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Wolfsong Audio to the Rescue!

09-25-2018 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 99

A couple of weeks back, I arose on an otherwise unremarkable Sunday morning, had my coffee and checked my losing lottery numbers. I then proceeded downstairs to remove and replace the Hana EL cartridge that's been the recent mainstay of my analog playback system. The Hana SL (with its Shibata stylus) had recently arrived from Musical Surroundings (Hana's US distributor), and Garth Leerer, my contact there, was totally pumped to have me give the SL a spin. But first, he wanted me to listen to the EL with Musical Surroundings' own Phenomena II+ phono preamp before proceeding to the SL. After a couple of months with the Phenomena II+ in place (amazingly good phono pre, especially at its ridiculously low price point, full review forthcoming), I decided it was time to start breaking in the SL. And this particular morning would be perfect for that task.

Then the most unthinkable thing in the world happened: I broke the red cartridge clip on my ProJect The Classic table while removing it from the Hana EL that had been attached to the table's carbon fiber tonearm. Ready to go into full panic mode, I stopped and started trying to control my breathing; this hasn't happened to me in over thirty years, I can fix this, I'll just recrimp the connector to the cable. Of course, closer examination with a magnifying glass revealed that the clip was indeed soldered on, and the wire diameter was microscopic. So tiny, in fact, that I didn't believe I could even successfully strip the cable jacket from the wire, and there was no way I could possibly perform that kind of micro surgery with a soldering iron. Now, we panic!

I ran back upstairs and jumped on the laptop, researching anyone local who might possibly be able to perform the required repairs at this level of precision; things were not looking good. I then returned to the basement, and took a hard look at the assembly of my table's arm, and soon realized that even if I attempted to return just the arm to Sumiko for repair, I was opening an entirely different can of worms. Any scenario that didn't include me having to eventually resolder the arm wire leads was inescapable. At that point, I had a great thought: audiophile par excellence and fellow hack Lee Scoggins was local to me; perhaps he might be able to point me in the direction of someone who could help re-orient my deepening frown to a more upward-tilted position.

Within the timespan of a couple of quick instant messages, Lee had put me in touch with two of his go-to sources in the area, And both of them, quite shockingly, responded (on a Sunday!) to my sincerely distressed emails. One of them was right around the corner from my office, but I got a tremendously good vibe from Mike Burns of Wolfsong Audio in Dawsonville, Georgia, very near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But only about an hour-or-so drive from me, so no great worry; I sent a couple of photos of the damage, and made the arrangements with Mike to see him on the following Friday. Looks like it's going to be an entirely digital week of listening for me! The days passed surprisingly quickly; mainly because I was jack hammered with stressful work at my day job. I know that the printed word is dying a slow, painful, inevitable death, but mamas, don't let your babies grow up and get involved on the technical side of the publishing industry—they will thank you later.

Friday came, and the drive up to Dawsonville proved totally uneventful; Beth and I arrived at Wolfsong Audio in no time at all. Mike Burns runs the business out of his home—which sits right on gorgeous, idyllic Lake Lanier, and has a very nice detached-garage office setup. His workshop is on the first floor, and his showroom and listening environment is located on the second level. He's a very personable, knowledgeable, and entertaining person to talk with, and I was struck by a certain sense of deja-vu immediately upon meeting him—more on that later. He seems to split his time between online sales, traveling to perform custom installations, and managing Wolfsong's showroom on a by-appointment basis. Also turns out that he worked for years for Alan Jones of renowned local shop Audio Alternative, parting ways a number of years prior to Alan's relocation to Buckhead and reinvention in the revival of the HiFi Buys brand (and the Atlanta audio crowds rejoiced!) Now, I'd been in Audio Alternative countless times, but I couldn't make the connection of having met Mike there, although I can't see how I could possibly not have. Probably because I thought I was on some kind of mission at the time, or because I'd allowed myself to fall victim to the irrepressible charm of Shawn, Alan's then wife. Who simply had to cast her gaze in your direction and you basically lost all sense of purpose in being there in the first place. What was I talking about?

After greeting us and showing us around, Mike then took us upstairs to his listening room and put on some Dead Can Dance on a really nice Thorens demo table (it's available!), playing through a completely Bryston setup of amp, preamp, and loudspeakers, with cables from DH Labs. Unfortunately, there was a connection issue, so Mike then switched to a digital stream of the same album from Tidal through a Bryston DAC. No worries, the sound was beyond superb, and his room was adorned with very artful acoustic treatments and diffusers of his own creation, helping give the DCD selection an exceptionally balanced spatial presentation with superb realism. He left us there to enjoy the music and proceeded downstairs to evaluate the repair; Beth and I both marveled at the impressive sound and the really nice setup at Wolfsong Audio. And I also sat and pondered about Mike Burns; where in my limited travels had I seen that face before?

Mike masterfully performed the required surgery in less than ten minutes, and for the bargain-basement price of one half-hour of bench time, which equaled $37.50. That alone would have been my one-way shipping cost to return the table to Sumiko, not to mention the hassle of the experience, and God knows how long it would have taken and what other costs might have been incurred. I thanked Mike profusely, and as he prepared the invoice, the light bulb finally went off. "Is it possible that I might have bought a pair of Magneplanars from you about ten years ago?" I asked. "You met me at my work parking lot and we made the deal—I still have the speakers, although I've modded them almost beyond recognition." And I recalled that the guy who sold them to me told me that he'd worked for Alan at Audio Alternative for years—yes, Mike agreed, he very well could have been the one.

Upon arrival back at the house, I attached and setup the new Hana SL—thankfully, uneventfully—then put on a record and headed up to the attic to check the collection of equipment boxes that reside there. After opening the Magneplanar box, sure enough, there was a hand-written invoice from none other than Mike Burns. Small world, huh?

Mike Burns is a superb technician and very convivial person to deal with; I can easily see why his time is so very much in demand in the metro area. He seems to have a winning philosophy in his approach to the audiophile market, and I wish him nothing but the best of luck in his endeavors. If you're ever in the North Georgia area, or even online for that matter, check out his current list of offerings of new and gently-used gear. And if you're ever in need of expert service, he's most definitely your man! Thanks for the referral, Lee—you definitely sent me to the right guy. Very highly recommended!

Wolfsong Audio


All Images courtesy of Wolfsong Audio and the author