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December 2010 issue - Page 6

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December 2010 issue
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TONE ARM

I’m a long time subscriber and reader and followed your recommendation previously, purchasing the Cyrus CD XT SE to partner my Theta DAC. The story gets complex but my sixth replacement machine is very good (failure to read discs or even give me them back); thank goodness I bought from a good dealer (Leicester Hi-fi) who was brilliant!

My first, and probably only direct enquiry, stems from your repeated comment re the SME V in the World Standards section that the arm does everything except beguile the listener. I’ve spent 10 years building (or at least feeding my willing, valve expert and silver soldering friend, food and wine as small recompense for the application of his skills) a valve/horn system.


I’m debating which tonearm to buy to complete the development. My budget (ideally) would be around the £2000 mark with some flexibility upwards and lots of flexibility downwards. My options so far include the SME V, the Graham Phantom (would have to be second hand) and the Origin Live Illustrious to bracket the SME V. I’m leaning towards the SME V on the basis that everyone in my circle of hi-fi friends has this arm (in the SME 20) and recommend it. My hesitation stems from your comments, backed up (from other sources) that not everyone will like its matter of factness and my own experience having heard the SME V in very good systems where I can’t fault it but...

I’m currently running an SME 3009 II on my Garrard 401 (in a hefty birch ply plinth) with my (dare I admit it?) Koetsu Red in place. I know it’s not right but there’s been so much else to do! The signal passes through a pair of lovely Hashimoto step up transformers via Transparent Super RCAs.


The system is otherwise as follows. Listening room is the living room and is 6 meters X 3.5 meters. It has been treated with curtains, settees and rugs by my partner (in the interests of good sound quality, these were all were quite expensive upgrades).  Software: is mostly classical/orchestral with a little soft jazz (but definitely not the sort that wanders around).  Power amp: Art Audio 300B SE: Tom Willis designed and built this double mono-block amp with 2.5 inch stack Western Electric output transformers running WE 300Bs and I’ve replaced the original chokes with Audionote versions (adding two more), installed Alan Bradley resistors and rolled tubes endlessly to finish with 5U4WGB rectifiers (wonderful) from Watford valves and EH 6H30s in place of the 6922s.


Speakers: Lowther DX3s in a quarter wave loaded Koronglay cabinet (designed by a nice chap called Brian in Essex) supplemented by two B&W 610s which integrate very well but hum a lot - another question for another time (B&W can’t help).


I know Noel has reservations about Lowthers but 8 watts limits choice and if you get them right they’ll beguile ‘til the cows come home!

Pre-amp: Audionote Kit 1 pre completely upgraded with Audionote interstage and output transformers and silver wiring, stepped attenuator (Tantalum resistors), Mungdorf Gold/Silver caps, 6SL7s in phone stage and octal 6H30 (EH) in line stage, etc, etc  you get the idea I’m sure!

 

sme312s-tonearm

 

The SME312 S 12in pickup arm has a lovely smooth presentation.

 

CD Transport is the Cyrus XT SE + with PSX power supply.  DAC is an old Theta Probasic II. I have tried contenders but none have bettered it yet.

Tuner: Leak Troughline regrettably without the decoder.


Speaker cable is from Kondo (Audionote Japan) not the silver one as I couldn’t raise a second mortgage) but it is annealed for 10 years in a cave, so its got plenty of magic?

Interconnects are Transparent Super Plus balanced interconnects from DAC to pre and pre to power. I would add streaming, etc but haven’t got a clue what Steven Green bangs on about! Mega things and bites?


Overall, the system has its faults (what one doesn’t?) but it is pretty much right for me and my listening tastes. In fact, I’ve not heard better for beguilingness and beguiling is very much what I want!!


Anyway, back to the question: if the SME doesn’t beguile, what does? I’m still tempted by the SME’s build quality and vice like bass. The tonearm I select will probably never be replaced and will be a synergistic match for the Koetsu Red and Garrard 401.


If you think I should purchase the SME V (taking all of the above into account) then I will. If not then would you shortlist two alternatives. Changing arms and swapping my Koetsu is not a skill I possess or desire to acquire as shipping it to Japan for remedial work is not an attractive part of experimenting with a tonearm (no matter how good).

many thanks in advance,

Geoff Jennings

 

Hi Geoff. That’s some system you have; it gave my eyeballs a good workout!

My simple solution to your problem is to buy an SME312S arm. It is silky smooth and less emphatic in what it does than the SME V. We all know the 401 should be used with a 12in SME arm in any case: you’ll be happy forever! Some of the higher quality Ortofon Moving Coil cartridges are worth considering too. They are ultimately smooth.


I’m no great fan of Lowthers, I have to admit. They’re too ragged across the upper midband, where the cone breaks up. For tuned up valve amps a pair of big Tannoys are worth hearing and the DC10Ts I reviewed last month come to mind, but they would be a radical departure to Lowthers and perhaps too much of a culture shock for you.


I do hope you have a really good aerial for the Troughline. Sensitivity is poor and selectivity almost nonexistent.  Both can be ameliorated by using a high gain, directional multi-element array pointed toward the local transmitter, then the dear old Troughline is unmatched for sound quality.


Great to spend lots and lots on furnishings! You end up listening to music is sumptuous luxury and sound quality always benefits I have found. Lucky you! NK

 

Sorry to confuse matters by contradicting Noel, but I'd advise you to buy a Funk FXR II tonearm. You've spent ten minutes telling me you want to be beguiled, and if that's the case then the SME simply does not do it (for me). I've heard the Funk in a direct A to B comparison with the same turntable(s) and cartridge(s), and the difference is stark. The Funk is far more musical and mellifluous; it's Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young playing 'Wooden Ships' to the SME's Kraftwerk's 'Man Machine', if you get my drift! Simply put, the SME V is lovely, and in some ways the best arm I've heard, but if you want a lyrical, charming, seductive listening companion then the SME is not your arm. It is wonderfully precise and technical in its sound, offering a type of clinical perfection, but it is not beguiling! The Funk is far more tuneful, as if it's talking to you personally, where the SME is reading from a pre-prepared script. I believe Funk also do a twelve inch version of the FXR, too.


The other arm to consider at this price is the Audio Origami PU7, which also comes in twelve inches, and has the lyricism of the Funk, but with a polish and a delicacy closer to that of the SME - plus delicious, near-SME build quality; it's considerably more expensive than the Funk, though, but still just about within your budget. DP

 

SHELVING IT

I thought you would like to know my experiences in hi-fi and ask for your opinion on new speakers.


I caught the bug as a teenager in the 70s having badgered my parents to buy a music centre. I then discovered a local store which sold second-hand stuff and managed to acquire a 60s Rogers amp and a Garrard 301 with a SME arm/Shure cartridge. At the time, I don’t think anyone held the deck in such high reverence as they do now as the hi-fi publications then did not mention it at all and I just saw it as a step to the next stage in getting the best out of my record collection.


On leaving school and having money to burn, I then ransacked my local KJ Leisuresound for a Thorens T126 deck, an A&R Cambridge A60 amp (this was 1979 so a new product then), a Yamaha tuner and Audiomaster speakers. This system did many years service with various upgrades, most importantly the first top loading Meridian CD player, a Mission arm/Dynavector cartridge and various cassette decks.


The next big change was a Marantz CD63 and Rega Planar 3 with A&R cartridge at some point in the late 80s, then changing the speakers for Infinity standmounts.

The A&R Cambridge (now Arcam) A60 gave me 30 years service and is now with my brother, having been reconditioned. It was replaced along with the CD player by the Cambridge 740 combo which I got as a pair for £500 new from Richer Sounds – a great bargain. In the meantime, the cassette deck had turned into a Pioneer CDR 609 CD recorder and the tuner was replaced by a Pace freeview box with hard drive. This I have found great for recording radio programmes to listen to later (better quality than DAB) and anything which I wish to archive can go onto CD courtesy of the Pioneer which is a fantastic recording machine, though not so good for playback.

I also got the high-res bug and have a Denon DVD 2910 to play my small collection of DVD-As and SACDs.


I am now in the market for speakers (up to £200) which will literally be placed on top of bookshelves. I have in mind Q Acoustics 2020 or Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s. Would one of these match the Cambridge better than the other? And what should be between them and the shelves? I feel that squash balls sawn in half may be the best bet.


Reading the Blu-ray review in the current issue has also made me wonder if electronics manufacturers are missing something by not having a stereo amp with HDMI connectivity. For those who are unable (or don’t want) to go down the multichannel route, an amp that could input DSD or PCM in pure form would be just the ticket. I note that a number of the players did not have dedicated stereo outputs so a digital connection to the amp would make sense.

keep up the good work

Mark Vaughan

 

wharfedale-10

A loudspeaker for the bookshelf, the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1.

 

The Cambridge 740 needs a quality loudspeaker and both models you mention are good, but they are budget designs. Of the two I would choose the Diamond 10.1s, my only reservation here being that shop samples are the same as our original review samples. There has been some drift between batches, this issue’s group test shows.

It would be handy if normal stereo hi-fi amps could accept and process sound from Blu-ray players, but this would increase cost quite substantially. Most players have analogue stereo outputs and those that don’t will mix down to stereo and send it out through the Front Left and Right surround-sound outputs. Better to choose the stereo mix down on a disc if possible though. NK




 

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