So Many Resistors, So Few Good-Sounding Ones!
All electronic circuits use resistors, they are an essential and ubiquitous component. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of resistor model available to the designer, of various constructions, materials and power handling capabilities ranging from milliwatts to hundreds of watts. For most tube gear, resistors only need to handle the range of milliwatts to a few watts. At Counterpoint we used Roederstein "Resista" resistors for the critical audio-path low-power applications, and various generic metal-film and metal-oxide resistors for the 1 to 2 watt range. If higher power handling was needed, then assorted wire-wound resistors were used.
Those were the 80's and 90's. Those were the good resistors of the day; and they pretty much suck when compared with the good resistors we have today. Generally speaking, the best resistors are a lot more expensive than the $0.05 MK-3 Resistas that Counterpoint gear was built with. Like a few hundred times more expensive. Frankly, if we had used resistors as expensive as today's best models in Counterpoint gear in the 80's and 90's, no one would have been able to afford the product!
For Alta Vista Audio upgrades, where parts prices do not affect your price nearly as dramatically (see "Why Upgrade" for a comparison of how parts prices affect retail and upgrade pricing), I am always evaluating the good resistors. And it turns out that, regardless of the glowing reports I've heard, there just aren't many good-sounding ones. Just to list a few, I have listened to the best-regarded models from Draloric, Riken, Kiwame, Caddock, Dale, Xicon, Vishay, Mills, Allen-Bradley, and PRP. (Note: if you have some resistor I don't list and want me to use it in your Counterpoint upgrade, tell me what you are thinking. If you, or someone you personally know to have a good ear, recommends a resistor, then ask me to check into it. But I'm not here to satisfy idle curiosity or help you find parts for your own DIY projects: for that, do your own listening and trust your own ears.)
Here are the resistors that I currently feel to be the best of the crop. In all cases, they were evaluated in comparison with a piece of wire:
- For power-handling applications, Mills wire-wound MRA resistors are the best I've found so far.
- For low-power applications, the "naked" version of the Vishay S102 S-foil partsare fairly neutral, grain-free, edge-free, lucid, quiet, and dynamic. Until 2007, they were the closest thing to a piece of good wire that I've found. But Vishay's newer Z-foil resistors easily surpass the S-foil part, and in the TX2575 "naked" version they are head and shoulders above any other resistor in terms of neutraility and background silence. For the scoop on Vishay resistors, see my writeup on my Aria website here.
Unfortunately I can't use Vishay foil resistors in every location in an upgrade: they are not available in all the higher resistance values I need to use, so Caddock TF020's (see below) are used in those few locations, and they can't handle more than about 1/3rd Watt. Naked S and Z foil resistors are custom-made and very expensive.
- Another part that I like are the Riken carbon composition resistors. These are the single-ended triodes (SET) of the resistor world: velvety and warm, they have wonderful presence. They are colored, but in a delightful way, and have to be used with restraint or they can make the sound overly-damped and lifeless. One or two per signal path is plenty. I don't use these in the upgrades due to the dramatic effect they have on the sound, but can do so if requested. I'm not a good enough writer to describe how SET power amps sound, but if you know and like how they sound, I can bring that warm presence to your Counterpoint upgrade.
My previous choice for low-power applications, the Caddock TF020 ("Tetrinox"), has had to be moved to second-class status in comparison with those two choices above. The TF020 is very transparent, but it also has a SLIGHTLY tilted-up frequency response, with a SMALL treble emphasis, a SLIGHT reduction of bass, and adds a TINY edge to the sound. I only use these parts where a Naked Vishay cannot be used.
A final note: The Riken resistors are not very expensive, but not many can be used in an upgrade without affecting sound. But the Naked Vishays are, even more expensive than the very expensive Caddock TF020's. This is the price of good sound. Every other resistor that I have listened to to date sucks big time compared with these four.
Note: I don't sell resistors or parts! I buy what I need to use in the upgrades -- contact the manufacturer if you want to buy some or have technical questions regarding these parts.