July 2010 issue

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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.





How to improve on a Linn Basik arm? Get a better phono stage, says David, like the Icon Audio PS1.



I have recently upgraded my hi-fi in a couple of ways and these changes have made me rethink my strategy for putting together a set of equipment on a relatively tight budget.

Firstly, I had been using an NAD C320BEE as a pre-amp with an Arcam P75 power amp. I decided to upgrade these in two steps. First I would get an Audiolab 8000S and use it for a while as an integrated until I could afford to get a suitable power amp to use with it. Selling the NAD and Arcam would fund the purchase of the 8000S (available in silver at a bargain price recently). However, when I got the Audiolab amplifier I was completely blown away by it. It was so much better than my previous set up, that I’ve now decided not to bother with the separate power amp. I now realise that on my limited budget I am far better off getting a good integrated amplifier than a pair of OK pre/power amplifiers.

That changed my focus to my speakers: a pair of TDL RTL2s that I have had from new since the mid-nineties. I wasn’t sure which way to go with new speakers. I had found a number of your recent articles comparing bookshelf and floorstanding 'speakers very interesting. After my experience with my amplifier, I wondered if I would be better off buying small, good quality speakers (Usher S 520 for example) rather than OK large speakers. However, I wasn’t sure how much I could live without the bass that my floorstanders produced. So I decided to experiment. I managed to buy a pair of Heybrook HB1s for five pounds on e-bay (I’ve had a soft spot for Heybrook since having a pair Solos in my student years). They didn’t sound too great, but I was able to source a pair of replacement bass/mid-range drive units from Pure Sound (£65 each), and it was an easy job to fit the new drivers. I thought they’d just give me an interesting comparison with my TDLs that would help me better choose my next speakers. What I wasn’t expecting was just how much better the Heybrooks would sound compared to the TDLs. The detail in the mid and high frequencies is just brilliant. Yes, they don’t go down as low as the TDLs, but I’m finding I’m not missing the lowest frequencies. Since getting the Heybrooks up and running at their best, I haven’t had the TDLs plugged in. I am a new convert to the pleasures of listening to good stand mounted 'speakers.

So now I am turning my attentions to my turntable. However, with this I am not sure where to spend my cash, and was hoping that you could point me in the right direction. I have a Linn Axis deck with Basik Plus arm (the straight one with the removable headshell), Goldring 1042 cartridge and a Graham Slee 1 phono amp.

I have a budget of around £200-300. For this, I could replace the arm (second hand Linn Akito for example or would a new Jelco SA-250ST be worth considering), the cartridge (would I get much improvement from a moving coil with the Axis/Basik setup?), or I could get a better phono amp (Graham Slee 2 SE looks very attractive). Which option would you choose? Or should I save my money until I can afford to buy a better turntable? Any advice would be gratefully received.

thank you

Rob Nichols


That you like your freshly renovated Heybrook HB1s doesn't surprise me one iota. They are a classic Peter Comeau design and are very musically engaging and crisp to listen to. Allied to your Audiolab 8000S, which is a fine budget amp in its latest form, and your Linn LP12, I imagine it's already a strong sounding system. I would be tempted to replace the phono stage first, and there are a number of different routes you could take. For example, if you find the system just a little too 'spry, crisp and dry', Icon Audio's PS1 tube phono stage would be a great thing to save for, and not so far out of your budget if you sell your current stage. Alternatively I'd counsel an ANT Audio Kora 3T SE, which would also add depth and space, and a touch more tonal warmth compared to your existing stage, but have a tighter, tauter bass than the valve phono stage. Don't mess around with your arm at this point; the Akito would be a good upgrade but it's hard to be sure you're spending your money on a good one, given that most are well over a decade old. Just tighten up your cartridge mounting bolts as much as you can and clean all your contacts with Kontak. DP



I was wondering if I could get a little advice from you guys regarding upgrade paths for my hi-fi. I used to be happy with the set up I had, which consisted of Micromega CD player, Micromega A60 amplifier, Project Debut Mk3 turntable, Canton LE207 floorstanders and Chord cables. This was all linked into a moderate surround-sound set up for my DVDs including Monitor Audio Radius rears and centre, Tannoy TS8 subwoofer and LG plasma screen.

Unfortunately, I have lost all this since myself and my ex split and she stole it all and sold it. I am going through a court case to get reimbursement for all of this and was wondering what ideas you had to get a decent level of performance.

Currently, I have an old Arcam Alpha 2 amplifier, Marantz CD52 Mk2 CD player, an old Hitachi HT-12 turntable and Eltax Liberty 5+ speakers. I know that this lot is not very good in terms of true hi-fi, but for the price I picked it all up for on e-bay (around £100) it sounds a lot better than any midi system from supermarket or catalogue.


The first thing I shall be replacing is the turntable. I was intrigued by the Inspire i2, and recently read your review on this item. My question is, do you think this is a reasonable turntable for the money, or would I be better off spending the extra £200 or so and getting something like the Project RPM5 Alpha? My main collection is on vinyl, so I want something I will be happy with, not just putting up with.

I will probably keep the CD player, since I only buy CDs if the album is not available on vinyl, which is becoming pretty rare these days. The next upgrade would be the ‘speakers and I am looking at something from the Focal JM Lab range of floorstanders. The only other problem I am having is deciding on the upgrade path for the amplifier, so any ideas would be very much appreciated.

many thanks

Andrew Rogers


The Inspire i2 would be a fine choice, as it carries a Rega arm and this ensures good basic sound quality, supported by an excellent turntable. For budget floorstanders consider Q Acoustics 2050 floorstanders, which have a bafflingly low price. Just ignore this as they are highly developed and unusually advanced for the breed. The only caveat is that they are accurate rather than characterful, having less sound of their own than most, which some may find a bit too neutral. Don’t forget KEF and B&W, both of whom make fine floorstanders, and Monitor Audio RX6 and 8s are worth auditioning too. Focals are fine, but quite expensive and offer a fast, clean but unforgiving sound, not quite to everyone’s taste. Do listen first and make sure they are well run in. NK




The Inspire i2 turntable is affordable and has good sound quality. Its Rega arm

makes a worthy contribution.

Another possibility as cheap turntables go is of course the Technics SL1200 Mk2 (£550). This is a superb deck for the money, very long lasting and highly upgradeable if you're so inclined, DP



I am not sure which way to go to up-date my digital front-end in my stereo / 2ch set up. I am currently using a Denon DVD 3910 in my stereo system as a universal player. I have many SACDs and some DVD-As. For CD duties the 3910 is the transport feeding a Musical Fidelity Trivista 21 DAC.

Do you think it is worth having the Oppo DV980H up-graded (e.g. Chevronaudio do an up-grade for around  £350). Or should I invest that money towards a Blu-ray player, such as the Oppo BDP-83 SE? That would make sense if  Blu-ray is going to be the hi-rez digital (music) format in the foreseeable future.

I have got a “spare” Oppo 980H which could go to Chevronaudio for up-grading and replace the Denon 3910 in its current role. Or would the money be better invested in getting an “audiophile” Blu-ray player like the Oppo BDP-83SE instead? Apparently, the DACs in the Oppo BDP-83 are far better then those used in the Oppo 980H and the modification won’t do anything to them.

I have a 5.1 surround set-up (Oppo 980H into Onkyo TX NR-905 via HDMI) for films and casual listening. What do you think??

many thanks

Fred Schuetz


S. Wales




The player to get, a Cambridge Audio 650BD Blu-ray that spins all silver audio discs, including SACD and DVD-A.



Hi Fred. I don’t see why you should not go the Blu-ray route, because it has so much more to offer than DVD, sound quality wise. My Oppo DV 980H now lies little used as I want to spin Blu-ray music as well as video. The 2L Blu-rays are a fascinating and pleasant musical experience, for example, one I enjoy. An Oppo BDP-83 or 80, both originated from Mediatek, would suit your needs, but neither are supported in the UK as you are likely aware. The new Cambridge 650BD is also based on a Mediatek platform and is UK supported, so this is a no-brainer I think. I found it an excellent player, using the HDMI link to a Marantz receiver. Obviously, using HDMI means the player acts as a transport so the quality of its DACs is unimportant. This responsibility is transferred to the receiver. NK


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