Price: $1,175

Mapleshade is primarily a record company, known mainly for jazz, blues and gospel purist recordings made on all analog machines.They also make various audio accessories like cables and tweaks. They also sell refurbished and upgraded vintage components such as the one featured in this review - publisher

 

Mistakes. Even seasoned audiophiles and reviewers can make them.

Advice. At times it is so worthless it seems like the bother to give it was not just an exercise in futility, it was simply stupid.

For instance, if someone had purchased a new piece of equipment and noticed a buzzing and/or crackling sound, I would advise them to call the manufacturer. The manufacturer would tell him to return it so the problem could be addressed. If that buyer would notice, along with those noises, signs of leaking capacitors, he surely would contact the manufacturer if he’d been informed that everything is up to specifications in every unit sold.

Time. No one has enough time. Taking the time for communicating displeasure is not a desirable undertaking. Even the thought of making a phone call or post a letter or send an e-mail does not promote the warm and fuzzies. It has to be done and the advice to do so received from another and ignored would be reason for one to be deemed…well, stupid!

Instead of heeding the advice I would have given to anyone, I took an amp that was less than a year old, probably far less, to a man I’d met who did tube radio repair. He enjoyed working on the unit because he’s the type who enjoys learning and a fully revamped and modified Scott 222C compared to his normal fare was a joy to behold.

My friend had the unit for a while; not too long of a time. My kids were in first grade when I brought the unit to him and are grandparents now that it’s back. O.K., that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but…I should not have done it in the first place! It should have gone back to Pierre at Mapleshade Audio who did the upgrade in the first place. But the mistake was made; I hope I’ve learned from it. I hope you have learned from it.

The sound, as I recall from the period of time I had it until it began scaring me with Rice Krispy sounds, was warm and enveloping. In a huge room, the speakers along the long wall and sitting beside the TV threw a very nice soundstage with some depth and even a bit of imaging; a horrible set-up but good looking in a Good Housekeeping sort of way. But most importantly, it played music. Beautifully! Think of the feeling one gets on a hugely cold day, wind blowing snow against the window, trees with bare branches whistling, bending, sometimes those branches breaking from the combination of the extreme cold and that horrid wind. The love of your life has lit a fire and is curled up beside you, a monstrous down comforter enveloping both of you.

You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? Pretty sound doesn’t describe it. All of the audiophile hyperboles don’t describe it. Perhaps, the sound, that feeling I got was from the sixties vintage planar speakers that the Mapleshade/Scott was driving. Perhaps.

That is where the amp will be doing its thing in the near future, but for now it’s driving the Infinity speakers with the VPI ‘table and Audio Alchemy CDP feeding it musical signals. Oy vey! What a wonderful job it’s doing in that configuration! I had hooked it up on the big system when it was first “fixed.” If I had hooked it up with the Planex speakers upstairs, there could have been a chance I would have missed its coldness. I don’t know because I didn’t do that. The system downstairs is far more resolving.

I just didn’t like the sound. I played a CD set on repeat for well over 200 hours and listened to quite a few LPs and the sound of the new capacitors (which I’d hoped from the beginning was the cause) and other repairs just didn’t trip my trigger in the least. Everything was wrought with the dexterity and warmth of the Frankenstein monster. Think of the sound of many 60’s and 70’s solid state gear and you’ll have a good idea what this tube amp sounded like. Not very pretty.

And it is pretty! The warmth, the musical correctness of this thing is truly astounding. My Monarchy amps aren’t this involving and believe me, I have lots of trouble walking out of my listening room with the Monarchy amps driving the system! The Scott is as good, and in some ways betters the Monarchy amps. This amp, in comparison to the Monarchy, is perhaps the audiophile’s amp. Where the Anthem/Monarchy combo has a way of glossing over the mistakes, warming them; the Mapleshade upgraded version reveals a few of the warts. It doesn’t make the average sounding LP into a bridge dwelling troll, but it definitely reveals things that I’d previously been able to ignore.

Here’s what Mapleshade did to the basic, vintage Scott 222C, per Pierre Sprey:

1. We refurbish to full factory specifications, replacing any parts
that are more than a few percent off spec.
2. We bypass all the preamp/tone control active stages and replace
them with a vastly better-sounding passive preamp stage.
3. Similarly, all the front panel switches are bypassed (except for
the source selector and tape monitor switches); this greatly reduces
the length and the complex routing of the signal path wiring--with audible improvements for every switch bypassed.
4. We upgrade all the passive components in the feedback loop, at the
same time reducing the feedback to almost zero--thereby greatly
improving dynamics and transparency.
5. Much better passive components are installed in the phono stage,
thus improving an already first-rate phono section.
6. All the interstage coupling capacitors are changed to
significantly better-sounding modern polypropylene film capacitors.
7. The chassis' aluminum bottom plate is removed and replaced with
two much stiffer maple rails, thereby greatly improving bass "punch"
and upper frequency clarity (due to both the elimination of
bottom plate vibrations and the very substantial bottom plate eddy current losses).
8. We replace the original 7189 output tubes with a carefully
matched, substantially cleaner-sounding set of new EL-84s--and then
match carefully selected driver tubes to the output tubes in such
a way as to minimize distortion, using in-circuit oscilloscope waveform
analysis (note that tube tester matching is completely inadequate to
achieve optimum sonics from tubes).

Per our illustrious publisher’s stringent (in a nice way) polices, I also asked Monsieur Pierre about the design goals. Here is his email reply:

“As far as I know, ours is the most extensive Scott amp modification
program in the country. The objective was to get as close to the sound
of our Mapleshade master tapes as possible. We wanted to get really
well-articulated, really deep bass (the opposite of "tubey" bass) and
airy, transparent, unusually extended treble--while preserving the
warm, rich harmonic detail that's the real magic of good tube amps.
Since we tested by ear each modification idea we came up with (and we
rejected almost as many as we incorporated into the final mod package),
it took us almost a year to complete the R&D. I estimate that our mods
improve the quite-excellent sound of the factory-stock Scott amplifier
by at least 50%. Let me give you a feel for just how high a level of
sound quality we're talking about: in head-to-head trials in the hands
of our customers and dealers, our standard Scott integrated has easily
beaten several $20,000+ solid state amps and a number of $7500+ tube
amps.

Just one other comment, regarding your step-up transformers and the
optimum volume knob setting. Most audiophiles mistakenly assume that if
you have to turn up the volume knob beyond 11 or 12, you've somehow
"overstressed" your preamplification stage. The opposite is the case:
it's much better if your input signal level (or your preamp's
designed-in gain) requires the volume knob to be turned up to 3 or more.
Why? Because the closer the volume attenuator (i.e., the volume
potentiometer) is to zero resistance, the more it is "out of the
circuit" and the better the sound. We set the gain of our modded Scotts
so that full loudness--clipping, in other words--doesn't occur (with
normal CD input levels and 86 db efficient speakers) until the volume
knob is at 3 or 4 o'clock. Applying this to your phono situation, if
by turning up to 3 or 4, you can get the full loudness you want out of
our Scott integrated amp WITHOUT the Sony step-ups, you'll get way
better sound.”

If this is true about preamp gain, and I believe it is, this may be the most important comment in the whole review. If anyone would like to refute or agree with what Pierre has to say, please email us – publisher…the one with the stringent (in a nice way) policies

Playing CDs, I knew this is an amp anyone could live with. The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project’s Simpatico (ArtistShare AS0057) is the type of recording that, if you sit still and listen to it, you’re dead. Don’t bother buying this amp or any equipment at all. Make a phone call and tell the undertaker you’ve been faking it, you’re not alive, to come and get you. The bite, the snap of Brian Lynch’s trumpet will get you up and dancing if Palmieri’s piano hasn’t done so . Ten seconds into the first cut I was up shaking my hips. “See, that’s what you should do all the time, get those creaky bones moving,” my wife said as she walked into the room to ask what I was playing. She walked out swaying her hips to the music; I followed her and finished listening to the CD later in the evening. Palmieri’s piano has some heft; palpability. Coupled with the snap of the drums and great salsa inspired Jazz, this is a great CD and its sound ain’t shabby at all. Even more importantly for us here, it sounds great through the Mapleshade modded Scott.

But, as many of you know, I listen to a lot of LPs. That’s an understatement to be sure, but really, I do listen to CDs! I heard Boz Scaggs singing It all went Down the Drain on XM in the car and just HAD to hear Come on Home. If you’ve missed this 1997 CD and love R&B, then get out and go get it! So many of the songs will bring back that teen angst; the vagaries of those pre-adult years…incredible. The CD is quite well recorded, too. Boz is in the room, singing for you, his band playing along. Instruments are well separated, not a homogenous mass of sound, tonally correct…at least through the Scott/Mapleshade (or is that Mapleshade/Scott?).

I listen to a lot of reissues of reissues. Although the work that’s done is top notch, time takes its toll. Cedar! The Cedar Walton Trio, Quartet & Quintet (OJC-462) was re-mastered in 1990. As far as I can tell, Prestige P-7519 was recorded in 1967. Although we have some great recordings from that era and farther back, this is not a great, merely an average recording. Yet played through the Mapleshade/Scott it had me bobbing my head and doing the butt-boogie. Truth and boogie factor; what more could anyone want?

It misses only that sock you in the gut and slam you to the ground bass that the Monarchy amps do so well. I would be happy to have either in my system. But wait! I can have both in my system! I can change amps any time I choose quite easily…whew! That solves that dilemma.

The Scott/Mapleshade doesn’t have enough gain in the phono stage to drive the signal to the levels I’d like it to in that 15’ X 28’ room. However, back in the early days of the Compact Disc “Perfect Sound Forever” era, a local audio shop had an analog sale. They got rid of everything; test LPs, Stylast treatment, and a pair of Sony HA T10 in-line MC transformers were what I snatched from the dollar table. They had sat unused for almost 20 years until I reviewed a low output moving coil cartridge. I purchased that cartridge because I had really enjoyed its sound. I was too lazy to open up the Anthem and set the gain switch to the higher setting. I finally did and then I didn’t need the Sony transformers any more. I’m lucky to still own them, Jim Morrison sounds great!

Talk about revelations! How many times have I heard Light my Fire? Taking into account the AM radio play, the FM radio play, the 8 track I owned, the cassette I recorded, and the original Elektra (which I’m proud to say I took superb care of throughout the years) , I’ve listened to it thousands of times. Exciting! Chilling! Through the Scoot/Mapleshade, it was as if I was hearing it for the first time. Ya, I know the words and the notes; the screams and inflections. But the feelings I had while listening were new, as in, “Wow, is this great. I gotta listen to this again!” I graduated from high school the year that LP hit the streets. The longest ten years of my life were made more bearable with music like that available at a touch of my fingertips on the knob of the radio in my ’64 Impala Super Sport convertible. I was always afraid I’d crack the steering wheel or put a dent in the dashboard when Light my Fire was playing. As ball grabbing as that song seemed to me at 17, it was more so 47 years later when I played it through the Scott.

Now that’s something to write about!

O.K., the SMC10 is an incredible cartridge and the Infinity speakers are far and away much better than the single speaker in the Impala, but I’m an old and jaded 58 year old. To get excited by music is, while not rare by any means, definitely an occasion to record in the pages of the book called life.

I think my Monarchy amps get the mid-bass quite well and that’s equaled by this amp. This is hard to accept, children. In the world of audio, it’s not kosher…is it?

The drums in Don Juan’s Favorite Daughter on The Tenth World (Side 3, Asylum BB701) will scare you with the sharpness of their attack, the overwhelming loudness of the drum skins exploding under the blows of the various players. Awesome! Yet, I felt that just a bit more oomph was needed in the extreme bass.

But I realized that once again I’m being excited by the music, the sheer strength of this LP’s musical message. Is that the recording or the sound of those drums? Along with identifiable drum sounds I hear tribal drums of unknown quantity (I use that word because of that loudness!). Am I hearing them as they really sound? If I accept that the drums played are recorded and reproduced correctly, then that looseness and incredibly deep sound I hear must be correct, too (one hopes). I wish I could play that cut back and forth with the Monarchy vs. the Mapleshade. Is what I hear wrong or is it right? I’m not quite sure.

Joni sure sounds good! I think it’s a horrible shame that I have never gotten to hold her in my arms. Barb loves her, she wouldn’t get upset! How do you describe her voice, powerful breathiness? Whatever words used, Joni is Joni and I’ve heard her reproduced poorly and I still love her voice. Portrayed as she is through this system, she’s mesmerizing.

It should also be pointed out that the Scott does another very important thing (in my book) quite well. While not having a mono switch (my Anthem preamp doesn’t have one either) I noticed, while playing a few of my mono LPs, that the Scott/Mapleshade can do that “It really isn’t a mono, is it?” thing quite well. Listening to Charlie Parker’s Night and Day (Verve ) I heard Parker step up to the microphone, and then heard the members of his orchestra playing trumpet and trombone stepping up to do their solos (If anyone has knowledge of the members of his orchestra for those recordings I’d appreciate getting the information).

I listened to the Scott mod without any of Pierre’s suggested tweaks (see sidebar) and simply heard more of what I liked about this little amp when I placed a Walker puck on the area of the chassis that’s tube free, where only sheet metal stares back at me. I placed three more on the transformers and used three Walker cones under the amp’s maple cross bars that Mapleshade states is an essential modification itself.

I tried to get the amp to clip when I listened to The Tenth World a second time. I was surprised when it did distort the music, but then I turned it down, cleaned up the dried blood that had spurted from my ears and enjoyed the music played at sensibly loud (???) levels.

I’m kidding about the blood, kids. But I did listen to that cut too loudly and the amp did distort (or it could have been my ears cringing). Anyone regularly turning the gain that high should not be allowed near quality equipment anyway. Get that guy a J.C. Penney’s rack system.

Adhering to Pierre’s suggestions, I did try cones under the amp, and everything else I mentioned earlier. It’s always amazed me how one can clean up the sound of a piece of electronics through using good supports. The differences can be pretty astounding.

I used the Walker cones, Mapleshade’s are different and I plan to try them sometime when I have a few extra bucks. What I want you to be aware of is that the sound of music, as good as it is, can be improved by playing with your supports. Good shelves, good spikes of some type, mass loading are all things to try and best of all, are easily reversible. Remember to try different placements of those cones. I placed mine the way Pierre recommends, two in the rear, one up front. There are no police waiting to arrest you if you find the sound, in your room, better with two up front and one in the rear. Experiment!

Just as I was about to finish this review, hook up the Monarchy amps and find out whether I was correct or full of monkey poop, the amp failed. I had come downstairs, determined to listen to one last LP and turned the unit on and nothing! I decided to check the fuse and sure enough, it had blown. When I replaced the fuse and turned the amp on, the fuse blew once again.

I e-mailed Pierre and asked him for trouble shooting ideas. He called and told me that since the fuse blew upon start-up, to replace the rectifier, the 5AR4. I had a GE NOS, so into the Scott it went and, voila! I would imagine that if that tube had blown in a Soviet tank 30 years ago (actually, it’s a modern Sovtek), someone in the factory would have been shot! I know I’d wanted to shoot someone…I needed to listen to some music!

The quick, sharp attack from David Grisman’s mandolin and Jerry Garcia’s guitar on the CD So What (Acoustic Disc ACD33) impressed me. The sound of the string’s decay didn’t equal what the Monarchy/Anthem combo reveals, but it’s not truncated by any stretch. I like the sound of CDs through the Scott, but I like what I hear from vinyl a bit more. That could just be my bias…I am biased, you know…I admit it!

I switched to a high output moving magnet on a vintage deck (Kenwood KD500) that a close friend had given me. It’s in absolutely perfect shape; holds it’s speed like a baby holds its blanket, and the Audio Note IQ2 tracks like a champ on the Pioneer PA 1000 arm. It’s pretty quiet with the low output Win SMC10 using the Sony step-ups, but I still need to turn that volume knob to about three o’clock if I want to Rock out! I can Rock out with that set-up! The vintage guys talk about their direct drive tables with reverence. I have to admit there’s a feeling of immediacy, more of “you’re there.” NOT in audiophile terms, the soundstage and imaging is fine, but I’m speaking of the feeling of excitement and wonder you get from hearing music.

I played quite a few LPs with the Scott/Kenwood. Maybe not as many as I did with the VPI, but it was one o’clock in the morning, two nights in a row, before I shut things down and went upstairs to collapse in front of the TV and turn into a brainless vegetable.

I played Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses, spending some time looking at the photo inside the jacket. On this LP, Joni sounded a bit hard, not the smooth Joni I know and love. My copy? I found with all vocals, however, as I’d found with the VPI, it was easier to hear and understand vocals. I heard meanings in Joni’s songs I don’t recall; as if she was explaining things to someone too obtuse to understand.

Records played on both decks revealed what you would think; the VPI beats the hell out of the Kenwood in resolution and all of the audiophile type things that some worship. The thing is, this amp plays music!

Just to satisfy my curiosity, and return to the sound I have spent time and money to achieve, I hooked up my Anthem preamp and Monarchy amps. Snap! That’s meant in a good way. The Monarchy amps, ice cold and unplugged for a good while, are much quicker than the Scott. But we’re talking about some great amps modified by a man I consider one of the top audio manufacturers IN THE WORLD (they were Lloyd Walker’s).. It ain’t a fair comparison. And those Monarchy amps are black boxes. The Scott? Well…

I have to admit the retro-look is intriguing, but I am bothered by knobs and switches that for sonic reasons do not work and RCA connections that are, although original, just don’t allow too much space for connections (the phono female RCA’s are upgraded). The screw (that’s a real screw there, darlin’!) speaker connectors are a bit too retro for my tastes, too.

I realize that much change would add too much cost, none of us want that! I just wonder if furniture buttons could be popped into holes created when pots were removed. Could they also be used when unused switches are removed? The on/off switch being the volume knob too is a great idea…Scott should have received awards for that! The selector switches work and all the rest are unneeded adornment…adornment that detracts rather than adds to the look of the unit. Ignore that front plate and the working parts are staring at you, no cage supplied. It looks great! Those hunky transformers and all of those glowing tubes…EL34’s look great, don’t they?

But looks aren’t really that important, are they. Low cost and great sound outweighs a higher cost to get a damned fine piece of equipment. But that idea of furniture buttons…

Just as I reached the end of this review I saw a post (at the Audio Asylum) about the looks of vintage gear and it made me rethink what I’d said about the switches and knobs. The gear of yesterday had a “touch me” look. Those knobs didn’t HAVE to be touched, but if you felt you needed them…there they were.

Contrast that burnished gold front plate with the solid black or at most, gun-metal gray equipment of today and what do you have…I mean really? Boring! Why touch it? You don’t have to touch it. In fact, my Monarchy amps sound their best if never touched! I leave them on all the time. But music is tactile; playing LPs especially, is tactile. So kids, strike that thought about the Scott not looking that good. It looks just fine! And if you’re not a vinyl addict? That line stage is top-notch, too.

 

If you’d like to hear what the big fuss is about tubes, or if you know that tube sound is different and somehow more lovely (in my opinion, at least) and musical, then take this one for a test drive. You have 30 days to tell Pierre you don’t like it. My guess is you’ll be too busy listening to music to make the call.

ADDENDUM

 

I wrote some e-mails to Mapleshade and I thought I’d share those e-mails and his responses with you:

Pierre, I'd like, if you can, any more info you can give me about the ideas and concepts of "modding" and redesigning the amp other than what's written at the site and the sales brochure. Any goals other than simply an improvement in sound; reliability? I really don't know about the original Scott amp, but I'll do the research needed, but were there any tube changes or anything else "visual", your circuit topologies and/or any changes to Scott's are, I'd imagine, not anything you wish to share, but if you do, please give me the info you'd wish to share with my readers.

I am using an old pair of Sony in-line transformers because my cartridge, a Sao Win SMC-10, is low output. I was afraid that even with the Sony transformers the gain wouldn't be enough...it is. I may even try and see if I could get away without the transformers, but I have the knob set at about 10:30 to 11 for most listening...as it is with my Anthem pre-amp, so I'd imagine not...but "one never knows, does one?"*

Pierre wrote back:

Mike,

Here are some answers to your questions:

1. Tube complement: ECC83s are just European 12AX7s, so there’s
really 4 12AX7s on board the Scott..

2. By our rather stringent measurements, a stock 222C puts out 20-21

watts per channel. Our hot-rodded 222Cs put out 26 watts per channel.
No audiophile should pay attention to any of these wattage numbers.
Remember that the wattage rating of an amp is hopelessly irrelevant to
music and does NOT correlate with how loud an amp can play. Why?
Because the wattage rating measures only steady state power and there
is no such thing as steady state music. Music consists of very low
average power signals with millisecond-long transient peaks that jump
up to at least 100 times the average music power. It’s exactly those
peaks that contain the excitement of the music; it’s those peaks that
define what the ear hears as loudness. The ability of an amp to
reproduce those transient peaks is not correlated with its wattage
rating and, in fact, requires an entirely different measurement which
is never performed by labs or audio reviewers.

The only way to tell how loud an amp can drive a certain set of
speakers is to hook it up, turn up the volume and listen. What should
matter to an audiophile trying to evaluate our Scott amplifier for
his own rig is this: we’ve tested the Scott using speakers as
inefficient and power hungry as the Maggie 3.6s (85 to 86 db) and the
little Scott played symphonic music louder than I cared to hear,
without clipping. So, if you have speakers of 86db or more efficiency,
the Scott will kick butt.

3. The tube shields are there to reduce hum that might be induced by
external fields.

4. Output tube life should be 3 years or more for an amp that’s
played every evening. The rest of the tubes should be good for well
over 5 years. None of the tubes are exotic, rare or expensive. We
always have complete complements of tubes on hand (as well as
replacement parts for every component of the amp). If you use our
tubes-- which we match using in-circuit oscilloscope measurements (not
the much-less-stringent tube tester)--you will not need to send in the
amp for re-biasing. None of the tubes on the Scott cost more than $15
when sourced from us.

5. No, we will not publish a manual because this mod work is a labor
of love and writing a complete manual requires a huge, boring amount of
time. Input impedance is 250K +; phono gain is adequate for any
cartridge with .5 mv output or more.