RCA Victrola 711V3
“HIS MASTER’S VOICE”
As a child, when we visited my grandmother's house, there was this radio console along the wall of her living room. I wish I had a picture of that room; my memory is a bit fuzzy. Fast forward a decade or more, my grandmother became too ill to stay in her home and that console ended up in the basement of my father's home. There it sat for another eternity! I finally took the console home. To this day, I do not remember why I took it. It is terribly heavy. We used it as a Dining Room side table.
Fast forward to about 2017, I was getting fed up with the TV cabinet in our Living Room. While it was a nice piece of furniture, it was HUGE and there was no TV.
Below is a picture from 2016 when I was reworking the gear inside. Back then, the MacMini was playing Audirvana. I used Rotel separates into B&W Matrix 805's. The speaker cables were Transparent Audio 14 ga cable. The interconnect cables were old Interlink Reference A. The network was WiFi, and the USB cables were generic. The DAC was an Arcam rDAC. There was an older Monster Cable power system. The remote control was Apple Remote Desktop from a MacBook Air.
This system sounded so much better than two Sonos Play Five's sitting on top of the cabinet! Since then, I have upgraded everything and not in the sense of the Cybermen.
One of the first problems was to "steal" the side table from the Dining Room. Once that was agreed upon, progress slowly started. Here are some pictures from 2018 of the console before I started.
There was a flurry of ideas in my head. First, I would keep the record storage section in place. It is not big, but it is convenient! The second was to take the section next to the records and put the main electronics in there. Next is the turntable. I HAD to find a "really good" turntable to put where the old 78 record player was. It was not until the Axpnoa 2019 show that I found what I thought was right. Progress has been slow until 2020.
It took three years of this one idea rattling around in my head of what to put in the pull-down door radio section! I think I have found an interesting "Replacement Tuner.”
When I started this project, I did not expect to be sidetracked by my DIY self. I took down the old TV cabinet and stripped out the Victrola about ten months ago. I have been building, buying, testing, researching, and listening to digital gear for over two years, But:
Goldilocks had not arrived yet.
So here I am with this beautiful cabinet, and I was trying to fit in the stack of modern electronics. Things just did not hit me right yet. There was still this harshness in the upper-frequency ranges. I resigned myself to keeping the server in the basement. I used the Sonore OpticalModule and the SoTM tx-USB Ultra for cleanup. Two Euphony licenses and the music on a NAS. I found my highpoint in music sound quality.
During recent weeks I reviewed the JPLAY FEMTO Software and JCAT USB and NET FEMTO cards. That review was a turning point for me, I had some corrections in thinking to make. I realized that while all of this work had increased my learning and incrementally improved the sound quality, I was not satisfied. My wife still asks me to put something on the stereo at dinner time. I had not met my original goal of simplifying the system so anyone can use it or compacted the hardware down to fit into the Victrola. Gear is spread all over the house.
I decided that I was going to fix this problem. The stereo would all fit into the cabinet, and that was that.
Back to the drawing board!
The first thing was to tackle was the turntable. I had saved the roll out base from the old 78 rpm record player. I went back to the turntable I had targeted before, and sure enough, it was going to fit.
The Rega Planar 8
I have not finalized the base for the Planar 8; I am using three layers of Oak Flooring material. I bonded it together and cut it to fit into the opening in the rolling tray. I know that this a compromise. I am looking at Butcher Block Acoustics maple blocks. I may get a 3in thick one and mill it to fit into the opening.
Getting the wiring from the turntable to the phono stage and power took some thought and planning. The cables have to move as the table rolls in and out. I removed the rear of the cabinet and cut a slot to fit the cables at the top of the side panel. Now the cables cleanly move and will not get damaged.
Here is a little preview of where the cables go.
The Planar 8 fits perfectly in the space I have available with its dust cover.
Enter the Digital Music portion of my project.
Wow, where to start. I am going to summarize a bit here for clarity. In the last four years, I have tested many designs.
- A co-located MacMini with the UpTone Audio modifications
- Two models of Sonic Transporters.
- The SoTM trifecta.
- Almost every Rendu, including the SE Optical one
- I have built my own DIY Xeon Server, put an Intel NUC into a case.
I have tried
- Multiple power supplies
- Apacer industrial RAM
- Intel Optane SSD.
- Windows, macOS, AudioLinux, Sonic Orbiter, Gentoo Player and Euphony OS.
- Multiple networking systems
- Countless cables
All of my listening, research, construction, and wand-waving have led me to the conclusion that I cannot build my way up to what I want. So research time. Internet, Magazine archives, phone calls, emails, listening sessions.
Here are my criteria:
- Run Roon
- Be #VictrolaFi or even better #KallaxFi
- RIP CDs
- Dual box, as I have proven to myself, it works the best. BRIDGING!
- Other outputs than USB, just in case
- User-supplied and upgradeable internal storage
- Wired networking
- Great Power Supplies
- Proven track record.
- No user-managed OS (leaves out macOS and Windows)
- It goes without saying whatever I do had darn well sound a lot better than what I have now.
I could go over the last year of background work, but that might be boring. I ordered a full set of Antipodes Audio gear: CX, EX, P1, and P2, all of which have arrived for listening. I am delighted with the Antipodes Audio equipment. They fit perfectly in the Victrola. I added a shelf to separate the two servers for airflow and mechanical isolation. The CX is running Roon Core and has the P1 ripper platform under it. The EX is the Roon Bridge Output and has the P2 DDC under it. Note that the platforms also act as vibration damping.
And it all fits nicely in the old amplifier and speaker compartment #VictrolaFi. Or your favorite IKEA Kallax unit! #KallaxFi
AM/FM/SW replaced by Roon Live Radio
It took me a very long time to get this quadrant of the cabinet in order.
I have placed the NEO power supply for the Planar 8 and the Musical Fidelity Phono stage here. There is room on the shelf for turntable accessories. The stereo has a dedicated 12.9in iPad as the Roon Remote and more.
The existing door did not open all the way. I had to remove framing that was around the radio and the lever arm that held it up. I replaced the lever arm with a modern soft door opener that lets the door open 90 degrees.
I mounted an iPad holder to the drop-down door. I locked the rotation on the iPad so it does not turn upside down when you close the door. The Apple keyboard cover stores inside the cabinet along with the Apple Remote for the Kii Control and an Apple Pencil. I am waiting for an iPad magnet mount which I think will work better.
Just one more thing (and it does not fit in the cabinet)
I replaced all of the AC equipment with a Puritan Audio Laboratories PSM158 Master Purifier and six "Mains Cables." Four cables for the Kii Three System and one each for the Antipodes CX, EX servers. While this has only been with me for a short while, it is head and shoulders above my previous AC protection only equipment. It was amazing when I added the second set of power cords for the Kii Three + BXT speakers.
There are two compromises right now. The AC power for the turntable and the phono stage do not go through the PSM158. The second compromise is that it does not fit in the cabinet because I have records in the fourth quadrant of the Victrola.
There are always little things that I have not covered. The first item is the Puritan Audio Laboratories, Ground Master; it is a little box that connects the system to a separate outside earth ground. It is NOT an AC line ground or safety ground. The job of the Ground Master is to "drain off" electrical noise. I have it all installed, but I still have to do the testing with and without it to see what I can hear.
The next loose end is that I cannot help my self but to try to isolate the ethernet from the rest of the house network. To that end, I have a Sonore opticalModule feeding the CX. The fiber cable then goes directly to my Ubiquity Switch.
There are two battery-powered lights inside of the cabinet to help with lighting.
Now just to add to the controversy of this "build!" During the tenure of both of my closed cabinets, there has been a heat problem. A few months ago, I did some research and found a Silent PC ventilation fan. The Noctua NF-A14 ULN fan makes no noise. It is a fixed speed 12volt fan, so there is no PWM modulator to make electrical noise. I mounted the fan at the top rear of the electronics side of the cabinet, and it exhausts outward. When I had the Xeon server the HDPLEX 400 power supply inside of this tiny Victrola box, it worked perfectly. So it stays!
There are Hue lights behind the speakers and the Victrola for ambiance. There are five SMPS supplies behind the cabinet. Still, this leaves a mess of cabling. I could never see using an open rack in a family living situation. Neither can my wife!
Some final words
Slideshow and Photo Album on Flickr
This is the culmination of about three years of thinking and work. It is almost scary to think I am done! I just had two people over for an afternoon listening session. They both commented emphatically that the sound of the system is a lot better. They seem to disagree on why. I say it is the sum of all parts!
Does this project end my DIY experimenting? I have graduated from the Command Line and Screwdriver undergraduate program. But, remember that I am an experimenter at heart.
Oh, there is the A/B with and without the Sonore opticalModule. Wait, I have not listened with and without the Ground Master.
And yes, I still have to review the Allo Digione Signature. At least now I have something to compare.
Note that I do Audio Systems Design Consulting and I sell some brands of equipment. Please review my profile for that information.
Now to setup profiles for my Wife and Son in Roon!
Another Little Black Box
Welcome to the Victrola Blind Audition
One of the ongoing themes in my system designs is to make things simpler for everyone in the house. The Kii Three’s are pretty simple. Add Music Servers, Turntables, and the like then folks need training.
But what if you could, “Just ask Siri?”
By accident, I found “Another Little Black Box.” This box gives me voice control via Siri using Apple HomeKit. It is Airplay 2 compatible, and there is an App for your devices that can play local music files from the network and connect to services from virtually any service you can name.
If you live in Google Land or the Amazon World, it works there too!
Here are some of the services you can access (video): https://flic.kr/p/2iApTYF
There is no software to install or manage on the device. There are no controls on the device used during the operation.
The black box needs a network connection wired or wireless, or its unique wireless network. It can output VIA single-ended analog or Coax Digital, which I am using to feed the Kii Control. There is also an analog input.
Initial setup is reasonably straightforward; download app, run it, follow directions.
How does it sound? To my ears, it is reasonably pleasant. Better than that Amazon Echo Link I tried last year. This device is about the simple operation, broad-brush access to multiple services, and family involvement. Win, Win, Win!
Now switch inputs to the Antipodes CX+EX Roon server, and you hear a HUGE difference. But Roon does not know Siri, Bandcamp, IDAGIO, or Spotify!
One more hint. The company got yelled at by the Internet when they wanted to stop the support of some older hardware.
Have I given you enough clues?
The Little Black Box is the:
At $449 the SONOS Port is a very enjoyable addition to the system. We are just starting to bring it into the fold. The only downside is that you have to ensure that the Kii Control is set to the Coax input when they shut down so that when you ask Siri, they wake up!
Victrola 711V3 Cabinet
Kii Three Speakers, Kii Control and BXT modules
Antipodes CX Server with 4tb of Samsung SSD
Antipodes P1 Ripper connected to the CX
Antipodes EX Server
Antipodes P2 DDC for the EX as needed
Rega Planar 9 Turntable with Ania cartridge
Musical Fidelity MX-Vynl Phono Stage
12.9in iPad Pro
Sonore/SGC 5v Linear Power Supply
Cable Matters Cat 8 Jumper
Transparent Cable High Performance USB (for EX to P2)
Transparent Cable Ethernet (between CX and EX)
Moon Audio Silver Dragon USB cable for the Kii Control
Mogamai Balanced cables from Phono Stage to Kii Three
Mogamai 3080 AES/EBU cable
Puritan Audio Laboratories
PSM158 Master Purifier
Six Mains Cables
Roon Labs Core on CX and Roon Ready on EX
Resilio Sync to keep CX and NAS in sync
Sonos App as needed
Noctua NF-A14 ULN fan