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July 2010 issue

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July 2010 issue
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World Mail    July 2010 issue        

 

Write to us!    E-mail –>     This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Letters are published first in the magazine, then here in our web archive. We cannot guarantee to answer all mail, but we do manage most!

 

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.

 



 

icon-audio-ps-1-point-2

 

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

 

SMALL BUDGET

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

 

UPGRADE PATH

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

 

inspire-i2

 

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

 

UPDATE

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

Llanelli,

S. Wales

 

cambridgeaudio650bdblu-ray-

 

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


AIR WAVES

In your group test of tuners in March’s issue you mention they were ‘...fed by a decent twig’. Well, ‘twig’ says a lot really. Surely the radio aerial, with possibly a signal amplifier present for weaker signals, could be regarded as being the equivalent of vinyl’s cartridge and phono amp stages? Then, we may have more choice and availability of aerials. And magazine reviews. Imagine going into a hi-fi shop to discuss an aerial/amp combination that gives a warm sound, or a bassy one? Or best matches a certain tuner? Should we give more consideration to the electrical/technical spec? And surely it would help if aerials were able to be moved - in direction and length - for best performance? And what about the interconnect, yes, the aerial lead itself? Is it really enough to use a piece of old telly aerial lead you found in the loft? Hardly oxygen-free is it?


Like a cartridge too, an aerial needs alignment. It needs to reject unwanted noise, while being good at pulling in the wanted. And it ought to be maintained for cleanliness to keep performing at its best. As for a signal amplifier, or connecting leads, those could be subjects in themselves.

As it stands, radio is the poor relation in these matters, which commonly go undiscussed.

best wishes,

Melvyn Dover.

 

alexandra-palace

 

Alexandra Palace aerial, North London, at night. If you live in London and want to hear DAB, point your aerial at it.

 

Ah yes - aerials! What a great subject. I agree with you that the aerial is the source as far as tuners go and like all sources the “rubbish in, rubbish out” maxim applies. To be specific, if the aerial feeds rubbish into the tuner, the tuner will feed rubbish out to the system, being unable to filter it all out. High gain aerials, that is the big ones with many elements (horizontal rods), have high ‘gain’ in the direction of the transmitter, but low gain (good rejection) to all other (off axis) signals. This reduces noise power over the bandwidth of the received signal, as well as rejecting a.m. interference from traffic, off axis transmitters and even DAB interference.


The down lead similarly should be good enough to avoid degrading this signal, by screening out all further interference, since it too can pick up extraneous signals. Good down leads will have low signal loss and effective screening. You can read an interesting observation on the sparse screen braids currently found on cheap cable at www.wrightsaerials.tv/topics/coaxial-cable-screening.shtml.


A good aerial and downlead will, together, feed a strong, clean signal to the tuner. A point to bear in mind is that all VHF/FM tuners need around 1mV per station to go into full quieting (minimum noise) and this is quite a lot of signal. In locations where the transmitter is 20 miles or more away a high gain aerial, often atop a high mast for a clean line of sight to the transmitter, is necessary to get 1mV from the weaker stations. Ideally, a head amplifier will be unnecessary, but it may be a good idea if the cable run is long. A good aerial makes a tuner sound very smooth and deep in its sound staging. It’s an investment well worth making in my experience.

As DAB signals are often weak, a DAB aerial is vital in many locations too, to avoid the nasty breakup sounds described a ‘burbling mud’. DAB aerials are smaller than VHF aerials and mount upright. Sadly, because DAB Mpeg 2 compression is so crude, a technology from the late 1980s, there is less to redeem here, sound quality wise.


Popular amongst hi-fi enthusiasts are high gain aerials from http://ronsmithaerials.com (no www). And finally, for those of you interested in your transmitter, you’ll find a picture of it, possibly on some wind swept hill, at http://tx.mb21.co.uk/. Check out the (desktop) Wallpaper section for some lovely scenic aerial shots, with countryside, snow, moon and what have you in the background. It’s amazing how romantic aerials can be! NK

 

KENSAI QUERY

Firstly, I like the magazine so much that my wife couldn’t escape the old copies strewn around the house.....fortunately she took the hint and for my birthday present took out the annual subscription!

So my question relates to the AudioSmile Kensai and what in your opinion would be the best amplifiers to audition it with - no dealer network makes this problematic. Audio Smile have suggested the Cambridge Azur 840A. You have lots of hands on experience, so I’d be grateful for some suggestions.

many thanks

Tim Jury

 

audiosmile-kensai

The Audiosmile Kensai, an amazing miniature with gorgeous sound quality, but what should drive it?


 

Hi Tim - a fine choice of loudspeaker if I may say, but you don't say what your budget is for the matching amplifier. Assuming we're talking around £1,000 then the Cambridge is a good choice, simply on account of its grunty, powerful nature and bouncy, engaging sound. The Audiosmiles do like a decent amount of Watts; a Naim Nait 1 would not suffice here! Actually, I am tempted to recommend the Sugden Mystro, on account of its warmish tonality and superbly musical sound; I really rate this amplifier and feel it could become something of a cult product, just like the AudioSmiles in fact. But this is only if you have a medium sized room, where the Sugden will drive them to perfectly decent levels. If it's a big room and cranium rearranging amounts of power you crave, then the Vincent SV-236 would do the job, as would the aforementioned Cambridge Audio if funds are tighter, or Leema Pulse. DP

 

STATEMENT

I’m an avid but budget conscious audiophile. I have a recent tale to share, a statement to make and a question or two.

I’m an expat from New Zealand (proud home of Plinius, Perreaux, Image Loudspeakers and Theophany), working in Singapore. I’ve been here two years with my (self-admittedly) entry level gear boxed-up back home (NAD T761 HT amp,  Mission M35i speakers (in 5.1) & Velodyne CHT-12 sub. Don’t ask about the source).

I recently took another job, so it looks like I’ll be in Singapore for the next few years. This precipitated a move into some vintage gear. I managed to get a mint condition 3rd gen Cyrus 2 amp + PSX, and was very pleased with myself to see it on your January classics list! I’ve partnered this with TDL RTL2s. I’m using my DVD player as a CDP in the interim. I’m quite taken with the combo, especially given the very modest investment. The system is engaging and enjoyable.

This brings me to my statements. I think budget conscious audiophiles should always remember the 80/20 rule, 80% return for 20% investment (corollary of the Law of Diminishing Returns). Don’t invest in $1000 cables when your acoustic environment sucks. One of the best investments I ever made was an SPL meter!

The chap I bought the RTL2s from had power conditioning, expensive cabling and acoustic panels. I was left wondering “why bother?” however, as there was an easily audible hiss coming from the system (presumably his valve amp).


To my questions. Can you recommend any budget CDP or source options? Would my money be better spent on a CDP, or a DAC (e.g. the V-DAC) and use the DVD as a transport? Any other options, e.g. Rockboxed iPod with digital out playing FLAC?


Do you think my speakers are ‘worthy’ of the amp or perhaps letting it down? If so, what would match well?


Lastly, could I please request an in-depth article on the pros and cons of different DIY speaker designs; semi-dipole, transmission line & TQWT etc, aperiodic, reflex, open baffle etc.

regards

Raymond Komen

 

kef-iq50

KEF iQ50s are a tidy, modern floorstander that consume little space but sound good.

Ideal for budget systems

 

Hi Raymond. TDL RTL2s are way past their sell by date (as the person you bought them from knew!) and were not so good even in their heyday. You won’t get a useful return on that investment, but the Cyrus is a good counterbalance perhaps. Try budget loudspeakers from KEF (e.g. the iQ50s), B&W or Monitor Audio for quality floorstanders at a decently low price. I suspect all will be available in Singapore.


It’s all very well getting stuff cheap, but it isn’t necessarily a bargain and I’d suggest you try and aim for good value instead. The Musical Fidelity V-Dac is good value and you would be happy with it, fed from your DVD player, providing the latter is decent and does not suffer jitter – unlikely as DVD players commonly jitter. Believe it or not, measurement shows Samsung Blu-ray players like the BDP-1600 are jitter free and can be used as decent CD transports, using the S/PDIF digital output to feed an external DAC. This is a solution that may well appeal to you.


Valve amps in themselves do not hiss, unless a valve phono stage was in use and the volume was right up. All the same, best not to confuse hiss with sound quality; it’s better not there, granted, but you get surface noise and ticks and pops from LP, but also a great sound. The ear can discern one from the other. Since Singapore is on the equator and hot all year ‘round, you may have to silence the air con. if hiss annoys you!  NK

 

As far as front ends go, if you don't want to go the way of your DVD spinner and a modern DAC, then why not try a retro CD spinner? In your part of the world, a Teac VRDS-10 or VRDS-20 would be a nice way to spend a couple of hundred quid, or try the transport-only version, the VRDS-T1 plus a Musical Fidelity V-DAC as the ultimate budget new and old combination. These Teacs are superbly built, should easily outperform a DVD-spinner as a transport and have the benefit of spares support. DP


BAD INFLUENCE

Over the last 6 years you have been a thoroughly bad influence on me!


Having completed a new room this autumn I have embarked on a few (more) upgrades. My front end now seems up to a decent standard, comprising Marantz CD63 KI with Audio Upgrades Level 2, Rega P3-24, Lyngdorf DPA-1, but my poor old Monitor Audio GR60 loudspeakers driven by a pair of bridged NAD C272s and an FB212 don’t quite fill the 7 x 10m room.


I have managed to source a cheap pair of PMC BB5s but need a pair of high power monoblocks to drive them. A comparison article including perhaps Bryston 28Bs and a retest of the Nemos would be interesting. If you need a test sponsor for the electricity bill call me!


Another area of interest for everyone could be an article on room treatments. My other half is very tolerant so I’ll be filling the room (had to be a conservatory) with ceiling cones and echosorbent panels but placement will be a bit trial and error.


Thanks for a great magazine. You’ve pushed me to re-find the joys of vinyl and now we both get so much more out of the whole CD / vinyl collection. Only reservation is that some of the family don’t appreciate the Frank Zappa collection quite as much as I do.

regards

Tim Cooper

 

tannoy-kingdom

 

Introduced at the High End Show, Munich, Germany this year, the new Tannoy  Kingdom loudspeaker, pictured here with marketing manager Tim Lount.

 

Thanks for the praise Tim - it’ll get you everywhere! Obviously, from your system you enjoy music and running vinyl does open out a system to give a broader palette of sounds and experiences I find. I love my vinyl, although not all of it is perfect by any means; in fact a lot is quite poor! But a good LP / 12in single can be magic in a way CD cannot quite manage. I am not anti-CD however; good ones are very good.


Your room is a fabulous size and this has many implications. Firstly, it is Tannoy size and I would recommend you find a good Tannoy dealer, like Mayflower, who can run a demo for you of the Prestige Series Yorkminster and Westminster Royal. OK, they are visually idiomatic, styled for the Japanese retro market. But sonically they are a race apart in a big room; how I love big Tannoys, but well run in (Mayflower say its takes six months to run in a Westminster, likely as the woods settle and dry). Of course there is now the Kingdom, pictured here at the High End show, Munich, where a 12in Dual Concentric unit is ‘assisted’ by a 15in bass unit and a supertweeter. That’s enough cone area to knock down a castle! Prestige Series ‘speakers are expensive but I would happily cough up the £9k or so for Yorkies if I had the room for them (and no neighbours).


A room your size will not be very excitable (i.e. it is well damped) because of its volume. Also, its resonant modes will be below those of the loudspeaker, starkly revealing the loudspeaker’s bass performance, unaffected by room overlay. Not all designers fully understand how their loudspeakers will room interface and you will hear some strange bass from many loudspeakers voiced for smaller rooms.


I’m not sure standard room treatments will have so much affect either, reflecting surfaces are so far apart. However, a conservatory with a lot of glass may well be problematic, due to reflections from the glass, and possibly bass loss. My first thought is to use curtains, if possible, that can be drawn across the glass areas, rather than the usual slats / blinds. Suitably lined or inter-lined they will keep heat in and provide superb sound damping, giving a lovely quiet and peaceful environment (I have a room with floor-to-ceiling curtains along a 17ft wall, to cover a Victorian bay, and when drawn they affect the whole room).


Bridged NAD C272s provide grunt, but not subtlety. Electrocompaniet’s Nemo amplifiers are subtle and easy on the ear, whilst possessing infinite power. You can just keep turning them up and their refined sound doesn’t deteriorate, an unusual quality. They are purposed for your situation and would be a fine choice. However, transistor amps are not an especially symbiotic match for Tannoys; valve amps better suit. I am sure you will have fun. NK

 

HEADPHONES

First of all, thank you for the recent headphone reviews, amongst which my current ‘phones, the Grado GS1000s were, it seems, well appreciated.

I was a little disappointed, on buying the April (and March) issues, to find no test report of the Sennheiser HD800s, despite their featuring in your ‘Next Month’ previews. Perhaps the review was delayed – let’s hope so, as I believe it to be a contender in the ‘best dynamic ‘phones’ stakes, from my (mainly online) reading.

I wonder if you could suggest a worthy successor to my current DAC, an Audio Synthesis Dax Decade, as DACs like the Naim and Chord QBD76 intrigue me – I am using a Cyrus CDXT SE as transport. Would you expect an improvement on the (in 1998 ) wonderful DAX?

John Hancock

 

Hi John - note that we always say, "here's what we hope to bring you" in our 'next month' page. That's not a guarantee, and the reason it isn't is that sometimes the companies in question have an unrealistic view about when their lovely new products will be available! I am often assured that product 'a' will be in by May, only to see it in July. It's part of life - they have the inevitable issues with suppliers, reliability and manufacturing, etc., so I don't blame them. But it does drive a coach and horses through our review planning from time to time!


In the case of the Sennheisers you mention, we have indeed had them in for review, it's now written and will be going to print in next month's issue. At the risk of putting the cart before the horses, the conclusion I come to is that the HD800s are surely the ultimate expression of the Sennheiser sound. This means super dry, tight, incisive and dynamic, but not as beguiling as similarly priced Stax electrostatic earspeaker packages.


We now have a range on new 'super DACs' from the likes of Chord, Naim, dCS, etc. which bring massive insight and analysis to digital audio. They're without a doubt a more intricate, subtle and nuanced generation than before, shining a brighter light than earlier generations of DAC on the recording. Whether or not you could say this makes for a 'better' sound is debatable. I for one love the Chord DAC64, which is a tad warmer, woolier and slightly more fuzzy than the later QBD76, yet somehow it's in no way less nice to listen to; indeed it's more euphonic to my ears. So is this better? I cannot say, so I suggest you go out and do the old 'dem' thing and go hear for yourself at a good dealer. DP

 

TAPE TOPIC

I’m swapping e-mails right now with a friend of mine who owns an Akai 1710L reel to reel and is enjoying putting some of his albums onto tape, and indeed listening to his many recordings, the likes of Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Kinks, Cream, Randy Newman and Van Morrison. Then he managed to obtain via a Freecycle site, umpteen hundred plastic tape spools, 5000ft of Quantegy 406 SP mastering tape, various reels of coloured leader tape, splicing tape, blocks and even chinagraphs. He declared himself to be in tape heaven. He was even offered a Leevers-Rich editing desk, with four manuals.We’ve been discussing Ampex studio quality tape and how to quieten Oilite bearings among other things.


In December’s issue you report how Dave Cawley and Alex Nikitin demonstrated their Akai GX625 at the Whittlebury Hall show. Revai Mativavarira in January’s letters told us how she’s putting the Beatles box set onto her Beocord 2000 reel to reel to give a warmer sound. In the same mag there’s a Uher 4000 in the ‘Olde World’ section.


In March’s issue you gave us a review of Sony’s brand new cassette deck. April, and James Hoover writes about his reel to reel exploits with his Ampex tape deck from 1966. ‘Olde World’ again features a tape machine, cassette this time.


And coming up in the next issue as I write is ‘Cassette reborn: The PHX Audiotape Story’. Well you don’t fool me. I know a tape revival when I see one.

best wishes,

Melvyn Dover.

 

struder-open-reel

 

Open reel tape is making a comeback as a high quality audio source. A Studer  A807 (left) was spotted feeding Avantgarde loudspeakers at the 2010 High  End Show, Munich, Germany.

 

Yes, I have spotted open reel recorders being used as a source at the Heathrow Show this year and at Germany’s High End Show. My picture shows a Studer A807 open reel in the Avantgarde Acoustic room, at the High End show in Munich, May 2010. High speed analogue tape is a very clean and impressive sounding source, even studio people agree. I’m not sure it could ever come back in the home, as using an open reel is a hassle, but they sure look the part. Sony’s Elcaset was the next best thing and more domestically palatable. NK

 

Nothing gets past you, Melvin! The country has obviously risen up to free itself from the tyranny of ones and noughts flashing across the memory chips of iPod Touches nationwide, and voted with their feet for a magnetic particle coated, polyester film based music format! The only debate now is which is it to be; fans are lining up behind two camps. First the hardcore 'open reelistas' to whom seven and a half inches per second on quarter inch tape is the absolute minimum for decent fidelity. In the other corner are the arriviste Compactistas, believers for whom 1963 was the 'year zero'. These folk can be seen buying the last remaining stocks of TDK SA 90s from Richer Sounds at 99p each, happy in the knowledge that their well set up cassette decks sound far better than anyone could possibly imagine. Me personally, I straddle both camps but I love magnetic tape and continue to use it on a daily basis; my classic Jag has a very decent OE tape deck fitted and it sounds superb playing back recordings made from my turntable to my Sony Walkman Pro. Tape can sound great, and it's still amazingly simple to use; just press 'record' and 'play', cue up that stylus and come back 20 minutes later to turn the record over; job's a good 'un! DP

 

CARTRIDGE CHOICE

My name is Norbert Goretich and I am a fan of your magazine. I like the Mail section very much where I can pick up valuable information about everything hi-fi. That’s why I write to you hoping that you can help me to find the right cartridge for my turntable.


I have recently bought a Logic DM101 record player with an Audio-Technica AT1100 S-shaped tonearm (with detachable headshell not included in the package). I have found some info about the tonearm on the internet and it says that the effective mass of the straight arm is 6 gr while the S-shaped one weighs much more at 12.5 gr. As I’ve learned from your articles, a low mass tonearm requires a high compliance cartridge to keep the resonance in the acceptable range (6-14 Hz). Although if the data is correct, the S-shaped arm is not a particularly light one. I would really appreciate if you could recommend me a budget cartridge that would work with my turntable/arm combination and if you could give me some info about where to find a suitable headshell as well.

Thank you very much for your help in advance and please keep up the good work!

kind regards,

Norbert Goretich

 

Hi Norbert. A typical removeable headshell arm comes in at around 12gms minimum, so the 12.5gm figure you quote is about right. An arm of this mass suits a good quality cartridge like a Goldring 1024GX. This is a balanced sounding cartridge with a Fritz Geiger profile stylus that gives excellent treble and a Pocan body that provides firm bass. Alternatively, try one of the Ortofon 2M series, like the Red. It is brighter than the Goldring but no better in its stylus; good, but not my favourite. Standard bayonet fit headshells can be bought mail order from Jerry Raskins Needle Doctor (www.needledoctor.com). You can find them in the Accessories section. Since both Ortofon and Japanese companies like Sumiko make such items, you may also find them in a dealer near you.

NK


 

radio-6-website

The sole reason for buying DAB is Stuart Maconie's "Freak Zone", says Boby Meyrick.


A TURN OFF

Ah, the irony! The day after BBC Director General Mark Thompson announces the closure of 6 Music and the Asian Network, I received the Government’s response to the e-petition protesting at the analogue switch-off. This quote made me laugh – “Listeners are clearly being attracted by digital-only services, including the BBC’s digital-only stations.” BBC 6 Music, and Stuart Maconie’s “Freakzone” programme in particular, constitute the sole reason for buying a DAB set. Whatever happened to joined up thinking?

Bob Meyrick

 

Well Bob, I received that obliging riposte from Her Majesty's last government too, via e-mail, and I can tell you that I was completely reassured by the thoroughness of their response - not! Just to paraphrase, for those who didn't sign up to our petition to 'switch off DAB by 2015', the official response went along the lines of FM being fit just for taxis and Digital Radio being the brave new world of excellence in broadcasting (my paraphrasing)!


I believe they forgot to mention the massive (£800 million?) switch over costs, rubbish reception, awful sonics (thanks to the Steam Age MPEG 2 codec) and limited number of stations (internet radio has 15,000 and counting, DAB has, ermm, 40)... I wonder what our new coalition government will do? Letters please to Jeremy Hunt MP, the new Culture Minister, care of the House of Commons, Westminster, to remind him what we think of his predecessor's position.


As for the end of 'BBC 6 Music', there's something very cynical inside me that makes me think BBC DG Mark Thompson doesn't have any intention of scrapping '6 Music'. The idea was to pre-emptively announce its demise, whereupon there'd be choruses of protest, which he could then present to the new Culture minister (which he correctly guessed to be a Conservative, with a tighter set of purse strings than his predecessor Mr Bradshaw, himself an ex-BBC journalist). It's only supposition on my part, but I'm not sure if BBC 6 has ever been seriously for the chop. If anything should go at the Beeb, it is Radio 1. All the other stations, to a greater or lesser extent, can't be replaced by commercial rivals, whereas Radio 1 can, so let it go!

DP

 

REEL BENEFIT

Your articles on vintage equipment spurred me to take another look at my Philips N4510 reel to reel recorder (circa. 1974). The last time I used it was 5 years ago when the recorder stuck on the rewind function. Hence it was consigned to the attic. However after some fiddling I’ve managed to get it back into working order. The problem is, when I try to record from the output (75 mV/600 ohms) of my Naim NAC552 to the recorder tape in/out socket (input sens.:- pins1 & 4: 2 mV/20 kohms, pins 3 & 5: 100 mv/2 Mohm, output voltage: pins 3 & 5 : 1 V/50 kohms) it overloads the recorder, creating distortion, when trying to record. Playback into the NAC552 is fine.


If I plug my NAT05 tuner directly into the recorder’s tuner input socket (input sensitivity : 100 mV/100 kohms) it records perfectly.

For convenience and flexibility’s sake I would prefer to record from the output of the NAC552. Could you advise me on the attenuation required for an interconnect cable?


I have to say I’d forgotten how good reel to reel recordings sound, and it’s a crying shame that this medium seems to have been consigned to history.

As a regular reader of your publication I love the articles on retro hi-fi gear; more please.

kind regards,

Graham Morris

 

Hi Graham. You quote two input sensitivities. The high one of 2mV is likely for a microphone and it is this you are overloading. Pins 3&5 you quote as 100mV in, as well as 1V out, so I presume these are inputs whilst recording, switched to outputs on replay. It is these pins that have what appears to be suitable line input characteristics. The tuner input almost certainly uses the same input route, switched through, and it has the same sensitivity.


If you cannot use Pins 3&5 as inputs then make up a special split lead taking the NAC552 output to the tape recorder’s tuner input, and the tape recorder’s output to the NAC input. I am sure this, or some similar arrangement if I misunderstand input conditions, will work, because the Philips recorder obviously has a suitable input; it’s just a case of finding it. It is not a good idea to attenuate down into the mic input, but a 10k, 0.125W resistor in series and 1k to ground will give you a ladder attenuator with 10:1 signal reduction that may well do the job. If not just increase the 10k resistor. Soldering these into a lead or DIN plug will be a fiddle. NK

 

DOCKED

A short note to let you know how very satisfied I am with this little gem, the Onkyo ND S1 I-pod dock, that I discovered through Hi-Fi World (Nov 2009). I guess more folks on the continent must have read your excellent magazine. Hi-Fi World, was IMO the first to report on the Onkyo ND S1. In Germany, where I bought it, there were 700 units in back order in December(!). It took about 2 months for Onkyo to deliver it and once I had one for myself, I connected it via the optical link to the DAC using a top Inakustik cable (Opto Shining S1), which costs nearly as much as the docking station itself. I have now access to about 2000 extra tracks of (slightly compressed / 240kbps VBR or 256 AAC) oldies. Unbelievable how good my Ipod sounds via the ND S1, really worthwhile...


My hi-fi dealer, Klangpunkt in Aachen, did not know about the Onkyo as he was convinced that Wadia had the only digital dock around, so I showed them my copy of the Hi-Fi World article. To them it was also a very pleasant discovery, indeed.


Although the Wadia is most probably superior to the Onkyo, the latter offers a better connectivity to my DAC. In my case it was necessary to connect via the opto link and the Wadia features only coaxial. So for the Wadia I would have had to connect via an extra coax-opto transformer which is presumably not favourable for audio quality.


In the mean time, thanks for continuously doing such a good job informing us readers on the exciting new developments in hi-fi. Indeed, we are currently witnessing important evolutions in both digital and analogue reproduction. I particularly enjoyed David’s article on the dCS Paganini. It sounded, if taken seriously, as if digital reproduction has a future and a lot is to be gained by optimizing the sampling and processing above the average of standard clocks, upsampling and DA conversion circuits. In that respect the work of dCS should not be underestimated.

with kind regards,

Rudy Deblieck

Opglabbeek

Belgium

 

onkyo-nd-s1-c-s5vl-a-v5

Klangpunkt in Aachen did not know about the Onkyo, says Rudy. But they do after seeing Hi-Fi World.

 

 

 

Thanks Rudy - we aim to please! All of a sudden it's a great time to be making DACs. When I started editing this magazine some seven years ago, I don't even remember a single one on sale, but now they're all the rage. Better still, there's some serious thought gone into the design of many of them, and good ones are cheaper than ever to buy, whilst the best ones are better than ever. DP


BOTTLE JOB

Having read Tony Bolton’s review of the Icon Audio stereo 40 Mk3 in Hi-Fi World I tend to agree with his findings. Having purchased this amp late last year I have been very happy with it’s musical abilities and my first foray into valves and what they offer. I love it’s organic, detailed sound and fine stereo imaging. I have the KT88 version and the reason for writing concerns my interest in valve rolling. A while back you did a feature regarding this issue and I was intrigued at the time of reading.


If I remember this was more to do with pre amp or first stage valves and I was wondering if you could maybe do a feature on output valves like the KT88.

As the Stereo 40 Mk3 can use several other valves such as the KT66 as used in Quad gear I would like to know what differences or changes would be brought about by such rolling of tubes and costs incurred.


I am happy with the valves fitted at present and am thinking more along the lines of when it comes time to fit new valves.I tend to leave the amp on for several hours of listening, using the stand by facility when not rather than switching on and off.


The rest of my system may seem a bit of a mismatch but gives great pleasure and insight to recordings. For a source I use a Wadia transport with my Apple i-pod Classic, feeding files into a Cambridge Audio Dacmagic (current model). Loudspeaker choice is Bowers & Wilkins 684s wired with Chord Odyssey and Kimber digital interconnect. I had a dem. of the amp with the Monitor Audio RX range you featured recently but found the treble too fatiguing over the long term. The Icon amp marries so well with my final loudspeaker choice.


Any info regarding valve rolling or featuring in the mag would be beneficial. I have been a reader of the mag from day one, many thanks.

Tony Hodgkinson

 

shuguang-kt88-valve

 

Shuguang Treasure series 'Black Bottle' carbonised, special edition  premium grade KT88. Expensive!

 

Hi Tony. It is usual – and safest – to experiment with different brands / grades of the same tube type, in your case the KT88, rather than swap type completely, to say a KT66. The KT88 is specified to run up to 800V on its anode, and has an Ra of 12kOhms. The KT66 is rated at 500V on its anode, and has an Ra of 22kOhms; the KT88 was designed to deliver higher power. You would not normally use a KT66 in place of a KT88; the HT may be excessive which will quickly destroy the valve, and the internal resistance will not match the output transformer primary, and its reflected load.


Take a look at the Shuguang Treasure series ‘Black Bottle’ premium grade KT88 if you want to see what a top tube looks like – and costs! This is where you may want to head. Sweet dreams. NK

 

IN TUNE

I am a long standing regular reader of Hi-Fi World and would very much appreciate some help in fine tuning my system. I am not sure whether this level of system detail is a help or a hindrance for you, but here goes.


My front ends are: Vinyl - Acoustic Signature Challenger, OL Silver and Shelter 5000 cartridge (with Cartridgeman Isolator) into an Audio Innovations 800 MC Transformer and a Missing Link Cryo Reference interconnect.


For CD/SACD - Denon All (with mods for Tricord Clock 4, upgraded power supply and capacitors), and a Missing Link Cryo interconnect.

These sources run into an Audio Note Meishu (Mark 1 with phono stage) with Border Patrol MB power supply and then via Electrofluidics Monolith 20/20 cable into Living Voice Auditoriums (Mark 1 version) with Townsend super tweeters.


The turntable and units sit on two separate Audiophile Star Base stacks. The electric supply is through a dedicated socket from the meter on standard 30amp cable with a dedicated earthing rod and a Russ Andrews PowerBlock and classic PowerKords.


My present focus is on whether to upgrade the MC transformer, speaker cable and perhaps the ‘speakers.

I have restrained from upgrading the ‘speakers to date as the listening room is 18ft x 12ft with the speakers firing down the length of the room.  They are about 12 inches in from the corners and toed in with one of the room’s three sofas situated between them!  There is another sofa at the far end of the room and one in the middle of the side wall opposite the fire place.  This is a far from desirable set up but is the price I have to pay for a minimum level of marital harmony along with my retaining a focus on minimizing the number of units that make up my system, hence the integrated amplifier.


I did previously have Impulse H2 speakers but the size of these really did lead to trouble and strife and were referred to as our ‘coffins’ so, eventually, they had to go. The present Auditoriums seem to work quite well with a respectable level bass presentation despite the room difficulties. However, I recognize that the present bass is hampered with a slightly unnatural and restricted presentation and the level of detail could be improved upon. I am extremely hesitant about whether an upgrade would obtain any significant improvement in sound given the sofa issues and wondered whether I should just focus on a speaker cable upgrade. I have recently added the super tweeters and these do work very well for smoothing off any top end rough edges.


I have a wide collection of music covering heavy rock/metal, soft rock, jazz, blues and classical and, as much as I have tried, I find it difficult to listen comfortably for long periods via solid state amplification. I simply love the single ended 300B sound with the wide and deep sound stage and, in particular, the subtlety of emotion it can convey from a good recording and voice. It really makes music for me, even with CD, and I can forgive quite happily the sound compromises for presentation of poorly recorded rock music. I do not want to spoil what I have and my system upgrades have all been focused on finding a step by step balance for improving on detail and dynamics but without ‘losing the music’ and the warmth and ease of presentation in the valve sound.


Firstly, I would appreciate some guidance on whether upgrading the MC transformer might be worthwhile for the level of my system (I have found myself focusing on either the Pure Sound T10 or jumping up to an Audio Note).


Secondly, is an upgrade of the 'speakers and/or cable worthwhile and, if so, do you have any suggestions that I might explore and, thirdly, whether you have any more general observations on other aspects of the system that I should consider.


Lastly, I have no particular budget for these upgrades as my anticipation is that the level of my system is likely to dictate your responses to a sensible level of upgrade that they deserve and which I should be considering.

 

Thank you for any help that you can give me.

kind regards

Mike Hannibal

 

triangle-antel-speakers

 

An excellent loudspeaker that works well with valve amps and is not too expensive, the Triangle Antal EX.

 

Hi Mike. I would not worry about the settees; they damp room bass modes and the one between the loudspeakers will slightly reduce energy from the wall behind. I prefer not to have energy zinging around all over the place (distributed treble energy) in a room and like the better damped, quieter environment lots of soft furnishings impose. Since you like valves and refer to “warmth and ease of presentation” I suspect this is your preference too.


The Living Voice Auditoriums have a good reputation (I do not know them well) but if you want to try an alternative you may well consider the Triangle Antal EX loudspeakers I review in this issue. They matched our Icon Audio MB845 valve power amplifiers well, but they do have some small lift in the treble and are not ‘soft’. It was aurally acceptable though, I felt, and the Antals otherwise delivered a great sound, a notch above much else. I suspect they would suit your room and amplifier.


The Shelter 5000 cartridge on a Cartridgeman Isolator made me wince, and the Isolator may well be compensating for the brighter presentation of the Origin Live Silver, which best complements warmer MM cartridges. My immediate suggestion here is to head for an Ortofon Rondo Bronze budget moving coil, or even a Cadenza Black premium moving coil cartridge. Both have smooth top ends, the Black being almost warm, and both will work in your arm, without Isolator. Stay with Audionote if you can; their products are superb. I hope this helps. NK


FANTASTIC PLASTIC?

Am I the only person slightly under whelmed by some of the new vinyl reissues? These new expensive 180-gram offerings should be far better than the old 1970/80s records they are replacing. Often they are not. Yes, they are made of thick (and usually flat) plastic and they have great covers usually protected by up to three layers of polythene. However, a visual inspection shows they are often poorly pressed. Instead of a clear, black vinyl they are patchy when held against the light. The surface noise is often very poor with lots of clicks and pops. The first hurdle is often simply getting them out of their sleeve, a nasty paper offering seemingly welded to the record. Why not include a plastic sleeve? On one record I have, one track actually appears to be running at a different speed to all the others (no, I do not know how either).


I am careful with record cleanliness. All records are cleaned on a Moth record cleaning machine with L’Art Du Son Record Cleaning Fluid. They are then treated with Last record preservative. Finally they are put in a new plastic sleeve. I am prepared to believe my system is slightly at fault, but old 1970s EMI recordings still sound great.


My current system comprises of: Michell GyroDec SE with HR power supply, Michell Tecno arm, Goldring G1042. Active Linn Keilidh loudspeakers, Linn Kolektor preamp, twin LK85 power amps with active cards. Silver discs are played on a Naim CD5i. Mostly Linn cables.

Graham Thomas

Isle of Wight


 

quiex-svp

 

Quiex SVP 180g vinyl is smooth and almost silent, says Noel.


I am very happy with all I have bought so far and Quiex SVP vinyl is superb in my view. I only start to have reservations when mastering engineers decide they can ‘improve’ original mix downs just by applying EQ in a heavy handed fashion. I suspect, however, that most ‘touching up’ is done sensitively and is barely detectable. Then, heavy, flat vinyl I have bought to date is quite obviously quieter, smoother and certainly puncher than the thin, warpy stuff! NK

 

Having spent many hours listening to all varieties of LPs, original first pressing, reissues, audiophile reissues, imports and Japanese pressings, I'm of the view that a perfectly preserved first pressing released in the artist's country of origin is the best sounding, closely followed by the Japanese pressing of the same, followed by everything else, with audiophile reissues often constituting the best of the rest. Of course, it's very complex and doesn't always pan out like this, but it's a good rule of thumb. Some years ago, Lyra's Jonathan Carr and I had a very long listening session in his Tokyo apartment and a mind-numbingly expensive system, with just about every variant of Steely Dan's 'Aja', Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' and Neil Young's 'Harvest' ever made, listening to up to six or seven variants of the same, and that's what we found. We then repeated the tests on a range of other titles and got very similar results; a pattern had emerged!


The closeness to the original release seems paramount, both physically and chronologically. So a British Beatles LP is better than an American or German version (which is more likely to be taken from 2nd generation masters), as is a 1st pressing (i.e. made at the time of release) rather than the umpteenth pressing, made some ten years later (from worn copy masters). The 'nice price' reissues are generally awful (and that goes for Jap LPs, which all went mid-price after a few years subsequent to the release date (if you seen 'Y1,600' written on the OBI, avoid). The 'audiophile reissues' are variable; some good, some not so, but none as good as standard home-market first pressings. The 180g thing is in my view a sideshow; some of the best sounding vinyl I've ever heard is Japanese, pressed on 80g. It's not the thickness or weight of the disc, it's the quality of the master, the presses and the vinyl compound itself, that counts. Japanese LPs always sound superb, but are conspicuously different sounding all the same. They're recorded at a lower level, yet their vinyl formulation seems superior so they're quieter even so. They also sound silkier and more delicate to their western alternatives, although this borders on the euphonic if you're going to be a stickler for accuracy.


I really don't think audiophile reissues should be bought with the assumption that they're necessarily better than the original. In most cases, the original was superb (and I mean the original, not the third pressing); the trouble is though that it's nigh-on impossible to pick up a mint, unplayed original first pressing of anything now, so suddenly audiophile pressings begin to make sense. Even so, I am dismayed by the repro quality on many of the covers, which seem to have been scanned on a so-so digital scanner in someone's spare room. Ultimately it's all about the quality of the individual product; I've had brilliant reissues (Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' on Motown) and tragic ones (Kate Bush's 'Kick Inside' on EMI). A good place to find out about the quality of reissues is of course our very own 'audiophile vinyl' pages, so keep your peepers peeled! DP

 

quiex-ii


If you want good sound from vinyl, try anything from Mark Knopfler and Dire  Straits, here on Quiex vinyl.



 

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