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Positive Feedback ISSUE 31
may/june 2007


the Cantle of the Cacophonophilist -  the beginning
by Peter Clark


This article, well a review of sorts, will be like no other. Unlike most reviewers, I actually use a grading system from 1 to 10, so be prepared. Read with caution, and some popcorn, as it may be just as good (or bad) as the latest horror movie. I hope you enjoy a fresh new writing sense from an author who is just starting college, and has a music taste like no other writer. If you do not want to read some upbeat, new-wave, radical writer's approach to writing a audio-related review, hit the back button (located at the top-left, gramps) and return to your boring, normal, unexciting articles. I do not take pity, you have been warned. This article commences as soon as you read this word.

When I first was asked to start writing for this publication, I thought that I would have to learn all these nonsensical useless terms that are so complex that a simple dumbed down word would suffice. To my distress, I was taught some of these words, but was encouraged not to use any of them in my writing. Words such as [fill in your idea of audio-speak here... blah... blah.... the stuff my dad uses on occasion to bore me…]. I was soon told that these words/terms were not important in my articles, so I instead just focused on what I heard rather than what I was suppose to know… or write.

I was given some equipment with the idea that a starving college student (like myself) would want to buy an inexpensive sound system. I was to take inexpensive equipment and review them from my point of view rather than that of a hardcore audio geek. By saying this I may have strayed some of you from reading any further, but frankly who cares? Anyways, I was given a pair of Firestone amplifiers from China, bundled with a Firestone preamplifier for headphones to listen to for a few weeks. Additionally I was also given a pair of Zu Druids—I was told that they would work with the amps… beyond me. The Druids were not intentional; it was merely a coincidence, as the Druids would be far too expensive for a college student to own.

Right off the bat, I encountered some problems. According to my father, the tubes in the preamplifier were causing a hum in the speakers. Though once music came from the speakers, I hardly noticed it. Even so, he insisted that it was humming even when music was playing and I was not hearing what I should be hearing…. So he replaced the tubes (after contacting the manufacturer), and the hum did subside …though you could still make it out just a bit. Once that problem was solved, I started to listen to the system as a whole. I am currently using a Sony CD player and a DIO homedock for my iPod (which I must say, is not the best homedock one could buy). I am also using an Advent subwoofer.

Before I continue with the review, I'd like to mention something. I do not in any respect listen to the music that most audiophiles listen to daily …or even rarely on occasion. I don't even listen to music similar to that of my father or my mother. I'm a little off beat to the typical audiophile or reader of PFO. I listen to a genre entitled "Hardcore" which is an evolution of old school punk (some might confuse this with generic rock, but there is a huge difference). But it doesn't stop there, I also enjoy listening to Death Metal, Grindcore (a form of death metal that involves a grinding sound with guitars and drums), and other forms of "metal" such as Tech Metal, and Metalcore (a mixture of Metal music and Hardcore themes). I mention this only because what you hear in whatever you listen to, is completely different than what I hear, because of the fact that it is a completely different type of music entirely. So now that you know that, back to the review.

Using some new stuff that came in the mail, I started listening to the system with the aforementioned setup and I did not notice ANY difference from my old Adcom amp, preamp, and DCM Time Windows speakers, until I listened to something I had recently listened to on the old system. I noticed that the new system removed the "muffled"-ness sound of the old one. It no longer sounded like the vocalist was singing into a water bottle, it now had a more clear and fluent sound about it. I do not know what caused this, as there were so many new things about the system that had been added, but I like this a lot! Unfortunately, after awhile I noticed the loud hum had returned to the speakers. I called my dad and asked if he had anymore tubes, he said no, so we disconnected the preamp and reconnected the old Adcom preamp. I have been listening to it this way for a long time now, and I really like this set-up—my dad was right, the hum could be made out when a song was at its low point.

Now that I talked about the overall sound (I guess that makes sense) of the system, time to talk about each individual component. The pair of Firestone amps. I did not have any problems with them, but I don't understand what having a different amplifier does. They all seem the same. The big difference I notice is that one has tubes and one doesn't. From that point, I just say I want that one (pointing at the tubes), because it looks cool. I don't understand what the point of having some fancy $$$ amplifier is supposed to do—don’t they just amplify the music? Anyway, back to the point, I really like the look of these amplifiers, especially the diagnostic (like there would be anything wrong with it—either it plays or it doesn’t) light show that starts up when you press the power button. After a few seconds the lights fade, and then guess what? MUSIC COMES OUT OF THE SPEAKERS, IT'S A MIRACLE, but seriously I really did like the look and feel of these simple, tiny, inexpensive components. They have worked without any problems and the music from the Zu speakers sounds really better than what I had before. As for "sound", I thought that was what the speakers are for... so I'm going to skip this category. Overall assessment (unfortunately based just entirely on looks and price), 8/10.

Onto the other Firestone component I received, the Headphone preamp. I received two of these, requesting another when the hum came back even when the tubes were replaced. The first one was for headphones, and it had a nice design on the front of it with a very simple interface on the back for connecting interconnects. The volume knob was nice and easy to use, it clicked and it was smooth. Aside from the hum, it allowed the system to do what it needed to do, and that's all I was looking for—music came from the speakers. The second preamplifier that came from the manufacturer was a less-expensive one that did not have the headphone jack. Other than that it, it functioned pretty much the same—I heard the music. Unfortunately, this one ALSO had a nasty hum to it and was EVEN louder than the first. After having my dad play around with it and having no luck, I decided to just revert back to my old Adcom preamp. All I can say about Firestone is keep up with your amplifiers because they are top-notch for the price. However, the preamps need some work. Overall I'd give the preamps a 5/10. Positive marks for looks, and negative marks for the hum.

Moving on, we come up on the Zu Druids. At first, we did not have the right speaker cable so we asked Zu to send us some of theirs. We hooked them up to the speakers, and made it sound better than my dad’s old Kimbers Kables I was using. Let me stop here for a second and say that better is probably not the best word to use, as I cannot define better. But for better or for worse, better is the better word to use. Anyways, although I cannot say that because we were trying to use the wrong speaker cable for a speaker that did not accept the cables we had—we had to mod the old Kimbers to fit the speaker connectors – perhaps the mod caused the sound to be lessened. I'm running out of terms to use! In any case the speakers were durable and looked great. They play loud and clean. They are blue, tall, and have two cool circular shapes in the middle where the sound comes out of... which I know makes me sound like I'm an idiot, but who cares? Moving on, the speakers were able to produce the high highs, and the low lows without any muffling, break-ups, or distortion (ha ha! A new term!). Although the set-up was a bit difficult (entirely our fault, not Zu's), I'd give these speakers a 10/10,

To explain myself a bit more on the whole "better" aspect of my review. On my old system it was muffled and sometimes distorted, but on this new system it sounds more open and clear. My old system  didn't seem to produce the crisp highs and low, lows of this new system. That's why I think its better. I like it... simple as that.

I figure at this point, we only have about 2 of the first 100,000 or so readers that read this page, but I guess that's what I get for writing such an offbeat article. Thanks to you two people that actually made it this far. And I hope you stay tuned for my next articles to come. This article is long over due, so I'll end it here.

But wait! I forgot to write an overall score for everything. This score is to be tallied with the system of: Zu, Firestone (amp and preamp), Sony CD-player (not counted in score), and the Advent sub woofer (not counted in score as well). The overall score is... 7.6/10 (the average score of all three scores), rounded up to 8/10. The scoring system may seem redundant, but hey, I don't care!