Empirical Modded HCA 3500 & The VMPS RM 40

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Empirical Modded HCA 3500 & The VMPS RM 40
« on: 6 Mar 2005, 01:53 am »
Since the VMPS RM 40 loud speaker won the best sound award at the 2002 CES, it has been regarded by many as an outstanding performer. It has been my reference speaker for nearly 3 years and I have learned to appreciate its ability to articulate nuances of CD players, preamplifiers, power amplifiers, interconnect and speaker cables. The RM 40 is a permanent component in my reference system. Therefore, much of this review will focus upon the Modded-HCA 3500. Mating the RM 40 with the Parasound HCA 3500 as modded by Steve Nugent at “Empirical Audio” has revealed the worthiness and validity of modifying already outstanding audio gear. Employees at the Parasound Service Department referred to the HCA 3500 as “the beast”. I say amen to that!

Please keep in mind that this review, as any other, will reflect the synergistic affect of all system components. Other system components include an Accuphase PD-77 player, Pass Laboratories D1 D/AC (24/96 version) and an X0.2 Pre Amplifier. Analysis Plus Silver Oval and Solo Crystal Oval interconnects, and Wire World Eclipse III+ (shot gun configuration) bi-wired speaker cables. The 8 AWG Wire World cable was selected for best bass control. The room size is 18’x 26’x 9’.

My initial impression from my first listening to this amplifier was a startling experience.  I was amazed by the sound, and I had never heard more realistic and robust sound from any other amplifier setup with the RM 40 speaker. Transparency, natural timbre, and sheer musical life, even at loud listening levels, were the best I had heard. Dynamics are superb, and complex music textures are clear. Solo male and female voice and demanding solo instruments (guitar, violins, cello, piano, harpsichord, clarinet, and flute) were as natural as they get. Midrange performance was remarkably neutral. The upper to the low deep bass was earth shaking powerful.

At this point, I had to collect myself from the trance I was in and I began to wonder what was it I was listening to? I began identifying all the system components and they were the same as always with the exception of the substituted Modded-HCA 3500. I was still shocked and in disbelief. How could one component change make such a dramatic difference?

I was hearing deeper into the music than ever before. I was hearing what was on the recording and not the colorations that some components add to the sound. I could actually hear clear back into a trumpet and sax the sound of the vibrating reed, the piano hammers striking the keys, the piano’s foot pedal actions, the organ air pumps, the leading edge of percussions being struck, etc. Transparency is the key here. On the down side, you will also hear the effects of bad recordings and front end sources. The top octaves have all the energy, life, air, and detail to make music sound alive – no edge or harshness, no touch of excess or over hang. The Modded-HCA 3500’s freedom from upper-octave coloration means there is no euphonically forgiving nature. Listening to well recorded live music is a great joy. You are there in the midst of the action! Sound staging and imaging is outstanding. There is a sense of wall to wall sound with stable demographics of instruments. The 3D effect of the sound stage is very present. Soloist and instruments are out of the speakers and into the room. With your eyes closed, you have a sense of wanting to walk among the performers. The Modded-HCA 3500’s superior transparency and resolving power open up and define the sound stage as well as the recording permits. Try some of your Count Basie and Duke Ellington live recordings. Awesome!

In terms of dynamics, power is telling. The beast (Modded-HCA 3500) was a match for the deepest organ and drum recordings I had available. It never ran out of power even at SPL of 117 db. With Maxwell’s “Urban Hang Suite” and Sade “Lovers Rock” CDs, the amp generated so much bass energy I needed to readjust the PR driver on the VMPS RM40 for balance. Bass clarity extended down into the deepest bass range. Bass was always tight, vibrant, detailed and deep. Chest pounding! Jazz and blues took on an added touch of realism, and good rock really moved. The dynamics were superb in all areas. Low-level percussion transients leapt out with the speed and definition of the real thing. And complex dynamics of well-recorded solo instruments, close miked, was remarkably lifelike with explosive impact. Listening to Christian Mc Bride “A Family Affair”, Nicholas Payton “Payton’s Place” will push you further back into you seat. Or Houston Person & Ron Carter “Now’s The Time” will lift you out of it. The Modded-HCA 3500 and the VMPS RM 40 were a perfect match.

In terms of nuances, there is no comparison between the original HCA 3500 and the Steve Nugent’s Modded-HCA 3500 amplifier as to how they articulate music. For example: There is a chime percussion instrument in Shirley Horn’s recording with strings “Here’s To Life” (cut 2) that chimes for about 5 seconds. Although the original HCA 3500 lets you here the sound of a chime for the 5 sec duration, the Modded-HCA 3500 lets you hear the individual tones produced by the varying chime lengths. Awesome!

I couldn’t resist the urge to test the Modded-HCA 3500 with the VMPS STIII/RSE (a 72 inch ribbon and (4) 12” woofers per-side). Two Modded-HCA 3500s were used with a Pass labs XVR1 electronic crossover in a vertical alignment, one for each speaker. The cross over point was set at 150Hz. The VMPS STIII/RSE speaker system driven by other amplifiers had moved me to the level of “Ecstasy”, but the two Modded-HCA 3500s moved me to the level of “Nirvana”.

In conclusion – I expect that there will be a “doubting Thomas” out there regarding the contents of this review. That’s OK! All of us are entitled to our own belief based upon our personal experiences and psychics. With my 40 plus years involvement in the high end audio industry, I wrote my new experience as I heard it.  Nevertheless, new experiences are educational and education is a continuing process. Without it we began to lose direction in our quest for perfection. For those of you who have a Parasound HCA 3500 and want to experience this phenomenal amplifier as modded by Steve Nugent at Empirical Audio, then try it. The results just might make you a believer.

For more details regarding the Modded-HCA 3500 and JC-1 comparison, see Steve’s web site: http://www.empiricalaudio.com/, for VMPS RM40 specifications see http://www.vmpsaudio.com.