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September 2010 - Page 4

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DENON DELIGHT

In last month’s Hi-Fi World you mentioned that you might like to investigate souped-up Denon DL103s some time. Having spent a lot of time playing with the standard model, at Christmas I fitted mine with an Isokinetik metal body, ran it for a while like that and then sent it off to Expert Stylus Co. to be fitted with their sapphire cantilever and Paratrace line-contact stylus. It is bedding in nicely now and I am finalising setup, electrical loading etc. but I can report that it is starting to sound very good.


Here are some notes on results so far.


1. There is no need to rush out a review - Wyndham and Paul Hodgson at Expert Stylus Company are absolutely swamped with work at the moment.


2. Fitting the metal body is tricky (the fitting instructions are a bit lacking) and not for the faint-hearted but it does make the standard DL103 sound subtly but significantly better (more air and definition on cymbals and plucked guitar strings, less colouration).


3.  The ESCo sapphire cantilever and Paratrace stylus reduces tracking weight to 1.8-2.0g, adds treble detail, kills end of side distortion and clearly improves sound further.


4.  Value for money? If the standard DL103 is good value for £110 or so, then the sound of the metal bodied version for an extra £80 is definitely better, so it must also be good value. (I suspect that the Isokinetik mass plate fitting which glues to the standard DL103 body may give most of the sonic benefit of the metal body for less money and trouble but it isn’t as pretty.)


Adding the Paratrace stylus definitely makes it better still but I’m not sure what the value for money rating would be if it was all fitted to a new cartridge (total £370). However common sense says you might as well use the standard DL103 stylus first until it wears and then replace it with a Paratrace, in which case the latter is equivalent to getting an upgraded new cartridge for only £180 and at that the sound quality I’m getting would definitely rate as ‘a bargain’.


5.  The Mayware MkV unipivot arm has a rider weight on the arm tube which allows its effective mass to be varied from about 7g to 14g, so I have been able to experiment with the effects of this on the DL103. In standard arrangement (2.5g playing weight) the Mayware effective mass is about 9g and everything works fine. However moving the arm rider weight right up to the headshell to increase effective mass to about 14g brings a major sound improvement, tidying up the bass and moving everything else towards a very clean ‘master-tape’ sound.

Electrical loading is also critical: I have fitted a double-gang potentiometer wired across the transformer input so that electrical loading can be finely adjusted when it is playing. Too high makes the treble brash and edgy, too low makes it a bit muted and I find the DL103 sounds best if it sees about 150-200 ohms.


6. The Isokinetik metal body is about 4g heavier than the standard one, so I tried it with the Mayware first set to 9g effective mass (similar total mass to standard DL103 with arm set to 14g) and then set to 14g (similar total effective mass to a standard DL103 mounted in an 18g effective mass arm). I found that the higher effective mass was still better but the difference was much less than the difference between 9g and 14g effective mass with the standard DL103.

This confirms that the DL103 does like arm effective mass to be higher than the standard 10.5g or so Rega. The extra mass of an Isokinetik plate or metal body is a handy way of doing this but best results come from even higher effective mass: either the standard body DL103 in an 18g effective mass arm, or a metal-bodied DL103 in a 14g arm. (A simple calculation shows that these figures aren’t too surprising: the DL103 is reputed to have an effective dynamic compliance of about 11cu, which is a little over half that of a Goldring G1042 - so it should be at home with towards double the effective mass (arm plus cartridge weight). I calculate that with a 14g arm and the cartridge mass increased by the extra 4g weight of the metal body, the DL103/ Mayware resonant frequency should be about 9Hz, which is fine.)


7. Initially, I found that with the Paratrace stylus fitted and cartridge fixing bolts screwed up tight the sound had masses of detail but also a bit of treble glare. Putting nylon washers under the bolt heads and nipping them up ‘just nicely’ rather than ‘as tight as they go’ sorted this out and the sound is now very detailed, clean and balanced. This method of fixing is what Mayware used to recommend and goes along with the common view that the Denon likes to dissipate energy into a slightly ‘lossy’ arm. (Don’t scoff - this isn’t half as wacky an idea as the Cartridge Man Isolator!)


I hope you find these notes helpful if you decide to try a souped up DL103 yourself. Please get in touch if you fancy a listen to mine.

yours sincerely,

Alasdair Beal

 

Thanks for your notes and sound quality impressions Alasdair. I am sure many DL103 fans will appreciate them and will be fascinated by what is possible, as I was. NK

 

UPGRADE

My interest in hi-fi started with the purchase of an Armstrong 625 tuner amp driving a pair of KEF Kit 3 speakers. My turntable was a Thorens 12, SME Mark II and Shure V15 Mark III cartridge. As a starter system, it did the job and got me hooked in the search for a better sound. I moved on to a Lecson pre power combination and upgraded to an AP3 - which gave up the ghost when it caught fire! Selling the KEF Kits, I built a pair of transmission line speakers published in Hi-FI News, I think. They produced a dynamic sound. Eventually, I got the bug again and bought a pair of IMF TLS80s. Monsters.


Anyway, times changed, I got married, kids came along and the hi-fi went to pay bills. The last speakers I had were a pair of Harbeth monitors.


It was some years later, at one of the Heathrow shows that I heard a valve amp driving a pair of IMF professional monitors from a reel-to-reel tape. The sound was so superior to my transistor amps. At the same time, only by chance, I wandered into the Quad room and heard the ESL-57. Awesome. After a listen to these, moving coil loudspeakers sound so closed in and restricted in their presentation of music. The only thing that came close to my ears was a Focal Utopia - which at the time was retailing for £60,00, way out of my budget. That said, I have heard better loudspeakers than the '57 - but it was a pair of stacked '57s at Audio T - they blew the TLS 80 away, making them sound bass heavy and rather ponderous. Perhaps the ultimate single pair of '57s I ever heard were directly coupled to an EAR amp. What a sound stage they produced!


My current system, in a dedicated listening room 20 by 12 by 8 feet, is an EAR 859 - 13 watts and the EAR 834 phono box. Turntable is a Garrard 301, fitted with an Origin Live Illustrious arm and Dynavector Karat 17D2 cartridge. The latter replaced an SME /Ortofon VMS E cartridge on the Garrard - although the latter combination certainly produced a much more discernible soundstage. I miss this. Speakers are - yes - the Quad ESL57.


Recently I have replaced the tubes in the phono box with TJ Full Music 12AX7 - after a review in Hi-Fi World. What an upgrade - much more life and vigour to the music. Loudspeaker cable is by Cable Talk, interconnects are Dragon from Silverman, and power leads Yellow O from Russ Andrews. All this is supported on a shelf attached to an outside wall and is supported on 30mm granite slabs - courtesy of a stone mason I know well. Bass is augmented by a REL Strata 5. Despite it being moving coil, it goes well with the '57s.


This brings me to my main point; I will retire in the near future and will be able to invest a sum of around £10,000 - £12,000 in good quality components. I am clear in the type of sound I want. The sound now is organic with a propulsive bass. So any upgrade should produce bass that is clean and tuneful, as it is in my current system. I would like to improve treble - especially at the high end and would like more dynamics from the system. Now, bear in mind much of this is relative - I do not care for the horn type of dynamics, just a greater contrast between low level detail and those of say percussion. I would like better imaging too.

 

tj-full-music-12au7-12ax7-v

TJ Full Music 12AX7s bring more life and vigour to the music, says Paul Derlacki.

 

Music played is mainly LPs recorded live, middle of the road rock typically The Who, Dire Straits, Genesis, Van Morrison et al. Increasingly, I have been collecting classical records, Beethoven, Strauss, Mahler. More recently I have acquired a collection of jazz LPs - Coltrane. Headphones are Micro Seiki - MS2 electrostatic. Any replacement amp must be able to drive these to reasonable volumes - the 13 watts of the EAR is just not enough.


As part of the upgrade, I propose to have the ESL57s renovated by One Thing. The turntable needs a service - either by Martin Bastin or Lorricraft. Speaker cable/power cords will be replaced in due course, but only after I make the equipment changes and are not included in the budget.


I am minded to retain the Illustrious tone arm but upgrade the cartridge, amplifier and possibly the phono stage. I noticed in a past issue, David mentioned a Koetsu making an Ortofon sound mechanical. Is this the way to go? It is here that things get confusing. Initially, I was going to get the EAR 890 - but this has had a considerable price hike to £5,000. Should I consider something like the 845 from Icon Audio or their 150 monoblocks - both are much cheaper. At the March hi-fi show I heard a NAT Se1 amp - this sounded superb and produced solid, three dimensional images. The amp goes for around £6,000. Mind you, I notice it was using a Lyra Titan - probably beyond my budget.


What about the phono stage? You have been critical of the 834. Should I be considering World Design kits - they seem to offer high quality at good prices. Whatever upgrades I make, I would like it to be a step change - as opposed to something that merely gives a different presentation.


On a final note, the commercial hi-fi industry needs to look to its laurels. MP3 downloads are really only for music on the move. I suspect few users listen actively to what is happening when they play a track. It will not replace a room based system that enables the listener to follow and engage emotionally with the music. Retailers should make more of this. Internet streaming via Linn et al is another matter and may be the way in the future. But you lose the tactile feel of an LP and its cover, some of which are works of art.

Keep up the good work.

Paul Derlacki

 

 

quad-ii-80-valves

Quad II-eighty power amplifiers will drive any loudspeaker well, including ESL-57s.

 

Hi Paul. A pair of One Thing upgraded Quad ESL57 electrostatic loudspeakers are hard to beat, so you will be keeping them I imagine, as your letter suggests. Drive options are Quad II-eightys (II-fortys are designed for ESL-57s, having the correct amount of puff, but II-eightys have better subjective dynamics) or Icon Audio MB845s. The latter have a darker sound of the two, due to the graphite anodes of the big 845 valve I suspect. We are told a new upgraded version, presumably MB845 II, is due shortly.

Icon Audio also have some excellent phono stages, the PS3 being one of the best. I think you are a candidate!


It seems now you are cool using anything made either by Apple Computer, or made so long ago it has an olde worlde elegance, like Jaguar E Type, Triumph Bonneville, Garrard 301/401. Uncool and being freely discarded are all those clunky C.E. gadgets and geeky software, so the Herald Tribune says. The LP is set to soldier on I believe, but compressed audio formats are just a child of their data rate challenged time and are nothing in themselves. NK

 

TOP TUNER

I used to be the proud owner of a Technics ST9600, covered in the May 2010 issue, from 1979 - 2008. Stupidly, I sold it for the paltry sum of £50, about 2 years ago. It was in 'as new' condition, despite having been bought in Germany (in the forces), and used in the UK, Germany and Spain flawlessly. The comment about using a piece of wet string as an aerial is true and all my attempts to improve on an indoor item was usually money wasted. The reason for selling was being advised by an “expert” (yeah, right) that FM would soon be defunct and replaced by DAB/internet. I listen now on old style FM using a Shanling MC30.


The reason for writing is an article by Haden Boardman, referring to the switches on the Technics ST9600. It just so happens that I have an original matching switch. Three of mine broke or wore out over the years and were replaced by some more robust ones. I have one original and four replacement silver ones that are a good match for the dials. If Mr Boardman would like them could you ask him to contact me.

Mike Harris,

Burnham-on-Sea,

Somerset

 

technics-st9600

Technics ST9600 VHF/FM tuner: just connect up with wet string!

 

Thanks for your observations Mike - and sorry to hear about the 'expert' who thinks that because something is new it must automatically be better. I will pass your kind offer on to Haden. NK

 

NOT SO NEW

In November 2009 you printed my letter asking advice on changing the arm on my Goldring Lenco GL75. I followed Adam’s advice and bought a Jelco SA-250ST. While the deck was in bits I resprayed the plinth in satin black and filled any holes that were not needed in the top plate. I then resprayed the top plate. Once the arm was fitted and an Ortofon VMS 20 E installed I then connected up to my Pioneer A400 through Castle Richmond speakers. The sound was amazing, clear midrange and good bass.

In a couple of months time I would like to change the cartridge and have £250 to spend. Any suggestions?

I also changed the arm on my Technics SL-1200 to a Linn Basik Plus with Grado Prestige Gold cartridge, again a great improvement, but I prefer the Goldring Lenco.

As I sit listening to my Leak Troughline 3 through a NAD 3020 and KEF 104ABs I think there is life in some of the old gear and new is not always better.

Thank you to Adam and long may Hi-Fi World continue to promote vintage equipment.

Regards

David Oxtoby.

 

Hi David - thanks for that. The best moving magnet at your budget is surely the Ortofon 2M Bronze at £280. DP

 

LOSS LESS

I wonder if you can help me with a couple of queries. The first concerns transformers - I know that at your magazine you admire the ‘Music First’ pre-amp - a transformer design. Can you explain how such a device achieves gain without ‘active’ circuitry? As I understand it, in physics there is no gain in one area without loss in another - so where is the ‘loss’ in a transformer?

Also, if it works so well for the small voltages in a pre-amp could a much larger version be used to drive a loudspeaker?

My second question is about noise in active electronics. I have two mono-bloc amps with toroidal coils around 5” wide and caps around 2” wide which run completely silently, yet some other, much smaller equipment buzzes as if an insect were loose in the casework. I understand that DC on the mains is a major culprit, but why does only some equipment suffer and would a large capacitance filter help things?

many thanks in advance

Cris

 

Transformers step voltage up, but (max) current down as their impedance goes up. You can only exploit their step up where the source impedance is lower than the load impedance, say from a moving coil cartridge of around 1 Ohm source Z to the input of a small signal valve which will be 1M Ohm or so, or even the Gate of an FET. Loudspeakers are very low impedance so you cannot drive them with a step up transformer. Valve amps instead use a step-down to drive them.

Power supply buzz is related both to supply cleanliness and the sturdiness of transformers and coils to resist buzzing caused by mains harmonics. I am uncertain that d.c. induces buzz, but it certainly causes other problems and is best eliminated. NK

 

RESIST TEMPTATION

Having managed to resist the temptation (just) to dispose of my vinyl replay system during the years after CD's introduction, I would now like to ask your advice about the best way to upgrade my turntable.


My primary system is as follows: Gyrodec (second generation) Export with deep lid. This has the original a.c. motor and supply, original bearing but latest suspension.

The arm is an Eminent Technology 2 with Audionote silver litz cable and Tiffany RCA sockets. Air is supplied by a small air compressor.

 

Cartridge is an Audio Technica Art1 moving coil. When originally set up the deck was also equipped with a Rega RB300 and Technics MC305 mc cartridge (regrettably disposed of) which were used for “casual” listening. The current mc stage is a Pro-ject phono box limited edition. Other sources are a Shanling CD2000 SACD with valve output, Nakamichi BX125 cassette deck, DAB from a Magic Box phone and an Onkyo NDS1 i-pod dock feeding a Theta Cobalt DAC.

Amplifiers are either a Chinese EL34 or KT88 with a Mod Squad passive when needed. Speakers are either Lake Audio ribbon hybrid stand mounts, or Acoustic Solutions tablelamp omnis. The “either” is a result of an imminent house move and once this has taken place the system will hopefully have a pair of Audiostatic speakers possibly driven by Alesis studio amps.


I recently obtained a Panasonic SL-18 belt drive turntable equipped with a Sumiko Bluepoint feeding a Yaqin valve mm pre-amp. This has “replaced” the RB300 and Technics mc for casual listening (it’s surprisingly good in terms of sound quality) and will be used in the second system once we’ve moved. All cabling is high quality pure silver including the speaker cables.


Now for the big question! What is the best upgrade path to follow? I could upgrade the bearing to the latest inverted type, I could upgrade the motor and /or the power supply. I don’t like the Orbe platter, so that isn’t an option, the basic question being: which will give me the biggest improvement-to-cost ratio.


Second part of my question: I want to replace the RB300 arm and know that since I purchased the (early) one previously fitted to the deck, arms in general have improved. I would like an arm with fixed headshell but with cabling I can change. I have an Ortofon MC20 with VdH re-tip that is waiting to be installed, the big caveat to my choice of arm being that it will always be the second rate “casual” one (end of side distortion, like speaker box distortion is something you don’t notice until it isn’t there), so I don’t want to spend vast amounts of money. I was thinking along the lines of a Jelco or similar, or is the Rega route the best way to go? After all, I do know how good the arm and deck work together, if so, which version? There seem to be so many now. For obvious reasons there isn’t any chance of auditioning a similar system.

Thanks for your help.

Richard Painting

 

jelco-sa-250st

To a Goldring Lenco GL75 David Oxtoby fitted a Jelco SA-250ST arm.

 

What a fascinating front end that is! I’m almost loathe to recommend you do anything to your GyroDec, because it’s almost ‘historically significant’ due to its antique specification; think how few ‘pure’ mid-nineteen seventies Linn LP12s there are these days, and how interesting they are when you see one...


Anyway, assuming that you do want to upgrade it and not just buy a new one; they’re not that expensive, you know. I’d start with the main bearing then go to the DC motor, in that order. Also, order some damping compound for the subchassis from Michell; this black sticky gunge is standard with Orbes, and cuts down some of the zing of that big alloy ring.

 

ant-audio-kora-3t-ltd

Ant Audio Kora 3T phono stage, simple but with a great sound.


Last but certainly not least is your phono stage; you should be looking at the likes of a ANT Audio Kora 3T LTD (£1,000) eventually, because your Pro-ject simply isn’t good enough for the rest of your system. You’d get a massive improvement in air, space, depth, detail and musicality. My thoughts on your Rega would be to simply get it rewired and/or souped up by Audio Origami; there’s little that can touch the RB300 under around £700 if it’s had the full treatment. DP



 

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