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Allen Wright & Alex Peychev

Last week Alex invited me to come over and have a listen to his modified SACD1000. I brought my Allen Wright machine for comparison - it's a Sony XB940 with level 1 and level 2 mods (see the review section). When I arrived at his office on Saturday another gentleman came in with some coffee - a friend and I believe a business associate of Alex - and the three of us went to Alex' apartment. Alex' system consists of a hybrid amplifier, pre-amp, speakers and speaker wire all by his own design. We inserted the Sony into the system, cued up an SACD and hit play. Cold out of the box the first thing Alex said was how nice it sounded. Why this is important will become apparent later in my story.

For me this was exciting because it was the first time that I have been able to do a side-by-side comparison. Both Alex and the other gentleman - who owned a Sony SCD 777ES - agreed that Allen's machine blew stock 777 and SCD-1 completely out of the water. No contest, apparently. On Redbook and SACD !

We spend a good few hours listening and comparing the machines. We listened to SACD's and CD's and played Eric Clapton's Unplugged cd, Ray Brown's Soular Energy sacd, cuts from Chick Corea's New York sacd plus some others (Buddy Guy playing live) and we also listened to classical music (strings). We discussed a number of audio related topics. I like people like Allen and Alex because of what they stand for. Highly skilled engineers with decades of experience and a passion for their product and a craftsmanship and artistry that in my view sets them apart from the people who merely replace standard parts with audiophile parts. Of course there is value in that effort, but these guys play in a different league. They have creatively thought about a redesign. That's craftsmanship and art combined. And they also run a business.

So with that in mind how do you approach this issue when you are confronted with something at a completely different level? Is one bad and the other good? Can you make a recommendation? What effect does a public statement on the 'Net actually have ? Was this a fair comparison ? The SACD1000 + Peychev mod is more expensive than the Sony + VSE mod and the two have completely different approaches.

When people rave about their latest audio acquisition or modification (me included) they are doing that mostly within their own reference framework. Their own system and experience. The world consists out of many different reference frameworks. When I say something is great that has to be assessed into the context of my reference framework which spans both equipment and personal attributes. How do you, the reader, actually know that? You don't even know me. When another inmate says something is great it's the same. Audio equipment can perform within a certain level and there can be differences. That is not to say that something cannot sound 'bad'. But even that is a relative moniker. I would define 'bad' in audio as distorted, out of key, hard, ugly, painful on the ear, confused soundstaging, compression etc. But even then we have to be careful. If something makes an acoustic guitar sounds more like a mandolin that's bad right ? Well, it depends. Yes, it's not how it should be. But you know what, judged by itself and within someone's reference framework it can be bloody good. And it can be the best that person's ever heard. What's 'bad' about that? Nothing.

That said, here we go. The SACD1000 as modified by Alex performs at a completely different level than my modified Sony. Let me try to describe the differences. These were the things that the three of us discussed and heard: instruments were rendered within their own space much more similar to what you would hear if you were looking at real music - fresh from the Monterey Jazz festival the weekend before the sounds of real instruments were still with me. The sound was full bodied and analog like - I know what that is now :-), there was sheer weight behind the notes - you could hear that there were 10 or so people playing the violin, the soundstage was much more expansive, and the detail retrieval was incredible, we also noticed more headroom and deeper and tighter bass. The difference was immediately obvious.

Back to what I wrote before about reference frameworks. Does this make Allen's machine a 'bad' product? Or 'inferior'? I guess it's a little more complicated than that. Just remember what I said; the Sony was judged to absolutely better a stock 777ES/SCD-1 on both CD and SACD - by people who owned and have experience with those machines ! You get my drift here I hope because it's important. With a relatively modest investment - certainly less than an 777ES/SCD-1 - I get this incredible machine. We are dealing with two top designers here. These people provide us with an opportunity to have sound quality far beyond what's possible on the budget needed to acquire these machines. Far beyond.

When we listened to the Sony/VSE what struck us was the balanced presentation. I called it 'transparent liquidity' in my original review and I stand by that description. I had the impression Alex & co agreed with me. Listening to Allen's machine was an enjoyable experience. It did not do a lot of stuff wrong, it did a lot right in fact, but at a different level of performance in comparison with the modified Philips. We commented that we would be happy listening to the modified Sony over an extended period of time. It is by far the best machine I've ever had in my listening roon. Again it's about context.

I walked away from this very impressed with what I heard. Not only did I meet some very nice people, I heard incredible sounds and it renewed my respect for people like Alex and Allen. If you are in the Bay area you should send Alex an email and make an appointment. He's in Dublin, CA. In fact he extended an open invitation to Hi Rez inmates a few weeks ago and none of you picked it up. You should take him up on the offer and allow yourself to be amazed.

Hats off to both Allen and Alex.


PS: you can see them both at the upcoming VSAC event. I believe Allen is taking a modified 9000ES with him, a few steps up from my XB940 I gather.

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Topic - Allen Wright & Alex Peychev - Joel_Waterman 10:00:06 09/29/03 (46)

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