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June 2010 issue
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SOUND AFFECTS

Long before the days of commercial FM radio broadcasts and the likes of Radio 1, I would eagerly await sunset when I could tune my wireless to Radio Luxembourg. It was then that the ionosphere rose high enough in the sky to allow the AM signal to reflect as far as Britain. Unfortunately, as many of my generation will remember, the reflection varied in strength, causing the reception to fade in and out in the most annoying fashion! But, and this is what is relevant, I was still able to access a vast ‘jukebox’ of pop tunes courtesy of my ‘Station of the Stars’. At the weekend I would rush to my local record shop to buy a 45rpm disc of the ditty which had most grabbed my attention the week before. On arriving home, I could then listen to the recording complete, minus the fading, on the superior sounding family ‘Dansette’!

You may ask, what has all this got to do with DAB? Well, I now use DAB in a similar way to the above, sampling the output of digital stations such as ‘Planet Rock’. Even though not delivering audio of such high quality, DAB allows me to access recordings rarely, if ever, played on the FM band. As a consequence, I bought four CDs last weekend, simply because I had heard interesting tracks from them on digital radio during the preceding week. In fact, as a function of the increased choice offered by DAB, I have now parted with ‘loads of money’ by purchasing the entire CD back catalogues of several groups, as well as many offerings from new and upcoming artistes.

Additionally, I have been motivated to tweak and upgrade my hi-fi system to take best advantage of DAB radio and my new CD acquisitions. I therefore submit that DAB may be responsible for supporting the revenue of the recording and hi-fi industries, a possibility that some of your correspondents may have overlooked. Surely then, in our ‘Hi-Fi World’, the contribution of DAB can be no bad thing!

Alan RJ Scott

 

planet_rock_website

 

On DAB, Planet Rock is a good listen, suggests Alan RJ Scott.

 

You’ll be a poor man then when you get internet radio, with 15,000 stations or so! NK

 

Well, yes, fair enough Alan. But speaking personally, the prospect of Coldplay on 'Radio FAB' on DAB at 96kbps would be enough to put me off music forever! And when you say you've been motivated to tweak your hi-fi system, I presume you mean 'tweak it to sound worse', so it doesn't show up that paleolithic MPEG 1-2 codec in all its, ermm, glory? Best put Aunty's knitted woolly jumpers over both speakers and turn the hoover on during your listening sessions... DP

 

THE GEEK IS BACK!

It is with a meaningful sigh, a despondent shrug and an “ahhh well”, that I have to report a recent loss to our fine pastime... namely me!

I have tried everything to maintain a lively interest... I employed those young orphans and found them Saturday Jobs (for a small percentage you understand), I utilised a band of intrepid pensioners from the 'Infirm and Octogenarian Society' and engaged them in a mailbag sewing enterprise... very good at keeping arthritis at bay, I’m told.

However, the current economic downturn and general mercantile malaise which prevails has taken its fiscal toll, and I have to announce the sale of my sweet and well balanced hi-fi equipment (Roksan Radius V/ Ortofon Rondo Bronze, Musical Fidelity A5 and-Acoustic energy AE1 Mk3).

Although originally it was the recent financial constraints that forced me into action, the final sharp and pointy nail in the loudspeaker cabinet was the arrival of a dog (Basil; a Cypriot Tripe-Hound; and two sticky and inquisitive Grandchildren)...

Indeed, the very thought of all that prodding and swooshing together with the soon to come “Oooh look what I’ve found... I didn’t know it came off?” that was just 1 watt too many on the old decibel scale.

Interestingly, I managed to sell my gear for very much what I paid over two years ago and have replaced same, with a mouthwatering cornucopia of high fidelity 'Grey Porridge'. My current listening medium includes a brand new Goldring GR1.2/Elektra, a Cambridge A1 and a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 8.2... total cost £111.00! Now, I’m not an aural idiot (oh yes you are!) and I realise that this is some seriously old fashioned and uninspiring kit, but – yes there is a but – the part which is great, that was a huge surprise, was the fun, the contest, the thrill of the chase that results from turning this seemingly run-of-the-mill equipment into something greater than the sum of its parts. It reminds me so much of my very first toe in the water, back in 1970 with Thorens TD160/Shure M75ED cartridge, Goodmans Module 90 tuner/amp, Goodmans Magnum K2 loudspeakers. The geek is back, and his tartan thermos is filled!

I’ve kept my cables and my interconnects, I've still got the Trichord Dino+, so the question is, “with what do I replace that Goldring Elektra?” The hobby is exactly the same – the enjoyment just as tantalising – it’s just the costs which are lower. All of a sudden that Sony TA-88 in Feb 2010, is looking pretty damned attractive, I can tell you!

Hi-fi - still the greatest hobby that I’ve known! Right then, where’s that pair of Celestion Ditton 15s then?

Thanks

Brian Oakley

 

goodmans-module-90

 

Goodmans Module 90 receiver, a blast from the past.

 

Well okay Brian, getting a bargain now appears to have become part of ‘the hobby’ and you are a born again eBay fan I suspect; see Andrew Ganley’s letter next. Time to re-live your youth and start building a system all over again! Do it by replacing the Elektra with a Goldring 1022GX I’d suggest. After that well, anything is going to be an upgrade isn’t it? NK

 

Hi Brian, and after you've followed Noel's advice, I'd suggest the next definitive step up the upgrade ladder is a Roksan Radius V/ Ortofon Rondo Bronze, Musical Fidelity A5 and Acoustic energy AE1 Mk3s. DP

 

SPEAK NO EVIL

Just a brief overview of my system if I may? Its a hotch-potch of various names beginning with a Naim CD5, FlatCap2, Technics SL-1200 fitted with a modified Rega RB250 with Goldring GX1042 (love DD as DP does!).

Next up is my Nakamichi CR7E (pride and joy, natch!). I also have a Arcam DV137 Universal player. Amperage is courtesy of Audiolab 8000A/S+ a newer Marantz PM70001KI plus two Musical Fidelity headphone amps and a Musical Fidelity phono amp. I do a lot of listening on headphones, two Sennheisers (600/650) fitted with StephanAudioArt cables.

I also have three sets of speakers: Castle Edens, Richmond 11s and Linn Keilidh (in passive mode).

My listening room is a big one (30ft x by 30ft) and my listening tastes range from most guitar based rock from the ‘70s, ‘80s and noughties, plus more smooth sounds from the likes of Diana Krall, Allison Krauss, Eleanor McEvoy, Bonnie Raitt, Sinatra et al.

My query is this; though I’m reasonably happy with the sound, the old ‘upgraditis’ is creeping back, as is the PAF (partner acceptance factor)! I’m wonder if another set of newer speakers would be in order? Better make them floorstanders, because as much as I love the Edens (beautifully made and sounding) but have to smile at their ‘bookshelf’ moniker, I’ve dropped them on my feet on a few occasions! I was wondering if the Linns are the best choice too? Any ideas would be gratefully received

I do a lot of eBay watching (and buying sadly), hoping to pick up the bargain of the century (yeah right!) and am amazed at the silly prices some eBayers ask for their stuff. I see lots of old Audiolab amps going for £200+ and some Marantz CD63 KI prices are just as silly. Maybe you could do a price guide for us poor souls!

Andrew Ganley.

castle_knight_5_speaker

Coming soon, the new Castle Knight 5 loudspeaker.

 

That’s a big room and deserves big loudspeakers. I’d get Tannoy Yorkminsters immediately, or even sooner, if my listening room was that size and situated in the middle of Dartmoor, with only sheep as neighbours! Even better would be Westminster Royal SEs of course which, when fog sweeps the moors, can double up as foghorns, if you have a foghorn CD that is. Unfortunately, I doubt you will get these on eBay and saw only one pair of Tannoy Lancasters priced at £550 available in Scotland when I looked.

Seeing that you like the distinctive sound of Castle loudspeakers I looked for another good alternative, Castle Howards, but there were none. Other possibilities are the new Castle Knight 5s, which we have yet to review, or Tannoy DC10Ts.

Whilst some eBay prices are low, many have become unrealistically high I feel and boy, is there a lot of tat. Prices are always determined by supply and demand; suggesting second-hand prices can be misleading and something we steer clear of.

NK

 

Hmmm... this must be this year’s April Fool? You’ve got three pairs of totally different speakers and you want more speakers, but you don’t say why, or what you want from them, or how much to spend! Let’s paraphrase; ‘you’ve got a Ford Cougar, a Mondeo 1.8 and a BMW 530, and you want a new car - but what? Maserati Khamsin, Landrover Discovery, Bond Bug or Audi A8?’

To make matters worse, you’re threatening to buy these random objects on eBay, presumably bidding and winning before hearing, and then paying and getting them shipped before hearing, and then likely being left with a pig in a poke without your money? They could be great speakers, but totally wrong for your room or your ancilaries, or in the great tradition of eBay they could be run into the ground (hence their 'bargain' status) and need reconing, or arrive smashed by your friendly local couriers! Come on Andrew – put down the keyboard and find a decent dealer, so you can start listening to music again. DP

 

BIAS

A couple of years ago I replaced a cartridge (Audio Technica OC9) as it was getting a bit long in the tooth. It had always had anti-bias set matching the down force figure, or slightly less, as seems to be standard practise.

 

Upon examining the stylus tip under magnification I could see obvious wear and mis-shaping on the left channel side, i.e. left hand side when viewed from the back of the arm and deck (Michell GyroDec/Audio Origami'd RB300 arm). The right hand channel side was fine.

 

This cartridge had run for approximately 2,000 hours, give or take a couple of hundred. This surely must indicate that the cartridge was being unfairly pushed outwards during its life. I have run my current cartridge for around 700 to 800 hours with no bias. When placed on a smooth disc it does pull inwards, but seems fine or if not better when tracking in the grooves! The left/right balance is also spot on when listening too. There is also no sign of undue wear on either side of the tip.

 

I recently read a review of a high-end turntable and arm combo (Klimo Tafelrunde turntable with Lancelloto arm) in Hi-Fi World. This arm has no bias compensation facility at all. It seems they agree with me? This is a £17,000 set up so you would hope some research has been done to come to this conclusion !

Ivor Jebson.

 

You need enormous magnification, around x1000, to see the effective contact area of a stylus, rather than the shank. At such magnification depth of field becomes all but zero so little is in focus, and intense illumination is also required. Also, the cartridge has to be held in a manipulator, both to keep it steady and to get the area of interest into some approximate focus. It is very difficult and requires special equipment: read expensive. Without all this you were likely not seeing true tip wear.

 

I cannot speak for the Lancelloto arm and what the designer thinks. During cartridge testing however, mistracking occurs early on one channel with no outward bias force applied, and applying an outward force raises the mistracking threshold (i.e. improves tracking) as well resulting in balanced behaviour from the two channels. So evidence suggests bias force is necessary.NK

 

GOING NORTH

I recently attended the Northern Hi-Fi Show and, on the whole, was underwhelmed by what I heard (I saw Noel there, but didn’t introduce myself because I didn’t want to seem like a tiresome fanboy). Almost all the systems, to my ears, were too bright – if not due to transistors, then modern speaker voicing. I am very interested in what Noel thought of the show.

 

I spent most of my time in the Audio Note room. The sound was very organic and musical. I wonder what you think of AN products as you don’t seem to review or comment on them much. In particular, I am interested in your views on AN phono stages because the weak link in my current system is my phono stage, a Musical Fidelity X-LP. I think the stage is the weak link because my wife – who is only marginally interested in hi-fi – thinks our CD player is on a par with our turntable.

 

My current system is as follows: (1) vinyl = Avid Diva II/ SME M2-9/ Ortofon 2M Black, (2) CD = Yamaha CD-S2000, (3) amplifier = PrimaLuna ProLogue 2, (4) speakers = Spendor S8e, (5) interconnects = Chord Chameleon Silver Plus.

I have been in contact with Audio Note who have recommended a change of speakers to AN/Js and their phono stage M1 RIAA. How does this phono stage stack up against World favourites the Icon Audio PS3 and Eastern Electric Minimax? Also, is the Pure Sound P10 still a contender (it now has a matching step-up transformer for MCs)? Do you agree that the phono stage is the weak link in my system?,

Stephen Morley,

 

gaku-on

 

Audionote Gaku-on, 45 Watts from twin 211 transmitter tubes, operating in parallel single-ended mode. With special transformners and components this costs a mere £50k.

 

Hi Stephen. I enjoy speaking to our readers at the many shows we attend; I’m sorry I missed you. The Northern Hi-Fi Show at Manchester's Radisson hotel is always a friendly affair and this year held quite a few surprises. Only the journey is tedious for Southeners; I drive but most people fly (it’s cheaper than car or train).

 

Audio Note produce very specialised valve amplifiers and characterful loudspeakers and CD players. I think I am not misrepresenting them by saying they do not consider themselves to be mainstream, so much as high-end and do not seek reviews. Audio Note designer Andy Grove once worked at Hi-Fi World, designing World Audio Design amplifiers, so we well know, understand and respect Audio Note products. Having said that, we haven’t reviewed their phono stage so can’t comment on how it stacks up against others. I phoned Audio Note supremo Peter Quortrop about your request and he said – very frankly as always! –  that they had a full order book and did not want to divert product out for review, including their phono stages. He said they sold mainly by demonstration, feeling their products were best represented this way.

 

Their view of high-end is much like my own, based on a philosophy of ‘less is more’, a scenario in which super high quality transformers play a key role – effective if you know how to make them (most don’t). I know from experience Andy designs transformers most manufacturers cannot build, and that’s just the layered and segmented winding structure! Audio Note additionally use special wire, including silver and litz arrangement wire, within Andy’s complex designs, and special core materials including special silicon steels and, for their top models, nickel irons. Their product range is huge and, if you want, they have a phono stage costing £180,000 Peter told me. And yes, they do sell them!

 

All their phono stages are MM, I was told, and you have a wide range of transformers, inevitably, to match in a Moving Coil cartridge, the most expensive AN9 costing so much you must phone them for a quote. The least expensive phono stage is the R-Zero, at £972, and it uses wire ended Raytheon missile ‘tubes’ that have a very long life.

 

I have heard Audio Note Kegons driving Tannoy Westminster Royal loudspeakers and it’s an amazing experience, if also an expensive one!

World Audio Design amplifiers were distinguished by their Andy Grove designed, Morite Winding Co built transformers and the amplifier I choose to use today is just one of those amplifiers, with driver/phase splitter transformer that prevents grid current flowing in the 300Bs. So although we don’t review Audio Note I am probably more sympathetic to their view of how to achieve good sound quality than anyone else’s. They do now attend many UK hi-fi shows and you can see their products there or get a home demonstration. Just be aware they have a baffling range, and a power amplifier like a Gaku-On delivering 45 Watts from twin 211s in Single-Ended mode costs a mere £50,000!

 

You will certainly hear the change from a solid-state stage like your Musical Fidelity X-LP to an Icon Audio PS3, or even a 1.5 and both nicely complement the Ortofon, which is a tad clinical and could be accused of being CD like. Much beyond that and you will need to consider getting a moving coil cartridge, ideally in a better arm. The SME 2-9 has lovely bearings and headshell, which together provide a smooth midband, but its bottom end could be usefully better defined and an SME V is an obvious next step. NK




 

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