** UPDATES Sept 2019
Koetsu Blue Lace with Diamond Cantilever is the BOMB. Unambiguously the best cartridge I've ever heard. The diamond cantilever raises detail, speed and dynamics of Koetsu to a next level, without pulling it towards analytical. In fact, this change actually allows MORE of the famous Koetsu musicality to pour through the speakers. Added in March of this year. Mounted on the FR64S (this arm is now clearly superior to the Graham Phantom Supreme for Koetsus). I've also switched my SUT to the Choir Audio unit based on Hashimoto HM-7. My EAR MC-3 and Koetsu SUT (pictured here atop the VAC) also sound great with the Blue Lace, but the Hashimoto sounds HUGE with lifelike dynamics. Another change is rolling tubes in the VAC phono: 1 pair Mazda 12ax7 chrome plates (my favorite), 1 pair RCA black plates 12ax7, 1 pair Mullard reissue 12ax7 - this results in a tonal balance similar to the stock tubes, but with enhanced detail, 3D imaging, and bass impact. If it weren't for my need to closely track the stock tonal balance (because that works well with my system), I'd have all 6 Mazda chromes in there - and the Mullard pair is there because it's warm enough to counter the Mazda's top end (otherwise, it's a serviceable but not stellar tube). Stock tubes were VAC's selected PentaLabs (Chinese) 12ax7. The latest system pic shows a Rogue RP-9 preamp on the bottom rack shelf, but I still use the ARC REF 6 as my primary preamp. I'm also back to the Shelter Harmony on a Clearaudio Universal 12" for my 2nd arm, which I try to mix in to save hours on Koetsu - I haven't been very successful at this, however! As good as the Harmony/Universal combo is (for a while I was going back & forth between this and the non-Diamond Koetsu stone bodies), the Blue Lace just takes everything to another level. 

** Updates Feb 2018
I have upgraded literally EVERYTHING since July 2017. I kept with the same general system composition; in many cases simply moving to newer model years and/or the next model(s) up. I did change from all Rogue Audio electronics to VAC & ARC for phono stage & preamp -- yes, I have to admit that was the right move for me to finally make. I've stuck with the Rogue Apollo amps, but bought the new "Dark" upgraded versions. And also bought a big-boy CMS Maxxum rack -- sayonara, Lovan!! I think I've kept like 3 power cords, a pair of AQ Kilimanjaro, and a pair of AQ Wild interconnects. Everything else is brand new. 

** Updates Sept/Oct 2016
Added a few updated photos, and posted a more detailed comment on recent upgrades. My original upgrade plans, as enumerated below, were formulated in 2010/2011. I've finally logged updates to each of these items. The core Tannoy/Koetsu/Rogue blend has always remained in place -- because it sounds awesome! I've also had my beloved Koetsu Onyx Platinum recently broken (RIP to my girlfriend), and bought a new Coralstone to console myself.

Mazda silver-plate 12ax7 have been put EVERYWHERE. A friend introduced me to this tube in 2015, and I absolutely love it. BIG upgrade over the usual suspects: Telefunken (smooth & ribbed), Mullard long-plates, RCA long black plates, RCA 3-mica 5751, GE 5751 "silver clips", etc.

I've fallen a bit sucker to the cable industry, and have been moving up in the Audioquest line (mostly silver) when I can find the right ones used. 

My headphone system has also gone crazy in the last 2 years: Stax SR-009, Stax L700, Head-amp BHSE (stocked with the ample vintage British/Mullard or Holland/Amperex EL34 on hand), Schiit Yggdrasil. Also have a KGSShv Carbon, Balanced-hev90 clone, KGST, KGSShv x2 etc. But the BHSE is the best. I also have a SR-007 Mk I, but strongly prefer the SR-009 and L700.

My (now very old) upgrade plans:

1) Tannoy Canterbury SE; their size is better suited to my room; the 96dB efficiency is also very appealing 
** UPDATE: Did this October 2012 - A VERY good move in the end, though I must admit it's very frustrating to re-tune & adapt everything for a new speaker, even one from the same line as its predecessor (Tannoy Kensington SE). The Kensington needed a boost in bass energy and some relaxation up top. The Canterbury SE needs some help coaxing sparkle/energy up top. The Canterburys simply sound HUGE, and I love it. 

2) Phono stage...perhaps a CineMag blue step-up to feed into the VAC Ren III's phono. Or, drop the VAC (as good as it is) and start from scratch. Perhaps a Hagerman Trumpet w/ CineMag blue or Artemis Labs? 
** UPDATE: Finally settled on a Rogue Ares in late 2014, after the THIRD TIME buying this phono stage, lol. Its latest revision is superb when paired with: Mazda Silver-plate 12AX7, Sylvania 1950s Black Plate 12BH7 OR Mazda Silver-plate 6189, and Bob's Devices 1131 SUT (each of these makes a BIG difference). Finally, this combo yields notably better sound than the built-in phono of the VAC Renaissance III that I loved so much. 

3) Table: Either a SOTA Cosmos or a Clearaudio Innovation Wood Compact (leaning heavily towards the SOTA due to past experiences) 
** UPDATE: Got the Clearaudio Innovation, obviously, in Spring 2014. With Graham Phantom II Supreme tonearm. Great table/arm, but not without their imperfections. And expensive. VERY expensive. Overall I'm mostly happy with this table rig, though. Added the Clearaudio ring clamp and reference weight late 2014 (way too expensive, but nice).

All setup in an old loft apartment in a commercial district with NO RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORS!! The best time to crank the system up is midnight-5am - there's nobody within a mile! Solid, over-built late 1800s construction. No laundry hookups, no oven, no cable - but NO complaints from me for the overall benefits :)
** UPDATE: Still the same hookup :)

Room Details

Dimensions: 21’ × 14’  Medium
Ceiling: 10’

Components Toggle details

    • Tannoy Canterbury GR
    Big Tannoys; totally rad speakers!!
    • VAC Master 300 Musicblocs
    Transformative, transcendent amplifiers. Largest single-component improvement I've heard in my life. Absolutely blows the 200iQ's away.
    • VAC Master
    Line-Stage. I never felt 100% about this preamp when paired with the Signature 200iQ's. But now paired with the Master 300 monos - oh yeah, 100% world class baby! Stunning!
    • VAC Signature 200iQ
    Stunning sound quality
    • VAC Renaissance Phono SE
    Stunningly natural, lifelike sound
    • Clearaudio Master Innovation
    Badass Turntable
    • Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM
    Crazy expensive rack, but it works as advertised, and earns its keep while looking awesome!
    • Audio Research REF 6
    Very clean, clear sounding Preamp
    • Koetsu Coralstone Diamond
    Amazing, stunning, beautiful cartridge. The Onyx Platinum is now my 2nd favorite.
    • Koetsu Onyx Platinum
    Pure. F___ing. Magic. In the midrange. Treble and bass quality are not as good as say an Ortofon Windfeld, but they're still quite good. And the Ortofon midrange is just awful by comparison to any Koetsu.
    Recently rebuilt in Japan; good as new again!
    • Koetsu Jade Platinum
    Sounds almost exactly like the Onyx Platinum, but slightly less warm and slightly more air on top. Very, very close. I keep this one in reserve.
    • Ortofon MC A90
    • Rogue Audio Apollo Dark
    Very good, very powerful tube amps.
    • Bob's Devices Sky 40
    Step-up Transformer; great match for the Koetsu Platinums.
    • AudioQuest Niagara 7000
    w/ NRG 1000 PC
    • Rogue Audio Ares Magnum
    Great phono stage, notably better than the non-Magnum Ares. Even with the Cinemag 1254 Blue SUT built-in, I still added an outboard SUT: Bob's Devices Cinemag Sky 40. Also upgraded the hell out of the mediocre stock tubes: Mazda 12AX7 chrome plates, Sylvania 12BH7 black plates. Superb match with Koetsu cartridges this.
    • Rogue Audio Hera II
    Upgraded to Hera II status. Fabulous sound, BUT NOT dead quiet (in conflict with the product description page's boast). It's a high-gain tube preamp so there is some noise floor if you have sensitivity amps and speakers like I do. I can deal with it because the sound quality beyond that is so great. I liked it better than the VAC Renaissance III line stage.
    • Clearaudio Innovation Wood
    Excellent table. A good clamping scheme is essential for any high-end vinyl rig -- and Clearaudio's clamps are excellent.
    • Graham Engineering Phantom Supreme
    The Graham Phantom Supreme arm is GREAT with Koetsu
    • Head-amp Blue Hawaii SE (BHSE)
    Exotic, beautiful, and amazing sounding electrostatic headphone amplifier for the top Stax headphones.
    • Stax SR-009
    The best headphones in the world. Requires electrostatic headphone amp.
    • Stax L700
    The best of the Lambda series. Not as good as the 009, but an exceedingly enjoyable headphone. I prefer this L700 to the SR-007 Mk I (a.k.a. Omega 2)
    • Audioquest (All analog cabling)
    WEL LP phono, WEL LP 0.5m RCA (for SUT), Fire RCA, Fire XLR, Wild Blue Yonder XLR, Wind XLR, Sky RCA, Sky XLR, Niagara RCA, Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro (x2).
    • Sonic Frontiers Phono 1 SE+
    Fully upgraded by Parts Connexion. Awesome phono stage that's sadly becoming rarer and more unheard of by the day. Think I'll be retiring from the last few years' phono stage madness with this unit. Edit 2016: Whoops, guess I liked the Rogue Ares w/ 1131 SUT better after all. And the new Ares Magnum is even more better.
    • Phison Audio A2.120SE
    Sweet solid state power. 120 Watts/ch.
    • Phison A2.120 SE
    Solid State Class AB stereo amp, 120 Watts/ch, MSRP $12K. Sounds WAY sweeter than I ever expected a SS Class AB amp could sound, plus with killer bass! It's become one of my favorite components over the past year, and competes earnestly with my $30K VAC 200iQ monos!

Comments 124

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Something I forgot to mention, My 3C24 amp was converted by Paul Birkeland to use 812 output tubes. That's made it a giant-killer! I love it!


Ag insider logo xs@2xislandmandan

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If you go to my system page (The Summit), there is a photo of my DIY connection system I devised for my Tannoys.

Thanks, Dan

Ag insider logo xs@2xislandmandan

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Muleving, I made my own custom connection system, as I was never impressed with the Tannoy piss-poor lashup. Excellent speaker system, lousy connection system!


Ag insider logo xs@2xislandmandan

I know I've said this before but this system really feels "done" now -- 6 months into having the VAC Master amps. I don't know what else to do or what I would even want to do. I can swap various tubes, SUT's, cartridges, or even speaker cables whenever I want a slight change in flavor -- I have plenty of these on hand, and that's plenty of range. None of the major components need to change. It feels like 100% synergy now between VAC Master amps and VAC preamp & phono stage -- quite honestly the VAC Master preamp didn't 100% mesh with my system before these Master amps. Something about the 200iQ and Master preamp pairing just seemed "off" to me. Also didn't like the Renaissance V at all. Weird. 

The amps are sonic perfection to me. They take the best attributes of the 200iQ's on their very BEST day and make it even better. Bass was arguably a relative weakness of the 200iQ's (compared to Phison and Rogue Apollo); the Masters have easily the best bass of all these amps. Limitless dynamics. Zero strain, ever. Liquid , gorgeous midrange - this is what I think of when I think of VAC, and this is their best midrange yet. 

The 200iQs are happily powering a smaller scale system with Tannoy Glenair 10's. Here, they feel in their element again. I still love them :) There is a lot of synergy with the 200iQ's on Glenairs -- they handily beat the Apollos and Phison; I ran many trials. Gonna try an older VAC Renaissance III preamp here -- no more V's for me lol. ARC Reference 6 is a good match here, but after 6 years I think I'm finally tiring of its sound. Perhaps a little too "clean" for me. It was a much better pairing with the Ref 3SE phono anyways (which I sold to help afford the Master amps, though I miss it). For now I'm running an old Rogue Athena preamp. I love that thing! Amazing sound for the money. I wish Rogue never came out with the RP line to supersede it. 


Thanks!! I know your Tannoy build is custom - did you use the solderless wire clips to the drivers like Tannoy does, or are they hardwired? I think issues caused by these clips are a LOT more prevalent, and may be responsible for cases of Tannoys that don't "sound right". Personally --  one of my Canterbury GR woofers lost its clip connection just 2 months into ownership. I play loud and it got knocked loose lol. Had them tightened up and now, 6 years later, no new incidents. Then the Glenair 10's I bought used from TMR arrived with drivers wired up TOTALLY wrong (LF+ and HF+ swapped at the driver; LF phase reversed at the binding posts, same for BOTH speakers). It was an easy fix, but still -- the fact that such crummy clips are used on these amazing drivers is mind boggling. 

@pehare Thank you :) 


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mulveling, I ought to be jealous of your amps, but lately I'm so happy with my 3C24 amp and how it's driving my Tannoy HPD 315 in custom 200 lb. enclosures, I don't need to be.

Being a 76 year old fart, my son pointed out to me that my R/H speaker was not putting out any low frequencies, so I took it apart and found I had wired it wrong. Now, with both woofers putting out the low frequencies as they should, what a tremendous difference that has made .

I may be old, but life is good. Great job on your system! Regards,

Ag insider logo xs@2xislandmandan

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Bar none this is my fav system posted here I can't imagine how great this must sound.  You've taken it to new heights...incredible, congrats savor & enjoy!


The VAC 300iQ monoblocks absolutely destroy every other amp I've played with, including the VAC 200iQ monos. It's not close. They're the single biggest component upgrade I've ever experienced. They're also the most expensive - but worth it. Had them since December - this system finally feels "done", for a while (again). 

My Master preamp meshes 100% perfectly with the 300iQ monos. I wasn't 100% convinced of the matching between Master preamp & 200iQ monos - with 300iQ, all doubts are now gone. VAC Master is absolutely the best preamp for my system, now. 

At the end of last year I was very close to going all-in on ARC. I had the Reference 3SE phono and Reference 6 preamp - and they worked great together with the 200iQ's, Apollo Darks, or Phison amps! But the 300iQ were such a revelation, they really convinced me that all-VAC was the way to go. So now I'm all-in on VAC, and very happy about it :) 


Current Status (Part 2):
Recently picked up 2 pairs of Audioquest Wildwood speaker cables for a good price (couldn't resist), and have been using them in a double biwire, as a change of pace from the double AQ Everests. Those 2 sets of cables are very similar in geometry and gauge, but the Wildwoods are about 60% silver / 40% copper mix whereas the Everests are 100% silver. The Wildwood mix is really nice - a good balance of the detail from silver and tonal warmth from copper. I think any more copper though, would be too much. With the AQ all-copper cables I always notice a big drop-off from silver in detail. Both sets of cables here are really nice. I'll go back to the Everests at some point to compare. 

Also got a new EAR MC-4 SUT, which I really enjoyed paired with the ARC pre & phono, but somehow a channel has gone out on it. I'm surprised, out of all the components in my system, that a SUT would have a channel go out randomly?! I looked inside and don't see any obviously loose connections. At least I've got warranty on it. For now I'll go back the the old MC-3, which is extremely similar sounding - though I did feel like the newer MC-4 had a slight edge over the MC-3 in sound quality. Kind of sad :( 

And this weekend I *finally* got rid of the old cheap Lovan shelf supporting my AQ 7000 power conditioner and the VAC & turntable PSU's. That thing really bugged me as an eyesore lol. I got a great deal on a used CMS Maxxum amp stand; it's lovely!

Next is to refresh my 15 year old GIK panels to new ones with a nicer looking cloth material. Maybe a silver-gray color?


Current status: I let this get a bit out of control, and have way too much gear haha. My favorite system configurations right now are:

  • Phison A2.120SE amp with ARC Reference 6 pre and ARC Ref 3SE phono, EAR SUT
  • Phison A2.120SE amp with VAC Master pre and VAC Renaissance SE phono, Quadratic SUT
  • VAC 200iQ monos with VAC Master and VAC Ren SE, Quadratic SUT
Between each of these main combos, I can hit the "right" overall sonic balance by matching them to various SUTs and cartridges (differs per combo). The ARC components generally are super clean from top to bottom with just a touch of sweetness in the mids. Powerful bass response , smooth treble. The VAC components have a vivid, gorgeous midrange. VAC's bass and treble are perfectly proportioned to the mids, but I'd classify them as a little less clean there than with ARC. Quite possible it's just revealing nasties in my Tannoys, though - when I recently heard a very similar VAC stack behind Acora Acoustics speakers (excellent speakers!), I thought it sounded cleaner. But I just love the passion of my Tannoys, even if they're not perfect :) 

Other combinations can be very good too (I've tried many) but have various minor imbalances or weaknesses that are a little harder to smooth out. The best of these are:

  • VAC 200iQ's with ARC Ref pre & phono (super clean & smooth sound but a little bit too smoothed up top; needs cartridges to give it sparkle back)
  • VAC 200iQ's with ARC Ref 6 pre & VAC Ren SE phono (all the beautiful vivid VAC midrange, but a little tilted-up in FR)
The reality is once you swap a major component, the optimal cartridge + SUT pairings change. There is an especially striking difference between SUTs like the EAR MC3 / MC4, Quadratic MC-1, and Lundahl LL1931. To be honest, I don't really like the Lundahls in any config. But the EAR vs. Quadratic gives me a LOT of flexibility to find the right match when swapping components.

The chase and experimentation has been equal parts fun and frustrating. Really I'd like to narrow it down and start settling into a new reference system config. We'll see.. 


Many thanks @jond !!


Mulveling not sure how I've never seen your system before but glad I finally did it's spectacular. The big Tannoys all that Vac gear and that stunning Clearaudio table a world class system I'd love to hear!


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Mulveling, it looks like I won't be able to make it your way, I'm about as far across the country as I can be, and don't travel much anymore (old fart), but I do appreciate the idea of being welcome. If you're ever anywhere near Seattle, I'm a couple of hours south of there on Whidbey Island (WA).

Hang loose, and enjoy!

Ag insider logo xs@2xislandmandan

Thanks @islandmandan and @whart - you're both very familiar "faces" on the forums and I really appreciate you!

I'm in Marietta GA. Just down the street from my main dealer, "The Audio Company". Actually I go pick up another CMS platform from them tomorrow :)


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Mulveling, just to let you know, I get the same feeling when I view your system that happens when viewing Lalitk's system, that of a wish to hear both of your systems.

That would be very enjoyable to me, to be sure. Enjoy, 

Ag insider logo xs@2xislandmandan

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Mulveling, just so you know, I get the same feeling when I view your system as when I view Lalitk's system. A near overwhelming desire to be there, and experience the bliss both of your system's deliver.

I hope your fine system delivers all that you could ever ask for, enjoy greatly,

Ag insider logo xs@2xislandmandan

Gorgeous. I've seen your posts about Koetsu, but never saw your system (here). Stunning. What general part of the country are you in? 
Bill Hart


Thanks Spencer! Hope you're doing well and enjoying the music.

Yes, the combination of SS amp and tube pre/phono is still quite thrilling here. What's funny is I have two of the Phison A2.120SE stereo (SS) amps, and I've discovered they have slightly different voicings (also slight differences I can see inside). One of them is more sweet & warm - this matches best with the VAC Master pre & VAC Renaissance phono. The other is a bit brighter but also more detailed & dynamic - this matches best with the ARC Ref 6 pre & Ref 3SE phono. Perhaps surprisingly, I find the ARC components a bit more relaxed up top versus VAC, in my system. In either case, both configurations make for fantastic SS / tube hybrid systems. 

The full all-tube VAC stack with 200iQ monos is also superb, with a more liquid-y beautiful midrange than the Phison SS, but man I do miss the bass impact, snap, and speed of that Phison - especially on harder rock and metal. 

Recently I've been going back & forth between the full VAC stack and the Phison / VAC setup. While the ARC-friendly Phison unit is currently out on loan to a friend :) 

I also realize I'd gone down a bad rabbit hole, tube rolling the VAC phono stage too far away from its "proper" voicing. Maybe the RCA 12AX7 were also going bad. Anyways, I've got that resolved now, and it's a fantastic competition against the Ref 3SE. Always a good idea to keep stock VAC tubes on hand, and periodically check your tube rolling adventures against the stock base setup! The stock voicing of VAC is fantastic, and you don't want to stray too far away from that. The phono stage you can get in a lot of trouble because there are 3 pairs you can roll, and vintage 12ax7 have such diversity in sound. 


Love your rig and your nuanced observations that feed it! How's the power amp ss-power/tube-pre thinking evolving? 
When we chatted about my entry into VAC world, we never discussed that, but I've come to find the combo of ss-power & tube-pre more often than not, a winning strategy. Cheers,


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I'm definitely feeling the tube preamp + SS power amp vibe lately with my Canterburys. For a while I thought I'd live out my days content with all tubed components lol. 

Static hiss-type noise floor honestly doesn't bother me too much (hum / buzz is different and drives me crazy). I try to minimize it of course, but have a relatively high tolerance. Grunge between notes or increasing with signal level however, I cannot tolerate. I'll look into the Entreq's. Says a lot if it's got you smitten!

I've though about it in the past, but no subs here; I don't really have comfortable space near the speakers for "proper" sized subs. This is also a vinyl-only setup, so I do have concerns of feedback with subs. Everything works perfectly as-is with the Canterbury's natural bass roll-off, never any woofer flapping here :) 


@mulveling, Based on what’ve heard with Entreq, I believe the exotic mix of minerals is the key to effectively removing the RFI’s grunge from Tannoy’s voice coil. I have tried ‘mechanical’ grounding with Nordost and heard next to nothing in my system. Another factor to keep in mind, I am using SS electronics which are dead quiet to began with (no hiss, common with some tube electronics). I hear your dilemma with multiple amps, there is no perfect amp that excels at everything. Typically a SS amp and Tube Pre gives you best of both worlds. I couldn’t tell if you’re using subs in your system, a pair of REL’s may alleviate some of this back n forth between amps (unless you really enjoy the process). I absolutely cannot imagine my system without a pair of REL subs. Enjoy!


Thanks @ronrags 

Good to hear from you again @lalitk - very interesting report on the Entreq! I've tried grounding my Tannoys in the past, but only with 18AWG copper wire, terminated to spare "-" posts of tube amps. It didn't have much effect that way. It's been a while and I've been meaning to try something again. 

In general - I've enjoyed my VAC 200iQ tube monos for the past several months (and driving myself semi-crazy tube rolling it), but now they're going on sabbatical as I've once again been craving the fast paced, hard hitting, incisive, lightning quick attacking, more aggressive sound of the solid state Phison A2.120SE amp. The 200iQ's slightly soft & rounded bass was getting to me. Especially with the ARC Reference phono & preamp stack now - I just can't get over this Phison amp for pop, hard rock, and metal. And I've been in a rock mood lately :)

The Apollo Dark tube monoblocks are still hanging around; they're also great for rock, just not quite as much as the Phison. The Phison somehow has sweeter mids than the Rogue tube amp, but not quite as sweet as the VAC, obviously. Where the Apollos REALLY excel is large-scale orchestral work, which admittedly I don't listen to a lot of. Simply massive dynamic swings and soundstage there. They clobber both the VAC's and Phison there. So I'm still happy to have these amps too. But actually sort of questioning whether I still need the 200iQ's!

I have a friend trying to organize a group buy on Phison A2.120 SE, the good version (not the v2 ugh), if anyone's interesting in trying out this very unique sounding solid-state. I might order one anodized black. 


Great looking system with all top notch components. It must sound wonderful. Best of luck and good listening.


@mulveling, Hope you are doing great! I wanted to share my recent experience on grounding the Tannoy’s. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much but this was one of those things on my wish list ever since I bought my Canterbury’s. I picked up a pair of Entreq Silver Minimus Infinity ground boxes with Argo grounding cables. An hour into listening with Entreq revealed this next level of detail retrieval and clarity. I heard more air, separation and deeper blacks…all I can say, wish I jumped on this tweak sooner than waiting for 2+ years! If you haven’t tried grounding the Canterbury’s, you’re in for a nice treat!


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