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World Mail June 2010 issue  

 

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Or  comment in the Comment section at the bottom of each page.

 

Your experts are -
DP David Price, editor; NK Noel Keywood, publisher; PR Paul Rigby, reviewer; TB Tony Bolton, reviewer; RT Rafael Todes, reviewer (Allegri String Quartet); AS Adam Smith, reviewer; DC Dave Cawley, Sound Hi-Fi, World Design, etc.

 


 

leak_tl12

With 12W available the Leak TL12 needs a sensitive loudspeaker.

 

RESURRECTION

I am about to resurrect my hi-fi, not used for years. My musical taste covers most areas of music: Blues, World, Folk, Soul, Rock, Jazz; acoustic and amplified. I am a guitarist and listen to a lot of guitar of all sorts. My room has a suspended timber floor with rugs, is book lined on the speaker wall and about 11 by 13 feet. I would like to achieve a decent soundstage whilst the quality I most rate is probably timing. I am less fussed about huge bass or high volume.

 

My preferred sources are vinyl, cassette and CD. I have a lot of mostly old LPs of varying condition and cleanliness. Likewise tapes and inevitably CDs.

 

The kit I have is a pair of Leak TL12+s overhauled and wired for direct phono plug input, Marantz CD63 KI Mk2, NAD 6100 cassette deck (flakey), a Connoisseur BD1 (very flakey) and SME 3009 II Detachable (headshell). My speakers are Tannoy 12 Golds in 75 litre cabinets and in need of some work. I also have a Leak Point One preamp and Leak Troughline tuner, neither of which I use. I am told the preamp is best forgotten and that overhaul of the tuner likely to be uneconomic given the end of FM being nigh. Please say if you think otherwise!

 

I like the TL12s and intend to keep them. What I need to do is replace the Tannoys for the time being with something smaller that will suit the Leaks but not disappoint. I am intending to recab the Tannoys and was considering connecting the crossovers at the amps (eventually!) and bi-wiring from the crossovers to the cabinets using two pairs of binding posts at the cabinets for each unit. Is this a good idea and what cable should it be? Tannoy's wiring between the controls and crossovers, and from the crossovers to the units just looks dire to me.

 

Secondly a new vinyl front end, with deck, arm, cartridge and phono stage that are well matched, and fairly easy to install and maintain. A few years back I nearly bought a Garrard 301, I got the SME rewired and a Shure V15. Today there are probably better options.

 

I will stick with the Marantz unless you suggest otherwise (I am something of an old fogey when it comes to CD and digital music) and I thought I might acquire a Sony WM-D6C cassette recorder for some portable recording and playback of other tapes through the system. You might suggest a different deck though, for replay in the system.

 

For vinyl and speakers, leads and cable I have a budget of around £3,000.

Finally, is it worth getting my LPs cleaned or buying the means to do it myself given the likely cost of the new cartridge?

John Weston

 

Wise to keep the Leak TL12+s of course, and I bet they sound lovely in renovated condition. Your problem is they produce little power, just 12 Watts. Unfortunately, small loudspeakers are insensitive, unlike big Tannoys, so it isn’t realistic to make a swap unless you are prepared for a great drop in volume. A sensitive floorstander like a Q Acoustics 2050 (or even a 1050) is your best choice, as it costs little (circa £380), offers good quality and is sensitive enough (90dB) to give adequate volume.

 

On the record deck side of things I suggest the inevitable Rega P3-24. Your SME Series II with detachable headshell is not so clever now, but you may get a good price for it on eBay. Since you probably like a warmer sounding cartridge I suggest a Goldring 1022GX, or even Shure M97xE. This little lot will keep you well within your budget.

On the cassette side of things there isn’t much choice as only Sony make one, the inexpensive Sony TC-WE475 we reviewed in our March 2010 issue. Although just £130 it worked surprisingly well in every respect, especially replay of prerecorded tapes.

 

Whether your records need cleaning depends upon their condition. I suggest you try your new record deck first to see just how much noise there is. Being in storage, unused, does not hurt discs, although those in paper sleeves will slowly dry out, loose their plasticity and get noisier. Put all LPs in plastic sleeves if possible.

 

The end of VHF/FM isn’t nigh I believe. However, even when restored the Troughline has poor selectivity and is only practicable in areas where there’s a reasonably clear line to a transmitter, without pirate stations (urban areas) in between. Even then you will need a high gain, directional aerial pointed at the transmitter, but this is only £150 or so. In such circumstances a restored Troughline is magic; with talk programmes it is like being in the studio!

The preamp would likely need a rebuild before it sounded any good. If you don’t want these items, eBay them to those that do. Leak equipment well restored is special. NK

 

Hi John - whilst I'd agree with Noel in general, I thought I'd mention that the Technics SL1200/2 is a superb deck at £400; partner with the aforementioned Goldring and you'll be amazed how pacey and punchy it is. The Rega is a fine deck with more finesse but can't touch the Technics in the musicality stakes. An interesting speaker to consider is the M.A.D. My Clapton (£1,500 approx.); I've just tried this in my own system and it's a great sounding large standmounter with tremendous power and verve, plus a valve amp-friendly 92dB sensitivity. Watch out for a review of it in Hi-Fi World soon. DP

 

ROLL OVER FOR BEETHOVEN

Beethoven string quartets are not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but for some they are a musical destination worth evolving towards. The equipment I play them on is Meridian 200 series CD transport, Meridian 263 Delta Sigma DAC7, Pioneer A400 amplifier and Ruark Talisman Mk I speakers, with budget quality cables and interconnects. I also have a pair of Usher S520 speakers.

 

I would be unlikely to return to vinyl and I would be reluctant to part with the CD player as I am extremely fond of it! Apart from the Ushers, this kit is mostly twenty years old or more but is all fully functioning and in sparkling condition. What I am trying to achieve is a more natural sound for the string quartets, violin sonatas and piano music which I listen to most of the time. My system seems to shout, being sometimes aggressive and uncomfortable to listen to. I am attracted by the World Designs WD88VA amplifier and WD25T speakers. Do you think they would bring me nearer to the natural, insightful sound I seek using the Meridian source and optimal cabling? My room is 17ft x 12ft, with the speakers pointing up the long axis. A figure of £3,000 to £4,000 comes into mind but could be exceeded if sounds of exquisite naturalness met my ears from any other equipment you were kind enough to suggest. If pushed, I would change the DAC but I hope you will not insist on me replacing the 200 series transport!

Christopher Hughes

 

martin_logan_purity

 

For lovely reproduction of strings - and much else - try a Martin Logan Purity electrostatic loudspeaker.

 

Your Ruark Talismans are best suited to Rock, not Beethoven, and especially not string quartets. To listen to strings you need to consider an electrostatic from Quad or Martin Logan, I’d suggest, or the Princesound Prince II. Martin Logans are the most affordable and practicable and you really should try and listen to a Purity (Sept 08 issue) or Source (Nov 08 issue), both of which are in your budget. The Pioneer A-400 isn’t ideal for them, but it should do. Upgrade to a World Design WD88VA or if you don’t want to DIY, the recent Icon Audio Stereo 40 MkIII. NK

 

SPIN CYCLE

My system comprises: Electrocompaniet EC1-2 and Electrocompaniet AW60FTT bi-amping early Acoustic Energy AE1s on A.E. stands, Michell Orbe SE with Origin Live modified RB250 and Dynavector 20X and Electocompaniet ECP1 phono stage. I am aware the arm and cartridge could be improved, and possibly the phono stage. I would appreciate your recommendations on an upgrade path and would an A.N.T. Audio Kora 3T LTD be a good choice? Many thanks in anticipation of your advice.

Geoffrey Heath

 

My thoughts would be around an Icon Audio PS3 phono stage; the ANT is lovely, but the Icon adds a tiny bit more warmth and euphony, whilst being very closely matched to the ANT in other respects. The next weakest link is the Dynavector, which is a fine and musical budget MC but you're really going to get up towards an Ortofon Cadenza Blue to get anything like the best from your Orbe. Final change, for me, would be the tonearm, to the Origin Live Encounter, which works beautifully on the Orbe. This would add extra space, depth and finesse to your already fine sounding OL RB250. DP

 

MAKING PLAN(AR)S

After much consideration and investigation, I have decided to purchase a pair of electrostatic (planar-magnetic) Magnepan MG12s to replace my old cone infested speakers. However, as you probably know, the MG12's specs include a sensitivity of 86dB into an impedance of 4 Ohms; whereas my old cone jobbies were nothing if not efficient with a rating of 92dB into 8 Ohms; thus I also need new amplification (I’ve come across the 100 Watts RMS suggestion several times). So I'm considering the NAD C725BEE stereo receiver and the Rotel RCX1500 receiver, and would like to know your thoughts about them for my application.

 

The NAD sounds good and has enough power (I think), but how does the Rotel compare? I like the Rotel's FM internet streaming capability because we here in Southern Ontario have two great, good-old-analogue FM stations (one with 24 hour jazz (www.jazz.fm) and the other with classical programming (www.cbc.ca/toronto), both using extremely high quality broadcasting technology) that I use for familiarising myself with potential CD purchases. I use a good CD player for critical listening (only jazz and classical music, at reasonable loud levels).

 

On the other hand, going against the Rotel (assuming it sounds as good as the NAD) is that it has a built in CD player which I don’t need but which ups the purchase price. Do you know of any sub-$1,000 100W stereo receiver that tunes in internet FM and sounds good (I realise that me being on the other side of the big pond complicates you recommending specific kit somewhat)?

 

Do I need to forget the one box (receiver) idea and go with separate tuner and amp, even though this also ups the price? Is there other kit that you would recommend (no tubes/valves please)?

 

By the way, why are Yamaha stereo receivers never tested in hi-fi magazines (I've seen multichannel, AV ones tested)? Is it that their low price bracket keeps them out of the hi-fi category, even though the best ones have high power ratings? I really would appreciate any advice you could suggest.

Roy Chant

Canada

magnaplanar_mg12

The insensitive Magnepan MG12 magnetic planar loudspeaker needs plenty of power.

 

Hi Roy. To be frank, I have little experience with stereo receivers, only surround-sound ones - and few of those would really do justice to Magnepan MG12s. As stereo receivers are their budget cousins I suspect you are expecting too much here. Driving the Maggies with a separate amplifier allows you to optimise that side of the system and get the most from them. You will need a quality stereo hi-fi amplifier and I suggest you start out trying a Naim Nait 5i. It won’t go super loud but Naims deliver current well and have a fulsome bass that suits Maggies. If you have a large room or listen very loud then you would need more power, from a Supernait or upward. Alternatively, think Simaudio Moon, but you may have to buy second-hand.

 

Whilst VHF/FM off-air offers good quality, via the internet you are faced with a compressed signal and JazzFM91 comes in at a low 48kbps, an iTunes player tells me in London. This is not good quality. It could be that I am served a low rate because of my London IP address and you get a higher quality stream locally, but it is unlikely. Your CBC Classical station comes in at a standard 128kbps and this is better, but hardly super-fi! VHF/FM off-air should sound considerably better, especially when taxing audio material like a full orchestra with violin sections is subject to internet compression, just to stuff it down telephone wires. VHF/FM then trounces internet radio, whose quality becomes quite gruesome.

logitech_internet_radio

Logitech Squeezebox internet tuner brings stations in from around the world.

 

So I would suggest you take it easy, get one item at a time, possibly purchase second-hand from eBay, and build your system progressively. A Logitech Squeezebox will serve as an internet tuner and there are many options for a VHF/FM tuner of course. The MG12s are quality loudspeakers and deserve good partnering equipment. I hope this helps. NK


ANALOGUE ODYSSEY

Over the last few years I have been on something of an analogue odyssey, perhaps to the exclusion of the rest of my system. In the intervening time, things seem to have moved on apace. I have been spurred to write to you by a number of recent reviews in Hi-Fi World of seemingly outstanding gear around the £2,000-£4,000 price band that you seemed to imply could compete with genuinely hi-end gear, whether it be electrostatic speakers or valve amps. Now I know that with the best will in the world, an understanding wife, and a relatively high income, I am never going to be able to spend the £5,000-£10,000 per item that the high-end now seems to demand, so I’m hoping you can help with a 'weakest link' kind of problem.

 

Over the last twenty years or so, I have built up by careful purchasing of new and classic equipment, what I think most of us would consider to be a pretty fair system, as follows.

 

CD is a TEAC T1 with heavily modded input and output stages and reclocked and recently revised, Audio Synthesis DAX Decade, Black Gate Balanced (with volume control), direct into a Chord 1200B amplifier. Record decks are:

1) Roksan Xerxes I with rewired/reweighted Rega RB300 and Dynavector DV20H on a Townshend isolation platform.

2) Technics SP10 Mk2, custom two-arm plinth, SME 312S and Van den Hul Colibri XCM, and my own 12” carbon fibre unipivot arm + Van den Hul Colibri XCM.

3) Garrard 401, Lorricraft-restored in 12” Lorricraft plinth with my own titanium 12” unipivot, or a SME 3012 and Zu Denon 103.

4) Garrard 401, Lorricraft-restored in solid 9” plinth with high and low compliance cartridges (Denon 103s, 304, Shure 140HE, Audio Technicas, etc.) and appropriate arms (BBC and Sedco broadcast gimbaled arms, and Mayware, Formula, etc., unipivots, everything mint – God bless eBay).

With either Sonneteer Sedley USB MM/MC phonostage or Quicksilver valve MM phonostage (so nice they’ve stopped making it!) into Audio Synthesis Passion passive preamp, and then single-ended into the Chord.

 

Loudspeakers are Quad ESL-63s with One Thing Widgets and mains leads, on custom 'Townshend' type stands and other speakers including DIY BBC-type monitors.

 

I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated room for this lot. The whole system is on a separate mains spur, and wired end to end with short lengths of van den Hul Carbon and Revelation Series and a Russ Andrews Ultra Purifier mains block, on custom-made stands and plinths with a silly amount of isolator widgets under everything, and I have to say, it all sounds pretty good.

 

So I’m a happy bunny, right? Well, yes and no. I used to come home from hi-fi shows, rather smug, if I’m honest, thinking “there was nothing there at any price that would make me change anything I’ve got!”, but just recently I’ve occasionally started to hear (and in show conditions) systems which although much more expensive, if I could afford them, I’d buy. The steady march of progress, I guess.

 

Also, I recognise that, even though much of my gear will be forever repairable, some of it is elderly (and I don’t mean the obviously classic bits). My Roksan, that I’ve had since new, will be celebrating its 25th anniversary soon, and I bought the TEAC in 1993! I know that digital technology, in particular, has moved on. So, it seems to me that I have a choice: try to identify new gear that would improve on my core system, within my £3,000ish per item constraints, and/or treat the weak links in the existing system. Things I have been thinking about include subwoofers and/or Digital Signal Processing for my slightly bass-shy and lumpy room (21’x23’ and plaster-boarded over stone, suspended oak floor); an entire set of specialist mains cables to complement the Russ Andrews U-P block; a PS Audio PPP to replace the U-P block; additional and better phono stage(s); an unsprung high-mass belt-drive turntable (the only type I haven’t tried - I hope that you’ve seen the method in my turntable madness by now!); and, lastly, but possibly most urgently, a new CD transport and/or DAC (it has to be said that it is only recently with the purchase of the SME and the Van den Huls, that the LP side has improved on the CD – heresy I know, but I have no philosophy in this regard, only my ears).

 

If you think I can achieve a better synergy between 'speakers and amp, by changing either (or a clearly better result by changing both) within my budget, I’m open to suggestions.

 

I started more than twenty years ago with a Mission/Cyrus system, and found that I had to pay between five and ten times as much to really noticeably improve on each element. So I realise that this is a big ask – since I’m asking you to identify as a minimum any hole in my system and how to plug it, and as a maximum a sort of roadmap for the future – for basically the same per-item budget that I have already spent.

 

Neither am I asking to radically change the system’s sound, only more of the best bits and less of the worst, please.

You may be surprised to learn that this is a slightly warm-sounding system, with the great tonal discrimination, transparency, and imaging that comes with the Quads, and the dynamics and bass control of the Chord.

 

If I am super critical of the sound I’ve got in relation to the very best, I would say that it is a little intellectual, slightly rolled-off at the top end, and lacking some air (despite trying supertweeters without success). There are more impactful systems (mostly horn-based and too coloured), and really low bass, whilst present, lacks volume and impact. In short, it won’t really rock'n’roll, although it has to play all music genres without favour.

 

You ought to know, equally, that I strongly dislike the bright and shiny hi-fi sound that I associate with certain American brands, and the quality I prize most is 'suspension of disbelief'.

 

If I’m being totally unrealistic, and your reaction is “we can’t suggest anything within your budget” I will still be grateful, as it will settle my mind. Thanks for whatever help you can provide.

Ross Heyward

 

Cripes Ross! Reading down that little list of items in your system had my eyeballs well exercised. So much to consider, I thought my head may explode. However, it is still on my shoulders and in one piece. Why? Because I can tell from my own experiences and long labours your sound is dominated by the Quad ESL-63s. As fabulous as they are in oh-so-many ways, they are also quite constrained, mainly by layers of protection grilles and protection circuits of so-so quality (I presume you have the later high voltage diode protection and not the earlier, self powered compressor circuits that produced muddle).

 

quad63

 

A modern incarnation of the Quad ESL-63 from Quad Musikwiedegabe, just one way to upgrade an original.

 

If you insist on keeping the ESL-63s – and they are very accurate and revealing – take a long look at the One Thing Audio site at www.onethingaudio.net or the fabulous Quad Musikwiedegabe site www.quad-musik.de and lovely pictures in the Refurbishing section. At the High End Show in Munich last year (i.e. 2009) Quad Musikwiedegabe were demo’ing new ESL-57s and ESL-63s and very lovely they sounded too. These two companies are able to fulfill all your Quad requirements, if you wish to stay close to the sound you are used to.

 

The ESL-63 will forever have (slightly) rolled off top though and feeble bass. You can sub-woofer them, using a small fast type, but the crossover between dipole Quad and monopole subwoofer will always be obvious, if something that you can acclimatise to.

 

Many alternatives are available to you. Your room is large enough to accommodate Quad 2905s, Princesound Prince IIs or Martin Logan CLXs, all full range electrostatics. I have made it my duty (!) to hear all of them and they are all fabulous. The Prince IIs however, are very insensitive and need huge voltage swing to go loud, meaning 100W amplifiers minimum (Quad II-eighty), but they have a very pure sound from their open panels. I strongly suggest you demo all three; there isn’t so much between them.

 

Both Editor David Price and I are Martin Logan fans too. I have no problem with the box bass unit of their lesser models, because the ML open electrostatic panel is so delicious. Spend time listening to these if you do not want full range ‘statics. If by the “bright and shiny sound that I associate with certain American brands” you mean Martin Logans, rather than JBLs (say), then stay with Quads.

 

 

cara_21x23ft_room_74hz

A 21ft x 23ft room can be modal, at 74Hz here, with loudspeakers close to a wall. Moving them into the room is a cure.

 

And finally you say your 21ft x 23ft room is “lumpy”. Cara, a three dimensional ray tracing programme that plots room modes, confirms this if you have the loudspeakers close to rear wall (see the 3D picture). Pull them one third the way down the room (i.e. 7ft from the rear wall) and angle in slightly and the heavy modal patterning lessens as energy distributes better, Cara suggests. Bass dipoles are very ‘difficult’ like this; try rotating the Quads a little and see whether the lumpiness changes at your listening position. You likely need to spend time with positioning to minimise lumpiness.

 

I hope all this helps; yours really is a good system. NK

 

HOT OR NOT

Noel, do you think that I can use other tubes than the EL34s on the Marantz 9s? The amps themselves and the manuals are marked with those specific tubes. So I don’t know if tube rolling would create problems. If you feel it is technically possible and advantageous, what would you recommend in connection with the Quads?

 

Also, a phase issue with XLR pin determination, when pin 3 is hot instead of pin 2: my Rowland Coherence preamp has pins 3 hot.  So when I had amps with pin 2 hot, I ordered my expensive Synergistic interconnects from pin 3 hot to pin 2 hot.

 

Now that I have the Rowland amps which are also pin 3 hot, I still use the same interconnects and it seems that there is no problem. How is that? Further pressing the phase button on the preamp hardly makes any difference that I can hear.

 

So what is going on? Why would the interconnect with phase 3 to 2, not be out of phase when connected to the amps with hot in pin 3? This is confusing. Should I resolder the termination of the cable at the amp side to pin 3 hot, which I am not too eager to since it would do an amateur job on an expensive cable. Will I see a difference?

Thanks once more for any help,

John Demos

 

I do not know the internal conditions under which your Marantz 9 amplifiers drive EL34s (HT voltage, plate current, etc) and so cannot recommend alternative tube types, I’m sorry to say. Others may work, or may damage the amplifier (if excessive current is drawn and the amp cannot handle it). But you can try different brands of EL34 of course.

The ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ or +ve and -ve of balanced connections are relative. As long as you keep both channels connected the same way around they will be in-phase. You can check for in-phase condition simply by swapping the connection to one loudspeaker around: if the sound stage goes all phasey and weirdo then the channels were in phase and correctly connected. If you suddenly get focused centre stage images then the channels were out of phase. NK

 

SWEET SURRENDER?

I wonder if you can help me on a topic that has bugged me for a while. I currently run Quad ESL-57s and Horning Eufrodite speakers depending on mood, and my Leak Stereo 20 or Quad IIs. The Leak is used with a passive pre; the Quad is usually driven by my venerable Audible Illusions Modulus.

 

Living in the sticks, going to dealers to compare is a big business and I personally hate having wasted people’s time if I find a purchase unnecessary.

Over the years I have heard and even owned many modern valve designs from Horning, Viva and other manufacturers, without being convinced that any were better than the classic designs. I note your latest rave is the Icon MB845s and wonder whether you feel these may topple one of these venerable designs. In my opinion both are outstanding but very different with the ESL-57s; I’m much less happy with the sound I get from the Hornings but that may not be the fault of either amp. I know I shall have to dem at the end of the day but don’t fancy an unnecessary round trip of 160 miles with the ESL-57s in my boot only to find I’ve wasted my time, if you feel I should be happy I have what I have! Are there any other brands I should look out for?

 

The Modulus has always been a U.S. niche preamp and I hope you’ll review it now that it’s back in the UK so to speak. It’s embarrassed more than one dealer trying to sell me a five or six thousand pound replacement.

Stefan Herber.

 

Hi Stefan. By “out in the sticks” I’m guessing you mean the U.S. sticks, as you don’t reveal your location, but you have an AOL e-mail account and talk of a preamp unknown in the U.K. (by the way, my other name is Sherlock Holmes!). Yet you refer to your car's 'boot' where Americans use 'trunk', so perhaps you are in Canada?

 

quad_ii_classic

Quad II Classic uses KT66 valves to give the original sound.

 

The Leak Stereo 20 and Quad IIs are very gentle natured, if pure and sweet. And neither produce much power, so I guess it is nice and quiet where you live (ah, the thought of it to a besieged Londoner).

 

Anyway, dreaming apart, the Icons are not really quite the same, having a lot more heft in their sound. I would direct you to the new Quad II-Classic valve amplifier with its KT66s and beefed up transformers and parts, relative to the original. Modern valve amplifiers are otherwise altogether less gentle than your classics and may not be to your liking. Seems to me you live in a little piece of heaven. NK


TWEETER POSITION

I am in the midst of upgrading the drivers on my IPL Acoustics S4TL kit loudspeakers. As I will need to make faceplates to attach the new drivers I have the opportunity to freely place the tweeters within reason. Given that I have been reading the magazine since 1995 this started tingling a few bells from the depths of the old DIY supplement with regard to the KLS9 speaker. The reasoning here was that it had handed tweeters – something I want to use to improve imaging.

 

So I went to have a look only to find that the distances and angles were defined but there was no information as to how they were reached.

So, the question is, how does one calculate tweeter-midbass distance and calculate degree of handing? The drivers are Volt B220.8 midbass, Morel ST1048 supreme tweeters and crossover frequency is 2.1kHz handled by the Steve Bench valve crossover: http://greygum.net/sbench/sbench101/#Electronic

 

The rest of the system has a definite Hi-Fi World influence: Nottingham Analogue Spacedeck with the heavy kit, Wave PSU and  tracer arm, Shure V15VxMR cartridge, Icon Audio PS3 phonostage, Bottlehead Extended Foreplay pre-amp with above mentioned crossovers, Oppo BDP-83 upgraded by Audiocom, Sony PS3, NAD T175 AV preamp 4, Icon Audio MB845 power amps, two IPL Acoustics S4TL speakers for stereo / front, two Rotel RB970BX power amps., four IPL Acoustics AVC1 speakers for surround Sharp 52” LCD.

Has anyone tried experimenting with acoustic panels covering such a large reflective surface right between the speakers when it isn’t in use i.e. playing records? I look forward to your response.

Keith Dunlop

 

Er, actually Keith - you don’t calculate it! The tweeter should, ideally, be less than half a wavelength at its crossover frequency with the midrange, or bass/midrange unit. Otherwise its sound will be more than 180 degrees out of phase at the crossover over frequency and a dip in response caused by phase cancellation will result. Since mids and bass/mids radiate high frequencies primarily from their dust cap, then the distance is measured from this point (if the driver uses a fixed phase plug, then from the plug edge). A wavelength at 3kHz, a common crossover frequency, is just 4.3in, or 109mm, so you will need to get the tweeter as close as possible (less than 55mm) to get within this rule of thumb.

 

The tweeter should sit flush with the baffle to avoid diffraction of the surface wave off discontinuities. This also means a smooth, flat baffle is best (and also a narrow one). Asymmetric positioning on the front baffle disperses left/right edge diffraction effects. World Audio Design loudspeakers like KLS9 also used quite large radius edges to reduce edge diffraction. All these little things improve image placement and stability; our listening tests showed such small attentions to detail add up to produce solid and stable images. NK

 

LOCAL WARMING

Can you advise me in my quest to enhance my current hi-fi system please? It looks like this:

The turntable comprises Michell GyroDec with Rega RB600 and Sumiko Blue Point Special cartridge. The phono stage is a Clear Audio Basic MM/MC

loudspeakers are Linn Ninkas and CD player a Linn Genki. The power amp is a Linn LK140 and preamp Linn Wakonda.

Interconnects and Mains Cables. Speaker Cables – QED XT400. Hi-Fi Table – Saturn 5.

 

I would like to upgrade in the following order: phono stage, loudspeakers then turntable, and the budget is £1,500, £5,000 and £4,000 respectively.

My initial feelings from what I’ve read are to look at the Icon Audio PS3 or stretch to the Whest PS.30R. The majority of the music I play is on vinyl and I would like a warmer sound than my current system is achieving.

 

I really have no idea at the moment regarding the speakers other than they cannot be much bigger than the Ninkas due to the shape and size of my room. Floorstanders appeal but I am happy to look at bookshelf if both the sound is great and they are visually appealing.

 

Finally the turntable. I do like the GyroDec and feel a natural urge to upgrade to the Orbe. An SME arm would add to this fine deck.

I appreciate that interconnects and mains cables make a difference so I could simply reduce cost on the source and upgrade these instead.

So can you advise on my current thinking please? The timescale for all my purchases will be within the next twelve months.

Dean Scholey.

 

audiosmile_kensai

A great small loudspeaker, the Audiosmile Kensai, now priced over £2k.

 

Hi Dean. The Icon Audio PS3 will certainly give you the warm, atmospheric sound you want and seems like it might be just what you are after. The Whest is highly detailed and analytical, but being solid-state inevitably drier and less romantic, shall we say.

 

For loudspeakers I strongly suggest you try Audiosmile Kensais, that seem to bring a smile to everyone’s face, irrespective of taste it would seem. That’s no mean feat. They are certainly one of the finest loudspeakers I have heard, by quite a long margin too, using a magnesium coned bass/midrange unit and planar ribbon tweeter. See my review in our June 09 issue. NK

 

Regarding phono stages, I’d not hesitate to go for the Icon Audio PS3; it’s brilliantly suited to your Linn electronics, inasmuch as it’s warm and your Linns aren’t; hence they balance sonically nicely. The Michell Orbe is a no-brainer - it’s a long way above the lovely and iconic GyroDec in sonic terms, bringing a far more stable, powerful and detailed sound; it’s very open reel-like, in fact. First of all though, upgrade your cartridge; the Sumiko is miles behind the capability of the rest of the system, so I’d be tempted to go for an Ortofon Cadenza Blue, ultimately to receive an SME IV or Audio Origami PU7 or Origin Live Encounter (on the Orbe, I’d go for the latter). Speakerwise, if it were me I’d be looking at Quad 2805 electrostatics, or Monitor Audio GS60s, depending on whether you want subtlety or swagger. DP

 

ALIVE AND KICKING

I have a budget up to £18,000 to spend on a new or second-hand pair of loudspeakers. Since 1991 I have had Linn Isobariks of various types and I now have the ultimate pair: the last made generation driven by an active system using Krell amplification. The sound is terrific, I enjoy all my listening hours and I always want to reach for another record, however, it is clear there is even better sound to be had so I have begun the quest for replacements.

 

I listen solely to LPs and my music is 60/70’s rock, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, Led Zepp, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, etc.

My system consists of Cartridgeman Musicmaker Classic, SME 3012, Garrard 401, Slatedeck 2 layer plinth, Art Audio Vinyl One phono Stage with volume control so no preamp, Linn Activ Crossover, 2 Krell KSA-100s and 1 pair Krell KMA 100s and, finally, all of this drives a pair of Linn Isobariks.

I like a warm sound with lots of punch, essentially I want my music to sound like Rock music which means not clinical and probably not really neutral, which leads nicely into why I am writing.

 

So far I have heard four pairs of loudspeakers as alternatives to the Isobariks (three of them on home dem) and two are preferable to the Isobariks and two were very clean and neutral but not to my tastes at all. The leader at present, in the “race to replace”, are a pair of RRR FS-100s at a remarkable cost of £785 because I bought them ex-dem from a dealer in Holland. I have your review from November 2007 to thank for this marvellous discovery. Amazingly, the FS-100s are more to my taste than any of the three others, even though they range in price from £8,000 to £40,000.

 

My question is: what do you think I should audition? I am working with a superb dealer so I can get almost anything delivered to me for home testing and I would like to get your views on what I should request. My next demo is a pair of Usher Dancer Be-20s. My hi-fi room measures 16ft x 11ft x 8ft and it has brick walls with a carpeted suspended wood floor, it is superb for getting that “live at the Hammersmith Odeon” feeling.

Mike

 

rrr_fs100

 

From Latvia with Love - the big RRR FS100s have great bass.

 

The RRR FS100s really have great bass and are well balanced. We all loved them – and what a fantastic price! Those with long memories will remember Rigonda Radio of Russia and the big RRRs hail from the same plant, now in Latvia. I am glad you like them. There is little to match them for bass quality in rooms of limited size - and that is your problem. If your room was larger big Tannoys would suit and a Yorkminster would amaze, but it did not fulfill its potential in my lounge, similar to yours, compared to our 28ft square office listening room where it blew me away. You could try the smooth sounding DC8 or its gruntier cousin, the DC10. These are nicely finessed by Tannoy, but the DC8 does have a warm balance that not everyone will appreciate I suspect.

 

You will be very impressed with the Usher Be-20s, or the Dancer Be-10s. Perhaps a B&W803 Diamond might be worth auditioning too; I suspect the larger 802 or 800 will over energise your room. Auditioning this little lot will give your dealer something to do!

 

Sadly, for your room there are no magic solutions; it is difficult to get good bass and a punchy sound from a medium sized room. Don’t forget to have some generous foam filled sofas to damp it down; I use a three seat, a two seat, a single seat armchair and a foot stool – and this is only just enough to keep main modes under control, analysis shows. Rooms are difficult things to deal with!

 

Since you have money to spend don’t forget the XTZ room analyser that runs on a laptop PC. It is easy to use and will guide you to getting good results. Use wall hangings like rugs, or acoustic foam panels from Studiospares (www.studiospares.com) to damp down wall reflections. Then you should be able to get a clean, modern sound that will be great for Rock. NK

 

usher_be10

Usher Be10 is what you want, says David.

 

My thoughts run in the direction of the Usher Be-10s, with Icon Audio MB845s; I feel the 20s might be a little too big for your room, and set things off too much! The Ushers give a great 'rock' sound, all power and punch, gusto and guts. They're not warm though, but the Icon Audios are, and yet they're fast and physical enough (just) for high levels via the Ushers. This should be great combination. My only other course of action would be Martin Logan CLX, which are faster still than the Ushers, with even more detail and insight, but obviously less physical. DP


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