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September 2010 - Page 2

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September 2010
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POWER LEADS

Ancillaries, such as power leads, mains cleaners etc. have been mentioned quite a lot recently and I thought I would share my own experience. Over a short period I bought a Lindy 6 gang mains cleaner and a Clear Audio Copperline Alpha mains lead for my hi-fi system. At the time I had a new ProJect Debut 3, Quad pre/power amp, and Wharfedale 9.1 Anniversary ‘speakers on Atacama sand filled 24” stands. The upshot was that there was less noise, a bigger sound stage and a noticeable increase in the quality of the treble.

I am quite happy with these improvements, but it did occur to me that these upgrades should ideally be matched with other ones, say a new or improved cartridge, a complete upgrade of all cabling and interconnects, better stands etc., but, as all people who have realistic budget restraints, you have to start somewhere. A complete set of entry level ancillary upgrades can easily cost more than one piece of equipment upgrade if you aren’t careful. I like my current set up (I have now got a Rega P3) and it will be a long time before I could buy meaningful upgrades to any part of the system now. I decided to start with taming the mains electricity first and the rest will come as and when.


On another tack, the articles on CD and tape Walkmans interested me, as I stopped using an MP3 player a couple of years ago and swap between a Sony CD Walkman D-NE900 and a Sony tape Walkman WM-EX182. I love the increase in quality from the CD player (I don’t use the ATRAC programme) over MP3 and find the tape Walkman has the nicest sound for playing when out and about. I get a perverse pleasure from knowing that some of my tapes and CDs are older than most of the kids who get on the bus. There certainly seems to be a generation missing out on really good quality music and I think that’s a little sad.


As usual, keep up the good work and I look forward to each issue.

yours,

Paul Clewlow.

 

servisol

Use isopropyl alcohol to clean contacts. Maplin sell it as Servisol.

 

The art of great hi-fi sound is balance. People often ask me if I think cables and interconnects are hyped up snake oil, and I reply that 'yes, of course, some are, but some aren't'. The trick isn't to lavish vast sums on cables (which is of course what cable manufacturers would love you to do), but neither to ignore them. A so-so system can be made good with judicious spending on cables, and the mains is where the story starts. So I can see that your approach is a sensible one. As you say though, you can easily spend more on cables than on system components themselves, so we're back to finding the right balance.


Another point is that, even if you've only got stock mains leads and interconnects, you can improve the sound noticeably by keeping all the contacts clean. Clean all the plugs and pins with isopropyl alcohol; you'll be amazed how much black scunge comes off, and how much better the system sounds as a result. If you're feeling flush, spending £15 on some Kontak [www.kontakaudio.com] is better even than isopropyl.


Finally, we all like cassette here at Hi-Fi World. As Noel and I were saying only the other day, whilst it's become a forgotten format in terms of the media, it's not as far as people's daily lives are concerned; there were literally billions of the things sold since 1963, and many are still around nows. The surprising thing is that, given a decent eighties or nineties deck, the format is capable of very nice sound; it's also distinctively analogue, being warm and gently musical where MP3, AAC et al. are icy cold and hard. DP

 

EXPENSIVE SMILE

Having just read and enjoyed your review of the XTZ 99.25 ‘speakers you made reference to the AudioSmile Kensai as being one of your “ fave rave standmounters under £2,000”.


Er, wrong. You’re going to have to take them off that list as they now sell for the princely sum of £2,300. The price hike hit at last Christmas or thereabouts, before which they sold for a more reasonable £1,500. The reason given was something to do with bringing us into line with overseas buyers or distributors. Correct me if I’m wrong please.


Whatever the reason is, that’s over 50%. I’m not going to sink so low as to suggest a myriad of ploys that so readily spring to mind, a few of which are quite reasonable and acceptable, but 50%, come on. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming AudioSmile in particular; in fact the Kensai is a very pleasant sounding ‘speaker, but hi-fi in Great Britain is gradually being pushed out of the financial reach of Joe Public, who as things stand are being taxed till the pips squeak, into the arms of the rich with money to burn. In the end it will be a very small niche market selling overpriced equipment to super rich people who are more likely to boast about the cost of it and have it standing in a corner as the latest “must have” playing the latest “ must have” down load off their ipod. We all accept there must be price rises for whatever reason, but for crying out loud chaps, have none of you heard of the old adage “ slowly, slowly catchy monkey”, little and more often, if you really have to.


I leave you with this thought: would you buy a car that went from £20,000 to £30,000 almost overnight even if you could comfortably afford the £20,000 in the first place?

p.s. I had Iooked on the AudioSmile web site just before Christmas when the price was £1500 I believe, and remember reading the warning that the price was about to rise to £2,300, and checked again before writing this plea.

Ray Fordham

 

audiosmile-kensai

Audiosmile Kensai now costs £2300.

 

Hi Ray. As we’ve said many times manufacturers can charge what they like; there is no ‘right and fair’ price. The market decides whether it thinks the product is worth that amount, and buys or doesn’t buy. Competition usually keeps prices down. Raise price and you lose sales, it’s as simple as that. Normally if you raise price past a certain threshold, which in this case I would have put at £1995, meaning below the £2000 threshold, losses may be disproportionate and you lose more than you gain.


The export pricing problem is one I have faced. The dilemma is that when you use an overseas distributor he wants a large markup, in addition to the regional dealer’s markup. The overseas price then becomes much greater than the local price in the country of manufacture, so people in the overseas territory promptly buy mail order from the country of manufacture and there is no easy way to prevent this. That obviously makes your overseas distributor and retailers very unhappy. Things get messy when they are asked, as local representatives of the product, to provide service and support.


One solution, one that AudioSmile seem to have taken, is to raise the local price to equal that overseas, but this means imposing a steep price hike in what is usually your largest market, often producing a big drop in sales. The solution I used was to produce an Export Version with added ‘bits’ that justified the higher price overseas. A higher standard of finish plus a bit of tuning was enough. NK

 

BUDGET MC

I read your article on budget MC cartridges in the May issue with great interest as I’ve been considering dipping a toe into MCs for a while now and can’t afford the £3,000+ for a Koetsu! As I find it difficult to get to a dealer who stocks a range of cartridges these days, I’d more or less determined that I’d take a risk and go with your recommendation from these reviews.


The Ortofon Rondo Bronze looked like a good fit for the rest of my vinyl front end, a Michell GyroDec (1995 model with a DC motor upgrade), Rega RB300 arm and Goldring 1042 cartridge, but I’m struggling to find it anywhere at the price of £500 that you quoted. In all the retailers I’ve found on line it’s between £595 and £650, which is a big hike from your quoted price. This of course may be down to my inability with a search engine but I’d appreciate your letting me know – if possible – where this particular cartridge can be found for £500. Failing that, is the Audio Technica AT-OC9/III a good alternative?


I’m also considering getting a spare RB300 I have modified, either by Michell to TecnoArm standard or by Origin Live to OL Silver standard. I guess my questions are now this:

Which would be the more effective upgrade – the arm or the cartridge, as I can’t afford both at the moment?

Which of the two arm upgrades would you recommend?


Finally, can you recommend a good cartridge alignment protractor? I used to have one published by yourselves but it appears to have gone the way of all flesh!

Thanks for an always interesting and informative magazine and I look forward to your reply.

 

p.s. since I wrote the above I’ve been in contact with Michell who advise me that upgrading an RB300 isn’t really a proposition for them as they do the TecnoArm work when the arm is still in its component parts. That may or may not rule that route out. My further question is now – what would spending the £475 that is the price of a TecnoArm buy me from OL, and what would be the better choice?

kind regards

Gordon Robinson

 

michell-gryrodek-technoarm

Michell Tecnoarm works well on an Orbe.

 

Because of the delay between writing a review and it appearing on the bookstand prices can change, and often if a product gets a great review, as in this case, then that sets the ball rolling (upward!). Whilst the AT OC9 MLIII is a very good cartridge it is still on the bright side I am told (we have not reviewed it yet). It is not best to use a cartridge like this with silver wiring I feel, which often exacerbates the effect.

Ortofon’s Rondo Bronze has a much smoother balance and may well sit more happily with silver wiring. I’d worry more about the quality than the price hike. NK

 

If your existing cartridge is still in good condition, with a nice supple cantilever and a good diamond tip, then all things being equal the best upgrade will be the arm. You should always look to the source first; so it's best to think in terms of the turntable having the biggest effect on the sound, then the arm, then the cartridge, and so on. Of course, this is the theoretically correct approach; in practice things are often different, especially if as I wondered, your cartridge isn't in A1 condition. So... I'd get the arm upgraded.

Either buy a new Michell Tecnoarm and sell your Rega (you'll get a good price for it secondhand), or get your existing Rega upgraded. I'd recommend Audio Origami as a great place to start; they do a wide range of upgrades and superb work. They can make your Rega arm sound as good as the Tecnoarm, or even better, depending on how much you want to spend. Another possibility is the new Origin Live Silver 3c, which we're just about to review, and it should be a formidable performer, but is a bit pricey for you at £600. Overall, the simplest option is the Tecnoarm, after which you can look to the likes of an AT-OC9/III. Ortofon do a good little alignment protractor for under a tenner; see www.henleydesigns.co.uk.


Finally, we're getting a lot of readers writing in to tell us our prices are wrong. All I can say is at the time of publication they are correct; but manufacturers have been doing a lot of 'readjustment' of late to take account of the falling value of the Pound. Whilst the last government didn't like to mention it, anyone who's travelled abroad will know that one Pound is about 20% down on a year ago. This is a substantial amount, and duly makes all imports (and indeed imported components which go into British made hi-fi) more expensive. That's why prices have risen, and inflation too. Here's hoping the Pound will stabilise, and consumer prices with it!  DP

 

 

triangle-antel

The new Triangle Antal EX offers a big, bold sound with great bass and is one possible Linn Kelidh replacement.


HYBRID AMPLIFIERS

Hi. I’ve enjoyed reading your magazine for the past year or so and finally decided to ask for advice. I have an entirely Linn based system built up over the last 15 years. I run active Keilidh speakers from LK140 and LK100 power amplifiers and a Kairn pre-amp with an LP12 (Ittok VIII arm, Klyde cartridge, Valhalla power supply and Keel) and Akurate DS player. I am certain that I can improve upon the Keilidhs which I feel are the weak point in the system and are now starting to show their age; their bass is slightly ‘woolly’ and the soundstage is poor.


I do feel somewhat trapped within the Linn system as I cannot simply change the ageing speakers but would also need to change the power amps which if I replaced with new Linn equivalents would be a considerable cost.


Recently I listened to tube/solid state hybrid from Pathos with Kudos speakers (manufactured locally) and I was very impressed. I am struggling, however, to find any reviews of this type of hybrid amplifier that uses tubes for the pre amplifier stage and would great value your opinion as to their merits and suitable speaker pairing. My budget is up to £6000 for new speakers and integrated amp and I feel it’s now time to break out of an all Linn system.

many thanks,

Paul Moran

Durham

UK

 

Hybrids like those from Vincent can work very well, we find. It does depend upon the topology and implementation though; both need to be of good quality. A graunchy solid-state power stage suffering crossover distortion isn’t redeemed by a tube preamp. Curiously, a nice combo was a Naim NAP250 power amplifier driven by an Icon Audio LA4 preamp., and even one of their phono stages would do the job, as they have plenty of gain and a volume control.


A good replacement for a Keilidh would be a Triangle Antal EX. It has a big, bold sound with excellent bass and is worth auditioning. NK

 

Breaking up is never easy, Paul, especially if it's with a pair of speakers you've had for a long time. Given that you don't seem to want to stay with Linn, then what you're going to have to do is to go around auditioning a range of other loudspeakers. The trick then is to find an amplifier that complements them. The choice is enormous; you have Eminent Technology LFT-8b panel speakers, One Thing modified Quad ESL-57 electrostatics, classy conventional floorstanders like Yamaha Soavo 1.1s, brilliant eccentric standmounters like My Audio Design My Clapton Grand MMs, and the list goes on and on. It's simply impossible for me to recommend something to you unless you tell me what sort of music you like, how big your listening room is and what you want from your new system.


Of course, my personal preference would be close to what Paul Rigby is running right now; a pair of One Thing modded Quads and a pair of Icon Audio MB845 tube monoblocks; I'd control them via an MF Audio Passive preamplifier. This is a wonderfully expansive, musical and fast sounding system with oodles of sweetness too. But that's just me, and I can't legislate for your tastes. Perhaps you'd prefer a grippy, punchy solid-state system via a Leema Tucana II amplifier pushing loads of wallop into a pair of Yamaha Soavo 1.1s? Another fast punchy system, but tonally more spry, crisp and dry. It does go louder and harder though, in a way you wouldn't get from valves. See what I mean? It's difficult to spend your money for you until I know more. Please write back! DP



 

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