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Owner: Jonathan Halpern
Analog: Shindo Garrard 301 player system (with Shindo RF-773 Mersault arm and Shindo SPU); EMT 927F with EMT 997 arm and Ortofon RFG-297 with the following cartridges: 997 arm- EMT TSD-15 (stereo), OFD-25 (mono), OFD-65 (78), RFG-297 SPU CG25Di (mono) or EMT JSD5 (stereo); Shindo WE618 step up transformer (on EMT TSD15), Auditorium 23 103 step-up (on EMT TSD15), Auditorium 23 Homage T1 step up (on Shindo 301) or Shindo WE618 step up transformer
Digital: Revox B226 through Shindo Arome CD transformer or Sony PlayStation One (SCPH-1001)
Reel-to-Reel Tape: Otari MX-5050B2 (Shindo electronics under design)
Preamp: Shindo Petrus
Amp: Shindo Western Electric 300B Limited single-ended monos
Speakers: Shindo Latour field coil speakers, Shindo WE 755
Cables: Shindo Interconnects, Auditorium 23 speaker cable
Rack: LignoLab equipment rack
Power Conditioner: Shindo Mr. T
Room size: 14.6 W x 21 D x 9.4 H and opens into an 8' x 8' area
Listener: Michael Lavorgna

The tasting menu
A number of years ago, I was on a solo art tour in France. I'd stopped in Rouen mainly to see what might as well be Monet's cathedral in the flesh. One night I happened upon an out-of-the-way wine bar and wandered in for dinner. I was one of just a few diners and it turned out that the maitre'd/wine steward was desperate to practice his English. So we struck up a deal. We'd talk through dinner, I'd give him some tips on how to speak New Jersian, he'd order my way through however many courses of food and wine I could stomach for a fixed price. I remember starting with fois gras and ending with cheese, with the local specialty of duck filling in a bunch of courses accompanied by a host of great wines, from white to red to sparkling. While my charming and gracious host will never truly appreciate how short the short end of his deal was, I'll never forget that experience. It was the first time I was ever treated to the art of gastronomic balance.

Exit 4: From Kawagoe to Queens
Jonathan Halpern aka Tone Imports is the North American importer and distributor for Shindo Laboratory, Auditorium 23, Leben Hi-Fi, Euphya, EMT and LignoLab. Today, I find myself at Jonathan's home in the Forest Hills section of Queens listening to his personal Shindo system.

Mea Culpa
Not really - but I always wanted to work that in somewhere. I feel it only appropriate to mention that I know Jonathan Halpern from well before joining 6moons, having met him about three years ago at NYC audio salon In Living Stereo while auditioning loudspeakers. We struck up a very interesting conversation about music, mostly jazz and blues. I went back to ILS a number of times over the next few years, mainly to hear the Shindo amps that I'd by then read about in the pages of 6moons. At some point, I visited the Shindo Labs USA website. While it had a certain originality, I offered up some free graphic design ideas to Jonathan, in exchange for all the generous time he'd spent playing great music for me on fantastic gear I never bought. So there you have it. I continue to talk to Jonathan about gear and music (mostly jazz and blues); I continue to work on his Tone Imports web site; and I continue to go to ILS and listen to Jonathan's goods without yet having bought anything from him (though he may just get to me one fine day still).

[While this of course means that Michael won't formally review brands Jonathan handles, I have no issue whatsoever with today's informal report. Or with any formal 2nd opinion sidebars in the future if and when Michael's physical proximity to Halpern's showroom allows us to put together such very desirable double-team support to main reviews handled by a different writer. This is otherwise mostly cost-prohibitive for manufacturers or their agents from the compounded shipping perspective - Ed.]

Shindo Latour
What do you mean I have to plug my speakers in? The voice coil gap of the Latour's field coil driver gets magnetized by electric current. Field coil drivers are an old technology that was replaced with the advent of permanent magnets (Alnico, ferrite, ceramic etc). This 'advance' wasn't necessarily made for sound reasons and the Tone Imports website, among others, suggests it had more to do with bottom lines.

"Unfortunately, these designs add great expense to speaker production due to the need for a dedicated power supply. Back when these designs were used, large vacuum tube supplies were needed to power the field coil. This complexity and expense caused the engineers of the day to develop permanent magnet Alnico speakers. The loss in performance was quickly overlooked by the pencil pushers and surely the techs that had to maintain these complex beasts in movie houses across the country. It was yet another case of the emperor's new clothes. Some even say that James B. Lansing (JBL) pushed Alnico's permanent magnets to help his good friend and investor who happened to be the major supplier of Alnico."

The Latour is a two-way design with a compression driver on a horn for the mid/high frequencies and a 15" short-throw stiff paper woofer for the lows. "The Latour is a tube-friendly 100dB efficient and offers a 16-ohm flat impedance. It features an adjustable woofer/tweeter level for room placement and matching optimization."

The Latour is the top-of-the-line Shindo speaker and stands at 47" H x 17 D x 27 W. There's a smaller version which uses a 12" woofer and a smaller field coil driver in a smaller cabinet. Ken Shindo will also design custom cabinets and crossovers around classic drivers from Altec, JBL and others. I asked Jonathan Halpern about the Latour's crossover: "The x-over is done by ear and doesn't conform to any known types. Inductors are hand-wound and caps are NOS oil caps." Let's file that under "all y'all need to know about the Latours but weren't afraid to ask."

Shindo WE755
The Western Electric 755A driver is the stuff of legend. Originally developed in 1940 as a PA driver, the WE 755A driver will return more links on a Google search than nearly any other. An 8" Alnico paper cone affair, Shindo also has a stock of these rare sonic birds. It should be noted that Altec continued to produce a 755A but that it is the true Western Electric version which sits inside this wonderful Shindo-designed cabinet that measures 15" W x 19" D x 41" H. The Shindo WE755 is a single-driver front-horn-loaded design and this NOS pair had few hours on it when I visited. Based on that, my impression of the WE 755 was, yes, I'd like to have some, my maitre'd man.

I have to admit to finding the look of the Shindo speakers at once elegant and, dare I say - old-fashioned. Talk about your wide baffles. The Latours and WE755s eschew the fashionable thin-is-in look and are reminiscent of the kind of audio that was pictured with a family gathered around it listening to music, news of war and alien landings.

Shindo Western Electric 300B Limited single-ended mono block amplifiers
Ken Shindo designed his first 300B-based amplifier over 30 years ago. This WE 300B Limited is the the top of the heap of Shindo single-ended amplifiers. It uses genuine NOS Western Electric 300B tubes from the original production run. How important was it to Shindo to be able to use first-run WE tubes? "I once came across a warehouse with 600 Western Electric tubes in
it," Shindo recalled in an interview with Men's Vogue [Spring 2006, above]. "I had to get a second mortgage to pay for it." The WE 300B puts out 8 class A watts and retails for $28,000, making it one of the less expensive cost-no-object designs. Funny, isn't it? With amplifiers from the likes of Wavac, Kondo and Audio Note easily doubling in price over the Shindo -- some dipping into 6-digit cost territory, with Wavac making a $350,000 pair of mono blocks -- a $28,000 top of the line amplifier falls on the modestly priced side of the scale when viewed in the overall scheme of things. Funny, no - or slightly perverse?
Shindo Petrus preamplifier
The Petrus full-function preamplifier uses amorphous core output transformers and the Western Electric 3.5-watt 349A power pentode in the line section. Shindo expects 20,000 hours of life from the 349As in this application. The circuit is all point-to-point to eschew any circuit boards. The Petrus employs 16dB of gain in the line stage, + 40dB in MM and +20dB in MC. While Shindo likes to keep the details of his innards right on the inside, I've been told that there are a total of 10 tubes at work in the Petrus.

If you're wondering about the Shindo model names -- Petrus, Latour, Giscours, Montile, Cortese -- they're all French wine producers. More importantly, they're mainly historic chateaus with a rich history in the production of highly refined wines. "The grapes are picked only in the afternoon when the morning dew has evaporated, so as not to risk even the slightest dilution of quality." The audio/wine analogy works very well for me. I'm sure there have been many technological advances in winemaking but heritage, art and craft still reign supreme.

Shindo Garrard 301
The Garrard 301. Enough said? Jeff Day's Garrard restoration article seems to enjoy some of the longest legs in 6moons' review history. And for good reason; this is one astoundingly good turntable (and one excellent article). Ken Shindo realized the beauty lying not exactly dormant but perhaps stifled inside the Garrard 301. So he started experimenting and modifying. This was back in the 1960s. He methodically went about rebuilding, practicing thinking that he had the technology and capability. And thus the first commercially available Shindo Garrard 301 was born in 1982. The Garrard 301 in the hands of Ken Shindo gets a complete makeover from platter to plinth, from spindle to SPU. The idler drive remains intact of course but is reborn as the Shindo Garrard 301. And no photos or even 1,000 words will adequately convey the elegance of this turntable in sight or sound. I've had the pleasure of hearing the Shindo 301 on a number of occasions and like everything else Shindo, it was a musical feast.

EMT 927F
The EMT 927 first appeared in the 1950s. 16" acetate records were still in use which accounts for the EMT's size and that 12" tone arm. The EMT tables were made for use in radio studios so were built to be used and abused. Their Hammertone finish was a strictly no-worse-for-wear choice. The 927 came with an in-built preamp and can play 33s, 45s, and 78s. It's an idler wheel drive just like the Garrard 301.

If you haven't seen one in person, they really are a marvel of engineering and beautiful to behold. For more information and some great pics and history on the EMT turntables, check out Stefano Pasini's website (and if you really like what you see, buy his book. I did).

LignoLab rack
Standing in at 170 pounds, the LignoLab equipment rack from Germany is made from solid wood with a unique air/spring damping system that "isolates the entire system to 3Hz". According to the Tone Imports website, "the advantages are complete system isolation with all components tuned to the same frequency". If we did the video thing, you would see that if you shoved the LignoLabs rack, it'd accept that energy and slowly shrug it off kinda like a buoy floating in honey. Isolation, resonance, mass loading, draining, deadening ... if I were to summarize the general way with those pesky internal and external influences at casa Halpern, I'd say very little indeed.

A delicate balance
High Fidelity. Accurate, truthful and faithful. Since we don't marry our gear nor use it to reproduce test tones, I have personally taken the 'truth' as it relates to music reproduction in the home and sent it on extended holiday. It's on permanent leave in fact. Our hifis admittedly reproduce music "out there" in our rooms but the music
lives within us. Think experience. As with every experience, our music runs through the most complex and beautiful of filters in existence; our body minds. I'll call it personal passageways. When you hear your mother's voice -- or spouse or child -- do you imagine that it has the same effect on you as it would on a perfect stranger? When you hear this same person laugh or cry, does this sound travel the same route through your nervous system as the murmur of a crowd? I find the most important aspect of the hifi experience to take place inside me, not out there in my room. I suppose if I wanted to leave my music in the listening-room theater of operations, I'd be more concerned with objective analysis. But I won't and I don't. I want it as deeply inside me as I can let it go. And here's where fidelity ultimately just doesn't matter.

That's why we can have a deeply meaningful musical experience regardless of sound quality - radio, Walkman, car stereo, boom box, jukebox or a stick on a garbage can lid ... sometimes it just doesn't matter. But if we want to try and guide or control the process -- i.e. have the musical experience as close to on-tap as possible -- we fuss. We audiophile (yup, that's a verb). And the audiophile path to musical bliss-on-tap is not clearly marked. Hifi shops don't have free road maps like Esso stations. Reviews rarely tread the deep waters of system synergy. Measurements have yet to explain their relevance and relationship to the listening experience. So these Road Tours hit the road, in part, to hunt for the elusive, musically engaging system. In the wild. Right out there in the listening rooms of people who actually listen rather than argue.

And today, I bagged a beast, perhaps the most elusive of all - the music-maker. This all-Shindo system is the first hifi I've ever experienced that delivered music directly to my personal passageways. From the first song to the last (7+ hours later) and every one in-between, I was treated to music in all its glory. On tap. Never once -- and I'd like to stress not only how enjoyable the absence was but also how rare of an event in my experience -- did I think about anything to do with audiophile stuff. I was not impressed by the lows or the highs as being separate and distinct from the musical event. There was no sense of soundstage holography or placement of musicians in the room. No 'ohs' or 'ahs', no fireworks. Nothing jumped out and stood apart from the music. This is not an impressive system that way. Have you ever heard a system make music sound like it's got some extra stuff hanging on it? Dressed up like a Douglas fir in December, with stuff that sparkles and impresses as soon as you hear the first notes? Tinsel? If you like aural excess and sound accessorizing, Shindo is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want your music to make the impression, you're in like Flint.

Within you and without you, the Shindo Latour sounds like no other speaker I've heard. Resolute and fast, detailed and dynamic, with nary a hint of mud, sludge, dust or grain. At the same time, it is as fat as your music requires and seamless from double bass to piccolo to triangle to tympani. It's all those nursery-rhyme opposites rolled up into one - the son of Jack and Joan Sprat, Goldie Locks' choice. The delicately balanced transducer.

The 755As, while not nearly broken in with having only a few hours on them, still made some of the most captivating music I've heard. Standing in as the Latour's little brother, I heard the family sound that is Shindo loud and clear. And yes, it's the sound of music.

And the Shindo WE300B Limiteds sound like no other 300B amplifier I've ever heard. As a matter of fact, the easiest way to describe the 300B Limited is to take all the things you've heard about the original Western Electric 300B and flip 'em over to the sunny side. Better yet, why not just forget about the "power tubes have a sonic signature" deal altogether. Or the "I don't like 300Bs". You'll never hear me say that again. The same goes for 2A3s or 845s. Or whatever. One lesson driven home in Forest Hills was that the tube is only part of the story. The circuit is another, the parts another and the implementation yet another. In the hands of a capable designer, anything goes. I've heard people say that a Komuro amp will sound like a Komuro amp regardless of tube or topology. Having heard a few Shindo amps, I'd say the same thing about Shindo. And what is the Shindo house sound? Music.

Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Grant Green, Jimmy Bowen ("I'm Sticking With You"), Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and a host of 78s played on that massively beautiful EMT 927F turntable - we listened to music through the ages. From past to present, from big to small, it was a full-course treat. Sam Cooke and James Brown had more soul than I've ever heard, making me wonder about the man Ken Shindo. Who is this guy? How does he know this stuff? For now, this remains one of those wonderfully elusive mysteries. But my thoughts about him kept connecting him to the music, not the gear. Oddly enough, I didn't think, "wow, that Shindo knows his 300Bs". It was more about, "wow, Ken Shindo gets Jimi Hendrix and he just gave him to me". So to speak.

Maybe that's what all the fuss is about. Maybe there's a certain kind of truth that exists in music. When we have that direct connection to the performance, it resonates within us because it's connecting us to something at once inside and outside ourselves. Something we can share with others regardless of time or place. Music as its own unique handshake between our perceptions and a timeless reality that lives within a piece of music.

Coincidence is a funny thing, no? A few days after my Shindo experience, I read Jeff Day's introduction to his new series "The Music Lovers". And I thought, right on - way to go Jeff. The Music Lovers. What a wonderful idea. What a generous and kind way to cut through so much of the crap and put a pleasant face on what really is a pleasant face; our hifi hobby. So with Jeff's permission, I'll say the Shindo system is for the music lovers among us. While the price of admission for this incarnation is dear, the Shindo line reaches out to many price points. I plan to continue my private tour of exploration up and down the line for as long as In Living Stereo doesn't give me the boot.

or too fruity or "hmm, that duck is just not accurate". Pairings - mixing and matching to obtain a delicate balance and deliver a sensuous experience that truly takes over your senses and leaves your mind free to wander and wonder at the mystery and joy and sorrow of it all. As the Shindo tasting lingered over the next few days, I found myself hunting for LPs on eBay; some from my childhood like the Vanguard collection titled The Great Blues Men; and some from chez Halpern like Jimmy Bowen who reminded me of my "Uncle Pete". And this is exactly the kind of passion I'm looking for my hifi to ignite; what it's all about for me. Music as its own unique memory trigger to people and places in time we'd otherwise forget (or never met in the first place) while at the same time leading us somewhere new. Delicately balancing us in the present as it were...
And you know, during that feast in France, I never once thought too dry

[In the US, there are two opportunities to retrace Michael's steps and hear an all-Shindo system with Latour loudspeakers for yourself - at Tone Imports in NYC and Pitch Perfect Audio in San Francisco - Ed.]
Tone Imports' website