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Old 05-01-2011, 04:07 PM
Alberto's Avatar
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Default To Forgive Is Divine! A quick first impression and review of the Shindo Cortese

Yesterday, I picked up my new (to me) Shindo Cortese from Matt at Pitch Perfect Audio in San Francisco. Even though the amp was a trade-in from another customer who was moving up the Shindo line, It looked perfect and like new in every way.

I've only listened to the amp for 4 to 5 hours. Too soon for a long term review, but enough for a quick first impression.

For those who might not be familiar with it, the Cortese is 10W/ch amp based on the industrial strength Siemens F2A tube and it's an SET (Single-Ended Triode) design.



On the 1-10 Alberto's Audio Deliciousness Scale, this amp is not a 10, not even an 11, it's a 12! Seriously!

I never thought a manufacturer would have the "bollocks" to create something that is so insanely delicious and so forgiving that it has to polarize anyone who listens. The Cortese does not walk a fine line between analytical and musical (to use some common audiophile terms) -- it steps over that line, takes twenty steps toward musical side, drops its trousers and moons anyone and anything on the other side.

After an hour of listening, I realized that this amp is voiced the exact way I would voice an amp if I knew how. Warm, liquid, continuous with a round and tuneful bass that belies its measly 10W per channel, a midrange to die for (but that was expected based on the SET design) and a treble that ...

... Ah, yes, the treble. At first I though "There's some trouble with the treble." For the first time in years, I found myself (me of bat-like-ears and super-sensitivity to harsh or excessive highs) thinking "I need more treble." The treble was there, smooth and extended, but a bit too "timid" -- cymbals sounded as if the drummer was holding back a little, the upper harmonics on horns and strings were also a bit muted. It sounded delicious - but too delicious and forgiving.

But I knew that there's no way this amp would have been one of Stereophile's Art Dudley's long term favorites -- or none of the other reviewers -- if the treble was this gentle and forgiving.

I knew what was "wrong": My entire system (including cables) and room treatment, had been chosen and designed to deal with harsh or excessive treble from lesser recordings. I had accepted the fact that I needed tone controls to tame a good 30% of my favorite recordings. But not with the Cortese. The treble on this puppy is so smooth that I adjusted the tweeter cross-over on Tannoys from -1.5dbs to +1.5dbs! Now the treble was just right for my tastes. It might still be a bit too gentle and rolled off for others, but keep in mind that everything in my system (including the Tannoys) is very forgiving and I have a feeling that with more neutral speakers it's going to be right for almost everyone (OK, perhaps not for people who prefer the sound signature of manufacturers like Krell.)

There's not much to add about the mid-range. It's your run of the mill, magical SET sound. Perfection to my ears.

The bass was the most pleasant, although somewhat anticipated, suprise. The Cortese has the most tuneful and extended bass I've ever had in my system. I had some thoughts of getting a larger pair of Tannoys and I kept taking the subwoofers on and off my system. With the bass from the Cortese any desire for larger Tannoys has evaporated, subs will probably go to the garage next week - who needs them. I might even move the speakers further away from the wall since I moved them closer to get more bass with the Montille. The depth and "chest impact" of the bass is one thing, the other is the tuneful aspect of it. Every bass note is distinct - the opposite of one-note-bass.

Soundstage: wider but also about 2' taller. I love a high soundstage. Even though the speaker drivers are less than 3' off the ground, the sound stage is easily at 6-7'. This means I can sit on my chair and look "up" to the music as if I was in a concert. I love it!

That's it for a first pass. In the days and weeks to come, I will play around with different cables since now I no longer have to worry about having cables that are too resolving.

If I sound ecstatic and overjoyed, it's because I am. I knew that this amp was a step in the right direction for me. I knew it would be more delicious than any other amp that has graced my system, but I was not prepared for an amp that said:
"Here Alberto - Mr. Delicious - try ME out, I am just for you. You can now play ALL your records and forget about tone controls and loudness and subwoofer and bigger speakers. I AM your tone controls. I AM your loudness. Pack your subwoofers, forget bigger speakers for your little room. I have it all. Just for you my friend. Enjoy me ... and spread the word to other delicious sound hounds."

OK, enough writing. I am going to forget that today is a spectacular sunny day in the SF Bay Area and go do more listening. The pull of the Cortese is stronger than the pull of the mighty sun!

Deliciously yours (now more than ever),

Alberto
__________________
Sources: Thorens TD125 ii + SME 3009 + Clearaudio Maestro, McIntosh MDA1000 + MCD201, Sonos, Wadia 170i
Amplification and Speakers: Shindo Monbrison->Cortese->Tannoy Sandringham
Tone Controls: The Delicious One by Delicious Decibels ... of course!

Last edited by Alberto; 05-01-2011 at 07:42 PM.
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Old 05-01-2011, 04:13 PM
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Alberto, congrats on finding what works for you and being brave enough to leave conventional wisdom behind.
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Old 05-01-2011, 04:18 PM
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Ditto, Alberto.... I think you swallowed the hook.

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Old 05-01-2011, 05:11 PM
f1 fan's Avatar
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Alberto...as you move up the Shindo line the more delicious the sound becomes. Congrats and enjoy.

Dave

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Old 05-01-2011, 05:11 PM
Jerome W's Avatar
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Damn ! An other post that excites my curiosity more and more for this brand. I'm very happy for you that you found what you've been looking for so long !
Not listenable in France.
I will be in Chicago area in 10 days.
Do you know an audio store that carries Shindo around Chicago ?
I should check on the Shindo site, but it seems to me that they don't have many dealers...
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Jérôme
“The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats...”
― Albert Schweitzer



Main System: preamp and monoblocks hand-built by a Japanese Master, McIntosh (MR77, MC2205, MC225), Manley Labs (300B Neo Classic), Abbingdon Music Research - AMR- (DP- 777), JC Verdier (La Platine / SME M2-12R arm x 2 / Ortofon SPU Classic E GM MKII / Lyra Delos / EMT XSD15), Auditorium 23 (Hommage T2 SUT), Harbeth (M40.1), Pro Audio Bono (Platforms, Feet, Rack).
Second System : McIntosh (MAC 1500), Rega (P9 TT with Denon DL103 Expert Stylus Co), A23 Standard SUT for DL103, Metrum Acoustics (Octave), DeVore Fidelity (Super 8). Third System: McIntosh (MDA 1000), Jadis (DA30), Meridian (204), Rega (RS10).
Office System : McIntosh ( MA5100 ), Harbeth (P3ESR).
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Old 05-01-2011, 07:30 PM
Alberto's Avatar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C220MC275 View Post
Damn ! An other post that excites my curiosity more and more for this brand. I'm very happy for you that you found what you've been looking for so long !
Not listenable in France.
I will be in Chicago area in 10 days.
Do you know an audio store that carries Shindo around Chicago ?
I should check on the Shindo site, but it seems to me that they don't have many dealers...
Jerome,

I thought about you while writing this review - and I almost sent you a message NOT to read it .

Unfortunately, as far as I know there are no Shindo dealers in Chicago - but someone else might chime in and correct me.

In any case, as I mentioned in the review, this is a very polarizing amplifier. I think people will either love it or hate it. If you like the very nice and neutral sound of the C1000s and have been happy without tone controls I am not sure you'd like the sound signature of this amplifier.

I am not saying this just to make you feel better (although that's also nice) but to emphasize that my enthusiasm and excitement is based purely on my subjective preferences - which are quite off the beaten path.

I thought many times about the McIntosh C1000s to go with my MDA1000, but in the end I knew that I would be ruining their beautiful balanced design and clean/neutral sound by shoving my C34V preamp with tone controls in the middle .

One question for you Jerome. How would you define the sound you are after? If your definition is not something like: "Very warm, relaxed and forgiving - even if it's at the expense of some speed, resolution and neutrality" then you are not missing anything. This would not be the right amp for you.

Now, for people with tastes like Vintage Pete on the other hand ... .

Alberto
__________________
Sources: Thorens TD125 ii + SME 3009 + Clearaudio Maestro, McIntosh MDA1000 + MCD201, Sonos, Wadia 170i
Amplification and Speakers: Shindo Monbrison->Cortese->Tannoy Sandringham
Tone Controls: The Delicious One by Delicious Decibels ... of course!

Last edited by Alberto; 05-01-2011 at 07:36 PM.
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Old 05-02-2011, 01:27 AM
Jerome W's Avatar
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Thanks for cooling me a bit Alberto !
I know very well the type of sound that you describe, although I never bought such a system.
In Paris, there is a shop specialized in this forgiving and beautiful sound. If you come to Paris for a visit, I will bring you there. "Alain Choukroun" is the name.
He was the first high end audio store in Paris. You would be very surprised to see that most of the systems displayed there are right on your needs and searchs !
I listened to many systems there and he carried the Shindo line before this line was no more compliant with RoHS. And unfortunately, I never listened to the Shindo gear there...

To be clear, I love those systems. They don't give you everything. They often lack bass power and slam. But they have a wonderful quality : they sound almost always very good, not matter the recording you listen to !
The reason why I never bought such a system is also very simple : how will I feel years later with a somehow "colored" sound ? Will I have the same excitment or will I get bored ?
I think that all depends on your music tastes and collection.
One day, someone here mentionned with lots of humour that the problem was your discs choice and taste and not the absence of tone controls !
On my sytem, I have a few recordings that don't sound wonderful but are still quite enjoyable, on good days !
I know that you have much more of these recordings than I do. Hence you need a more forgiving system.
I would say that 90 % of my music sounds extremely good on my very neutral system without tone controls, and it gives me more overall than the very musical systems of Alain Choukroun built around Leben, Ear, Rega, Tannoy, Mulidine, Harbeth.....
What excites me with the Shindo sound you and others on the web describe, is that it goes obviously beyond "forgiving". They seem to rediscover the essence of music. Probably that Stephen will have much to say here too, and I will be very interested in his opinion because he had almost the same system than I had at this time with same speakers and the 501's.

Thanks a lot for your detailed reviews. Some fresh air !



Quote:
Originally Posted by Alberto View Post
Jerome,

I thought about you while writing this review - and I almost sent you a message NOT to read it .

Unfortunately, as far as I know there are no Shindo dealers in Chicago - but someone else might chime in and correct me.

In any case, as I mentioned in the review, this is a very polarizing amplifier. I think people will either love it or hate it. If you like the very nice and neutral sound of the C1000s and have been happy without tone controls I am not sure you'd like the sound signature of this amplifier.

I am not saying this just to make you feel better (although that's also nice) but to emphasize that my enthusiasm and excitement is based purely on my subjective preferences - which are quite off the beaten path.

I thought many times about the McIntosh C1000s to go with my MDA1000, but in the end I knew that I would be ruining their beautiful balanced design and clean/neutral sound by shoving my C34V preamp with tone controls in the middle .

One question for you Jerome. How would you define the sound you are after? If your definition is not something like: "Very warm, relaxed and forgiving - even if it's at the expense of some speed, resolution and neutrality" then you are not missing anything. This would not be the right amp for you.

Now, for people with tastes like Vintage Pete on the other hand ... .

Alberto
__________________
Jérôme
“The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats...”
― Albert Schweitzer



Main System: preamp and monoblocks hand-built by a Japanese Master, McIntosh (MR77, MC2205, MC225), Manley Labs (300B Neo Classic), Abbingdon Music Research - AMR- (DP- 777), JC Verdier (La Platine / SME M2-12R arm x 2 / Ortofon SPU Classic E GM MKII / Lyra Delos / EMT XSD15), Auditorium 23 (Hommage T2 SUT), Harbeth (M40.1), Pro Audio Bono (Platforms, Feet, Rack).
Second System : McIntosh (MAC 1500), Rega (P9 TT with Denon DL103 Expert Stylus Co), A23 Standard SUT for DL103, Metrum Acoustics (Octave), DeVore Fidelity (Super 8). Third System: McIntosh (MDA 1000), Jadis (DA30), Meridian (204), Rega (RS10).
Office System : McIntosh ( MA5100 ), Harbeth (P3ESR).
Digital sources for all systems : Squeeze Box Touch with MCRUs Power Supply and Mac Book Pro SSD-Audirvana +
Others : Wilson Audio (Watt Puppy 8), PMC (CB6i), McIntosh ( MA5100), Schiit Audio (Valhalla, Bifrost), Grado (325i), Sennheiser (HD650, HD800), Sugden (Head Master) WireWorld, Kimber Kable 8TC, Naim Naca 4
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Old 05-02-2011, 10:18 AM
Alberto's Avatar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C220MC275 View Post
...
To be clear, I love those systems. They don't give you everything. They often lack bass power and slam. But they have a wonderful quality : they sound almost always very good, not matter the recording you listen to !
The reason why I never bought such a system is also very simple : how will I feel years later with a somehow "colored" sound ? Will I have the same excitment or will I get bored ?

...

Probably that Stephen will have much to say here too, and I will be very interested in his opinion because he had almost the same system than I had at this time with same speakers and the 501's.

Thanks a lot for your detailed reviews. Some fresh air !
Jerome,

I would not say that the Cortese lacks bass power or slam -- quite the contrary. The bass on this amp is amazing (something that has been noted by all other reviewers) deep, round, tuneful and more realistic than you can imagine - and startlingly explosive and chest pounding when the music calls for it.

Remember how I used to say - I need tone controls because some recordings sound too thin - or low-volume listening is not satisfying without loudness because it sounds too thin? With the Cortese, I get all the bass I desire and it's of the highest, most tuneful quality - not the sloppy bass one tends to associate with some SET tube amps. That it can deliver this bass with 10+10W was a huge surprise to me. I had read about it, but I had a hard time fully believing it. I am a believer now.

As far as excitement and getting bored; I can't speak for what excites or bores you, but yesterday I had the longest listening session in years (probably ever) - I played from ~10AM to ~10PM with short breaks for lunch and dinner -- and it was a glorious sunny day in the San Francisco Bay ... my wife thought I was crazy. I can't imagine ever being bored by this kind of sound. The excitement should come from the music - not the system. A musical system gets out of the way and lets you focus on the music without worrying about the sound (too harsh, too thin, etc.) and that's what I am finally getting and to an extent that I had not thought possible.

In summary:

Bass slam and impact: check and check!
Excitement: check!
Bored: Not in this lifetime :-).

Alberto
__________________
Sources: Thorens TD125 ii + SME 3009 + Clearaudio Maestro, McIntosh MDA1000 + MCD201, Sonos, Wadia 170i
Amplification and Speakers: Shindo Monbrison->Cortese->Tannoy Sandringham
Tone Controls: The Delicious One by Delicious Decibels ... of course!

Last edited by Alberto; 05-02-2011 at 10:20 AM.
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Old 05-02-2011, 10:54 AM
Jerome W's Avatar
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Posts: 11,857
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alberto View Post
Jerome,

I would not say that the Cortese lacks bass power or slam -- quite the contrary. The bass on this amp is amazing (something that has been noted by all other reviewers) deep, round, tuneful and more realistic than you can imagine - and startlingly explosive and chest pounding when the music calls for it.

Remember how I used to say - I need tone controls because some recordings sound too thin - or low-volume listening is not satisfying without loudness because it sounds too thin? With the Cortese, I get all the bass I desire and it's of the highest, most tuneful quality - not the sloppy bass one tends to associate with some SET tube amps. That it can deliver this bass with 10+10W was a huge surprise to me. I had read about it, but I had a hard time fully believing it. I am a believer now.

As far as excitement and getting bored; I can't speak for what excites or bores you, but yesterday I had the longest listening session in years (probably ever) - I played from ~10AM to ~10PM with short breaks for lunch and dinner -- and it was a glorious sunny day in the San Francisco Bay ... my wife thought I was crazy. I can't imagine ever being bored by this kind of sound. The excitement should come from the music - not the system. A musical system gets out of the way and lets you focus on the music without worrying about the sound (too harsh, too thin, etc.) and that's what I am finally getting and to an extent that I had not thought possible.

In summary:

Bass slam and impact: check and check!
Excitement: check!
Bored: Not in this lifetime :-).

Alberto
Ah ah,
Now I REALLY want to listen to it !
__________________
Jérôme
“The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats...”
― Albert Schweitzer



Main System: preamp and monoblocks hand-built by a Japanese Master, McIntosh (MR77, MC2205, MC225), Manley Labs (300B Neo Classic), Abbingdon Music Research - AMR- (DP- 777), JC Verdier (La Platine / SME M2-12R arm x 2 / Ortofon SPU Classic E GM MKII / Lyra Delos / EMT XSD15), Auditorium 23 (Hommage T2 SUT), Harbeth (M40.1), Pro Audio Bono (Platforms, Feet, Rack).
Second System : McIntosh (MAC 1500), Rega (P9 TT with Denon DL103 Expert Stylus Co), A23 Standard SUT for DL103, Metrum Acoustics (Octave), DeVore Fidelity (Super 8). Third System: McIntosh (MDA 1000), Jadis (DA30), Meridian (204), Rega (RS10).
Office System : McIntosh ( MA5100 ), Harbeth (P3ESR).
Digital sources for all systems : Squeeze Box Touch with MCRUs Power Supply and Mac Book Pro SSD-Audirvana +
Others : Wilson Audio (Watt Puppy 8), PMC (CB6i), McIntosh ( MA5100), Schiit Audio (Valhalla, Bifrost), Grado (325i), Sennheiser (HD650, HD800), Sugden (Head Master) WireWorld, Kimber Kable 8TC, Naim Naca 4
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Old 05-02-2011, 01:42 PM
two dot's Avatar
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Jerome, Alberto,

I think that I can only add to what Alberto is saying.

From the first time I heard Shindo, I knew that it was the sound that I had been searching for. Period.

When I listen to music now, I am so completely immersed in the music... listening deeper than I ever have before.

And, I never want it to stop. I find myself listening more and more, later into the evening... and this has been going on for a year now and I still cannot get enough.

I don't think about cables, tweeks,or anything HI-FI, I just want to buy more music and listen more.

I also buy more old recordings, used records and the sound is just way beyond my expectations. There are NO recordings that I don't find pleasing on my system, in the past I have had systems that only sounded great with certain types of recordings. With the Shindo every piece of music I put on sounds wonderful.

I truly do not know how Ken Shindo does it. I feel that he is a master, and has some things figured out on a different level. His use of vintage parts along with modern technology seems to produce a sound like no other.

To me, it is like the best of both worlds... Vintage and New.

I hope that this helps.

Congrats Alberto.
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