A Day With The Sansui AU111

Prologue
I’m going that polygamous route once again.

Having Betsy as my daily driver these past months have been fun.
Betsy – My Pioneer SX650
Not much serious listening; more of a plug and play type with the iPod as source.
My toxic calendar lately just allowed a few hours of casual background music. But now that the schedule has lightened up, I have time to sit down and do some listening.

Betsy will always have a special place in my heart, but when it comes to audio brass tacks, I’ll be the first to admit that she just won’t cut it. Anyway, it’s time that I give her a rest as well.

 

Sorry Betsy, I feel like going tubes.

Male Curiosity  (Kid Creole & the Coconuts)
I can’t deny we’ve had some good times
We were like a bike built for two
But I can’t lie to you, the rumor’s comin’ true, oh

Another girl’s arousing my curiosity,
Another girl’s arousing my (male)curiosity
And there’s not a thing that I can do

 The Sansui AU111* has been silently sitting on top of the rack for some time. Aside from being dusted and fired up every so often just to see if the tubes still glow, it has been quiet for what? . . .  Several months? . . .
A year? . . . I forget – but it seems to have been a mighty long time.

Hello, Stranger  (Barbara Mason)
Hello, stranger
It seems so good to see you back again
How long has it been?
(ooh, seems like a mighty long time)
(shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby, ooh)
It seems like a mighty long time

 


Of late, I’ve been using a pair of Onkyo Liverpool D200 series II bookshelves; another one of those domestic Japanese hidden gems out of the “audiophile” radar. It has the soundstage of the Proac Tablette; and in terms of pinpoint focusing, while the LS35a still wins it, the Liverpool is not far behind. I would have preferred the highs to be rolled off by a bit on some recordings, but it does make for a livelier sound on others. No nastiness in the upper frequencies, providing the choice of recordings is up to the task. Methinks the Liverpool would make an interesting match with the AU111.

It was my habit to go through some rituals during listening sessions. One of which was singling out reference records and CDs – cuts from these discs that I believe could bring out the best in my system. But that was twenty or so years ago. Now, I’m just too lazy to go through the stash and simply let my iPod do the song selection. Hell, if these songs would sound good, I just might be in for some Afternoon Delight!

Another routine of mine is to play a vocal recording first – just to make sure of proper balance. With vintage stuff, this balance can waver off center after some time in hibernation.

4:00 PM
I‘m into Something Good
  (Herman’s Hermits)
Woke up this mornin’ feelin’ fine
There’s somethin’ special on my mind
Last night I met a new girl in the neighborhood, whoa yeah

 Somethin’ tells me, I’m into something good

 She’s the kind of girl who’s not too shy
And I can tell I’m her kind of guy
She danced close to me like I hoped she would

Somethin’ tells me, I’m into something good

First up –  They Can’t Take That Away From Me by Diana Krall.
Betcha By Golly Wow!
It just took a few seconds . . . a few bass notes for me to realize that I was into something good. Ms. Krall’s vocal timbre – full-bodied and accompanied by the warmth of tube sound  caught my ear instantly. Slight nuances like breathing and whisper-like phrases offered a cooler more airy proposition. And it didn’t take any effort to hear this; they were just there!

I’m feeling that there’s Something In The Air.
I’m sensing that this is going to be a long and interesting listen.
I’m picking up the vibes.

Good Vibrations   (Beach Boys)
Im pickin up good vibrations
Shes giving me excitations
Im pickin up good vibrations

Shes giving me excitations
Good good good good vibrations
Shes giving me excitations
Good good good good vibrations
Shes giving me excitations

 

 

 

 

6:30 PM
It’s Different
   (Leroy Hutson)
Its different –
Baby, your love for me is sure is different.
Its different –
This wonderful love you give me sure is different.
You ask me why, why I sing about it?
You see it’s been a long time
since I had someone to blow my mind.
And another thing that shook me
was the way that love just took me
To a land of sheer delight
And girl, it was out of sight!

 The AU111 took me to a land of sheer delight.

The amp gave the Liverpools added heft. Whereas Betsy was able to give the speakers adequate bass, the Sansui introduced further bloom to these lower registers. The difference was like Night and Day! The AU111 could benefit from  more power though, since I noticed that I had to crank up the volume a bit to appreciate this bloom.

Mercy, Mercy Me . . .The highs are inspired! Listening to Al Kooper’s vocals on Without Her (Blood, Sweat, and Tears) or the strings on Summer Place (Percy Faith), gives the impression that the Sui is able to tame the Liverpool’s Titanium tweets – sibilance was soothed. The highs had a sustain and sweetness that I had never heard in a long time. The guitars on Three Roses (America) and You Know Like I Know (Ozark Mountain Daredevils) sounded crisp, detailed, and musical all at the same time.

When listening to Chicago’s Beginnings, the brass fanfare that drives the pace of the song and sets the tone for the rest of the album, sounds full and in command, not lightweight and screechy. This difference in timbre of the AU111 makes for easier listening when compared to my other amps/receivers. Suavecito!

Leaning towards a syrupy yet musical midrange, this amp reminds me of a Conrad-Johnson MV50/Audio Research SP3 combo on a good day. There is a certain fluidity when listening to vacuum tubes in general and with the AU111 in particular that I find difficult to put words to. All I know is that it keeps my foot a-tappin’ and head a-bobbin’.

 

 

10:00 PM
Dr. Wu  (Steely Dan)
You walked in
And my life began again
Just when I’d spent the last piaster I could borrow
All night long
We would sing that stupid song
And every word we sang I knew was true
Are you with me Doctor Wu?
Are you really just a shadow
Of the man that I once knew?
Are you crazy are you high?
Or just an ordinary guy?
Have you done all you can do?

 But is proper timbre presentation all that the AU111 can do?

The AU111 presents a pretty impressive soundstage. But they were lamentably larger, vague, less solid and unconvincing centered. Some believe that terrific sound stage width usually translates to compromised imaging but not in this case with the AU111.

The Liverpools are great image transducers and the AU111 compliments this quality. On good recordings, it is not difficult to “see” three to four layers without straining. The congas in Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s  From The Beginning is distinctly palpable – slightly behind right of center. Burt Bacharach’s signature muted flugelhorn is way behind the other stringed instruments. And this is how I remember watching an old Bacharach recording documentary. The flugelhorn is way at the rear the whole orchestra.

On decently recorded jazz quartet tracks, it is easy to spot depth/layering. But lateral positioning of the instruments within these layers is the strength of this amp-speaker combo.

I am starting to believe that the engineers, during that golden age of Sansui, went that extra mile to acheive such  soundstage/imaging. Could it be to compensate for the smaller-than-western dwellings of the average Japanese home? I don’t know. But this soundstage attribute is almost always present in their models from the earlier triple digit series all the way to the later AU Alpha models.

But aside from the impressive stereo spread, equally as important is the forthright musical message that the amp conveys.

I’d Love To Change The World (Ten Years After) – the band’s instruments play counterpoint to Alvin Lee’s vocals and the AU111 captures this interplay with just the right amount of delicacy and emphasis.

The Sansui AU111 grasps the essence of the vocal performance with ease. I both heard and felt the full range of emotions expressed . . . from desperation (Marilyn McCoo One less Bell To Answer) to longing (Eric Clapton Layla) to swaggering pride (Mayer Hawthorn The Walk ) to pensive (Jesse Harris Don’t Know Why).
But this is not limited only to the vocal presentation. One could hear Duane Allman’s slide guitar beg to Please Be With Me ( Scott Boyer).
It was real, live in the flesh music as opposed to lifeless audio signals.

 

It may be mind games, but I always believed that listening when the electric lines are cleaner brings out That Old Black Magic in your system. I took a break, grabbed a bite and decided to resume listening in the . . .

 Midnight Hour  (Wilson Pickett)
I’m gonna wait til the midnight hour
That’s when my love comes tumbling down.
I’m gonna wait where the midnight hour
That’s when my love begins to shine . . .
. . .In the midnight hour
Oh baby, in the midnight hour


 

12:15 AM
Ok, let’s Take A Walk On The Wild Side. . .

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet   (Bachman-Turner Overdrive)
I met a devil woman, she took my heart away
She said I had it comin’ to me, but I wanted it that way
I think that any love is good lovin’
And so I took what I could get, mmm
Oooh, oooh, she looked at me with big brown eyes
And said

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
Here’s something that you never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet

 So, does this amp rock? Can it Light My Fire?

Compared to solid state amps, bass and speed of the AU111 are perhaps more subtle but still very impressive. I’m not a bass freak so I don’t mind not having those audiophile drum recordings beating down my chest. In any event, the 6-inch woofs of the Liverpool can’t push that much air in the first place. This might be a different story though pairing this amp with an efficient floorstander.

But as long as that all important midbass is present, that is fine for me since ninety percent of my listening material can’t go down to subterranean levels.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want. . .
I admit at a bit of frustration with the amp’s  pace.
It was trying to catch up  Grand Funk’s Foot Stompin’ Music and Steely Dan’s Bodhisattva.

But after a few songs, I  learned to let the AU111 lead me in this dance and not play catch up – making her the master and teaching me the tempo in her musical dance floor. I did get to capture the tempo when I found myself foot tapping to Mason William’s Classical Gas.

So Let’s Get Crazy Tonight and bring out the usual suspects:
I Love Rock and Roll (Joan Jett) had the attack that I thought was only available on my solid state amps. Same thing with Incident At Neshabur (Santana) – the riffs made me stand up and do my infamous air guitar.:)  The AU111 added liquidity to an otherwise dry Satisfaction (Rolling Stones). Ditto with the grunge guitar works in Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young). Listening to how the sound danced around from one speaker to the other gave Crosstown Traffic  (Hendrix) that LSDish effect making me grope behind my neck for the ponytail I once had.
While it can be said that dynamics is wanting on certain rock tracks, slower blues numbers (All I Can Do Is Try  Savoy Brown), (I Just Wanna Make Love To You  Cold Blood), (Roadhouse Blues  Doors), (Good Time Boogie  John Mayall) passed my personal tastes.

Needless to say, this amp was Born To Be Wild as it rocked me for three more hours and several inches of longer hair after.:)

 

 

Epilogue
Ok, one last song for the road.
It’s been a long day putting the AU111 through the works.
She knew I was challenging her . . . testing her.
She knew she had her flaws.
She was also waiting for a verdict as she sung me this last tune.

Oh Babe, What Would You Say?  (Hurricane Smith)
Have I a hope for half a chance
To even ask if I could dance with you, you?
Would you greet me or politely turn away
Would there suddenly be sunshine on a cold and rainy day
Oh, Babe, What would you say?

To which I replied . . .

 Ang nakalipas ay ibabalik natin, hmmm
Ipapaalala ko sa ‘yo ang aking pangako
Na ang pag-ibig ko’y laging sa ‘yo
Kahit maputi na ang buhok ko…
(Sharon Cuneta)

 

 or (alternative translation)

 

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
I will still be sending you a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine.

If I’d been out till quarter to three
Please don’t lock the door.
I will  still crank you, I will  still thank you
When I’m sixty-four.
(A Beatles take-off)

 *Though this first generation twin-colored knobs is more sought after because of its rarity as compared to the succeeding (all silver knobs) series, there has been some debate, which goes On and On, as to which of the two offerings sound better. Some quarters claim that the Sansui engineers behind the development of the AU-X111 and the AU-111G Vintage, favor this earlier and original release. They used this first incarnation as reference when developing the brand’s high end models.
Not bad, for an amp manufactured the same year that the Grammy introduced the Beatles as that year’s  new artists.
111-copy

 


 


 

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Comments
2 Responses to “A Day With The Sansui AU111”
  1. Anonymous says:

    i have something you may be interested in a NEW piece maybe if you haven’t found one yet.
    How about a SANSUI QRX-999 it is in 100% original 100% working condition. If interested in adding this piece to your collection you can reach me at krcounter27@live.com Yes it is the black face european version and super rare.

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