Marc’s Trans-Fi SALVATION + TERMINATOR system

Marc Czerwinski has a nice music system in the attic space of his home in England.

The room is a 5.5m wide x 14.5m long x 2.75m high loft-attic, with 1.2m high side walls.

The loudspeakers are 2.45m spaced apart and the listening position is 4.6m away.

With Marc’s kind permission, here are some pics of his highly-tuned music system and equipment, including:

  • TRANS-FI SALVATION turntable with custom-built, outboard PSU, Sablon power cord, Oyaide DC cable and connectors. Symposium Svelte motor isolation pad.
  • TRANS-FI TERMINATOR linear tracking, air-bearing tonearm with balanced transformer-powered air pump. Carbon-fibre arm-wand recently upgraded with Audio Note AN-AI 99.999% silver tonearm cable and Bocchino RCA plugs. The latest update is a brass manifold and carbon-fibre slider carriage.
  • SOUNDSMITH Strain Gauge cartridge with new ‘level 7’ Energiser PSU.
  • STACORE Advanced pneumatic anti-vibration platforms under turntable and under balanced transformer. Symposium rack / Rollerblocks supporting other equipment.
  • NAT Audio Utopia tube line preamp.
  • NAT Audio SE2SE power amplifier (70Wpc from 4 x GE211 tubes).
  • ZU Definition MkIV (with Dueland crossover caps, Lundahl bass-amplifer transformers).
  • Dedicated, isolated attic power supply from a Westwick 8kVA Balanced Power unit, with FURUTECH wall sockets.
  • SABLON power cords and ENTREQ system Ground Boxes and cables.

 

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19 thoughts on “Marc’s Trans-Fi SALVATION + TERMINATOR system

  1. Harold, absolutely fantastic. I was skeptical it would make such a fundamental difference, but it has. Totally unwavering bass foundation, leading to greater air, microdynamics, and most critically, timbral accuracy. That was already evident on the armwand upgrade, but going w the whole new arm completed the spell. Cannot speak more highly of Andrey’s evolution of Vic’s original magical design.

  2. Turntable journey is a long and winding one.

    Was always a big fan of the Linn LP12, but when it came to putting my money down in 1997 on my first high end tt, I instead plumped for the Roksan Xerxes X, partnered w the Artemiz tonearm, Shiraz cart and ArtaXerxes phono. Despite being a solid performer, I found the presentation too bloodless and overly forensic, and three years later bought a much more musical (and more coloured) deck. A story for another post. The Roksan taught me what I didn’t want and what I missed, and other than one similarly poor cdp choice, I’ve made better decisions since.

    The system in 1997 was all-Roksan, aforementioned tt, Caspian cdp and amp, and Ojan 3X/3S spkrs. These spkrs were great on the bass side of things, but poor higher up.

    Indeed, without knowing it, I was being shortchanged by poor choice of gear, worse power to my system, and the worst room acoustics. It was in my second system from 2000 that I became aware of these shortcomings and tried to address them.

  3. So in 2000, I sold the hugely unrewarding Roksan system for one comprising Michell Orbe tt/SME V arm/Transfiguration Temper Supreme cart/Tom Evans Groove phono/Marantz SA1 cdp/Advantage amp/ProAc Futures 2 spkrs.

    Sound way more involving, but now at the expense of less precision and neutrality. Slightly soft sounding vinyl replay led to me upgrading tt psu to Origin Live and tt/armboard suspension to Gerd Pederson O-Rings/silicon damping. This hugely tightened up the sound, but I still felt I was destined for a different analog front end. These Gerd mods, plus VdH internal wiring change to SME and cart change first to Transfiguration Orpheus, then Zu Denon 103 cart followed, latter then getting the ESCCO mods, and my Groove phono upgraded to Plus SRX spec finished this particular phase of tt ownership.

    The Marantz SA1 cdp never spoke to me, so via an Advantage cdp, I ended up w the impressive Emm Labs CDSA SE cdp, modded w transport and output stage changes. Digital now pulling ahead of analogue. Yikes!

    Advantage amp changed to Hovland HP200 tube pre/Radia SS power. For first time I got the magic of tubes.

    ProAc Futures 2 spkrs replaced by Zu Definitions 2. Deep down I knew my future was going to be triodes, and my 1200 sq ft/10,000 cub ft room was not gonna help tubes unless I went high efficiency. I wasn’t at all sure about horns (still aren’t), so Zu at 101dB eff and steady 8 Ohms, made perfect sense. I also totally bought into the Zu full range driver/zero crossover concept. Tubes on these were the diametric opposite of what I’d looked at in the past. And I knew tubes on them were gonna be my future, a tube pre was a good start.

    Critically, I started addressing power issues in my room. Starting with a Burmester 948 conditioner, moving on to a radial main, and finally Airlink 3kVA balanced power transformer.

    So in late 2000s, I had a radically different system. Roksan to Michell to modded Michell, Emm Labs cdp, tube/SS amps, high efficiency full range driver spkrs, and attention to mains.

    STILL not good enough Lol. Especially w cd sounding better than lp.
    This was a decade ago, the 2010s beckoned, time to address the tt.

    Oh, WTF is this TransFi Terminator? And Salvation? A story for another day…

    Sound

  4. So, we’re now in 2013, my current rig is sounding pretty decent. Analog not quite hitting the heights of digital, but overall pretty good. I had listened to AG Trios horns and quite liked the TW Acustic AC3 tt. That got me considering yet another tt, this time the Palmer, designed by the Nottingham Analogue man.

    However, the web was a fantastic resource now, and Vic’s Salvation and Terminator loomed into view. And the demo at Vic was stellar. This tt had the speed and neutrality that was missing from my Orbe/SME, and tbh even from the 5x pricier AC3 tt/Graham arm. And so I bought my final FINAL tt.

    In the same year I ended up with the Soundsmith Straingauge cart, Eera Tentation cdp, Audion Quattro tube pre/Black Shadow 845 SETs, and Zu Definitions 4 spkrs.

    So a whole new setup, my third. The analog front end getting the perfect balance of neutrality and resolution, w great transparency and tone, the cdp playing in analog territory on tone and texture, all-tubes amp chain warm and involving, and the new Zus way more informative than the old Zus w much more adjustable bass.

    Add ventures into Sablon cables, Westwick 8kVA balanced power, Entreq grounding, Symposium vibration isolation and GIKs room treatments, and the foundation of my current 2020 system was set.

    Sound warm and detailed in equal measure. However, my room acoustics were proving to be a real challenge, and a bottleneck to properly good sound. A 27’x30’x13′ studio space, concrete and glass, was absolutely a limiting factor.

    Cue a move from London to the country, to an 1861 Victorian chapel, a £50k conversion of loft space. The best upgrade ever. Now the system was rocking, and the final series of mods and optimisation started.

    All in Brexit referendum year Lol…

  5. Yes, a very busy year was 2016. The vote to upend four decades of trade policy controlled by Brussels. Our move from bustling London to the quiet Norfolk countryside. Buying a 3000 sq ft 1861 Victorian chapel. Strangely enough called…Victoria Chapel Lol. And pumping £50k into converting the loft space into a dedicated 18x48x9 listening space.

    Out with the harsh London acoustic of concrete and glass, asymmetrical shape, alcoves and sharp edges. In with a wholly symmetrical space, no overly reflective surfaces, apparently minimal nodes/standing waves/overcooked slap echo. My fears of sinking the kind of budget on building the room that would have got me an uber tt like a Kronos or GP Monaco, or a pair of horns like AG Duos XD Mezzos, or restored big Apogees, and ending up with a dog’s dinner of a poor sound, was totally unfounded. Evident immediately with simple speech in the space being hugely intelligible, a warm, intimate acoustic, immersive and no apparent nasties.

    The trepidation on listening to the system in early 2017, Zus not optimally positioned, analog not correctly set up, and juice via off the shelf cheapo cheapo power cords into the dirty domestic grid, was palpable.

    And for just a couple of moments only needed to reveal the new room acoustics blew the old room away. A fantastic blank canvas to really nail down a superior sound.

    And thus started my current and last round of upgrades, mods and install optimisations to take me up to the current day.

    One thing to conclude. Acoustics are king, and can be the catalyst to a heavenly sound. I never believed it. I do now.

  6. Owen, I need to mention yr arm mount first.

    The room is a total miracle, so many previous acoustic issues sorted, and a blank canvas for sorting out the final sound.

    Salvation gets the bespoke mods treatment w LPS to tt speed controller, Symposium Svelte isolation pad to replace stock sorbothane of rim pod, and critically a 150kg uber vibration solution of Stacore Advanced pneumatic/mass loading platform plus inert slate stand. This is all in addition to earlier mods re Reso Mat, mag lev platter and feet.

    Owen’s fantastic Al arm mount was then followed by Andrey’s “New” Terminator, and bespoke silver wire/Bocchinos tonearm cbl, Terminator air pump supplied by Airlink 3kVA balanced power transformer. Straingauge cart now powered by a bespoke dual mono LPS.

    Critically I learnt finally how to dial my analog in properly. This, plus the aforementioned changes has totally rejuvenated my lp enjoyment, bringing a real top to bottom impvt, solidity and speed in the bass, to texture and dimensionality in the mids, to shimmer and air in the treble. Critically timbral accuracy is now as good as any tt I’ve heard. The tt journey is now at an end.

    I decided to go for more powerful SETs in my room, 25W Audion 845s were just running out of puff in my very large room. Went for Nat Utopia pre/80W per ch SE2SEs 211s. These amps have the heft of SS w the delicacy of triodes. Some noise issues sorted w the aid of careful choice of preamp tubes and a Tubulus Argentus DB25 cbl to pre psu.

    Zus gone thru a lot of changes to incl Duelunds caps and Lundahls sub amps mods, to addition of Townsend Townsend supertweeters and Arya Audio Revopods to replace stock spikes. Careful attention to detail on spkr placement and subs settings have really borne fruit.

    Then big experimentation of ancilliaries in last 3 years. A whole loom of Sablon cables, electrical feed to loft isolated from domestic into 8kVA Westwick balanced power transformer,into Oyaide dedicated lines into Furutech duplexes. Rounded out w Entreq grounding and SR Black fuses thruout. Symposium rack and Rollerblocks under all gear except Stacored tt, and GIK absorbers at reflection points completes the picture.

    The sound is totally compelling. Equal part neutral/revealing and intimate/textured, both lp and cd sound great, neither inferior to the other. The Zus meld w 80W triodes in my cavernous room like hand in glove. Critically, prev challenging acoustic material like classical music has become way more listenable. I am not consciously aware of the system mechanics of music making or the limits of the room. I guess that’s the definition of transparency and uncoloured.

    So, 23 years after I bought that first Roksan system.only to be ultimately disappointed, the system.now really fully communicates, immerses and pleases.

  7. Owen, in answer to yr Q, I’ve run seven carts/phonos (eight if you include my heavilly-modded Straingauge as two systems) combinations over the years. Obviously, near impossible to separate their sound from the system they were in. But my conclusions.

    Roksan Shiraz cart/ArtaXerxes phono, functional but uninspiring. A tendency to sound terse w high frequencies exaggerated at the expense of mids detail. A bit glassy.

    Transfiguration Temper Supreme and Orpheus carts/Tom Evans Groove and Groove Plus SRX phonos, way more involving, detailed and transparent, but lacking a little on PRaT, sound lacking in drive. Presents the map for the trip, but doesn’t take you on a drive.

    Lyra Skala cart/Tom Evans Groove phono, harsh and strident. Emphasised every sibilant.

    Lyra Parnassus cart/Tom Evans Groove Plus SRX phono, lush and romantic, technicolor and effusive. A truly immersive experience, just a tad too warm in my system. A little too Koetsu for my liking. Hugely intoxicating in many ways.

    ESCCO modded Zu Denon 103R cart/Tom Evans Groove Plus SRX phono, on the money and direct, maybe a little too forward compared to the Transfigurations and Parnassus. Lacking a little texture and air. But on-message and quite addictive.

    Last but not least, my current:-
    Soundsmith Straingauge cart and energiser/(no phono), the best balance by far of: Zu 103 dynamic thrust and matter of fact pace, Parnassus tone, Transfiguration neutrality and transparency. A potent combination of speed, introspection, natural detail, and superb tracking.

    It’s great out of the box, but despite designer Peter Lederman’s denial of the benefits of after-mkt LPS upgrades, the cart really benefits from these. First the Vinni Rossi Black Lightning batt-pwrd PSU took the cart up a notch, but reliability issues forced me to consider alternatives, incl the Peter Downs Alternative Audio dual mono LPS which I’ve been using for over two years.

    Now the cart has developed a really cultured balance of natural tonal warmth, fantastic timbral discrimination, amazing low end articulation and heft, mids texture 2die4, and amazingly filigree high freqs shimmer and air. Speed is quicksilver fast but no compromise on body/texture.

    This shines on the demands of classical microdynamics and instrumental tone and timbre, jazz warmth and ambience, and rock/dance slam and PRaT.

    Indeed the LPS enhanced Straingauge is a true all rounder, knocking on the door of much pricier carts. Turn on a dime speed w full spectrum tonal warmth is quite a trick, a fantastic synergy w my tricked out Salvation/Terminator.

  8. Zu spkrs are quite the dichotomy. More than any other spkr I’ve heard they really tap the emotions. Due to their tonally dense, vivid and colour drenched presentation. Dynamic shove and tone density leads to a hugely emotion charged listening experience.

    So the Zus USP is full range drivers to cover the range of female voice w no xover to split things, purity of tone from 40Hz-11kHz, sub bass downfiring Class D below 40, Radian supertweeter above 11k. The sound is make or break for listeners on the output of that uninterrupted frequency range from 10″ drivers.

    Otoh, their lack of ultimate transparency, slight opaqueness in mids, borderline tendency to be a little hard in upper mids/lower treble, and single driver topology not maximally suited to complex acoustic music like classical or big band, means they are what we call in the UK a “Marmite” brand…you either love ’em or hate ’em. Well, you can guess my opinion Lol.

    So, while I loved the tone density and slammy dynamics evident on first listen, others would walk away based on that lack of last degree of sonic invisibility.

    However, I always felt there was scope to get more out of the Zus, and going fully over to tubes was the start.

    However it was only when I moved to this room w key acoustics uptick, that things came of age re Zu ownership.

    The ability to keep them well clear of front and side walls, totally symmetrical layout, and eliminating highly reflective and harsh glass and concrete boundaries, revealed a much warmer, lusher, clearer sound. Modding w the Duelunds clarified the upper mids, Lundahls did the same to the bass. Townshend supertweeters added air and shimmer, and Revopods footers boosted mids to bass transition. And so finally I was able to sort a much lower, more subtle subs bass setting, so bass was tighter and more extended, but did not smear the mids.

    Right now, the Zus are playing out of their skins. They will never be the choice of an audiophile listening 100% to acoustic music, but the enjoyment of classical and jazz has shot up as the Zus have become way more transparent. And the prog rock, fusion and electronica that was already great thru the Zus has gone stratospheric.

    Sorting my tt was a massive holy grail. So was sorting my Zus. Mission accomplished on both.

  9. Marc,

    What a fantastic series of posts on your audio evolution!!
    I also read with interest your posts on Audiogon, spiritofmusic, regarding the Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge system. It’s propelling me in that direction.

    How did you come by NAT stuff? It’s a very high quality Serbian audio brand, I believe.

    Albert

  10. Albert, a voice in the wilderness Lol. Thanks for the pat on back.

    Nat was the amp used at the dealer I bought my Straingauge from, in 2013. I was so impressed, I nearly sprung for the Nats as well, but for various reasons, declined and went all-Audion SETs/tube pre instead.

    However, 2 years of regretting not getting the Nats, meant I finally ended up buying them in 2015. And have never looked back since, other than dealing w some noise issues.

    So, you recognise me from my Audiogon ramblings? Yes, everything I said then is still true. However a quality LPS is essential to wring the most performance out of it.

  11. Albert, the Straingauge is a fascinating cart. It really is a nice blend of the lush musicality of the Parnassus, the drive of the Zu 103, and the transparency of the Orpheus. Tracks really cleanly, hugely a accommodating to poor recordings.

    Only caveats are need to get setup spot on, and it’s need for an aftermkt LPS. But this is palatable in knowledge that performance is amongst the best out there, and it’s one of the cheapest l/t cart packages (from saving funds on uneeded seperate phono, to energiser updates and pairs of replacement stylii 70-90% cheaper than retipping of the pricier usual suspects out there ie $2.5k for TWO Straingauge stylii versus $10k for ONE retipped Etsuro Gold stylus.

  12. Marc,

    I have been reading up on the Strainguage. It is a totally different route than what I had been thinking ( and probably for most ). But now it is the most intriguing! Like the Terminator, it may be another non-audition purchase, if it came to that.

    The reason I had gone AWOL was my system crushed last August. I was quite bumped, hence the long silence. Now it’s up and running, enjoying music, and enjoying your stories. Because of the new additions in my system, I have been told to lay low!

    I do have another query for you. Please relate how / why the audion Quattro came to be replaced. I had always considered it a top flight integrated phono-line preamp.

  13. Hi Albert, good to hear you’re up and running. I had my system in cold storage for 12 months while we were renovating the chapel/building the dedicated room. A very long 12 months Lol, so I have some idea of yr angst.

    I’m not sure I’d advise buying the Straingauge before hearing it first. Carts are SO personal. But I can affirm the SG is a hell of a cart, esp once it’s modded with a 24V DC LPSU.

    Re the Audion Quattro, no big story on letting it go. I could never quite get it to be quiet, it may well have been faulty. It had great synergy w the Audion Black Shadow SETs, combining great speed and transparency.

    However the Nats have proved to be a better match for my needs, more effortlessly driving 101dB Zus in my larger than average space. And it made more sense to go for all-Nat synergy w both preamp and monos matched.

    No doubt had I stayed w the Black Shadow SETs, I would have kept the Quattro.

    I’ve been lucky enough to own three stellar amp combinations, Hovland, Audion, and currently, Nat.

  14. Sure Albert. It’s a fantastic cart, possibly the fastest one on the market, but unlike alternatives such as Lyra Skala, at no expense re thin/skeletal tone or texture.

    The only caveats are that setup is a little more finickety than some others I’ve owned, esp re azimuth. And tonearm choice may be fussy too, although I got lucky w my Terminator LT arm.

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