding into my system anytime I had the volume on zero or when playing at V low level. Now I can crank it to 11 with the selector on phono and it is dead quiet. Needless to say, backgrounds are blacker than Pennsylvania bituminous coal.

My wife likes music. Her family has music in their genes. So she tolerates my obsession with understanding. Sometimes she even sits with me & I spin some of her favorites. I love it when we share music. The night I brought the C-19 home I ran a few tracks at low level off of See Dee to test all my connections. She was a bit perplexed that I didn’t go straight to my top 20 vinyl. Once I was sure everything was behaving properly, I pulled her favorite. Beethoven’s 9th on Deutsche Grammophon, Vienna Philharmonic, Arthur Fiedler conducting. She came into the room of her own free will. Sat in her favorite off axis position on the couch and began to listen. After about 30 seconds she says. “This sounds really good, just like last year when we went to Heinz Hall to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony play the 9th. But I don’t think the right speaker is working”. To which I responded with, “Yes dear, that is what a proper stereo is supposed to do”.

The Pay Off

It’s a simple conclusion. Thanks to Tom and Anders, I finally enjoy listening to music again.
For that, I am forever thankful to Tom, Anders and Bob Carver.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2011, 11:23:51 PM by OCCD »
....just an "ON" switch, Please!

Offline Slim-Shaddy

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2011, 10:42:04 PM »
Wow! excellent review! I'm on the hunt for a c19 myself. After reading that, it WILL be modded.
I am confident that an SL-1200 is capable of outperforming turntables of much higher expense with minor modification.

Offline OCCD

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2011, 12:18:11 AM »
 Since Ander's arrival, a ton of weight has been taken off my shoulders. Just tracking down obsolete parts can eat up hours of time. I have actually been able to  catch up with the day to day operations and do service myself since his arrival.I initially had some nice mods planned and with the ones Anders added, the C-19 went from very good to incredible. I now must finish mine, for it is only 2/3 done and still way better than stock. It is in use practically every day at the shop. Now that all the parts are here, except for better quality volume and balance pots, ( that is gonna be tricky) the overhaul service will be added to the web site. There will be a four to seven day turnaround from when the C-19 actually gets to the shop.
« Last Edit: April 27, 2011, 12:38:01 AM by OCCD »
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Offline Kingman

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2011, 07:06:58 AM »
WOW!!! Congrats on the review of the C-19 mods and glad to hear it was worth the wait. Also congrats to Tom for his expertise in equipment repair and modification. If I ever use my C-19 I'll remember this post and call Tom first!
IN REALITY IT ONLY MATTERS WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE TO YOU!!!!!

Offline tinpan

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #4 on: May 01, 2011, 10:35:13 AM »
Very very nice review. I think that sounds like a great set up
Tinpan

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Offline OCCD

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2011, 11:34:13 PM »
Kingman, you may want to mod your C-19. It is even preferred by the Bob. I will be looking into the Sunfire Tube pre soon.
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Offline schwarcw

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2011, 11:49:45 PM »
Excellent write up and a very nice story.  It sounds like Tom and Anders have found the right compliment to really offer a full service store unlike very few places.  We have a gem in Pittsburgh with Vintage HiFi.  And some great people and a Forum to boot.  Life is good.

Rock on wit 'yo badself!
« Last Edit: May 11, 2011, 12:36:19 AM by OCCD »
Carl

Offline gdv

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2011, 07:18:29 AM »
Excellent story and info...

Glad Anders is such a help to the shop!


Have a great day!
George
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Offline wkhanna

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2011, 11:24:49 AM »
Time for an update……..

I have been running the C-19.1Bam (my new designation for the ‘Bob Approved Mod’ – or ‘Bad Ass Mother’, which ever you prefer) daily for over three weeks now. It’s been run-in for well over 150 hrs at this point.

All I can say is, just multiply everything I already said about its performance by a factor of 1.5. The high-end is smoother, the low-end even more extended and powerful and the mids simply so realistic it’s creepy.

I find myself listening at reduced volume levels now. It’s because the response in so flat I find I don’t need to crank it up to compensate for the low-end punch that was missing before. Even late at night when I am listening at V low levels (~50 dB), every minutia of detail within the music comes through. No loss of any content at all as the microdynamic performance is just absolutely amazing.

Also, I’m listening to the radio more. I knew my Magnum Dynalab FT-11 was a good analog tuner, but now it comes within respectable range of my vinyl section. And I have lost count of the times I have been startled by a sound in the room while on my laptop, only to realize my rig has fooled me again into thinking some one or thing is in there with me.

I really don’t know what else to say other than I just wish there were more hours in the day so I could spend more time with my music!
....just an "ON" switch, Please!

Offline Falcon

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2011, 04:40:55 PM »
   Wow, that was a great review!!    Sounds like Tom really came up with a great mod!!   Congrats to Tom an Anders for putting it all together.
   What speakers and amp are you using?   Sounds like you have a superb system, Congrats!!

Offline wkhanna

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2011, 09:41:02 PM »
     What speakers and amp are you using?


Thanks guys.

Falcon, I made my speakers about four years ago. They are based on a design by John Marsh. He designed the original Avalon speakers. John is not affiliated with the company, he gave the design to a friend who started the company. John designs speakers as a hobby and then posts the entire specs to the public domain. I modified the original 1.5 c.f. configuration to a 68 liter floorstand. This gives me a little more LF.

They are 3/4” Baltic Birch cabinets with 1-1/2” Poplar front baffles, bottom ported, tuned to -3 dB @ 32 Hz. My build thread can be found here http://www.htguide.com/forum/showthread.php4?t=22639&highlight=nat+journey

I have ~ $1000 in materials & more sweat & blood in them than I care to think about! The cross-overs utilize the best componets I could find based on John’s recomendations. It was well over $300 to build two of them, more than I spent on the drivers, actually. http://www.htguide.com/forum/showpost.php4?p=319884&postcount=69

My amp is a Rotel RB-1090. http://www.stereophile.com/solidpoweramps/100rotel/index.html

It’s a duel-mono chassis design, basiscaly two monoblocks in the same box. A dear friend of mine originally had it. After he passed, his brother listed it on Audogon. Knowing what a great amp the Rotel was, I inquired and found out it was actully Bob’s. His brother was kind enough to hold it for me until I gathered up enough cash to bring to its new home where it will stay for the remainder of my life.





« Last Edit: May 12, 2011, 10:32:15 PM by wkhanna »
....just an "ON" switch, Please!

Offline schwarcw

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #11 on: May 12, 2011, 10:48:58 PM »
Very, very nice!  Congrats on such an exceptional system made of many home brew pieces and tweaks.  I am sure it sounds excellent!

Regards,

Carl
Carl

Offline Falcon

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2011, 08:08:56 PM »
Wow!!!   That is a beautiful system, excellent work on the speakers!!!   

Offline PewterTa

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #13 on: November 04, 2012, 07:24:16 PM »
Bill you really need to update this as to how much better it has gotten since the breakin!  :)

Definitely one of the best mods that can be done to any pre-amp... it's a night and day difference between the original and after the mod!  :)

Offline StephenWVU

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Re: A long review on Tom's C-19 Mod
« Reply #14 on: November 04, 2012, 11:54:10 PM »
Making it really hard to wait, Dan! Good meeting you at the shop!
Speakers: Nearfield Acoustics Pipedreams Reference 18
Amplifier:
Crown XLS2000 on subs
VAC Renaissance 30/70 (towers)
Preamplifier/DAC: Phison PD2
Server: Antipodes DX (everyone should investigate this brand)
CD: SONY DVP 9000ES
Turntable: I will have one again... Looking at Hanss T60 or VPI Aries

 

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